The Search for an Elite
By Vitaly Korotich
Moscow News
April 6-12, 2005

In the past, Russia was run by an "elite" that had evolved as a bunch of

thieves; today there is a pressing need for a new, real elite

Give your soul to God, your life to Motherland, your heart to a woman, but

your honor to no one" - the code of conduct for Russian army officers went

far beyond the military, applying to Russia's entire nobility class. Those

who lost all their money at gambling would put a bullet through their head:

Living in dishonor was more terrible than living in poverty. Pledging one's

word of honor was good enough for taking out a loan or striking deals worth

many millions of rubles. Of course there was stealing and graft even under

the tsars, but no one had ever dared to abolish the notion of honor as such.

Morality Tales

No one dared but the Bolsheviks: "Our morality derives from the interests

of the class struggle of the proletariat...We debunk all fraudulent

morality tales." Lenin mocked the traditional moral values, spreading

"class-specific justice." The interests of the proletariat, however, could

be interpreted in any way, to suit a specific objective: Lies and stealing

became endemic in the Soviet society, from top to bottom.

Legends about the selflessness and asceticism of the leaders of the October

coup are refuted by the documentary evidence on record. Not so long ago I

got to read a private letter written by Nikolai Bukharin (it was recently

discovered in the archives), who, compared to others, was regarded as the

epitome of decency. Bukharin, at the beginning of the Civil War, writes to

a friend: "Denikin is near Tula so we are packing up; we already have false

passports and some ready cash in our pockets. Being a great bird lover, I

was toying with the idea of catching parrots in Argentina. Lenin, however,

was as calm as could be. He said - actually prophesied: "The situation

could not be worse. But we've always been lucky, and fortune will continue

to smile on us in the future.'" They did not believe in their good luck all

at once, stashing something away for a rainy day. Jacob Sverdlov's widow,

Klavdia Novgorodtseva, the treasurer of the party's 'contingency funds,'

had three drawers and a trunk packed with jewels.

Ruling with an Iron Rod

"We don't need any evidence or interrogations or even suspicions for an

execution. We just go ahead and carry out an execution as we see fit, and

that's that," Felix Dzerzhinsky categorically formulated the fundamental

Bolshevik "law." This postulate explains why the Soviet elite never really

evolved. The new masters of life from day one behaved like a bunch of

street thugs. There were ringleaders but no elite. Elites can not be built

in a legal vacuum: Even underworld associations have their own "law."

After the October Revolution, Lenin proposed the first formula for a new

elite, saying in particular that everything was of course in the hands of

the working class and peasantry, but they were not as yet ready to run the

state so it was necessary to create an elite group of party revolutionaries

("a dozen talented leaders," as he put it). Presumably that was how the

omnipotent Politburo came about. Can a bunch of criminals run a country? As

it turned out, it can.

Later, on March 3, 1937, having gotten rid of the old intelligentsia, the

nobility, and the scientific, intellectual and to a very large extent

artistic elites, Stalin, who was officially known as "Lenin today,"

clarified: The new elite will be comprised of 3,000 to 4,000 communists -

"the top command level." Then came the "officer corps" - 30,000 to 40,000;

and the "NCO ranks" - 100,000 to 150,000. In all, one percent of the USSR

population. What about the remaining 99 percent? The supreme leader said:

"Rule them with an iron rod."

The class/gang-affiliation principle in selecting the new elites was

followed meticulously. It was then, in the 1930s, that this sad joke was

born: If there were two candidates vying for the position of director of

the Institute of Physics - bourgeois specialist Albert Einstein and Baltic

Fleet seaman Vanya Khryushkin (the surname roughly translates as PiggyMan),

they would have preferred PiggyMan.

The great artist Ilya Repin had tremendous respect for the toiling masses

("I revere the people," he said) - consider, for example, his famous Barge

Haulers on the Volga. But Repin's trust in the rule of the working class

and peasantry ended when drunken marauders broke into his house several

times in a row - with total impunity. Repin chose to leave the country. The

great composer Sergei Rakhmaninov emigrated after his house was sacked,

while his piano (presumably, as a symbol of social justice meted out) was

thrown from the top floor into the street. The great operatic bass Fedor

Chaliapin, who had seen enough, also chose to leave. Need I go on?

