Putin’s Neo-Stalinist State

Paul Goble reports:

Vladimir Putin is not pursuing the kind of authoritarian modernization described by Fareed Zakaria as characteristic of illiberal states but rather an updated and specifically Russian version of Stalinist modernization based on the search for enemies and the instillation of fear, according to a leading Russian commentator. But this distinction has been obscured, Irina Pavlova argues, because Putin’s approach, thanks to the possibilities offered by modern information technologies, does not require many of the features of classical Stalinism such as the GULAG and a new iron curtain even though the essence of Putin’s approach is the same.

Exploiting the mass media, including television and the Internet – technologies Stalin and his henchmen could only dream about and thus “could not imagine how such PR-technologies could be used to disorient society” – Putin is able to create with a few carefully targeted and reported murders the climate of fear Stalin needed to kill far more people to achieve. In an essay on Grani.ru, Pavlova argues that Putin’s approach reflects the unfortunate reality that “the Russian authorities [at present] are incapable” of pursuing the kind of modernization Zakaria says is likely in those countries that lack liberal democratic institutions.

And she suggests that her somber conclusion is inescapable if one considers recent statements and actions by President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In talking about the country’s industrial problems, they have launched what is clearly “a planned campaign of ideological preparation for the ‘dekulakization’ of the so-called oligarchs.” Unlike Zakaria’s authoritarian modernization, a term which some analysts of Russian affairs are inclined to apply to Russia as well, Moscow officials have begun talking about “concrete enemies” of any modernization and about the supposed end of “the era of small business,” two ideas with obvious Stalinist links. In addition, Pavlova says, there has been “a new wave of calls for modernization ‘from above’ not only by the so-called patriots but also by liberals close to the powers that be.” And “some of these,” she continues, have proposed that “Vladimir Putin” is uniquely prepared to “head up this modernization.”

But what is most important and what sets Russia part from the other authoritarian regimes that Zakaria has been talking about is a broader set of ideological themes Putin and his colleagues have been using to “strengthen in the consciousness of the majority of Russians a view of what [the nature of the state in Russia] must be like.”
That view rests on the idea that “the greatness of the country can be guaranteed only by a strong centralized power, in fact a dictatorship, and that only such a power can arrange things” so that Russia can develop as a powerful state and keep its enemies at bay “’in a state of fear,’” as Stalin himself observed.

In Pavlova’s view, the Russian powers that be have gone so far in the direction of “officially elevating Stalin to the rank of a model state ruler for Russia,” that is it time to place one’s bets on whether his rehabilitation will take place on the late dictator’s 130th birthday (December 21st) or on the 65th anniversary of Victory Day (next May 9th). As she points out, “strictly speaking, Stalin’s policy was never condemned at the state level.” Instead, Khrushchev and others denounced “the cult of personality,” rather than the man himself. And that lack of a clear finding of Stalin as a criminal is allowing the current Russian leadership to exploit his image as the creator of “Victory” and of Russia as “a Great Power.” Pavlova argues that the return of Stalin in this way grows out of the failure of the policies of Putin and Medvedev. It shows that they have absolutely no idea of how to transform Russia into a contemporary state and society and so are reviving elements of a past they believe was effective.

Obviously, she continues, the copy will not be the same as the original. Stalin and his entourage had no experience with or ideas about television and the Internet and thus “could not imagine how possible it is to disorient society by means of PR-technologies,” opening the way for the instillation of fear “without mass repressions.” But such differences, however much some may hope otherwise, do not change “the essence of what is taking place,” the Grani.ru commentator points out. “The main failure in the policies of the present powers that be related to economics. They of course unbelievably enriched themselves but they couldn’t force the country to develop.” As even Medvedev has noted, as long as the oil money was flowing “like a river, the country continued to live on the Soviet inheritance and the country’s raw material riches. Roads were not built, heating and electrical networks were not renewed, and industry was not diversified.”

Russia, of course, could go in another direction by creating “the conditions for normal private entrepreneurial activity,” Pavlova says. But if those conditions were created, neither Putin nor Medvedev would be able to survive in office, however much both of them talks about the need for creating the kind of law-based state that might make the situation better. And because that is the case, she concludes, Russia appears at risk of suffering another bout of the kind of vicious and violent authoritarianism Stalin practiced, a form of modernization that may look impressive to some but that is certain to prove after enormous suffering just as defective and doomed as the model on which it is based.

