Staunton, August 6 – Few people recognize just how “grandiose” a utopia Vladimir Putin has come close to achieving completely, a utopia based on a commitment to centralization and control but one like the Soviet utopia it succeeded contains within it the seeds of its own destruction because its leaders can’t adapt to change, Sergey Shelin says.
No other major power,, the Rosbalt commentator observes, has put in place a system “where the choice of thousands of local deputies requires clearance by the supreme power, where future ‘elected’ chiefs of krays and oblasts first must get sergeant habits in special training centers, where representative institutions are factories of prohibitions, and where plans for city squares several thousand kilometers from the capital have to be taken up by the chief of state” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2019/08/06/1795841.html).
This is the latest “utopia” the rulers of Russia have pursued and even realized to a remarkable extent, one that follows the Soviet system in that regard. The core idea of the Soviet utopia was that it was possible to create “a super-powerful country according to a detailed plan, marked out by the posses that banned any market relations.”
To be sure, Shelin says, the Soviet system did not achieve complete control or a complete ban but rituals about both were observed. And that means that “it was absolutely impossible to imagine under Brezhnev the official restoration of capitalism in any branches of the economy or even in a single city.”
“For the nomenklatura to have done so would have meant that it was rejecting itself,” the commentator continues. “The Soviet utopia had gone too far and could not be smoothly demobilized. As a result, after experiencing stagnation and rotting, it had to be in the end destroyed. And that is what happened.”
Something similar is true of Putin’s utopia, Shelin argues. He and his entourage aren’t reacting to protests out of some fear that they must not “’show weakness.’ For the authorities to retreat would mean to deny themselves, to destroy their newly built utopia,” the evolution of which “for them has become impossible.”
“The core of the present-day Russian utopia which with a certain stretch can be called Putin’s is a striving to give orders from the very top to everyone on everything. For the realization of this task has been established an unprecedented machine of checks, controls and punishments which is called for brevity’s sake the power vertical.”
Shelin continues: “Let us not minimize the uniqueness of this system.” In African countries, dictatorships are often combined with active opposition parties. In Maduro’s Venezuela, “several governors of key states are opponents of the regime.” But neither is true in Putin’s Russia, a pattern that highlights “the surprising radical of our new utopia.”
In contrast to its Soviet predecessor, the Putin utopia “doesn’t ban market relatioons, but only under conditions of their coordination” with the powers that be. Today’s mid-level magnate “feels himself considerably less free” than his Soviet predecessor who had less to fear as he went about his job.
Today, “the civilian official, the elected politician, and the big boss from the organs live in fear. They have been able to organize many benefits for themselves, many more than in the USSR, but any of them can be punished at any time for something or for nothing at all. “The utopian vertical does not guarantee anything to its component parts.”
The construction of this system did not begin in August 1999 when it became obvious that Putin was going to have the top job. “The desire to centralize everything, albeit in a more moderate form, was clearly indicated at the beginning of the 1990s and in 1998, after the default, it became the obsession both of the nomenklatura and the masses.
In part this was “an organized triumph of the special services,” Shelin says, but only in part. “At the turn of the 20th to the 21st century, faith in centralization became universal” among Russians across professions and across the political spectrum. And it is that faith that provided the foundation for the construction of the power vertical utopia.
As he marks his 20th year in power, Putin “embodies this utopian system because he has always shared its principles and headed the state if not in all phases of its construction then at the most critical. The centralizing dream would have been realized without him but it hardly would have gone as far.”
“It only remains to see whether it has gone too far or not,” Shelin says. But one thing is already clear, the faith of the Russian people in this utopia “is not as evident now as it was 20 years ago.” And that more than anything else may prove its undoing.