The novelist Ivan Bunin, the painter Konstantin Korovin, and the ballet

dancer Sergei Lifar are buried at a famous memorial cemetery near Paris.

The ashes of ballerina Anna Pavlova were buried in London; the ashes of

composer Igor Stravinsky rest in Venice. Is there a need to go on?

The Bolshevik state kicked the people of genius out like junk. Vladimir

Horowitz, a former Kharkhov resident, became the world-famous pianist;

Jascha Heifetz, a former Odessa native, became one of the century's

greatest violinists; Vladimir Zvorykin invented television in the United

States; Vasily Leontyev, also in the United States, won the Nobel Prize in

economics; Igor Sikorsky, a graduate of the Kiev Polytechnic, built his

famous helicopters in emigration. These people, the nation's cream of the

crop, were absolutely vital for the looted and beheaded country, but the

Soviet state found them worse than useless.

 A Caste of Upstarts

The new Communist elite was not distinguished by scrupulousness. Mikhail

Kalinin's wife took the fur coat of the slain empress, while Vyacheslav

Molotov's spouse had the USSR State Depository of Valuables hand to her

Catherine the Great's wedding crown, later presented as a gift to the U.S.

ambassador's wife. The "modest" Stalin, who wore an ordinary service jacket

in public, had luxury dachas built for him across the country. It reached

the point of the absurd. The dictator ordered for his new dacha, on the

Valdai lake, to be built precisely on an equidistant line between the two

capitals - to make it more convenient to meet with Zhdanov, the Leningrad

party boss. Yet on the very first night at his new residence the supreme

leader was successfully attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes: He was powerless

to have them arrested or executed. Stalin never returned to that dacha again.

"Stalin's policy reflects the insecurity of the caste of privileged

up-starts" - Leon Trotsky knew what he was talking about. The Bolsheviks

robbed and looted on a grand scale. There were more than 80,000 Russian

Orthodox churches in the country, each receiving a visit from fighters for

social justice. Gold coins were hauled away by the bags and boxes,

chandeliers and ciboria were flattened with a hammer, and precious settings

and frameworks were torn off of icons and religious books. Had those

treasures, as the Bolsheviks promised, been returned to the people, each

Soviet citizen would have been richer than any Kuwaiti oil baron. But

instead of affluence, milk and honey, the Soviet people were hit by famine

and incredible poverty.

Where did everything that was stolen go? All that remains are the legends

about the secret safe deposit boxes at the impenetrable Swiss banks. How

many generations have to change before the Russian bureaucrats stop

stealing? Even now they are grabbing not only posh apartments and dachas:

They will never miss an opportunity of registering a factory, a bank, a

commercial firm or (if they are lucky enough) a whole oil company to their

wife or nephew or son-in-law or sister-in-law. All of this is of course

being done in the interest of the people whose finest representatives are

indeed living it up.

The Soviet elite is an elite that never was. The Russian elite is being

built on deformed principles, partly inherited from the past century. Yet,

an elite is not a group of time-servers who rose to power by chance. These

are "highbrowed," talented, and - which is very important - moral and

scrupulous people. A society in the 21st century is unable to develop

without an elite - a real elite.


Elite - a group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class,

enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status. In sociology as

in general usage, the elite refers to a relatively small dominant group

within a larger society, which enjoys privileged status and, almost

invariantly, exploits individuals of lower social status. Some elites speak

a language that is not shared by the commonality: in Tsarist Russia the

elite spoke French. Elite advantages are the usual ones of a dominant

social class: easier access to capital and political power, more rigorous

education largely free of indoctrination, resulting in cultural influence,

and leadership.

(Source: Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary;

Elite theories - socio-philosophical concepts positing that the elite (top

privileged strata performing managerial functions, developing science and

culture) and the remaining mass of the people are the essential components

of the social structure of any society.

(Source: Filosofskii entsikplopedicheskii slovar)