Sunday, March 26, 2017

By Seeking Only to Preserve Power, Putin Regime Undermining Basis for That, Pastukhov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 24 – The Putin regime seeks to “freeze Russian society” in its current state in order to preserve the power of the regime, but even while adopting that line, the Kremlin has in fact been promoting revolutionary change and hence bringing its own replacement ever closer, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.

            Writing in Novaya gazeta, the University College of London Russian historian points out that “Russian society entered the Putin era as one thing and will come out of it completely different,” not as a result of hostile forces but “as a result of the objective laws of history” that Russia can’t easily violate (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/03/22/71873-doktrina-sechina).

            The “neo-totalitarian system of present-day Russia” strikes many as something inspiring or terrifying, he continues; but in fact, it is “internally unstable, a ‘political isotope’ with a quite short in historical terms half-life” consisting of “two components: state capitalism and a police state.”

            These two elements, of course, will recombine at some point because “the political cycle in Russia consists of three main phases: a rapid rise upward, a sharp fall, and a long drifting period in seeking” new goals. Students of Russian history focus primarily on the first two of these three stages; but the third plays a key role and deserves more attention, especially now.

            Given Russia’s tradition of despotism, a police state in fact represents progress, a kind of “’orbital station’” from which there can be “future flights into a distant ‘liberal cosmos’” where the country has never been before. Twice in the 20th century, Russia tried to jump over this step, only to fall back into totalitarianism under Stalin and neo-totalitarianism under Putin.

            According to Pastukhov, “Soviet Russia needed a few more than 30 years, if one counts from 1953, to transform itself from an ‘extraordinary’ state into a more or less ‘regular’ one.” But then perestroika intervened with its attempt to jump further forward than Russia had the capacity to go. A decade from now, he says, Russia will pass 30 years from perestroika.

            What is occurring now, he says, is “a phased transition’ within the post-communist cycle, from ‘counter-revolution’ to ‘regularity,’” a development conditioned “by the evolution of oligarchic capitalism which arose from the barbaric privatization of the 1990s and completely degenerated in the course of the no less barbaric nationalization of the 2000s.”

            For a quarter of a century of post-communist Russian history, Pastukhov says, the country has developed within “a narrow corridor of possibilities set by ‘black privatization’ and ‘gray nationalization.’” But the negative consequences of the former are as nothing compared to the negative consequences of the latter.

            No one planned for oligarchic capitalism: it simply arose as a result of the way in which privatization was carried out and “with the complete absence” of even an attempt to create a civil society that could contain it.  Not only did that lead to extreme gaps between the richest one percent and the impoverishment of the others, but it was completely ineffective economically.

            And it had another consequence, Pastukhov says, that the country still is coping with: the fusion of the former Soviet nomenklatura which was the chief beneficiary of the wild privatization with the criminal world. That led to the crises of 1996 and 1998 and almost to a revolutionary situation in the latter year.

            “Theoretically,” the historian continues, Russia has two ways out: the elimination of oligarch capitalism altogether and the optimization of it. The first, however, was precluded by the fact that the oligarch had achieved complete control of the country. When Putin came to power, he could only pursue optimization then not elimination. 

            What he proceeded to do was to transform the oligarchic system into a “state-oligarchic one in which the bureaucracy (the nomenklatura) became an equal participant of oligarchic rule. The influence of the old post-communist ‘boyars’ weakened; that of the new post-communist ‘nobility’ rose.”

            Putin’s reorganization “was conducted in the interests of the oligarchy as a class but harmed the selfish interests of particular oligarchs. Some of them really suffered,” Pastukhov says, “but the oligarchy as a whole only won as a result of these transformations.” And taking advantage of oil money, Putin also boosted the standard of living of the population.

            The popular memory of that remains “up to the present the main political capital and most reliable support of the political security of the regime. Everything, however, has its price;” and this course of events did as well.

            Putin began like many “Russian ‘autocrats’” as a reformer, but he quickly shifted to what is now known as the Sechin Doctrine in which the supremacy of the state takes precedence over everything else.  That became clear after the “gray” nationalization following the economic crisis of 2008-2009.

            Putin was able to achieve his ends through the use of state entities of various kinds, “but having resolved one problem, the powers gave birth to another still more serious one.” That is, they promoted the rise of “’favoritism’” in which closeness to the throne was the foundation of all power and wealth and in which corruption became all-embracing.

