We reported last week on the Kremlin’s effort to persecute and prosecute a Russian political commentator for writing an essay comparing Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Now, the good offices of our original translator offer you that Russian text in English:
Putin is Our “Good Hitler”
by Igor Valeryevich Averkiev
Putin is our Good Hitler.
“Our” because Putin, like Hitler, is blood from blood, flesh from flesh of his own people.
“Good” because no real Leader of the People (for as long as a majority of the people consider him as such) could be bad for his people. The majority of Germans to the very end of the Third Reich considered Hitler a great man.
“Hitler” because the manner and style of President Putin’s leadership very much resembles the manner and style of Reich Chancellor Hitler in the early stages of his career in politics; because the situation in post-Soviet Russia very much resembles the situation in post-war Germany; and because Russians at the turn of this century very much resemble the Germans of the 1920s and 1930s.
But there remains the problem of “perspective”. Most Russians formed their impressions of Hitler from book, films and other “political folklore” that describe only the final, military/concentration camp phase of the German Fuehrer. They know practically nothing about the early, pre-war Hitler, whom the Putin of today so resembles. Hitler’s own road to Hell was paved with good deeds and the best of intentions.
* * *
Putin today, like Hitler at the beginning of his journey, is not evil. Like Hitler, Putin is just trying to save his Motherland.
At the beginning of their great journey to save the Fatherland, no one wants to kill anyone. They are only led to this later, by the logic of absolute power and the mission of “savior of the Fatherland” (although it may seem a small point, the mission of “rebirth of the Fatherland” brings forth an entirely different logic).
Putin, like Hitler, is genuinely loved by most of the people, the simple people.
Putin, like Hitler, became a real leader of the people because he has an amazing ability – Putin, intentionally or not, reproduces in his people his own worst qualities, but exactly these qualities are the most tempting for even normal people.
People love Putin, as they loved Hitler, because he lets them relax, throw off the burdens of responsibility, freedom and civilization. Under Putin, as it was under Hitler, people can happily give in to fears and weaknesses. Under Putin, as it was under Hitler, it is easy for even a normal person to be irresponsible and juvenile, cowardly and servile – society will not condemn him for it. Under Putin, as it was under Hitler, one can easily and with pleasure give in to the strongest and most extreme of human emotions: hatred.
Putin, like Hiter, is not only loved by the simple people, but is also very amenable to a significant portion of the Russian elite as well. In exchange for their loyalty, President Putin delivers businessmen, academics and artisans from the rigors of competing with their peers and offers them administrative guarantees of a decent professional status and viable place in our state-capitalist marketplace.
* * *
Putin is not Stalin. President Putin has no Leftist agenda, he is not opposed to the wealthy, he is not planning to sic the people on the elites, nor is he a slave to the ideal of economic equality. But what difference does it make what is going on in his head? Hitler and Stalin, despite their deep ideological divisions, were unified by mass terror and concentration camps. Nonetheless, it turns out that to this day there are people for whom it is important under whose flag the new concentration camps are organized.
* * *
Some classic Russian fascists and nationalists, who vilify in every way the post-Soviet regime and democracy, do not do the same with Putin; they sense he is one of their own. Conversely, those outside the system – that is, the ideologically Leftist groups (not including the Communist Party of the Russian Federation), every imaginable type of Lefty, from the Russian Communist Workers Party to the Trotskyites, anarchists and “Antiphus” – are irreconcilably opposed to Putin personally; they sense in him an antagonist to the core.
* * *
National leaders come in two different types: “light” and “dark”.
Some spur their nations onward, call on them to storm the heavens. They bring to mind Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Martin Luther, Napoleon, Peter I, Lenin, Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Others are the opposite: they weaken their nations, immerse them in the abyss of base instincts. They present as models to the world Ivan the Terrible, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong. Unfortunately, Putin continues the tradition of the latter, the “dark” type.
Russia before Putin, like Germany before Hitler, was wallowing in national humiliation. Both great powers suffered the shame of defeat in war: Germany in World War-I, Russia in the Cold War. Both great people were humiliated by the victors. Both countries lost the halo of greatness that kept their people warm.
Both nations suffered the collapse of their traditional government institutions: those of imperial and Soviet power. Both peoples suffered through vulgar democratization, and recoiled from it. Their Great Depression, and our cold-and-hungry 1990s with its default, made Stability and Order into national idols. In pre-Hitler Germany and pre-Putin Russia (although for different reasons) politicians of the Left and Right, the Communist-Socialists and Liberal-Democrats, could not attract the people with their projects for the future. Not knowing where to find the strength for a rebirth and not knowing how to activate their own resources, both peoples took to looking for enemies.
