Reality Asserts Itself: Alexander Buzgalin

* The Real News Network: Reality Asserts Itself: Alexander Buzgalin: 01: Growing up in the USSR. 02: Success and Mutation in the Soviet Union. 03: Communism and Consumerism. 04: Turning Power into Money, the End of the Soviet Union. 05: I Returned from Vacation to Find the Soviet Union had Collapsed. 06: Shock without the Therapy: A New Russia is Born in Chaos and Plunder. 07: Putin is Anointed King, but Big Capital has the Real Power. 08: Is Putin’s Rule a Dictactorship?. 09: Why is Putin so Popular when People are so Poor?. 10: Why Does the West Hate Putin?. 11: Many Russians Think Climate Change is Propaganda to Weaken Their Economy. 12: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Socialism.

Reality Asserts Itself: Alexander Buzgalin

The Real News Network, Paul Jay, 11 July 2018

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The Real News Network: Reality Asserts Itself: Alexander Buzgalin

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network and welcome to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay. I’m in New York. My guest, who just flew in recently from Moscow, was born just one year after the death of Stalin, and he grew up in Moscow.

Alexander Buzgalin is a professor of political economy and the director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. He’s also editor of the Independent Democratic left magazine, Alternatives, a coordinator of the Russian Socialist movement, Alternatives, and author of more than twenty books and hundreds of articles translated into English, German and many other languages. So, thanks for joining us.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Thank you. I’m really very glad to have this chance.

PAUL JAY: So, growing up at home, at a time just after the death of Stalin- and we’ve all seen, the West’s seen pictures and video or film- it would have been of the funeral after Stalin, and the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in the streets mourning his death. We know about the cult of personality and the importance that Stalin’s figure played in Soviet life. What’s it like growing up, as a child, in that kind of atmosphere?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Well, first of all, I was a child when Stalin was dead. And my life, my life in school, my life just after school, was interconnected in an atmosphere of Spring, of the beginning of Spring, so called Oттепель (Ottepel). You know, sometimes in the Winter when wind from the South is coming, instead of snow you have a little bit of warm weather. So, it was that situation in late 1950s, early 1960s when I was, more or less, ready for understanding of the reality. Because in the 50s, I was nobody. What is important: my father was an engineer, but a military engineer, and my mother was working with him. And it was creation of a system of strategic nuclear rockets. From one point of view, this is dangerous, the most dangerous weapons which can exist in the world. From another point of view, now there is opinions that without this system of rockets, it could be a real third world war with terrible destruction of everything, at least in the mentality of all my elder friends and my parents.

PAUL JAY: Meaning without the nuclear mutually assured destruction, there might have been conventional warfare.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And they were working very hard and money was not motivation for them. They were trying to prevent World War III, and it was the main motivation for hundreds of people. And conditions for work were absolutely terrible. And I was living not in Moscow, I was living in small villages not far from the place, a forest, where this construction was under the earth. I don’t know how to say it in English. The atmosphere was very interesting- atmosphere of friendship, not simple, but comrade relations, officers, engineers. But we had debates about new novels in Journal of Foreign Literature. We had debates about new jazz music. I grew up on great American jazz, it was not really forbidden. In the same time, it was big debates about politics. And when Khrushchev gave information about victims of Stalin’s terror, it was big debates. An interesting time, provocative time, romantic time, if you want.

PAUL JAY: You and I are about the same age. And when I was a teenager, I grew up under the same kind of idea, that nuclear war was possible, the Cuban Missile Crisis. The fear, the atmosphere that nuclear war might be eminent must be even stronger in a country that just lost thirty million people not that long before, in World War II.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Really, it was not fear. It was a feeling that we can prevent this, but we must work hard in order to prevent this. Fear, when you don’t have forces, when you don’t have opportunities to do something, you are just victim, and victim is waiting. Will you be punished? Will you be killed or not? We had another atmosphere. We are creators of our future. And we can and must work hard in order to create a future which we like. And it was very rapid changes. A few years before, a terrible war finished.

One half of the European territory was completely destroyed, completely, nothing, after it finished. After twenty years, first man in space, fantastic results in science, very big and rapid growth in education. And at the same time, difficult life. It was shortage of normal food, good food. It was problem to buy ice cream, in the village it was impossible. I had ice cream maybe two times in a year, as a- I don’t know, gift for the celebration of one or another holiday. So, it was not so important for us, this atmosphere of good things. And the situation was also very contradictory. We had a nation of bureaucracy. And I felt this because my parents were under the supervision of stupid generals sometimes, and all this was discussed.

PAUL JAY: And if they’re involved in the preparations of the nuclear arsenal, they must have been particularly under observation.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, of course, but then we went back to Moscow because my father had big problems with health. It was terrible work, really. And when I was fourteen years old, even a little earlier, we went back to Moscow and I was very lucky. We had a very good pioneer organization in our school in Moscow. It was ordinary school, not in the center of Moscow, but with a lot of social activity. We had self- management in the school, by the way. School boys and school girls had the right to decide or question the everyday life of the school. To clean everything, it was our obligation. To make repairs, it was our obligation. To discuss what to do in free time, how to do, and so on. It was interesting common work. We had a big activity to put together all our stuff which is not very necessary- bicycles, toys- for Vietnamese kids, to make some jobs to help take money to send something which we can buy. But at the same time, we had a lot of conflicts with officials, with bureaucrats, who were mainly creating obstacles for our self-organization. So, from the very beginning, I was in this contradiction; social activity from below, and bureaucratic oppression.

PAUL JAY: Were your parents in the Communist Party, and what were the kind of values, politics of your house, your home, growing up?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: My mother not a member of the Communist Party. My father was a member of the Communist Party, but he became a member of the party when he received top status in Moscow at the end of his working career, only. So, it was not obligationary. Atmosphere was- I cannot say dissident, but critical, about the situation in the Soviet Union. And it was very honest debates, what was going on, is understanding of contradictions with problems. I must stress a very important point. We had- not only my family- big interest towards classic literature, classic music, classic culture, I can say, and romantic culture. It was normal to read poems, to dream. Science fiction, but not American-style or modern Russian-style science fiction, it was attempts to create an image of the future communist world. And it was beautiful, and we still have very beautiful novels about this future communist world, the contradictions of this world, problems of this world. And this romantic atmosphere was very important for us. It was commonplace, everybody was absolutely sure that the beginning of the twenty-first century will be a victory of socialism in main part of the world, it will be a lot of scientific decisions.

So, robots everywhere in the beginning of the twenty-first century, of course. Hand labor in the twenty-first century? Impossible! Waitress? Impossible! Worker who is doing something in the factory instead of machines? Impossible! Automatic cars without drivers? Of course! Airplanes which will cross the planet for thirty minutes? Of course! It is absolutely evident. So, we showed that the progress is going on, and the future is very interesting, beautiful, but if you want to have this future, you must work hard. And we had even such expression. Romantic dreams? Yes, of course. But what does it mean, romantic dreams? To work twelve hours a day on the basis to do this. It was one half of the life. It was another half of the life, where people were looking for American-style jeans, Wrangler or Levi-Strauss label. It was a problem to buy good-quality sausages, especially if you are not in Moscow. It was money fetishes, yes, for a big part of the population. We had hooligans, we had battles in the streets, pioneer group against hooligans. Yes, it was also part of our life. So, I don’t want to create an ideal model. I want to stress that for a minority, but a very important minority, of Soviet society, this romantic communist- style of dreams, of self-organization, was essential.

PAUL JAY: But, at least the perception from outside is that the Soviet state had become a kind of police state, that the ability to talk openly was very restricted. There were elections, but they were controlled by the communist party. If all that’s true, then there’s quite a difference between the reality of life, the official narrative, and you grow up in that contradiction.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it’s absolutely true. And really, I felt this contradiction, but not when I was a schoolboy, when I became a student of Moscow State University, one of another, again, paradoxes. In the Moscow State University Economic Department, it was elite, the best university in the country, one of the best in the world, Economic Department is also very prestige. What we had among students, we had maybe ten or fifteen percent of the kids of nomenklatura, of top officials, and so on, but not more. We had thirty, forty, fifty percent in the class of normal, ordinary schoolboys and schoolgirls who had very good results in education. And we had the former workers, who came for preparatory courses. If you had two years of work in the factory and the greater enterprise everywhere, before university, you could, for free, have one year or two years education to prepare you for entering university. And if you pass through, not very strong exams in this preparatory course, you automatically become a student of Moscow State University.

PAUL JAY: When you grew up, as a child, there must have been a picture of Stalin on the wall.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was too late, I was not born when it was Stalin.

PAUL JAY: But you know, what they call the Khrushchev revelations about Stalin to the Soviet people does not happen until 1956. So, those first years until then, at least, I’m assuming-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I was two years old. What do you want? I don’t remember. What I do remember is when we had portraits of Khrushchev. And I remember the atmosphere in my family, and everybody said it’s stupidity. And when Brezhnev came in 1965, and we had three leaders and no cult of personality in the first ten years of Brezhnev epoch, everybody was happy about it. But then, we had, again, cult of personality without personality. It’s a joke that, famous at that time. About political atmosphere, it’s again important to stress that in Stalin period, yes it was a terrible atmosphere of oppression, and at the same time, often too a very big tension, very strong contradiction. And without understanding of this contradiction, it’s impossible to understand the epoch of the early 50s in our country and victory in the war, by the way, also.

Later, we didn’t have total control. In the family, the corridors of university, or even in the Ministry- my mother was working as a state union leader in the Ministry of Construction in the construction industry- and in the corridors, everybody was talking openly that Brezhnev is a stupid guy, too old, a lot of funny and dirty anecdotes about leaders of the Communist Party, and nothing. And the official party meetings, yes, some ritual words, then normal debates. And again, if you will criticize officials in the open meeting, you can be punished. You will lose your job, you will have big problems, not be in the prison, but big problems.

PAUL JAY: Did you discuss these kinds of things with your father and mother? Did they grow up kind of with the belief and the ideals and the hopes of the Soviet Union and did they go through a disillusionment?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, I grew up in the atmosphere of critical communism, if you want. My parents were, they had the experience of Stalin’s terror. Not my father, mainly, but my mother. For my father, it was a problem of oppression not for him, but for his friends, and so on. So, it wasn’t part of our family life as for the majority of families. It was a critique of the bureaucratic situation in the Soviet Union, of course. And at the same time, it was a very strong, not even belief, but knowledge that the future belongs to communism. Why? Because they had practice. They had decades and decades of work together with comrades for creation of a new society.

PAUL JAY: So, for an American or Western audience, that word, “communism,” has- less and less now, the further we get away from the cold war- but still, the idea of communism, socialism, particularly communism, it means “police state.” It means “tyranny.” For most American ears, they can’t understand how someone would actually hope for communism. What did that mean for your family?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: For us, it was absolutely another meaning because of literature, because of movies, because of some practical communal-associated activity. So, what was communism for us? First of all, labor is pleasure. I am glad, I am happy to have my work. I am going for the work because I like it, not because I must make as small as possible and receive as much money as possible. Another motivation, another logic. Second, at the workplace we have comrades, not competitors, and together we will do something interesting. This is communism. Communism is space where you have beautiful things; useful, beautiful, cheap things around you. Dress, furniture, everything. And these things are just, I don’t know, basis for your life, for interesting life, for communications, creativity. That was the image of communism. And if you read books of Strugatsky, Arkady Strugatsky or Boris Strugatsky, two very famous writers, you will find a very beautiful description of such a world, and some elements of this world, we had sometimes.

PAUL JAY: Like when?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Like when we were together as schoolboys and schoolgirls, we were making something good for Vietnamese kids. We were spending our free time, not to play games with computers, it was no computer or football- we were playing football, but not all the time. But it was interesting to work and to buy bicycles for Vietnamese kids together. Just one example. To help to the elder people together. To create museum with memory about victims of World War II in school, from the fortress of our parents and grandparents, and so on.

So, one example. And an example in university, we have a union of young students and young scientists, scholars. And we made ourselves with state finance, three, four conferences every year for free in different cities of Russia. We were travelling, we were inviting students from other cities and state paid for their trips, for airplanes, for hotels, for us to go to other places. And it was self-organization. We organized these conferences by ourselves. We had a scientific supervisor, but he or she was controlling the program, nothing else.

PAUL JAY: But this vision, I mean, communism, the Marxist vision, a classless society with very little government, if any, as the ideal. But the reality of life was quite the opposite.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but not one hundred percent opposite.

PAUL JAY: There was free university, healthcare.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and it was elements of self- organization and enthusiasm. In Stalin period, it was big contradiction, both terror and enthusiasm. Khrushchev period, less terror, and very interesting, romantic, enthusiastic thread. Not for majority, but for big minority, twenty, thirty, fifty million people. It was minority, but big minority. And Brezhnev period, it was stagnation. So, going down enthusiasm, and no repressions, but boring, dusty life.

PAUL JAY: Okay, in the next segment, because we do this interview in segments, I want to take on a bit of the bigger picture and then come back to your life again. So, please join us for the next part of our interview with Alexander Buzgalin on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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02: Success and Mutation in the Soviet Union

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay and we’re continuing our discussion with Professor Alexander Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Thank you, it’s very interesting. I’m provoked to talk, absolutely happy to be here.

PAUL JAY: Good. Once again, let me get this right- Professor Buzgalin is Professor of Political Economy and director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, picking up from part one, the 1920s in the Soviet Union, after the revolution, my understanding, at least. It was a time of tremendous excitement, of transformations, beginnings of modern movie-making takes place in the Soviet Union, some of the innovations are world class. Why and how, and I know this is an enormous question, really boil this down- how does something so transformative turn into such bureaucracy?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s a really great, very important and very difficult question. A brief and little bit primitive explanation: The Soviet Union was born in the- appeared in a period of terrible contradictions. So, world capitalism, World War I, terrible bloody war, for what? For killing of millions of people for the profit of corporations. And one result was material basis and cultural basis for a new society. So, it’s like a kid that appeared in the dusty, cold atmosphere without good parents or without parents at all. How to survive? It will be some mutations. And we had mutations and we had very small chances for growing up, for normal development of this kid.

New socialist trend, not socialist country, but trend, movement in socialist direction. And of course, we received a lot of mutations. Firstly, it was real huge energy, created by revolution, by victory in civil war. Energy of creation of new society, enthusiasm and so on. In the same time, in new economic policy in the 1920s, we had a lot of elements of market capitalism and so on. It was, by the way, not a bad model of combination of capitalism, market, and new socialist trends, with big contradictions. But then, because of terrible conditions, absence of material base inside, and the very dangerous, very aggressive-

PAUL JAY: Meaning the absence of any modern industry.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. It was necessary to create, during ten years, modern industry and a huge military complex in order to prevent defeat in the war against world fascism. By the way, I want to stress, in 1930s, fascism became rule. It was Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, then all Europe capitulated.

PAUL JAY: And strong support in Britain and the United States, including the King of England.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and by the way- yeah, Britain and the United States were not very sympathetic to the Soviet Union rule at all. And one minute, one very important fact. When German fascists, Nazi, took power, it was one country around France, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, strong industrial states altogether- Britain, the U.S.- no problem to defeat Germany. And what was the result? Germany occupied France, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Austria. Nobody can resist- democratic liberal capitalism could not resist to fascism. And only this strange mutation, Stalin’s socialism, could have a victory.

PAUL JAY: And I think a lot of people in the West don’t understand how clear this was, what was coming as early as 1930, 31, 32-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but after that, we had this bureaucratic mutation because of all these reasons. And the more we had power of bureaucracy and the less we had the real control from below, real opportunity to make something in social organization from below, the more we had degradation of socialist trends. And we moved from domestic socialism, in the atmosphere of capitalism around, towards attempts to build consumer society, but without the opportunity to consume. The economy of shortage consumer society.

PAUL JAY: This is a very important point, because I don’t think it gets made very often. What you’re arguing is the growth of fascism throughout Europe, supported to a large extent by the British and the Americans, helps, is one of an important condition, for the bureaucratizing of the Soviet state.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Militarization and bureaucratization and the dictatorship type of political and social organization.

PAUL JAY: But a country with socialist ideals is not supposed to be throwing hundreds of thousands of people in prisons.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Of course. Of course, that’s why I said this is a mutation which led to the degradation and finally, the collapse. It was- we had reasons for this terrible mutation. But this mutation led to the collapse.

PAUL JAY: You talked about the post-war period. The Russians beat the Americans to space, this explosion in sciences, the development- even more development in modern industry, and particularly, after so much of the country was destroyed in the war. What happened? Why a period of such growth after World War II, to the collapse of the Soviet Union? Again, an enormous question.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Well, this is part of our life, my life, the life of my generation. First of all, why so big success in some spheres? We had success in the spheres which are suited for communism. Why? Communism, as I said, creative work together with friends. Education? Creative work together with friends. Science? Creative work together with friends. Competition, but very specific competition. Who is more smart, who can present to other people more knowledge, art, creative knowledges. So, we are creating, very fast, material bases for communism. But in the spheres which are necessary for everyday life in industrial society, we were defeated by capitalism. It was joked, we can make strategic rockets, we can make fantastic results in education, but we cannot make normal pants and good shoes. Unfortunately, it was true.

Again, why success? Because of planification, social property which gave material results for people. Free of charge education, what is this? This is the material result of social property. A free of charge healthcare system, what is this? This is the result of social property. Growth, five percent increase of real incomes and quality of life? This is the result of planification and plan and social property. But economy of shortage, absence of normal sausages, shoes and so on, this is also the result of bureaucratic propertization and statization, bureaucratization of social property. So, a real deep contradiction. And because of the deep decline of enthusiasm and growth of bureaucratic oppression, we received collapse of the Soviet Union, generally speaking.