9 responses to “Putin’s Neo-Stalinist State

  1. Ukraine is Escaping the Past but Russia is Not, Moscow Analyst Says

    September 10, 2009

    Paul Goble

    Russia remains trapped in the grip of a desire to build “a new empire,” but “the chances for the realization of this project are not simply small. They are equal to zero. They do not exist.” Russia could play a role if it was willing to accept the status of a junior partner to the US, Europe or China, but Russians are not prepared to do this.

    They are not prepared to give up their “messianic goals” or to recognize that Europe has moved beyond zero-sum politics, in which there are clear winners and losers, into a system in which all participants must take away something positive. Russians remain convinced that any victory for them requires a defeat for others, and vice versa.

    Moscow has “bought Schroeder, made friends with Berlusconi, purchased wholesale and retail experts and politicians in Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the United States.” But this has not brought Russia happiness, because Russia is not in a position to achieve its messianic goal of a new empire.

    This then, Yakovenko argues, is “the main distinction of Russia and Ukraine.” Russia continues to think that it is an empire, to celebrate its size and power as the main things. But Ukraine is rapidly moving toward an acceptance of the reality that it is a second-tier country that must cooperate with others in a European fashion in order to survive and flourish.


    • So, the third Rome idea is alive and well

    • I agree wholeheartedly with conclusions about modern leadership of Russia here, but what’s the deal with Ukraine? Ukraine never had an empire (to bait you – hardly even a state! :)),
      how would it dream of restoring it? I’t pretty clear why Ukraine doesn’t.
      It’s too bad modern Russia cannot do away with imperial ambitions like Sweden in 18th century :)

  2. Sergey Shelukhin ,
    ” Ukraine never had an empire …” And what
    would you call Kyevan Rus ? A principality ?
    This when Moscovy was living in mud huts
    and praying to tree stumps . And don’t try to
    perpetuate the usual lie of Moscovia’s “common”
    history with Ukraine . This myth , once possible ,
    looks sorely ridiculous now , and will become
    even more ridiculous with time when all the
    moscovite misinformation garbage is swept away .
    Ukraine regained her independance , killing
    the imperialistic ambitions of Moscovia in the
    process . Without Ukraine , Moscovia can never
    hope to be an empire .
    Moreover , Moscow will loose ( is already
    loosing ) the Caucasus , and then parts of cen tral Asia and eventually Siberia ( to China ) .
    The remainder will be some empire !

    The reason Ukraine has no imperialistic
    ambitions is not that it never was an empire ,
    you retard , but because it was always a
    democracy in total contrast to moscovites
    who were always herded by their conquerors ;
    mongols , tatars etc . , and to this day have no
    concept of democracy .

    • *sigh* Kievan Rus’ was a set of principalities, next most important of which was Novgorod, and one of the iother important ones Suzdal and Vladimir.
      The vision of Kievan Rus you and Ukrainian leadership espouse is pure propaganda, and strangely contradicts mainstream Western view too.

      Moreover, Kievan Rus’, whoever history it belongs to most, was never an empire, much less a colonial empire like Russian , British , French , etc.
      There’s a more-or-less formal distinction between states that were and were not empires. You cannot even grasp that concept.

  3. Hi Oleksander,

    Perhaps sergy can explain why UKRAINIAN LITURATURE was banned by the kremlin before the MOSKALI had a written GRAMMER?

    >> 1720. Peter I’s ukase banning the publication and printing of books in Ukrainian.

    It began centuries earlier when Peter the First – I will not call him Great – decided to create an Empire by inventing the Myth of Russia. In order to turn his frozen back woods outposts into a credible empire, he needed a history, and a church to bless it.

    Ukraine had all that — so he conquered it. Ukrainian history became Russian history. The head of the Ukrainian Church was arrested, marched off to Moscow and declared to be to head of the Russian Church. Suddenly, Russia had an empire, a history and a church to bless it all.

    The only problem was those pesky Ukrainians who just wouldn’t cooperate and become Russian. That began a centuries long effort by Russia to destroy the Ukrainian nation and Ukrainian national identity.

    >> 1722 When the Austrian monarchy made Galicia a province in 1772, Habsburg officials ***REALIZED*** that the local East Slavic ***PEOPLE WERE DISTINCT*** from BOTH Poles AND Russians. Their own name for themselves, Rusyny, was similar in sound to the German term for Russians, Russen. Austria ADOPTED the ethnonym Ruthenen (Ruthenians), and continued to use it officially until the empire fell apart in 1918.

