Staunton, May 28 – In a Znak interview about his new book, Revolution and Constitution in Post-Communist Russia, Vladimir Pastukhov says Russia must undergo a cultural revolution more profound than the Soviet one and create a constitutional nation state or alternatively face the more or less rapid disintegration of its autocratic empire.
There are many compelling reasons for that conclusion, the London-based Russian scholar argues, but perhaps the most important, the historical record suggests, is that over the longer term empires and modernization are “incompatible things” (znak.com/2019-05-27/rossiyu_zhdet_kulturnaya_revolyuciya_kuda_mochnee_bolshevistskoy_intervyu_vladimira_pastuhova).
It is true, Pastukhov says, that empires can be “much more effective than democracies” in the short term but that over the long haul, “such a society dies from the fruits of that very modernization” because by “initiating the process of modernization, it will encounter challenges to which it is unprepared to cope.”
Those Russians who say that it can survive for a long time because of its military might forget that most of its arsenal is from the Soviet era and that the modernization of weaponry in other countries is rapidly making much of what Moscow has irrelevant, something that will become completely obvious in 10 to 20 years.
To be effective, the cultural revolution Russia needs will not have to affect a large segment of the population; but it will have to transform the way critical minorities think and act, Pastukhov continues. Once these minorities are changed, they will “begin to impose their stereotypes on others and under favorable circumstances become dominant and change society.”
Znak noted that in his book, the London-based scholar said that “all Russian history and culture is hostile to the Western liberal idea of constitutionalism,” that “constitutionalism requires sending to the trash heap of history all the customary arrangements of Russian life, radically changing the Russian mentality, and thus doing away with centuries-old tendencies.”
Pastukhov says that is exactly what he believes and that “the leap to constitutionalism” in Russia “presupposes a revolution of a size that Russia has never before encountered.” That will involve “convulsions, compared to which the Bolshevik revolution … will seem like child’s play.”
If this revolution occurs, he says, “we in reality will never become Swiss or British or French, but we will become Russians very different from what we are today.” And despite what some say, such a revolution is “completely possible,” Pastukhov insists. And for a very simple reason:
“Between those Europeans as we know them today and those Europeans who lived in the 11th century, there is approximately the same difference as between us now and those Russians which ought to be” if Russia is to become a liberal constitutional state. “The European experience shows that a cultural transformation is possible.”
“Those who speak a lot about patriotism and the defense of Russian values, that is those who one way or another are in the Prokhanov-Dugin paradigm (and in in the absence of anything better are the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin personally) are the main Russophobes,” not as they think their critics.
“’We have a special culture,’” such people insist; “’we cannot become other than we now are.” And thus they assume that the Russian people are condemned to remain what they were in the 11th through the 16th century. It is true Russians have a distinct cultural “code,” but it is not true that it hasn’t changed and cannot change more – and more quickly now than in the past.
According to Pastukhov, “present-day Russia is in such a position that if it does not take serious steps, if everything remains as it is, then I do not see a single argument” that it would become successful or that it would be able to hold the lands beyond the Urals 50 years from now “under Russian jurisdiction and control.”
Consequently, he says, “Russia has only two paths: the first is to accept this as given” and face submersion by an expanding Chinese culture and the second, “to become part of the Western world and, operating on its technological power, attempt to preserve itself in its existing borders.”
If it doesn’t choose the second path, it will fall apart and be reduced to something on the order of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality.
In calling for Russia to move toward becoming a nation state, Pastukhov says that he wants to be very clear about his views of the relations between ethnic Russians and non-Russians within its borders. Of course, the Stalin-imposed ethno-territorial divisions should be dispensed with because this “prevents the formation of a single political space.”
But at the same time, he argues, he says that he opposes a forced assimilation of peoples. “On the contrary,” Pastukhov says, “I consider that this would be simply disastrous.” Indeed, the non-Russians should be protected from being assimilated by the Russians lest that process get out of hand and destroy democracy or the state.
“In general,” he observes, “one must take into account all the negative and positive lessons which such an experimental space as Ukraine offers.”
According to Pastukhov, “the main problem which we must resolve will be not the Caucasus but relations of those centers which created the great Russian state, Moscow and Kazan. A union of the Russian and Tatar ethnoses clearly is for Russian something fundamental. This must be recognized and people must learn to live with it.”
If Russians choose to undergo such a revolution and if it works out, then “in 50 to 100 years, Russia will become a flexible combination of self-administrated units having great potential for autonomy but connected with each other in a common cultural, political, and economic space which in its turn will be part of a larger Euro-Asiatic civilizational platform.”
“The alternative to this beautiful picture will be the dividing up of the space into several dozen if not hundreds of protectorates under the influence of various neighbors, German, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese and so on” and there involvement in fights among one another “with two or three dominant megalopolises, each of which will be a mix of Macao and Mexico.”
No one should think as many do that the recent events in Yekaterinburg are the beginning of this revolution. “From my point of view, the flexible reaction of the Kremlin and Putin personally demonstrated rather that he is confident in himself and controls the situation in the country rather than that he is weak and losing control.”
Protests are useful as educational experiences, but “a revolution begins not when people go into the streets but when those who must drive them back begin to be plagued with doubts.” There is no evidence that that is yet the case – and until there is one should not get ahead of oneself in evaluating events.