PAUL JAY: The underlying idea of a socialist economy is that it’s a planned economy. And you can avoid the periodic crises of capitalism, given that it should give rise to an explosion of productivity and the productive forces, and so on. It seems to me, trying to do that with the paper and pencil, and I mean that literally, is impossible. I read somewhere that they were trying to figure out how to give somebody a raise on an assembly line because they worked harder than someone else. And by the time the process was finished, it was two thousand signatures of people that had signed off on how to give somebody a raise, to figure out what that person had added to the value of the product going down the assembly line. I don’t know if the example’s true, but the bureaucratization, is it not inevitable when you’re trying to do that at that stage of economic development?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes and no. Yes, because you described an anecdotic situation, and it is part of reality. No, because we had wonderful examples how such a big project can work. By the way, in the United States, Apollo Program was also based on “the plan.” And to go to the moon without a strategic plan with a lot of details; when, who, how will create what is impossible?

PAUL JAY: Yeah, individual things can be well-planned. But trying to plan a whole economy, at that stage of things?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, that’s true. And this is the reason why I said that it was inevitable to have this bureaucratization of that period. But going back to- maybe not going back- going forward to the twentieth century, now we have problems to make balance of economy, national economy, is not a problem. The problem is to create a system of motivation and a system of rapid changes in production is very important. And plan, if you want to use plan for development of consumer society, these ten thousand types of shoes is impossible. A plan is very good for creation of society where you must create a new spaceship, new type of transportation, create education for everybody. Because for education for everybody, you don’t need a concrete plan, you need the material resources for university and self-management in the university. That’s it, yeah? It will work.

This is a big question, how to overcome contradictions of the past and what can be the lessons for tomorrow. Generally speaking, I will maybe conclude with relatively simple theories. First of all, movement from capitalist society to a real- more freedom, communism, or a Marxist vision, is not direct line. This is a zig-zag. Like, I don’t know, Mississippi is going from the North to the South, if I’m not mistaken, yeah? But sometimes, Mississippi is going to the North. So, the history also goes with zig-zags. And the problem is to understand the reasons why Mississippi went to the North.

PAUL JAY: Well, in our next segment we’ll pick up. A zig or a zag?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, that’s the question. How to go in the necessary direction? And here, we need Marxist theory, we need leaders, we need understanding of the logic of the history, if you want. But this is a big question mark.

PAUL JAY: Okay, please join us for our continuation of our series of interviews with Alexander Buzgalin on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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03: Communism and Consumerism

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay and we’re continuing our discussion with Alexander Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, I’m very glad.

PAUL JAY: So, one more time, Alexander Buzgalin is a Professor of Political Economy and Director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at the Moscow State University. So, we kind of talked in broadest strokes about why socialism in the Soviet Union became so bureaucratic. Then of course, you have the massive war, the killing of thirty million Russians, destruction of much of the country. You are born in 1954, this is as we said, about a year after the death of Stalin. You sort of, I guess, come to more political consciousness as such, at ten, eleven, twelve, fifteen years old. Talk about how you viewed the world at that time and how your view of the world changes.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s very difficult when you’re sixty to talk about your vision of the world when you were twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old. I’ll try to be, more or less, exact. First of all, the world was divided, and we definitely knew that there is a progressive and a regressive part of the world. And we, Soviet Union, with all negative features of our bureaucrats, are part of the progressive movement of mankind. And communist fighters for liberation were our friends in this progressive movement.

When, in Chile, Allende came to power- it was a little later, I was already a student- it was happiness, then Pinochet organized this coup with the assistance of United States, and Allende and his friends were killed. And it was a personal tragedy for us- not for everybody in Russia. Again, like I said, majority were normal citizens, conformists, who wanted to have very simple things and for them, dream about supermarkets was more important than dream about communism. But for big minority, it was their case. I think absolute majority of people were that they are living in a progressive country which is trying to protect Vietnamese, to help to the left movement all over the world.

PAUL JAY: National liberation movements in Africa.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: National liberation movements in Africa and Latin America and so on. To help to the poor people in the United States, also. We had, by the way, not bad movies in our T.V., documentary movies about the United States, where it was shown both prosperity, Times Square, Wall Street and so on, and the poor regions of United States. And some Russian civilians didn’t believe that it’s true, said the idea that it was artificially created- pictures of poverty, it cannot be in the United States, so terrible a life. And I first time came to the U.S. in 1991 and went to these regions and understood that this is not propaganda, this is the reality of the most rich country in the world, yeah? This is the feelings of the life.

PAUL JAY: So, you grew up, television, in the culture, this sympathy for national liberation movements around the world, as you say, the election of Allende in Chile, this is all about liberation and freedom, but domestically, not so much liberation and freedom. There’s a contradiction there. And as you go through your teenage years, when do you start to become conscious that “this ain’t what it’s supposed to be?”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s true. Let’s come to 1969 or 1970- I don’t remember exactly- when I was a schoolboy. It was the ninth year of education in school, we had ten years of education. And friends from Moscow State University- not friends, students from Moscow State University Economic Department came to our school and said they have a school special, seminars, lectures for schoolboys and schoolgirls who want to be students of Moscow State University, of course, for free. You can come in the evening. If you want to participate, you are welcome. So, I asked my mother and she said it’s very important and you must do this. First of all, I had a dream to be a journalist- by the way, now I am a journalist, I’m not only a professor, but this is maybe a joke of the life.

So, I came, and the first lecture, based on Das Kapital of Karl Marx, showed that Marxism explained what does it mean to have a market? It means that market fetishism, commodity fetishism will dominate. And I understood why people are looking for good commodity sinks, but not dreaming about communism. I understood what does it mean, exploitation, and why it is not just bad will of Bourgeoisie, but an objective flaw of the system. And this system is growing from market, from differences of kind of producers. So, I received a picture which with science, theory, explains the world, explains the reality. When I became student of Moscow State University, by the way, without any special preparations, just after ordinary school. I was not best student in the school, but it was not something special. No money, of course. And in university, these contradictions between bureaucratic, formalistic organization of social life, from one hand, and the content of Marxist theory and some romantic communist dreams from another side. These contradictions became very bright.

PAUL JAY: Let me just say again, because we discussed this a bit in the previous segment, but dreams of communism, not the Western version of what they think the dream-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: The Marxist version, yeah.

PAUL JAY: Which means from each according to their work, to each according to their need.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, communism, for us, was society with- I will repeat it, it’s very important- society where you like your work because it is creative labor, labor of teacher, of doctor, of painter, of engineer, but you like your work.

PAUL JAY: And the product belongs to everybody.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: The problem is not simply that the product belongs to everybody, the problem is that you have not competitors, but comrades with whom you are creating a new city, a new idea, a new movie. You are working together as colleagues, as comrades, as co-producers of the future cultural values.

PAUL JAY: So, the contradiction between this vision and the reality you just said became very bright.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, very bright and very evident. One interesting example, we had the obligatory course, History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. And the majority of the students hated this course. And the first semester, we had a teacher, she was terribly bureaucratic and dogmatic, and it was absolutely impossible. It was necessary to learn, by heart, the resolutions of the congresses, or something like that. Very stupid. But then, for another two semesters, came another lady. I remember her family name, Kuzmich. Very strange family name. And she presented this history of the Communist Party as a most interesting detective story of the history of mankind. How twenty, thirty young persons- Lenin when he started was twenty-five years old- how they changed the world. And we were living in the world where thirty percent of mankind were moving in socialist direction in 1970s.

How could it be, less than one hundred years, and the world was changed? Why? Because it was good theory. It shows that direction. It’s like the airplane. People know that it’s impossible to fly. You cannot fly, you are man, you are not bird. What can be done? Nothing. Capitalism is forever, market is forever, inequality is forever. Nobody can be changed. But then, guys come in and say that there is a special theory which creates a potential to fly. Of course, first the airplanes were absolutely terrible, and it was a lot of catastrophes. But now we are flying, I hope, safely to the U.S. and back. The same with building of socialism. And the theory is that it is possible to fly, to move to the free society with free development of personalities, main goal. It was very important.

PAUL JAY: But now the general conception is that theory was wrong.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, now I am sure that it is right. And I mentioned in the second chapter, I think, of our talk- by the way, thank you very much. I didn’t think that it can be such interesting dialogue for people, who knew? Maybe it will be interesting for you who are listening to us. So, I said that history is moving not directly. It is a non-linear transformation from realm of necessity towards realm of freedom from feudal capitalist mode of production towards communism as a space of free positive freedom. And this is like a river which is going with zig-zags. And I said that Mississippi is from the North to the South, yeah, sometimes it’s going back to the North. The same with Volga, by the way, in Russia.

Now we are in the period of the history when historical time is going back. We are in the process of regress.

PAUL JAY: So, you lived through the ending phase of the Soviet Union, and you’ve come out of this process maybe more a Marxist than when you went into this process when you were young. But that’s not true for most of the people in Russia now. What about your life led you to this?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, I became, more or less, a theoretically well-prepared Marxist because I had practice of communist life. My parents, their friends, were working for the country, very hard. Of course, money was important. Of course, they had dream to buy new T.V. set, but it was not the key problem, not the main problem. I had very good relations in pioneer organizations. I had great teachers for whom also this romantic life was the goal of the life. They were teaching, and it was not a very well-paid job, but they were happy to spend all time with kids, even without big obligations. It was not ninety or one hundred percent life of Soviet Union. It was maybe thirty percent, maybe twenty percent. But I was lucky to be in this process.

And when I received theoretical proof that this is not something extraordinary, this is what must be, I became, let’s say, a critical communist, if I can say so. Because during my student years, I wrote, with my friends, a manuscript with strong critique of the Soviet system. And our PhD dissertation was very accurate, but behind was critique of Soviet system, of planning as a bureaucratic system with privileges of bureaucracy, with inequality, with alienation of people from real power, real property. And I had talks about this with my colleagues when I was defending my PhD dissertation, with problems, but I defended it. I was devoted to the contradictions of planification. The topic was provocative.

But after that, I started to teach in Moscow State University. I was lucky, all my life I spent at MSU. I organized a seminar about, devoted to the contradictions of real socialism- it was contradictions of developed socialism. And we had debates in a very specific language, very abstract, theoretical language, but about real contradictions of our life. And it was very important for me. When Gorbachev’s perestroika came, we were ready for it.

PAUL JAY: How old were you then?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was how much- I was thirty years old, thirty-one, thirty-two, something like that. Yeah, ’85.

PAUL JAY: And by this point, you’re already playing a very senior role in the Party?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: No, I was not member of the Party.

PAUL JAY: You were not a member at this point?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I was not a member of the Party. I was teaching in the Economics Department of MSU, Moscow State University, but I was not a member of the Party.

PAUL JAY: Why didn’t you join the party?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was too bureaucratic at that period, I can say. And when we received the opportunity to talk more or less free, we started to write articles, a book, devoted to these contradictions, bureaucratization, organized different clubs, meetings. And informal social life, or better to say, informal civil society appeared in that period, in 1987, 1988. And in that period, I became a member of the Communist Party, when it became more free and with a position [inaudible].

PAUL JAY: In the United States, the Vietnam War helped shape and politicize millions of people. It shaped the whole character of a whole generation and how they looked at the world. Did the Afghan War play that role in Russia?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Not at all, it was not significant. In fact, only after perestroika period, or during perestroika period, the last two years of the Soviet Union, 1989 and 1990, we received more information, and more, how you say, results of, understanding of this problem. But still, in consciousness of Soviet people, Afghan War is not associated with Vietnam War in the United States, mainly because, in Vietnam, it was visible opposition, which now created not a bad country, is creating not a bad country. In Afghanistan, it’s difficult to say. And still, there are a lot of people from Afghanistan who say that when Soviet Union left us, we received a lot of tragedies and few stabilization. And when we look now on countries in Central Asia, former republics of the Soviet Union, we see very few stabilization of life.

PAUL JAY: You know, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who helped engineer, when he was National Security Advisor for Carter, and they kind of bring this whole plan to arm the Jihadists in the countryside and wage a war against the Soviet Union. They see that as helping bring down the Soviet system. And they see that as a great victory, even though it led- I mean, I interviewed Brzezinski, and he’ll acknowledge it gave rise to Bin Laden and Al-Qaida, and even the 9/11 attacks. But he still thinks it was a great victory to be able to use the Afghan War to destroy the Soviet Union. Did it play that kind of role?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I don’t think that the Afghan War was really an important factor for the destruction of the Soviet Union. It was not- main contradictions were inside. But of course, permanent pressure from outside was a very important factor, but not the most important factor. I can say, seventy, eighty percent internal contradictions, twenty, thirty percent influence from outside. And the Afghan War was maybe a few percent in this influence. Of course, this is very funny, to give percent for such factors, but, to make it simple.

PAUL JAY: But the internal bureaucratization, and such to the-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Bureaucratization and consumerization. I want to stress, I think the main enemy of communism- in mine and Marx’s understanding of free society with free development of personality, main enemy is not even capital or private property. Main enemy is conformist life of people who are slaves of market, of money, of capital. To be a marionette puppet in the hands of market, not in the hands of big boss, or president, or dictator, even, but the puppets of the market.

PAUL JAY: Here we call that freedom.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, freedom, yeah. But if there will be a chance, I will give more exact explanation, but in Soviet Union, even in Stalin’s period of dictatorship, it was impossible to force people to talk only about communism all weekend. But market can create, push can force everybody to go to megamall and spend all weekend buying or just looking for some commodities. Market is more totalitarian, more oppressive than any political system, with dictatorship. Ninety percent of people in China, in modern Russia, in the United States and India, are slaves of the market fetishism. And this is even more powerful and more oppressive force than any totalitarian ideology.

PAUL JAY: Okay, we’ll continue our discussion. Please join us for the next segment of Reality Asserts Itself with Alexander Buzgalin.

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04: turning Power into Money, the End of the Soviety Union

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay and we’re continuing our discussion with Professor Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again. Alexander Buzgalin is Professor of Political Economy and Director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, in the last segment you said you did join the Communist Party in 1988. Gorbachev becomes leader in ‘85, so what was it about Gorbachev and perestroika, what did that period represent, and why is it a time to join the Party?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Well, it was a very contradictory and very interesting period. We had transformation. And the slogan of the 1980s, late 1980s, was very beautiful. More democracy, more socialism. More humanism, more transformation towards a new society. Acceleration of development. Key slogans. 1987, special law- we must, in the Soviet Union, we must create self-management in all spheres, regions and production. This was and almost unique experiment when state enterprises, by law, was necessary to create a council of workers, of specialists, with main power to make decisions inside frameworks of plan. And to elect direct. It was a very contradictory experience, because bureaucracy was creating self-management. It’s very funny. From above, by bureaucratic methods, through terrible party and state bureaucrats, create self- management from below, and it’s like a stupid contradiction. It’s a new category of dialectic, I think, stupid contradiction. But, what can I say? And in this period, we participated as consultants, as intellectuals-

PAUL JAY: As you’re teaching at the university.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but we created a special team, and we were working with relatively small, one thousand workers, and big ones, one hundred thousand workers enterprise.

PAUL JAY: So, give a specific example of what you did, how they were trying to accomplish this.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, one of the examples, it was an enterprise producing electronic equipment in Lithuania. It was enterprise producing trucks, huge trucks, Kamaz, Volger Region. In Belarus, it was enterprise producing watches, only two thousand workers. In Moscow, we didn’t participate active, but it was great enterprise producing robots, first robots in 1980s. And the idea was that self-management is impossible to build like a building, to construct. It is necessary to help to grow up from below.

PAUL JAY: What does it mean, self-management?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It means enterprise has plan. But then you can decide how to minimize-

PAUL JAY: So, state says, produce so many of whatever you’re producing.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes. For example, you must produce five thousand robots per year, and you have such and such resources. But then, it is not all your agenda. Fifty percent of your production you can cooperate directly with another enterprises. It got into state rules. But then you can decide how to produce, how to minimize costs, how to organize labor process, how to organize management how to distribute- wage was fixed, but it was surplus, plus thirty, forty percent, and this can be distributed to the collective. So, how to control bureaucrats? All this were in the hands of the worker’s collective. It was assembly, assembly-elect council, and council was a key organ, like a council of directors in a stock company.

PAUL JAY: Can you elect the manager of the company?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, and even the director of the company.

PAUL JAY: But who had the power, the council, the manager of the company, or the Party representative?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Well, it was an experiment, and it was different forms, and the law was not completed. But there were different variants. When assembly of workers elect a director, when council had agreement with director and director was like an employee of the worker’s collective- different forms. In, let’s say, eighty percent of the cases, it was formal self- management, but in some cases, it was really working.

PAUL JAY: Well- that was my question. Did it work?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In some cases, and it was only the beginning. It was two years of experiments, but the second year was in a period of the total destruction of the country. That’s why it is difficult to say, was it working or not?

PAUL JAY: So, Gorbachev brings in perestroika, it’s another Spring, the bureaucratic system was getting paralyzed, the economy wasn’t very productive. You get excited by it, you joined the Party. And then, not too many years, you’re actually on the Central Committee of the Party. How does that happen, that you just join and you’re on the Central Committee?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: More or less. It was a fantastic story, and still a majority doesn’t believe me, but it’s true. Central Committee is- for people who don’t know what does it mean, in Soviet Union, Central Committee of the Communist Party was more powerful than Parliament. So, to be a member of Central Committee, it was three hundred people, it was to be among the bosses of the country. And the story was falling. We had opposition inside Communist Party, and it was Bourgeois opposition who then led to the collapse of the Soviet Union inside the Communist Party. It was pro-Stalinist opposition, it’s necessary to have again, dictatorship, and stop all Gorbachev experiments.