            “The trigger for a new revolutionary situation became the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2011-2012, but its real causes were in no way connected with the elections.” The protests in Russia at that time appeared similar to the Maidan in Ukraine in 2013-2014, “a sharp reaction of society to the corrupt-criminal degeneration of the powers that be.”

            “However, the results of these manifestations turned out to be completely different: if in Ukraine took place ‘a revolution from below,’ in Russia what occurred was ‘a counter-revolution from above.”  And the latter has proved despite the assessments of many far more dramatic in its consequences than the former.

            What happened in Russia in 2014-2015 was not conceived as a counter-revolution.  That is because “a counter-revolution is also a revolution.” And that is something the regime didn’t want to happen. It sought to promote “the preservation of the regime by changing its nature” in ways few noticed.

            This counter-revolution “achieved its final goals in two stages: in the first, it carried out the mobilization of society in order to put down a revolution and in the second without much noise it realized a significant part of the tasks of the revolution which did not occur,” the Russian historian says.

            “The main news of ‘the Russian spring’ was not the return of Crimea.” Instead, it was “the change in relations between the powers and the elites.”  Before that time, the powers in the Kremlin and the nomenklatura oligarchy were partners; after it, the latter were reduced to servants of the former.

            That occurred, Pastukhov says, because “state oligarchic capitalism degenerated into a military-oligarchic form,” one in which no one is safe regardless of his personal ties and in which “the machine of terror” just like in 1937 “has begun to work on automatic pilot” rather than requiring constant guidance.

            “In this system,” he continues, “there are no lords; instead all are slaves, all are equal in their lack of rights but not all yet recognize this.” Indeed, “if revolutions devour their children, then counter-revolutions devour their beneficiaries.” But military-oligarchic capitalist has no beneficiaries besides the system itself.

            Now, Pastukhov suggests, the agenda calls for “simply state capitalism in which both the oligarch and the favorites will be just like everyone else, deprived of political and even economic rights but which the power permits at least for now to be rich.”

            “The political superstructure over state capitalism is a police state, regular, universal but not free. This state is hostile to the oligarchs and favorites just like any other ‘unregulated’ forces.’”  Given that, “the last phase of the development of state-oligarchic capitalism promises to be very stormy.”

            But out of this conflict is likely to arise a police state in the usual sense, something much better than a despotism because it contains within itself “some not bad chances for the further evolution into something more free with the help of the next Russian ‘perestroika,’ a revolution from above.”

            This process won’t be “very romantic or very quick” but it is promising at least compared to Russia’s past over the last century.  And it is entirely possible that “a third ‘perestroika’” will prove to be much more successful than the earlier two. Of course, no one knows when this will happen, but a good guess would be in 2025, 40 years after the first was put in place.  

Novel Ascribed to Surkov Describes Putin’s Departure from Office in Ruined Russia of 2024



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – A new novel, entitled Ultra-Normalcy, that posits the overthrow of Vladimir Putin in a ruined Russia of 2024, is being ascribed, despite his denials, to Vladislav Surkov, the gray cardinal of the Kremlin, and consequently is being discussed not just as a work of fiction but as an indication of how those in the Putin regime see things developing.

            The book, released this month, is nominally authored by Natan Dubovitsky, who many believe, as Valery Bereznev points out in a review essay for Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, is simply a nom de plum of Surkov, despite Surkov’s denial and even, albeit without any public appearance, Dubotsky’s (business-gazeta.ru/article/340964).

            Told in the form of recovered memory by someone who has suffered a fever, the novel is set in Moscow in 2025. The year before that “was rich in events,” its narrator says. “We took second place in the summer Olympics in New Orleans, the first manned mission to the moon was sent off, the earth’s population reached eight billion, and Kazakhstan prepared to shift to the Latin script.”

            As for Russia, “we were already preparing to choose a president. Together with the old leader, an entire era of achievements, failures, and unachieved new horizons passed from the scene. Already no one remembered his coming to power … the situation the country was in then and with what he had to struggle.”

            “The presidential campaign had still not begun, but broadsides and banners, which formed public opinion were on display everywhere. It seemed that if they hadn’t been printed and the money that went for them had been put into the economy, there could have been a doubling of GDP.”

