Watching Putin’s new atrocities in Ukraine, almost every human being in the world is anxiously asking these questions:
– How did we come to this?
– What to expect next?
It just so happened that in 2003 an independent Russian-language online magazine published my article explaining how and why Russia had degraded to Putin’s level since 1917, and if there’s hope to save the country. Some online editions published the English version as well – but the article was dismissed by most “progressive” readers as my anxious attempt to defend my own decision to leave Russia.
Well, twenty years later we are horrified to witness the final chapter of the regime. Do you still think I am a pessimist?
(originally published in 2003)
The other day I phoned my folks in St-Pete. My uncle answered the phone. Usually, he is not in a rush to pick up the phone, but this time he happened to be home alone. Actually, I was glad to hear his voice: my uncle always tells the truth. And even with plummeting long-distance rates, I prefer his engineering concreteness to the emotional recitals of the female half.
This time his replies were succinct as usual. But one statement, uttered without a shadow of dramatization, had puzzled me and made me think.
– You know, – he said – I took to swearing recently. Alyona is mad at me, but I can do nothing about it: we are so deep in shit here that there is no other way to express ourselves.
The sad part of the story is that while the suggested concise description of the current situation in Russia might provoke violent protest among some hyper-patriotic Russians, the use of profanity is unlikely to surprise anyone. As a matter of fact, both – the situation in Russia and the vocabulary – are the natural result of the evolution of Russian society, or more precisely, of the selection work conducted by the Soviet regime.
Having analysed the available demographic data for Russia, I came to an interesting albeit not comforting conclusion: the Bolsheviks, who had called genetics a bad name, in reality added the Harlot of Capitalism to their arsenal and had conducted a humungous experiment, consequences of which, as it turns out, are irreversible.
Briefly, my reasoning is based on the following. During the 100 years of the twentieth century, the population of Russia has been impacted the most by the following events: three “dips” (World WAR I and Civil War, collectivization and famine of 1932-1933, political repressions of 1937-1939, and World War II) causative to the waves of emigration, plus the latest wave of emigration, which has begun in the 90s. Details – facts and figures – are taken from “www.demoscope.ru”.
I build my further reasoning on the 80/20 rule, the so-called Pareto principle, the validity of which in economic and social studies nobody has been able to contest thus far. In particular, when this principle is applied to any naturally formed society, it is safe to say with confidence that 80% of its human potential belongs to 20% of its members. Perhaps these are the 20% Lev Gumilev referred to as “passionaries”; Pareto himself called these 20% “the vital few,” contrasting them with the majority – “the trivial many.” Nowadays, in different media one may encounter other notions, such as “drivers” and “passengers”, etc.
Without wrangling over the terminology, let’s assume that in 1900, Russia as a state was “normal” and the population inhabiting its territory was naturally balanced. Let us then assume that natural population growth (= birth rate – mortality), and the artificial impacts (famine, repressions, wars – i.e. negative increase) – have a constant value for each specific period, proportionally reflected in the number of both the “drivers” and the “passengers”. Finally, if statistics assert that, for example, the second wave of emigration from the USSR in 1939-47 yr. amounted to 8-10 million, let’s assume conservatively – to simplify calculations – that the negative growth of the Russian population due to emigration during the said period was 0.5 million per year.
The key, however, is the assumption that in the case of an artificial impact on the population, its size – as well as its demographics – changes in accordance with the same Pareto rule: 80% of deaths occur within 20% of the population, i.e., fall on its most active part.
Already I can hear the indignant screams of unbending advocates of the Soviet regime. Comrades! Do not rush to object! Think, who is the first to get the bullet in the war? probably not the soldiers of arrière-garde? And who were the principal targets of Stalin’s purges? And even the first to emigrate – we might as well confess now – were those whose speech was not dominated by substandard vocabulary.
Having taken as reference the year 1900 and the corresponding population size, I expected to see that under the Soviet regime the layer of “drivers” had been “thinned out” substantially, from the initial 20% down to something like 2 – 3%. Hence, as with the forest after a fire, or with any organism after a serious disease, the convalescence prospects would be moderate but nevertheless optimistic.
Much to my surprise, I discovered that from the initial 13,9 million “drivers” in 1900 no statistically significant trace was left already by the end of 1930s, and the repressions of 1938, in fact, were just dotting the “i’s” in the results of this genetic experiment. The graph descends to zero just about the year when comrade Lysenko declared an anathema on genetics. The Second World War consolidated the result. The repressions after the war, “the Doctors’ Plot” and the like, as well as the continued emigration from Russia, were nothing more than a preventive measure.
In everyday life, the vocabulary of “bratki” (modern Russian euphemism for the Mob) gained a firm foothold, while social behaviour based on the “concepts” advocated by the Mob became a generally accepted standard. The population confides most in the weird crossbreed of the two beloved Soviet-time folk heroes: Stirliz (a fairy-tale Russian spy) and Vovochka (a retarded kid from an unprivileged family, diminutive for Vladimir).
And there is no chance left for a natural recovery.
(You can still read the original publication in Russian here.)
Update 15 March 2022: The Russian-language site with the original publication seems to have been shut down as of March 12. You can still access it via Web Archive.