PAUL JAY: Well, they argued that the Gorbachev experiment was naïve and would lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, Stalinist opposition did not say that it will lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, they said it is the wrong direction because it’s not the Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin writings. Strange logic of thinking, but it was the case. And we created so-called “Marxist Platform,” Marxist fraction in Communist Party, and the idea was, we do need more democracy, protection of human rights, but the road must be not to liberal model of economy, liberal model of political system, not road to the capitalism. It should be road to new model of socialism. It’s nearly revolution from below with assistance of maybe some bureaucrats, but a few.

PAUL JAY: Well, Gorbachev must have liked this line of argument, to put you on the Central Committee.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Well, not- he and Central Committee doesn’t like this. Why? Because they had these slogans, but real intentions were not this. Really, these intentions- who started this process? Gorbachev was maybe naïve, maybe not smart enough, I don’t know. But a real motor of all these changes was a young generation of nomenklatura, of Party bureaucrats and State bureaucrats. Thirty, forty years old, sons and grandsons of the Party bureaucrats from the past. And they had very simple and a very, I can say, very terrible idea, to change power into property and money. We have power, but we have a lot of restrictions. Bureaucrats, even on the top level, had a lot of restrictions. They didn’t have a lot of privileges.

PAUL JAY: They couldn’t accumulate a lot of private wealth.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: No opportunities to accumulate. A lot of formal ideological restrictions, and so on. They want to be rich and to have real power without any formal restrictions. And it was real intention. And they were behind all these Gorbachev slogans, and they used these slogans partly for propaganda, partly to tell lies to realize their ideas. And partly because they had very strange consciousness, it’s- I will give you, maybe an American example. If you ask any billionaire, what is the main goal of his life, he will tell you, “To satisfy needs of the Americans. Without me, these ten, twelve, twenty thousand workers will not have opportunity to work. Without me, people will not have jackets. Without me, people will not have cars. So, I satisfy the needs of people, this is the goal of my life.” Is it true?

PAUL JAY: Yeah-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it’s true?

PAUL JAY: They’re called the “job creators.”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: And he is honest for himself. What is the paradox? His real aim is money, money and money and more money, but he believes that he is creating something for people. He believes in this, or she believes in this. The same with this cynical generation of nomenklatura.

PAUL JAY: But then, who gets you onto the Central Committee?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Well, this is a funny story, I’ll tell you very briefly. We created this platform, and it was period of very rapid growth of social creativity from below. We published document with name, Marxist Platform, Program, and this program received, extremely quickly, big popularity- without internet, by the way. It was published-

PAUL JAY: It went viral before “viral.”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it was made in the Xerox, but it appeared everywhere in Party organizations, then it was published in one of the regional newspapers, another regional newspaper, then we made conferences. During three months, all this was done, even less. And after this conference, T.V. came, because it was freedom of speech, real freedom of speech, not like now. And then it was published in Pravda, in post we received fifteen, twenty percent of support of the Communist Party, that was nineteen million.

PAUL JAY: And what was the main point of the platform?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Main point was real grassroots democracy, socialism, market as a form which can be used but under the supervision of a democratic social state, and the movement towards self-management, socialism and so on.

PAUL JAY: So, what does Gorbachev think of this?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I don’t know, really, but we were not, I’ll say, supported from the top.

PAUL JAY: Okay, so how’d you get on the Central Committee?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: We were invited, three persons, we were invited to be guests of the Congress, 28th Congress of the Communist Party, not even delegates, we were sitting on the balcony with five thousand people, but it was microphones everywhere, it was a lot of press, and we were talking openly. And finally, we received the right to speak from the tribune, to present our platform. And it’s a funny story, I was thirty-five years old, then. At the last minute, we understood that we will speak. And then, when I was running through the long corridor from the balcony stairs, and long corridor to the presidium, I had terrible feelings in my stomach. And when I came, whole five thousand people, in stations from all over the world, not simply from the Soviet Union, it was open translation-

PAUL JAY: Doesn’t Gorbachev have to sign off to allow you to speak?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, because it was a requirement of the delegates. Not to me, but also to Stalinist opposition and Bourgeois opposition. And I don’t want to advertise myself, but it was four times the applause of the whole hall. After that was to interview for Central Committee, and the portrait of Buzgalin in the main square of Russia, it’s true. Not main, but on the Information Agency. And delegates proposed to elect three members of, three representatives of the Marxist Platform to the Central Committee. One lady, my friend, who was an elder, and me. So, I became one of the youngest members of the Central Committee, and it was really funny to, after two years of membership in the Party, to be a member of the Central Committee.

PAUL JAY: So, what year are we in?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Oh, it was 1990.

PAUL JAY: So, 1990, you walk into your first meeting of the Central Committee, you are there with the most powerful people in the country-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but really, Central Committee didn’t have- Central Committee had power, but real power was in the hands of the political bureau and leaders. So, we received access to the media, and so on. It was very useful, but finally, it was too late. And one of the plannings of the Central Committee, where everybody was together, we had the opportunity to tell if we will not change, radically, the situation, the Communist Party, Soviet Union, will collapse. And after that, when the Soviet Union was collapsed, many people from Central Committee came and said, “Buzgalin, you’re responsible. You said that we will be collapsed.”

PAUL JAY: But if I understand it correctly, a lot of the other Stalinists and others blamed the Gorbachev reforms for the collapse.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s true, yeah. You know, collapse was not inevitable from objective point of view. It was not so deep crisis of economy. We had zero growth, stagnation, at the end. In Russia, we had now minus two and minus ten and no collapse. In the United States you had, in 2008, minus five, and no collapse. So, it’s not an economic reason.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, the whole political system doesn’t have to fall.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, I gave the image- you know, bureaucratic construction is like a steel bridge. A steel bridge is strong, it can work ten years, fifty years, one hundred years, but then construction will be tired. No bumps, and then construction, boom. Destroyed. Why? Because of tired bureaucratic construction, the same with the Soviet system. It was necessary to change radically, the system. Our system could not work more in a modern situation. But this is a long story.

PAUL JAY: But it sounds like, it wasn’t inevitable, but the choice is, either this democratization and socialism you were talking about, or privatization and actually capitalism.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was two roads towards capitalism, roads back in this direction. One of which we had, the name is shock therapy. We received the shock, but we didn’t receive therapy. So, radical Bourgeois transformation which led to the primitive accumulation of capital, criminalization, feudalization, and so one. Terrible consequences. And the decline of production, incomes, a real catastrophe. Or, it was a choice to move in the direction of Chinese, let’s say, model, with bureaucratic power, but bureaucratic power was self-destroyed. And the interest of the top officials was not to have Chinese model, where top officials, again, has restrictions, control, and can even be arrested, killed in the stadium. The idea was to receive a change for primitive accumulation of capital. PAUL JAY:Get rich.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, get rich and get powerful in another form.

PAUL JAY: What role did the Americans play in determining the outcome?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Very big, but not decisive. And not Americans, but- I like Americans, by the way, I have a lot of friends among Americans. The problem is global capital and political institutions of global capital. Washington, Brussels, NATO, WTO, all these organizations had big intentions to destroy Soviet Union, of course.

PAUL JAY: Okay, we’re going to stop here, and we’ll pick up in the next section, this very decisive period. Please join us for a continuation of our discussion with Professor Alexander Buzgalin on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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05: I Returned from Vacation to Find the Soviet Union had Collapsed.

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re continuing our discussion with Professor Alexander Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I’m glad to be here and to talk with you.

PAUL JAY: I should say, we’re in New York City, this is not our normal studio. One more time, Professor Buzgalin teaches political economy and is Director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, we got ourselves up to- you’re now on the Central Committee in your early thirties-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: And the Soviet Union is nearly collapsed.

PAUL JAY: And they’re blaming you for it. Well, they certainly did blame Gorbachev for it, and we’re talking about, you were saying that there’s a rise within the party and within the party leadership of people who want to get rich, who had kind of given up on the socialist ideals. I guess they either decided it isn’t working or didn’t matter because they want to get rich. And while the internal factors may have been the most important, the Americans are very active in all this. Their dream is to bring down the Soviet Union. Talk about that period, and you have a very unique viewpoint, being on the Central Committee.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, first of all, it was really an extremely contradictory situation, because from one hand, we had the growth of social creativity from below. We had the first attempts to build self-management in the enterprises. And the most that did it were people in big scientific production complexes. We had, in Soviet Union, like corporations, where we had research centers, production, social infrastructure, and so on. And typically, these groups, these classic corporations, had very skilled people and they had big intentions. And it was all Soviet Union council of worker’s collectives. A very interesting structure. And the last Congress, with one thousand delegates, where they participated, was very strong and important. And it’s not a well-known part of the story of the Soviet Union.

We had good interest in initiative of the young generation to build, on a cooperative basis, new houses for the life. It was very interesting initiatives in the Green Movement, which appeared from below, and so on and so forth. At the same time, from another hand, we had terrible growth of contradictions because criminal business, which existed in Soviet Union, became stronger because of the whole destruction of the institutional system. Weak institutions led to the growth of shadow economy and criminal business. A lot of former directors of state enterprises were waiting, that it will be privatization, and were trying to steal as much as possible of the resources.

PAUL JAY: This is before-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Just before collapse of the Soviet Union.

PAUL JAY: People see it coming. What’s Gorbachev doing about this? Or does he want this to-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and- he was talking. And this is one of the problems. You know, there is this definition of revolutionary situation by Lenin, and he wrote very important things. Revolution came when those who are on the top cannot be rulers more, according to the old model. So, this is a crisis of the top. And we had crisis.

PAUL JAY: Not fit to rule.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, not fit to rule. And people were trying to find another solution. And what was important, we had a lot of myths created with assistance of the West, but not by the West. One of them was a myth about market. And market, for majority of Soviet people, was associated with supermarket, with a lot of commodities. It was the strikes of the miners, a very interesting initiative from below, who wanted to change the situation. I participated in the Congress and the leader of the miner’s strike said, “We want to have capitalism, the factories will belong to the workers and not the Party and nomenklatura. We want to have capitalism, where we will have resources to buy whatever we want. We want to have capitalism, where everybody will have good apartments, and it will be no privileges of people who are rulers. We want to have capitalism where workers will decide what to do.”

PAUL JAY: They want to have capitalism without capitalists.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, without capitalists, without unemployment, without social stratification, and so on. It was an illusion. And unfortunately, it was created by many contradictions inside Soviet Union, which we discussed before. And main contradiction was interconnected with concentration of the power in the hands of bureaucracy, and the money of social creativity of the masses, and attempts to build consumer society, conformist society. Socialism cannot be conformist, consumer society. Socialism must move in the direction of self-organization, social creativity, anti-conformism, if you want. It should be disalienation, but not conservation of alienation in consumerist form. I’m sorry for this professor’s language, but I cannot express this in any other terms. So, that’s why we had internal contradictions as main factor of self-destruction of this system. And we had chances for the changes, but here, a subjective factor could play a decisive role.

PAUL JAY: How do you get to a point, after years of bureaucratization- but something new enters the picture, because it’s not just bureaucratized, some mutation, of socialism. Now, people want to get rich and now people within the Party leadership and sections of the enterprises, within the elite, people have said enough, now we just want to cash in. How do you get to that?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: You already gave the answer, so I can say yes, you are right. And it was predictable. In the beginning of the Soviet Union, in writings of different people, from Mensheviks to Leon Trotsky, was made prognosis that if bureaucracy will have more and more power, and the control from below will be weak, social creativity will go down, the transformation of bureaucracy will be inevitable. They will have intention to transform themselves into the class of private owners who has both political power and economic power and no limitations, no frameworks.

Because even in bureaucratic period, in Brezhnev period of the Soviet Union, officials at the top had relatively small privileges. They had a lot of limits for their power and they had strong rules of the game. And so, the new generation who came, they wanted to have the same living standards as billionaires, as presidents and leaders of bourgeois countries. And that was main reason. Plus, as I said, decline, degradation of social creativity, led to the consumerism and conformism of majority of Soviet people. And conformism creates atmosphere where market system, capitalist system, is coming. It’s like a swamp where it’s impossible to have beautiful trees, where there will be only dirty grass and frogs.

PAUL JAY: So, talk about that period, the rise of Yeltsin and the last days of the Soviet Union.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, still this is a big question mark. What happens, why we had this artificial coup d’état, what was the role of Gorbachev, who was behind? I am not a person who has secret information, so I will not give special commands.

PAUL JAY: And we’re in 1991?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was August, 1991.

PAUL JAY: Where are you, what are you doing?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I was in the vacation, so unfortunately, I could not participate in this process. I was in the countryside, in the forest, just to relax a little bit. It was my mistake. I didn’t think that it will be so quickly-

PAUL JAY: So, most of our audience doesn’t really know this story at all.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, in August, leaders of KGB and some other officials from the top said that Gorbachev is no more president of the Soviet Union. We have a special committee in emergency situations, and Gorbachev was formally arrested in his dacha in Crimea, where he was also on a rest. But then, they did nothing.

PAUL JAY: So, it’s essentially a coup.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was coup, but leaders of the military coup must arrest the opposition, after all. But they did nothing. Yeltsin came to the house where there was Parliament of Russian Federation, people were walking in the streets with protests.

PAUL JAY: And who is Yeltsin, why all of a sudden, Yeltsin? What’s the power behind Yeltsin?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Okay, so that’s another story. One year ago, he was elected as president of Russian Federation inside Soviet Union. Soviet Union had like states in the U.S., but with more powerful structure. It was republics, fifteen republics, and Russia was the biggest and in the center. And Yeltsin was elected as president of Russia. So, informally, he has not too big power, because republics inside Federation were not so powerful as central government. But when Gorbachev was arrested, Yeltsin became in Moscow a key person, according to official status. And all opposition came to Yeltsin to protect against coup. And it was both really democratic forces and pro-bourgeois, quasi-democratic forces.

PAUL JAY: To protect against a coup from whom?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: To protect Yeltsin against those who organized the coup d’état. KGB leaders organized-

PAUL JAY: To protect Yeltsin from the KGB?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: From the KGB, yes.

PAUL JAY: What did the KGB want?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: KGB wanted to stop transformation led by Gorbachev to rebuild Soviet Union. It’s also important to say that in Caucasus and in Baltic states, republics in that period, was growth of nationalism and ideas to become separate states, not states in the Soviet Union. So, the idea was, “we will use military force, we will keep Soviet Union, and all Gorbachev experiments, we will stop.” They said, “we will keep freedom of speech, but with limitations,” these organizers of the coup, “we will continue some market reforms.”

PAUL JAY: And this was mostly driven out of the KGB?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Some military leaders and a few people from- top officials from the Central Committee.

PAUL JAY: And they want to try to retain what’s left of the Soviet state.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah.

PAUL JAY: Yeltsin represents these “let’s get rich” factions inside.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but these guys did nothing. They didn’t arrest Yeltsin.

PAUL JAY: Why? KGB knows how to arrest people.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but they did nothing. There are different explanations. Again, I cannot explain this phenomenon, myself. One of the explanations was that Gorbachev decided to play a role of the person who is not responsible for this, and then came to power again with the assistance of the KGB, simply to beat Yeltsin, who became leader of opposition in that period. Another explanation was that they did not have a final agreement of what has to be done, these leaders of the coup. But really, nobody knows. It’s a very strange story, very strange.

PAUL JAY: So, this famous photograph and videos of Yeltsin on the tanks, what is that, then, what goes on there?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, it was a few tanks and some soldiers in Moscow. But they did nothing. They were standing in the streets and did nothing. And the two guys who were killed-

PAUL JAY: This is outside the parliament buildings?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Outside, yes. And two guys who were dead, officially, because tanks killed them- really nobody knows what happened in reality- but I think the tanks were going back from Moscow and they accidentally were- because it was crowded, and when they decided to move from the square, two persons were really killed. And then they were transformed into heroes.

PAUL JAY: So, the section of the KGB and army that arrested Gorbachev, they allowed Yeltsin to come to power. Why? Did they say, okay, we might as well get rich too?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Really, I don’t have an explanation, as I said. For me, this is still a big question mark, what’s happened. No idea. Only what I can say is it’s a total crisis of the power. And the only person who was decisive and aggressive was Yeltsin.

PAUL JAY: You’re on the Central Committee. Do they have an emergency meeting, or the Party just starts to fall apart?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I didn’t have time to come back from this village. It’s Russia, it’s not so simple, even for a member of the Central Committee. When I was back, all was solved. And the Party also was paralyzed. It was total paralysis of legislative and executive organs. It was self-destruction of the elite.

PAUL JAY: So, you’re sitting in your cottage, on vacation- this is what, is it playing out for you on T.V.? I mean, do you know what’s going on?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, I didn’t have any information. On T.V., it was on barely. The whole time only barely and nothing else. When I received- telephone was not working. It was a real village, and it was one telephone three kilometers from this place. So, when I found this telephone, I could not reach anybody in Moscow. So, after one day, I went to the regional center and received, more or less, information. But when I was back in Moscow, it was nothing.

PAUL JAY: Were you surprised or expecting it?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: No, I was very surprised, of course. And I was afraid that something like that can happen, but not coup. I was afraid that it will be coup organized by republican leaders, Yeltsin and leaders of the Baltic Republics, Caucasus Republics, and so on.

