John Lloyd

John Lloyd is a former labour editor of the Financial Times and the author of An Anatomy of Russia and Loss without Limit, about the miners’ strike of 1984-85.

George Orwell saw the patriotism of the British working class as an almost unconscious link with the middle and upper classes: ‘Just because patriotism is all but universal and not even the rich are uninfluenced by it, there can be moments when the whole nation suddenly swings together, and does the same thing, like a herd of cattle facing a wolf’ (The Lion and the Unicorn, 1941)....

Two days after May Day, the festival of labour, a story appeared on the front page of the Financial Times under the typically downbeat headline: ‘Work permit shake-up targets skill gap.’ It told of the Government’s introduction of a permit system which would allow rapid entry into the UK for foreign professionals and highly skilled technicians – doctors, nurses,...

Thomas Friedman is so much the kind of American that the rest of the world likes to despise that it’s a fair assumption he has, at least in part, adopted the pose consciously. He calls himself a ‘tourist with attitude’ and his attitude is that of the know-it-all, ‘wise up, you dumb cluck’ American journalist who is here to tell you your economy is blown, your politics stink and you haven’t a hope in hell of making it in today’s world. Given that he is writing about the most important political-economic development in the world today – globalisation – it is a shame that he spoils his case by wrapping it in the Star-Spangled Banner.’‘

When I was in Russia as the Financial Times correspondent, from 1991 to 1996, I liked to think that the reformers who worked under the protection of Boris Yeltsin were good, and their opponents were bad. The story I told myself, and my readers, was more sophisticated than that, of course; but if you had to strip it down to its essentials, that was it. These were my guys.

Diary: in Romania

John Lloyd, 15 April 1999

On travelling to the mining region of the Jiu Valley in Romania earlier this year, I found myself once more facing a difficulty that had become familiar to me in a decade of reporting from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union: how to reconcile my sense of shock at the misery and deprivation of the people about whom I was writing with my conviction that few of their demands, which mostly came down to a plea for things to stay as they were, could or even should be granted. It was a conviction born of witnessing the futile struggles of people suddenly exposed to the pressures of ‘globalisation’ after the collapse of the Communist economies which failed to shield them from it.‘

Gennady Andreev-Khomiakov spent eight years, from the late Twenties to the mid-Thirties, on the Solovetsky Islands: part of the time in a monastery fortress where, as we now know, the punishment included lashing prisoners to trees in summer to be eaten to death by mosquitoes, or tying them spreadeagled on heavy logs and letting them be crushed to death as the logs were rolled downhill. Like many survivors of the gulag, he leaves this unrecorded. The Alexander Solzhenitsyns and Primo Levis, who gave their post-camp lives to bearing witness, are the exceptions and, it could be said, paid heavily for that. Instead Andreev-Khomiakov talks about fate: ‘fate was written on the faces of innocent people dying in the camps by the hundreds, marked for sacrifice’; ‘I constantly defied fate, walking the tightrope between life and death’; ‘in 1935, fate suddenly summoned me to the office that issued release papers.’‘

Fathers and Sons

John Lloyd, 6 March 1997

This is the story of the Soviet Union’s most famous informer, one of the great hero-monsters of the century, and of the pressures which made it possible for a young boy in the North Urals to denounce his father to the secret services and to become an icon for doing so. Crucially, too, it is the story of the dramatic transition in the early Thirties from the relatively relaxed period of the New Economic Policy to the strenuous years of the Five-Year Plan. The NEP had made it clear – or at any rate made it plausible to claim – that independent-minded peasants and tradesmen, self-enriching and assertive, would shortly undermine all the Bolsheviks stood for. Plans were laid against the impending counter-revolution: hideous, impossible goals were set. Within five years, agriculture was to be collectivised and a massive industrial base made ready for action. To this end, Party members and the secret services were to terrorise the population into acquiescence.’

