PERESTROIKA WAS AN IMPOSSIBLE IDEA on the face of it. The Party was setting out to employ its structures of command to make the country, and itself, less command-driven. A system whose main afflictions were stagnation and inflexibility was setting out to change itself. Worst and probably intractable was the fact that people who had spent their lives securing power and individual leverage were expected to devise change that would dismantle the hierarchy of levers and might dislodge them. The system resisted change instinctively, and a great number of individuals plotted consciously to sabotage the change.
As the man appointed by Gorbachev to think through perestroika, to design it and guide it, Alexander Nikolaevich was confronted daily with the futility of the task. Much of the Party’s leadership rejected change for fear of losing power. Those who appeared to welcome change, like, most notably, the head of the Moscow Party organization, Boris Yeltsin, were ultimately also driven by the desire for power, and this made them unreliable allies. The leaders of many of the Soviet Union’s constituent republics were becoming lax in monitoring and containing nationalist forces: for decades the country had prosecuted local nationalist activists as enemies of the state, but perestroika loosened talk of self-determination in the Baltic republics, Ukraine, Georgia, and even in places that were nominally part of the Russian republic within the USSR. It was beginning to pull the country apart, creating tension and instability when the USSR could least afford it. The media, which were now—in large part thanks to Alexander Nikolaevich’s efforts—granted greater freedom and even encouraged to tackle difficult subjects, were by turns too passive and too conservative, even reactionary. The public, to the extent that Alexander Nikolaevich could track what the public was thinking, also seemed torn between inappropriate passivity and equally inappropriate action: those who began speaking out seemed invariably to choose extreme positions, whether they were speaking in favor of democratization or in favor of cracking down to preserve the Soviet order. Alexander Nikolaevich took to calling all of them “extremists.”
As a man who had struggled to educate himself, who had had to teach himself to think, Alexander Nikolaevich was sympathetic to the great number of people resisting change simply because they had never been exposed to anything outside the Party’s dogma. In May 1988 he convinced the Central Committee to approve a concerted effort to restore thought and knowledge to the land. “It has come to the point where the West now has scholars who are better versed in the history of our own homegrown philosophy than we are,” he wrote in the draft of an address to the Central Committee. “Twentieth-century Western philosophy contains a number of ideas that are avidly debated in books, at conferences, and so on. But many of these ideas were originally articulated by our thinkers. This is not surprising, for the tension [his italics] of the spiritual quest in Russia in the years leading up to the Revolution exceeded that of any European country.” Alexander Nikolaevich suggested creating a team of five or six editors who would put together a library of Russian philosophers, between thirty-five and forty volumes that would include works by depublished nineteenth-century thinkers as well as those who had sailed on the Philosophers’ Ship. He compiled his own list of thirty-nine thinkers to be restored to the Russian canon. And if this went well, he wrote, then books on history and economics (which he still called “political economy”) could follow. The Central Committee said yes.1
BEFORE THE PLANNED COLLECTION could materialize, journals began publishing previously silenced philosophers. Even Heidegger could now see print. For someone like Dugin, this was a confounding moment. On the one hand, he no longer had to spend his days hunting down copies of banned books or hurting his eyes by trying to read the microfilm projected onto his wooden desktop. On the other hand, his entire life was constructed around just this: fighting his way to difficult ideas, becoming one of the few people in the country to understand them, and continuing his process of self-education, knowing that he had all the time in the world, his hated static world. If the world was no longer static, and if the knowledge was no longer banned, who was Dugin now?
Evgenia left him. She joined a group of people who coalesced around a strange woman, Valeria Novodvorskaya. She was in her late thirties, and she had been in and out of punitive psychiatric clinics since she was a teenager—she was a radical lone-wolf dissident. Now, for the first time, she was assembling like-minded people. They began with a seminar, held in Moscow and Leningrad, for about eighty participants—a number that would have been unthinkable just a few months earlier. Even now, in April 1987, the organizers were terrified. They started with studying Soviet history—Novodvorskaya, who was a walking encyclopedia, lectured more often than anyone else—and soon began to organize protests on every topic they studied. They held tiny rallies to commemorate events that Soviet citizens had not been allowed to know about. Evgenia started getting detained on a regular basis. She seemed to enjoy it, and the publicity that accompanied it as Soviet papers began to cover what was happening in the streets. She was no longer living in the apartment she had shared with Alexander—she had managed to be allotted a place of her own, one room plus a kitchen in a 1970s concrete-block tower a short subway-plus-tram ride from the center. Dozens of people would cram into this space now, all of them rebel freaks, and as many as a dozen KGB cars were keeping vigil at the front door on any given day.2 Their son, Artur, was living with Alexander’s mother now, and Evgenia took him on weekends when she was not busy protesting or being held at a precinct.
