Victor Sheinis (deputy in Russian parliament), 1993

Iinterview of Victor Sheinis in Moscow (1993?) — 2 parts.
Interviewers — Metta Spencer (part 1), Julia Kalinina (part 2)


So in 53-54 it couldn’t even come to his mind that the time needed to begin real changes is equal to the time that passed from 1917 to 1953. It’s the same periods of time — from 1917 to 1953 and from 1953 to 1985

Metta Spencer. Tell me what it was like for you. I don’t know what you did but Victor said that you spoke somehow against the invasion in Hungary. Where have you been up to that point. How did you get to that stage of doing something. so brave?

Victor Sheinis. I wrote an article for the distribution, an article where my vision of Hungarian events and our invasion in Hungary was considered. Unfortunately, this article was captured by KGB before some people had read it.

M. And you were punished?

VICTOR SHEINIS: Relatively gently. I was expelled from post-graduate, I couldn’t teach and for 6 years I was working as a metal-worker at the Putilov plant in Leningrad

M. How long did you work that way?


M. And how did you get back to academic life?

VICTOR SHEINIS: There was one very nice person — Chair of the Contemporary Capitalism Economy Department of Leningrad State University, Professor Sergei T’ulpanov, he was very prominent guy both in political and scientific activities of his biography. He was very prominent in the end of forties He was one of the leaders of Soviet administration in East Germany and then he was also expelled because he was very liberal to German population and was forced to shift to teaching. He invited me to the post-graduate and helped me to return to academic life. He accepted me to the post-graduate and after that I got back to it. But while working at the plant I joined the Communist Party I would be impossible to return if I wouldn’t be a member of Com.Party at that time. But even as a member of CPSU I was always considered to be unreliable and in 1975 I was forced to leave the Leningrad State University — the head of Leningrad’s Party Organization Romanov demanded that. He was a Deputy Member of Politburo. He was very influential and his word was a law for the Leningrad University. He said that there is a bad influence at the students from such man as me.

M. How many other professors had to leave because of that, besides yourself?

VICTOR SHEINIS: Also several professors that were teaching at the philosophy department. Though it was absolutely illegal but at that time it was not important.

M. What did you said that made you regarded as unreliable You’ve done something. more than before?

VICTOR SHEINIS: Evidently, informants usually presented at my lectures. I stated the problems of modern capitalism as I saw them, but my vision differed greatly from the vision of Romanov and his company. In the fifties I was simply an unknown post-graduate that’s why I had to work at the plant, and in seventies I had lots of publications, some of them were translated to foreign languages, that’s why I was invited to IMEMO and I moved to Moscow.

M. That’s surprising that IMEMO would invite somebody. unreliable.

VICTOR SHEINIS: It’s the peculiarity of IMEMO. The thing is that our system of scientific and educational institutions fulfilled two functions: the first one — distribution of propaganda in the communist spirit (for example, Leningrad State University) and the second — investigation of real processes and transferring the gained information to directive bodies. In other words, IMEMO was one of these centers that had to present the real information for Central Committee etc. That’s why there were lots of people politically unreliable. IMEMO needed professionals, people who didn’t deal with propaganda but those who had the real vision of problems. But I should say that lots of piquant situations emerged. The general system of the party control also concerned IMEMO. That’s why from time to time all kinds of collisions, uneasy for the IMEMO heads, emerged. For example, in the end of ’60s IMEMO was entitled to generate the predictions of the all-world development till 2000 (for 30 years). These predictions were top-secret. One day a high-level party commission visited IMEMO and looked through that predictions and then the denunciation followed: in the revisionists are working in IMEMO, they predict that in 2000 the capitalism would still exist. That was a proof for deprived mentality of IMEMO employees.

