Tuesday, October 2, 2018

October 1993 Counter-Revolution was True Birthday of Putin and Putinism, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 2 – If at the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s time in power, it was customary to stress just how different his regime was compared to the 1990s, Vladimir Pastukhov says; now, it is becoming a commonplace to emphasize a different “paradigm,” one that emphasizes just how much they have in common.

            Indeed, the London-based Russian historian says, the growing awareness of the similarities between Boris Yeltsin’s rule and Putin’s explains why Russia’s rulers today are devoting ever more attention to events like the October 1993 clash in Moscow that highlights that connection (republic.ru/posts/92192).

            “In essence,” Pastukhov argues, “October 3, 1993 was the day of the political birth of Vladimir Putin; and this day for the history of post-communist Russia is more significant than its own birthday.”  On that date, “a neo-totalitarian dictatorship was transformed from an abstract possibility into an irreversible reality.”  And Putin or someone like him became “inevitable.”

            According to the historian, “October 1993 was the point of bifurcation out of which arose the entire present-day ‘Russian world.’  To some this seems up to now a revolution which gave Russia a Constitution. Others suggest, however, that this was a revolution which destroyed the Russian Constitution.”

            Unfortunately, both assessments as so often happens with major events are wrong, Pastukhov says. But “the genetic link between the events of the fall of 1993 and Russia today … is so important” that it has become obvious that a deeper understanding is required, that “to answer the sacral question ‘Who is Mr. Putin?’” one must answer “What was October 1993?”

            That requires viewing the events of that month 25 years ago in a broader setting, one that “at a minimum” includes the course of Russian history during the 20th century.  If one does that, the historian says, one sees that “in Russia a revolution is not so much an act as a long process” featuring for much of the time “periods of deceptive stability.”

            Because that is the case, he says, Russians often call a revolution something that in fact is a counter-revolution, as a revolt against genuinely revolutionary changes that occurred earlier but nominally under a continuity of the system of power. Exactly such changes took place in Russia in 1989-1990, and then were attacked and largely destroyed by people who acted in their name.

            “However paradoxical it may seem, Mikhail Gorbachev remains not only the main but practically the only revolutionary leader of Russia of the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century.” He destroyed the monopoly of a ruling party, he legalized private property, he laid the basis for an open society, and he ended Russia’s international isolation.

            Gorbachev’s perestroika for all its twists and turns can thus be considered as a revolution, Pastukhov says. The putsch that brought him down and the events of October 1993 must thus be seen first and foremost as a counter-revolution, albeit as one carried out under false claims that it was the true revolution.

            “The 1991 putsch and the ensuring ‘victory of democratic forces’ in fact can and must be considered as the first blow of the counter-revolution,” Pastukhov says. “The qualitative development of the revolution ceased as of that moment.”  Instead, Russia went off in an entirely different direction, with “wild, semi-criminal capitalism in economics, legal nihilism in politics, and liberal imperialism in ideology.”

            “Neither Gaidar liberalization, not Chubais privatization, nor Burbulis democratization added anything qualitatively new to what was begun under Gorbachev but only sowed the chaos out of which the country reaped the whirlwind,” the historian continues, despite the democratic rhetoric which concealed what was really happening.

            According to Pastukhov, “Russia between 1991 and 1993 was a kind of Shroederinger’s cat, about which it was impossible to say whether he was alive or not until the bag was opened. The events of 1993 showed that there was no cat (revolution) in the bag any longer.”

            “In contras to the events of August 1991, the October 1993 drama was already openly and unambiguously a counter-revolution,” even though Yeltsin’s supporters treated it as a continuation of the revolution. But his firing on the Russian White House was “perhaps the greatest political provocation in Europe since the Reichstag fire” brought Hitler to total power.

            By October 1993, a regime of dual power had emerged in Russia.  If that divide had been resolved by a compromise, this would have meant the beginning “of a move toward a constitutional order,” Pastukhov says. But the victory by force “of either of its sides” would have thrown Russia into chaos and arbitrariness. Unfortunately, that is what happened.

            “Constitutional rhetoric was used by both sides exclusively as an instrument to put pressure on its opponent.” That isn’t surprising. Nor is it surprising that the winning side used this rhetoric to strengthen itself and to weaken its opponents by a creeping counter-revolution simultaneously concealed and embodied in a new constitution.

            Until recently, Pastukhov says, both official and opposition groups have stressed that the early 2000s were the antithesis of the wild 1990s, differing only in whether this was a positive thing as the official position has held or a negative one as opposition figures say.

            But “today it is becoming ever more obvious that the present-day regime is distinguished from the one which arose as a result of the October 1993 turnover mostly in stylistic terms.  That is, Putin is above all only the Yeltsin of our time.”

            All the main features of the Putin system were put in place by Yeltsin: the current Kremlin leader has only expanded on them. These include, of course, “constitutionally unlimited power of the president-dictator, the decorative character of democratic institutions, the mixing together of business, the criminal world and the special services, the profanation of elections, and the conversion of power into property and back again.”

            In short, October 1993 represented “a farewell to the revolution and a return to Soviet methods and principles,” at first shamefacedly and “masking the old under the new,” but now “open, aggressive and sneering.” But “this doesn’t change the essence of the case.” October 1993 “marked the beginning of the process of a Soviet restoration.”

            Russians will only be able to move forward if they understand what happened then and why it continues now rather than comforting themselves with myths that get in the way of that and of actions needed for change. 

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