The View from Poklonnaya Gora

John Lloyd, 3 October 1996

One way of thinking of the city – any city – according to Charles Jencks, is as ‘an uncanny organism, a slime mould’ that has always refused the marshalling of planners. ‘Inevitably,’ he writes, ‘mechanistic models did not work according to plan: their separation of functions was too coarse and their geometry too crude to aid the fine-grained growth and decline of urban tissue. The pulsations of a living city could not be captured by the machine model.’ Of all the great and ancient cities of the world, Moscow was the one which the 20th-century machine model tried hardest to capture. It did not succeed: Timothy Colton’s book is, among other things, a narrative of its insubordinations. But the efforts of successive Soviet general secretaries and Moscow first secretaries left a great blight. The city is in trouble today, a crisis masked by a building boom and a splurge of new shopfronts, sparkling granite office and hotel developments, and sumptuously renovated 19th-century mansions transformed from dingy Party or ministry offices into the headquarters of conspicuously consuming banks. Moscow is terribly polluted, environmentally degraded, increasingly choked with cars and trucks, has a treacherous sub-soil beneath parts of its centre, is hugely overcrowded, lacks adequate health and social services and is led by a corrupt, if dynamic, administration.’

Diary: Report from Moscow

John Lloyd, 4 July 1996

Back in Moscow again, surprised at how happy I am to be so, I sit in my old office and read myself into the ‘story’. For five years I followed its twists and turns, its lumpy, incomprehensible lurches to and fro, its characters creating and re-creating themselves in the space which the great collapse of 1991 had cleared for them. Now, to try to locate myself, I read the press clippings of events I could barely follow from a distance, and catch at what seem to be the signs of the pre-election times.

Aphrodite bends over Stalin

John Lloyd, 4 April 1996

Russian high culture has failed to flourish since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Though there are now signs of recovery, and though its magnificent base has not been destroyed, it is clear that the overwhelming feeling is still one of loss. Nothing can be done in the short term: the great institutions exist in suspended animation, the great figures age, pass from the scene, or get rich; the new names do not so much make great careers as find niches, very often abroad. In the theatre, incomparable acting is confined very largely to productions of the classics – Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Ostrovsky – in studios or rehearsal rooms before restricted audiences. At the opera, the repertoire is (usually) sung well, though the sets were made thirty years ago. In avant-garde art, the main reference point remains Ilya Kabakov, whose pre-eminence was established in the Seventies and who lives in Paris. Serious music – what there is of it – is as hermetic as anything in the West.’

In Fear and Trembling to the Polls

John Lloyd, 30 November 1995

Liberals and democrats are fearful about next month’s elections in Russia. Their expectation since 1990 – when Boris Yeltsin became leader of Russia’s Parliament – had been that elections would bring administrations and personalities committed in the main to liberal and democratic programmes. That expectation lasted until the results of the December 1993 elections showed the winner to be Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ironically named Liberal Democrats, a party of extreme authoritarian nationalism. In this year’s election, there are no expectations of a Liberal Democrat success. On the contrary,the belief is that a revived Communist Party will capture the largest share of a highly fragmented Parliament and construct a stable majority with other left-wing and nationalist groupings. Most democrats and many of the new business class believe that will be bad; some think it will be very bad; a few think it could be murderous.There is serious talk of expropriations, imprisonments, political assassinations and civil war. The belief that the changes of the late Eighties and early Nineties were irreversible is no longer solid. The fear is palpable.

Diary: Long weekend in Yaroslavl

John Lloyd, 20 July 1995

The view that things are getting worse seems to be on the increase in Russia. In June, lzvestia published the results of a poll conducted by the All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion – said to be the best organisation of its kind – in which 58 per cent of respondents thought that they were better off before Gorbachev came to power; two years ago only 45 per cent believed this.

The Russians Are Coming

John Lloyd, 11 May 1995

What emerges most clearly from these books is that the Russian ‘mafia’ (the Italian name has been taken over into Russian) has so deeply penetrated government, business and the security forces as to have reconstituted the society which lives on one-sixth of the earth’s land surface into a wholly criminal formation. Organised crime, all four writers warm continually, has encircled the globe, has found in Russia a safe laundry for its money and is trafficking in nuclear material drawn from the ex-Soviet arsenal. The picture is one of a vastly rich, closely calibrated series of crime networks which are now able and willing to challenge the Russian Government, among others. Handelman quotes President Yeltsin in January 1993: ‘We have become a mafia state on a world scale. Everyone thinks that political issues could lead to an explosion but crime could as easily blow us asunder.’ Sterling quotes him as saying a month later: ‘Organised crime is destroying the economy, interfering in politics, undermining public morale, threatening individual citizens and the entire Russian nation … our country is already considered a great mafia power.’…