It’s mostly a funny thing but in ’82 a wide-scaled political provocation against IMEMO was organized. Two young employees were arrested for the distribution of illegal literature. After that lots of party commissions were investigating the IMEMO activity and at last they said that the IMEMO staff is extremely littered. After that incident IMEMO had a few very difficult years and the IMEMO Director INOZEMTSEV even died because of that. He had an infarction, he was very scared but they tortured him for 2 years. I can say that it was a story with the happy end, because one of those arrested men is now a Deputy Chairman of Minister of Russia and another one is a relatively well-known journalist and a head of some information agency (Theit names are FADIN and Kudjukin. They spent 1 year in jail).

M. At that time were many people in IMEMO worried about their carriers?

VICTOR SHEINIS:Certainly. That provocation was aimed at IMEMO and it reflected the struggle of factions in the high party headquarters, as the Director INOZEMTSEV was close to Brezhnev, another faction was fighting against IMEMO in desire to weaken the positions of already dying Brezhnev. But in the end of 82 Brezhnev died and that task lost its actuality.Side by side with the general protection tendency the fight between party clans also played its role. The crushing of IMEMO didn’t occur partly because of the deaths of Inozemtsev and Brezhnev.

M. You make it sound as the progressive people were Brezhnev’s people and the harder people were surrounding some other political leader.

VICTOR SHEINIS: No,not exactly. Brezhnev was deeply marasmus person, so at that time he was standing outside progress and reaction. But IMEMO actually was too liberal, too revisionist institution for party dogmatics just because they themselves carried out the propagandistic, ideological function, and IMEMO distributing the real knowledge about foreign countries undermined their job. Though, certainly, you can’t idealize the papers that were published by IMEMO. They had a joke at that time that though we had a one-party system it, at the same time it is a multi-entrance system. In the Central Committee building there are lots of entrances and IMEMO was guided by the Cent.Com. International Department which needed the real information and the main enemy was the C.Com. Ideological Department that distributed propaganda.

M. So, the International Department — I’ve heard at several places was the leading edge within the Party. Is that correct?

VICTOR SHEINIS: Relatively, because everything depends on the criteria and from today’s point of view that also was a deeply dogmatic conservative Department. But in the comparison with what we had at that time some real knowledge were necessary for the International Department.

M. What kind of work were you doing, what was your speciality?

VICTOR SHEINIS: Economic problems of the developing countries — economic growth, social processes, differentiation of the Third World. It was the main direction of my investigation at the IMEMO. I wrote some books and many articles about these problems and I proposed one of the variants of the classification of the developing countries. The common view of the Third World World was that it was underdeveloped and dependent on developed capitalist countries. And my idea was that the Third World is abstraction, the Third World doesn’t exist There are some groups and differences between these groups are more significant than difference between the most developed countries of the Third World and less developed countries in the developed world. I had constructed the group of middle developed countries. This group included Spain, Greece, etc from one side and Argentina, Brazil, Mexico from the other. And I opposed to the theory of dependency. It was a theory of leftists

M. I know Gunder Frank personally

VICTOR SHEINIS: Yes, the difference of the approaches of the Soviet scholars were studied very carefully by the American scientist Jerry Hough.

M. Yes, I used to date J.H. 20 years ago

VICTOR SHEINIS: I met J.H 15 years ago and even at that time he was that fat.

M. Dependency theory is a mostly popular theory among the conservative faction of scholars here?

VICTOR SHEINIS: Yes. It was not scientific view, it was mostly for propaganda.

M. Tell me about your relationships with other — I don’t know whether to call them dissidents — but other people who were critical of the regime all these years. Were you in contact with them?

