Window on Eurasia: "Communism More Terrible Than Nazism,” MGIMO Professor Says

March 6, 2006

Paul Goble

Tallinn, March 6 – A senior historian at the elite Moscow institute that trains Russian diplomats argues that "communism was more terrible than Nazism and fascism because it destroyed society down to its foundations” and consequently, it represents an evil which must be rejected rather than a system that could in some way be reformed.

In an interview prompted by the 50th anniversary of Khrushchev’s "secret speech” and the resolution the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemning totalitarianism, Andrei Zubov argues that Russians must face up to that fact and change their views of the Soviet past (

Zubov, who teaches history at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, begins his argument by suggesting that "the state exists in order to guarantee the individual the maximum well-being, freedom and security. It is not the individual who exists for the state or is a means while the state is the goal.”

"On the contrary, the state is a means, and the individual is the goal,” he continues, adding that "in any case, there is no justification for a regime which leads to the unlawful and unjustified destruction of millions of worthy, honest and good people” – even if one grants "purely theoretically” that broader goals enunciated by the state might be worthwhile.

But the MGIMO historian says, "I think that in fact the communists were not inspired by the ideas of modernization but by two other ideas: ... their chimerical and insane plans of the creation of a world socialist state and their practical idea the seizure of power and guaranteeing themselves a good life.”

Given that such plans and such a system are in and of themselves evil, they cannot be reformed but only denounced and rejected. That is something Khrushchev did not understand, Zubov argues, because while he denounced Stalin, the Soviet leader did not condemn the three basic ideas of communism: the class struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and "so-called” scientific atheism.

As a result, Khrushchev and his successors may have "softened” the ideology, but they did not turn away from those believers of their consequences, as shown by Soviet actions in Hungary in 1956, Khrushchev’s own anti-religious campaign, and the attacks on dissidents like Daniel and Sinyavskiy.

Indeed, Zubov says, "the communist regime until its very last breath preserved its nature. It could change its methods, but it could not change its goals. And therefore it was just as dangerous, just as anti-human as it had been in the first years of its power,” something, Zubov says, the PACE resolution properly calls attention to.

Overcoming that inheritance is difficult for any people subjected to it, the Moscow historian argues. It has been somewhat easier where communism was imposed from the outside and existed for a relatively short period. But for Russians "the situation is much worse” not only because there is no outsider to blame but because it lasted so much longer.

As a result of those twin realities, Zubov says, "society [in the case of the Russian Federation] has been deformed more deeply than anywhere else.” And "in this sense, communism is more terrible than Nazism and fascism because it destroyed society down to its foundations.”

Despite the horrific actions of the Nazis, he says, "German society was preserved, the social strata of the country – the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, the working class, and the army –continued. Yes, there was the uniquely horrible crime against the Jewish people and external aggression toward other peoples, but German society as such was not destroyed.”

The situation in the Soviet Union was very different, Zubov says. There, over the course of 70 years, "society was destroyed completely. And this is the most horrible thing. The upper classes were destroyed physically or exiled. The philosophers’ ship is a small example of the enormous and terrible process when the best minds of Russia were exiled so that they would not be an obstacle to the 'builders of a new society.’”

"Entire classes were completely shattered,” Zubov continues. And consequently, "the ability of the society to organize itself was destroyed. Destroyed as well were all the most active and conscientious people who did not subscribe to the communist system and spoke out against it more or less actively.”

In order to escape from this past -- one to which some in the Russian Federation would like to return -- Zubov argues, "we must recognize that our situation is terrible. It is incomparably worse than in any country of the former Eastern Europe, including the Baltic countries.”

But "while we are alive,” he says, Russians need to struggle and not to surrender. The best way to do that is to seek a spiritual and religious "rebirth.” Unfortunately, he continues, the Orthodox Church itself is "in many respects a child of the Soviet times,” an institution in which "all the best, the strongest and most honorable has died.”

To help promote this process of national recovery from the impact of communism and to allow Russians to move toward a better and healthier future, the MGIMO historian offers the following five-part program:

First, he says, "we must reject Soviet law and the Soviet state which continues with us because we have declared ourselves to be the successors of the USSR. We must reestablish legal succession from pre-communist Russia.” That won't be easy, Zubov acknowledges, but "it must be done,” just as the East Europeans have.

Second, "we must reestablish property rights and carry out the restitution of property. Property confiscated by the communists must be returned to the descendents of their lawful heirs.” And this act of restitution "must be combined with compensation for the slave-like involuntary labor of the Soviet period.”

Third, Zubov calls for lustration: Those who cooperated in a disreputable way with the communist regime of the Soviet past "must not be allowed to occupy positions of power.”

Fourth, there must be a fundamental "change in the historical view on the past. In all former socialist countries, those who struggled with the communist regime are now heroes, while those who backed it are anti-heroes.”

In the Russian Federation to this day, the situation is just the reverse. "There are monuments to bolsheviks to this day and streets bear their names. But those who struggled with the communist regime are up to now considered to be 'traitors of the Motherland.'”

"Many consider 'the Whites’ [who fought against Lenin in the Russian Civil War] to be such, and almost all consider those who participated in the Russian Liberation Army [that fought on the German side against Stalin in World War II] in that way.” Only when Russians revise their views of this past will they be able to build a future, Zubov says.

And fifth, there is, he says, "one very important [additional] task: the reunification of society here in Russia with emigre society.” That too has taken place in all former socialist countries, except Russia. And it is especially important for her, Zubov says, because "in the Russian emigration, Russian society and the church were preserved."

Many in the Russian Orthodox Church recognize that, Zubov says, pointing to the statements of the Church’s representation to PACE regarding the resolution on totalitarianism. Unlike many in Moscow who opposed that resolution tout court, the Church took the view that the measure’s primary defect was a failure to condemn communist oppression of religion.

If Russians can find within themselves and within the Church the strength to adopt the five measures he is advocating, Zubov says, then "Russia will return not so much to Europe but to the space of human civilization out of which we were cast. Without any doubt, Russia always was part of Europe. And only in the worst periods of our history were we cut off.”

"Now our task,” the MGIMO historian says, "is to return to Europe as a civilized country, one that has repented of its communist past” rather than as one that expects Europeans to make allowances for the continuing shadow of that past on the behavior of the Russian government and Russian society.


Octobr 17, 2008 - President Bush Discusses the Visa Waiver Program
Office of the Press Secretary/ White House News

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Please be seated, thank you. Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased to stand with the representatives of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of these nations will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism without a visa. I congratulate these close friends and allies on this achievement, and I thank you for joining us here.

I also thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Homeland -- Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for working hard to make sure this day has finally arrived. Appreciate other members of the administration here and members of the Diplomatic Corps.

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