Novodvorskaya’s group began calling itself a political party—this in a country where for seven decades there had existed only one Party. The new party was founded in May 1988 in the course of a three-day “congress” with about a hundred attendees. Some of the sessions were held in Evgenia’s apartment. Participants were harassed, some were detained, some roughly. A dacha where the third day’s meetings were scheduled to convene was raided by KGB agents who turned the place upside down, rendering it unusable. Only about fifty of the participants dared sign their names to the new party’s platform.3 It was an outrageous document, which called for the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and referred to the Baltic states—Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia—as “occupied,” demanding that they, along with any other constituent republic that so wished, be allowed to secede from the Union. It abolished the KGB, the death penalty, and the draft. Novodvorskaya and Evgenia would have gone even further—their views were a combination of libertarianism and anarchism, both of which seemed to them, at that point, the ultimate in Western thought—but the rest of the group held them back. As it was, several of the old dissidents who had served time for their anti-Soviet activities thought the document was too confrontational.4 This was not even what Alexander Nikolaevich meant when he used the term “extremists”: it was a caricature of what he meant. A prosecutor threatened Novodvorskaya with charges of high treason, which carried the potential of the death penalty. But the activists responded in an utterly un-Soviet way: they did not stop in fear, and they did not fight the prosecutor—they just paid the threat no mind. All the organizers received summonses, and all ignored them. They proceeded with their congress, even though several people were detained in the process and held for about a week. The first political party in the Soviet Union that was not the Communist Party would be called Demokraticheskiy Soyuz, the Democratic Union.5
Novodvorskaya would later write that Evgenia was not so much anti-Soviet, like Novodvorskaya herself, as un-Soviet.6 Evgenia was having the time of her life—she was engaged, she was performing, she was admired, and she was also in love. She was having such a good time, in fact, that she was proving too much even for the Democratic Union, which kicked her out for talking out of school, often while drunk. In 1989, when founding a new political party no longer seemed radical in itself, she cofounded the Russian chapter of the Transnational Radical Party, a pacifist non-electoral political group with headquarters in Italy. The Italians gave Evgenia her first computer, but then the Radicals, too, kicked her out, for oversleeping on the day of a demonstration in front of the Romanian embassy. She decided that she was more interested in capitalism than in politics and started the Russian Libertarian Party. She also came out as a lesbian—the love that had been fueling her political life was the love of a woman—and launched the first queer organization in the country, the Association of Sexual Minorities (more specific terms of identity, like “gay” or “lesbian,” were not yet familiar to the Russian ear).7
AMONG THE MANY THINGS that grew confusing in the late 1980s was the left-right dichotomy. The way Alexander Nikolaevich used the word “right,” it was but a stand-in for “conservative” in the most basic sense of the word: just wanting things to stay the way they were. But the way they were, nominally, was “left”—the most conservative force was the Communist Party. Few people, therefore, wanted to call themselves “left.” That made everyone “right,” or something closer to “radical” or “democratic” as opposed to conservative. Evgenia’s Radical Party, which would have been far left in Europe, and her Libertarian Party were roughly equidistant from the Communist Party, which made the leap from one to the other seem like a small step. In fact, all her views shared a category much more important than the familiar—and therefore suspect—political divisions: they were Western. Before finding Novodvorskaya, Evgenia was briefly involved in an effort called the Group for Trust Between East and West, whose sole agenda was to counter the most basic premise of Soviet propaganda: the idea that the West was a threat. Even in Alexander Nikolaevich’s rhetoric, if not necessarily in his thinking, this premise appeared inviolate: almost any time he wrote a letter or gave a speech on the state of things in the Soviet Union, he made note of Western efforts to undermine the country and Western plots to sabotage perestroika itself. So if one strove to be, first and foremost, un-Soviet, as Evgenia did, one did well to embrace any number of political positions, from libertarianism to pacifism, one more Western than the next. Gay rights, the legalization of drugs, and the abolition of the death penalty, the lifting of all state controls in favor of the reign of the unfettered free market—everything fell naturally into line.