VICTOR SHEINIS: I can’t say that I have personal contacts with well-known dissidents. I got acquainted with Academician Sakharov only in 79 and in 85 I actively participated in his election campaign to the Supreme Council of People’s Deputies.It was a very famous campaign in the Academy of Sciences, In that years the circle of rather critical liberal intelligentsia existed and they were permanently discussing and rethinking the events that occurred at that time. One of my friends, a sociologist from Leningrad, conducted a rather interesting investigation: a questionnaire for experts was worked out under the name:“Do you expect the changes?” There were approximately 25-30 questions in it about the changes in the social and economical life of our country. At that time the questionnaire was also captured by KGB and my friend had lots of troubles. Now it is published and it’s very interesting to see how did the experts appreciate the perspectives for changes in the end of ’70s. The questions were the following: “Do you consider this society to be stable one or it is liable to changes”, “If it is liable to changes than where these changes would be directed? To the better or worse side?”, “Define your understanding of better and worse”, “What forces are acting for changes, what forces are opposed to them?” etc. I participated in the elaboration of this questionnaire.

M. Who did the work, the survey?

VICTOR SHEINIS: Leningrad sociologist Andrei Nikolajevich Alekseev.

M. I’ll be seeing Yelena Bashkirova soon and she would be able to give me the contacts with other sociologists.

VICTOR SHEINIS: Alekseev’s telephone number in Leningrad: 292-27-65 office., 350-71-69 home. You can refer to my name. He must have some copies of this questionnaire. Earlier I brought them with me to USA and gave as gifts to American sociologists.

M. I’d like to ask you about your relationship with Adam Michnik. I’ve been speaking with Victor Sumsky about the any influence that may have come from Eastern Europeans to the intellectuals and even perhaps policy-makers here and I ‘ll be very interested in knowing that you knew Michnik

VICTOR SHEINIS: I met Adam Michnik relatively late because after that episode in IMEMO I couldn’t travel abroad and Michnik also didn’t have that possibility. That’s why I’ve read some of his articles but didn’t know him personally. Though I remember one dizzy day in Leningrad when a young very well-educated nice Czech came to his place with the recommendations of some other friends of Victor in Czechoslovakia.We were talking all day and half of the night and discussed the situation in Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion. At that time he was a young scientist and it was clear that very soon he would be deprived of the possibility to be engaged in scientific research. It was me who told him about the replacement of Dubcek by Husak. He changed the place of work – shifted to some bank. From time to time we wrote letters to each other but didn’t meet. That was Vaclav Klaus. We discussed everything from 1968 in Czechoslovakia to Ortega y Gasset. That was in 1977.


JULIA: I describe that oil idea and another point of view about import-export balance.

SHEINIS: I don’t remember the figures by heart but the estimates were made that say that we got the overwhelming part of our hard currency resources from the sale of oil. Gradually we became the oil-exporting country. In any case more that a half of our export consisted of oil. We were a country exporting raw materials and according the structure of export we were approaching to Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. In the same time the export of well-developed countries consisted of the machine-manufacturing production. For the first glance it seemed unreasonable to bring vacuum-cleaners from Germany to France and from France to Germany but the matter is that the specialization of the production was occurring, for example France exported one kind of vacuum-cleaners and Germany exported the other kind. The same is true for cars, refrigerators etc, and also the equipment for processing industry.

In the Soviet Union de-industrialization of export took place. There was an aggressive campaign against the agreement “oil-tubes”. US on its considerations that were proclaimed to be military-strategical refused to sell the tubes for oil pipe-lines. Than the West Germany made a breakthrough and an agreement between Russia and West Germany was concluded, they would sell us tubes, we would sell gas and oil through that pipe-lines that had to be build. For the first glance it looked like a success of Soviet economical diplomacy but actually it was a step to de-industrialization of export and also the pump out of non-recommence stocks.

I should like to add that the oil-production was maintaining in the most barbarian way here.In the end of ’70s the materials of a “Round-table” discussion on this issue were published in the magazine “Problems of Philosophy”. Scientists, oil- producers predicted everything we have today because the oil was pumped out like if you have milk, take off the cream and throw away everything left. To fulfil the plan better and quicker the holes were filling with water to obtain the upper level of oil and all the other raw materials were spoiling in that way. Now it is impossible to pump out what was left in that holes. Plus spoiling of the environment because the way of oil producing was so barbarian that the landscape of that northern areas looks like the war have taken place there. from any point of view it was an awful plundering of the national wealth. moreover that resources were used also idiotically because the earned money were used to import grain, custom goods and so on — things that could be produced in the USSR. But actually they could not be produced because all the industry was orientated at the military production, at the raw industries producing raw materials also for the military industries.

