By Paul Goble
Yevgeny Dobrenko, a professor at the University of Venice and the author of Late Stalinism, says that Vladimir Putin increasingly has turned to the period of Stalinism after World War II in large measure because it was a time when the latest round of Russian nation building took place. He has not gone beyond that and created a new Russian nation.
Putin himself may not think in those terms, of course, the historian says; but because he sees himself engaged in an extension of that process of forming or at least revitalizing Russian nationalism, he looks back to the period between 1945 and 1953 (svoboda.org/a/eto-gosudarstvo-edet-s-yarmarki-evgeniy-dobrenko-o-neostalinizme/32626358.html).
It is noteworthy, Dobrenko says, that the term “neo-Stalinism” was used both in the period after World War II and again now in Putin’s time. That isn’t surprising because “after the war began to systemically occur what in present-day political science language is called nation building.”
“Before the war, this was all the same a country born in revolution which was administered by a generation of Bolsheviks,” although to be sure ever fewer of them survived because of the purges. But after the war, the population consisted of “a completely different human material of a different social origin, education and so on, he continues.
The Russian nation taking shape after 1945 not only reflected the war more than the revolution, Dobrenko says, even though the revolution continued to be the main “legitimating force” of the regime. But “at the center of the new nation, of the new era which had come was victory.” And that became the centerpiece of the Soviet era and of Putin’s thinking.
Thus, after 1945, Stalin created another “new nation,” creating “a soviet nation and a soviet state” and institutionalizing it. He thus became “the father of the new Russian nation,” and not surprisingly, like other ambitious leaders, Putin wants to follow in his course and become the father of a new nation.
“Any politician wants to become that … but to want it does not mean to achieve it or that a new nation will be able to be created. And I do not think that today a new nation is being born in Russia,” the historian says.
Instead, Dobenko says, he believes that “we are present not at its birth but at its funeral: this state is going on sale. This doesn’t mean that it will disappear tomorrow. It may continue for a long time yet. It is absolutely clear that today the country is being run by the last soviet generation, people in their 70s. These people were formed in the Brezhnev era.”
It is passing “biologically” and “therefore it simply cannot give birth to a new nation since for the birth of a new nation is needed both the political will and the political experience of another generation,” one raised later and “formed in the Gorbachev era.” The current regime is thus falling into “a retro-utopia,” and that is what we see now.
When the Soviet system collapsed, “a new nation did not appear.” The leaders of the country – Gorbachev and Yeltsin “unfortunately” did not have the ability to create it. Then came Putin, someone who appeared to have a chance to do so, “turned out to be a completely empty figure” with no ideas beyond the creation of “oligarchic capitalism>’
Putin has not occupied himself with state construction or nation building. He has simply drawn from the Soviet past, particularly from the late Stalin period. But of course, “the regime will not die with Putin’s death.” There are still too many people of his age and inclinations around. But eventually they will pass from the scene.
That will create the possibility of the creation of a new Russian nation, one not based on late Stalinism which has outlasted its day but on something else. At the very least, a new period of nation building will take place.