Both countries awaited their savior. And he arrived.
* * *
Putin, like Hitler, is the savior of his Fatherland, the guardian of its Greatness, Stability and Order. Putin is here the Chieftain.
Putin, like Hitler, is saving the country form external and internal enemies. In the imaginations of most of his people, Putin, like Hitler, personally ensures the health and well-being of everyone. The most important thing for the average Russian is to be For Putin (as it was for the average German under Hitler). Everything else follows from that.
Putin, like Hitler, is the idol of the most helpless and aggressive segment of society: the youth. Members of the Nashi movement quickly and logically turn into classic storm troopers and Red Guards. Putin, like Hitler, gives juvenile, unselfconfident youths a basic socialization through the corporate power structures of the regime (“Nashi”, “Young Gurads”, “Politzavod”, etc.) and an official, permissible outlet for their aggressiveness (anyone who has seen the members of “Nashi” in action will know what we are talking about here).
Putin, like Hitler, is in and of himself not a bad guy: not a miscreant, not a moral monster. One gets the sense that Putin, as an “early Hitler”, has normal ideas about honor, decency, duty and even politics. It is only later, after losing their orientation under the weight of their mission as “Savior of the Fatherland”, under a torrent of eyewash and puffery, that their personality is degraded, losing the common norms and human sensors of good and evil.
Saving millions, they first forget about a few thousand, and then about the millions themselves. Any important person, striving for absolute, exclusive power, believes that he will have the rationality and will to avoid becoming a moral monster – because he’s so exceptional. But the years go by, and he, like anyone who gains absolute power, turns into a monster. The only ones to escape it are those who, in their thirst for power, fail to achieve it, or find the strength in themselves to resist putting on the Ring of All-Power. Our President has already put his finger through this ring’s “black hole”.
* * *
Both Putin and Hitler at the foundation of their “political personalities” have one and the same concern. Both took the geopolitical defeat of their country as a personal defeat, a moral trauma – one battling on the front lines, the other serving his Motherland on the “invisible front” [of intelligence work]. But, unlike for most of their peers, for both Putin and Hitler their wounds became what lifted them to their destinies.
Both Putin and Hitler have a peculiar, growing charisma, fed not by their internal world but the external (one should note that charisma is a very efficient thing for the organism). Not outstanding in their youths, but quiet and disciplined, nothing heroic or remarkable about them, both Putin and Hitler blossom as it were in an instant, capably – even ingeniously – expanding their personal power not through internal conditions of mind and spirit, but external circumstances of “city and world” [Urbi et orbi].
Both Putin and Hitler are political maximalists. Both Putin and Hitler seriously took upon themselves as nothing more and nothing less than the salvation of their country. Both Putin and Hitler were not contented with having won in the backrooms and in elections the highest office in their country. Both Putin and Hitler did not limit themselves to the role of leader of a specific majority. Both Putin and Hitler, in the final analysis, came upon absolute power not packed up in the cramped and boring confines of a parliamentary democracy (how else to understand the status Putin so graciously accepted of “National Leader”, except as an embarrassing rehash of the Chieftain-Fuehrer theme).
Despite significant differences in temperament, both Putin and Hitler are inveterate populists. Both Putin and Hitler are, it goes without saying, talented in their skill and knowledge of how to please the people. It is a thesis that requires no further proof.
Both Putin and Hitler are neither Left nor Right, neither liberals nor socialists, neither for freedom nor for justice. Both Putin and Hitler are for the people, for their national interests and against the enemies of their countries. Both Putin and Hitler are as it were above politics (something Putin himself has said more than once). Both Putin and Hitler insist that they came to power not like others – through money and a personal struggle for power – but from the people themselves, a higher mission, providence, fate, duty, etc. The political paths of both Hitler and Putin were of a mostly third/median way. A path not associated with any ideology that might divide society. A path for national unification by general deliverance from a common enemy. Exactly the sort of Bonapartism that elevates demagoguery (no irony intended) to the level of national idea and high strategy.
* * *
By the fairest possible accounting, Putin, like Hitler, is a fascist. A fascist, at a minimum, in the world-outlook sense of the word – as a populist striving for absolute power, depending on the people’s xenophobia (in this case, as a popular “cult of the enemy”: the enemy of the country, the nation, its people, etc.), and inclined to view violence as the basic instrument for solving political and social conflicts.