As for Dugin, who had lost the woman he loved, his son, and his life of intensive open-ended learning, he was bound to look for and find the position that was the opposite of everything. First he drifted into Pamyat (“Memory”), an organization that in the mid-1980s was emerging from the underground. It had long trafficked in antisemitic rhetoric, from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to contemporary world-Zionist-conspiracy theories. Now it allied itself with Gorbachev’s perestroika on the one hand and with an imagined Russian nationalist revival on the other.8 The combination was fairly intuitive: Soviet internationalist rhetoric was just one of the aspects of hollow ideology that were being deflated. While official Soviet media pre-glasnost doled out their own regular servings of antisemitism framed as anti-Zionism, the system had generally subdued outright Russian-nationalist voices. Now this lid was lifted and hatred emerged in many stripes, of which Pamyat was the brightest. The Soviet leadership was either unsure about how best to react or unwilling to react, but Alexander Nikolaevich raged privately and publicly. “I am not Jewish,” he said during a talk at the Higher Party School in March 1990, “yet every day I get fliers from Pamyat in which I am called ‘the head of the Judeo-Masonic lounge of the Soviet Union.’ There is only one reason for this, as far as I can tell: I really do speak out publicly, in writing and in speaking, everywhere and anywhere I can, against all manifestations of nationalism, including antisemitism. And I consider it to be the shame of any member of the Russian intelligentsia and any Russian person at all who subscribes to this kind of ideology of racial hatred.”9
After decades of amorphousness underground, Pamyat had acquired a charismatic leader, a former photographer named Dmitry Vasilyev, who railed against all the world at once: the Holocaust was a Jewish conspiracy (Eichmann was a Jew); rock music was a Satanist plot (slowed-down vinyl records sounded out chants to Satan); and yoga was a Western scourge (all the West wanted to do was contaminate Russian culture).10
Between its Soviet conservatism, as manifested by its avowed allegiance to Gorbachev, and its anti-Western, anti-everything-foreign stand, Pamyat was indeed the perfect opposite to the Democratic Union. Like Evgenia, though, Dugin soon parted ways with his first political organization. But while she became, briefly, a serial founder of radical groups, Dugin set out on a new intellectual project.
He now found inspiration in the writing of René Guénon, a long-dead Frenchman who had published more than a dozen books on metaphysics. A couple of volumes focused on Hindu beliefs, but he also wrote on Islam, cosmism, and “the esoterism of Dante.” Dugin perceived a coherent worldview in this eclectic collection, or at least a coherent quest: the search for a tradition, or, rather, Tradition. He wrote a book—his first—The Ways of the Absolute. It was a dense text, parts of which no one but Dugin himself would be able to understand, but it contained one clear proposition: put aside all existing belief systems, all things learned, in favor of what he called “total traditionalism,” a sort of meta-ideology that contained the cosmos. Indeed, it contained so much that it was probably better defined by what it decisively rejected: “the ‘modern world’ as such.” Modernity was the opposite of Tradition, so the essential tradition Dugin was seeking could be located only by stripping away all views and things contemporary and working backward. Another word for “modern” might be “Western.” By using a French philosopher obsessed with Hinduism and Islam to get at this idea of Tradition, Dugin was coming full circle to an earlier, newly forgotten idea held by Russian thinkers who argued that their country should be turned away from Europe and toward Asia.11
Dugin made his own pilgrimages to Western Europe. In 1990 he went to Paris, where he met Belgian New Right thinker Robert Steuckers. Here was an intellectual from the West who was as radical in his thinking as Guénon, but he was living right now and speaking to Dugin. Steuckers introduced him to the concept of geopolitics and, more broadly, the concept that Dugin’s ideas could have practical implications in a changing world. He also suggested to Dugin that his ideas might combine into something called National Bolshevism. Within a year, Dugin met a number of other Western European New Right intellectuals, was welcomed to the conferences of the ethno-nationalist think tank Groupement de Recherche et d’Études pour la Civilisation Européenne in Paris, and was published by an Italian New Right house.12
Dugin’s book about Guénon was published in Russia in 1990, among many books—some of them better-written, but few by a better-read person—that attempted to find a metaphysical, esoteric, supernatural, or, on the contrary, ultrarational, mathematically argued way of explaining all of life and the world, which had so suddenly become so complicated. Dugin himself, meanwhile, found the Tradition he wanted in the Orthodox faith—not in the contemporary church but with the Old Believers, a faction that split off in the seventeenth century and had since attempted to maintain its ways in spite of the modern world.
