Today we finish our week-long marathon walk-through of the Evgeny Krutikov piece on the Soviet KGB.
We saw how the collapse of the Soviet KGB, as of the Soviet Union itself, was not so much a spontaneous collapse (like, for example, a decrepit old building just going “Wooof!” and collapsing to the ground), as a planned demolition. To continue the analogy: This was a Fixer-Upper which needed, to be sure, more than just one coat of paint; and yet got the Wrecking Ball. A Wrecking Ball rodeo-ridden by a relatively small number of people. Who, due to the ossification of the Soviet government and its isolation from its working-class base, were in a position to do pretty much whatever they wanted to. These men had some, but not a lot of, domestic support; and they had a whole lot of foreign support. Aside from that, they were just random people with random biographies. Their biographies show that they all benefited significantly from the Soviet system: They received free education, including higher education, and career opportunities at the highest levels their society had to offer. Offered the challenge of reforming their country, they chose instead to dismantle it.
The Time Of Troubles
But none of this was happening in isolation. As Krutikov points out, the Soviet Union had already lost its allies in Eastern Europe: All the pro-Soviet and socialist governments had fallen, replaced by capitalist and pro-Western governments. Meanwhile, the center of Moscow was paralyzed by disorganized mass marches, up to a million people in some cases. This was the spontaneous Russian version of the Ukrainian Maidan. The Moscow Soviet was in the hands of ideological liberals. The inchoate masses were demanding change; and the liberals believed they knew the secret formula to success: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this country!”
Normally the Soviet KGB would have interested itself in such rife outbreaks of public disorder, not to mention threats against the State. Sword and Shield, and a’o that. But, as we have seen, after the Yeltsin-Burbulis machinations, the Soviet KGB was a toothless old bear who bearly even existed any more. And the cadres had no time to worry about treason: In this time of “de-party-ization”, they were too busy being purged and trying to secure alternate careers. Meanwhile, there was a political split within the core of the KGB: The First Main Section (external espionage) supported the campaign to rid itself of Party control. The “externals” had long chafed under Party functionaries; many of them had a vision of working in a non-Party technical kind of government spy apparatus. These external KGB spies were actually the “best and brightest”, and it was a natural reaction on their part, since Their Brilliances had often been saddled with incompetent political buffoons for managers. During this period there was a mass exodus of KGB cadres from the Communist Party.
Krutikov himself inserts a personal story from his own biography. He is being a bit Aesopian here, but I interpret as best I can: Krutikov was never a Party member, but at the time he was apparently a Komsomol member. Recall that the Komsomol was the Party’s youth group, with “youth” being interpreted as anything between the ages of 14 and 28. (Well, in reality, there were some who continued into their 30’s, but they were pushing it, while attempting to look spry.) Krutikov was apparently a “field agent” of the KGB, operating on his own since April 1991 in the very dangerous war zone of South Ossetia. Upon transferring out of the International Section of the Central Committee of the Communist Party USSR, Krutikov accidentally on purpose “lost” his Komsomol membership card. And his fellow Komsomol members were completely understanding and sympathetic to this ruse on his part.
Counter-revolutions, just like Revolutions, have their own dynamic, which is not always foreseen. Top KGB cadres wanted to be detached from Party politics and operate as professionals. But what they maybe didn’t realize at the time, was that every government agency has a guiding vision, and a guiding ideology. The so-called “Democratic Street” had its own ideology, and its own vision of what they wanted to see in a government security agency. Ideology is something that people cannot simply wish away. Ideology is not just for commies or fascists. Every person possesses in their brain a political ideology, whether they know it or not, and whether or not they are able to articulate it in a series of complete sentences, or at least meaningful grunts. Just like everybody speaks prose, even if Molière’s Bourgeois Gentleman didn’t realize at first that he was doing so. The Soviet reality at the time was that, ideologically, you were either a Communist (which meant Communist Party), or you were a Bourgeois Gentleman. And by “bourgeois”, I mean a liberal capitalist, naturally.