More exactly, President Putin is a fascist in tendency, since his regime has only begun to adopt the fourth characteristic of fascism – violence as the entire universe of political discourse. Violence that is physical, moral and social: massive, barbaric voter fraud through absentee ballots and threats of firing; massive, barbaric prohibitions against publishing campaign leaflets other than for United Russia; massive confiscation of non-United Russia campaign materials; transferring from the Elections Committee to the Ministry of Internal Affairs the function of ensuring that “legality” is observed in election campaigns; gratuitous forced dispersal of silly “Marches of Those Who Disagree”; preventative arrests of non-United Russia activists; test pogroms of non-United Russia officials by juvenile Putin-worshipers, etc, etc. Everywhere and in everything, we see barbaric, lawless demonstrations by the regime of its still-inflated strength.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Russia felt themselves raped in the last elections. No, they were not the majority, but neither were they smallest of minorities.
Scholars specializing in the history of Weimar Germany and the history of Fascism know what all this resembles.
Grappling with his political opponents, President Putin strives for an extremely fascist, or more exactly totalitarian type of repression – a “peoples repression”; repression at the hands of the people themselves. The “enemies of the people” surrender in a symbolic or physical hounding to a “people” specially prepared for them: storm troopers, pogrom-inciters, Red Guards, or “Nashisti”. The simple dictator represses through the use of police, guard forces and gendarmes – that is, government forces. For the fascist, totalitarian leader, this is small potatoes: his “people power” demands the organization of “popular” and “social” repressions.
President Putin’s struggle with corruption, with the “werewolves in shoulderboards”, but without such things as curbs on the oligarchs or a people-friendly social policy – all of this, to the last piece, repeats the internal social policies of the early fascist government of Adolf Hitler. These were good policies – absolutely worthy of Hitler to pursue them before the German people of that day, but these good policies do not excuse all the other counts against the Fuehrer.
Of course, President Putin is only at the beginning of his “dark path”. He has only taken the first steps, but these steps can leave no doubt concerning their ultimate direction. The absolutist/totalitarian inclinations of our President; the ease with which he deploys large-scale (though still not fatal) repressions; his readiness to answer every political challenge exclusively with the force of “political resources” and by crushing opponents with his new “body guards”; and breaking out the theme of “enemy of the country” – all of this speaks to the totalitarian, fascist essence of what is occurring.
But we are still just at the breaking point. Everything described above still co-exists with specifically limited, but free speech; “administrative resources” often cannot withstand a simply-organized opposition by the people; and the judicial system, despite all its flaws, has more than once shown its ability to protect people from government caprice. We are at the breaking point, however, and this is very important.
* * *
Intentionally or not, Putin, like Hitler, carries in himself the pathos and political logic of the “dark kings”. Like all leaders with his spiritual makeup, Putin is doomed like a magnet to attract exactly the same sort of “dark” human material. No sooner did Vladimir Putin come to power, than we saw every brand and caliber of slob, barbarian and thug shake himself loose and stretch upward.
Despite all the outward respectability of today’s regime, Vladimir Putin brought with him the era of the government thug, the enlightened punk, the high-ranking slob. At issue is the dominant style in public life, the mode of politics, how people have decided to conduct themselves in society. In this sense, Gorbachev’s Russia was a time for idealists and revolutionaries, Yeltsin’s Russia opened the way for adventurers and pioneers, while Putin’s Russia let loose the thug in all professions and generations.
The country has become bored of bravery, heroes and patrons – of “bright” leaders in general. And they are now in short supply. The old heroes drank themselves into oblivion or wasted away during the Yeltsin stagnation, while the new ones have only just been conceived or are in their childhood. In their place, imitators come on the scene. Instead of social heroism, the public gets demonstrative, lawless barbarism. Barbarism is the favored style of the Putin elite, relying on the soulless power of the crowd or megatons of padding from “administrative resources”. It was precisely under Putin that the skinheads crawled out from under the gates and into the city squares, criminal leaders plunged into politics, slob prosecutors began to rule the courts, and the insolent political thug came into full bloom. The riot police (omonovtsy), those new gendarmes, began harrying to their hearts content the “disagreeing” remnants of our naive liberal intelligentsia.
