Friday, April 30, 2021

The Three Russias – Liberal Westernizers, Kremlin Imperialists, and ‘the Deep People’ – are Now Strangers to Each Other, Degtyanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – There are now three different Russias, the first consisting of the liberal Westernizers, the second of Kremlin imperialists, and the third the much-ballyhooed “deep” people, Andrey Degtyanov says. They are strangers to each other and aren’t able to cooperate even when two of them, the first and the third, share a common enemy, the second.

            In a commentary for the Region.Expert portal, the historian argues that the liberals and the imperialists have more or less developed political programs, but the “deep” people lack those; and that limits its ability to participate in any alliance with or form a clear opposition to either or both of the others (

            “A similar situation exited during the rule of the last emperor and during the first period of the February Revolution, before the return from emigration of one opposition leader,” Vladimir Lenin, who promoted a program so radical in his April theses that his Bolshevik comrades were appalled but the deep people of that time came to view him as their ally.

            Today, some may be inclined to compare Navalny’s return from Berlin with Lenin’s in 1917. But for that comparison to work, Lenin would have had to have arrived in Petrograd not in the spring of 1917 but a year earlier when “’tsarism was strong as never before,’” Degyarov continues.

            For better or worse, the differences between the two are more than a question of chronology. Lenin had a radical program that appealed to the deep people and allowed him to win them over. Aleksey Navalny doesn’t have such a program because he is focused on the liberal westernizers of the major cities who are completely at odds with the deep people of today.

            “In his radicalism,” the historian continues, “Lenin consciously or intuitively presented the ideals of the peasant community and its ideas about Truth which is higher than written law but not a party newspaper” and brought himself and his party into line with “the collective unconsciousness” of the peasant world.

            Had Lenin remained a dogmatic Marxist, he would never have done this. Instead, he would have presented “a synthesis of radical Westernism” and he would have lost to others. But he moved in a different direction and won. Navalny tragically has moved in just the opposition direction. He started as a defender of the people but now casts himself as that of urban elites.

            But as a result, his “opposition from the point of view of sociology looks not so much an opposition because the Kremlin also is pressing” for the creation of urban agglomerations and the kind of people who normally populate them. Consequently, although Deryagin does not use the term, Navalny and Putin are almost fellow travelers.

            What this means, the historian continues, is that Navalny is “not capable of proposing an agenda which would really bring out into the streets millions of people.” When someone who can present that agenda appears, then perhaps a real revolution will begin but hardly before that time.

            “The demand of ‘the deep people’ for the recoding of its ideals and archetypes in a political program today finds no offer from the side of opposition political forces,” Degtyarov suggests. Perhaps the deep people could combine with regionalists if they were able to offer something of this kind.

            But if that doesn’t happen, he concludes, “an enormous part of society will remain the cement of the imperial regime of the Kremlin, and regionalists at the Free Russia forums will continue to feel themselves dissidents among dissident.”

            Degtyarov focuses most of his attention on the failure of the Navalny movement to understand that the millionaire cities which are their base also include many people who came into them from the villages of the “deep” Russia and retain allegiance to the values of those communities, something that unless Navalny changes his message means he won’t mobilize protests of the size he and his supporters hope for.

            Both the Soviet system and post-Soviet Russia pumped people out of the villages into the cities so rapidly that there was little time for those arriving to acquire the values of urban life. And that has left them and the Navalny base at odds along three major fissures, the historian continues.

            The first divide involves attitude toward state power. The liberal westernizers like Navalny wantr to take control over the state but “deep Russia seeks maximum autonomy from the Kremlin and its appointed governors.”

            The second “dividing line,” he continues, involves attitudes toward a law-based state and to law as such. The liberal supporters of Navalny want something like what exists in the West, a law-based government and an independent judiciary. The deep people want “the supremacy of justice over law, and thus the priority of content over form.”

            And the third line concerns social behavior, something well-illustrated during the pandemic. The liberal Westerners wanted tough anti-covid measures, much like the state, while “’the deep people’” wanted the state to let them live the way they always had regardless of the consequences to their health and even survival.

            What is sad, Degtaryov continues, is that “in this split, the creative class supported the imperial powers because in reality it does not have anything against the empire but only wants to see it as ‘progressive.’” And the two groups that should unite against their common enemy, the liberals and the deep people, haven’t been able to unite against their common enemy, the state.

           Until these two can come together in opposition to the state, many of  'the deep people' will see the state as a lesser evil than the liberals, and the Putin regime will be able to isolate the liberals and maintain itself in power for the foreseeable future.            


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