Staunton, July 19 – One of the major distinguishing characteristics between totalitarian regimes like Stalin’s and authoritarian regimes like Putin’s, Mikhail Makogon says, is that the former inevitably try to build “a bright future” while thee latter doesn’t feel compelled to build anything at all.
What that means, he continues, is that totalitarianism doesn’t grow out of authoritarianism but is something entirely different. In authoritarian systems, the siloviki and repression dominate; in totalitarian ones, propaganda does (newizv.ru/article/general/20-07-2020/esche-ne-koshmar-no-prosto-uzhas-chem-otlichaetsya-avtoritarizm-ot-totalitarizma).
Totalitarian states want a future that is different than the present. They may want social transformation or territorial aggrandizement. But regardless, Makogon argues, “they have their own image of that ‘city of the sun’ which they propose to build, and this city is something so inhumanely beautiful that any number of victims are fine.”
“Authoritarian states do not build anything,” he says. “They simply want to preserve themselves, to maintain the beautiful instant of now so that any tomorrow will be exactly like any yesterday.” That means that authoritarian leaders have “no ideology” or at least no fixed one and are ready to change course but only to save themselves.
“If self-preservation requires monuments to Stalin, there will be monuments to Stalin; if a minority is needed for persecution, it will be found and persecuted.” But none of these things reflects an ideological commitment but only an effort to save those in power and arrangements they feel benefit themselves.
“Authoritarianism doesn’t like to work: it never will do more than the minimum required for its self-preservation.” If it can get along without repressions, it will do so; but if it feels it can’t survive without them, then they will be used in just the amount needed to keep things as they are.
Moreover, and in contrast to totalitarianism, “authoritarianism doesn’t need total control, total repression or propaganda. It doesn’t need to arrange everything … If it can exist without interfering it something, it won’t interfere” as long as that thing doesn’t threaten its current manner of rule and doing business.
The same thing is true of elections. When they don’t pose problems, they will be allowed; when they do, they will be falsified or even suppressed. But it is a profound mistake to think there is any blueprint directing what the rulers do. Instead, they act to save themselves – or at least they act in ways that they believe will have that effect.
Putin’s regime is clearly authoritarian; and one can argue that it is becoming more so. But it remains within the authoritarian paradigm because it has neither the interest, the resources, or the desire to move into the totalitarian one.