Staunton, January 10 – “The criminalization of the Russian world is the direct result of its de-ideologization,” Vladimir Pastukhov says, because without an ideological framework, there was no basis to judge any action beyond its material rewards for those taking it. Consequently, “its deriinalization wil be possible only if there is a new wave of ideologization.”
In a commentary for “Novaya gazeta,” the St. Antony’s College historian says that the collapse of ideology in Russia left society with “severe cultural immune deficit” and by creating what he calls “a criminal matrix” that “makes impossible any democratic transformations” (novayagazeta.ru/comments/71380.html).
Societies like individuals can suffer from cultural immune deficits, he argues; and Russia because of its experience under the Soviets was left with an enormous one that prevented it from being able to resist the impact of the changes that the country has undergone over the last several decades.
“Among the factors which oppress and destroy culture, a special role belongs to the criminal world … which has an impact on society equivalent to that of a virus on a living organism,” the historian says. If the society has a good immune system, it can resist it; but if not, “society is subjected to an attack of colonies of ‘social microbes’” like the mafia and so on.
But because of the extent to which Russian society has been criminalized, the country will not be able to move forward “as long as the Soviet cultural type” which has given rise to this matrix “retains its dominating position in society.” Eliminating it will be especially difficult, Pastukhov says, because “it is the foundation of stability of the existing regime.”
Under the existing system with its “’criminal matrix,’” he continues, “to steal is normal but not to steal means to throw challenges at society. To open and close criminal cases for money is normal, but to struggle with crime is suspicious. [And] in the case of a conflict ‘to solve the issue’ is normal but to ensure the observation of rights is to be ‘a loser.’”
“The rules of the game are such,” the historian says, “that they can be onlhy what they are and no other. In different conditions, these people would conduct themselves differently. But in order for conditions to be different, it is necessary to destroy the existing criminal matrix, and this is not easy.”
“Culture and the criminal world are antithetical,” and the latter’s growth leads “to the stagnation of culture” or even its destruction. “If under the impact of the criminal matrix occurs the degeneration of the cultural fabric, what appears is a culture-murder or the so-called ‘mafia state.”
That trend in turn “modifies the cultural code of society in such a way that all its defensive social and political institutions begin to work in a regime of self-detruction.” In short, they are taken over by the virus of criminality and begin to work for it rather than for the values they had represented. The system’s immune system has been destroyed and cannot defend against “the criminal pandemic.”
Russia achieved a few things over the last few decades, and its present dictatorship is “an anachronism. But this is ordinary and accustomed. The misfortune consists in the fact ont hat on the background of general cultural collapse has occurred a fusion of authoritarian power and the croiminal world … [their] complete integration.”
That outcome in turn menas that “the main challenge for the future of Russia is not the absence of freedom and democracy but the criminalization of Russian society and the state.” Fighting that is hard: it can even lead not to victory over the criminal but to a bloody revolution and repression as happened in the first years of the 20th century.
Anyone who wants to correct the situation and avoid such disasters must recognize, Pastukhov says, that the problem lies not with the dictatorship as such but with this criminalization. “The degradation of power is only an external and visible manifestation of an illness, but it is not the illness itself.”
As a result, “a change in the powers that be in Russia never has led to a full recovery: each time the old rash breaks out on the new ‘political body.’” The sad experience of Ukraine in which each new government appears even more criminal than its predecessor provides an object lesson on this.
“Total criminalization is the result of the tectonic cultural shift which took place in the last quarter of the 20th century,” a shift in which people ceased to believe in any principles besides personal material advantage and thus were predisposed to become part of the criminal matrix.
Further, Pastukhov argues, “the contemporary Russian criminal matrix arose as a result of negative cultural selection,” an anti-Darwinian process in which those with values more general than that were weeded out in favor a “an extremely specific cultural type, ‘the practical Russian,’” without any values except pragmatic material self-promotion.
Criminal behavior after all, he points out, “is the simplest form of social existence. It doesn’t require” what other systems do – “faith, ideas and values.” Instead, it appeals to pragmatism of the lowest common denominator and that makes it extremely hard to weed out if there are no serious competing values.
There is an obvious way forward, Pastukhov suggests, and that is to promote another familiar Russian type, the ideological fanatic or in his or her softer form romantic who will selflessly promote a particular set of ideas.
At present, the historian says, “it is difficult to predict under what ideological flag might occur the decriminalization of Russia.” It could happen under liberal, fascist or communist banners, although because of recent history, the last is probably the least likely. That suggests the battle will be “between Russian national socialism and Russian social democracy.”
Either of both will be fighting against “’the practical Russian’ or ‘Soviet man,’” a term that simply refers to “an educated peasant” because such individuals were the basis of Soviet power with their educational levels always going up but their cultural levels almost always going down.
“The fundamental aspect of peasant culture,” Pastukhov argues, “is an inability to take political action” because peasant life precludes longterm planning and thus the sacrifice of immediate needs for longer term ones.In the final analysis, he says, “the Bolshevik revolution turned out to be a peasant revolution,” one in which the communists were able to hold on to power because “the apolitical quality of the peasantry” prevented that social group from challenging their police state. And thus paradoxically, that foundation was simulatneously a source of strength and of instability.
“In contemporary Russia,” Pastukhov says, “there is nno elite in the strict sense of the word and therefore there are no drivers of development which would permit Russian society to adapt to the changing conditions of existence.” The problem isn’t that “the contemporary regime is strong,” only that it is in a position to hold off the challenges it faces.
“The problem is that up to now there is still no well-organized detachment” of those who are based in the entrepreneurial class and thsu are prepared to fight for “a new paradigm.” “Russia needs its own Cromwell; [and] when he appears, the criminal empire of the former ‘Soveit people’ will die in the course of a few days.”
To pull Russia out of its criminalized swamp, such an individual will “at a minimum have to come to power, but the process of dissolution has gone so far that a return to ‘the historical norm’ will require years and even decades. Besides ‘political surgery’ … there will have to be applied ‘political chemotherapy.’” In short, there will have to be a policy of lustration.
Given Russia’s current situation, its future choice “will be extremely small: either lustration with a chance to preserve the democratic nature of power and to pass through the Scylla of restauration and Charybdis of degeneration of the revolution – or terror with the inevitable overthrow of democracy and retreat into a final historical deadend.”
And he concludes: “the criminal is the main enemy of the Russian people today and the chief threat to the existence of Russian culture. This enemy is more sophisticated nd dangerous than the corrupt authorities but less obvious. The criminal is the real master of contemporary Russia and the main sponsor of the authoritarian regime.”
“To struggle for political and economic freedom and not to struggle with the dominance of the criminal is like trying to cut off the arms of an octopus without touching the octopus itself. Recovery will be long and will require the devotion of all spiritual and physical forces of the nation being formed in that process.”