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In April 1998 an article appeared in the official Komsomol (Communist youth) journal Molodaya Gvardia (Young Guard) by Mikhail Lobanov under the title 'Educated Shopkeepers' (the word here translated 'shopkeepers ... connotes [according to Yanov] a narrow, conventional, money grubbing mentality'. It is an almost exact Russian equivalent of the Irish word 'gombeen man'. Funny that there doesn't seem to be an English equivalent ...). According to the account in Alexander Yanov's The Russian New Right (16)

'To say that the appearance of Lobanov's article in the legal press - and indeed in such an influential and popular journal as Molodaya Gvardia - was a surprising event is not enough. It was a shocking event. The malice, venom and wrath which in the Soviet press is usually expressed in discussions of "imperialism" or similar "external" themes is now directed, so to speak, "inward". Lobanov unexpectedly discovers a rotten core at the very heart of the first socialist state in the world - and at the very height of its triumphant transition to Communism. He discovers an ulcer certainly no less terrible than "imperialism" - in fact much more terrible. This ulcer consists in "the spiritual degeneration of the 'educated' person, in the rotting of everything human in him." What is involved is not an individual psychological phenomenon, but a social one on a mass scale - "the mass (all with advanced degrees) infected with shopkeeper [read 'gombeen man' - PB] mentality," the "flood of so-called education," which "like a bark borer undermines the healthy trunk of the nation" and which is "shrilly active in a negative way," and therefore constitutes "a threat of disintegration" of the very foundations of national culture. In short, there is already developed in a socialist country a social stratum of "educated shopkeepers" not foreseen by the classical Marxist writers or noticed by the ideologists of the regime, and this stratum now constitutes the nation's number one enemy. This is Lobanov's fundamental sociological discovery.

'He sounds the alarm - and he brands this enemy of the nation with all the passion available to a servile journalist. True culture, he says, does not come from education, but from "national sources" - from "the soil of the people." It is not the educated shopkeepers, but "the suppressed ... uneducated people which gave birth to ... the imperishable values of culture." As for the shopkeepers, everything they have is "mini": "The shopkeepers have a mini-language, mini-thought, mini-feelings - everything mini ...Their motherland for them is mini."

'In the best tradition of servile public-affairs writing, Lobanov illustrates his thought by informing on people. On the living and on the dead: on the stage director Meyerhold, shot by Stalin, and on the stage director Efros, not yet repressed. For some reason all of Lobanov's illustrations - all of the "agents of corrupters of the national spirit" - bear unmistakably Jewish surnames. It is these Jewish elements, which "attach to the history of the great people," that play the role of a kind of enzyme in "the mass infected with shopkeeper mentality and carrying diplomas."' (pp.40-41)

(16) Alexander Yanov: The Russian New Right - Right wing ideologies in the contemporary USSR, Berkeley, Institute of International Studies, 1978. An updated version of much the same text can be found at

Yanov points out that Lobanov's article coincided with the perceived threats to the Soviet régime from the Prague Spring and by the surge of opposition excited by the trials of Andrei Sinyavsky and Alexander Ginzburg. But he continues:

'the defence of the regime has a very strange look in Lobanov's version. He does not appeal to Marx or to "proletarian internationalism"; on the contrary, he appeals only to the "national spirit" and to the "Russian soil." Lobanov's article does not have the appearance of the cliche-ridden "refutation" of a Marxist pedant, but rather that of a cry of pain from a Russian frightened to death at what is happening to his country, to his nation [...] 

'he insists that "there is no fiercer enemy of the people than the temptation of bourgeois prosperity [Yanov's emphasis - PB]." Then he cries (citing Herzen): "A bourgeois Russia? May Russia be spared this curse!" "Americanism of the spirit" is the focus of the danger for Lobanov. This is what is conquering Russia - not only with the help of the seductive "minis" with refined manners and Jewish surnames, but also with the help of the "temptation of bourgeois prosperity." (For this read "material well-being of the working people," which is the fundamental propaganda slogan of the present Soviet Establishment.) 

'In other words, the Soviet leaders themselves, by their orientation toward "material prosperity" and their promises that Communism will bring physical and spiritual "satiety," are encouraging the conquest of Russia by the bourgeois spirit. They are flirting with America. They think that intercontinental rockets will defend them from the mortal threat radiating from that country. But rockets will not defend them, Lobanov admonishes the leaders. The real threat is not American rockets, but the bourgeois nature of the "American spirit." [...]