Diary: On Chechnya

John Lloyd, 12 January 1995

The war which began in early December in Chechnya, the Russian republic in the North Caucasus, was a test of many things, but of Russia’s claim to be an open society in particular. Leaving aside the special case of the assault on the Russian Parliament in Moscow in October 1993, this is the first full-scale military action in which the Russian state has engaged on what it perceives to be its own territory. It justified its intervention – on Sunday, 11 December – by reference to the presence on Chechen territory of large numbers of illegal armed groups apparently loyal to the Chechen President Dzhokar Dudayev, whose election in late 1991 is itself seen by the Russian authorities as illegal: these groups, the Russians said, were threatening the civilian population. Even if one accepts that this constitutes grounds for intervention it is still necessary – and here has lain the difficulty for the Russian administration – for journalists to believe that the questions do not end, but only begin, at that point.’

How to Make a Market

John Lloyd, 10 November 1994

A growing school of thought, especially on but not confined to the Left, holds that the reform of Russia and other post-Communist states is being carried out in such a way as to destroy rather than improve them. The villains are held to be the international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and with them the economists, consultants and advisers who flocked into these states after the Fall to inscribe their new dogmas on the ruins of the old. The IMF is thought to be especially guilty. Because it extends loans to its members on conditions which are usually onerous and nearly always require a heavy curtailment of expenditure, it can easily be represented as both parsimonious and interventionist. The money is doled out a bit at a time and the country in question is almost always required to adopt neo-liberal economic principles, including balanced budgets, low inflation and a privatised industrial and services sector.

How much is he to blame?

John Lloyd, 7 July 1994

Boris Yeltsin’s survival as President of Russia despite tensions which would long since have destroyed most Western politicians is due in part to the very absence of the constraints that affect politicians in the rich democracies. In his erratic way he has done a great deal to advance democratic behaviour in his country, but Russia is not a democracy and does not judge its leaders by democratic standards – and that helps.’

He knew he was right

John Lloyd, 10 March 1994

Exactly ten years after the start of the miners’ strike of 1984-85, the questions remain, in ascending order of importance: was Arthur Scargill, then and still President of the NUM, the right leader for the strike? Could the strike have been won? If it had, would this have improved the fortunes of the labour movement? Would such an improvement have altered the course of Thatcher’s government?

Praise Hayek and pass the ammunition

John Lloyd, 24 February 1994

Pessimism over Russia was not always as fashionable as it is now. Western commentators still refer automatically to the upheaval in the former Soviet Union as a ‘transition’, as though Russia and the former Soviet Republics were following a well defined and orderly course leading from one form of state to another. But in recent conversations with British, German and, above all, American policy planners, officials and scholars, I have found only a dogged determination to go on hoping for the best, while very much fearing the worst.

How frightened should we be?

John Lloyd, 10 February 1994

On the matter of Russia’s future there can be no such thing as idle speculation.

Will the Empire ever end?

John Lloyd, 27 January 1994

Vladimir Zhirinovsky is a lens through which we can see the character of contemporary Russians close up and grotesquely exaggerated. The Zhirinovsky glass reveals and enlightens like a Francis Bacon portrait.


John Lloyd, 21 October 1993

On the morning of Sunday 3 October, Russia’s most treasured icon was borne into the Bogoyavlensky Sobor, the Cathedral of the Epiphany, in Moscow. The Madonna of Vladimir, a 12th-century depiction of the infant Jesus resting on the arm of an abstracted Madonna, was delivered to the church by Zil minibus. In spite of his recent heart trouble, Patriarch Alexei of Moscow and All Russia, his great grey beard stirring slightly in the autumn wind, was there to see it up the steps and along the nave of the magnificently painted, glowing interior of the church with which he is most closely associated.

