Saturday, November 25, 2017

Russian History is Both Cyclical and Predictable, Lipkin Argues

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – Cultural historian Arkady Lipkin argues that Russian history is both “cyclical and predictable” because of widespread paternalistic values that lead most people most of the time to accept their rulers, occasionally lead to revolts, but do not permit real revolutions which fundamentally change the relationship between rulers and ruled.

            Lipkin made this argument in a 2012 article, “Russia Between Pre-Modern Institutes of ‘Order’ and Present-Day Democratic Values” (in Russian, in Mir Rossii. Sotsiologiya. Etnologiya, no. 4 (2012), available at

                That article has now been excerpted in some detail by the Tolkovatel portal  (

            Russian life is based on paternalistic values, Lipkin says. “Here there is no agreement” between rulers and ruled, and the rulers have to be concerned about the well-being only of society as a whole “but not of its individual members. Individual life, not to mention freedom and the rights of the individual have little value.”

            Most of the time the ruled accept whatever the rulers do, but occasionally there are revolts because “the masses have no other effective means of influencing ‘the ruler.’”  Dissatisfaction builds up, the people revolt but then the “new” people who come to power quickly come into conformity with the paternalistic pattern and the ruled accept that as well.

            This relatively rapid “restoration of the old structure” in paternalistic Russia is what distinguishes its “revolts” from genuine “revolutions,” Lipkin says.  But such systems are both more ancient and easier to form than ones in which rulers and ruled enter into contractual relationships with each other.

            These systems arose, he continues, because of “the need for mobilization of resources, for example, for supporting complex irrigations systems, lengthy trade routes or wars with stronger neighbors.” The last is the reason one appeared in Russia and is why bourgeois contractual urban institutions did not arise there.

            The Russian system could not prevent the periodic growth of popular dissatisfaction, Lipkin says, but it could block the appearance of real revolutions that would fundamentally change the situation. Instead, it has led to one in which there are periodic revolts that rapidly return to “new” systems all too much like the ones they were supposed to replace.

            Russia is set apart from other “order”-type states because it came into contact far earlier with the rapidly developing Europe of modern times.” That simultaneously forced it to become more authoritarian and thus more paternalistic even as it led to the creation of a new class of people who wanted to ape European cultural values and to conflicts between them and the paternalistic majority.

            This underlying conflict had the effect of shortening the cycle between quiescence and revolt for four reasons, Lipkin continues: “defeat by the West … liberal ‘reforms from above’ under the slogan ‘Russia is Europe,’ with forced liberalization, a certain success in ‘catching up’ … followed by … stagnation and the latest ‘defeat by the West.’”

            “The essential distinction of the new post-Soviet period” from the past is “the absence of an ideology.” Muscovy relied on Orthodoxy, the USSR used communism, but post-Soviet Russia doesn’t have one and that explains why despite the constitution there have been periodic attempts to restore one or the other or some combination of the two.

            According to Lipkin, “today we have the very same range of ideologies that existed at the turn from the 19th to the 20th centuries: European-democratic … socialist (in three forms: communism, nationalist and national socialist), Orthodox and populist.  Except for the first, all conform with the paternalistic conception of ‘the ruler’ and the ‘order’ system.”

            The prospects for an escape from this dilemma by a third path are far less clear for Russia than they are for China, the cultural historian argues, because the latter has a widespread Confucian base while the former lacks agreement on explicit ideology even as it relies on the paternalistic values of the past. 

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