Staunton, November 9 – The Russian revolution, the drive to transform the country from “an imperial form of an oprichnik-autocratic system to an analogue of a European nation state, did not begin in 1917 and has not yet been completed, according to St. Antony’s College historian Vladimir Pastukhov.)
Understood in this way, three things become obvious, he suggests. First, “the results of the Russian revolution and the results of Bolshevism are not one and the same thing, and therefore it is still too early to sum them up;” but one can say that 1917 made a contribution to the real revolution even if it did not achieve that drive’s goals (republic.ru/posts/87530).
Second, revolution understood in this way “is written into the logic of Russian history and is thus one of the seven main events” in the history of the country on the same level as the beginning of the formation of the Moscow-centric state or the transformation of that government into an imperial one by Peter the Great.
And third, 1917 is part of a larger stream of events: “In the 20th century, Russia experienced at a minimum four revolutions and approximately as many ‘palace coups.’” It must be considered in terms of this tradition rather than being viewed as something unique or set apart from history.
Such an understanding of 1917 allows for a better understanding of what is occurring in Russia now, Pastukhov suggests. Vladimir Putin is trying to stop this process, “but from the point of view of history, this does not mean anything because the Russian revolution will strive to realize its goal in their full extent, despite resistance.”
“Sooner or later,” the Russian historian says, “the flood will break the dam. This is only a question of time.” But there is one important aspect of the current situation that needs to be kept in mind: “if the catastrophe of 1917 was a kind of ‘stress test’ of Russian history, then the future catastrophe could turn out to be its ‘crash test.’”
That is because once again after an event that appears to promise radical change, forces have emerged to bring back the old content albeit in new forms’ but the fact that new forms are put in place may be a positive step even if the content isn’t. As Viktor Chernomyrdin once brilliantly observed, Pastukhov continues, “it was never this way, but here is it again!”
“The political goal of the Russian revolution” understood in broadest terms was “the removal of autocracy and the establishment of a Russian version of a nation state,” Pastukhov says. But the events of 1917 “were not able to achieve this end.” Very quickly, “after the beginning of the revolution, the autocratic pattern restored itself in new dress.”
For a brief period between 1989 and 1993, it appeared that the goals of the revolution might be achieved; but such hopes were soon destroyed. Now, the historian says, “present-day Russia as never before resembles not so much the USSR with its totalitarianism as tsarist Russia during the era of decay with its political eclecticism.”
That is, the current system combines “unceasing repressions with relatively free political activity” and “with relatively great, compared with Soviet times, freedom of speech and the press.” Thus, “over the course of a century, Russia has traversed a political circle without having achieved any additional political value.”
And as a consequence, it faces the very same tasks it did a century ago but must try to fulfill them “in new cultural and political conditions,” Pastukhov argues. One of those new conditions is that the Soviet system put in place certain ideas which are important to the achievement of the revolution’s goals even if it never gave them real content.
“Often in the details is hidden not only the devil,” he continues, because “while the revolution did not resolve the task of eliminating autocracy … it laid out the main directions of the solution” of that problem: “republicanism, federalism and parliamentarianism” even though it did not develop them as needed.
The “Soviet project,” he says, did not allow any of these three to acquire the meaning required by the underlying principles of the Russian revolution and so each of them must now be addressed anew.
First, republicanism. “Taking into consideration the Russian political tradition of personalization and sacralization of state power, a nation state in Russia can exist only in a republic form.” That the Soviet system was predicated on that was and remains “the main political achievement of the Soviet project.”
In a republic, Pastukhov points out, it is ultimately easier to achieve the division of secular and spiritual powers (religious and ideological) without which all other forms of the division of power (legislative, executive and judicial) lose practical significance.”
Second, federalism. “In its current territorial-state organization, which in fact remains unchanged since Catherine’s time, Russia cannot exist in any other form besides the autocratic one, that is in the form of a super-centralized state with a hyper-personalized power having sacred status.”
“Therefore, all attempts to ‘democratize’ Russia while preserving the existing territorial-state system and the redistribution of the functions of the center to the territories are a political utopia.” Without changing the former, the latter will not change whatever Russians choose to call their ruler, “emperor, general secretary or president.”
Only genuine federalization, with “15 to 20 large territorial formations capable of being independent subjects of a new federation” will give Russia the chance to achieve this goal of the Russian revolution. Otherwise it will simply go on and on in the same vicious circle of autocracy. But to achieve that will be “unbelievably complicated and risky.”
And third parliamentarianism. Only a parliamentary system will allow the interests of the regions and the population to play the role needed to transform the country while being flexible enough to prevent one or another part of it from wanting and seeking to leave, the Russian historian continues.
In short, what is needed is “a United States of Eurasia.” Indeed, after the Putin period is ended sooner or later, this is the only arrangement that will allow Russia to remain a single country and be democratic and free at the same time. Until that happens, “the Russian revolution [will] not go anywhere.”
What Russians are seeing now is the revolution “in a negative form as the Russian counter-revolution, the active phase of which began in 2013-2014.” In the future, there are really only “two global scenarios for the development of Russia in the 21st century – braking or accelerating the revolution.”
The first, which is on offer now, is “the more probable” but “the longer it continues, the fewer chances Russia will have to remain a single sovereign state.” The second is must less likely because its achievement will require traversing “an extraordinarily difficult and risky path and require unbelievable application of effort of the entire Russian people and great courge from the political elites.”
But, Pastukhov concludes, “this is the only path which will allow the Russian revolution to make a soft landing and not crash into the ground.”