Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Totalitarianism is Not Simply More Repressive Authoritarianism, Travin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 12 – Many Russians are inclined to say that Vladimir Putin is transforming their country into a totalitarian one given that he is becoming ever more repressive, but they forget that a totalitarian state is not simply one that is a more repressive variety of authoritarianism but in fact is something else entirely, according to Dmitry Travin.

            The European University professor points out that “autocracy is based on the idea that one and the same people will rulee the country suppressing any opposition with the help of various kinds of manipulation and even repression. The main thing for the autocrat is to preserve his personal power and use it for definite goals” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/02/12/1827606.html).

            “But autocracy does not seek to impose a total ideology,” Travin continues. “If autocracy successfully resolves its basic tasks (power and rent), then it isn’t all that disturbed by critical articles in a few independent publications, individual pickets, ironic comments about the leader, and scholarly works in which the destructive nature of authoritarian regimes is described.”

            According to the St. Petersburg scholar, “an autocracy can be more or less harsh. But even when it begins to sentence people to lengthy terms, it is all the same still an autocracy. Totalitarianism arises in its place only when all the vents through which you can breathe a drop of fresh air are shut tight.”

            To build a totalitarian system requires more than “the striving of the autocrat to maximize his power. He must also succeed in ensuring that the majority of people believe in the ruling ideology and are ready for it to work and sometimes even to die. And what is more, to turn in anyone who disagrees and be sincerely pleased by mass repressions.”

            “If the people have such a faith, it is easier for the ruler to run the country by making the authoritarian system harsher but not trying to build totalitarianism out of ‘human material’ which is unfit for that.” And for that reason, “there is no totalitarianism in Russia and it isn’t going to appear soon.”

            It is far better to describe the current Putin regime as increasingly harsh authoritarianism than to destroy the meaning of words by calling it totalitarian; and it is far more accurate to do so than to say that it doesn’t matter what one calls it.  For Russia’s future, “an understanding of what kind of society we live in and of what political trends exist is critical.”

            Loose talk about Putinism as a form of totalitarianism is a sign of unforgiveable pessimism and a denial of the possibility that change can come from our own actions, Travkin says. Now, there are may things Russians can do to fight the authoritarian system. At the very least, they can tell their children what a very different future Russia could be.

            They thus should stay and work rather than flee, recognizing that fighting authoritarianism however brutal is not the same task as fighting totalitarianism because the former system is not like the latter and mustn’t be confused with it. To fail to see this is to give Putin and his system a victory they don’t deserve. 

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