This article by Zhu Jidong was first published on 24 September in Red Flag Manuscripts. While it focuses solely on the USSR, it contains many barely-veiled references to present-day China and the lessons it should draw from the Soviet collapse. For example, it points to the fossilization of Soviet propaganda, which resulted in wooden language and laboured official-speak. There have been repeated warnings against ideological fossilization in China, amongst others in this Liu Yunshan speech and the 2011 Central Committee Decision on Culture. The need to keep propaganda tools lively and interesting has also been one of the political drivers behind the emphasis on reform and growth in the cultural industries. Zhu also refers to the Westernization of propaganda officials and the increasing pressure towards peaceful evolution by Western countries. In particular, he refers to Alexander Yakovlev as the puppeteer behind the scenes, who orchestrated the liberalization of Party media, and to Gorbachev’s decision to stop jamming foreign broadcasts as one of the key moments in which the CPSU lost control and started crumbling. The implied lessons for China are clear: keep a close eye on the foreign-related activities of officials (Zhu finely observes that Yakovlev had studies in the US), and ensure that foreign media voices gain no foothold in the domestic public opinion sphere. Lastly, Zhu notes that media liberalization led to a slander campaign of revisionist history against Marxism-Leninism and Socialism, in which all the CPSU’s achievements were denied and its leaders smeared as criminals. Apparently, there is a growing concern that such tendencies may strengthen in China as well, as evidenced by Xi Jinping’s statements on Mao as well as recent articles in Party media.
Through deep examination about the historical lessons of the perdition of the CPSU, I discovered that the news media that should, of course, share the same fate as the Party, actually had an effect of adding fuel to the flames and even opposing the Party in the process of perdition, it has been named as the last straw that overwhelmed the CPSU. How should we deeply analyse the sources of the problems, why all of this actually happened, and which warning for the times might we obtain?
I, The “fossilization” of the main leading ideology on the press and propaganda front led to press and propaganda work becoming lifeless
During the Stalin era, because of the complex environment and special factors of that time, the phenomenon of “fossilization” of leading cadres in charge of the ideological area was relatively prominent, the leader in the ideological area, Zhdanov, is one representative of the Forties of the 20th Century in the Soviet Union, which were widely known for strong ideological “fossilization” After the Fifties of the 20th Century, following the successive deaths of the old generation of proletarian revolutionaries, the majority of the central leadership of the CPSU came from economic and organization departments, many among them had a limited knowledge of Marxism-Leninism, and their theoretical accomplishments were low. Around the Sixties of the 20th Century, the fact that the ideological and organizational leadership levels of the CPSU had declines became even more prominent. Although the tradition that the number two person was in charge of ideological work was maintained, the cadres in charge of propaganda and ideology were regularly scorned by leaders managing economic work and cadre work. In social thinking trends, the pursuit of a material society and life enjoyment also pushed out the regard of the CPSU and the entire society for propaganda, ideology and theoretical work, and ideological guidance, this led to the emergence of thinking trends that pushed out ideals and convictions in society, not a few news workers and even press and propaganda front leading cadres lost their beliefs and felt confusion in their thinking.
The US and other Western countries continuously schemed to change the nature of the Soviet Union’s Socialism, they also recognized that as long as Stalin was alive, this sort of scheme was impossible to realize. Then, privileged factions within the CPSU who advocated the capitalist path and their followers actively opened a breach for Western peaceful evolution. When Khrushchev took over power, this was seen by the US as a great opportunity to exert ideological influence on the Soviet Union, and they adopted a series of measures to this end. Khrushchev tried to conduct so-called “news reform”, and allowed a limited amount of openness and news freedom. But what Khrushchev did not expect was that a batch of “liberalist” journalists and writers would use the opportunity to attack and criticize Stalin to attack the CPSU and the Soviet Union’s Socialist system. In the face of this situation, Khrushchev soon after again strengthened control over news, constrained by intra-Party pressures.
