Staunton, February 3 – Debates about differences between the Soviet and fascist variants of totalitarianism have been around for decades, but they are usually cast in the form of discussions as to whether one was “better” or more precisely “less evil” than the other rather than in close examinations of just where they were among all their similarities different.
Russian commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov makes a useful contribution to the latter effort by pointing out that “Soviet totalitarianism was distinguished from German or Italian kinds … by the fact that its practice completely contradicted the values it propagandized” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A748FCB29918).
What that meant, he says, is that the model Soviet citizen had to learn to understand what those in power really wanted from him in an intuitive fashion rather than by listening to what they said publicly and the regime in turn had to impose a harsh censorship lest its population use that skill to intuit what the authors of Aesopian materials wanted them to take away.
Those Russians who acquired such skills have not forgotten them: they continue to try to read between the lines on all things on the assumption that what they are told directly is not what is most important for them to understand and to at upon. But the generation that has arisen since 1991 doesn’t approach things in the same way.
That difference helps to explain why today some older Russians conclude that even if the authorities do decide to permit in words certain things such as the Aleksey Navalny demonstrations, these things in reality are prohibited either because they violate the law or constitute a revolt against the authorities. They feel that even participants “’should know this.’”
“More than that,” Ikhlov continues, “every ‘sovok’ [as people with a Soviet past that lives on are often called] is firmly convinced (1937 was done to achieve exactly this) that the powers have the most complete right to short or send to the camps anyone and that only as a result of their greatest indulgence do they not do so with everyone.”
This view of the world also explains why such Russians had no problem when “the Putin minister prohibited an anti-Stalinist film two-and-a-half months after Putin declared Stalinist crimes unforgiveable” just as they had no problem when Solzhenitsyn’s story, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” was followed by Khrushchev’s attack on the creative intelligentsia.
But such an approach comes into conflict with those who “devote particular attention to formalities” and who believe that the state must follow the law and do what it says. That division which in many cases follows generational lines, Ikhlov suggests, is Russia’s inheritance from its different kind of totalitarianism.