Coup leaders were working from wrong manual

Moke Royko

August 26, 1991|By Mike Royko FTC | Mike Royko FTC,Tribune Media Services

AFTER LISTENING to dozens of professors and commentators try to explain why the coup failed in the Soviet Union, I will stick with my own theory. The coup failed because those who staged it were real dumb guys.

Not dumb in the sense that they can't tie their shoelaces or remember their own phone numbers.

But dumb in the way that a only a lifelong functionary and go-by-the-book bureaucrat can be.

They are people who spent their lives working for and with other bureaucrats and functionaries. They advanced in a system where bureaucrats and functionaries were their role models and mentors. And brain-dead obedience was the way to get ahead.

That's why the Soviet Union, with its enormous natural resources, has become such an incredible economic and social mess: For most of this century, it has been run by generation after generation of bureaucratic klutzes.

Even worse, they were Communist klutzes. Have you ever been to a Communist meeting and listened to their speeches? I have, and you can get more wit and imagination at a gathering of Skid Row winos.

So the obvious reason the coup flopped is that none of the stiffs had ever staged a coup before. And the mark of a true bureaucrat is that if he hasn't done something before, preferably dozens of times so he doesn't have to think about it, he can't do it the first time without someone telling him how. Or, at the very least, without a thick, gray manual that takes him through the process step by step, rule by rule, form by form.

Lacking these mental crutches, the coup mongers were forced to improvise, to use their imagination and wit, which they had probably lost about the time they were given their first desks and in-and-out baskets.

So it wouldn't be hard to reconstruct how their coup planning went:

"All right, comrades, we have announced our coup to the world and said that Mikhail is sick and we are in charge. Now, where are we holding Yeltsin? Is he in jail or under house arrest?"

"Yeltsin? I thought Igor was going to take care of Yeltsin."

"No, Yeltsin is not my function. I am in charge of banning the sale of vodka. Boris was going to take care of Yeltsin."

"Boris, did you get Yeltsin?"

"No, I have no experience in getting Yeltsin. It should be Yakov who gets Yeltsin. I don't even know where Yeltsin is."

"Yeltsin is in his office."

"Then we can send the army to get him. General, is the army prepared to get Yeltsin?"

"Maybe it is and maybe it isn't."

"I don't understand your answer."

"Well, some soldiers will and some soldiers won't."

"Then send the soldiers who will."

"I don't know which soldiers will."

"Can we find out?"

"I have a cold."

"What about the troublemaking mayor of Leningrad? Are we holding him?"

"That was Fyodor's responsibility."

"No, Leningrad has never been my responsibility. Here, look at my manual. I am in charge of frying pan factories."

"Then shouldn't we have our military leader in Leningrad seize him?"

"We can't. Our military leader in Leningrad is not on our side."

"He's not? General, why isn't he on our side?"

"Excuse me. My cold is turning into the flu."

"Never mind. We have seized all the broadcasting stations, have we not? And they are under our control?"

"Yes, they have all been seized and put under our control. Except for those that we have not yet seized and do not yet control."

"Does that mean that the people are receiving only the information we want them to have?"

"Yes, except for the information they are receiving that we don't want them to have."

"Fyodor, I thought you were going to seize all of the broadcasting stations."

"No. Look in my manual. I am in charge of making sure that no vegetables get to market before they are spoiled."

"General, why haven't we seized all the broadcasting stations? I saw an American movie about a coup, and one must always seize the broadcasting stations. General?"

"My flu is becoming pneumonia. Would you excuse me so I can go to my office and shoot myself?"

"No, shooting yourself at this point would be contrary to Lenin Doctrine 387, Boring Speech 86. I still think you should do something about Yeltsin. Maybe we should ask Yeltsin to surrender."

"Yeltsin has just been on ABC-TV talking to Diane Sawyer. I think he says we are noodniks."

"How can he say we are noodniks? Doesn't he know we have made a coup?"

"Yeltsin says he doesn't recognize our coup."

"I don't understand this, comrades. When Stalin gave an order, nobody told Diane Sawyer of ABC-TV that Stalin was a klutz."

"General, where are you going?"

"I have to put a ruble in the parking meter."

"Comrades, I think we must reconsider our strategy."

"I agree. What do you suggest?"

"What time is the next flight to Cuba?"

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