By the Brezhnev era, because of fears that a situation of chaos as brought on by Khrushchev’s “news reform” would occur, the CPSU again abandoned Khrushchev’s ideologies and methods, and brought their understanding of Socialism back to the levels of the Thirties of the 20th Century, they solidified the “Stalin model” and equated it with Socialism. Brezhnev’s ideology also influenced the leading cadres in the ideological area causing the Soviet Union’s news undertaking and public opinion environment to restore the Stalin era situation of “fossilization”. During the Brezhnev era, the CPSU Central Propaganda Department’s persons in charge were changed regularly, this also indicated that Brezhnev, Suzlov and other CPSU leaders were extremely dissatisfied with the Central Propaganda Department’s work, and also did not find choices that were suitable for this work. Brezhnev’s own thoughts fossilized, his “writings” with hollow content were published and distributed in millions of copies, all large news media ran lengthy articles to propagate them, which in the end led to ever more Soviet Union citizens treating Marxism-Leninism with a ridiculing attitude, this sort of effectless propaganda further aggravated the crisis of belief within the Party and the society, resulting in turbulent undercurrents within Soviet society against the CPSU’s high level of ideological control and against the strict control over news. The “fossilized” model of press and propaganda led to chains of empty and conventional phrases in the ideological area, formalism became ever stronger, and in the end, the root of the CPSU’s loss of control over ideology was laid.
II, The main leaders of the press and propaganda front completely “Westernized”, leading to a loss of control power and ideological confusion
During the Gorbachev era, the leading cadres in the entire ideological area, including those controlling the press and propaganda front, were all known as “Westernized”. Gorbachev’s “little classmate”, Gaidar, who had graduated from Moscow University’s Economics Department and held a Ph.D. venerated the capitalist system, he and a group of young scholars who completely accepted Western political and economic theory formed a political clique, the Young Reformers. Gaidar was called “the little Chicago boy” and “a completely Americanized expert”, he was called a “key figure among market reformists”, the theoretical viewpoints of the young scholars he represented were first, economic marketization and second, political democratization. In their minds, marketization meant the establishment of a market economy system with private ownership as in Western countries, and democratization meant the establishment of a capitalist political system. US economic scholars researched the standpoints of these young people and discovered that what Gaidar and the others accepted was merely the most simple and most innocent form of 19th Century liberalism. After Gaidar graduated from university, he successively was responsible for the most important theoretical periodical of the CSPU Central Committee, “The Communist” and the economic department of an important CPSU newspaper “Pravda”, he was a very influential character in CPSU ideology departments, and one can well imagine the evils of his influence over the overall press and propaganda front.
Yakovlev, who had in the past been a Politburo Standing Committee member, secretary of the Secretariat and director of the Central Propaganda Department, was a crucial figure in charge of ideological work in the CPSU, he was also a “bosom friend” and “military counsellor” of Gorbachev, even so, he not only failed to earnestly study Marxism, instead, he profusely praised capitalism, in reality, he was an anti-Communist and anti-Socialist element hidden within the CPSU. It can be imagined that such people being in charge of the CPSU’s press and propaganda front and even overall ideological work, may lead to such a situation of chaos. During the first few years when Gorbachev implemented reform, Yakovlev strove to change the nature of the CPSU and destroy the Socialist system of the Soviet Union through exerting influence over Gorbachev and using his powers and responsibilities to lead propaganda and public opinion work. Especially after he grasped power over the press and propaganda front and even the overall CPSU ideology, Yakovlev began to make reports, give speeches and compose articles everywhere, preaching so-called “democratization” and “openness”.