PAUL JAY: And you don’t think the KGB was actually in cahoots with Yeltsin?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I don’t think so. I think what was real- the only hypothesis which I can propose is the following; it was informal, indirect, not final agreement with Gorbachev, and Gorbachev, it was his personal problem. He was not decisive. He could not make exact decisions, he was changing decisions very often. And he doesn’t know what has to be done. And he was a very weak leader, and for such periods, it’s necessary to have a strong leader, because personality, in the period of revolution, plays a big role, bigger than usual. In a stable system, personality is not important, or nearly not important. In the period of revolutions, strong personality and strong political organization is very important if this personality is on the top.

PAUL JAY: Well, in the next segment, we’ll pick up. You come back from vacation, and it’s not the Soviet Union, it’s Russia.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, the Soviet Union is absent, the Communist Party is absent, and the whole situation is completely new, yes.

PAUL JAY: All right, so join us for the next segment of our interview with Professor Buzgalin on The Real News Network.

.

06: Shock without the Therapy: A New Russia is Born in Chaos and Plunder.

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re continuing our discussion with Professor Alexander Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again. So, Professor Buzgalin teaches political economy and is Director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, to understand where we are, you really got to watch the earlier segments, because I ain’t gonna sum it up. And we’re into a fascinating story, so if you haven’t, just stop right now and go back and watch.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: No, no. They can just understand that Soviet Union is collapsed.

PAUL JAY: Soviet Union is collapsed. All right, so, and the reason the Soviet Union collapsed is because you went on vacation and you weren’t there to stop it.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Ah…

PAUL JAY: Ah hah, now we got it. Now we got it. All right. You come back from the vacation, and there’s kind of no Soviet Union, Yeltsin’s in power, and you’re saying, “What the hell happened?”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. Really, when officially, Communist Party was forbidden, and Soviet Union disappeared, I must stress that in this period, people were tired from all this disorder. And there is question, why nobody came to rescue the Soviet Union. The question is important because one year, even less than one year before we had referendum, and more than seventy percent said that we want to have new Soviet Union, but we don’t want to have Soviet Union. New one, more Democratic, not bureaucratic, but we do want. More than two thirds. And after that, nobody in the streets. Why? Because people lost trust to the leaders, and leaders led to the collapse, first.

And second, we had a lot of this naïve belief that market will bring prosperity tomorrow. And again, the reason was that last years of Soviet Union, not even Gorbachev period but before, last decades of the Soviet Union, we had growth of conformism, consumerism and alienation. And this type of society will lead to the collapse of even quasi-socialist system, inevitably. And this is fundamental reason. What we received? Model, theoretical- not even theoretical, but for ordinary people, logic was simple. We have, in Soviet Union, oil, gas, raw materials, everything. We have good industry- maybe not the best in the world, but very good. We had big number of intellectuals, wonderful education. What we don’t have? We don’t have market which will create efficient economy.

So, now we will have market, we will have private initiative, and tomorrow, we will have life better than in Sweden, because everyone wanted to have Sweden, not United States with social polarization. What we received in reality? We received terrible crisis. Fifty percent decline of production, thirty percent decline of average incomes. Thirty, because it- you know, this old joke, what is average income? It’s like in hospital, average temperature. One guy is dead, his temperature is thirty. Another is terribly sick, his temperature is forty. But an average of thirty-six point six? Everything is perfect. But average incomes were thirty percent less, thirty-five percent less. But for majority, it was more than fifty percent less. So, it was terrible situation. Two million people were dead because of the poverty, hunger, absence of the apartments, and so on. It’s a long story.

PAUL JAY: Infant mortality rates went up, longevity went down. You said in an earlier segment, “shock without the therapy.”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Shock without therapy, yes. So, it was very-

PAUL JAY: Closing down of state enterprises.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it was very radical privatization, liberalization, open economy-

PAUL JAY: And very much guided and assisted directly by the United States.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but it was the most efficient variant to expropriate social property and to create private business and to create new class of bourgeois over one, two years.

PAUL JAY: And this was the birth of the oligarchs.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. And it was very efficient, very smart idea, but for tiny minority who became very rich. And it was terrible catastrophe for majority. So, when people say that Gaidar was Prime Minister and Yeltsin and all others made big mistake, no mistakes. They made great gain for them. And the price doesn’t matter for them. You know, there is such expression, to put airplane in the point of no return. It will be no fuel to come back to the airport of the beginning. So, the idea, for them, was to put our country to the point of no return. No return to Soviet Union, no return the quasi-socialist, but still more or less socialist, system. And they did it very quickly, very efficient transformation.

A lot of people asked me, as professional, as specialist in political economy, “Why transformation from bureaucratic planning to market, which is more or less efficient in the United States, led to the crisis?” So, I will give very simple, maybe too simplistic explanation, but we have interview, not lecture. There is parallel. Market is transportation in the city with private cars. And plan is like a subway. So, if you want to move from subway transportation to private cars transportation, it’s not enough to put bump in the subway. It’s necessary to have roads, it’s necessary to have cars. It’s necessary to have drivers, and polite drivers. It’s necessary to have regulation in every crossroad. So, it’s necessary to build infrastructure, institutions, to have mentality and so on.

And what was done in 1991, 1992? Explosives in the metro, explosives in the subway, nothing else. Planned system was completely destroyed by decree of president. One signature, no plan, no regulation of prices, no regulation of exchange, nothing. Free economy, what we received. Huge enterprise. One hundred thousand workers. We had shadow business people, they had maybe one, two, ten million dollars. Can they’d be owners of the enterprises with one hundred thousand workers? Can they pay them wage, can they pay for the electricity, for the heat? No. what they made, they made from the enterprise, the place where vodka was selling, or something like that. So, this is the explanation, why received this crisis. And it was until growth of the struggle from below.

PAUL JAY: Just so people get what’s going on during this period, if I understand it correctly, you have this massive wealth of the Soviet Union, or Russia at that point, including state enterprises and natural resources and oil and mines and all of this, and it all starts getting privatized, sold off for a song. And people at the higher levels of the state and such all start to cash in and own this stuff, paying very little to acquire these public assets. Is that correct?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s correct, yes. And we had very rapid, very brutal period of primitive accumulation of capital.

PAUL JAY: I think you called it, in an earlier interview, Jurassic Park Capitalism.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, it’s true, it’s an image, the Soviet Union was like dinosaurs fighting between each other, these monsters. Huge- first of all, it was not huge corporations, but very quickly, it was all concentration of capital in the hand of a few.

PAUL JAY: Were the Americans a little disappointed that it was mostly Russian oligarchs grabbing all this and the Americans themselves couldn’t directly grab more of it?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s partly truth, partly because foreigners received a lot of positive- for them, of course, negative for us- results, because of the free exchange rate of dollar. And for one dollar, in Russia you could live one, two days without any restrictions for your consumption. It was terrible situation. And very low prices for the oil and gas. So, West received a lot. But West didn’t have time to receive control over all our natural resources, and mainly because- not because Yeltsin or Gaidar or anybody else created barriers- but mainly because they were afraid that it is so terrible disorder that they will not keep control over this oil and gas if they come. It was necessary to spend billions of dollars without any guarantees. And everybody was afraid that tomorrow will be, again, restoration of Soviet Union. Why? Because from 1992, we had the enormous demonstrations and protest actions. It’s not a very well-known story, but in the center of Moscow, we had rallies for two, three, hundred thousand people.

PAUL JAY: Demanding what?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Demanding, stop privatization. Demanding, come back to Soviet system.

PAUL JAY: Were you there?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I was among the org- it was two wings. One, and the most popular by the way, was main Stalinist wing. We must come back to the strong Soviet power without any democracy and so on. Let’s forget about these games.

PAUL JAY: And this is because of- this was a way out of the chaos.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, because people under- so, logic was very simple. Democracy led to the chaos, poverty and so on. Even until now, the word democracy means “power of Democrats” in Russia. This is Russian translation of the word democracy, and Democrats are those who are stealing everything in their pockets. This is a strange interpretation of democracy, but this is reality. So, and it was democratic left internationalist wing. And we had Congress of left democratic forces coordinating council of this Congress. And I was among the- maybe not leaders, but important people who were working in this direction. And it’s interesting that Parliament of Russian Federation, where we had relatively big left-wing, started to prepare alternative to this policy. And we were among those who were experts. And the program was not radical socialism or socialist revolution, but more or less, Chinese model. To stop brutal privatization, to keep socialist state sector, to restrict market, to have control over the prices, to support social justice, and so on. So, more or less, left social democratic program with a little bit statist form, little bit bureaucratic form. And we had big meetings, conferences, one thousand people, delegates from different organizations, groups, and it was prepared. And in Parliament, we had nearly majority of support to this alternative. Not my program, but common program of this movement.

PAUL JAY: So, ’92, ’93, two, three hundred thousand in the streets. But what about the broad section of the population? Are they sympathetic with this or-?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Absolute majority were sympathetic to these ideas, but not decisive to fight, to go for revolution, let’s say.

PAUL JAY: And where is the army? The army has had, you’d think, such ideological training, and-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: The army had terrible collapse because first of all, during five years of Gorbachev power, it was terrible discrediting of army. Army is force for disorder, for dictatorship, for killing, and so on. And in ‘92, the army was poverty. Soldiers and officers were hungry, simply. It was no money for them.

PAUL JAY: So, it’s falling apart.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, so they were in terrible crisis. And somewhere- ’93, it was prepared, the program, alternative program to privatization and so on, to continuation of this shock therapy, shock without therapy, policy. And in early September, Yeltsin said Parliament must be destroyed, dissolved. No more parliament. Closed, go out. And in that period, deputies were divided. And majority stayed in the Parliament. Parliament was blockaded by police, and in September, October, it was occupation. Parliament was occupied by deputies. Police blockaded Parliament, and it was permanent demonstrations and attempts to destroy this blockade.

The problem was that in Parliament, we had mixture of very authoritarian leaders who became very strong leaders because they were decisive, Democrats, real Democrats, center, like Democratic Party of the United States but who wanted to have no dictatorship of Yeltsin and not disorder, Social Democrats, quasi-Communists, so mixture of everybody. And no real leadership and not very good organization. And a lot of very different people around. Russian nationalists, Communists, Social Democrats who were protesting. Again, one hundred thousand people clashed with police. A lot of people were beaten, and so on. And finally, October third, second, we destroyed this blockade. It was huge demonstration, and it was direct clash with police, and I participated in this. Some policemen were killed, a lot of people were killed.

PAUL JAY: The blockade of Parliament.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but parliament was dis-blockaded. And after that, it was maybe provocation, maybe stupidity, but a group of people decided to attack a T.V. station. And they made it in very brutal form and without success. Because in that period, Yeltsin brought some special forces, and people, hundreds of people were killed before T.V. and then it was blockade, again, of Parliament, and then tanks started to shoot to the Parliament, and it was a very cynical and dirty situation. People were shooting into Parliament, and CNN was making open-air report like a football match- “Oh, look, now there is a fire in this window. Look, now there is- people are killed.” After that, we made book- by the way, after that it was censorship.

PAUL JAY: And Yeltsin is fighting to consolidate this new oligarchy amidst the chaos.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, one minute we’ll come back. But one thing that is very important, after this victory of Yeltsin, we had an interesting newspaper, Independent Gazette, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and next day this- it was heroic, by the way, decision of chief editor, Tretiakov, we are good friends with him- he published newspaper with empty first front page. It was nothing in front page. A symbol of censorship. And I’m proud that with our friends, we organized, in small museum in the center of Moscow, first press conference about all these events. It was ninety comrades, but mainly Westerners. And it was no report, by the way, in Western media, because we said truth about this.

PAUL JAY: Which was?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was that Yeltsin really made unconstitutional coup, and-

PAUL JAY: Applauded by the West.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and people were killed. A lot of people were killed for nothing- not for nothing, they were protecting, I can say, social democratic model of transformation, bourgeois transformation, but social democratic model of transformation.

PAUL JAY: When I hear descriptions of Yeltsin as a personality, it almost sounds Trump-like. Is it?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, similar. Right-wing, decisive, I don’t know. Maybe the only difference, I don’t know if Trump is drinker or not, but Yeltsin was. I think this is a not very important difference. So, we made this first press conference with friends, created to make work for democracy and human rights. And it was not, of course, a key factor, but it was one of the factors which led to the elections, but not to the dictatorship. So, it was big opposition to dictatorship and finally, we received presidential model of democracy, quasi-democracy, but still not dictatorship.

To go faster, in ’96 we had new presidential elections in Spring. In January,Zyuganov, leader of reestablished Communist Party, had up to fifty percent, according to opinion polls. Yeltsin had less than ten. But then, International Monetary Fund propaganda and very not brave, unbrave, behavior of leaders of Communist Party, led to the fifty-fifty result when it was elections. And Zyuganov said, “No, no. I lost. I don’t pretend to be president.” So, it was beginning of collapse- not collapse, but decline of popularity of Communist Party.

PAUL JAY: And at that time, they’re advocating a program essentially like a European social democracy or something.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, Communist Party was a little bit nationalist, but in economic and social sphere, like left Social Democrats, nothing radical.

PAUL JAY: And so, who becomes president?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In ’96, Yeltsin again. And then, we moved to Putin’s presidency in a new epoch in twenty-first century, but this is another story.

PAUL JAY: Okay, in the next segment, we’ll talk about a whole new phase and the rise of Putin and what he represents on Reality Asserts Itself with Professor Buzgalin on The Real News Network.

.

06: Shock without the Therapy: A New Russia is Born in Chaos and Plunder.

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re continuing our discussion with Professor Alexander Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again. So, Professor Buzgalin teaches political economy and is Director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, to understand where we are, you really got to watch the earlier segments, because I ain’t gonna sum it up. And we’re into a fascinating story, so if you haven’t, just stop right now and go back and watch.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: No, no. They can just understand that Soviet Union is collapsed.

PAUL JAY: Soviet Union is collapsed. All right, so, and the reason the Soviet Union collapsed is because you went on vacation and you weren’t there to stop it.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Ah…

PAUL JAY: Ah hah, now we got it. Now we got it. All right. You come back from the vacation, and there’s kind of no Soviet Union, Yeltsin’s in power, and you’re saying, “What the hell happened?”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. Really, when officially, Communist Party was forbidden, and Soviet Union disappeared, I must stress that in this period, people were tired from all this disorder. And there is question, why nobody came to rescue the Soviet Union. The question is important because one year, even less than one year before we had referendum, and more than seventy percent said that we want to have new Soviet Union, but we don’t want to have Soviet Union. New one, more Democratic, not bureaucratic, but we do want. More than two thirds. And after that, nobody in the streets. Why? Because people lost trust to the leaders, and leaders led to the collapse, first.

And second, we had a lot of this naïve belief that market will bring prosperity tomorrow. And again, the reason was that last years of Soviet Union, not even Gorbachev period but before, last decades of the Soviet Union, we had growth of conformism, consumerism and alienation. And this type of society will lead to the collapse of even quasi-socialist system, inevitably. And this is fundamental reason. What we received? Model, theoretical- not even theoretical, but for ordinary people, logic was simple. We have, in Soviet Union, oil, gas, raw materials, everything. We have good industry- maybe not the best in the world, but very good. We had big number of intellectuals, wonderful education. What we don’t have? We don’t have market which will create efficient economy.

So, now we will have market, we will have private initiative, and tomorrow, we will have life better than in Sweden, because everyone wanted to have Sweden, not United States with social polarization. What we received in reality? We received terrible crisis. Fifty percent decline of production, thirty percent decline of average incomes. Thirty, because it- you know, this old joke, what is average income? It’s like in hospital, average temperature. One guy is dead, his temperature is thirty. Another is terribly sick, his temperature is forty. But an average of thirty-six point six? Everything is perfect. But average incomes were thirty percent less, thirty-five percent less. But for majority, it was more than fifty percent less. So, it was terrible situation. Two million people were dead because of the poverty, hunger, absence of the apartments, and so on. It’s a long story.

PAUL JAY: Infant mortality rates went up, longevity went down. You said in an earlier segment, “shock without the therapy.”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Shock without therapy, yes. So, it was very-

PAUL JAY: Closing down of state enterprises.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it was very radical privatization, liberalization, open economy-

PAUL JAY: And very much guided and assisted directly by the United States.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but it was the most efficient variant to expropriate social property and to create private business and to create new class of bourgeois over one, two years.

PAUL JAY: And this was the birth of the oligarchs.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. And it was very efficient, very smart idea, but for tiny minority who became very rich. And it was terrible catastrophe for majority. So, when people say that Gaidar was Prime Minister and Yeltsin and all others made big mistake, no mistakes. They made great gain for them. And the price doesn’t matter for them. You know, there is such expression, to put airplane in the point of no return. It will be no fuel to come back to the airport of the beginning. So, the idea, for them, was to put our country to the point of no return. No return to Soviet Union, no return the quasi-socialist, but still more or less socialist, system. And they did it very quickly, very efficient transformation.

A lot of people asked me, as professional, as specialist in political economy, “Why transformation from bureaucratic planning to market, which is more or less efficient in the United States, led to the crisis?” So, I will give very simple, maybe too simplistic explanation, but we have interview, not lecture. There is parallel. Market is transportation in the city with private cars. And plan is like a subway. So, if you want to move from subway transportation to private cars transportation, it’s not enough to put bump in the subway. It’s necessary to have roads, it’s necessary to have cars. It’s necessary to have drivers, and polite drivers. It’s necessary to have regulation in every crossroad. So, it’s necessary to build infrastructure, institutions, to have mentality and so on.

