By Paul Goble
Many analysts and politicians have suggested that Russia is under great threat from the extreme Russian nationalist right either because they genuinely believe it or because it works to the advantage of Vladimir Putin who can thus present himself to the world as less dangerous than those who might take his place.
But Russian nationalists, especially in the wake of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, are divided and generally under the control of one or another parts of the power vertical. It is possible they could escape that control and threaten the regime, but the likelihood of that anytime soon seems relatively small.
One consequence of this focus on the nationalist right, Kseniya Kirillova argues, is that most observers have ignored what may be an even greater threat to the current powers that be in Russia: one from the left powered by people who’ve not adapted well to post-Soviet realities and are thus nostalgic for Soviet times (svoboda.org/content/article/27297269.html).
The Russian journalist who currently lives in San Francisco says the threat she is talking about does not come from the leadership of the KPRF, which remains quite loyal to the Kremlin, but rather “genuine convinced supporters of the rebirth of ‘a red project,” most of whom are quite young.
She points to three reasons for the emergence of this group as a threat to Putin. First, many Russians are “sincerely nostalgic for Soviet times” because then they received “a social package which did not depend on their personal efforts, abilities and achievements” and because they never fit in to a market economy.
Second, Kirillova continues, “the current authorities have not offered [such people] a model of the future.” The Kremlin has put out propaganda memes like “the Russian world” and “a special path of development,” but its supporters haven’t given them much “specific content.” Instead, they have idealized not the future but the past – and the past is the Soviet Union.
Third, the Soviet past, as Sergey Kara-Murza of the Center for the Study of Crisis Society, argues, “corresponds to “the deep cultural code of Russians and thus ‘Soviet’ and ‘Russian’ are in fact synonyms” in the minds of many. Others, like Vladimir Somov, have made similar points.
And fourth, the Kremlin has promoted such view of the Soviet system by “idealizing certain elements of the Soviet system in order to exploit images of the past, for strengthening the authoritarian political system and for justifying the growing ambitions of Vladimir Putin personally.”
Pro-Putin propagandists have sought to rehabilitate Stalin, the Cheka, and all those who in Soviet times sought to identify and destroy enemies foreign and domestic. Indeed, Kirillova says, the chief characteristics of the Soviet mentality have been revived with one exception – there has been no move to restore communist ideology.
As the followers of Sergey Kurginyan who are ready to come to Moscow with portraits of Stalin, any restoration of that ideology could threaten the regime because of its appeals to social justice and equality, two values at odds with those of Putin and his closest supporters in the regime.
So far, Kirillova argues, Putin has been able to operate without reviving those elements of the communist ideology by his “creation of extreme conditions, unceasing wars, and suggestions that ‘Russia is surrounded by enemies.” But those values too can lead people back to communism:
“It is well known,” the Russian journalist continues, “that authoritarian regimes operative on civic passivity while totalitarian ones require the mobilization of the population. However, there is an opposite dependence as well: constant mobilization of the population gives rise to an increased demand for a totalitarian ideology.”
Putin asks Russians for sacrifice as did communist ideology but he doesn’t provide the social justice components that the communists offered even if they did not always supply. As the demands for the first increase, so too are heard ever more often voices saying “corruption ‘in military times’ is ‘sabotage, diversion, and treason.’”
“The longer [Moscow’s] aggressive foreign policy in conjunction with the growth of repressions, the cult of Stalinism and play on nostalgic attitudes continues,” she suggests, “the greater the probability that an ever greater part of the population will begin to demand ‘genuine socialism.’”
And she concludes: The constant suggestion by the authorities that “’to win the war, [Russia] must be like the USSR’ can turn against those who articulate that idea.” As the standard of living falls for most while the rich build ever bigger palaces, social revolts could easily occur led “not by the liberals as the authorities fear but under socialist banners.”