Polemical New York Times editorial on "The Communist Makeover"

David Johnson djohnson at cdi.org
Fri May 24 09:30:05 MDT 1996

Here's the "state of the art" in intellectual opinion in the United
States these days about the Russian presidential election. Americans
who should know better continue to try to salvage their comrade Boris
Yeltsin, by fair means or foul. See my comment at the end

David Johnson
Center for Defense Information
djohnson at cdi.org

New York Times editorial
>           May 24, 1996
>           The Communist Makeover
>           [T] he revival of the Russian Communist Party so
>               soon after the demise of Communism in Russia
>           is a conundrum that seems to defy common sense and
>           the lessons of history. But the Communists are
>           knocking at the gates of the Kremlin again,
>           promoting the fanciful notion that the descendants
>           of Lenin and Stalin are now democrats and
>           capitalists.
>           It has been a slick piece of salesmanship. The
>           baggy suits and leaden ideology are gone, replaced
>           by Armani outfits and soothing platitudes about
>           political pluralism and economic competition.
>           Dissent is ostensibly welcomed, censorship
>           abhorred. The old religion was rule by terror; the
>           newly proclaimed faith is the rule of law.
>           The makeover is accentuated when the new
>           Communists present themselves to the West,
>           sounding like just another group of Social
>           Democrats. For domestic consumption, Gennadi
>           Zyuganov, the Communist presidential candidate,
>           emphasizes his desire to control crime, reduce
>           economic hardship and make Russia a great power
>           again. The promises have powerful appeal in a
>           country where rapid change has produced much
>           economic dislocation and left many Russians
>           disoriented and frightened.
>           But as Russians get ready to elect a president
>           next month, there should be no illusions about the
>           nature of the Russian Communist Party. Behind the
>           modern veneer and moderate rhetoric, it remains a
>           force for repression, intolerance and the reversal
>           of reform.
>           The Russian political and economic landscape has
>           shifted so much in recent years that the
>           restoration of dictatorship would be difficult to
>           achieve. Most of the party's supporters, while
>           eager to slow the velocity of change, do not favor
>           a return to totalitarian rule. But by nature and
>           visceral belief, the Communist Party is a
>           profoundly undemocratic institution, and its
>           capacity for mischief is great.
>           A Communist delegation dropped by this newspaper
>           the other day, blithely extolling the virtues of
>           free elections and an unfettered press. But when
>           the conversation turned to economic issues, it
>           quickly became clear that party thinking was still
>           wedded to the deadening gospel of central
>           planning, subsidized prices and state enterprises.
>           The Communists can brake the economic reforms
>           introduced since 1992, but it is doubtful that
>           they can dismantle them altogether. More than
>           two-thirds of the Russian economy is in private
>           hands and many of the Soviet-era state enterprises
>           have broken up or collapsed. Any effort to
>           re-nationalize industry, set artificial prices or
>           break the Government's budget and fiscal
>           discipline could quickly throw the increasingly
>           stable economy into a new tailspin and shut off
>           foreign investment and Western aid.
>           More immediately menacing is the Communist
>           infatuation with power and intimidation. Some
>           party members, mostly younger ones, seem genuinely
>           committed to democracy and moderation, but the
>           core of the party leadership comes directly from
>           the unrepentant ranks of the old Soviet Communist
>           Party. The leaders retain an aversion to civil
>           liberties and a dangerous nostalgia for the police
>           state.
>           Many of these men are committed not to the
>           establishment of democracy in Russia but to the
>           re-establishment of Communist power and privilege.
>           They have been seething ever since Mikhail
>           Gorbachev started to loosen the party's
>           stranglehold on the country in the late 1980's,
>           waiting impatiently for a chance to regain the
>           power they believe is their birthright.
>           Their political philosophy is laced with racism
>           and imperial ambition. Some openly call for the
>           repression of the non-Slavic peoples of Russia,
>           including Muslims and Jews, and the recapture of
>           Russia's newly independent neighbors, including
>           Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
>           Russia faces a fateful choice. A Communist
>           Government might turn out to be no more
>           threatening than the mildest campaign promises of
>           its leaders, but after seven decades of living
>           under Communist tyranny it is hard to see why
>           Russians would want to take that chance.

The New York Times now has a web site that can be used at no charge.
Address is: http://www.nytimes.com
The site has a "Forum" section where users can leave their comments
on the news. The "International" section is hosted by Richard Haass,
director of national security programs at the Council on Foreign

David Johnson's comment on the NYT editorial:
	The May 24 editorial on "The Communist Makeover" in the Times
is a remarkably narrowminded effort. My first question is: Who wrote
it? Any intelligence on this available?
	I'm glad that "a Communist delegation dropped by this
newspaper the other day" but, obviously, they had no success
in penetrating a closed mind. Where is the evidence for "Communist
infatuation with power and intimidation"? Where is the evidence
that Zyuganov seeks "the reestablishment of Communist power and
privilege"? Where is the evidence that Zyuganov stands for
"racism and imperial ambition"?
	There are plenty of grounds for criticizing Russian
politicans, starting at the top with Boris Yeltsin, but there
is a need for some degree of factual evidence and objectivity.
In the heat of an election campaign we can understand the
politician's need to oversimplify but that is no excuse for
professional journalists to turn themselves into partisan
	Let me make two observations about Russia. The success
of the Communists today is testimony to how bad the Yeltsin
regime is. Voters would not be turning to the Communists
except in desperation. There was little or no anti-Western or
anti-American feeling in Russia in the early Yeltsin era
(1991-92). It has only been through the actual experiences of
voters that they have turned against the Yeltsin Administration
and its enthusiastic backers.
	That is the starting point for informed analysis,
not speculation about "centuries of tyranny" or alleged
nostalgia for Soviet rule.

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