The explosion at Chernobyl in the Northern Ukraine on 26 April 1986 was less of a disaster for the surrounding inhabitants than for the Communist system. Though far from being the most serious nuclear accident that can be imagined, it suggested that humanity and the environment were less at risk from a catastrophe of this kind than might have been supposed. At the same time it showed that the Communist system was by then so fragile that the removal of faith in its nuclear programme played a major part in its eventual downfall.

Ruslan’s Rise

John Lloyd, 8 April 1993

Mr Ruslan lmranovich Khasbulatov must be taken seriously, though it isn’t always easy to do so: he can be so self-regarding and flatulent, so biased in his handling of the Russian Parliament, of which he is the Speaker, and so contradictory in everything he says. But he has become one of the most important men in Russia; and because of the state of that country, and the great danger it will pose for the rest of the world if its reform movement implodes and sets off a chain of internal and external conflicts, he is a critically important world figure. It is true that he has found himself in this position by a mixture of chance and opportunism. The same may apply to much of the contemporary Russian political establishment, but he, more than most, has exploited a difficult situation with great skill and ruthlessness. It is now clear that the challenge he mounted to the Presidency, and the counter-challenge mounted by Boris Yeltsin to him and the Parliament, are part of a profoundly important struggle which will affect, even set, the future course of Russia. It would be wrong to regard this contest as a clash of personalities, or to see it, as many Russians do, as irrelevant posturing on the part of corrupt politicians whose one concern is to keep their noses in the Moscow trough. The personal issues are more than usually important, since the two men seem to hate each other, but several things are at stake here: the balance of powers in the state they are now attempting to construct; the possibility of reform via the remnants of the Soviet system, as opposed to authoritarian reform from above; the possibility, or lack of it, of maintaining a democracy where a civil society is barely appearing.


John Lloyd, 25 February 1993

Officials have found a uniquely Russian use for the nuclear power plant. They plan to turn it into a vodka distillery. Itar Tass news agency said that the Soviet-era plant, built five kilometers from the town of Nizhny Novgorod but never used, would join seven other alcohol-producing factories which have become the biggest source of local revenue. ‘But many townspeople are furious,’ Tass said. Nizhny Novgorod has plentiful supplies of liquor but is desperately short of heating.

Diary: In Moscow

John Lloyd, 7 January 1993

Let us suppose that Russia is no less a democratic state than any usually referred to in this way; let us, that is, overlook the fact that its democratic periods resemble the tiny windows set in the wall of a Russian church; and with this excised from our minds, let us consider the past year. A new government takes over, with a clearly defined economic team headed by Yegor Gaidar, a son and grandson of famous and privileged Communists, an academic said to be the star of his generation, a former senior editor of Kommunist, the CP’s main theoretical journal, and of Pravda, the Party’s daily paper. The declared aim of this government is to push the country into a market economy as soon as may be. It points approvingly to the Polish ‘model’ pioneered by Leszek Balczerowicz, deputy prime minister in charge of finances in Poland’s first post-Communist government – and even brings Mr Balczerowicz over from Poland to give his blessing.’

Why Georgia matters

John Lloyd, 19 November 1992

By Soviet standards, the town of Sukhumi was a place of real pleasure: arranged about a crescent bay of the Black Sea, the climate warm even in October, with seaside hotels and restaurants. Those who knew the customs of the place, and had the money or clout to exploit them, could have a grand time here in the Georgian manner, drinking and feasting. A senior Georgian official I met while trying to get to Sukhumi told me of three and four-day feasts in homes or restaurants, in the course of which pigs would be slaughtered and a bear on a chain gave, entertainment to the drinkers – by becoming drunk himself.

The best one can hope for

John Lloyd, 22 October 1992

It is a little over a year since the attempted coup of August 1991, which was designed – if such a word can be used of the most botched affair in the annals of power-grabbing – to stop the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and instead accelerated it. It is perhaps worth trying now to assess both the freedom which was said to have resulted from the collapse of the Evil Empire and the Presidency of Boris Yeltsin himself. Individuals have always had a more than usually decisive influence on Russian politics: throughout its history the country has had a centralised, pyramidic system of rule, enabling the character, concerns and whims of the supreme leader to determine the style of government. Marshall Goldman, in What went wrong with perestroika?, quotes Gorbachev as saying, in December 1991: ‘A General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was a dictator who knew no equal in the world at that time. No one possessed more power, no one, do you understand?’ It is too soon for the system to have changed: after the Coup and Gorbachev’s final fading away, Yeltsin simply stepped onto the top of the pyramid.’