'Lobanov's positive recommendations do not go beyond suggesting to the regime that it seek out a social power base - a constituency, so to speak - not among the "educated shopkeepers," but among simple Russians, peasants and urban masses, not spoiled either by "satiety" or by "education," unique and in their uniqueness not subject to the temptation of worldwide evil. (Noblesse oblige - and the censor as well.) "These people," says Lobanov (ending his article in a pained and edifying tone), "have saved Russia. And are they not the embodiment of the historical and moral potential of the nation? And is not our faith and our hope to be found in them?"' (pp.41-43)

Lobanov's article was followed in September by another piece along similar lines under the title Inevitability by Viktor Chalmaev, regarded by Solzhenitsyn as a thoroughly servile Soviet hack. (17) This took up the theme of the spiritual deadness of a consumer society:

'Capital mercilessly transforms a people from a spiritual organism into a mathematical sum consisting of standardised individuals, into a mass of separate units concerned only with common, everyday needs. The bourgeois crowd is always coarsely and vulgarly materialistic; its goals are easily "measured," calculated, and satisfied; it has no spiritual yearning straining far beyond the horizon of antlike humdrum concerns. A man's worth is measured according to his ability as a "businessman." In real life this has led to the one-sided development in bourgeois man of an exclusively voracious system, similar to that of termites…' (18)

(17) Solzhenitsyn in The Oak and the calf, p.245, refers to 'two articles by the obscure and mediocre journalist Chalmayev (probably with someone cleverer looking over his shoulder)'. I suspect that in referring to two articles by Chalmaev, Solzhenitsyn and Scammell following him (p.269) have in mind the articles by Lobanov and Chalmaev.

(18) Extracts from Chalmaev's article, taken from John Dunlop: The Faces of Contemporary Russian Nationalism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983, pp. 281-287, can be found at Lacunae not in square brackets as in this probably shortened version.

But Chalmaev was more specific than Lobanov (or at least than Lobanov in Yanov's account) in his praise for the qualities of the 'simple Russians' as 'the embodiment of the historical and moral potential of the nation':

'Constant labour on the land; the monastery; the crown [sic, crowded? - PB] tavern, and once or twice in every century - the ice of Lake Chad [where Alexander Nevsky defeated the Teutonic Knights - PB], the wild grass of the fields of Kulikovo [where Dmitri Donskoi defeated the Tatars], Poltava [where Peter "the Great" defeated the Swedes], or Borodino [where Kutuzov defeated the French] ... That is why our history seems so destitute when compared to colorful European chronicles overflowing with a multitude of entertaining events. [In Russia] we find no wealth of debates, no early parliamentarianism, no flowery oratory on eternal values ... "An eternal silence reigns in the heart of Russia," said Nekrasov. Once in every century, the coarse-grained, oft-flogged Russian peasant, weighed down by many burdens, would set out for the Kulikovo Field at hand and, projecting one hundred years into the one night before the battle, he would think about his homeland, about good and evil, and about the world in which he lived ... And in this wordless, silent brooding, fused with great deeds, he was able to attain spiritual heights which no mechanical orator could ever hope to reach [...] And what of the monastic cells of desert-dwelling patriots such as [Saint] Sergii of Radonezh, who inspired Dmitrii Donskoi to fight a decisive battle, or the patriot Patriarch Germogen, who during the Time of Troubles [the Polish invasion at the beginning of the seventeenth century - PB] sent appeals to every part of the country urging unity? No, our sacred history is not a wilderness; perhaps it has simply not been "explored" as thoroughly as it should be…'

And he goes on to castigate:

'those who in the name of " progress" protest against the "idealisation" of the peasant, against celebrating springs and primal sources. They regard the fate of Lake Baikal and of the Russian forests in precisely the same way: "Let us have our way for another twenty years, and we'll dig you a new and better Baikal, wherever you want! And our debt will be paid!" ...

'At times these "bookkeepers," citing the arguments of scholarship, warn that the village will cease to exist altogether by the year 2000. At other times they suddenly reproach all admirers of nature, rivers, and the earth for being out of touch with the "people" - "Here you are," they say, "sighing over all this, while the people are longing for television and plumbing, for Cognac, a popular 'touristy' ditty, and the 'casual manner' of contemporary culture ... " And if a poet should have thoughts of "stars in the field," then he is accused of "wearing bast shoes" and of being an "antinational" idealist to boot ... Maybe they are right, to hell with the Baikal. Can't they dig up as many as they want and build concrete banks all around them ...'

The reference to Lake Baikal is interesting. Situated in southern Siberia, in an area that historically could be attributed to China, it is the largest fresh water lake in the world. In 1966 a paper pulping mill was opened, expelling its waste into the lake and prompting protests from environmentalists. The issue had been raised as early as 1963 in a book by Vladimir Chivilikhin - The Bright eye of Siberia. According to Yitzhak Brudny (19): 'Chivilikhin was a well-known opponent of Khrushchev's de-Stalinisation drive within the Soviet intellectual elite. "The Bright Eye of Siberia" was published in [the conservative 'Stalinist' journal] Oktyabr and probably was viewed by Kochetov [the editor] as an integral part of the Stalinist effort to discredit the Khrushchev reforms. Nevertheless, Chivilikhin's essay helped to focus the attention of Russian intellectuals on environmental issues and, at the same time, link those issues to Russian nationalism.' (pp.55-6)

(19) Yitzhak Brudny: Reinventing Russia - Russian Nationalism and the Soviet State, 1953-1991, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2000.

We may remember that the ecological considerations of the Club of Rome are part of the argument of Solzhenitsyn's Letter.