Staunton, December 4 –Many writers in both Russia and the West have used the term clericalization to describe the Moscow Patriarchate’s effort to expand its role and even suggest that the Church is filling a role left vacant by the demise of the agitprop department of the CPSU Central Committee.
But in fact, Moscow commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov argues, the Russian Orthodox Church is not capable of filling such a role and instead increasingly resembles the Soviet-era Union of Writers, a role that is “a simulacrum” of clericalization but one that says a great deal about both the Patriachate and Vladimir Putin’s regime (forum-msk.org/material/politic/10142661.html).
In an essay on Forum-MSK.ru today, Ikhlov recounts that when he was defending art expert Lyudmila Vasilovskaya in the “Warning, Religion!” case, many people drew an analogy between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Central Committee department, but he recognized that the Church couldn’t play that role but could serve as an updated Writers Union.
As Ikhlov points out, “in the USSR, creative unions played a very important role in the ideological control over society.” Given “the literarature-centric quality” of Russian culture, writers unions were especially important, something highlighted by the fact that the Soviet state arrested far more literary people than artists or directors.
Under the Soviet dispensation, writers were given the role as “the bearer of the crypto-ideology of the regime.” They could express the real worldview of the rulers, “a ‘moderate’ great power fascism combined with a completely un-Marxist ‘conspiracy theory,’ something that party committees couldn’t do nearly as well.
“Now,” Ikhlov says, the state has given this “responsible role” of promoting a fascist vision to the clergy.
Ikhlov argues that the Russian Federation is currently run by “’vulgar Marxists’” who absorbed in their childhood the ideas that “money rules the world, democracy is a cover for the rule of the oligarchs, that politics is a secret conspiracy, and that history is the struggle of oligarchic clan.”
The only thing that has changed, he continues, is that these people believe that “wealth is good if it is in their hands. They are in spirit feudal romantics” who believe that by means of “’chekistization’” wealth and the control of the means that produce it cleanse the evil these things represented when others controlled them.
“As ‘Marxists in reverse,’” the new elites who one learned that “religion is the opium of the people” now think that religion plays a positive role for them because it keeps the masses from being attracted to class struggle and promotes the idea that ‘there is no authority but from God.’” Indeed, the Kremlin would be happy to incise that notion in gold on Lenin’s mausoleum.
Because the Russian Orthodox Church and those parts of the Islamic and Jewish establishments which are prepared to cooperate with the regime promote such notions, Ikhlov says, the Russian government is prepared to support, to promote corruption within them, and to ignore their crimes and peccadillos.
But – and this is the key point – Russia’s current rulers “will never allow the Moscow Patriarchate to be involved either in serious political decisions or even the elaboration of the general line of its propaganda support.” The church “will be permitted to support candidates from the party of power but not to take part in their selection.”
“Secretly,” the Moscow Patriarchate is “delighted” by this arrangement. Its “real social weight is extremely low ... and it has not become an institute of civil society” unless one is prepared to call the mafia “an institute of civil society.” Instead, the church hierarchy is a corporate entity with all the consequences thereof.
The Patriarchate thus is not in a position, Ikhlov argues, to duplicate the successes of the Catholics or others in missionary work because “you can’t get structures of civil society from what is something non-civil by its nature.”
Thus, there is no threat of genuine clericalization in Russia, although “there is the threat of the fascization of the state by the imposition of a state ideology which uses Orthodox rhetoric and Orthodox semantics.” And that is true even though “the overwhelming majority of those Slavs living in the Russian Federation sincerely consider themselves Orthodox.”
But their Orthodoxy has less to do with faith than with identity. It does not exclude a deeply secular approach and widespread believe in UFOs, ghosts, and visions. Moreover, it does not include much even ritualistic observance: few Russians go to church even if they talk about being Orthodox.
The government’s promotion of Pravoslavization may increase attendance somewhat, but Ikhlov concludes that it will do nothing to overcome “the evil joke” that it has played on the Church. When everyone identifies as Orthodoxy, the term is drained of any real meaning beyond a verbal declaration about the nation and the state.