How the remnants of totalitarian legacy formed Putin’s Russia
Weeks of the Russo-Ukrainian war revealed to the world the true face of Russia, Putinism, and Russian society. “Russian civilization”, “Russian system” and “Russian soul” — concepts once glorified with the most refined epithets — proved to be anti-civilization, anti-system, and devilish gloom caught in the human-like shells. One of the latest videos, where a Russian tank turns an unarmed elderly resident of Mariupol into biological dust with precision shot, showed the world almost absolute evil in its purest form. Evil without any admixtures of civilization, humanism, and sentiments.
For the world, existing behind a smokescreen set by the Russian classics’ stereotypes and concepts, it was a discovery, with which the consciousness of the Western leaders was able to cope only by the end of the second week of the so-called “special operation”. Only by the third week of watching previously unseen atrocities online, the global community started to reject Russian soft power that Moscow spent so much effort to strengthen, as some garbage. The word “Russia” and “russians” began to be written in the West – against the grammatical rules – in lower case, thus declaring their (Russians) non-belonging to the circle of civilized states and nations.
“Russian civilization”, “Russian system” and “Russian soul” — concepts once glorified with the most refined epithets — proved to be anti-civilization, anti-system, and devilish gloom caught in the human-like shells
Meanwhile, in Russia, the people, who for centuries have been credited with boundless sentimentality, humanity, and truthfulness, are cynically and indifferently watching not only the actual genocide of Ukrainians that takes the most infernal forms; they also observe a mass extermination of the Russian “liberators”, their own flesh and blood. Indifference to inhuman suffering and readiness to be part of the destruction machine used against the whole nation under fictitious ignorant pretexts testified this: the population of the Russian Federation is in an altered state of consciousness.
The world now has the opportunity to observe what a totalitarian society is and what a mortal threat it poses to the world under a magnifying glass. A large-scale historical reconstruction under the slogan “We can do it again” (a modern extremely popular with the Russians saying (rus. Можем повторить!) testifying to the prevailing desire amongst the Russians to start and win another World War) plunged the Russians into their dark, but not that distant past. It is the third time over the last century that the installation of totalitarian elements at both institutional and mental levels takes place in Russia, which also signifies the catastrophic deformation of the basic principles of state and nation-building.
“The cult of personality” is not the main thing that characterizes the Stalinist regime. This is nothing more than a common saying first used by Khrushchev. The most terrible thing about Stalinism is not the glorification of the dictator, but the terror and falsifications that are the essence of his policy,” said historian Robert Conquest shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. From today’s point of view, the most terrible thing about Stalinism is its destructive influence on the basic values of society, mass dysplasia of consciousness, manifested in the mimicry of ordinary people, as well as the transformation of entire professional groups into predators, who worked for Bolshevik terror physically and ideologically – in the Chekist torture chambers, in the Soviet press, and in the Soviet school. Metaphorically speaking, it’s about the surgical removal of God’s image from homo sovieticus and its transformation into a special social individual, which was reproduced and, unfortunately, continues to do so in the context of antihumanism. This, in fact, was the most disastrous consequence of Stalinism remnants.
Unlike Ukraine, Russia never took any actions to understand totalitarian traumas and mass involvement of the population in totalitarian practices, which would define the responsibility of almost everyone for the tragedies caused by totalitarianism
Unlike Ukraine, Russia never took any actions to understand totalitarian traumas and mass involvement of the population in totalitarian practices, which would define the responsibility of almost everyone for the tragedies caused by totalitarianism. At first, however, there were feeble attempts to comprehend and give a legal assessment of Stalinism. Intellectual fermentation in the stratum of the monolithic Soviet population began during the “Khrushchev thaw” and the short-lived destalinization of the state apparatus, launched by the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Then, as Anna Akhmatova noted, there were two Russias looking into each other’s eyes: the prosecutor and the perpetrator. The metaphor of the great poetess did not reflect the full depth of the catastrophe faced by the repressed country, which, after leaving the camps, received neither the opportunities for full rehabilitation nor compensation for moral and material damage. Due to the unwillingness of the CPSU to discredit the communist idea as such, the state and the population were forced to exist within the framework of selective historical amnesia, with the victims remaining life-long pariahs (with few exceptions).