THE CLICHÉ OF THE ERA was “floodgates.” Everyone in every field was claiming that the floodgates had opened. To Arutyunyan, it felt more like the fortochka opened wider, then wider still, and then the entire window swung open. A friend who worked at the Moscow cardiology center told Arutyunyan that a doctor there was teaching a seminar on administering the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. The world’s most popular personality test, in use since the 1930s, had been studied by a few Soviet psychiatrists and psychologists in the 1970s.13 They had tried to adapt it to Russian, which proved an infinitely difficult task. For one thing, Russian is a thoroughly grammatically gendered language: most first-person statements have a feminine and a masculine form. The MMPI consisted of 566 first-person statements. The first adaptation efforts, therefore, created two versions of the test—one for women and one for men.
More important, the original test was rooted in American reality—and had been empirically tested for years before it was finalized and came into wide use. The Soviet psychiatrists and psychologists had very little opportunity to test their clinical reality. Now, in the late 1980s, one of them was allowed to include outsiders in his work, turning them into students, collaborators, and testers at once. How were they going to apply this foreign test? The Russian language, gendered or not, was the least of their problems. The test contained statements like number 58: “Everything is turning out just like the prophets of the Bible said it would.” The Soviet person’s reality included no prophets, and no Bible. The original adapted version of this statement read, “A person’s future has been predetermined.”14 Testing showed this to be a poor substitute, though. A better fit, as it turned out, was, “I am more cheerful when the weather is good.” Question 255, “Sometimes at elections I vote for men about whom I know very little,” became “Sometimes I positively appraise people about whom I know very little,” and question 513, “I think Lincoln was greater than Washington,” sidestepped possible disagreements about history by turning into “I prefer working with a supervisor who gives clear instructions to working with one who gives me greater freedom.”
By 1989, the original MMPI was being retired in the United States in favor of an updated version, adjusted for changes in American society and clinicians’ understanding of it. The “men” in the elections question became “people,” and Lincoln and Washington were dropped altogether.15 In the Soviet Union, the adapted version of the first test was coming into use just as the reality to which it had been adapted was changing drastically—possibly making the effort to delete from the test all references to elections not just superfluous but counterproductive. Still, the very fact that more than a few psychologists, newly trained in using the MMPI, were going to start administering the test to a large number of apparently regular people—not psychiatric patients or criminals but previously unpathologized, untreated, and unstudied ordinary Soviet citizens—was groundbreaking.
Whatever its limitations as a diagnostic tool in the USSR, the MMPI proved invaluable for inspiring trust in psychologists: the strange trick of being able to draw convincing conclusions about someone’s personality—being able to point to such traits as excitability, cynicism, or a proclivity for developing unexplained symptoms of physical illness—on the basis of a series of apparently unrelated questions struck the perfect balance between magic and science. It showed that, despite lacking a medical doctor’s white coat, psychologists knew something the subjects did not. Even better, they knew things about the subjects that the subjects themselves did not know—at just the time when so many Soviet people were starting to sense that they knew less about themselves and their world than they had thought.
