Staunton, March 14 – In a four-part essay, Russian commentator Aleksandr Skobov says that Vladimir Putin’s new authoritarianism reflects both worldwide trends and specific Russian realities and represents a far more dangerous threat to Russia and the West than many imagine because it is fundamentally different from the authoritarianisms of the past it is often viewed as.
He argues that the Russian opposition and the West must overcome their misconceptions about Putin’s neo-authoritarianism, stop assuming economic change will necessarily lead to political liberalization and overthrow Putinism before it can do any more damage (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=604749D279786, kasparov.ru/material.php?id=60489EB29AC1E, kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6049FABF40E06 and kasparov.ru/material.php?id=604B46DFA5C91).
“Among Russian liberals,” Skobov says, “the notion that the Putin regime is a certain ‘backward authoritarianism’ is still widespread,” something that leads them to conclude that with economic development, Russia will finally overcome the Soviet past and become “’a normal’ liberal democracy.” But both these views are “deeply mistaken.”
On the one hand, a totalitarian heritage does not necessarily make authoritarianism inevitable as the cases of Bulgaria and Romania show; and on the other, the liberals forget that Russia before 1917 and the Soviet Union at its end were comparable in many ways as far as economic development is concerned with the West but did not become democracies as a result.
“The Putin system was established not by old pre-industrial elites … it was created by new elites of post-industrial society and arose on the basis of a post-industrial society as a result of the contradictions inherent in such societies,” the Russian commentator continues. “The Putin system is a form of ‘authoritarian capitalism’ and as such competitive with the liberal variety.
“The new post-industrial authoritarianism” not just in Russia but especially there is “a revolt against the modernization that has already taken place. To a significant degree, is is based on the anti-modernist attitudes of those strata which achieved quite high status in the industrial era but have lost it in the course of the post-industrial transition.”
Those who back “’the new authoritarianism” oppose what modernity did. It limited “the diktat of the state, society and small groups” over the individual. But those who support the new authoritarians believe that “these limitations have become too numerous.” They reject them in the name of freedom for those with the power to take it.
“In their crusade against ‘the religion of human rights,” Skobov says, “they raise their banner of ‘freedom,’ freedom from limits on force and cruelty and freedom from limits on the struggle for domination. They thus appeal to primordial instincts and to the archaic.” The only way they can achieve their goals is by pursuing ever more totalitarian methods.
And that means that the Putin regime won’t move to overcome “the survivals of authoritarianism” but rather in the direction of the imposition of ever more “totalitarian” controls. Indeed, “it is already moving in that direction.” Its supporters believe they must do whatever benefits them no matter how much it harms others at home or abroad.
To counter this regime, Russians must organize a resistance in alliance with the West to overthrow Putin and Putinism. That won’t be easy, but it is absolutely necessary because otherwise neo-authoritarianism will not only continue but spread, metastasizing not only inside Russia but across the globe.
Skobov’s conclusions rests on a close analysis of the development of the Russian economy over the last century, the critical role that the automization of society under communist rule played in creating a class of people interested in promoting themselves regardless of consequences for others, and the fundamental stability of such neo-authoritarianism.
In this new society, he argues, the country has enough resources to offer everyone “not only bread but circuses,” something that reduces among the population any desire to go into the streets to resist the oppression it increasingly suffers from, especially as structures like parties and values expressed in ideologies have withered under post-industrial conditions.
It is true, Skobov acknowledges, that the new information society gives people greater chances to promote themselves but largely as individuals rather than as members of groups. And he warns that there is no guarantee that those who will learn how to use such technologies first be they in the state or outside it will be committed to liberal values.
Democratic institutions everywhere are thus under assault, he says; but those in the West have “a very large reserve of firmness.” Those in Russia don’t; and so expecting Russia to withstand them is a fool’s errand, one that means many will expect a better future that won’t arrive unless they work to overthrow Putin and Putinism.