Several generations the communist-Bolshevik terror victims faced their executioners every day. Dissidents, political emigrants, and the anti-Soviet intellectual underground movement were meant to reproduce themselves in an algorithm that was distorted from the onset. Regardless of the preserved eye-contact between the two aforementioned Russias, they tended to pretend like nothing happened. The state that raped the society did not bother to go any further than a partial sentences review, another portion of “shot-gun” criminal cases, and keeping the real scale of the catastrophe under its hat. The victims did not receive any apologies. Several decades of status quo, when the Soviet state ignored its own crimes and its victims were forced to remain silent about them, prolonged the system’s existence, but failed to give it vitality. In fact, the large-scale state terror of Stalin’s time turned the USSR into a living corpse. The abscess broke out during the so-called “perestroika”. The policy of publicity, seen by Kremlin leaders as an instrument of controlled renewal, modernization and liberalization of the Soviet system, became an uncontrollable instrument of destroying the ossified lies of the “Short Course of the CPSU (b)”. Then, it took on the ideological superstructure of the USSR, and later — on the USSR itself.
The discovery of the simple fact that almost the entire history of the USSR is a forgery – in fact, it is the history of the CPSU, and not that of the country and the peoples who inhabit it – worked as a detonator. According to the British journalist Charles Clover, “there was an unquenchable thirst for alternative history in Soviet society, a search for those very national roots that the Communist Party had tried so hard to eradicate.” In the allied USSR, the process of so-called national revival was growing rapidly, and it didn’t escape Ukraine. Its scale has actually amazed and revealed to the world previously unknown or simply ignored “fraternal republics”, whose images, history, hopes, and cultural codes happened to be very different from those established in Soviet discourse and mass consciousness. The world did not hesitate to recognize the authenticity of the Baltic republics and did not deny the peculiarities of the former Asian satellites of the USSR.
It wasn’t the same with Belarus and Ukraine, where everything turned out to be even more complicated. In general, the position of the West was generalized by the concept of “Russia first”, which not only gave Russia priority among the post-Soviet states, but also did not identify Ukraine as a separate entity for a long time. Meanwhile, in Russia itself, the sovereignty of Ukraine, its increasingly independent policy, the removal of the national narrative from the canons of Russian historiography, and other changes were perceived as a stingy, but temporary incident. The concept of Ukraine’s and Belarus’ artificial sovereignty – of it being a “gift” from Russia – was extremely deeply rooted not only in the minds of Moscow politicians but also in the broadest circles of Russian intellectuals. They did not realize that it was not the sovereignty of these peoples that was artificial but their own ideas about the nature of this sovereignty, as well as the Bolsheviks’ reasoning behind accepting it back in 1920. Chauvinistic ideas, widespread among the metropolis population, were the result of the hard work of several generations of historians and philosophers, who fit all Soviet socio-humanitarianism under the Procrustean bed called “Short Course of the History of the CPSU (b)”. Becoming the political successor of the USSR and the Russian Empire, Russia inherited and “creatively remelted” their historiographical and historiosophical heritage.
With the strengthening of national forces in the post-Soviet territory in the background, Russia became more and more obvious as an exception: Russian nationalism was gaining a chauvinistic flavor. As in the days of the collapse of the Russian Empire, resentment has become a leading trend among so-called elites, who have tried to build a roadmap for Russia and Russians on the ruins of Marxist-Leninist ideology, using the meanings and conceptual models of previous epochs. Moreover, immersion in a fictional majestic past eliminated the prospect of the future for the Russians and all those who somehow had the misfortune to fall into the zone of Moscow’s geopolitical interests. Russia was present in all the “hot spots” of the world, and in unrecognized — read, occupied by Russia — territories. (It’s only recently that the UN has decided to apply an adequate definition to Transnistria). In fact, the current problems in the countries under ideological dictatorship and economic protectorate of the USSR, and later its successors, were a projection of the Cold War — the result of deep necrosis of the USSR’s mental body, which poisons not only Ukraine but also the modern world, depriving it of the ability to move into the future. The USSR may seem to have “died”, but the bearers of its mental heritage are alive and continue to poison the world.
In general, the position of the West was generalized by the concept of “Russia first”, which not only gave Russia priority among the post-Soviet states, but also did not identify Ukraine as a separate entity for a long time. Meanwhile, in Russia itself, the sovereignty of Ukraine, its increasingly independent policy, the removal of the national narrative from the canons of Russian historiography, and other changes were perceived as a stingy, but temporary incident.