And what was done in 1991, 1992? Explosives in the metro, explosives in the subway, nothing else. Planned system was completely destroyed by decree of president. One signature, no plan, no regulation of prices, no regulation of exchange, nothing. Free economy, what we received. Huge enterprise. One hundred thousand workers. We had shadow business people, they had maybe one, two, ten million dollars. Can they’d be owners of the enterprises with one hundred thousand workers? Can they pay them wage, can they pay for the electricity, for the heat? No. what they made, they made from the enterprise, the place where vodka was selling, or something like that. So, this is the explanation, why received this crisis. And it was until growth of the struggle from below.

PAUL JAY: Just so people get what’s going on during this period, if I understand it correctly, you have this massive wealth of the Soviet Union, or Russia at that point, including state enterprises and natural resources and oil and mines and all of this, and it all starts getting privatized, sold off for a song. And people at the higher levels of the state and such all start to cash in and own this stuff, paying very little to acquire these public assets. Is that correct?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s correct, yes. And we had very rapid, very brutal period of primitive accumulation of capital.

PAUL JAY: I think you called it, in an earlier interview, Jurassic Park Capitalism.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, it’s true, it’s an image, the Soviet Union was like dinosaurs fighting between each other, these monsters. Huge- first of all, it was not huge corporations, but very quickly, it was all concentration of capital in the hand of a few.

PAUL JAY: Were the Americans a little disappointed that it was mostly Russian oligarchs grabbing all this and the Americans themselves couldn’t directly grab more of it?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s partly truth, partly because foreigners received a lot of positive- for them, of course, negative for us- results, because of the free exchange rate of dollar. And for one dollar, in Russia you could live one, two days without any restrictions for your consumption. It was terrible situation. And very low prices for the oil and gas. So, West received a lot. But West didn’t have time to receive control over all our natural resources, and mainly because- not because Yeltsin or Gaidar or anybody else created barriers- but mainly because they were afraid that it is so terrible disorder that they will not keep control over this oil and gas if they come. It was necessary to spend billions of dollars without any guarantees. And everybody was afraid that tomorrow will be, again, restoration of Soviet Union. Why? Because from 1992, we had the enormous demonstrations and protest actions. It’s not a very well-known story, but in the center of Moscow, we had rallies for two, three, hundred thousand people.

PAUL JAY: Demanding what?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Demanding, stop privatization. Demanding, come back to Soviet system.

PAUL JAY: Were you there?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I was among the org- it was two wings. One, and the most popular by the way, was main Stalinist wing. We must come back to the strong Soviet power without any democracy and so on. Let’s forget about these games.

PAUL JAY: And this is because of- this was a way out of the chaos.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, because people under- so, logic was very simple. Democracy led to the chaos, poverty and so on. Even until now, the word democracy means “power of Democrats” in Russia. This is Russian translation of the word democracy, and Democrats are those who are stealing everything in their pockets. This is a strange interpretation of democracy, but this is reality. So, and it was democratic left internationalist wing. And we had Congress of left democratic forces coordinating council of this Congress. And I was among the- maybe not leaders, but important people who were working in this direction. And it’s interesting that Parliament of Russian Federation, where we had relatively big left-wing, started to prepare alternative to this policy. And we were among those who were experts. And the program was not radical socialism or socialist revolution, but more or less, Chinese model. To stop brutal privatization, to keep socialist state sector, to restrict market, to have control over the prices, to support social justice, and so on. So, more or less, left social democratic program with a little bit statist form, little bit bureaucratic form. And we had big meetings, conferences, one thousand people, delegates from different organizations, groups, and it was prepared. And in Parliament, we had nearly majority of support to this alternative. Not my program, but common program of this movement.

PAUL JAY: So, ’92, ’93, two, three hundred thousand in the streets. But what about the broad section of the population? Are they sympathetic with this or-?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Absolute majority were sympathetic to these ideas, but not decisive to fight, to go for revolution, let’s say.

PAUL JAY: And where is the army? The army has had, you’d think, such ideological training, and-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: The army had terrible collapse because first of all, during five years of Gorbachev power, it was terrible discrediting of army. Army is force for disorder, for dictatorship, for killing, and so on. And in ‘92, the army was poverty. Soldiers and officers were hungry, simply. It was no money for them.

PAUL JAY: So, it’s falling apart.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, so they were in terrible crisis. And somewhere- ’93, it was prepared, the program, alternative program to privatization and so on, to continuation of this shock therapy, shock without therapy, policy. And in early September, Yeltsin said Parliament must be destroyed, dissolved. No more parliament. Closed, go out. And in that period, deputies were divided. And majority stayed in the Parliament. Parliament was blockaded by police, and in September, October, it was occupation. Parliament was occupied by deputies. Police blockaded Parliament, and it was permanent demonstrations and attempts to destroy this blockade.

The problem was that in Parliament, we had mixture of very authoritarian leaders who became very strong leaders because they were decisive, Democrats, real Democrats, center, like Democratic Party of the United States but who wanted to have no dictatorship of Yeltsin and not disorder, Social Democrats, quasi-Communists, so mixture of everybody. And no real leadership and not very good organization. And a lot of very different people around. Russian nationalists, Communists, Social Democrats who were protesting. Again, one hundred thousand people clashed with police. A lot of people were beaten, and so on. And finally, October third, second, we destroyed this blockade. It was huge demonstration, and it was direct clash with police, and I participated in this. Some policemen were killed, a lot of people were killed.

PAUL JAY: The blockade of Parliament.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but parliament was dis-blockaded. And after that, it was maybe provocation, maybe stupidity, but a group of people decided to attack a T.V. station. And they made it in very brutal form and without success. Because in that period, Yeltsin brought some special forces, and people, hundreds of people were killed before T.V. and then it was blockade, again, of Parliament, and then tanks started to shoot to the Parliament, and it was a very cynical and dirty situation. People were shooting into Parliament, and CNN was making open-air report like a football match- “Oh, look, now there is a fire in this window. Look, now there is- people are killed.” After that, we made book- by the way, after that it was censorship.

PAUL JAY: And Yeltsin is fighting to consolidate this new oligarchy amidst the chaos.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, one minute we’ll come back. But one thing that is very important, after this victory of Yeltsin, we had an interesting newspaper, Independent Gazette, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and next day this- it was heroic, by the way, decision of chief editor, Tretiakov, we are good friends with him- he published newspaper with empty first front page. It was nothing in front page. A symbol of censorship. And I’m proud that with our friends, we organized, in small museum in the center of Moscow, first press conference about all these events. It was ninety comrades, but mainly Westerners. And it was no report, by the way, in Western media, because we said truth about this.

PAUL JAY: Which was?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was that Yeltsin really made unconstitutional coup, and-

PAUL JAY: Applauded by the West.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and people were killed. A lot of people were killed for nothing- not for nothing, they were protecting, I can say, social democratic model of transformation, bourgeois transformation, but social democratic model of transformation.

PAUL JAY: When I hear descriptions of Yeltsin as a personality, it almost sounds Trump-like. Is it?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, similar. Right-wing, decisive, I don’t know. Maybe the only difference, I don’t know if Trump is drinker or not, but Yeltsin was. I think this is a not very important difference. So, we made this first press conference with friends, created to make work for democracy and human rights. And it was not, of course, a key factor, but it was one of the factors which led to the elections, but not to the dictatorship. So, it was big opposition to dictatorship and finally, we received presidential model of democracy, quasi-democracy, but still not dictatorship.

To go faster, in ’96 we had new presidential elections in Spring. In January,Zyuganov, leader of reestablished Communist Party, had up to fifty percent, according to opinion polls. Yeltsin had less than ten. But then, International Monetary Fund propaganda and very not brave, unbrave, behavior of leaders of Communist Party, led to the fifty-fifty result when it was elections. And Zyuganov said, “No, no. I lost. I don’t pretend to be president.” So, it was beginning of collapse- not collapse, but decline of popularity of Communist Party.

PAUL JAY: And at that time, they’re advocating a program essentially like a European social democracy or something.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, Communist Party was a little bit nationalist, but in economic and social sphere, like left Social Democrats, nothing radical.

PAUL JAY: And so, who becomes president?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In ’96, Yeltsin again. And then, we moved to Putin’s presidency in a new epoch in twenty-first century, but this is another story.

PAUL JAY: Okay, in the next segment, we’ll talk about a whole new phase and the rise of Putin and what he represents on Reality Asserts Itself with Professor Buzgalin on The Real News Network.

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07: Putin is Anointed King, but Big Capital has the Real Power

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay, this is The Real News Network. We’re continuing our discussion with Professor Alexander Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again, in New York, by the way.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, in New York, thank you.

PAUL JAY: Professor Buzgalin teaches political economy and is Director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. Through your life, we’re telling the modern history of the end of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the, I guess, a new Russia of sorts. So, in 1999, Putin becomes president and begins really, a new era. Putin comes from the KGB, was he in on the- what role did he play during the arrest of Gorbachev, the rise of Yeltsin. Where is he in all this?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, I am not biographer of Putin, so I will not give you something interesting. I don’t have any interesting information. He was working as a specialist, like say, I don’t know how to use- what word we use in English. In Russian we have investigator, not spy. First, then when Yeltsin came to power, he was working in the administration of St. Petersburg with one of the close friends of Yeltsin, Sobchak, not Lady Sobchak, she is daughter of Sobchak, father.

And then he went back to KGB, if I am not mistaken. I never follow to the biography of Putin. And then, step by step, the president- the leader, director of KGB, now it’s a federal system of security, something like that. So, when he was nominated by Yeltsin to be new president, it was interesting situation. Just a few minutes before New Year, in his speech for people, Yeltsin said that, “I will not be more president, and I want Putin to be next president of Russia.” So, it was very big sensation just before-

PAUL JAY: Why did he do it?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, I will finish, sorry- it was big surprise for people when they were, with champagne, waiting, when will be twelve, and from 31 of December we will move to the first of January, we received new president. Of course, it was elections, but more or less artificial elections. Why? First of all, because I think main force of Russian life, big capital, decided to change the model of political organization. In Yeltsin’s period, we had power of biggest bankers, together with the owners of the biggest gas, oil, metal corporations. And they controlled political power, but it was permanent fight between these leaders of corporations.

PAUL JAY: Much like the oligarchs.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, oligarchs. It’s like in feudal epoch, when barons are fighting between each other. And finally, when it’s necessary to stabilize a system of accumulation of capital, then they understand it’s better to have one king, and not to have this permanent war between themselves, yeah? They more or less divided Russia between themselves and-

PAUL JAY: During the ’90s, they have this asset-grab.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, they had ten years, nearly ten years of permanent re-division of the markets, of the infrastructure, of the power, with criminal conflicts, with bloody victims, and with terrible disorder. But when primitive accumulation of capital is finishing, it’s necessary to have stabilization of rules of the game and it’s necessary to have political order. And Putin became symbol of this new era, not creator, but symbol, I don’t know, top representative, but not master of the game. It’s a big mistake, everybody thinks that the real power in Russia belongs to Putin. No. Real power still belongs to the big capital, together with top bureaucrats who became more powerful than before. But this is one new nomenklatura, one new start. And this start is really master of Russian economy and Russian social and political life. And Putin is symbol.

PAUL JAY: Symbol, or more the conductor of an orchestra of power?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I think not conductor, even.

PAUL JAY: Not even conductor?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Not even conductor. He personally can change something a little bit in the distribution of power, of distribution of, I don’t know, statuses, help or not to help, to redistribute a little bit wealth, but not too much.

PAUL JAY: But there’s a general impression, I’ve heard it from people in Russia, too, that nothing big goes on without the president’s office having a hand.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, not Putin, but administration of president. This is big difference. Administration of president is not simply group of bureaucrats, this is people who has very strong connections with business, with executive power in regions, and so on. So, really, there is more or less informal, without exact borders, strata, again, social strata with class interest to keep this semi-bureaucratic, semi- capitalist system with a lot of elements of feudalism, to keep this system.

PAUL JAY: So, Putin is formally elected in August of ’99 but it’s more or less already been handed over to him. Now, where are you, how does life change? Is there now more structure? There’s laws, there’s a system.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Really, we didn’t have so big changes. And for majority of Russians, nearly nothing changed. More stabilization, little less criminal activity. The only real change, which we had from 2000 until 2007, even from 1998 until 2007, it was growth of economy. And the main impulse for this growth was not Putin’s presidency, but Yevgeny Primakov became prime minister after crisis in 1998. And Primakov was supporter of, let’s say, Chinese model. He started state regulations, he started support of internal industry, regulation of financial system, and so on. And he gave first impulse for the growth of economy after seven years of crisis.

And it was also not bad to keep this- to create this new economic policy in the period when growth of prices on oil started. And from twenty-five dollars until- I’m sorry, in 1995 the price of oil was twenty-five, approximately, dollars per gallon. In 2001, ’03, ’04, it was up to one hundred fifty. So, it was enormous growth, six times. And because of that, we received a lot of incomes. And part of these incomes were used for increasing of living standards of Russians. Mainly, it was used in order to transfer millionaires to billionaires, and it was successful result because we had second or third place in the world, as far as number of billionaires is concerned. We are still among champions, or we are very good in this competition. And for Russians, it was growth of incomes, not very rapid with growth of social differentiation, but still it was positive trend based on this conjunction.

PAUL JAY: What is the response of the oligarchs to this strengthening of a state, a central state? Some seemed to benefit, a few even went to jail.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s like in a feudal country, where from feudal barons, you’re coming to one king. Some barons will have even more power and more influence and more property, but some will be killed or in prison. It was in France, it was everywhere. The same in Russia in twenty-first century. We have many remnants of late feudalism in our country, unfortunately. So, and now, state expresses interests of the class, but if one baron will decide to take too much for himself or to destroy this power or to change a little bit of this power, he will be in the prison.

The story of Khodorkovsky is relatively simple. He decided not to follow to the common rules, he proposed socialization of economy, he said that too big social differentiation and absence of industrial policy is not good for the economy in general and for accumulation of capital. And if you want, we Russia, want to have growth, if we want to have new quality of development, it’s necessary to change economic model. But it was not profitable for continuation of the policy which was before, and which is now. And he went to prison because he didn’t pay taxes. But in Russia in ’90s, nobody paid taxes, so everybody could be in prison.

PAUL JAY: So, if the state wants somebody in prison, there’s always a ready reason to do it.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was enormous. It was necessary to show that if you don’t follow our common rules, you will be in prison.

PAUL JAY: So, he actually wanted somewhat more social democratic version of capitalism?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: A little bit, yes. He was not the Hero of Socialist Labor of course, but yeah, it was a relatively more progressive model. And he decided to participate in very active form in politics.

PAUL JAY: Now, you’re trying to keep the left alive during all of this. You’re still teaching at the university. What’s happening to the left during the rise of these, the creation of a stronger central state, and Putin, and so on.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Again, situation is complex and contradictory. We have, in Parliament, Communist Party of Russian Federation, which is going down. They had thirty, even more, percent of the seats, now they have fifteen.

PAUL JAY: And how left is that party? Because it has leftist things, but it also has a pretty vile nationalist streak.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. So, Communist Party of Russian Federation is a strange organization. They have economic and social program very similar with Die Linke in Germany, for example. Not bad left social democratic program. But internal organization is very bureaucratic and conservative. Ideology in general is also mixture of some communist slogans with slogans of orthodox church and conservative slogans. Plus, nostalgia of Soviet Union as a symbol of the prosperity and Stalin as symbol of good life in the Soviet period. So, in this case, this is not very progressive at all.

But inside communist party, there are a lot of interesting, good people who simply don’t have a place to act, because this is the only official left organization, with all negative features. We have small communist organizations, left organizations, some of them are not bad, so-called United Communist Party. It’s unification of people who were expelled from Communist Party of Russian Federation because they were real communists, I can say. And we work together with this political group, very close cooperation. But as I said, the alternative, mainly is movement of people who want to develop left, Marxist theory, who want to teach- who wants to make real propaganda of left ideas. And we have some positive results.

We have weekly radio program, open-air, forty minutes in one of the federal radios, Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of the most popular radio in Russia. We have access to central T.V. at least one, two times per months because we are top intellectuals. It’s not self-advertising, it’s true. We have opportunities to participate in talk shows, we have on first channel, very popular talk shows. We had two hundredth anniversary of Marx, we had six talk shows where we participated for this anniversary on different channels. We have two journals, popular journals, many different websites, not Alternatives. Alternatives, I have too. But it’s good work, I think.

PAUL JAY: The West loved Yeltsin, and they grew to hate Putin. Why?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: This is big story. To be brief, in Russia, we had, during last ten years, permanent stagnation, before even crisis, of economy. No improvements. At the same time, we had the growth of, concentration of, national capital. And this huge capital decided to play a role in the world market. And if capital wants to take a piece of world market, it’s necessary to have strong state behind. So, first attempt to come to the world market led to the bad result. Russian capital decided to buy part of the Western corporations then the Western corporations said, “No, no, no, never.” The Russians said, “We will pay good price.” “No, no, never, it’s our business. Go out.”

After that, we received impulse of growth from military- industrial complex. And if we have military-industrial complex, it’s necessary to use this complex for something. Plus, it was a real attack on national pride of Russians during all these periods, of Yeltsin period and after that. We were country which lost everything; respect, national sovereignty. We were under the control of United States, we had Westernization of cultural life and it was very unpleasant. Terrible for us. And when Putin made first really decisive step and said Crimea will be part of Russia, he received huge popularity. Crimea is special question we discussed in your program, not one time, this question. But he received, yes, from people.

