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How to Kill an Elephant with a Needle

How to Kill an Elephant with a Needle is a paraphrase which I use to indicate a set of forms of human behavior in situations where a huge difference of participating counterparts is the case. As long as no systematic science has been developed to deal with the subject matter I have to refer to my personal experience in order to clarify some general assumptions. I find it useful to come out with these assumptions if only because our country in general and many types of its citizens have found themselves now, in the post-Soviet period, in similar situations.


In the beginning of the thirties of the last century, teenage gangs have been forming in the Moscow yards. They attacked outside kids, beat them, and took away their money and belongings. Once, when I was ten, I went to a store to buy a pencil compass. It was sharp-pointed. On my way back, I was surrounded by the kids from one of such gangs. They numbered more than ten and they were older than me. Any of them could easily beat me up alone. They ordered me to turn out my pockets threatening to beat me otherwise. I took the compass out and showed it to the kids. I said I would poke an eye out of the very first kid who touches me. They fell back, parted, and let me pass. From that time on, the rumor had it that I was a reckless gangster connected to the grown-up banditti. For the next six years that I lived in that neighborhood, no one had never ever dared to annoy me they were afraid. I was not the first to discover the above method of self-defense. In the human history and everyday life it has been a common practice. Its general concept is that one of the competitors is able to be dangerous for another to a fairly high degree. In the modern world with its modern weapons and communications, this ability becomes especially important. For example, hardly there is a state today (including Russia and China) that can compete with the USA in the arms industry. But many nations are able to possess weapons that make their owners dangerous for the potential aggressors. They are dangerous enough to inflict on their aggressor such a severe damage that any insult would become pointless. From this angle, there is no difference between a state with a thousand or a dozen nuclear bombs, provided that it can hit an aggressor with at least one of them. Thus not occasionally are the USA so afraid of the possibility that the anti-American states, nations, and terrorist organizations would have the nuclear weapons of their own. It is not some humanity they care for, as they are ready to halve the human race if needed. It is their position and prosperity they do not want to lose.


As we know from a school history textbook, King Leonidas of Sparta with his three hundred warriors delayed the 300,000-men Persian army. It was a huge disparity in numbers but the Spartans were desperate to fight to the last drop of blood. They also chose such a location (Thermopylae) that the Persians climbing the narrow mountain trails could not take advantage of their numerical superiority. There is another interesting point in this case: even thirty warriors could have the Persian army delayed under these conditions. However, have the Spartans numbered three thousand or more, their fighting capability would not be better or could even be worse. It seems paradoxical while in fact quite a realistic calculation is taken into account here. During our war with Germany (1941-1945), there were numerous cases when small units endured the most severe combats against the enemy exceeding them by far, sometimes tenfold and more (the Brest Fortress defense, the Panfilovtsy, etc.) while entire divisions and even armies were unable to use their fighting potential and capitulated. Note how huge are the forces needed to fight several criminals taking hostages, or how many Russian soldiers fight in Chechnya against relatively small numbers of militants. And the USA conscripted against terrorists a tremendous army with advanced armament sufficient to start a normal warfare with national armies. And no matter what we think about terrorists, we have to admit that they skillfully manipulated situation in the western countries in their unequal war with the USA. The Chechens did the same in their warfare against the Russian army. General concept of such and similar cases is to put a counterpart in a position where he is unable to take advantage of his superiority.


Conquistador Pizarro with his 300 men has conquered Indian army outnumbering his soldiers by 1,000 times. Certainly, the Europeans outgunned the Indians but the latter, even lacking weapons, had only to step forward in order to trample the enemy down. But they did not do that. They capitulated. Why? The Pizarros campaign is a classic example of how to kill an elephant with a needle. The decisive factor here was intellectual advantage of the Europeans. The Indians knew almost nothing about them while Pizarro possessed some important and useful in warfare information about the Indians. He had some idea of their social organization, their beliefs, and the position of their chief who was a god for the Indians. They were certain that whoever offends him shall die. Pizarros men attacked the chief and seized him. And nothing happened. The astonished Indians gave up without a fight. Pizarro found the most vulnerable spot of the Indian army, its Achilles heel, and took advantage of it. Of course he could not have accomplished that without vigor and readiness to risk. Human history has seen many cases like that of Pizarro. They are not uncommon nowadays too. All of them are featured with general ability to notice a vulnerable spot of a counterpart and take advantage of it in a conflict. It is an intellectual advantage with a special kind of intellect. Not an unprejudiced, cognitive and creative intellect but rather discriminatory and destructive intellect, aimed to do harm to an enemy, to conquer or destroy him. We can compare this to zoologists intellect aimed at studying the animals and intellect of a hunter who wants to kill them. The latter is also a researcher but not the same as a zoologist. He needs to know where to shot in order to hit an animal. During the Cold War, thousands of Western specialists (the Sovietologists) have been studying the Soviet Union. But they did not make any scientific breakthrough. They had different purpose: looking for the most vulnerable spots in the Soviet man-heap, the spots that they should hit in order to weaken and finally kill this communist elephant. Scientifically, the whole science of Sovietology is subject to mockery and scorn. But as the science for the Soviet animal-hunters, it turned to be quite useful and effective for gaining the West victory first in the Cold War and later in the Warm War against the USSR. I will return to this subject hereafter.