The complete “Westernization” of leading cadres in charge of the press and propaganda front and even the overall ideological sphere not only caused a weakening of the voice of persisting in truth, but also quite a few people became isolated or even met with attacks and retaliation, even more people choked with silent anger. A model example is storm triggered by the Leningrad Institute of Technology professor Nina Andreyeva, who published the letter “I Cannot Forsake My Principles” in the “Sovetskaya Rossiya” on 13 March 1988. In her letter, Andreyeva said that the sensational articles in the newspapers at that time could only cause people to lose their bearings, and disgraced the Socialist Soviet Union. This letter triggered a mighty uproar, the so-called “reformist” saw this even more as a counterattack from “conservative forces and old CPSU forces”. The CPSU Politburo convened emergency meetings for two successive days to discuss countermeasures, the objective was to stop and beat back these so-called “counterrevolutionary forces”. The upshot was that Gorbachev reassigned the Politburo member Ligachev, who persisted in Marxist principles and was then in charge of ideology, to take charge of agricultural work, his replacement was Yakovlev, who had studied in the US. Following a direct suggestion of Yakovlev, “Pravda” published a counterarticle on 5 April: “The Principle of Reform: The Revolutionary Spirit of Thoughts and Actions”, which comprehensively counterattacked and pressured Andreyeva. “Pravda” named Andreyeva’s letter “a counterrevolutionary manifesto”, and named Andreyeva “an enemy of reform, a Stalinist element, and a representative of conservatism, office bureaucrat and Party bigwigs”. Afterwards, all sorts of discourse and articles attacking and abusing the CPSU and the Socialist system swarmed out of the cage, all sorts of anti-Marxist thinking trends spread unchecked, and the entire history of the Soviet Union was described as utter pitch darkness. Thus, the dyke of the CPSU’s thinking and ideology, in which a breach had already been torn, rapidly slid down to the margin of collapse.
III, Main people in charge of news work units were dismissed, leading to a complete loss of CPSU control over the leading power on the press and propaganda front
In order to further control the entire CPSU’s press and propaganda front, Yakovlev also arranged that persons from the so-called liberal faction became editors of a number of newspapers and periodicals, which made these media become anti-Communist and anti-Socialist vanguards that he could freely boss around. Under the management of Yakovlev, between 1986 and 1988, a batch of most influential newspapers and periodicals in the Soviet Union were successively taken over by “new people”, such newspapers and periodicals include: “Izvestia”, “Little Fire”, “Moscow News”, the “Communist Youth League Pravda”, the “Moscow Youth League Paper”, “Youth” magazine, “New World” magazine, etc. The editorial departments of the CPSU “Pravda”, “Communist” magazine, the “Economic News” and other newspaper and periodicals were also restructured to a large extent. Among those, the general editor of the CPSU’s most important theoretical journal, “Communist” magazine, Kosolapov, who had profound skills in Marxist theory, was relieved of his duties… This symbolized the complete loss of leadership power on the CPSU’s press and propaganda front. Afterwards, these mainstream newspapers and periodicals that had much influence across the Soviet Union stirred up trouble and messed about public opinion, they had an important effect in the downfall of the CPSU and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The documents of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation describe it as follows: mass media tools were wilfully handed over to representatives of capitalist viewpoints. They used methods of psychological warfare to impart large amounts of information maliciously discrediting the Soviet Union and its history to the masses, and took a laissez-faire attitude towards forces opposing the Soviet Regime and the unity of the federal state.” In addition, Western countries vigorously supported anti-Marxists and anti-Socialists’ control of the leadership power of all sorts of news media, these media that should be the eyes, ears and mouthpieces of the Party successively stood opposed to the CPSU, and even became opposition parties against the CPSU to some extent, so that anti-Soviet, anti-Communist and anti-Socialist propaganda flooded across society on a large scale, gravely shaking people’s belief in the CPSU and Socialism and accelerating the process of the CPSU’s perdition.
In the face of hostile forces’ unbridled attacks against Marxism and the Communist Party, a number of CPSU leaders felt that the state of affairs was grave, and they demanded the convention of a Central Committee meeting to discuss trends in the Party and the country, and to counterattack against anti-Communist and anti-Socialist thinking trends. However, Yakovlev said: “Is this worth it… Reform is being conducted normally. This is an unavoidable difficulty in a period of transition, you must not be so restless.” Because Yakovlev used his power and responsibility of leading propaganda and public opinion work to strive to change the nature of the CPSU and destroy the Soviet Union’s social system, main media also could only actively or forcibly act according to his will, at that time, attacking Marxism and the Communist Party continued to become the main task of media. The White Russian Communist Party’s evaluation of this hit the nail on the head: “Mass media tools that have fallen into the hands of slanderers and provocateurs smear Socialism and the Soviet Union’s history on a large scale, they opened up a path for forces opposing the Soviet regime and its allied countries, consequently, between August and December 1991, a counterrevolutionary coup d’état was realized.”