The psychologists, meanwhile, started to learn to be clinicians. Moscow State University’s psychology department abandoned most caution and launched a series of workshops for and by practicing psychologists. Self-styled shrinks emerged from their apartments, where they had been seeing clients without a permit or permission, or from the library, where they had been reading Freud in the spetskhran, and began helping one another systematize their knowledge. There were workshops on family therapy, Gestalt therapy, and psychoanalysis.
As the Iron Curtain began to open a crack—a byzantine visa system was still in place, and the activities of visiting foreigners were highly restricted, but some people were now welcome to come in for some reasons—Western psychotherapists began to visit and teach. Carl Rogers came in 1987. It was both bizarre and earth-shattering that Rogers, a founder of humanistic client-centered therapy and the pioneer of nondirective counseling, would be the first major Western psychologist to lecture in the Soviet Union: his approaches rested first on placing the person at the center of things, and, second, on not telling the person what to do. An organizer of his visit recalled that Rogers himself pointed this out, saying, “What you have asked us to do here is dangerous . . . because if people learn to empower themselves, they may not do what you want them to do. It may not fit in this culture.”16
Rogers proceeded to lead some of the strangest groups he had ever encountered. Following a large lecture at Moscow University, he planned to spend four days working with a group of no more than thirty people. The roughly fifty people who crowded into the room and another dozen who congregated outside the door spent the first day screaming and fighting one another for a spot in the group. Rogers was, he wrote later, “horrified”—he italicized the word. “Rarely, if ever, have I heard such vicious hostility directed personally toward present members of the group.”17 On day two, he noted, “It became evident that many of their personal problems relate to the great frequency of divorce. In this educated and sophisticated group, it is similar to the United States. One woman spoke of the way in which she and her husband had gradually worked toward a better and seemingly more permanent relationship. She was definitely the exception. Nearly everyone else spoke of ‘When I left my first husband’; ‘I have a problem with my child by my second marriage’; ‘If I leave my second wife.’ There was talk of the insecurity and estrangement of children of previous partnerships; the difficulty of maintaining relationships with one’s children when they are at a distance; the interference of ex-wives and ex-mothers-in-law—the whole gamut.”18 Even after the room had settled down, Rogers continued to be taken aback by his students’ inability to listen to one another. Yet the formal debriefing several days later convinced Rogers that as therapists his students had been deeply affected by the suggestion that they should hold back judgment and even guidance. Indeed, they attempted to conduct what should have been a formal and formulaic meeting of an “academic council” in Rogerian fashion, a feat Rogers himself called “extravagant.” As people, though, the Russian participants seemed to sadden the great therapist: he and his co-facilitator noted “a certain ‘lostness’ . . . a pervading sense that there should be more to life, a deep despair about ever finding it.”19
Virginia Satir, the world’s most famous family therapist, came the following year. Pulling people one by one onto the stage from a crowded auditorium, she explained the most basic tenets of her approach, her belief in the fundamental goodness of every person: “I know he is a wonderful man. Why do I know this? Because he is a man at the station of life, and he is the only one exactly like him in the whole world.”20 Viktor Frankl came and lectured on existential therapy. The psychologists of Moscow were catching a glimpse of the twentieth century’s professional conversation before the last of its great participants were gone. Rogers died in 1987; Satir in 1988; Frankl lived for another decade, but by the time he visited Moscow he was already in his eighties.
Arutyunyan tried to hear and learn all of it, all at once, before she came to the realization that to help a human being, she had to choose a single framework for understanding him. This was when she concluded that the flawed, complicated, and sometimes frightening human of psychoanalysis was her choice. It would be a while before she knew that psychoanalysis, too, had its different schools, each of which represented a different vision of the person.
GUDKOV’S SECOND INVITATION to work with Yuri Levada was twenty years in coming. After two decades of home-based seminars, Levada was reassembling his team as part of an official Soviet institution. In July 1987 the Central Committee decreed that “in order to study and deploy the public opinion of the Soviet population on the most pressing socioeconomic issues” a new center would be created under the auspices of the trade union authority and the labor ministry. This and subsequent documents made it clear that the future All-Union Public Opinion Research Center would not in fact be merely a research institution: it was expected to actively devise and implement strategies for shaping public opinion.21 The choice of overseeing agencies was logical: centrally controlled trade unions and the labor ministry were in charge of the human resource that was all the Soviet people—who, the thinking went, would now be properly monitored and directed.
