Staunton, April 11 – “The further ideology spreads through the country, the weaker the institution of political leadership becomes,” according to Tatyana Stanovaya, who argues that “first the leader becomes dependent on ideological positions, then the personality factor dissolves and finally it becomes unimportant for the system who stands at the head.”
Consequently, the senior analyst at the Moscow Center for Political Technologies argues, the ideologization of Russian politics over the last two years, something Vladimir Putin has promoted, is becoming “the main threat to his political future and the future of the country” (carnegie.ru/2015/04/07/ru-59679/i5vv).
There is no state ideology in Russia, she notes; but “the new trend in Russian politics” has been “the ideologization of state power,” the rise of “an unofficial ideology” which undermines the basis of personal leadership because “the conservative wave” it pushes can be carried out by any “faceless continuer” of that program.
Put in lapidary terms, “first the leader creates an ideology and then the ideology creates leaders,” Stanovaya argues. The exact moment when that happens typically passes unnoticed, but it constitutes a serious change in the nature of the political system, especially with regard to its top leader.
“A year ago, before Ukraine, Putin could allow himself to be associated with the term ‘real liberal.’ Today, this would be already strange and brave; tomorrow, it would be dangerous” as “the liberals are a fifth column, traitors, and a cowardly intelligentsia which has sold out” to the West. The Russian president couldn’t afford to be identified as among their number.
That raises the critical question, Stanovaya argues: “Does Putin understand that the conservative wave raised in 2012 sooner or later will swallow up its parents? For the evolution of the regime is creating the illusion of things being fully under control.”
Over the past decade, she continues, “the Russian regime has almost not changed in institutional terms, but on the other hand, it has changed in a principle way in terms of its content.” And that in turn is the result of “the presence in today’s Russia of a quasi-state ideology.”
This ideology is being formed “in several directions. First, it has created “’an ideal past’ which serves as the basis for and justification of the current political line.” That past including the positive image of Stalin has been massaged and distorted with the sharp corners smoothed out and promoted by the regime and the media under its control.
Second, this ideology has defined what values are important. “Traditional values and conservatism in a more general form, state patriotism (but not patriotism as such which on the whole is a sign of a healthy nation), Russian nationalism, anti-Westernism, the strengthening of the philosophical basis of Russian Slavophiles, anti-liberalism, and also Orthodoxy.”
As such, it is “a defensive ideology which arose as a reaction to the crisis in relations between Russia and the West,” but “step by step it has begun to live its own life” and is fulfilling not just foreign policy functions but becoming “an independent factor in the domestic political life of the country, regulating social and legal spheres.”
But this ideology has not yet acquired “the third and main element,” Stanovaya says. It has not provided “a vision of the future of Russia” requiring mass mobilization and explaining why limitations are needed. “They have taught us whom to fight against,” she continues; “but they still haven’t explained very well our goals.”
“From an institutional point of view,” she says, “the unofficial ideology also is very quickly being formed.” There isn’t a single party monopoly, but there has formed “an ideological consensus among the systemic parties. Moreover, “the party of power has acquired its own ideology.”
“Earlier United Russia never was a center where political decisions were taken,” she writes. Instead, it was given directives from above “and not the reverse. That meant it did not have the privilege of having its own ideology and had to try to “precisely follow the directives coming from the Kremlin.”
But now it has an ideology and is acting on it, as the various legislative proposals coming from the ranks of United Russia deputies in the Duma show. The party as a result “has been transformed into a powerful bearer of a defensive ideology, that is, of an ideology directed at the defense of the current powers from any competition or encroachments from outside.”
The ideology has already created a system of “us” versus “them,” with “us,” the insiders, permitted things than the “them” are not. And the situation here is “not in the form of political participation but in the nature of the participant. The activity of any uncontrolled elements is viewed as a threat and limited or forbidden.”
Until 2012, Stanovaya says, “conservatism was a form of political existence of the active pro-Putin minority which became the mainstream in 2012 as a reaction to the threat from the liberals.” It was reinforced by “the return of Crimea.”
Today, she continues, “there is no official state ideology,” but its approximation does in a situation when “professors are removed for anti-patriotic positions, arrested for contacts with foreigners, persecuted for the incorrect treatment of historical events” and when theater directors are removed for a performance conservatives don’t like.
The institution of “moral condemnation” thus has appeared and taken on “the force of law” governing the actions of individuals and groups, Stanovaya argues. It is “based on fear before the authorities,” but it works and is extended by many independently of what the top leader wants in any particular case.
Only one question remains: “where is the boundary between the political ideology of the authorities and a state official ideology?” The second would need to be enshrined in law as communism was in the Soviet constitution. As improbable as it may seem, “Russia is moving in that direction.”
That has many consequences, but among the most important is the way such an ideology reduces the freedom of action of a leader and the significance of any one leader to those who accept its tenets. For them, anyone who agrees with the ideology can thus serve at least potentially as a leader.
“Vladimir Putin as the key factor of the stability of the regime is step by step losing control over processes which have begun to take on a life of their own. Initiatives from below have flourished, and the extent of their flowering … is growing in geometrical progression … That is a tsunami which as it gains strength at some point will become stronger than the leader.”