Staunton, April 3 – It is an exaggeration to say that Putin’s Russia is like Stalin’s in 1937, Aleksey Zakharov says. “The level of political force is now much lower” than in that year, although what is happening now is fully comparable with what occurred in the last years of Soviet power.
Now as then, there are “hundreds of political prisoners; the regime carries out covert political murders; and the leader of the opposition is in prison and his health if not his life itself is at risk,” the Moscow sociologist says. But there is one way in which the Putin system now is quite comparable to Stalin’s in 1937 (newsru.com/blog/02apr2021/gulag.html).
The Putin system now like the Stalinist many years ago spends a great deal of effort trying to lend legitimacy to what are in fact arbitrary political decisions of the dictatorship. “The NKVD didn’t just shoot people on lists.” The organs worked to gather evidence that the leaders could then use to justify shooting people or confining them in the GULAG.
Stalin was not able to declare openly: “here’s a list of people I want destroyed.” He needed to legitimize what he was doing in his own eyes and that of his supporters by suggesting that he was fighting real enemies, however imaginary they in almost all cases proved to be. The system and his own self-image required that, Zakharov says.
Something similar is happening now with Russian elections. Putin can’t abolish them, lest it cost the regime its legitimacy. And so he is gutting them of any real meaning behind the scenes so that his legitimacy is preserved but the elections aren’t really elections. “The present is more vegetarian” than in 1937, “but the essence of what is happening is the same.”
Another parallel between today and 1937, Zakharov continues, is the combination of a declared commitment to following the rules and a complete neglect of them in practice. “The task of the NKVD was not to find perpetrators but to ensure the legitimacy of Stalin’s political decisions.” Now, the same thing is happening.
Anyone who seeks to question this arrangement has to be silenced because political expediency must be clothed in what will look to many like legitimacy. Not only are the practices similar but so too will be the way that the Russian system will have to evolve if the country is to escape from all this.
After Putin and his “elections,” tehre will need to be “a broad campaign to restore the legality of the system, to investigate past violations, and to punish those who are rigging voting.” Such a campaign will be of immense “symbolic importance” as it will “mark the end of lawlessness and the transition to a new way of life.”