>Solzhenitsyn’s funeral: how Russia has changed


I wander down to the living room for a coffee break and switch on BBC News 24. The funeral of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. President Medvedev is among the mourners. Ex-President Putin pays tribute. “It shows how much Russia has changed that the ex-KGB man is honouring one of communism’s greatest opponents…” says the voiced over commentary.

Hmm, well, yes and no. The KGB were a powerful part of the country’s political establishment under Brezhnev and reconfigured as the FSB and looser networks of securocrats they still are. More powerful perhaps, given the disappearance of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the institutions and industrial ministries of the planned economy. And – if the BBC’s rather better radio documentary reporting on the FSB is to be believed – much more corrupt, given the disappearance of the barriers to formal private ownership. Is what’s really changed that nomenklatura and its security apparatus have simply accommodated themselves to Orthodox-tinged conservative patriotism of which Solzhenitsyn was a representative? Perestroika and democratization just a messy transition to the nomenklatura-dominated state capitalism that Trotsky anticipated in 1930s and sundry anarchists as early as the 1920s?

As a student I read my way through a lot of Solzhenitsyn. The critique of communism is visceral, shattering even. Watching the TV coverage though, my mind turned to another book that made a impression on me when I read it as a student, Alexander Yanov’s The Russian New Right which examined the conservative-nationalist wing in the Soviet dissident movement of 1970s – something a phenomenon, which extended to many more obscure – and more extreme – figures than Solzhenitsyn. Most striking in Yanov’s book, which came out in 1978 just a few years after English editions of Gulag Archipelago, were the strong ‘neonationalist’ tendencies he detected in sections of the Soviet (cultural) nomenklatura establishment and the long term prospect discussed by some samizdat writers of a rapprochement between conservative Russian nationalists and the Soviet states. I just saw that on my TV, I think.

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