Staunton, December 28 – Pavel Pryanikov, the editor of the Tolkovatel portal, argues that the current upsurge in authoritarianism in Russia is a response to the archaic localism separate from the state that emerged after the collapse of Soviet power in 1991, the latest turn of a cycle described by Russian philosopher Aleksandr Akhiyezer two decades ago.
In 1995, Akhiyezer warned, Pryanikov says, “that Russia is condemned to live in a unique Manichean world: either authoritarianism or as a country disintegrating in to local entities,” something he said was a product of “the archaic consciousness of Russians” that they inherited from the country’s slash-and-burn agricultural development.
(Akhiyezer presented these ideas in an article available online at mirros.hse.ru/data/2010/12/31/1208181558/003Ahiezer.pdf; Pryanikov’s application of them to Russia’s more recent evolution is offered today at ttolk.ru/2016/12/28/либо-авторитаризм-в-россии-либо-безго/).
Russian history, Akhiyezer argued, has been a constant alteration of a highly authoritarian state that is first supported and then replaced by an archaic peasant culture that seeks to return to pre-modern forms separate from the state only to prompt demands for a restoration of order and the rise of a new authoritarian regime.
“The dominant position in the 1917 revolution was occupied by a levelling archaic culture,” Akhiyezer said. It only appeared to be directed by Lenin who had mastered “an unbelievable gift of simplification” to speak to this rising. But the revolution was “not so much against capitalism as against independence from the state.”
At the center of the drama, he suggested, was “a dual opposition” between “the state” and “the private.”
“The mass striving to levelling bore (and bears) a mental character,” Pryanikov says. Thus, “the revolution of 1917 was not a workers’ revolution which established a new and more progressive social and political system. Its nature was different. Capitalism was suppressed by feudalism and feudal relations by tribal ones.” And all these premodern features returned.
At the start of Soviet times, “the main struggle in Russia went not between workers and the bourgeoisie, but between the peasantry and all the rest … [in short,] the village against the city.” Stalin tried to end this but his campaign to defeat the village led not to the triumph of urban values but to a strengthening of village ones.
Something similar has happened since 1991, Pryanikov says. “The collapse and discrediting of extreme authoritarianism in the 1990s stimulated” something just the opposite of what many expected, the rise of extreme localism and primitivism which was masked by the need of people in those communities for a totemistic leader at the level of the country as a whole.
“The basic process today is the growing wave of localism which arose as a result of the disintegration and collapse of extreme authoritarianism, a wave … which today is moving to its extreme logical end, that is, the maximum disintegration of communities and the loss of their ties with one another.”
According to Pryanikov, “this process is taking place in combination with the privatization of interests. But as Akhiyezer “warned, one should not confuse localism with decentralization which involves the weakening of the possibility of administrative interference in the adoption of decisions of higher levels in lower ones.”
“Decentralization is possible as a weakening of administrative integrators with a corresponding strengthening of cultural ones,” Akhiyezer suggested. As such, “localism must not be confused with democratization which really can occur only” if the individual and groups are included on the basis of “a growth in legal consciousness.”
“Localism in Russia,” the philosopher argued, “is total atomization, a life without the state;” and it is not stable: after any wave of localization as in the 1990s, there will be another period of Russian authoritarianism, something that will intensify until it absorbs the localism and then collapses, only to start the cycle again.
A sense of chaos and collapse under an authoritarian cover now is why there is such nostalgia for Stalin, Pryanikov says, a man “who freed everyone from the unbearable responsibility” of running their own affairs and who “brought order to what had been chaos.”