To reject that system it was necessary to carry out an economical reform but obviously that kind of reform was deeply connected with the loss of political power. The Brezhnev – Kosygin government certainly did not want it. That’s Kosygin and his follower Tikhonov are responsible for that irrational economy maintaining that brought us to the present deadlock I should like to add that I tried my best to propagate these views in my public lectures as well as in my presentation at the “round table” organized by “The problems of philosophy” journal, but this information couldn’t get into “the open media” and the scientific journal was read by a few thousands of scholars, several tens of thousand people at the best case.

Julia:: And have the materials that referred to the problem been published in the journal ?

SHEINIS: Yes, it has been demonstrated there that the the economic development of the type mentioned had no prospects for the future, well, it has been described approximately what we have achieved finally. This end has long been obvious for the specialists.

Julia:: I see, it’s too primitive oversimplification to say that the economic crisis happened because the volume of oil extraction and price of oil decreased. Was the core cause of the crisis different?

SHEINIS: Why, the oil factor has contributed to the crisis too. For if everything depended on oil, and the price of oil decreased, then this led to the catastrophe. The prices of oil in early ’70s were artificially overrated, because the monopoly of the Western oil companies was confronted by the monopoly of the oil extraction countries, the OPEC.

The OPEC countries succeeded in changing the balance of power with the use of economic and political leverages. But this situation couldn’t continue for a long time, and sensible specialists warned that the energy-saving technologies would be inevitably devised, the alternative sources of fuel would be developed and the oil would be extracted in regions that were not controlled by the OPEC countries, e.g. the North Sea shelf oil. The cumulative effect of all these factors had to bring an inevitable fall of oil price in the long run.

There was nothing wrong with the fact that the USSR used the situation to its benefit and gained some dollars for its oil. But unlike the oil-extracting monarchies of the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsular in particular, that used their gains more effectively, the USSR orientation to oil export was bad in two aspects: the oil was extracted, as I’ve already mentioned, in the most destructive, barbarian way and the oil revenues were used in senseless way, in fact they have been spent on food.

A comparison may be appropriate. Imagine, for some time you get quite handsome salary, probably greater than you deserve. You have no apartment,no good clothes, no furniture, no other necessaries of life. However you don’t spend your income to buy all that useful things. Instead you buy some expensive, unnecessary things and waste your money. Well, probably not all Soviet import might be described as unnecessary. But the quantities of grain bought abroad prevented the reform of the agriculture and the reform of the economy as a whole. The grain import was an injection into the veins of the ineffective agricultural system, disguised its sheer impotence — and blocked the way to the radical reform which meant the real threat to the power of our socialist feudal lords whose dominance would be subverted by the change.

Julia:: Please explain the deterioration of the standards of living after 1985.

SHEINIS: I shouldn’t say that the standards of living deteriorated immediately or visibly after 1985. The deterioration had started prior 1985 and it has been gradual process. We had an economic crisis in a specific form of ever aggravating deficit. I don’t know what is worse either the absence of goods including salt, matches and other most simple and necessary goods or the high prices that nowadays make these and many other goods available to people, at least in Moscow and other major cities. I consider the second option to be preferable, not only because a consumer may dispose of his or her money and to choose whatever he or she wants, but also because the present situation opens some prospects. Thus, I cannot say that the situation deteriorated. Sure, the transition from anti-human system we used to live in for more than seven decades to the normal human system is painful.

Julia:: In fact I meant something different. I didn’t speak of the present situation. I meant that during Brezhnev’s reign there were a lot of goods, sausage, meat,cheese etc. Even consumer durables were available. And then all this abundance or the comparative abundance began to disappear, to melt away gradually.

