Staunton, October 31 -- Russians remain “Soviet people,” Aleksandr Asmolov says, not in terms of the specific ideological program pushed by the communist regime but rather according to three deep structures which informed that program, ensured its widespread acceptance, and guarantee its continuing vitality.
Asmolov, a professor of psychology at Moscow State University, says that these three deep structures – “a cult of the Center” which gave rise to the cult of personality, a world defined as one of permanent crisis and conflict, and “a flight from freedom” and decision making – still define Russians to this day (profile.ru/obsch/item/121081-sovetskij-chelovek-okazalsya-na-redkost-moshchnoj-konstruktsiej).
“At various times” over the Soviet period, he continues, “these three characteristics took different and specifically concrete forms. But the mechanism of the system, the mechanism of the selection of the people who formed it always was in operation” – and very much continues to operate now.
In many respects, the psychologist says, “the Soviet system in large measure became the heir of Russian imperialism. If one rephrases the formula of Viktor Chernomyrdin – whatever party we create, it will all the same turn into the CPSU – whatever state we make, it will always be ‘a tsarist empire’ in its despotic dimension.”
That sets Russian apart from many other countries, Asmolov argues. “If you like, we have historically imperial totalitarianism.” And it hasn’t ended yet.
“When people say that the USSR may return, I view such statements with irony because there can be another form of archaic development. But it can be eve n more horrible, with greater eruptions of ‘the Black Hundreds’ spirt, because such a matrix exists alongside one when the world became more diverse.”
And that is especially possible, he says, because “today there are completely different mass technologies of manipulation which were not available to the Soviet leadership.” Among them is “the technology of television-promoted hatred.”
This Soviet man didn’t disappear when Soviet power weakened and died. There was a brief period when it appeared he might, but it did not last long. External censorship disappeared for a time, but “thanks to the Soviet system there existed a super ego which controlled and reproduced all the very same stereotypes.”
“The Soviet man turned out to be an extraordinarily strong construction,” Asmolov says.
No one should have been surprised when Yury Levada reported that polls show that “as soon as our man was freed, he began to “throw himself backwards not even to yesterday’s world but to that of the day before that. He became a traditionalist, he began to show himself as a pre-Petrine and not simply a pre-Soviet man.’”
The pollster’s work showed that “the desire for a stable world when the stereotypes of the Soveit man are working does not free him from the fear of an open door but frees him only from taking his own decisions. Such a man is afraid and defends himself against any choice.” The situation is no longer totalitarian, but it is authoritarian in much the same way.
“We live in a time when we are encountering three key challenges: the challenge of indeterminacy, the challenge of complexity, and the challenge of diversity – and in this era … even a small signal can change the movement of the entire system.” Thus, there is hope for change and the end of the Soviet man. But as of now, it is only a hope.
“If earlier there was an ideology and the communist ideal with rhetoric about ‘freedom, equality and brotherhood’ were on the throne, now in order that there be a permanent crisis, on the throne in the system has turned out to be security,” Asmolov says.
But one thing is very clear: “the current de-ideologized system is less stable in comparison with Stalin’s” because “no system which stands on the vertical alone can long exist. One way or another, the vertical in a poly-cultural and diverse system sooner or later will break into pieces.”
Whether that will be the end of the Soviet man or whether such a man will demand yet another system that conforms to his underlying views remains very much an open question.