From the winter of 1990 onwards, following developments and changes in the circumstances, Yakovlev further showed his true colours, not only did he announce withdrawal from the CPSU on 6 August 1991, he also supported Yeltsin, who built a “democratic reform movement” together with Shevardnadze and others to openly oppose the CPSU. Yakovlev afterwards again exposed his true colours in his memoirs “A Bitter Cup”, where he praised capitalism profusely, kneeling and bowing in worship, believing that “capitalism brought the ethics of pragmatism. In the capitalist slogans of liberty, equality and fraternity, a noble idealism is reflected, its basis is sober, earnest and down-to-earth real thinking.”
IV, Gorbachev supported news reform and “news freedom”, which led to a reckless flood of anti-Soviet, anti-Communist and anti-Socialist propaganda
In March 1986, during the “criticise Stalin again” movement that Gorbachev had started, he invited mass media to criticize the Soviet Union’s Party and State organs. He told news media that: “at he current stage of social development, our newspapers and periodicals may become and independent opposition faction.” With official encouragement, a number of especially radical “rethinking history” newspapers and periodicals such as “Little Fire” magazine and the “Moscow News” progressively revealed their true face: they used the opportunity to deny the past, deny the CPSU’s history and deny Socialism, and then brazenly broke out the banner of “reform” in the direction of capitalism. In the first half of 1990, there were more than a thousand of all sorts of “unofficial” publications within the Soviet Union. On 12 June 1990, Gorbachev approved the “Press and Publishing Law”, declaring “news freedom”, and causing a fundamental change to occur in the Soviet Union’s news system and nature. The “Press and Publishing Law” provided that public opinion would not be subject to examination, the news censorship system was abolished, all sorts of organizations and private persons had the right to run newspapers, and it expanded the autonomy of those running paper. This in fact connived at the flood of opposition newspapers, it did not only not change the disorderly state of the news world, but instead caused the situation of chaos to get steadily worse, the Soviet Socialist Party Newspaper structure with “Pravda” as cornerstone came under lashing attack, and thereupon continued to go downhill and cave in.
The first director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, maintained that there should be no hesitation to adopt all possible means to “sanctify” all contemptible things in Soviet society, to reduce those keeping a cool head and remaining loyal to Socialism to a minimum, and to be put in an “isolated and helpless plight, and change them into the target of mass mockery.” Because of this, Western anti-Communist forces continued to try every method to launch comprehensive attacks against the Socialist Soviet Union through supporting Soviet anti-Communist media and the media three controlled themselves. In order to implement peaceful evolution strategies, Western developed countries respectively established special news media aimed at Socialist countries. In the face of this sort of propaganda offensive, Gorbachev not only failed to respond vigorously, but instead, he let the tiger go its way, he not only instructed in January 1987 that jamming of BBC broadcasts into the Soviet Union should cease, before long, he also successively ceased jamming broadcasts into the Soviet Union by the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other Western radio stations, which enabled the people in the Soviet Union to listen to the voices of foreign radio stations whenever they wanted. These Western countries’ mouthpieces propagated Western lifestyles on a large scale, they introduced Western attitudes and viewpoints on Soviet reform, and discussed the political situation in the Soviet Union with Western viewpoints and angles. Where the Soviet people who were at the crossroads of reform were concerned, it goes without saying that they were seduced into wrongdoing and incitement. The US International Broadcasting Commission believed that: “The Soviet Union’s ceasing the jamming of Western broadcasts may have been more important than Gorbachev’s decision to promise the withdrawal of half a million troops from Eastern Europe. Where the US was concerned, it provided a rare opportunity to stimulate peaceful evolution in the Soviet Union’s society.”