SHEINIS: It’s true. That abundance was more imaginary than real. It extended mainly, if not exclusively to Moscow and, to a lesser degree, to some major cities. You remember, of course, the famous “sausage trains” that arrived to Moscow from not only towns and villages of the Moscow region but from the adjacent and even distant regions as well. I saw with my own eyes the multitudes that stood in lines to buy some sausage at the restaurant-cars of the long-distance trains that came to Siberia from Moscow. These people couldn’t afford to go to Moscow and actually attacked the restaurant-cars to get a piece of sausage or butter. The populations of Moscow and Leningrad were in a privileged position. Thus, the prosperity and affluence of the Brezhnev period were myths.

Julia:: Probably we in Moscow couldn’t see the real picture. Have you written something about this ?

SHEINIS: I don’t remember that I have ever written something like what I’ve just told to you. However, I stated openly and candidly that the USSR had lost in competition with the capitalist economy. This statement was published, if I’m not mistaken, in 1988 in “The world economy and international relations” journal. Or probably it was in 1987.

(A voice with the Caucasian accent: “Please tell me how may I get to room #203 ? Sheinis’s’ polite answer:“Right there”)

Well, that article of mine has been translated into English and publicized in the USA in a collection of materials taken from the magazine I mentioned. I don’t remember the book’s title. The Americans selected what was the most interesting for them.“New Soviet investigations” or like that.

Julia:: And Professor Spencer wants to know what your articles on the theory of dependence were published in English ?

SHEINIS: A book was published by “Progress” publishing house, I think about the same time, and I was one of the authors. There were two authors: Ilyanov (or Ulyanov) and Sheinis’s. The title was “On the threshold of the third millennium”. In that book I reiterated my critical remarks on the theory of dependence brought forward in series of articles.

This theory is obviously inadequate and cannot describe the real global processes and relationships of the developed and developing countries and the very dynamic of development. The theory presumes the inevitable lagging of the developing countries behind the developed ones and in fact implies that the gap is unconquerable and eternal.It neglects the existence of the intermediary group of countries that obviously have good chances to join the developed countries club. I see no difference between the less developed countries of the North like Spain or Portugal or Greece and the more developed countries of the South like Argentine, Brazil, Mexico, Hong Kong. Thus the dependence theory is dead now and its deserved its demise. If something changed since the time when I was preoccupied with that theory, that may be only the fact that new developing countries joined the intermediary tier — I’ll mention just a few of them, South Korea,Taiwan, Malaysia. I have always supposed that the dependence theory was more an ideological weapon than an instrument of scientific investigation.

Julia:: A few words about the prices of oil. There are rumors that the Soviet bureaucrats lost a lot of money because of their inflexibility and predilections for long-term contracts that fixed far from the best prices.

SHEINIS: You see, ultimately the Soviets got fair profits.At some moments or years they lost, but in other years they gained. The story of the Soviet oil export to the European socialist countries is instructive in this respect. The common Russian practice to fix the prices on basis of the average price for the last 5 years was rather sound one and protected from fluctuations and especially from plummeting of prices.

Julia:: And what factor did contribute to preservation of the positive trade balance ?

SHEINIS: The positive balance of trade was achieved by reduction of import. You have to remember quite considerable quantities of foreign goods in the Soviet shops. And then gradually they began to disappear. And at some moment the import was stopped quite abruptly. Since in many respects the dependence on import was really great, the people felt this change very strongly. For example, the USSR used to get the majority of necessary medicines from abroad and in fact destroyed its own pharmaceutic industry. Actually it was criminal economic policy.

Julia:: Thus, the positive balance of trade was maintained by reducing import rather than by increasing exports. Is it right ?

SHEINIS: Correct! Attempts to increase export are made, but to detriment to the internal consumption. Now there are severe shortages of fuel: flights are cancelled,the fields are not harvested and so on. At the same time we sell oil abroad to maintain export revenues that we have to spend for serving our external debt. And this is done at the expense of internal consumption, at the expense of the national economy.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books