PAUL JAY: But the Americans, and many of the Europeans, already hated Putin before Crimea.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Not too much. Really, the crisis, the programs started after 2008, ’10. Before, Putin was good friends, it was partnership with NATO, it was no problem in early period, or nearly no problem.

PAUL JAY: Hillary was going to reboot the relationship because it was problematic. Putin was- the vilification was already in the works.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but Putin was, step by step, trying to create a stronger Russian state.

PAUL JAY: Well that’s what I’m getting at, is part of creating the stronger Russian state, is that these resources are going to be Russian oligarchs, not American oligarchs.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it’s true.

PAUL JAY: And finance too, like Western finance couldn’t get their hooks in a way they- and the whole point of breaking up the Soviet Union, from a Western point of view, was that Western capital should have a free-for-all.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, but you know, here’s a reason- it’s an absolutely reasonable reason for this. But there is another reason. Power in Russia, partly, is dependent from the people. Every state, even if it is a marionette of the capital, is dependent from the public opinion, from the public feelings. They must have balance. And for Russians, necessity to have self-respect became extremely important after twenty years of permanent crisis.

PAUL JAY: And for Putin-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It was necessary to give response to this necessity.

PAUL JAY: Okay, well we’re going to pick this up in the next segment because this opens up the whole question of Putin and brings us kind of more up to date. Because we only have so much time today, and clearly, we could do another thirty-five episodes. So, please join us for the next segment of Reality Asserts Itself with Alexander Buzgalin on The Real News Network.

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08: Is Putin’s Rule a Dictactorship?

PAUL JAY: Welcome to the Real News Network, welcome to Reality Asserts Itself, I’m Paul Jay. As you can see, we’re continuing our discussion in a new studio, but we’re still in New York City with Dr. Alexander Buzgalin.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: Professor Buzgalin teaches political economy and is director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, we’re going to pick up where we left off. You go on vacation for a lovely little August and you get away from it all, and you come back, you’re on the central committee, youngest member, I guess, maybe in history, I don’t know, of the communist party. You’re amongst the most powerful people in the county. And certainly, for decades and decades, the Soviet State looked like it would never go anywhere. And you come back from vacation and there’s no more Soviet Union.

The Communist Party, I think, is probably illegalized at this point. Yeltsin is the president, and so that’s kind of where we left off the story. We went a little bit further, we talked about the story of the next decade and the grab for cash, the emergence of the oligarchs and the many who came from the party itself and from the state bureaucracy. And we get to the end of the ‘90s with a fairly established class of now billionaires or becoming billionaires, and a very chaotic state. And Putin becomes the new leader, and that’s sort of where we left off.

The sort of common narrative of this period after Putin becomes leader is that this is the story of the rise of a one- man dictatorship. And this is what the story of this whole next period of the Russian state is. What do you make of that?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, we do not have, and we didn’t have from the very beginning, dictatorship of Putin. In the beginning of his epoch, in the beginning of twenty-first century in our country, we had another style of life. It was continuation of the power of oligarchs with top officials. It was partnership and friendship with the West in the beginning, by the way. Partnership with NATO, partnership with the United States, even later, Putin was main advocate for joining to WTO. In Russia, we had very big opposition.

PAUL JAY: World Trade Organization.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, World Trade Organization. Majority of Russian, even business people- not majority as far as money was concerned, but in terms of businessmen. Is concerned. So, majority of even business people we against joining to WTO, to World Trade Organization.

PAUL JAY: So, Putin advocated more of an integration with the Western capitalism.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, Putin advocated, he became- I would say, in the modern sense of this word. Only after crisis, 2007, 2009- before, it was only some elements, some trends, maybe. And about democracy and dictatorship. In that period, we had growth of statism, but mainly in ideology, growth of Russian conservatism, but mainly in ideology, and it was not so strong. It was domination of liberal ideas before crisis, world crisis, 2007-2010. That was the trend. And it was, I want to remind, period when we had enormously high prices on oil and gas. It was up to one hundred fifty dollars per gallon. And Russia had an enormous amount of dollars for really nothing. And it came, it led to the enormous enrichment of oligarchs, but also some resources came to workers in budget sector, education, healthcare, to bureaucracy. It was enormous growth of bureaucracy and a little bit for ordinary workers and peasants.

PAUL JAY: And we talked earlier, in the previous segment, about even most of the oligarchs, as in medieval times, realized there needed to be a king because the competition between the oligarchs would threaten the systems of the oligarchs, and they needed a state to play that kind of role. In terms of Putin and the role of that state, there’s a perception, again, in the West, that it kind of gets used in a way that enhances Putin’s power in a sense that he can favor these oligarchs, and disfavor those, and a sense the state becomes more important than the oligarchs.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s true and not true. If any oligarch, and billionaire- and in Russia, we have hundreds, more than one hundred owners of more than one billion dollars.

PAUL JAY: More than one hundred billionaires.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and the country is not so rich as the United States or China, it’s ten times, maybe, not less than ten times- many times less than the United States or China. So, if any from these oligarchs will decide to attack rules of the game or personally, president and his team, he will be in prison or he must immigrate, and so on. But that doesn’t mean state became more important than class of oligarchs and top bureaucrats. First of all, it is not even class, it is strata inside class of bourgeoisie. We have very diversified class of bourgeoisie, very different types of bourgeoisie. And inside ruling strata, new nomenklatura is name which Voslenski used for Soviet bureaucrats. And now it’s very similar. A few thousand people with families, kids and so on, who are real rulers who concentrate economic and political power.

PAUL JAY: Because they control ministries, regulation-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, executive power. They control ruling party, administration of president, and they control main part of wealth of Russia. Seventy percent of Russian wealth is concentrated in the hands of less than one percent of population.

PAUL JAY: We know that number here.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: And key resources in the hands of a few families, one hundred, two hundred families. So, the problem is that they have common interests, but they have clans, like in, I don’t know, court of Louis XIV or XV in France, different clans of aristocracy fighting between themselves. But generally speaking, it is one power, one strata of aristocrats who has power. The same in Russia. We have different clans, regional clans, clans that have connected with military-industrial complex, with oil and gas, with small difference between state gas and oil corporations and private gas and oil corporations. But difference is small because top managers of state corporation are also oligarchs. And the private owners of private corporations are in the control of bureaucracy.

So, in Russia, state and private means not too much. It’s not very big difference, unfortunately. And they have common interests. And these common interests led to stagnation of the economy because the development can be realized only if big money from this capital, oligarchic capital, bureaucratic capital, will be used for investments in high-tech technologies. And it will be redistribution of power, not simply of money, but redistribution of power. It will be new, active class. Class of engineers, creators, business people, but business, productive business people, not speculators and those who take land from the oil. And they will lose their power. So, if we have not simply growth, but development, new quality of development, this strata will lose their power.

That’s why for them, it’s not profitable to change economic, social, tendrils of life, of rules of the game, better to say. And for other population, this is stagnation, and stagnation on the low level with very big social differentiation. During last decade, we had more or less the same. After crisis, 2007-2010, it was ten percent decline of production. Then, we had small growth after five years, more or less the same level as 2007, then minus two percent plus one percent, zero plus two percent, near zero. And then finally, after twenty- I will finish on this. After twenty-five years of transformation from so-called inefficient economy of Soviet Russia inside Soviet Union, we have only plus fifteen percent, twenty-five years and only plus fifteen percent.

PAUL JAY: In productivity.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In production, yeah, gross national product. Less than one percent per year during twenty-five years, all zig zags. And the quality is another.

PAUL JAY: Well, that’s kind of a dramatic number because, given computerization and such, productivity and gross national product in the West has gone far, far higher than that.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: And if you compare with China, which had similar problems, but China had minimum seven percent per year, and an average eight point five.

PAUL JAY: So, what does this mean in terms of the life of working people and what their expectations were? Remember, in an earlier segment you were saying everyone thought, “Get rid of the Communist Party and socialism,” and everyone was going to have “capitalism without capitalists,” the utopia.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Utopia, unfortunately. So, first of all, as I said, during first years of so-called market reforms, shock without therapy, we had terrible decline of production, incomes, and social differentiation. We received real poverty. And before, it was impossible. And poverty for not only lazy people, liberal dogma, but intelligentsia became extremely poor, workers became extremely poor. After this, high prices on oil, life became a little better. But what we have now- let’s move to modern situation. As I said, twenty million people from one hundred fifty, little less, in Russia, are living under the poverty level. And poverty level is ten thousand rubles. Ten thousand rubles is one hundred-

PAUL JAY: Say that again?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Ten thousand rubles is poverty level.

PAUL JAY: And how many people below that?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: We have twenty million people who has less than ten thousand rubles.

PAUL JAY: At this time?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: At this time. And this is continuation. Before, it was sometimes little less, sometimes little worse, but more or less the same. What is ten thousand rubles? It is one hundred sixty dollars per month. Of course, purchasing power of dollar is high, but if you want to buy normal equipment, you will pay even more than in the United States. If you want to buy bread, it will be a little less. So, that’s why it is poverty. Wage of majority of Russians, working Russians, is less than thirty thousand rubles per month. This is five hundred dollars. This is not poverty, but still, country is rich with oil.

PAUL JAY: The majority of people earning that wage.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Fifty percent has less than five hundred dollars per month. And in the same time, we have one of the best, second or so place as far number of billionaires is concerned. Billions, not of rubles, but billions of dollars. And they are buying football teams, palaces, two hundred thirty meters long yachts, and so on. It is a country with such situation.

PAUL JAY: So, Putin is the face of this system, whether he has as much power as people think he has or not, he’s powerful and the state is powerful. But he’s the face of this system. Why, if in fact he’s running at seventy percent or so popularity, if that’s true, why?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: This is big question.

PAUL JAY: So, we’ll talk about why Putin seems to remain so popular in spite of tremendous inequality of the society. So, please join us for the continuation of Reality Asserts Itself with Professor Buzgalin on The Real News Network.

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09: Why is Putin so Popular when People are so Poor?

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re continuing our discussion with Professor Alexander Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: So, one more time, the professor is the director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. So, we left off, the last segment you were talking about the tremendous inequality in Russia today. A billionaire class of maybe one hundred billionaires, a country, economy far, far smaller than the United States or China, average wage, you were saying, is something, what, five hundred dollars a month?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. Wage of one half of population.

PAUL JAY: Fifty percent of the population, twenty million people living on, what would you say, under the poverty line, which was what, about one hundred and fifty dollars a month? So, gross inequality. And people could see the lifestyle, this lavish lifestyle of the oligarchy. And a pretty modest democracy. I think the kind of tyranny that gets described in the Western press is ridiculous, and especially when elections here are also pretty ridiculous. That being said, there’s certainly not as much democracy, especially in terms of Western Europe as a comparison. All that being said, Putin seems to be incredibly popular, maybe- we’re told seventy percent popularity, in elections he wins pretty close to seventy percent of the vote. Why?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, this is big question mark. I can give some explanations, but in some aspects, this is big question mark, even for me. I will use historical approach. I’m a Marxist professor, as you said, and this is true. First of all, as we mentioned in previous segments and previous parts, we had terrible disorder, criminalization and a crisis, very deep crisis in the 1990s. And Putin was nobody and power was in the hands- I mean nobody because he was not in power, in political elite. And power was in the hands of barons, new barons, bankers and Yeltsin. So, when he came to power, economy had, first of all, gross, because of oil prices, but it was gross, and then stabilization. It was stagnation but not decline. Second, it was stabilization of the rules of the game, not because it was dream of Putin or because he was so strong and so good, but because it was necessary for ruling class to keep the rules of the game in order to make normal profit in normal circumstances. After primitive accumulation of capital, after everybody against everybody-

PAUL JAY: Which means free-for-all grabbing the assets.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. So, when violence is used, not only commercial methods, normal commercial methods, to kill economically, competitor, but also direct methods to kill him physically, feudal methods.

PAUL JAY: For real.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, when capitalism, when concentration of capital achieved level when there is big corporations, for them it is necessary to have the order. And they required order and they required Putin. And for people it was also not so bad, because finally, we didn’t have now permanent wars, wars in the streets of the big cities. We still have not very peaceful life, but still, not so bad as before. So, first stabilization. And now, first factor why Putin is popular, because people did not see a position which can change situation without new crisis and catastrophe. People are afraid of any changes. When we are starting to talk, they say, “Oh, changes, it will be worse. It cannot be better.”

PAUL JAY: So, Putin or chaos.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes. So, they are afraid of changes of the rules of the game. These rules are bad but they’re our rules. We have terrible policemen, you have I think movie in America, “Killer Cop,” yeah? So, but we have cop, maybe-

PAUL JAY: Well, there’s lots of actual killer cops too, it’s not just movies.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it’s true. So, that’s why it’s better to have rules of the game then to have new chaos. First fact. Second fact, and very important, the problem with opposition. We have two types of opposition. One is artificially created by Western media. In Russia, they are not serious. This is liberal opposition, or so-called liberal opposition, people who had power during Yeltsin’s power, Yeltsin’s presidency in 1990s and people understand that if this guys who are talking about democracy will have power again, it will be no democracy. Because in 1993, I want to remind, they destroyed parliament by tanks and it was no problem for them. And we had political prisoners before, and we have now, so it’s more or less the same. But it will be even more strong capitalist exploitation. Plus, we will be under the control of NATO and Western capitalist- in Russia, it’s Western type of life. And here we are coming-

PAUL JAY: If this liberal opposition would be successful, it would have a much stronger imposition of capitalist interests.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, and people don’t want this. Communist opposition- so, opposition of Communist Party, when it was nearly victory of Zyuganov, leader of Communist Party in 1996, and he said, “No, no, I will not be president.”

After that, Communist Party lost popularity and support. People understood they are not decisive and strong enough for taking power. Even if they win elections, it will be nothing. So, it’s necessary to have real strong, real decisive, responsible opposition. And absence of such a position is an important factor.

PAUL JAY: So, why is it- where is a kind of more indigenous, even if you want, social democratic opposition that isn’t pro- Western? Where is it?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, the question is why we don’t have strong opposition. First of all, this opposition exists like idea, like a dream, like a vision, but not in reality. Why not in reality? Again, big question mark. And even theoretical problem for us, I cannot give a very well-founded answer. I am very sorry for that. It’s my obligation, it’s a call to do this, but I can give only some characteristics why not, features why not, mainly because Russia had a very long history of paternalistic organization of social life. Five hundred years of Russian empire, then shot, explosive, revolutionary explosive of social creativity, revolution and first years revolution. And Stalin’s model, which again, extremely paternalistic model we had. And finally, last decades of Soviet Union, we discard this question. It was period with peaceful life when everything was from the state. It’s like a family where father is strong, father can beat kids, but kids are not hungry, they have dress, they have education, they have peaceful life, and everything only from father. Kid himself or herself cannot do anything, he or she can only ask father, “please help us.” And father will give what you need.

PAUL JAY: As long as you get along with it.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. If you are not protesting, yeah? So, that’s why this tradition destroyed real energy of self- organization. And it’s necessary to have long traditions in order to fight against huge power of bourgeoisie. But we have, underground, wish and intentions to have such opposition. That’s why it can appear very rapidly, by the way.

PAUL JAY: How actively does the state suppress attempts to create this kind of opposition?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Let’s maybe move to the questions of democracy, oppression of opposition and ideological debates a little later. I want to stress one more factor of why Putin became popular. So, one more factor which is important, he used nostalgia on Soviet Union and real dreams about rebuild of Russia as respectable, strong state. During all epoch of semi-colonization of Russia by the West in 1990s, we had this dream, hope. And Westernization was brutal. Instead of very deep, good, smart Soviet Russian culture, we received this modernization of our life.

PAUL JAY: During the ‘90s.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. And even the English language became everywhere, in the advertising and so on. And it was big attack on the national pride and big attack on the morality and mentality of people. Putin used patriotic slogans, he rebuilt, again, respect to army, respect to the state, respect to- in Russian language, state means not apparatus, state means country with population, history, territory all together as value. And they have values of history of Russia during five hundred years. And this value was protected during fascism during second world war, and we paid huge price. Thirty million people were killed to keep this value of life and to defeat fascism. That was not nothing. That’s why he uses patriotism, he used idea of the victory in second world war. This is very important part of our intellectual ideological, cultural life right now.

PAUL JAY: “Make Russia Great Again,”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. And the idea to make Russia great again became important. And then, he proved this by three decisive steps. And before, we didn’t have leader who can be risky, decisive and responsible. And in Russia, there is need in such leader. This is, again, tradition and mentality. So, first, Crimea. Second, support, more or less support Donbas, independent region inside Ukraine. And finally, Syria. It was not so important for Russia but first time Russia- not Russia, first time in the modern history, first time during twenty-five years, we, mankind, had country which said no to NATO. Even China never said no, China said, “We’ll stay.” And Putin came- not Putin, Russian elite, better to say, the supportive people came and said, “NATO, boom! Go out. We don’t respect it. You don’t like it? No problem, we will beat you.”

PAUL JAY: Why do that? The Chinese strategy of gaining, slowly, slowly and sometimes quickly, gaining more strength economically and avoiding direct confrontation with the United States, at least until China is even much stronger, seems like a pretty smart strategy. Why get into such a direct confrontation with the United States?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, China’s strategy in economy was impossible from the point of view of creation of enormous wealth in the hands of a few families during a few years. It was necessary to spend forty years to create Chinese capital. And this Chinese capital is under the control of bureaucracy, and they are not very happy with this. In Russia, during a few years, they created enormous wealth. They have the same number of billionaires as China, and China is ten times bigger. So, that’s why Chinese model of economic, stable growth was not profitable for Russian ruling forces.