By crime or misfortune, to his shame or tragedy, President Putin secretes that fluid that attracts slobs and barbarians of every stripe. At the same time, there is some reason to suspect that Putin himself is not at the same level as those he attracts, and for whom Putin is a activation signal. Moreover, his personal reactions to the world were, until recently, entirely within the normal range of decency for a Russian male of his age, level of education, career and temperament. As is often the case with “dark leaders”, Putin himself is not a barbarian, but this makes little difference. Heinrich Himmler was also not a sadist, but he could not have done what he did without them, and he and his work simply attracted the cruelest of monsters.
The Putin regime is a public triumph of the “gray mice”. To see this for oneself, one need only take a sociological or even simply human look at the membership of the United Russia party. “United Russia”, “Nashi”, “Young Guards” – all are well-oiled recruiting machines for selecting mediocrities. Sort of an “unnatural selection” or “reverse selection” process. But exactly this sort of human material is necessary for anyone wanting absolute power. It all adds up.
Of course, Putin, like Hitler, also has to attract the services of talented and well-heeled people, the highest class of professionals. But their service to the regime is a long series of onerous compromises, both professionally and as human beings. And it is not they who are “Putin’s Guard”.
Putin’s Russia once again does not need brave soldiers or efficient government workers; Putin’s Russia does not like self-respecting politicians and independent entrepreneurs. It needs only new Maliuta Skuratovs and spook-gardeners: specialists in mutilating anyone who moves a little too fast or climbs a little too high.
The main thing is that Putin, like Hitler, has no use for citizens – he needs only devotees. Only for his devotees is President Putin prepared to care, only his devotees will he lead into the great new Russia. And every day, in his every deed, President Putin hints at this and facilitates it.
* * *
Something happened to our President two or three months ago [September-October 2007]. It was as if he had been replaced. The honor of the Russian officer, the political pragmatism and his healthy conservatism, none of it could protect him from the seductions of absolute power and the eternally dark mission of Chieftain and Savior of the Fatherland.
During the Duma elections of 2007, President Putin, trying on the title of “National Leader”, effectively came into absolute power in Russia. Absolute power is that power which is unlimited by anyone or anything – neither elections, nor parliaments, nor constitutions. More exactly, the power of the National Leader, the Chieftain, the “Father of the Nation”, etc., is limited only by the personal ambitions of the leader and the love of the people. Judging from everything, it would seem that exactly this sort of power is what President Putin is aiming for, just like Reich Chancellor Hitler did 80 years before him.
It is possible that all this Bacchanalia about a “National Leader” and turning the parliamentary elections into a referendum “For Putin”, with the carnal creation of all these “Lovers of Putin” organizations, was just an attempt to scare people, or the latest test of the people’s readiness to accept new types of “administrative resources”. But the unfortunate thing is that most of the population and a significant part of the elite took this test seriously. Whether from spiritual weakness, force of habit, or just not having the time to think about it, it was taken as just another damn thing in everyday life.
But the results were very serious. The thing is, any major political move gives rise by the law of cause and effect to its own political demons. The politician either gains control of events brought about by his actions, or he ceases to be a politician: in the best case, he leaves the political scene; at worst, he heads downhill at fatal speed. This phenomenon is lodged in the historical memory of mankind by the metaphor of “crossing the Rubicon”.
Vladimir Putin has crossed his Rubicon, having given the country to understand that he, Vladimir Putin, aspires to absolute power in Russia, a power not limited by any sort of formalities or term limits, depending only on the BELIEF in him by the majority of the people.
Now Vladimir Putin is forced to confirm with his every step his right to absolute power. Each of his achievements must be more striking than the previous. Any step back, anything that disconfirms his “absolute” status, will be taken by the people and his opponents as a sign of weakness. And weakness, real or imagined, is a fatal illness for an absolute leader, a decisive and irrecoverable fall. For this reason we all face the threat of more Putin-justice, Putin-severity, Putin-absolutism. The enemies will multiply simply for demonstrative effect. Repression will increase not due to political malevolence, but just inescapably. Vladimir Putin must now win every bet at any price – or pretend he is winning – by deceiving his people, employing a widening scale of Goebbelian propaganda. Because every second of every day he needs to “save face” – the face of the National Leader, who has the right to flout everything but the people’s faith in him. If nothing changes in the coming months, then in the near future everyone in Russian can expect a forced, egged-on by our faith, increase in Putin-radicalism and Putin-extremism. Such is the meaning and iron logic of the life of Vladimir Putin following the parliamentary elections of 2007.