The infamous offensive during the five-day war with Georgia in 2008 catalyzed the renewal of the Russian army and the intensification of its propaganda. Foreign policy has undergone profound changes, too. Militarization has become a leading trend in Russia’s political development, which the world community has long preferred not to “notice.” Russian economist Andrei Illarionov, a former adviser to the Kremlin’s host, wrote this: “There’s hardly been a year without what you call “escalation” that led to human casualties, huge human casualties.”
Putin’s rule has indeed been marked by the active participation of Russia, its special contingents or “volunteers” in a number of local conflicts, which, to some extent, have been about confrontation of the systems. This led not only to the conceptual and semantic formalization of Russian diplomacy and the state’s foreign policy doctrine. Responsible for state security (read, regime security) and adherence to the ruling circles’ domestic and foreign policy interests, the power vertical has grown significantly and undergone mutations. Under Putin, the secret services have become the backbone of the system.
Deep necrosis of the USSR’s mental body, which poisons not only Ukraine but also the modern world, depriving it of the ability to move into the future. The USSR may seem to have “died”, but the bearers of its mental heritage are alive and continue to poison the world
A side effect of this, as in Stalin’s time, was the assertion of double standards and double morals: for domestic use and for the “broad masses.” Constant negative mobilization has caused significant changes within Russian society: it is in this context that a whole generation of “conscripts” (neo-Cossacks and Chechen militants, “volunteers” of all political persuasions, eventually PMC-like Wagner) was “custom-created” to be used later for mass terror. Simultaneously with the resumption of power and the expansion of the power bloc’s efforts, a slow Stalinization began, soon followed by the victorious march of Stalinism in the mental space of Putin’s Russia. In as little as 15 years, Russia jumped from the painful search for a man in the “sovok” shell (once studied by culture and the humanities) to the mass indifference to the suffering of ancestors, and finally — to the recognition of Joseph Stalin’s recognition “an effective manager.”
In as little as 15 years, Russia jumped from the painful search for a man in the “sovok” shell (once studied by culture and the humanities) to the mass indifference to the suffering of ancestors, and finally — to the recognition of Joseph Stalin’s recognition “an effective manager.”
The intervention of the Russian Federation into the Ukrainian Crisis in winter 2013-2014, which ended up in an annexed Crimea and the start of the so-called hybrid war in Donbas, was a vivid illustration of the threats, outlined in the trend above. Distracting maneuvers in Syria have strengthened Russia’s geopolitical position, and funding left and right-wing radicals in Europe and interfering in election campaigns has given it the status of a global systemic destabilizer. Since then, the Kremlin has only raised the stakes. The controlled media became a means of mass infection with Russian esoteric fascism, which turned the audience into an army of bloodthirsty zombies. And it was this army that was seen by Moscow as a decisive argument in the geopolitical battle.
Under the “umbrella” of restrictive measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, Putinism completed the institutional installation of totalitarianism in Russia. The attack on Ukraine, the accompanying rhetoric, and the outright criminal, inhumane methods of conducting a “special operation” have demonstrated Russia’s transformation from a destabilizing country to a terrorist country that threatens not only Ukraine but the whole world. The “political bulimia” (as Norman Davis put it) of post-Soviet Russia eventually led to “indigestion.” This country has fallen from reality into the virtual world of self-created stigmas, stereotypes, fears, and ideologies. Geopolitical abscess broke.
The attack on Ukraine, the accompanying rhetoric, and the outright criminal, inhumane methods of conducting a “special operation” have demonstrated Russia’s transformation from a destabilizing country to a terrorist country that threatens not only Ukraine but the whole world.
In May 2021, the five most prominent historical figures in the Russian vision were as follows: Stalin (39%), Lenin (30%), Pushkin (23%), Peter I (19%), and Putin (15%) (data provided by the Levada-center). It is worth noting that despite an almost two-fold decline in Putin’s personal rating compared to 2017, the level of sympathy for Stalin has remained the same since 2012. At the same time, Russian sociologists noted the “growing aggression” of the Russian population against the background of the crisis and pre-apocalyptic expectations of Russians, who matured in the period of the coronavirus crisis and political drift of the system. Catastrophic changes in the stratum of Russian society were obvious to everyone, but only few were able to express them publicly. In the interpretation of court spokesmen like Vladislav Surkov and Gleb Pavlovsky, the rising thirst for Ukrainian blood turned either into a physically conditioned desire for expansion or into a painful relationship between the twins. Blasphemous calls for bombing of Kyiv — a place considered sacred for the “Russian world” (especially the Sophia of Kyiv Cathedral), the heart of Baptization of Rus – as well as dreams of tank parades on Khreshchatyk — with no less obvious allusions to Soviet and Nazi parades — revealed the core essence of the “root nation”, which cannot be compared to the Horde, as it would otherwise be offensive to the latter.
