Before the USSR was reorganized into the Commonwealth of Independent
States, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote an essay entitled, “Repentance and Self
Limitation.” In that essay Solzhenitsyn explained that Russia had only one
moral escape route from communism. Russia would have to pass through a
“burning zone of general national repentance.” We must, he said,
acknowledge our sins and crimes. Later, when Solzhenitsyn returned to
Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, he found there was no genuine
national repentance, and expressed his disappointment openly.
It is important that we remember Solzhenitsyn’s comments about repentance
and self-limitation whenever we examine the statements of Russian leaders.
With that in mind, let us turn to Vladimir Putin’s first State of the Nation
Address, given on Saturday before both houses of the Russian parliament.
Some Americans will be encouraged by Putin’s address, since the Russian
president indicated support for lower taxes, an independent judiciary,
multiparty democracy, a free Russian press and a free market. But Putin’s
comments, as good as they seem on the surface, were not at all
While Putin explained that Russia had to “draw lessons from the past” and
recognize that the role of the state in the economy is “to defend economic
liberty,” he also implied that economic liberty means a strong commitment to
health care, education and culture. “The state will not be able … to
avoid participating in the development of some sectors of the economy — in
other words, direct participation by the state.”
It seems that Putin can pronounce the words “economic liberty,” but his
socialist mind cannot wrap itself around the concept of economic liberty.
In this context, we are supposed to understand that his proposals for
state involvement in the Russian economy are OK because they are
“non-arbitrary.” As it happens, this is the same socialist doubletalk we
hear from homegrown socialists here in America.
On the issue of press freedom Putin’s views are basically those of a
Soviet dictator. In his address he stated that Russia’s press is free.
“Unfortunately,” Putin then acknowledged, “we have not yet managed to work
out clear democratic rules guaranteeing genuine independence for the fourth
estate — and I want to emphasize the word genuine.”
And what does he mean by “democratic rules guaranteeing genuine
“Censorship and interference in the activities of the media are
prohibited by law,” explained Putin, “and the authorities adhere strictly to
this principle. But censorship not only comes from the state. …”
Putin then made a subtle communist-style argument against the private
ownership of various media outlets. He noted that media dependence on
commercial interests “makes it possible to use the mass media … against
Anyone who knows the ABCs of liberty knows that censorship only comes
from the state, otherwise it’s not censorship. The state alone can jail
reporters and writers, close newspapers and confiscate printed materials.
The fact that some newspaper owner presents his own views, as opposed to
somebody else’s, is not censorship. It is the essence of freedom!
But communists believe in something called “the dictatorship of the
bourgeoisie.” They believe that the chief threat against freedom of speech
comes from private property itself — from private corporations and wealthy
individuals. After all, under conditions of economic liberty the owner of a
newspaper can refuse to print an editorial calling for the expropriation of
the upper class. The owner of a newspaper can also refuse to print articles
advocating a revolution by the working class — to overthrow the very
privileges of ownership.
Therefore, according to Putin’s logic, newspapers and TV stations that do
not take a Marxist line probably aren’t free. Such are merely tools of
bourgeois class oppression. But who in the West will notice that Putin has
outlined a concept of press freedom that is thoroughly Bolshevik?
The Soviet idea of press freedom, as well as economic freedom, differs
from the Western concept. Here we see the whole root cause of the Cold War.
Two different worldviews produce two incompatible forms of civilization.
And Putin’s speech clearly reveals that Russia has not escaped the socialist
worldview and the oppressive semi-Medieval civilization it produces. In the
words of Solzhenitsyn, “there is no genuine national repentance.”
A former KGB careerist, President Putin recently described himself as “a
pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.”
Consistent with this theme, he invited KGB Gen. Vladimir Kryuchkov to his
inauguration last May. For those who remember, Kryuchkov was the Communist
hardliner who led the August 1991 coup against Gorbachev. Earlier this year
Putin described Kryuchkov as “a very decent man.” Putin then added, “To
this day I have the greatest respect for him.” About the coup itself, Putin
made the following curious statement: “In principle,” he said, “their goal
— preserving the Soviet Union from collapse — was noble, and they probably
saw it that way.”
From these statements alone we can discern that President Putin appears
to be an unreconstructed Communist. He shows no remorse for the KGB’s
crimes. He is not afraid of a return to the past. Last March Grigory
Yavlinksy, leader of Russia’s miniscule liberal party, said that Putin was a
“secret Communist.” Last year, after the Duma elections, Yavlinksy
acknowledged that Russia “was a still a Soviet country.”
For Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, repentance is the only path to freedom for
Russia. What Vladimir Putin’s State of the Nation address suggests, is that
no repentance has taken place, even now, and that a return to the past is
unnecessary. After all, Russia never stopped being a Soviet country. It
has never stopped being a center of oppression and destruction.
“We should accept in advance,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “that there is no
neighbor toward whom we bear no guilt. Let us behave as people do on the
day of forgiveness, and ask forgiveness of all around us.” But Putin does
not speak of reconciliation with the Chechen people, for example. He does
not talk about the sins that Russia has committed against its neighbors —
against Poland and Finland and Mongolia and Afghanistan and Hungary, etc.
But there is only the sound of gunfire and the whistling of bombs in
Many in the West will applaud Putin’s State of the Nation address.
Americans, however, should not misunderstand what Putin’s apparent support
for economic liberty and free speech represents. Putin is merely casting
about for a way to build Russia’s war machine and increase the power of the
So let us not be fooled. Let us remain vigilant.