It is unimportant whether President Putin runs or does not run for a third presidential term. What is important is that he has become the “National Leader”.
As late as this past summer, looking forward to 2008, President Putin might have imagined becoming one thing or another. But now, having come into absolute power, our President has narrowed his range of choices to a single remaining dilemma: either he becomes the sole master of Russia, or he intentionally becomes a political nonentity.
An eternally tragic choice. And all of us, the entire country, are held hostage to this choice.
In his own time, Julius Cesar, that great reflexive dictator, could not bear a similar choice, and allowed himself to be killed.
Not all is Pre-Determined – We are at a Fork in the Road
This is a very serious situation, but we, devil may take us, are a great country! We are not Turkmenistan, devil take them (my apologies, former brothers)!
Here are the possibilities:
1. Our President could quit – though of course, only at the price of his career and his departure into political non-existence. Compromise at this point is, unfortunately, impossible, or more exactly – possible, but would give rise to chaos. It will be hard for us without Vladimir Putin, seriously hard. His capabilities and services as leader of the state are obvious. We would wander around lost for a year or two, but we would create a new government and smooth out our lives. As long there is no war!
2. Modern Russia resembles in many way inter-war Germany, but in one way it is very different. Despite all the successes of Putin’s “verticalization” [centralization] of power, the state in Russia is still very weak and incompletely formed. Somehow we do not seem to notice it, but none of the reforms put forward by Putin has been brought to completion (except for the political-technical division of the country into federal sectors and the mechanical reshuffling of political institutions, like eliminating the election of governors), and many vitally important reforms were simply curtailed due to the inability of the government apparatus to digest them. Systems for social security, education, health care and public protection services have therefore not emerged from systemic crisis. Simply pumping oil money into them does not help them overcome their indifference to people and their bottomlessly low quality of service.
There is another side to all of this. It may be bad living in a half-baked government, but for the usurper it is also an unreliable instrument. In such a government the leader has difficulty showing the population his latest successes, and much time and effort will be devoted to re-working the government. But the people will not for this reason give the Savior of the Fatherland much time as they await their manna from heaven. And our repressive apparatus is also not of such a high quality that the leader can rely on it completely, chasing as it will “those who disagree” into the same pen with those who do agree.
For reasons that would take long to explain, it seems that in the 21st century personality-driven dictatorships are not as effective at solving large-scale problems as they once were. Modern life is too complicated in its structure, and the people too varied in their interests. Political success nowadays is best ensured by skill at quick conciliation.
3. Yes, the Russian people have lived through much the same traumas as the German people did. But we overcame those traumas after the industrial era. For most of us, our social instincts are not limited by the experience of working together in factories. We are not at such an early stage of development. We are informed, historically experienced; we know something about their Hitler and our Stalin. We have to a large extent seen the joy of an era of freedom and private life. We are more varied and sophisticated in our desires. People like us are harder to rule from one center, harder to dominate. Although, of course, most of us still succumbed to the Putin proposal that we surrender our freedom in exchange for his care. If this was the result of light-heartedness and an apolitical frame of mind, then all is not so bad, and will easily heal.
4. For 20-30% of our fellow citizens all these totalitarian overtures from the half-baked lackeys of a careful dictator are repulsive by their very definition. That is a lot. Enough to become united by the strength of their emotions, and in their unity persuade the rest of the rightness of their cause.
If for 20-30% of the citizens of Russia what happened in Russia in the Fall of 2007 was a serious problem, then it is time for us to get to work.
“To be Enlightened is a Choice; To be in Darkness is a Condition. Change it.”
— Svetlana Makovetskaya
P.S. – The advancement of Dmitri Medvedev as Vladimir Putin’s “successor”, and Medvedev’s subsequent request – disarming in its archaism – that “the royal name” “become the prime minister”- all this is, at a minimum, is confirmation of President Putin’s desire to take his leave without departing. To achieve at whatever price the status of “National Leader”, with all the consequences described above. Naturally, Vladimir Putin himself, along with his clients and admirers, explain all of this as being “for the good of Russia.”
Our President is like our oil: on the one hand, it is good; on the other, we would be better off without it. If oil while saving the economy of Russia at the same time deprives its economy of stimulation and development, then President Putin, by every means stimulating and preserving the paternalistic inclinations of the people, at a minimum limits the Russian nation in its political and civil development. At a minimum.
December 10, 2007