Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Stands before Abyss of a New Totalitarianism, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – Vladimir Putin’s “restorationist policy” is rapidly leading Russia to the abyss of a new totalitarianism, one in which political repression will spread across the entire society claiming ever new victims and ultimately Putin and his entourage as well, according to Vladimir Pastukhov, one of the most brilliant analysts of Russia writing today.

            In an article in today’s “Novaya gazeta,” Pastukhov, who teaches at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, argues that few in Russia now recognize “the tectonic shifts” which are taking place there, whose “power and significance” are so great that they threaten to effect the country more than anything since World War II (

            Most Russians think that Putin “will not go too far and [that] political repression will be localized,” Pastukhov says, and Russian elites do not recognize “the scale of what is happening with Russia,” the challenges what is going on poses, or “the deep meaning of what is taking place” around them at present.

            As a result, the Russian analyst continues, “those who are ready to live as under Pinochet may be extremely disappointed when they unexpectedly discover themselves living a under Mussolini or Stalin.”

            Tragically, “Russia is not separated from its terrible past by a Chinese wall,” he argues. “This past lives in it like a bacillus of the plague ready at any movement to break out” and reinfect society.” And that past does not point to the construction of a police state but of something worse, totalitarianism.

            “The Putin regime is not a police state,” Pastukhov says; it is much worse.  “A police state controls the behavior of the individual in the public sphere,” allowing him to do what he wants in private. A totalitarian state in contrast “does not recognize the division of public and private life and attempts to control an individual everywhere, always and in everything.”

            As a result, “an authoritarian state struggles with criminal (from its point of view) actions; a totalitarian one with the crime of thought itself. Thus, “the enemy of authoritarianism” is someone who is disloyal, [but] the enemy of totalitarianism is “simply anyoe who thinks on its own.” Anyone who thinks differently thus is viewed as a dissident.

            “The struggle with dissidence is the essence of the current policy” of the Kremlin, Pastukhov says. Those who view his approach simply as an effort to suppress the opposition are wrong. “In fact, his focus is not so much on the opposition as on society as a whole” and an effort to draw on the fears and aggressiveness of the population to impose conformity.

            Putin, Pastukkhov says, is the latest example of a long line of Russian Grand Inquisitors, of “’the engineer of human souls’” whoconducts “experimentson Russian consiciousness.” He needs such experiments “because if he is not able to push Russia into a coma, his regime will not survive” and thus “he is ready to go as far as circumstances require.”

            “History has clearly shown that to achieve unanimity and to put down dissidence is impossible without terror,” the Russian analyst says. Russia is thus “condemned to terror and even mass terror,” however few believe that because “the goals not only justify but predetermrine the means,” and Putin’s goal in this regard is clear.

            Terror, of course “is more than force and arbitrariness.”  It is “a system which does not have definite political limits and therefore gives birth to … fear.”  Under its conditions, “the need to think like others” disappears. Instead, “people themselves voluntarily and in a massive way refuse to think at all.”

            Under conditions of terror, “the population is transformed into human-like robots,” who will carry out particular tasks without reflecting upon them, Pastukhov says. “These are real zombies” like those in a film. But “for people born in the USSR,” such a phenomenon should be familiar.

            The chief problem with terror is that “no one can control it,” the analyst continues. “It is naïve to think that Putin or even more those around him” can do so. That is “just as mistaken as to suppose that Stalin ran the hellish machine he created.” For terror to work, it cannot be completely controlled. It “begins with enemies and ends with friends.”

            “Under conditions of terror, Russia will inevitably become a battlefield of numerous elite clans” who will in the end destroy themselves in “’battles without rules.’” A first glance might suggest that this is “a war of all against all,” but in fact, it is even more frightening: it opens the way for “a new class” even more unprincipled and cruel than the one in power.

            “From out of the provinces, from the very lowest levels of the feudal vertical that has been constructed arise terrible people” who make those they replace look like “aristocrats.” That is what happened under Stalin, and that is what is happening once again now under Putin.

            “It is naïve to suppose that Putin is someone who can direct the terror,” Pastukhov writes. “Terror is not an instrument of policy” in the usual sense but rather “a state of society, he argues. And consequently, Putin “is not so much the architect as the slave of ‘the new totalitarianism,” itself “the hysterical reaction of society to the deep crisis it has experienced.”

            Putin would need “enormous courage and a feeling of historical responsibility” not to go down this road, because “today’s ‘leap into the past’ is a movement along the path of least resistance” for the country as a whole.

Once that is recognized, the tasks of the Russian opposition can be seen as very different than its leaders imagine.  “Political opposition as such in the near future will be practically impossible” not so much because of repression but because under current conditions, “it will never become massive and thus will always remain marginal.”

“In this situation,” Pastukhov argues, the most important thing is “not so much political as spiritual opposition to the regime.” That means that “the opinion of prominent cultural figures and leaders of professional communities, of all those who are often called ‘the flower of the nation’ acquires particular significance.”

The Kremlin understands this very well, the analyst says, and that is why it is creating the All-Russian Popular Front, a group that is not about elections but rather “a mechanism of control and the neutralization of elites” in advance of the looming cataclysms.  If these cultural figures want to matter, they must become “a Resistance” to the Front rather than become part of it.

Even if they do, however, “there are few chances” that Russia will avoid this catastrophe.  But such chances nonetheless exist. “The new totalitarianism is distinguished from the old by two very important indicators.” On the one hand, the regime lacks “’a dominating idea’ without which” it will be difficult to organize society totally.

And on the other, because of the Internet and the ability of Russians to go abroad, “the new totalitarianism will have to be built” in the open rather than behind the scenes, Pastukhov argues.  That in turn “will essentially reduce the effectiveness of the repressive machine” and allow for more resistance by groups not “traditionally involved in politics.”

            But the ultimate irony is elsewhere,” the analyst says. “Putin mistakenly supposes that he is playing with Russian history … but in reality, he is playing ‘Russian roulette.’”  And “sooner or later,” the bullet he represents will hit not others but himself and the regime that he has been engagedin creating.

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