PAUL JAY: I get that, but why the-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: The policy- I will explain. For Putin, in the situation of such deep contradictions in the country, with negative relation of majority of people towards economic policy, it was necessary to have something which will show that he is strong, good and protector of Russian people. Foreign policy was the only chance. And I think it was also for his personal values, mentality, ideology. Russian elite had double consciousness. They partly came from criminals, but majority came from state party officials of the second, third, fourth generation. And they still have, inside themselves, love to Russia, love to country, love to state. And they want to be respectable, together with the country.

PAUL JAY: Respected.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Respected by everybody, together with the country. They associate themselves with the country. They are not rich without nation. They want to be “Russian” oligarchs.

PAUL JAY: So, part of standing up to the United States is part of “Make Russia Great Again.”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes. And by the way, it is reflected by a big part of population all over the world. When you come to Arab countries, when you come to China, to India, they applaud, “Guys, first time we have a force which beat NATO.” Maybe not beat, but at least not capitulated and not- abstained, said no.

PAUL JAY: I just want to say, in standing up and “Making Russia Great Again,” I don’t want to in any way suggest the United States doesn’t deserve to be stood up to. I’m talking a strategy and a tactic here. The- just, I know I’m going to get some email. In terms of this popularity, “Making Russia Great Again,” it included an alliance with the Russian orthodox church, and a very dark right-wing side of this emergence of what this new “great Russia” is. Why?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: We have, as we mentioned before, re-feudalization of our life. We have a lot of elements of late feudalism. And this is reality. And the growth of the role of churches, institution- not even religion, but church is an institution, is part of power of these top officials, together with the oligarchs. They must have ideology. And by the way, in Russia we have enormous debates now, what is national ideology of Russia? And nobody knows. Common ideas, patriotism, but patriotism is not enough really, for ideology. And the question is, what kind of Russia do we want to have? And if you love Russia, what does it mean? What is Russia?

And here, church is not bad idea, not bad- not from my point of view. From my point of view, this is terrible because we have re-feudalization of consciousness, of education, of even science. We have theology everywhere, priests can come for the scientific forum to say you must make your scientific debates, you’re welcome. I don’t know, something like that. And so, this is not good, really. And the church is a very bureaucratic organization, very commercialized organization. I don’t know if this is the case for the United States, but we have a lot of anecdotes about this, about church, about the wealth, their accumulation of capital, and so on, and the internet. So, this is part of our reality.

PAUL JAY: Certainly, part of the religious life in the United States is the based on T.V. evangelical, there’s a great body of T.V. in the United States, evangelists who go on T.V. asking for money, and of course, the Catholic Church owns a lot of land, and so on. But the main religion here is the interweaving of Christianity with Americanism. And it’s, I guess, somewhat similar. I mean, look, Americanism over here- look at the American oligarchy. But Putin- it’s not just about the “Make Russia Great Again,” it’s not just about this connection and use, or alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church, but there’s a real right-wing spirit about this state which also makes use of development of the right wing in Europe, to have allies in developing, kind of, the right-wing nationalist movement in Europe. Why?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Again, very complex question. But first of all, I want to stress that I don’t know about Europe. I think they have similar features. But in Russia, conservative ideology and conservative trends and culture grew up as alternatives to liberalism. We have forced, primitive, and very aggressive liberalism- not liberalism, attack of these right liberal values. And they were implemented, and they were implemented not like values of freedom, or even not like values of personal pride and activity of personality, but as values of money, commodity, commodity and money. And this came to our life, and Soviet life was different from this.

And I mentioned that for, let’s say the most progressive part of Soviet Union, money was mean, not goal. And when we received this primitive commercialization of everything under the slogan of liberalism and freedom, under the slogan of democracy, we received chaos and criminalization of life. Then it was necessary to look for alternative. And Putin came and said, “We have alternative.” Traditional values of Russia. And it’s not nothing, it is a very good culture. It is traditions of heroic struggle against fascism. It is Soviet culture, which was very humanistic, like classic Russian culture. So, what is better, Hollywood movies of permanent battles of stupid soldiers against another stupid bandits, or Leo Tolstoy and so on?

PAUL JAY: But some of that narrative is not from the Soviet Union, some of that narrative is “great Russia,” pre-Soviet Union, which is its alliance with the Russian Church.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it’s all together. We have from one hand, idealization of Russian empire, primitive and very strong with church and so on, from another hand, we had gained a lot of Soviet movies, especially about victory in great, patriotic war, WWII. And these movies are really very good, and very humanistic.

PAUL JAY: Because you get this contradictory, at least on the face of it, where you have like Russia Today television inviting various prominent left-wing personalities to have their own shows, even, and tons- all kinds of left-wing guests. On the other hand, a clear sympathy for the rise of Trump as president. In Europe, with Marine Le Pen in France, others, this connection with the rise of right-wing neo-fascism. This is a complicated patchwork, but it tends to favor the right.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: You are absolutely right, and the situation is really dangerous. Because let’s move back in the history. In 1920s, late 1920s, early 1930s, in Europe was alternative. Either we are going to the left- social democrats, communists, anarchists, everybody together, or we are going to Nazi fascism, national socialism, quasi-socialism, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and so on. So, now we have more or less the same. Why? Because it was crisis of liberal capitalism. It was necessary to have something other. And Great Depression showed that it’s necessary. It was necessary.

The same now. There is crisis of neoliberal ideology. What can be the alternative, so-called left social democrats in Europe became liberals, sometimes even more stupid than real liberals, neoliberals. What is in the eyes of Russians, Le Pen and others, alternative to liberalism. And they have a lot of “blah, blah, blah,” but this “blah, blah, blah” are against market fetishism sometimes. This “blah, blah, blah,” are against democracy as opportunity to make whatever you want. Plus, very big question which I don’t want to debate now, but I think now that destruction of traditional values through methods of market is more negative than positive. When we have marketization of life, and struggle against family oppression, lead to the marketization of family relations, I don’t know what is worse, the kid beat by father or the kid who has the bargaining with father about money for his activity.

PAUL JAY: Well, it’s worse than that. You have such an opioid and drug crisis in the United States, it’s partly because there’s no values left- so little values left in the culture.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I think this is a big problem for the left. They did not create alternative to right-wing opposition to neoliberalism. But this is another topic.

PAUL JAY: Okay, we’re going to continue this discussion. Please join us for the next segment of our discussion with Professor Buzgalin on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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10: Why Does the West Hate Putin?

PAUL JAY: Welcome to the Real News Network, I’m Paul Jay. It’s Reality Asserts Itself, and we’re continuing our conversation with Aleksandr Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again. And Professor Buzgalin is the director of the Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. Why does the West, at least the Americans and many Europeans, the British certainly, and it seems much of the Germans and others, the French- why do they hate Putin so much? They say because he’s a dictator and all this. First of all, we know they love lots of dictators. Nobody can say they hate dictators and love the Saudis.

And the list of dictators the Americans have loved over the decades is more than probably one hundred, and who knows where that list ends. So, it’s got nothing to do with him being a dictator. As you said in the previous segment, for the- Putin wanted to be in the World Trade Organization and have the Russian economy more integrated into global capitalism. And that was the great thing about the horror of the Soviet Union, really was- again, they don’t care about dictatorship- Soviet Union wasn’t in the global capitalist system the way they wanted it to be. Well, now that they got it, so what do they hate about it? Why such a fervor about “the Russians are coming?”

ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN: First of all, I think that partly this is artificial phenomenon created by artificial methods. I mentioned that modern capitalism is a world of simulacrum, we are buying not jacket, we are buying label. We are buying not real commodity, we are buying symbol. The same in political life. Putin is a symbol of something bad because it’s necessary to have symbol of something bad. It could be not Putin, it can be anybody else. But this is only one element of explanation. There is another element which I think is important. And finally, Putin himself, maybe, I am not Putin- subjectively, thinks that he is continuing the logic of Soviet Union.

PAUL JAY: In what way? “Make Russia Great Again?”

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: “Make Russia Great Again” to defeat Western aggressive intentions, to protect poor people in the south from world imperialism. I think he thinks that in Syria, he is defending poor Syrian people from aggressive U.S. imperialism.

PAUL JAY: But how-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: “I can do the same,” yeah.

PAUL JAY: Bombing and slaughtering cities cannot be protecting poor people, right?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: This is another question. It’s like Stalin. Subjectively, he was absolutely sure that he is building communism putting millions of people to the Gulag.

PAUL JAY: But you can say, as criminal as that was, there was free health care and free schools and this and that. There’s the actual- I’m talking inside Russia.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: But the idea is if not Russia now in Syria, it’s not my opinion, but- I will move back my bit to Syria very briefly. In common space in Russia, Russia mission in Syria is very simple, to protect modern power in Syria, because if this power will be destroyed, not democracy but terrorists will have power in this country.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think that was the logic. In fact-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Well, let’s forget about this.

PAUL JAY: No, no. Let’s not forget about it, because I think when Putin originally goes and props up the Assad regime, it’s mostly to stop the victory of ISIS and the terrorists and the potential of that spilling even more into Russia. And I don’t think the Americans were so against it. Obama, they needed- Putin saved Obama’s bacon with that deal on getting chemical weapons out, and so on, and defeating this kind of hyper- terrorist activity. One can see the logic, and of course also what you were saying earlier, standing up to NATO, even though I think to some extent, the Americans and NATO, at least in the early stages, wanted Russia to play this role. But let’s go back, the-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, let’s finish. You asked why Putin became so dangerous for Western leaders, and I want to summarize, maybe one more aspect which is important. He personally looks very sympathetic for ordinary people, and he has image of strong, brave, and at the same time, kind, polite. He really loves kids, animals, he makes something to protect them. And it’s visible that he is doing this not artificially, not as, I don’t know, actor. And Western leaders feel that he is popular. But one very important aspect. We hadn’t very liberal government. And in Russia, you asked, why so big popularity? It was game, but smart game. Terrible from the point of view of reality, but smart to show that government is making all bad and Putin is making all good, yeah? When it was increasing of pension, it was because of Putin. When it is decline of budget for education, it is decision of government. And even smart people said, “Government is terrible, Putin is very good.” It’s old story, good king and bad barons, yeah? But when Putin again gave status of prime minister to Medvedev, who was before and rebuilt again all these neoliberal leaders and all ministers, now I think the popularity of Putin became much less, much less.

PAUL JAY: I’ve often thought, and tell me if this is true, that at the end of this decade of the nineties and the free-for-all grabbing of assets by the oligarchs and the rise of the Russian oligarchy, that the Americans, who certainly supported Yeltsin and had a finger in this- I’m not saying the decisive finger, but certainly their hand is on the scale- they thought they were going to wind up with more of these assets and more of the direct ownership and more of direct control of the financialization, the finance sector. And as this Russian state starts to emerge with Putin, they don’t get an open field day in Russia. The state pushes back on that. And is that sort of the underpinnings of this antagonism?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, it’s also a very important aspect. Yes, you’re absolutely right. And why, in Russia, we don’t have support to liberal opposition? First of all, because nobody believes that they will bring real democracy. For majority, it will just be blah, blah, blah. And we didn’t discuss, by the way question, what is democracy in modern Russia? It isn’t absent here yet, but maybe quickly. First of all, you are right. Modern state protect, more or less, interests of Russian capital. And this is one of the reasons why West doesn’t like Russia. And this is one of the reasons why people feel that he is not so bad for Russia. I mean, not Putin himself, but the whole system of his power, or power which is led by Putin, better to say. And finally, I want to say that in Russia, we have also in some aspects, positive critique of capitalism under the slogan of critique of Western style of life. We have anti-Western propaganda, but in some aspects, this is anti-liberal and anti- capitalist propaganda. So, this is also aspect why it is popular. And finally, maybe a few words about political situation-

PAUL JAY: Well, let me ask the question.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, of course.

PAUL JAY: So, we talked a little bit about who the opposition is. And I’ll ask again, why isn’t there a more of a sort of a progressive, social democratic opposition, and to what extent is the lack thereof because of political repression and certain candidates aren’t allowed to run, or fear? I don’t know. Why isn’t there a more- not a pro-Western, liberal opposition, but a domestic, indigenous opposition to the oligarchy?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, first of all I want to ask all people who are watching us, listening us, why in the United States you don’t have Social Democratic opposition?

PAUL JAY: Oh, there is. No, there is. You know, the Sanders phenomena, it has its limits, but it is a sort of a progressive, Social Democratic opposition. We’ll see whether it ever gains any real power, but there’s something there.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: But yes, it’s relatively new, but again, let’s look on the results of the next-

PAUL JAY: And in Europe, you’ve had different attempts at it, labor party in the U.K. and so on. They exist.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but okay. Yes, there are some more or less left in some countries among opposition, but generally speaking, more or less, better less, more than less left Social Democratic opposition as faction in the parliament exists only in Germany, Die Linke.

PAUL JAY: And the U.K.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In the U.K. the Labor Party is not left.

PAUL JAY: Well, Corbyn’s section is.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Even Corbyn’s section is not relatively influential. Let’s hope.

PAUL JAY: There’s something there, and that’s-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In Russia we have something also. We have Communist Party of Russian Federation, with fifteen percent of the seats. And we have every month intentions to introduce law devoted to the increase of spendings for budget, to have progressive income tax, to increase spendings for education from the budget, to introduce a progressive income tax, to change labor culture, to support labor-owned enterprises. So, Communist Party is doing this all time. We have governors who are members of Communist Party in regions, and they are trying to do something, with very restrictive potential, but still. So, such type of opposition we have. And we had fifteen percent of quasi-businessmen, quasi-left person in last presidential elections. It’s not nothing, and if elections will be more or less democratic, even according to Western standards, he can have thirty percent.

PAUL JAY: And are they? To what extent does the Communist Party have freedom to operate and compete and contend?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s, I think the potential, the possibilities are more or less the same like in the United States and less than in Europe. Because in the United States, we can have such debates in Real News, but I don’t know if we can have such debates in main T.V. channels of United States.

PAUL JAY: Certainly not.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Ah. And in Russia, we can. Buzgalin was, during last half a year, maybe five, six times in first channel, in second channel- no, not in first. In second channel, culture, and some other channels of Russian T.V.

PAUL JAY: During the election campaign, even Bernie Sanders, who stays within the framework of mainstream politics, got very little television time and Trump got way more.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, yeah. And this is more or less normal for situation when capital, corporate capital has global hegemony. And this global hegemony of capital is not nothing, it’s true. So, we have some space for opposition, but this is very restrictive space. And typically, you can criticize neoliberal cause of the government, you can criticize model of economic system, even political system. But if you criticize directly, Putin, it’s possible to do only in two radio stations, which are very liberal, by the way, and not very good. Or in the Communist newspapers. We have Soviet Russian newspaper, and this newspaper is one hundred thousand copies, popular, national newspaper. And it is very critical about everything what is doing by leaders in our country.

So, it’s not nothing, but if you make something serious, you can be in the prison. And when we had demonstration of the protest in 2012, liberals and officials made two provocations independently. Liberals put all left young people in front and they honestly started to attack police. And officials created atmosphere, when it was open battle with police, and these young boys were punished for the attack on policemen. It’s necessary to see these guys and policemen, and so they beated police. They were four years in prison, only now liberated. So, that’s why we have big contradictions, of course.

PAUL JAY: We started this segment about why the Americans and much of the West hates Putin. It seems like a very convenient, morbid dance that serves both elites’ domestic public opinion, this antagonism between the U.S. and the Russians.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I will add maybe one detail. You are right, we explained as much as we can, as much I can. But again, I think the main reason why in Russia we have support to Putin, and why among Western elites there is so negative relation towards Putin is foreign policy, or better to say the global system of hegemony of capital, which is based in, let’s say, Washington and Brussels. This Brussels-Washington union of transnational corporations with NATO forces, and all systems, including mass media, including Hollywood movies and so on, all this system had during twenty-five years, no obstacles. And no one was brave enough to say no to them and to beat them. So, first time it was when Putin made something definitely against them, and it was risk that he will be punished, that they will send, I don’t know, spy who will kill him, even though why not?

PAUL JAY: And I think I should add, I don’t think it’s just propaganda positioning here. The sort of fundamental American military doctrine after World War II was to have a single superpower world and a single nuclear superpower world. And they thought they had that with the fall of the Soviet Union, that they had now a single superpower world. And out of that chaos of the nineties, I think the West must have thought they were going to wind up with a subservient Russian state, a Yeltsin-type subservient state. And the fact they don’t get that, now they’re back- it may not be an economic competitor superpower, but it’s still got a nuclear arsenal of serious proportions. Big military.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: And in its local conflicts, Russia is strong enough to be their opposition to U.S. or NATO active military actions.

PAUL JAY: For the same reason they don’t like Iran. Iran’s just too big a player regionally, so they don’t need- it doesn’t have to be a global competitor, they don’t want regional competitors.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. Plus, if China, India and Russia together will create alliance, it will be enormously important global player. There is a big question mark for big debates, even theoretical debates.

PAUL JAY: Say that again, global debates?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Is it good idea or bad idea for the left, for the progress to have instead of one killer cop, two killer cops?

