Staunton, August 14 – Last week, Moscow political analyst Nikolay Petrov argued that Vladimir Putin’s regime had shifted from a Brezhnevite to a Stalinist approach in the way it uses the bureaucracy to run the country (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/08/putins-neo-nomenklatura-system-shifts.html).
Now, Sergey Shelin, a commentator for the Rosbalt agency, argues that while “the current Russian regime appears similar” to Stalin’s, “the logic of its behavior is entirely different,” a distinction that he argues does not bode well either for it or for Russia as a whole (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2016/08/09/1539445.html).
Putin’s regime does share many external characteristics of Stalinism, Shelin says, including a personalist dictatorship, isolationism, and a cold war with the United States. But if one examines the situation closely, he continues, one can see that this is an entirely new “play” even if “the scenery” appears to be the same.
In the early 1950s, Shelin points out, “the Soviet Union really fought with the US in Korea” and achieved a certain victory as a result. But now, “the goal of the continuing operation in Syria is only to force the US to respect Russia.”
At the time of late Stalinism, when Moscow routinely claimed Russian superiority in all things, the Soviet government nonetheless tried to make use of all the intellectual and technical achievements of the West and devoted enormous means to building up its own intellectual capacities.
Under Putin today, “the archaic nature of propaganda and the practice of administration are in almost complete harmony.” The current regime “doesn’t need educated people,” and the bureaucracy calls for spending less on education and science. Even those institutes which have not yet been cut “aren’t very certain about the future.”
At the end of the Stalin people, people from top to bottom lived in “permanent panic and fear” and most lived in poverty as well, “but on the other hand, the system as a whole did not doubt in its own power and confidently looked to the future” when “historical victories and grandiose successes were expected.”
Today, Shelin continues, most Russians are far better off materially then their grandparents and they are not as much afraid. But most of them “try not to look into the future” because “the regime in general does not have any picture of the future” that they can understand and work towards.
Consequently, despite “all the external similarities of ‘the Stalinist variant’ in its original form with what we have today,” the Rosbalt commentator says, “the approaches of the two regimes to reality are completely different because to repeat Stalinism, one would need a country which has not existed for a long time.”
In the early 1950s, the Soviet Union was a much larger country, with many satellites, and could increases both military spending and investment in education and science at the same time. That is no longer true: The Russian Federation has fewer than half as many people as the US, no satellites, and must choose between guns and butter to the ultimate detriment of both.
That means that the Putin regime however bombastically it may claim otherwise, simply cannot compete with the West in the way that the Soviet Union. “its power is less,” its period of economic growth is in the past, and its citizenry, however much they say they support the Kremlin leader, aren’t ready for a replay of real Stalinism with its fears and sacrifices.
And that in turn means, Shelin concludes, that what some are calling “the Stalinist variant of the 21st century” points not to “fear as did its historical prototype but only to sadness, admittedly a feeling that is ever deeper and with no sense that there is a way out.”