Interview: Will Russia Move to the Left?
Paul Saunders interviews Russian leading journalist Maksim Shevchenko.
Editor’s Note: Paul J. Saunders, associate publisher of the National Interest, interviewed Maksim Shevchenko, a former newspaper editor and television personality who is a prominent left-wing candidate for the post of Moscow mayor.
Q: Thank you again for taking the time to talk to our readers. While you are among the leading candidates to compete for the position of Moscow mayor on behalf of the United Left opposition, most Americans today are not really that familiar with Russia’s “left.” Over the last two decades, since Boris Yeltsin defeated Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov in Russia’s 1996 presidential election, Russia’s left has received far less attention in American media. So maybe you can just tell us a little bit to start about your positions and platform going into that election.
A: When we speak of the “left” in Russia, it’s not the same as the “left” in the United States. In Russia the “left” tradition is a big national tradition. Our twentieth century was the “left” century; it was the century of socialism. You can call it totalitarianism, you can call it Stalinism, you can call it Bolshevism, but it was the one time in our history when most Russians enjoyed access to education, to development, to high levels of society, to science, to education, to social opportunities, to development—my position is that the left movement in Russia expresses the nature of our nation. It is part of the natural self-realization of the Russian people.
You Americans have your own principles of organizing the nation. You said, in essence, that “man was created for happiness,” and, at one point, the American Christians who fled from Europe, where they were persecuted, created their own unique world on the new continent. From a utopian view, it was a revolution, an American revolution, which resulted in the emergence of an American nation with the principles of democracy, with the principles of freedom, with the principles of religion, with the principles of justice, and with opportunities for development. But it is impossible to copy the American nation, nor is it possible to copy the German nation, French nation, or Soviet nation. Each nation develops in its own way. I believe that after all mistakes and after all the experiments, for the Russian people, and for other peoples, the path to socialism, of course not the socialism that was in the twentieth century, but of modern socialism, the path to the social state, is best.
Why? It expresses the national idea, and aids the national development of our people to a greater extent. But we are not Protestants. We are not Pentecostals, not Baptists, we are not Evangelicals. Overall, we are not Americans. We had a different spiritual culture, a different understanding of asceticism (ascetics), a different understanding of the meaning of history, and a different understanding of internal discipline.
Soviet people were poor, but not because they could not be rich. No. Being rich was not a priority for them. This culture was quite ascetic. But this ascetic culture won the [World War II] and created absolutely amazing transformations in science. I drive through modern Russia and see the ruins of what was created in Soviet times—factories, airports, amazing, absolutely, the creations of human reason and human genius. This was the result of the mobilization of the left-wing idea. I am quite sure that the Soviet project would have developed into a modern democracy, but into an original Russian democracy, because the principles of freedom, the principles of development, they always lead to revolutionary radicalism, as was the case with Americans.
After its eighteenth-century revolution, America experienced a horrible, bloody civil war, in which hundreds of thousands of Americans were killed and terrible crimes were committed by those people who considered themselves American citizens. There were punitive detachments to the south of Potomac. I’d like to remind everyone that Lincoln allowed the northern troops to live off the land, at the expense of American citizens, and announced that everyone who was from the south of Potomac, well, their property could be taken and plundered as one pleased. In short, civil war and other extremes of life exist in every revolutionary nation.
Today in Russia, to be a leftist means to be a true patriot and to profess the national idea of the rebirth and development of the people. The modern government in Russia is not nation-oriented. The modern government has set itself the task of fitting into the world system of capitalism. The modern government simply created an entire class of people who, hiding behind sweet talk, simply plunder the country, rob the people, rob the nation, stash their pockets, and this cannot be tolerated. I love my country. I love my people. I support nothing but leftist ideas.
But they, they are not afraid of fascism, anarchism, or democracy. It’s all the same to them; however, they cannot buy the left. The left is the authentic legacy of Lenin, Stalin, and the Soviet victory of 1945. And they cannot undo this. Therefore, they are doing everything to erase the memory of this. So, I made a decision in my life. I decided to take a position that for me—for the Russian intellectual—is a position of struggle and resistance to that which is destroying my nation.
I am not opposed to private property. I am not against the development of the free market. I am in fact a supporter of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and all democratic rights and freedoms. In no way do I believe that they should be subordinated to some principles like the government or something else. I understand, I respect the American people. I understand the principles of freedom and the principles of development. But we are not Americans. Therefore, in search of the left opposition, I am looking to save the national identity of our country.
Q: As you can imagine, for most Americans one—perhaps the highest—priority in thinking about opposition parties and opposition political forces in Russia is their attitude toward the United States and Russia’s relationship with the United States. What’s your view on that issue and how would you distinguish your approach to the U.S.-Russia relationship from the approach of United Russia or the Russian government today?
A: I believe that the foreign policy of Russia and the United States should not depend on the games of large banking and financial institutions and the interests of transnational corporations. I respect the American people and the principles of democracy and freedom that lie at the base of the American society. But the modern government has turned Russia into an “annex” to the American economy. Our money is in America; our resources are flowing to the west; our people live in poverty; while the government officials that are waging, as they say, the battle against America, are living rich lives, as the tsars lived before the revolution. In fact, they restored the Russian empire, but the Russian empire was a stronger state, and a state with opportunities. But this government is draining people’s strength.
I personally believe, and here I am being honest, that the left position refers to the American principles of democracy, and if, like the Soviet Union, well, of course it was an archaic state that did not develop—the crisis that took place there needed to be overcome. Crises are normal. In the history of the United States there were crises as well. The Great Depression was a crisis that America overcame thanks to Roosevelt and thanks to Keynes, and thanks to new, if you will, forms of government, which at that time were also innovative for Americans.
I personally believe that the U.S. and Russian history was stable. But modern Russia is not capable of holding that stability. It has turned into a business relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, Dmitri Medvedev and Barack Obama, between some oligarchs from Russia who have businesses in America and Americans who have business with these oligarchs in Russia. But this is not the relationship between the nations. The relationships during the Soviet times, between the Soviet nation and the American nation, despite the fact that there were downsides in America and the Soviet Union that we worked out in the course of history, that was the normal relationship between the nations, and this provided a guarantee of development and stability to the world.
Today, however, Russia is full of problems, problems of a criminal nature, bureaucratic problems, and geopolitical problems that America could not solve without going to war. America was not ready to go to war with the Soviet Union, and it did not want to. Despite the Cold War, no one wanted a real conflict. But in the modern world the threat of war has grown dramatically because everyone understands that the ambitions of modern Russia do not correspond to its internal social abilities and resources that this government provides our people with. While the Communist Party in Soviet times—again, just to reiterate, I am not saying that I’m a fan of Brezhnev’s party or Khrushchev’s, I do not agree with their actions—it was a stable and powerful social system.