PAUL JAY: Or three?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Or three killer cops. Yeah, this is big question mark. Of course, it’s better to have communist revolution everywhere, but it’s not solution of the problem today. And with Russia, this is big question mark, because Russia is not progressive country, and I’m not supporter of economic, social, political system in my country. I’m in opposition all my life. And maybe final fragment we will devote to the left opposition, the intellectual and political independent opposition. We are not big, but we are. We exist. And generally speaking, I think it is a topic for debates, if left can and must support not progressive, but maybe even reactionary, but opposition to hegemony of global capital. This is a big question mark, and let’s put question mark and ask everybody to react and to write us and to criticize us or support us, whatever they want, you want, listeners or people who are watching us.

PAUL JAY: So, thank you, and please join us for our next series of interviews with Professor Alexander Buzgalin on The Real News Network.

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11: Many Russians Think Climate Change is Propaganda to Weaken Their Economy

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re continuing our discussion with Alexander Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again. And one more time, Professor Buzgalin is the director of the Center for Modern Marxist studies at Moscow State University. In the United States, Canada, most of the West and much of the South, meaning Latin America, Africa and many places in Asia, people recognize the critical necessity of facing the challenge of the climate crisis. The science is clear, we’re facing an existential threat. And in the wisdom of the American political system, a climate denier gets elected in a moment where it couldn’t be more critical to actually have policies that address the question. But in Russia, you more or less have a climate denier who supported Trump. And clearly, the importance of fossil fuel to the Russian economy. One understands his position, but still, this is an existential threat. How much is this discussion and debate going on in Russia?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Unfortunately, not too much. It’s one of the problems of our society which is far from really global problems and this is partly a result of Westernization, partly a result of the opposition to Westernization. It’s like a paradox but it’s true.

PAUL JAY: This is seen like a Westernized argument, climate change.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. Of course, it’s not an idea, this might be a propagandistic slogan or something like that, that all these climate questions are inspired by the West, and this is part of the blah, blah, blah, and real problems are very far from this, and so on and so forth. It’s games of the rich countries. They didn’t understand that, I don’t know, what will be with climate, but today we are poor, we will build strong industries, they don’t want us to have strong industry, that’s why they created all this climate agenda. This is one approach. Of course, this is not true, but it’s more or less popular.

PAUL JAY: Here too.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. Second variant, we have our problems, let’s forget about all these Western talks. Russia is strong enough, we have enough nature and everything, so we much protect our nature. And this is maybe important, but the most important problem is to build our industry. So, two variants of the same game, which is not good game at all, but this is more or less a reality. More or less because we have, of course, a green movement, we have opposition, we have people who are talking about this seriously. That we must have another social organization in order to overcome global problems, and global warming is one of these problems. It is normal for left intellectuals, and not only intellectuals, in Russia.

PAUL JAY: Because if it’s as I think it is, that scientists in Russia have more voice and are more respected than here? At least that was certainly the tradition. I know when I was in Eastern Europe, back during the Soviet days, scientists were rock stars. If they were prominent, they’d be on T.V. all the time. Is it still anything like that? Are the scientists raising their voices?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Unfortunately, it’s not the case now. We had terrible decline of the popularity of science, education, in mass consciousness, partly because of the primitive capitalization, this primitive accumulation of capital led to the destruction of fundamental science in many ways.

PAUL JAY: The asset grab in the ‘90s.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. Plus, social status of scientists now in Russia is very low. Of course, money is not main illustration, but just to give you example, full professor in Moscow State University, best university, the best, the highest status, the wage is the same as for the driver of the subway train. And if you have PhD and start your career, you will have to two hundred dollars per month in Moscow, where prices are more or less like in New York. And this is a reflection of the social atmosphere. We still have some interesting cultural traditions, respect to science, but it’s more tradition than reality. More memories than modern situation.

PAUL JAY: If the West and the South gets really serious about policy to deal with climate change, it’s going to tremendously affect the Russian economy. I mean, if the world starts really getting off fossil fuel, getting off oil, the Russian economy is going to be hollowed, to say the least, which one, gives one a reason to understand why Putin would want a climate denier to become president of the United States, and maybe appreciate climate deniers having strength in Europe as well. On the other hand, you’d think there’d have to be a serious conversation about the future of the Russian economy. They’re having it even in places like Saudi Arabia, where they’re talking openly about having to plan for getting off an oil-based economy, they seem to be doing it. Qatar seems to be investing a lot of oil money now to develop what they’re calling this “knowledge-based economy.” I’m not saying they’re all for this, but at least there’s a conversation at high levels going on. If they’re not thinking and planning about this in Russia, it’s a problem.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In Russia we have very big debates about oil dependence and this is a real problem for Russia. And we must overcome this dependence. And we must build another economy. And we have internal struggle, and one of the main ideas of opposition is to decrease the role of oil and gas export and the extraction of oil and gas, and to move towards the high-tech industry, education, science, medicine, and so on, as key branches of economy. And it’s possible. We have very good intellectual potential, potential in the sphere of creativity. And so, that’s why for Russia, the climate problem is not a threat to be killed. I mean, it’s not a threat for the economy. It’s a threat for this type of economy which is very profitable for oligarchs and which is very inefficient for Russian population and for the development of the country. Plus, oil can be used not only for fuel, not only to make energy. Oil can be used for production of different chemical things, and it can be very useful. And it’s necessary to have in other technologies.

And finally, it will be not one day no oil at all. It will be twenty, thirty years transitional period. And this is a good idea to change the economic situation. But here, we must have strong industrial policy. We must have plans, I’m not afraid of this word. We must have structural changes in the economy. And for that, we must realize, introduce a new economic model, and at least have very deep reforms of capitalist system, as minimum, very deep reforms of capitalist system. With modern system of capitalism in Russia, we will not move in this direction. That’s why we have, together, problems of political opposition, social opposition, a necessity to develop our life and necessity to solve ecological problems. It’s in one basket, in one sphere, in one political problem.

PAUL JAY: Okay, in the next segment we’ll talk about what the possibilities are for this next step, which I know you think is a socialism and a step towards communism, and whether there are actually conditions for this.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, it’s true.

PAUL JAY: So, please join us for the next and last segment of our interview, at least last for now, on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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12: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Socialism

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and this is Reality Asserts Itself. And we’re in New York, and you might notice that we’re in a different studio, we’re still in New York City. And joining us again to continue our discussion is Professor Alexander Buzgalin. Alexander Buzgalin is a professor of political economy and the director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. Thanks for joining us again.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Thank you. I’m very glad to have this dialogue.

PAUL JAY: So, you are a professor of Marxist studies, and one of the core concepts of Marx, as I understand it, is socialism is born in the womb of capitalism, just as capitalism was born in the womb of feudalism, and so on. And the conditions for the development of socialism argued by Marx and Engels and others, Lenin and others, was that a fully developed modern industrial capitalism gives rise to big enterprises that are extremely well-planned internally, even though overall in the economy, in the politics, it’s still anarchy. It’s still very chaotic and there’s no planning. And that the- if those big enterprises could become public, publicly owned, then all that internal efficiency and organization could then extend towards the whole economy, and you could have a planned economy and avoid the periodic crises, the recessions and so on. When you look around the world now and you look at this thesis, how does one apply that to what you see?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: You made great provocation, and I am afraid that I will not propose now boring lecture, but provocation is for boring lecture, really, especially for a professor. If we can look on modern development of the material production, we really have material basis for the beginning of communist era, very beginning. I will use one historical parallel. For the beginning of capitalist era, capitalist mode of production, it was necessary to have division of labor and automized producers. Industrial system was not inevitably necessary for that beginning. For the stabilization, for the victory, yes, it was necessary to have industrial production. So, the period from relatively developed craft production with this division of labor, with roads and with relatively free of personality, it was basis for market for market and for very beginning of capitalist epoch.

PAUL JAY: Okay, hang on. Break that down for people who don’t know what you’re talking about. So, when you mean division of labor, what does that mean?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Division of labor is very simple thing. I am producing bread, you are producing milk, another guy is producing butter, somebody producing equipment, somebody is helping for horses to grow up, and so on. Everybody is doing his separate things.

PAUL JAY: Instead of one farmer doing everything for himself.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, because people were living, thousands years, when everybody was produced by family, all, and consumed by family. So, and capitalism was growing with zig zags, with victories and defeats, five hundred years. Even now in Russia in twenty-first century, we still don’t have final victory of capitalism, by the way. So, the same with genesis of communism.

PAUL JAY: Meaning there’s still some feudalism in the countryside.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, we have a lot of such. Forty percent of potato is produced in the dacha, pieces of land which people has to have food in poor regions of Russia. So, and this is Russia, this is not in central Africa. So, let’s move to the parallel. For genesis of communism, it’s also necessary to have minimal prerequisites and optimum basis. Minimum prerequisites is a strong, developed industrial production with big enterprises specialized in different spheres and interconnected by international corporation or at least national corporation.

We already have this in main countries of the world, even in newly developed, new industrial countries like Brazil or Russia, China and so on. So, this is minimum. And we can start moving to the new society with assistance of plan, with modern computers, with modern internet technologies. Even now, a huge corporation knows what everybody, what Buzgalin and you, another girl, boy, I don’t know, dog, what in the supermarket this minute, this second, because this is universal information. Through social networks, it is possible to receive information about every step of everybody in the world. And it’s not problem, technically it’s not problem to put all this information together and to use optimization models. The problem is social.

PAUL JAY: To plan an economy.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Planned economy. The problem is social.

PAUL JAY: Just an example of one of the most brilliantly internally planned economies is Amazon, which does exactly what you’re saying, and is able to not just know when you like a particular type of toothpaste to tell you here’s a greater tube of toothpaste, but to plan that supply chain globally.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it’s true. So, and the problem is social. And main problem, main negative feature of market is not simply crisis of all production or disproportions in some spheres. Main negative feature of market is consumerization of society, commodity fetishism and fetishism now even of simulacra of commodities, signs, symbols. Simulacra means- okay, one example which I use everywhere, maybe it will be well-known after that. If you have jacket with Hugo Boss here, this jacket will cost one thousand dollars. If it is, I don’t know, “Red Moscow,” it will be fifty dollars. What is the difference? Brand. And this value is created by marketing, not by production of goods, by production of symbols. And this production of symbols is main negative result of market. And people who are spending, I don’t know, all weekends in the megamalls for shopping, they are worse than alcoholics. They are shopaholics. I don’t know if it’s possible to say in English.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, that is a term.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, so that’s why this is negative. And we can move this, but this is minimum prerequisite for movement towards new society. Why? Because communism is a society where people have as main need, interesting work. Second, in your working place, in your life, you have not competitors who must be killed, not physically but economically killed. You have people with whom, in solidarity, you are making, together, something interesting.

PAUL JAY: But this vision, the way you’re articulating it, more or less, was the same vision from the Soviet Union from the 1920s and all the way, and it didn’t work. It didn’t become the kind of society you’re talking about. What’s different about now?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, in 1920s, we had absolute minimum basis for the beginning. It’s like to build capitalism without machines, even without steam. And to build capitalism when you have not simply steam, but electricity and so on, it’s much easier. So, now we have big progress of productive forces, if I can use Marxist terminology. Second, we have experience of one hundred years of mistakes and victories. And this is also very important. And finally, even now, we have chances only to start this process. And then will be long zig zag. I use parallel of Mississippi, which is going from North to the South and is a lot of zig zags. So, we can start moving from the very beginning, a small, very, very small river. Communist huge river will be in the future if we will pass all the zig zags and barriers. So, this is the problem. And modern capitalism, financial capital, virtual, fictitious capital, creates enormous obstacles. Now, main efforts of technicians, software specialists, artists even, is used for what? For marketing, for management, for financial speculations, for increasing of derivatives, profit, profit, profit.

PAUL JAY: Most of the best mathematicians and even physicists are working on Wall Street, writing algorithms to game the stock market.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. And what is technical progress? 1900, beginning of twentieth century, first airplane can fly two hundred meters with speed fifty kilometers per hour. Fifty years later, airplane, nine hundred kilometers through continents. What we have now, the same airplane.

PAUL JAY: So, you’ve got, if you call this the material conditions for socialism, you’re saying communism, is these enormously well-organized, efficient, massive corporations like Amazon’s one of the best examples, but there’s others. And artificial intelligence is going to raise that to a whole other scale. But they’re privately owned. And as long as the ownership remains private, there’s no reason any of what you’re saying should come about.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s absolutely true. And the choice is very simple. Either we have elite, a lot of semi-slaves and a lot of useless people- of course, people cannot be useless, but they are useless for capital. Or, we have communist society or socialism at the beginning of movement in this direction.

PAUL JAY: And why do you jump to the word communist? Because this ain’t gonna happen fast, there’s going to be a long transition. If it happens at all, it’s going to be long.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: For me it is important in order to be able to show the trend. I used word communism because you know, when you fix, socialism is transformation from capitalist or even feudal and capitalist society, slavery, feudalism and capital together, to the new society. And period of transformation is socialism. But if you lose trajectory, if you lose direction, it will be tragedy. I am asked in China very often, “We have the same economy as in Soviet Union during New Economic Policy, yes or no?” I say, in some aspects, no. Why? Because during new economic policy, 1920s, it was said, “We must move from mixed economy, semi-democratic political system with a lot of oppression of people because it’s class struggle in very intensive form, towards the real democracy, real humanism, real socialism.” And this is the vector, with zig zags, but in this direction. China doesn’t have this direction. They can say that more private property is better.

PAUL JAY: Just very quick, for people that don’t know, what is the NEP period in the Soviet Union?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: New Economic Policies period is just after socialist revolution and civil war, which started in 1921, led by Lenin Bolsheviks but with a lot of bourgeoise intelligentsia together, and it was a period when we had market economy with plans, we had a lot of private property, especially in agriculture or in villages, in agriculture. We had the first state enterprises and we had very big enthusiasm from below. Millions of people in poor country, ordinary workers, participated in clubs where they were learning how to make poem, how to create poem, how to be sportsmen, how to be scientist and engineer, how to make radio- it was more than to make computer now- how to go to the space. Of course, not space, but to make airplane, something like that.

PAUL JAY: So, the idea is that you could have a certain amount of privately owned-

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah, it was big amount of market privately owned.

PAUL JAY: As you head toward bigger the arc toward socialism, whereas in China they seem to be heading towards a bigger arc toward state capitalism and not much beyond that.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. And when it is official rhetoric, they will say that they are moving in socialist direction. But to say that we will less and less private property, never. They don’t touch this question, so I don’t want to go to the problem of China, but just to mention it.

PAUL JAY: Well, let’s go back to the scale of internally well organization, the globalization of production that came with digitization and computers that enabled all of this, is about- you know, we’re on the precipice of a whole new, real qualitative leap in that kind of technology, called artificial intelligence. What do you make of the significance of that? In fact, one, in the short term, meaning in the next five, ten years or so, we could see millions of jobs lost. And then two, if you add to that the climate crisis and the deteriorating environment and the deteriorating ability of humans to live on this earth.

I really see the wealthy elites, and I’m told that literally they are talking about having their own escape plans, and imagining a life which is the wealthy, serviced by robots, artificial intelligence creates everything, and the rest of the population of the world can live like in the movie Hunger Games. You know, they can go screw off, and whatever happens to them, too bad. And there’s a very serious conversation going on amongst the elites that the real danger is that when that happens, the elites will be so dependent on robots and artificial intelligence that AI is actually going to take over from the humans. And very serious scientists are projecting that that will happen. And they’re concerned about that part, they’re not so concerned about what happens to the eighty, ninety percent of rest of the people of the world.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: First of all, you gave the answer. I agree with you. But I will give command on your command. First of all, about this artificial intelligence and elite and so on. They will create jobs for servants, for slaves, because even now, you can go to the restaurant where there is no waitress and it is more efficient, cheaper, and no problems. But if you are rich, you want to see it and to have ten persons around you. One will bring you bread, another will bring you water, third will make something else, one girl will come and put the napkin. So, that’s why for servants, for slaves, it will be space, but this is terrible. This is not salvation of the problem, this is creation of the terrible problem. Second, important remark. To have jobs is not as important in communism as it is important in capitalism. Because communist society means that you can work four hours a day, and it will be two times less jobs and it will be very good, very positive because people will have time to educate, to develop their cultural level, not to spend time in supermarkets and with drugs or computer games. The key problem of communism is not to create jobs, not to create consumption.

PAUL JAY: But then you get the question, who is going to control this artificial intelligence? Because the kind of world you’re talking about, it ends up a political problem. Who has power, and artificial intelligence for whom?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: That’s the key question. And the key is, the answer is very well-known. If we have grassroots democracy, basic democracy, so if life is controlled by people, to make it simple, we can move in the direction of a society where we have a short working day, where we have a lot of tasks to work in this field of culture, education, art, ecology. We have a lot of social problems. To put all these poor people who are starving and to move them to the cultural life, to create creators from degradated people, this is a task for everybody for a hundred years. So, we have a lot of work which must be done. Now, if we have no necessity to produce things, if we have robots, then we have enormous amount of work to make everybody poet, to make everybody healthy. To make everybody educated. And demand that everybody, billions of people who are in a terrible situation and who cannot do it themselves, it’s necessary to help them to do this together.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I’m absolutely happy that we had these long dialogues and very important dialogues because Russia is very isolated from the world in many aspects. And when we can explain what is our life, how it is interconnected with international processes, when we can be together in these dialogues, it’s extremely important for us. So, I ask everybody who has interest, let’s be in touch. And this is not an abstract word, solidarity. This is real necessity to move to build international solidarity. And this is a task for intellectuals, for ordinary people, for the left, for everybody. And thank you very much, Paul, for this talk, it’s absolutely fantastic. Thank you for everybody who was watching us, listening to us.

PAUL JAY: Well, thank you so much. It’s a privilege to finally have you here and not just on webcam. And thank you for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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