I early became a nonconformist and anti-Stalinist and started to fight imperfections of the Soviet regime. As a high-school upperclassman, I was a member of a terrorist group that plotted to kill Stalin. We were just a few little people with feeble capabilities. We stood against mighty society with mighty system of power and repressions. We thought that by killing Stalin we would bring utmost benefit to the millions of our compatriots. We went to certain death because we thought that our behavior was ethically justified. The problem was how to perform the assassination and where to find weapon. After we discussed all available options, we decided to act at a demonstration. It was not impossible. Our school column marched close to the Lenin Mausoleum. It would never occur to anyone that couple of tacky boys and a girl were able to accomplish such a serious action which seemed to us the epoch-making deed. Thus our calculation was correct: we noticed a vulnerable spot in Stalin security. It was only after the war when I found out that we were not the only know-alls there. At the very same time, more serious student terrorist group was exposed. They also plotted to assassinate Stalin during a demonstration. I remembered this episode from my past in view of the terrorist occurrences that are nowadays widely discussed and put into billions of people's minds. Terrorism is presented as an absolute and gratuitous evil, as though some inferior creatures, kind of submen, just come out of the blue. Why do they appear in the first place? There is no discussion about that. Moreover, discussing their social role is an ideological taboo.


Let us use an example of our terrorist group. It was not exposed because I was arrested for some other cause and after the war I found out that our group had just vanished. But if we were exposed we would surely have been convicted as the other groups at that time. It would be a right thing to do for we were criminals, an embodiment of evil. And what if our attempt was successful? What would people think about us today (of course, if the Soviet communism would has been destroyed)? For sure, there would be some memorials erected to perpetuate our names. The Soviet cities are full of streets named in honor of regicides, and von Stauffenberg who attempted to kill Hitler is considered a hero. In real history, estimation of terrorism depends on who estimates it, who is estimated and under what conditions. The USA and the Atlantic community attacked Yugoslavia in defiance of ethical and legal standards. We have good grounds to see their behavior as terrorism while they do not see it this way because they are stronger. For them, Yugoslavian President Milosevic struggling against the Albanian terrorism is a criminal while the Albanian terrorists are legitimate defenders of national independence. They saw the Russian government and army struggle against the Chechen terrorists as violation of human rights and gave their support to those terrorists. They presented world terrorism as the absolute evil and reserved the right to decide who the evil one was. Today people forgot that the CIA plotted to kill Fidel Castro. If it would have been realized, the CIA executors would have been rewarded and become heroes in American history.

Terrorism is not an unfounded phenomenon. Neither is it based on any imperfections of human biological nature. It is a social phenomenon rooted in the conditions of people social genesis. What is called the world terrorism in the USA today is in fact a regular reaction of certain states and nations that became victims of globalization and westernization, i.e. the world domination war that the USA and the Atlantic community already run. Terrorism is not the same in different times and different places. Terrorism under the conditions of pre-revolutionary Russia is one thing while terrorism after the revolution (e.g. an attempt on Lenins life) it is quite another thing. Terrorism in Yugoslavia and Russia supported by the western countries leaded by the USA is one thing while terrorism against the USA itself is quite another. We should distinguish between lone-wolf terrorism (Khalturin) and terrorism of organizations (the Narodnaya Volya, the Socialist-Revolutionaries); anti-governmental terrorism of the oppositionists and government terrorism (Hitlers Germany, the USA government); terrorism against individuals (Tsar Alexander II, Stolypin Al Sadat, Gandhi) and random people (explosions in Oklahoma City, Moscow, Budyonnovsk); criminal and political terrorism, and so on. Today they speak about terrorism in general and totally ignore social nature of particular terrorist acts. This way they search to hide the social essence of ongoing world war and to present it as if the honorable defenders of humanity (the USA and its allies) fight against terrorists, the inferior ones. Then, in order to level this enormous force imbalance at least a bit, a made up story of some mighty world terrorist network, a threat to the very existence of human race, is being spread. In fact, the methods that are common for all the terrorists are subject to ethical and legal condemnation. These numerous methods are of the how-to-kill-an-elephant-with-a-needle kind, and not only terrorists imply them. The USA used those methods throughout their history more than any other state in the world. At that, they have always disregarded ethical and legal standards and interpreted them as they liked. Those methods were widely used by the West headed by the USA in its Cold and later Warm Wars against the USSR and Yugoslavia. And those methods are being used now in the world war at its newest hot stage.