    Some 200 years ago and times prior to that, Ukrainians were usually referred to and known as rusyny (Ukrainian: русини, commonly translated as Ruthenians).

    >> 1740’s The first Grammar of Russian Language was written by Vasily Adodurov in the 1740s, and a more influential one, by Mikhail Lomonosov in 1755.

    • What a magnificient idiot you are? Where are your sources? Church has moved to Vladimir before Kievan Rus’ even fell.
      History of the state of Ukraine starts in 1654 with bandits who warred with Poland and Russia. Period.
      Show me any trace between Kievan Rus and the bandits? There’s none or almost none. Kievan Rus’ legacy went to Vladimir, and than to Moscow.

  4. The Retreat of the Tongue of the Czars

    FIRST LESSONS A French children’s book published in Ukrainian, not Russian.

    Published: September 12, 2009

    But with the language in retreat, there are unlikely to be many future Angela Merkels. For the Kremlin, could there be a more bitter reminder of how history has turned than the sight of young Estonians or Georgians or Uzbeks (not to mention Czechs or Hungarians) flocking to classes in English instead of Russian?

    “The drop in Russian language usage is a great blow to Moscow, in the economic and social spheres, and many other respects,” said Aleksei V. Vorontsov, chairman of the sociology department at the Herzen State Pedagogical University in St. Petersburg. “It has severed links, and made Russia more isolated.”

    Russian seems to be faring more poorly than other colonial languages because the countries that had to absorb it have a more cohesive sense of national identity and are now rallying around their native languages to assert their sovereignty.

    Russian is one of the few major languages to be losing speakers, and by rough estimates, that total will fall to 150 million by 2025, from 300 million in 1990, a year before the Soviet collapse. It will probably remain one of the 10 most popular languages, but barely. Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Arabic and Hindi head the list.

    The situation has not been helped by the demographic crisis in Russia itself, which is expected to shed as much as 20 percent of its population by 2050.

    The fall in Russian speakers has not been uniform across the former Soviet Union, and Russian officials praise former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan where Russian is embraced.

    But countries that felt subjugated by Soviet power, like the Baltic States, have taken vengeance by mandating knowledge of the native language to obtain citizenship or other benefits. (As a correspondent in the former Soviet Union, I find that in some countries, I can often speak Russian with people older than 40 and English with those younger.)

    The dispute is vitriolic in Ukraine, especially here on the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea, a former Russian territory where about 60 percent of the population of two million is ethnic Russian and others also speak Russian as a first language. Many residents here would prefer that Russia reclaim Crimea.

    Ukraine’s pro-Western president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, indicated this month that a deepening understanding of the Ukrainian language is one key to keeping Moscow at bay. “With our native language, we preserve our culture,” Mr. Yushchenko told the German magazine Spiegel. “That greatly contributes to preserving our independence. If a nation loses its language, it loses its memory, its history and its identity.”

    The policies in Ukraine, the Baltics and other countries have often drawn the ire of not only the Kremlin, but also local Russian speakers.


  5. Les ,
    It is both encouraging and gratifying to find
    someone as knowledgeable and intelligent as
    you concerning the difficulties Ukraine and
    Ukrainians had to endure these many years
    from the moscovites . It is not an overstatement
    to say that no nation on earth was under as much
    pressure and sacrificed as much in human lives
    and resources as has Ukraine at the hands of
    the moscovites . Yet , the strenght of the human
    spirit , ever striving for liberty is incalculable
    and beyond the comprehension of creatures
    that respond only to force and terror . Famine ,
    slavery and mass murder follow everywhere
    the moscovite sets his rag bound foot . But
    Ukraine is living proof that the human spirit is
    indomitable . The horrible price was not in vain,
    Ukraine IS free !
    Yes , there are still huge problems ; with language , dissent , even some outright sabotege
    against anything Ukrainian , but it is the result
    of moscovites and their descendants who were
    brought from Moscovy to take the place of
    murdered and exiled Ukrainians . These fifth
    columnists , with the full support of Moscow ,
    are doing everything in their power to derail
    the process of restoring and healing the Ukrainian nation . However , while they can
    present certain obstacles and even slow the
    process down , they are powerless to prevent the inevitable ! Armed conflict is not an option
    because this , more than anything else , would
    serve as a calyst to unite the Ukrainians and that is the last thing the moscovites want .
    If anyone questions this theory , just look what
    happened in 2004 , when Moscow stuck it’s
    ugly head into the Ukrainian election process ,
    and again in 2008 when they cut off the gas
    supply .

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