Diary: Split Scots

John Lloyd, 25 June 1992

I wanted to go back to Scotland after the April election in order to see what had happened to the country I sometimes claim as my own. In the former Soviet Union, people say the British are either from Anglia or from Velikobritania. To reject the first means to accept the second, with its Imperial echoes. Indeed, when I correct officials or acquaintances who use Anglia, as the English themselves do, to mean Britain, they often assume that I am claiming, not non-English Britishness, but Great Britishness. This is not, in fact, inappropriate.

Comrades in Monetarism

John Lloyd, 28 May 1992

Why is it so important for the rich states of the world that Russia and the other post-Communist states become capitalist democracies? Why are rich foreign countries so determined to lavish resources, generally perceived as scarce, on a country whose standard of living, though declining, is still much higher than that of most of the Third World?

Among the many thoughts which this sad, sometimes unreadably sad book suggests is this: did the Afghan war mark the beginning of the most dramatic military event of our time, the dissolution of the Soviet Armed Forces? Did the crumbling of belief and will which Zinky Boys documents erode the imperial reflexes of a militarised state to the extent that no strategy – whether sticking to the forms of orthodoxy or Communist reformism – could pull it out of the crisis?

Year One

John Lloyd, 30 January 1992

The Government of Russia has begun the year badly, even ominously. The flailing impotence of Mikhail Gorbachev has been replaced by Boris Yeltsin’s control by stealth. Gorbachev was open about the need for the retention of All-Union institutions: Yeltsin condemned his efforts, helped form the Commonwealth of Independent States – and has since then ensured that Russia controls all of the formerly common mechanisms in its own name. The Central and Foreign Currency Banks (Gosbank and Vnesheconombank) are under the Russian State Bank, which means that it controls how much credit and currency all the republics – including the three Baltic republics – have access to. Russia’s price liberalisation of 2 January forced every other republic to follow suit, or have their shelves stripped by Russian shoppers. Communications and transport, necessarily centrally-controlled, are now under Russian rubrics – which means that Aeroflot in Moscow will not sell a return ticket from another republic, only an outward bound one.

How have they made it so soon?

John Lloyd, 21 November 1991

A recent interview I had with the chairman of the Russian Central Bank exemplifies the dangerously tense atmosphere within which the politics of the Soviet Union have been conducted since the August putsch – and underscores the importance of what Arkady Vaksberg writes in his uneven, irritating but critically important book.

Diary: In Moscow

John Lloyd, 12 September 1991

Like the October Revolution, the August Putsch took place (or failed to take place) in a few confined areas, mainly of the capital city. The only possible target outside Moscow would have been the Leningrad (soon to be St Petersburg) Soviet.

The Party’s over

John Lloyd, 25 July 1991

At the time of writing, the main document I shall discuss has not been published and has had only minimal exposure in the media anywhere. It circulates among at most two to three thousand members of the Soviet Communist Party nomenklatura and policy intelligentsia. It was not particularly difficult to acquire: it will certainly be in the hands of several Soviet journalists. But nothing of its content has appeared so far in the Soviet press, in spite of its fundamental importance to Soviet society – a testimony to the nervous respect (or aversion) it invokes.

Perestroika and its Discontents

John Lloyd, 11 July 1991

The Soviet Union might be represented in caricature as the Michelangelo Laocoon, hands clutching desperately at a future freedom while the serpents of the present twine around its trunk, and its feet remain embedded in the marble of the past. Such a state, where the imperatives of past, present and future are all equally powerful, is very hard to inhabit: which is why we should not dismiss the recent International Atomic Energy Agency report on Chernobyl when it says that stress caused by perestroika was responsible for more illness than the side-effects of the meltdown. Fear of living without an all-enveloping authority; fear that the Party, or forces acting in its name, will reassert just such an authority; fear on the part of the Party and the security forces that they will be the victims of a Jacquerie which will see Communists swinging from the lamp-posts – ‘We know perestroika was designed by a Communist,’ a Communist acquaintance said to me recently, ‘because it has ensured that there is a shortage of rope’ – these are all consequences of perestroika. The guarantee of work and subsistence has been broken: unemployment grows, as does relative poverty. Shortages, which were already acute, have become even more so. Where Western observers see the beginnings of free-market behaviour, ordinary people see only speculators and profiteers.’