            “Gradually,” the narrator comes ot understand that a conspiracy has been formed by “a group of people who want to create ‘an alternative language’ in order that by means of this … they will be able to seize power in the country. And then [the narrator, Fedor Streltsov] decides [in his dream memory] to unmask this conspiracy.”

                The entire country, he says, is in terrible shape, whether from sanctions or some national decision is unclear. Its landscrape in 2024 “recalls ruins with rats living among them. People are burning fires directly on the streets” to heat their food, and “youthful bands are passing through Moscow attacking passers by.”

            And Russia’s government also looks to be in disarray. The president, here called “the Dragon” is “’a short man of unimposing visage.’ The result which the state had achieved over the 24 years of his rule was the collapse of the economy, a rise in banditry” and an angry and hostile population.

            “For this situation, of course, not only Dragon but also his ruling Conservative Party of the Center,” a group most readers will equate to United Russia just as they will see the Dragon being a standin name for Putin. The opposition leader, Nikita Vorotilov, looks suspicious like Aleksey Navalny, who supposedly welcomes “the disappearance of the state.”

            “If the author of the novel is now working as an aide to the president,” Bereznev says, “this means only one thing: Russia from the windows of the Kremlin looks exactly that way.” And the future is troubled: the Dragon is forced out, “giving way to a conspiracy of the elites and the anger of the streeets.” But his departure doesn’t make “’tomorrow’” better.

            “The matrix of the Kyivan ‘Euromaidan’ works also in Russia,” Bereznev continues, “but the energy of collapse and the dehumanization of the country are a thousand times more powerful than was the case in Ukraine in 2014.”  But the primary message of the novel, regardless of who wrote it, is that “the Dragon can leave!”

            Because that is the case, the Business-Gazeta journalist says, “even though the book is finished and published, its history is only beginning to be written. And who knows what they will write about it in the literary encyclopedia of the future: a mystification or a prophecy” of where Russia is really heading?

North Caucasians Refuse to Take Part in Miss Russia Competition



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – Although they have taken part in Russian beauty contests in the past, no young women from the North Caucasus will participate in the Miss Russia competition this year after leaders of some regional organizations suggested that such beauty contests required those taking part to violate the principles of North Caucasian religion and culture.

            The leaders of the campaign against the participation of North Caucasians in the Miss Russia competition are celebrating what they say is the continuing strength of “public censure” in their societies as a means of maintaining social order. They are certainly correct, but there are at least two more implications of what may seem to many as a marginal issue.

            On the one hand, this outcome shows just how divided the North Caucasus is from the rest of the Russian Federation and may even be an indication that those divisions are deepening. And on the other, it underscores the fact that even in beauty competitions, the creation of any common civic Russian identity almost certainly is doomed to failure.
            According to Larisa Tikhonova, the director of the Miss Russia pageant, North Caucasian women, although they participated last year, won’t this year as a result of the negative reaction of their countrymen in social networks (newsru.com/russia/24mar2017/miss.html and kavkazr.com/a/miss-rossii-vs-mnogonatsionalnost/28388282.html).
            Sultan Togonidze, president of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus, explained the situation by saying that “each chooses how to express and position himself or herself. But this concerns the personal life of the individual.” Women from our regions should not take part where they must dress improperly (onkavkaz.com/blogs/666-rossiiskii-kongress-narodov-kavkaza-osudil-uchastie-kavkazskih-devushek-v-konkurse-miss-rossija.html).
            “Today,” he continued, “we can confidently declare that the institution of social shaming has still not disappeared for us as a mechanism for regulating behavior in the traditional and cultural sphere” (nazaccent.ru/content/23558-rknk-o-miss-rossiya-institut-obshestvennogo.html and nazaccent.ru/content/23552-devushki-s-severnogo-kavkaza-ne-budut.html).
            He noted that his organization had taken action against participation in last year’s competition by sending letters to the regional culture ministries asking for clarification of whether the women involved were representing themselves or their republic.  But this year, he pointed out, the effort had attracted the support of many bloggers and web surfers.
            Beauty contests have become political issues in many countries but in none more than Russia. Until 1989, the Miss Russia one took place only among emigres. Then, the event was re-imported to become briefly the Miss USSR competition. Two years later, it became Miss Russia, and as of last year, it was taken over by the Russian culture ministry.
            The finals of the competition this year will take place on April 15, with the winner gaining the right to represent the Russian Federation at the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions later this year.