Thursday, March 8, 2018

‘The 18th Brumaire of Vladimir Putin’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 8 – Those who have read their Marx will certainly recall his 1852 pamphlet, “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” in which he described the day on which Louis Napoleon having been elected president of France in 1848 carried out a coup and became Emperor Napoleon III.

            Marx could refer to the 18th Brumaire without explanation because that was the date on the French calendar in 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in Paris and put an end to the revolution which had begun a decade earlier and because the term had come to be a synonym for revolutionary change, St. Petersburg mathematician Anatoly Vershik observes.

            In an essay for Radio Svoboda, the scholar says that it is appropriate to refer to March 18, 2014, as “the 18th Brumaire of Vladimir Putin” because on that date he not only seized Crimea but carried out a revolution in the Russian system and thus ending one period while remaining at the top of the political pyramid (
                On that date, Vershik continues, “the drawn out ‘time of troubles’ period of the history of Russia ended, and the authorities firmly stood on the path of the open and all-embracing restoration of the worst Soviet, expansionist and imperialist traditions” in the name of “rising from the knees” after the indignities they felt they had suffered from the collapse of the USSR.

            This year’s March 18th, he says, isn’t nearly as important despite the fact that Putin is stage managing yet another re-election.  But it is a good time to look back at what the March 18th of 2014 meant: the end of an effort by Russia to become part of “the international system of civilized states.”

            After having seized Crimea, the Putin regime implicitly declared its intention to return to Soviet approaches including military assistance to countries opposing the West, imposition of ideological conformity at home, and a struggle with internal enemies in the name of national unity.

            Of course, the mathematician commentator says, “in contrast to the Soviet era when there were still socio-political ideas (although no one any longer believed in them), here everything was just the reverse: although there are no new ideas, many believe in their existence.” [emphasis added]

            That Russia would move in the Soviet direction was clear long before the 2014 coup, Vershik says.  There were signs as early as the end of the 1990s, “but the turnover of 2014 played a principled role.”  The cadres were available: those who came to the top in power or out of it overwhelmingly did not reflect about the flaws of the Soviet system.

            And once the coup happened, he continues, “memory about the brief time (the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s0 of ‘liberal reforms’ and ‘western freedom’ quickly disappeared from the consciousness of those who got power and those who received unlimited possibilities for instantaneous enrichment” as well as those who criticized both.

            These people did not have an adequate immunity to “the infection of ‘the Soviet syndrome’ which consists either in the direct support of Soveit and even Stalinist orders and systems of values” or no more than a passing condemnation of “certain ‘anomalies’” in Soviet times but “with general approval.”  There were a few exceptions but too few to matter.

            “But the true workers of the party and ‘the organs,’ the consciousness and activity of which was formed in Brezhnevite and Andropovite times having become the authorities (or even the opposition) almost instantly shook off ‘the rubbish of perestroika fantasies’ … and pledged to build capitalism ‘with a Soviet face.’”

            The Russian population accepted the words of the president as “approval of the Soviet experiment” which should not be condemned but made use of. “Therefore,” Vershik says, “it is not surprising that ‘the 18th Brumaire of Vladimir Putin’ was welcomed by the majority of the population of the country and rejected by only a small part of the enlightened part of society.”

            But neither those who supported nor those who opposed Putin’s move fully understood that the chief consequence was that there could be no going back, that “the possibility of including the country into the civilized commonwealth without which a wise Russia will not be able to exist” has been lost for a long time to come.

            Judging from Putin’s recent remark that “they didn’t listen to us; but now they will!” Vershik says, it is clear that “there is no understanding of the catastrophic nature of this action in the Kremlin.  But the response of the population and of other elites suggests they do not fully have it either.

            Russians must turn away from Putin in any way they can because he is leading the country to a new stagnation or to catastrophe and because he “does not have the moral right to re-election given the actions he has taken especially since 2014.  Sometimes individuals cannot do much, but they can at least not sacrifice their good names and that of Russia by backing Putin.

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