And by “democratic street” Krutikov is clear, that these people, and their burgeoning ideology, were being controlled directly out of the American Embassy. The Americans had their own ideology, and their own “vision” of what the Russian Security apparatus was supposed to look like, and what it was supposed to be doing. And what the Americans wanted for Russia was what Mr. Goldfinger wanted for James Bond, when the latter inquired of him: “Do you expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”
As the new Russian KGB was being constructed on the ashes of the old Soviet KGB, various democratic “leaders” were emerging and then fading, as the Americans and their handlers eye-balled various candidates for the job. For example, there was a guy named Oleg Kalugin, who was already suspected of being a serial mole for the American CIA. If the Americans had succeeded in putting Kalugin into the job, then he would have lustrated the shit out of everybody and destroyed all that was left of the KGB cadres. He would have converted the agency into the Fangless Subjugate kind of structure that one sees in the Eastern European and Baltic nations. Whose security agencies are run by American advisors and consultants.
Another possibility, which was seriously considered at the time, was the “East Germany” variant. In order words, a storming of the KGB building and massive theft and publication of its archives. Possibly the only thing standing in the way of this scenario was the granite foundation of the building on Lubyanka. Built to stand that kind of stress. And reinforced after the Hungarian events of 1956.
In the end, neither the “Kalugin” variant, nor the “East Germany” variant occurred. Which, in the end, allowed the Russian KGB to survive and continue to exist. Initially as a weak shell, but not quite dead yet.
In the end, a kind of Napoleonic compromise was reached. Revolution is followed by Counter-Revolution; and Counter-Revolution is followed by a partial Restoration and sometimes a type of grudging reconciliation between old enemies. As hot tempers cool and new realities set in. The quantum of mercy for the Russian KGB was, that it was able to escape the type of mass ideological and Party “lustrations” which castrated the analogous Eastern Europe and Baltic agencies. And yet many cadres were lost anyhow: people who had dedicated their lives and sworn an oath to the Soviet Union, and were unable to simply flip a switch and become loyal minions of the Russian Federation. Krutikov describes the agonizing psychological condition of these people.
Krutikov goes on to draw conclusions. He blames the Soviet KGB itself for its own degradation: Its lack of professionalism, and a level of decay in the 1980’s. The quality of the cadres declined significantly with “national quota” systems. Innovation was discouraged. Careerism was rampant. Preference was given to military cadres, along with their “military” way of thinking. There was a “cult of command” which hindered critical thinking. It was more important to carry out commands efficiently, than to question the commands themselves. The classic organizational paradox of asking “How do we do this?” rather than “Should we be doing this at all?”
In conclusion: the Soviet KGB as an institution declined and fell due to its own internal contradictions. Pro-KGB people who thought that such an institution, in and of itself, could step forward and save the Soviet state, were just being naive. As this institution was not at all separate from Soviet society and people; but actually part and parcel of everything that was going on around it.
Anti-KGB people, on the other side, created a propaganda demon-image of this agency, which they continue to flog to this day. In theory, any government security agency should attempt to recruit the best and brightest brains of their societies. The fact that the Soviet KGB did not possess the intellectual resources to counter or even resist the “fall” is an indictment of that agency and its cadres.
I translate in full Krutikov’s concluding paragraph to this piece, with which, by the way, I do not fully agree, at least not with his “teleological” conclusions:
“And this is the main lesson. A system of organs of government security cannot be massive. It cannot be based on a quota type selection of cadres. It cannot be an ideal institution, but it must aim to be such. And one should not condemn those who continued to fight for a unified state — those out in the streets, on the steps of the KGB building in Lukiškės , or on Lubyanka Square, or inside the complex of government buildings from Rybny onward. What happened was inevitable. And yet things could have been much worse.”
THE END (of the KGB)