The new center began in chaos and confusion. The trade unions allocated half a million dollars—hard currency—to buy the latest computer equipment, and the sociologists were promptly swindled out of the entire sum by a con man posing as a Canadian technology supplier.22 On the bright side, there was the staffing: Levada knew exactly what needed to be studied, and he had all his people with him to conduct the research.
Levada’s hypothesis, formed over the course of more than three decades working not only in the Soviet Union but also, in the 1950s, in newly communist China, was that every totalitarian regime forms a type of human being on whom it relies for its stability. The shaping of the New Man is the regime’s explicit project, but its product is not so much a vessel for the regime’s ideology as it is a person best equipped to survive in a given society. The regime, in turn, comes to depend on this newly shaped type of person for its continued survival.
Levada hypothesized a detailed portrait of Homo Sovieticus. The system had bred him over the course of decades by rewarding obedience, conformity, and subservience.23 The successful member of Soviet society, suggested Levada, believed in self-isolation, state paternalism, and what Levada called “hierarchical egalitarianism,” and suffered from an “imperial syndrome.”24 Self-isolation was a key strategy for both the state and the individual: as the Soviet Union sealed itself off with the Iron Curtain, so did the Soviet citizen separate himself from everyone who was Other and therefore untrustworthy. Ideology supported these separations by stressing “class enmity,” but keeping one’s social circle small was also a sound survival strategy during the era of mass terror, when excessive trust could prove deadly.25 The belief in a paternalistic state, and an utter dependence on it, were bred in Homo Sovieticus by the very nature of the Soviet state, which, Levada wrote, was not so much a complex of institutions, like the modern state, but rather a single superinstitution. He described it as a “universal institution of a premodern paternalistic type, which reaches into every corner of human existence.”26 The Soviet state was the ultimate parent: it fed, clothed, housed, and educated its citizen; it gave him a job and gave his life meaning; it rewarded him for doing good and punished him for doing wrong, no matter how small the transgression. “By its very design, the Soviet ‘socialist’ state is totalitarian because it must not leave the individual any independent space,” wrote Levada.27This description of totalitarianism echoed Hannah Arendt’s explanation of how totalitarian regimes employ terror: “It substitutes for the boundaries and channels of communication between men a band of iron which holds them so tightly together that it is as though their plurality had disappeared into One Man of gigantic dimensions.”28 Robbed of his individuality and therefore the ability to interact meaningfully with others, she wrote, man became profoundly lonely, which made him the perfect creature and subject of the totalitarian state.29
Since the state controlled every thing and every person, Soviet society had a simple vertical structure, rendering the Soviet citizen’s thinking fundamentally hierarchical. Even though the exact systems of rank and privilege were secret, the basic logic according to which the state doled out goods and comforts in exchange for valued services ruled every person’s life. At the same time, official ideology extolled equality and the state punished those who had, or wanted to have, too much. For Homo Sovieticus this translated into the value of equality within groups—a strictly enforced conformity at one’s station in life. This was what Levada termed “hierarchical egalitarianism.”30 This term was an example of what Levada called “antinomies”—a philosophical concept that refers to the contradiction between statements either of which appears reasonable. Homo Sovieticus’s world, according to Levada, was shaped by pairs of antinomies. The most important of these may have been what Levada called “the imperial syndrome.” On the one hand, the USSR, like the Russia that preceded it, was incontrovertibly an empire. Its strength, breadth, and size were all sources of citizen pride. Every schoolchild knew that the Soviet Union occupied the largest territory of any country in the world—one-sixth of the Earth’s landmass.
Broad is my native land
Many there are forests, fields, and rivers.
