Friday, October 23, 2020

Neo-Sovietism Reflects Not Just Leaders but Structures of Power Left Over from Soviet Times, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 21 – Many analysts of post-Soviet development suggest that the regimes that have emerged there are simply clutches of bandits and thieves who have seized power to enrich themselves and who will with time pass away as new generations arise, Dimitry Savvin says.

            But the head of the Riga-based Russian conservative Harbin portal argues that personalities, even those shaped by the Soviet past, are insufficient to explain what is taking place across such an enormous and enormously varied territory and that one must look instead at the survival of the Soviet structures of power (

            That means, Savvin argues, that breaking the pattern of the past will require not simply personal lustration, the removal of those most closely tied to the Soviet past, but also and more importantly the dismantling of the apparatus of power created in Soviet times and largely surviving in most of the post-Soviet states. 

            Skeptics may say, he observes, “and not without basis” that the survival of the old elites is a sufficient explanation of what has happened. But in fact, the recrudescence of Soviet approaches in such different circumstances means that there are deeper forces at work, the most important of which is the continuing vitality of a Soviet-style apparatus of power.

            Everywhere, Savvin argues, “we see a common denominator” that explains even more than the personalities of individual rulers what is going on: oligarchy and a chekist corporation in charge, authoritarianism growing into totalitarianism in response to challenges, a partially freed economy coming under increasing state control, and the copying of Soviet mobilizational tropes.

            These commonalities are obscured because the regimes cover what they are doing with a wide variety of often changing ideological justifications ranging “from classical community and Marxist ones to nationalist ideas.” But beneath these are being preserved not just the ruling stratum but “the entire collection of Soviet (communist) institutes.”

            The Bolsheviks called these “the apparatus of power,” Savvin continues, by which they meant “not only the ruling stratum but the combination of repressive and administrative institutions formed under the specific conditions of the Soviet system.”

            “Initially, this apparatus was set up with mobilizational goals to extract from Russia under communist power the maximum amount of resources for the needs of the world revolution.” But “after 1991, its task was changed: it must now serve exclusively the interests of the ruling stratum, even though its social-political mechanism remained largely the same.”

            In many respects, Savvin continues, “this apparatus of power after 1991 was in most regard similar to the British East India Company, a private commercial enterprise which had many of the attributes of a sovereign state.” That is, for these regimes, the state became a business operating for its stakeholders.

            But at the same time, “the Soviet and neo-Soviet apparatus of power was significantly different.” The East India Company functioned within a normative system that limited what it in fact did. “The Bolshevik apparatus was established as a bestial experiment” intended to destroy all such “natural social, economic, political and even moral and religious coordinates.”

            And because those values were destroyed but the institutional arrangements continue, rulers felt able to clothe what they were doing in a variety of ideological dress but have increasingly found themselves driven back to this organizational imperative. Thus, the post-Soviet states have not become more different with time but more similar.

            Unless this structure of power is dismantled and discredited, he argues, “the final stop of all this will be re-Sovietization, the chief element of which [in Russia] is the cult of the Great Fatherland War” and in the non-Russian countries in the direction of fascism, although fascism promoted from above but not necessarily supported from below.

            Because that is the case, the conservative Russian analyst says, “the main task on the path to genuine de-communism is not simply lustration but the destruction of the neo-Soviet apparatus of power” – or at a minimum, its commanding heights. Otherwise, the doleful trends of today will continue even when people without a Soviet background come to power.

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