I happened to move to the West in 1978, when the 30-year Cold War came to a drastic turning point. The Cold War participants from its very beginning have studied the Soviet society. Special science named Sovietology was developed. Thousands of professionals and hundreds of research centers were engaged. The particular branch of Sovietology was the Kremlinology. It was engaged in the most thorough research of the Soviet statehood structure, the Party apparatus, the central Party apparatus, the CPSU Central Committee, the Political Bureau, and the government executives in person. But for a long time (perhaps until the end of the seventies) the emphasis has been made upon ideological and psychological brain-wash of broad population groups and making of the West-oriented masse of Soviet citizens. In fact, they played a part of the fifth column of the West and voluntarily or involuntarily participated in ideological and ethical corruption of the Soviet people (not to mention their other functions). This is how the dissident movement was created. In short, the main activity was focused on decomposing the Soviet society from below. Serious success has been achieved in this field which became one of the factors of the future counter-revolution. But this success was not significant enough to bring the Soviet society to ruin. By the end of the 70ies it became clear to the Western participants of the Cold War. They also understood that the basis of Soviet communism was its system of power and within this system the Party apparatus. They have thoroughly studied the apparatus structure, character of relations of its members, their psychology and qualifications, method of selection etc. Then the Cold War strategists came to a conclusion that the only way to destroy the Soviet society is from above, by destroying its power system. And in order to do so it is necessary and sufficient to destroy the Party apparatus starting with its highest level, i.e. the CPSU Central Committee. Thats where they redirected their main efforts. They found the most vulnerable point of the Soviet social organization. It was easy for me to guess about this Cold War crisis because I had an opportunity to observe and study the hidden part of the war. In 1979, at one of my public performances (bearing the same name, How to Kill an Elephant with a Needle) somebody asked me what was the most vulnerable spot of the Soviet system. I answered: one that is considered the most reliable, namely the CPSU apparatus, namely its Central Committee, namely its Political Bureau, and namely its General Secretary. Loud laughter of the audience accompanied my answer: Put your man to this position and within a couple of months he will crash the Party apparatus and it will set off chain reaction of decomposition of the whole power system. Consequently, it will cause decomposition of entire society. Then I referred to Pizarros case. I do not want my readers to think that I gave this idea to the Cold War strategists. They would have come to this without my help. One of the agents of the Intelligence Service once told me that they (i.e. the Western forces) would very soon put their man on the Soviet throne. I did not believe then that it was possible. I was only hypothetically speaking of such a needle as General Secretary put by the West. But the western strategists already considered it a real possibility. They made a plan of ending a war: getting control over the USSR supreme authority by promoting their inside man to a position of the CPSU Central Committee General Secretary, forcing him to destroy the CPSU apparatus and make reforms (Perestroika) that should cause chain reaction of collapse of the whole Soviet society. This plan materialized because already at that stage it was obvious that there was a crisis of the highest Soviet authority due to decrepitude of the CPCU Political Bureau. So it did not take long before there came an inside man playing part of western needle that should kill Soviet elephant (if only this man was not prepared in advance). And we should admit that this plan was fully accomplished. Kea feature of this Cold War operation was that the how-to-kill-an-elephant-with-a-needle method was not implemented against the stronger party but rather against the weaker but still mighty one; such that could be so dangerous in case of a hot war that the western advantageous position could come to nothing like in the 1941-45 war of Germany against the USSR. But the above method made it possible to avoid risk and losses and gain a victory using others. The method invented by the weak ones to fight the stronger enemy was used by the mightiest powers on Earth in their war for the world dominance.


In every struggle, the parties somehow studied each other. But this study was quite limited and scattered. Mainly, the secret service agents and diplomats were engaged. In the second half of the XX century, there came a radical change. During the Cold War, in the Western Europe and (mostly) the USA, countless research centers and intelligence services with thousands professionals were established. These professionals were free of scientific prejudices, ethical standards, and legal limitations. They had quite specific tasks, and their solution required unconventional and even adventurist approach to the enemy, i.e. to the Soviet Union, Soviet coalition, and communist social organization. This rubbed off on organization, ways of collected information processing, and on working out recommendations for power institutions. They developed a Soviet beast hunters science. Though it was not a science studying the beast itself and neither was it a science from the academic point of view, it was sufficient for providing a higher intellectual level than that of the Soviet Union in the end of the war. In the Soviet Union, it was impossible to develop academic discipline dedicated to the West due to the dominant Marxist ideology, and a Western beast hunters science was in a miserable condition. This became one of the factors of the Soviet Unions defeat. Todays Russia is in such a position that its number-one-task is historical survival and self-defense against the mightiest enemy in human history. This is not a task for several years but rather for many decades or maybe for the entire XXI century. And it is impossible to fulfill this global task without a thorough elaboration of a science dedicated to the methods of struggle with a stronger enemy. The novelty, compared to the past, is that now it is impossible to develop a hunters science without developing a science about a beast to defend from and a hunter that has to defend himself. Speaking again about the case from my childhood, we may say that you have to have a scientific knowledge of the beast standing against you and of the compass which would help you to force your way in history.

translated from Russian with the support of Leonid Boim


Read excerpts from books
About A.Zinoviev
  • Introduction - by P.Hanson, M.Kirkwood
  • Ideology in the Works of A.Zinoviev - by Michael Kirkwood
  • Alexander Zinoviev's Theory of the Soviet Man - by L.Brom