I know of no other country
Where man breathes so freely
This was a popular patriotic song that clearly made the connection: the Soviet person’s wonderful life was a function of the very size of his country. On the other hand, every Soviet citizen was constantly made aware of his ethnic origin, which was immutable and contained on every document that referred to him. Only members of the single largest ethnic group—the Russians—could occasionally forget who they were. “So Homo Sovieticus is by his very nature, genetically, frustrated, faced with the impossible choice between an ethnic and a superethnic identity,” wrote Levada.31
The antinomies required Homo Sovieticus to fragment his consciousness to accommodate both of the contradictory positions. Levada borrowed George Orwell’s term “doublethink.” Homo Sovieticus, like the characters of 1984, could hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time. These beliefs ran on parallel tracks, and so long as the tracks indeed did not cross, they were not in conflict: depending on the situation, Homo Sovieticus could deploy one or the other statement in the antinomic pair, sometimes one after the other, in quick succession.
But the most important thing Levada believed about Homo Sovieticus was this: his was a dying breed. He had been formed by the one-two punch of the Revolution and the Great Terror: the first event brought its ideals and values, and the second taught Homo Sovieticus to conform in order to survive. But now, thirty years after the death of Stalin, the people so shaped were dying off. Their children and grandchildren would be different. That, in turn, would mean that the regime could no longer rely on them to ensure its survival through their behavior. And that would mean that the regime—the USSR as it existed—would collapse. This was a far cry from what the trade union authority, the labor ministry, and the Central Committee had in mind, but this was what Levada wanted his team now to prove: that Homo Sovieticus conformed to his description and that the phenomenon of Homo Sovieticus was bound to an older generation, which would mean that Homo Sovieticus would soon cease being the dominant social type in the Soviet Union, which would mean the end of the Soviet Union itself.
THE TASK OF PROVING that a certain social type existed, was dominant, and would soon die off was so circular that it verged on impossible. But this was not the biggest problem with the study. The biggest problem was that none of Levada’s sociologists had ever done anything like this before. They had faithfully attended the seminar for twenty years. They had read their Western sociologists. Some of them, like Gudkov, had been lucky enough to work with some data in their official jobs. But none of them had ever done a survey, a poll, or any kind of field research.
They were theoreticians, so they had an idea of how a questionnaire ought to be designed. They were certainly well-versed in choosing samples—and for the first time ever, they would be allowed to do this. But what would they do with the data? None of them had been trained in statistical analysis: they would have to train themselves. The lack of computers made the setup look more farcical than tragic. It took them two years to be able to design and implement their study. On second look, the idea that they knew how to design a survey also seemed suspect. In Western sociology, which they had been studying, surveys inevitably built on earlier surveys, and, more important, on the terms of long-running public conversations. The problem was similar to the challenge of adapting the MMPI, except in this field there was no MMPI to adapt. In the Soviet Union, there had been no public, precisely because there had been no conversation: “One Man of gigantic dimensions” must speak with a single voice, and only when called upon.
How do you bring up a topic that has never before been discussed? How do you elicit the opinions of people who have not been entitled to hold opinions? How do you have conversations for which there is no language? Gudkov began to think of their group as a geological expedition setting out to determine the makeup of a monolith. They would have to begin with an exploratory explosion, a man-made disturbance that would expose the nature of Soviet society. Gudkov invented a tool for doing just this. Ask people “what should be done” with certain deviant groups. It was not hard to be a deviant in Soviet society, and many people were—people who listened to rock music, for example (they were generally referred to as “rockers”), and hippies (the term was still in circulation in the late 1980s because there was still a subculture of people wearing long hair and singing to acoustic guitar). Offer respondents a range of options, from “leave them alone” to the Leninist “liquidate.” Gudkov figured that such questions would tease out the limits of tolerance and, more to the point, help measure the levels of underlying aggression.