In May 2021, the five most prominent historical figures in the Russian vision were as follows: Stalin (39%), Lenin (30%), Pushkin (23%), Peter I (19%), and Putin (15%) (data provided by the Levada-center)
The moral crater of Putin’s Russia, its infernal essence, has left the global community speechless. The statements of Western leaders that they still believe in the Russian people are now rather blurted out rather for-the-record only. It is clear that such “advances” are meaningless — and not only because of the extremely unconvincing anti-war movement in Russia. It is not only a matter of mass support for Putin’s aggression, but it’s also about a moral justification for Putinism. The point is that Russians en masse are in a changed state of consciousness and that they lack empathy. It is about the triumph of the anti-civilization of the Gulag and the imposition of the “bratva’s ponyatiya” (a code of conduct of the Russian criminal circles) as a new civilizational order. In this new reality of the “Russian world”, entire nations are being erased at the behest of the Russiist Führer, and disobedient peoples are being turned to nuclear ashes without any hesitation or remorse. At the same time, the “root nation” is content to remain silent, because silencing lies at the core of their will.
Russians en masse are in a changed state of consciousness and that they lack empathy. In this new reality of the “Russian world”, entire nations are being erased at the behest of the Russiist Führer, and disobedient peoples are being turned to nuclear ashes without any hesitation or remorse. At the same time, the “root nation” is content to remain silent, because silencing lies at the core of their will.
It is also about a total loss of human identity by millions of Russians and several million of their sympathizers scattered around the world. Purposefully created by propaganda, the “Soviet homeland” phantom played a cruel joke with Russia. The current cataclysm is nothing else but a direct consequence of the de-Stalinization of the state apparatus in the USSR and, accordingly, the absence of decommunization, lustration, and comprehension of the totalitarian past in Russia. These are reasons the Russian society has not experienced a spiritual catharsis that would overcome the mental consequences of totalitarianism. Due to the refusal to comprehend their own history, the totalitarian past, like cancer metastases, has grown into the present. With the help of manipulations of the mass consciousness, the state has become, as one of Russia’s public historians aptly described, “the Third Department and the KGB, equipped with the inventions of the free West.” If only totalitarianism was revived in Russia institutionally-only! But this is not how it works because the totalitarian regime and the totalitarian society are always inextricably linked.
The analysis of the profound transformations of the Russian mentality leaves no doubt that its unhealthy fixations — with the “Ukrainian question” being one of those — will not disappear. In fact, the genocidal practices used today by the Russian army in Ukraine are aimed at the “final solution” of the latter. The cultivated image of the Enemy, which is the source of insurmountable existential conflict, created cognitive dissonance in Russian masses — the mismatch between the picture of what should be and what actually is. Therefore, it’s impossible to suggest any expected way out of the systemic crisis, which entered the acute phase on February 24, 2022 — even with a complete and immediate ceasefire in effect.
Imperial arrogance is the basis for the constant revival of totalitarianism by the Russian state and Russian society, as well as the constant readiness to attack the principles of the world order, which ontologically is considered hostile. This circle will remain closed unless there is a global condemnation of Communist Bolshevism and its successor, russcism/putinism
Imperial arrogance is the basis for the constant revival of totalitarianism by the Russian state and Russian society, as well as the constant readiness to attack the principles of the world order, which ontologically is considered hostile. This circle will remain closed unless there is a global condemnation of Communist Bolshevism and its successor, russcism/putinism; awareness of the real, not fictional history of the Russian Federation; resetting the mental attitudes of the Russian people; atonement for crimes against humanity, against Ukraine and Ukrainians in particular. Otherwise, the remnants of the totalitarian past will inevitably “sprout” in future generations, turning Russians into beings devoid of basic human traits. For unpunished evil is eternal and omnivorous.