What happened to Gorbachev

John Lloyd, 7 March 1991

This is written in Moscow as the Soviet Union trembles on the brink of its next period of trembling on the brink. Brink-trembling has been the Soviet leadership’s main stance over the issues on which its subjects judge it – supply, production, civil peace. It is commonly assumed that it cannot go on for ever, that the brink will finally collapse from the effect of all that trembling. But there is no good reason why it should not go on for some time yet.’

Where their real face was known

John Lloyd, 6 December 1990

Most of the institutions of the Soviet state had their finest hour under Stalin. More than anyone else, Mikhail Gorbachev has made this clear: his efforts to force the Stalin period to act as a receptacle for much of the odium felt for Communist rule – with the Brezhnev ‘era of stagnation’ in support – have succeeded only in showing that effective Communism can have no dynamic outside of Stalinism. Communism is about the creation of utopia – otherwise defined as the end of history, or the full victory of the working class. If history does not know its script, it must be forced to act as if it did, dragged by the scruff of its neck towards an always glorious, but always receding climax. As W.H. Auden remarked in another context, those leaders who believe in the possibility of utopia would be shirking their civic duty if they did not terrorise their citizens into acceptance.’

Is the Soviet Union over?

John Lloyd, 27 September 1990

A new plan for economic reform will shortly be decided on by the Soviet Government. It will be the fourth in less than a year: we cannot of course know whether it will last any longer than the previous three, which were withdrawn because of public criticism and divisions among the leadership. It is a common view among Soviet reformers that this is the last chance for perestroika – though there are many who believe that the last chance has gone, who no longer have any faith in perestroika, or in Mikhail Gorbachev, or indeed in the continuing existence of the Soviet Union.

Mr Poland throws a party

John Lloyd, 27 July 1989

It will prove very hard for Poland to find a way out of Communism, though not as painful, one hopes, as finding its way into it. But what we are now witnessing is the end: there is probably no way back, not even by armed force. This is a risky thing to write after the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981 and the recent brutalities of Tiananmen Square: total control both of the military and of all forms of political activity obviously makes possible an almost limitless exercise of power. But martial law, as Norman Davies has pointed out in The Heart of Europe, was introduced by the ‘core of the Communist establishment’, the Army leaders, because every other source of authority had been exhausted. They acted, as Warsaw Pact forces manoeuvred on Poland’s borders and off its coasts, to preserve Soviet power, secure in the knowledge that their action would be supported by that power. They could not be certain of that now. There is no longer a Communist backstop. If the Army is to be used again, it is unlikely to be by the present authorities.

Off with her head

John Lloyd, 24 November 1988

In June of this year Tony Benn took part in a radio discussion on the working of Parliament, together with John Biffen and Roy (Lord) Jenkins. Asked by the chairman, Peter Hennessy, if he did not think that the Lords now functioned as a ‘focus of opposition’, Benn responded that it was, instead, ‘part of an attack on democracy. After all, why bother to vote in the next election if you’ve got a friendly peer you can write to …’ After a little more of this, Jenkins cut in, the dwawl part amused, part irritated. ‘You do live in a wonderful fantasy world,’ he said.

Claiming victory

John Lloyd, 21 November 1985

The consensus since the miners’ strike ended in March has been overwhelming: it was a disaster, most of all for the miners themselves. It is irresistible, in the interests of fairness at least, to look at the possibility that that verdict is wrong. Let us suppose – as Arthur Scargill invites us to – that it was forced upon them: that, as he also claims, it was a victory.’

‘Shameful’ is the word that comes to mind on reading the extracts from Alan Bennett’s diary for 2003 – but for the opposite reasons from the ones he gives. Shameful to hear two democratic leaders, George Bush and Tony Blair, slyly likened to Hitler through their common use of a phrase; shameful that one who publishes his comments on current events should so unthinkingly parrot...

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