V, Ever more media successively stood in opposition to the CPSU, leading to increasing ideological confusion and perplexity among Party members and the masses.
Because Gorbachev promoted press reform and declared “press freedom”, when CPSU Party newspapers, with the “Pravda” as representative, faced competitors who used exposing so-called “CPSU scandals” and criticism the so-called “crimes” of Lenin, Stalin and other CPSU leaders as their main tricks to attract readers, they increasingly lost superiority, under these circumstances, many Soviet Union media and even some Party newspapers and periodicals rapidly started a surging tide of attacks on Marxism-Leninism, exposure the dark side of Soviet society, and belittling the achievements of seven decades of Socialist construction in the Soviet Union. During the “Criticise Stalin Again” movement, all sorts of news media controlled by anti-Marxists and anti-Socialists unearthed even more history and exposed even more of the dark side of the Stalin era, as a means to attract readers. Furthermore, right-wing forces seized the opportunity to add fuel to the flames, and the CPSU’s press and propaganda front and even the overall ideological area saw the surge of a tidal wave that deepened step by step into a complete denial of CPSU history and the leaders of the Soviet Union, CPSU Party members’ thoughts were upset, the thoughts of the people of the Soviet Union were upset, Stalin became a demon, the entire history of the CPSU and the Soviet Union consisted either of crimes and other crimes, what the October Revolution and Socialism brought was only disaster, and capitalism became an ideal paradise of freedom and plenty in people’s hearts and minds. In the face of these articles that confounded black and white in the media, and as the people in the Soviet Union progressively lost faith in the Party and the country, and lost their belief in Socialism and Communist, the spiritual pillars of the people of the Soviet Union also came crashing down. In a short two years between January 1989 and January 1991, 29 million CPSU members announced their withdrawal from the Party organization, and the Party members left within the Party also mostly lost faith in the CPSU.
At this time in the Soviet Union, not only had newspapers become anti-Marxist and anti-Socialist battlefields, television stations were unwilling to lag behind as well. A number of young journalists established live debate-type programmes such as “Viewpoint” and “Fifth Wheel”, which openly attacked and criticised the CPSU. In the spring of 1989, on the basis of the revised Constitution, the entire Soviet Union held elections for people’s representatives. The opposition faction within the CPSU grasped this rare opportunity to campaign even more, and through live television, it legally diffused all kinds of anti-Soviet and anti-Communist voices across the entire country. The CPSU’s National Representative Conference and the subsequent wholly live broadcast People’s Congress also became important platforms for the CPSU’s opposition faction. In fact, the so-called open media that had already become monopolized and the free campaigning movement, further intensified the crisis of trust in the CPSU, and this became the beginning of the political and organizational complete denial of the CPSU. Because of this, it may be said that the loss of control of the CPSU over the media let to anti-Communist and anti-Socialist public opinion disintegrating and destroying the foundations of the Soviet Union’s ideological building step by step, hollowing out the core value system of the Soviet Union Socialist system and the acceleration of the pace of the CPSU’s perdition.
Where a Marxist governing party is concerned, strong ideological work is its bugle and banner to concentrate the hearts of the Party and the hearts of the People, and to command the ideals and the will of the people to advance. When its bugle and banner are captured, when its ideals and its will are destroyed, can this party still exist? By 1991, as public opinion in the mainstream media had repeated thousands of times that the CPSU and the Soviet Union’s Socialist practice were defeated, when all sorts of media smeared the image of the Party’s leaders black all over, after the broad Party members and popular masses believed that these lies and fallacies were true, in the face of the critical moment when hostile forces propagating the dissolution and the Communist Party and the overthrow of the Socialist system, who would step forward to defend the Communist Party and Socialism? The result of the perdition of the CPSU and the dissolution of the Soviet Union had become the clearest answer.
(The author is a postdoctoral researcher at the Tsinghua University Marxist Theory Postdoctoral Mobile Station and the Adjunct Chief Secretary of the National Cultural Security and Ideological Construction Research Centre)