Monday, January 4, 2021

Unlike Fascism, Putin’s Modernized Serf-Holding Regime Doesn’t Offer Any Possibility of a Return to a Law-Based State, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 3 – Many have accused Vladimir Putin of creating a fascist state, but he is in fact doing something even worse, Vladimir Pastukhov says. He is restoring a modernized version of the serf-holding regime based on arbitrary and unrestrained power of the owners and the largely willing support of the philistine masses.

            What makes that worse, the London-based Russian analyst says, is that fascism represents a perversion of a European law-based state and thus those countries which have turned to it can ultimately turn away from it and go back to where they were before, immunized against fascism (

            Putinist serfdom, on the contrary, has nothing of the kind to go back to. Instead, it rests on naked force over a population that will put up with it until a certain but unknown point and then insist on overthrowing that system completely rather than constructing a future based on the restoration of an earlier set of arrangements.

            Pastukhov argues that the events of the past 12 months, beginning with the attack on the “anti-constitutional” constitutional reforms and ending with the exposure of the regime’s attempt to poison Aleksey Navalny, provide a way into the understanding of what the authoritarian and neo-totalitarian Putinist state is all about.

            In essence, 2020 did not lead to the change of the country in any fundamental way, “but now,” Putin and his entourage are sufficiently satisfied with where things are that they are immensely proud of their use of extraordinary and unconstrained force and have a population which for the time being supports them in that.

            In 2020, Pastukhov continues, the Putin regime stopped trying to conceal in any way its nature and “demonstratively” began to use force. “An era of ‘police exhibitionism’ began,” and the Navalny case, both the regime’s attempt to poison the opposition figure and its statement that if it had wanted to kill him, it would have, say all that needs to be said.

            Putin’s Russia is thus very different from that of Gorbachev or Yeltsin. But it “is very similar to Nikolayevan Russia, a regime that flaunted its power without shame. Today’s Kremlin is doing the same, and so today it is much easier to see what the defining characteristic of Putin’s regime is.

            This system is stable for the time being because it rests on the loyalty of “the philistine masses,” a group “guided not by ideas but by prejudices” and whose concerns “do not go beyond the boundaries of its little tiny immediate world. It deifies power as a source of all the good things it values and at the same time hates power” because it feels it hasn’t been given enough.

            The ideal of this category of the population is to go “from the gutter to the throne” without changing anything. It dreams of being ‘on top’ and happy when it sees the formerly strong of this world thrown down ‘below.’”

            Who are these people? Pastukhov asks rhetorically. “This is our old historical acquaintance – the Neolithic (patriarchal) peasantry” that only superficially was changed by all the tragedies of the Soviet era – collectivization, industrialization, urbanization and so on – and thus retains the values of that time.

            These aren’t the happy peasants of literature, they are “a distrustful and indifferent heir of the Russian peasantry” who are “not only indifferent about how poisoned Navalny but in the depth of their souls do not have a drop of sympathy for either him or them.”

            “The Kremlin understands this perfectly well” and further understands that the Russian opposition is viewed with just as much hostility by this modernized population of serfs as the government or any authority is. Putin can base his power on that because he is prepared to ignore all laws and constitutions and use force in an arbitrary and unconstrained manner.

            Putin’s problem is elsewhere: “building on long-term plans, basing oneself on the loyalty of the Russian peasant masses, is even less comfortable than sitting on bayonets.” One moment it will slavishly bow down before you and the next it will do what it must to wipe you off the face of the earth. Unfortunately for him, Putin doesn’t fully comprehend this.

            The Kremlin leader is inspired by European ultra-right politicians like the elder LePen, but the clearest and fullest description of the ideology and road map he and his entourage are following was presented in a series of books under the general title “The Russian Project” which appeared about 15 years ago. (On this seeПроект_Россия_(книги).)

            These publicistic books made it appear that the regime wanted to construct a fascist state, but “in a certain sense, this was a fantasy” because “building European fascism in an Asian peasant country would be a no more realistic project that building European socialism in it.” It would be doomed to fail.

            “All despotic regimes which cultivate force,” Pastukhov argues, “resemble one another externally, and in this sense one can uncover in contemporary Russia aspects of similarity also with the pharaohs of ancient Egypt.” But in essence, what Putin is putting in place “is an entirely different social and state system than European fascism.”

            The difference is this: “Fascism is an inversion of European liberal ideology. It is liberalism turned inside out.” That explains why it attracted legal theorists like Karl Schmidt and also why countries that went fascist ultimately were able to reconstruct a democratic legal order because there was something to go back to.

            But that is not the case in Russia, the Russian analyst says. “The Putin regime does not have in its genesis any liberalism and never will even after Putin. Russia will not return to that because it is impossible to return to where one never was.” Instead, the Putin “despotism” is “’anti-legalist’ and denies the very spirit of European law.”

            Russian serfs in the past and in their modernized form now accept this. That is their “normal everyday reality.” And what one can say is that these Russians are a kind of “social permafrost,” with only two extreme states – complete solidity or gaseous explosions, support for a regime of the Putinist kind or efforts to demolish altogether.

            “Fascism is anti-democratic and based on force but at the same time it strengthens precisely that which later becomes the building materials for a legal state … Putin’s Russia has no exit strategy of that kind.” Instead, its “modernized serf-holding system is wild force without any constructive element.”

            “It is anti-institutional, strengthens nothing, and destroying whatever it can leaves in the end fear and deception as the two real social bindings” holding things together. History shows that the force most likely to unthaw the permafrost layer supporting this system is a war and not necessarily a world war.

            But if this layer thaws, it will not give rise to democracy or a law-based state. Instead, it will destroy what was without being in a position to create anything but a copy of precisely what it thought it was doing away with, Pastukhov concludes.

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