The results of this part of the questionnaire surprised the group. Homo Sovieticus was clearly opening up to the world, feeling reasonably peaceful toward even the most deviant of groups, like the homosexuals: fully 10 percent believed that homosexuals should be “left to their own devices,” another 6 percent thought they should be “helped” (the questionnaire did not specify what kind of help they should receive), and a third thought that homosexuals should be “liquidated.”32 Considering that homosexual conduct was a crime punishable by up to three years in prison, Gudkov thought this level of aggression was low. More than 20 percent of respondents wanted to “liquidate” rockers, and nearly 8 percent wanted to “liquidate” alcoholics. But then a whopping 27 percent wanted rockers to be left alone, and more than 50 percent wanted to see alcoholics get help. In the absence of any data that could be used as reference, the researchers concluded that these results reflected a trend toward greater tolerance. The highest proportion of those who wanted to “liquidate” homosexuals was found in respondents older than fifty and younger than twenty: adults of working age were markedly less aggressive.33
There was a lot of other good news. First, Levada’s Homo Sovieticus hypothesis was largely borne out. The survey found the traits Levada had described, and it fleshed out the way Soviet doublethink functioned in daily life. Orwell had described doublethink as follows:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.34
The study showed how doublethink kept doubling back on itself. What Soviet people were required to believe and proclaim was counterfactual, and the requirement itself was but a mechanism of control, precisely because it contained its own negation. Homo Sovieticus lived a life of constant negotiation with the omnipotent state, and the negotiation itself was both the individual’s sole survival strategy and an instrument of control. The sociologists identified several key areas of negotiation that they called “games.”
There was a game called “Work,” and one of the most-often-repeated Soviet jokes described it perfectly: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” There was a game called “Care,” in which “they”—the state—pretended to take care of the citizenry, which pretended to be grateful. What made this simple-sounding game instantly complicated was that it was not all pretense: the state indeed controlled the citizen’s fate, and the citizen could be said to owe his continued survival to the state. In this sense, the game of “Complicity” was similar: Homo Sovieticus pretended to participate in the affairs of the state, and this made him complicit in everything the state did. The game of “Agreement,” on the other hand, was a straightforward negotiation: pledging support for the state bought the citizen a modicum of privacy (and privacy was often the first thing dissidents were forced to sacrifice). The game of “Consensus” was a corollary of “Agreement”: it allowed Homo Sovieticus’s private self to be indifferent to and even dismissive of the state—as long as the public, collective citizenry demonstrated its loyalty to and enthusiastic support for the state.35
The group administered its hundred-question survey to 2,700 people of various ages and backgrounds in different parts of the USSR, and here is what they did not find: people who believed in a radiant communist future, true Marxists, ideologues. The survey provided many opportunities for a true believer to manifest his convictions. But when answering the question “Where do you think a person can find answers to questions that concern him?” only 5.6 percent chose “In the teachings of Marx and Lenin,” which would have been the “correct” answer in a different setting. About half chose the option “My own common sense.” Asked whether they would prefer a supervisor who was a member of the Party, only 10.3 percent said yes, 21.5 percent said they would prefer to report to someone who was not a member of the Party, and the rest said they did not care.36
Homo Sovieticus was not indoctrinated. In fact, Homo Sovieticus did not seem to hold particularly strong opinions of any sort. His inner world consisted of antinomies, his objective was survival, and his strategy was constant negotiation—the endless circulation of games of doublethink.
But the researchers saw hope. Younger people seemed less “Soviet.” Asked to define a festive occasion, for example, respondents over the age of fifty were most likely to name official holidays, beginning with the days of military glory (Soviet Army Day and Victory Day) while the younger ones would say, “when you’ve gotten lucky” or “when you can get together with friends and have a drink.” Asked to describe their greatest fear, the older people would say “war” while the younger ones said “humiliation.” Asked to name the most significant event of the twentieth century, the older respondents most often said “victory in the Great Patriotic War” while the younger ones mentioned Stalinist Terror more often than anything else.37
Levada concluded that the second part of his hypothesis, which held that Homo Sovieticus was dying off, was correct, and that this was inevitable. “One of the outcomes of these deals with the devil,” he wrote, referring to the constant “games” Homo Sovieticus played, “is the disintegration of the structure of personality itself.” Homo Sovieticus was caught in an infinite spiral of lies: pretending to be, pretending to have, pretending to believe, and pretending not to. The fakery concerned the most basic of facts and the most fundamental of values, and what lay at the bottom of the spiral was an absence: “even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.” The system destroyed the individual and the fabric of society: nothing was possible in the absence of everything, resulting, wrote Levada, in “the falling standards of education, culture, morality, in the degradation of all of society.” If the Soviet person was ultimately an absence, then he could not reproduce. “Therefore we can view the Homo Sovieticus as a transient historical event,” concluded Levada. The Soviet man would go extinct, and so would the USSR.