"Why do you hate your own country so much?" This was the angry reaction of one Russian who had just listened to a devastating critique of everything that Communism had done to his country between 1917 and 1990. The event was a seminar at the Moscow School of Political Studies and the speaker who had provoked this outburst was Andrei Zubov, one of Russia's most brilliant — and most controversial — historians.
Zubov, who is the editor and co-author of a two-volume history of Russia in the 20th century, has a burning desire to make Russians face up to the realities of the Soviet era. He used his talk (which I attended as a participant in a later seminar) to describe in relentless detail the way in which all that was good in Russia's past — not least the flowering of culture that took place in the second half of the 19th century — was destroyed by Lenin, Stalin and their associates. But his remarks about today's Russia were no less striking.
For Zubov, Stalinism was worse than Nazism since it left nothing untouched; art, literature, education, the whole of civil society was sacrificed to the goal of creating Homo Sovieticus, a new type of man never before seen in the history of the world. He quoted a Bolshevik writer in 1923: "Parental authority? No such thing. The authority of religion? Ditto. Traditions? There aren't any. Moral feeling? The old morality has died, but a new one has yet to appear." Morality had to be totally subject to the interests of the class struggle.
As the Communists tightened their grip on society, Zubov explained, there was open talk of the abolition of the idea of the family, of belief in God, of love for one's fatherland and reverence for the memory of one's ancestors. "Pushkin and Dostoevsky were thrown overboard from the ship of revolution without a second thought; national history was ridiculed and then forgotten; countless experiments destroyed the system of educating the young." For the Bolsheviks the complete destruction of the fabric of society was vitally important because it enabled them to strengthen their power over people.
The new Soviet man was trained to lie in order to live. "He could talk at a party meeting about proletarian internationalism and the brotherhood of workers, while knowing that any unsanctioned meeting with a foreigner would immediately mean a summons to the KGB with dire results for himself and his family." He learnt not even to consider trying to build a better life with neighbours, colleagues, fellow villagers or citizens.
How much has changed since 1990? Zubov quoted a remark made by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in that year: "The clock of Communism has struck its last hour, but the concrete structure has not yet collapsed. How can we manage to be liberated, rather than being crushed under the ruins?"