Staunton, January 13 – Pavel Pryanikov, the editor of the Tolkovatel portal, has sparked a debate by arguing that “the Soviet man was a derivative of the pre-revolutionary Russian one” and that “everything bad in the Soviet one was connected with overly fast modernization” of the peasant community and everything “good” was a survival of that community.
Before the revolution, 80 percent of Russia’s population consisted of peasants and another ten percent included those who were still tightly linked to their peasant pasts. The Soviet system in some respects challenged their beliefs but in others reinforced their archaic nature in much the same way Putin is now doing (facebook.com/ppryanikov/posts/1762165520495166).
That explains many characteristics of Russians today, Pryanikov says, including a belief that everyone should be reduced to a common level, a low level of faith in outsiders combined with a normal one to family members and friends, a willingness to live “without the state (and without the city),” and an inability to perform regular as opposed to episodic work.
Among the many things that the survival of this archaic world and the encouragement of it by the authorities, he suggests, is that “even today the average Russian has trust only for the president (tsar) and that all other institutions (the media, the parliament, judges and so on) are totally distrusted.”
Various people have commented on Pryanikov’s contention. Vadim Boic says that in his view, “the fault lies with the Soviet authorities in that they conserved the archaic mentality” of the Russian peasant world. Olga Monastyreva said that “the semi-peasant consciousness even today is characteristic of many urban [Russians].
Konstantin Sinyushin says that the impact of change on the peasantry led to a split with some seeking to improve themselves and becoming communists in Soviet times while others remained ordinary Soviet people who accepted the new rituals as worthy substitutes for the ones they were asked or compelled to give up.
At a system level, he continues, “everything was preserved. Unfortunately, nothing changed in essentials. The Soviets were able to give the masses education but the longstanding cultural codes wouldn’t be broken down so quickly. For that, they needed more time” than they had.
Pryanikov is slightly more optimistic: He sees the urbanization of Russians changing them in fundamental ways regardless of what the regime seeks. In his view, “the beginning of the 2020s will be a turning point.”
This discussion is important for two reasons. On the one hand, the ideas it raises are important in and of themselves. On the other, the appearance of discussions among Russians on Facebook and VKontakte means that these need to be carefully monitored for what they say about what Russians are thinking.