Friday, June 11, 2021

Russia is ‘Pregnant with a New GULAG’ But It May Not Be as Bloody or Long-Lasting as Its Predecessor, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 9 – The transformation of Russia from post-communist authoritarianism to “a harsh military theocracy” and from targeted attacks on opponents to mass repression against groups and the elite is nearing completion, Vladimir Pastukhov. But changes in Russian society may mean that this new GULAG state won’t be as bloody or long-lasting as its model.

            Two parallel trends have now come together, the London-based Russian analyst says, “the formation of a new “deep state’” and the establishment of “a new and effective technology of the manipulation of mass consciousness out of the remnants of Soviet and pre-Soviet myths, ‘the deep mind’” (

            One might even speak of the rise of “the latest version of the Russian ‘deep mind state,’” Pastukhov continues. But “this time it is not monolithic but a combined Orthodox-communist” set of ideas. How stable this eclectic system will be for the formation of a new totalitarianism remains to be seen. But it has made progress toward something likely to last for decades at least.

            “The deep state, the bogeyman of conspiracy writers of all stripes, really exists everywhere. But if in Europe it is located just below the waterline of the government ships, in Russia it is the underwater portion of the iceberg. In other words, in Russia, the deep state is the only real state.” What is above the waterline is only decorative.

            “Under the Bolsheviks, the Russian deep state was formed institutionally in the form of the party-nomenklatura system … but under Putin, ‘the vacuum’” which arose from its decay and then collapse “organized itself; and in place of the communist vertical has been erected a mafia vertical held together not so much by ideology as by the understandings of thieves.”

            Over the course of several decades, he continues, this “new ‘domestic’ mafia state has strengthened and extended itself until it has penetrated literally into every cell of the state organism.” As is often the case with serious illness, however, much of this has passed without external effects or a recognition of its seriousness.

            People are aware that something is going on but assume that other structures will prevent this “disease” from transforming or killing the organism as a whole. But now it is becoming obvious that “the deep state created by Putin has completely seized and subordinated to itself the nominal state.”

            To make this process possible, the Putinist state has increasingly formed an ideology beyond simply seizing money for itself. It is eclectic in the extreme, made up of castoffs from the past. But the combination is proving sufficiently attractive to many and strong enough to last for several decades, Pastukhov says.

            “Unlike communism or national socialism, this is not so much a doctrinal system as a system of ‘feelings,’ oriented to the immediate attitudes of the masses.” There is no underlying theoretical basis for this and thus its longevity is always in doubt. But for the immediate future, it is proving to be enough.

            “These two circumstances, the completion of the formation or a totalitarian-repressive infrastructure (hardware) and the successful appropriation of an erzats ideology created by means of the deep modernization of worn-out models (software) [define] the prospects and tendencies of development of the Putin regime.”

            “Its inevitable historic  collapse in the long term does not exclude the possibility of its significant strengthening and even expansion in the short and medium term,” the London-based Russian analyst says. Indeed, both its external manifestations already and its latent potential suggest the direction it will now move in.

            The Putin regime is ineluctably moving from targeting a few specific opponents to repressing ever-larger categories of the population, Pastukhov argues. No longer will passive acceptance of the regime be enough to prevent the latter from falling victim to the regime because of its own internal needs.

            “This transition,” he continues, “is not stylistic but essential [because] it touches literally all aspects of public life in Russia.” And this trend is not only a problem for the masses but for the elites, including those close to the Kremlin leader, because he must use force against them in order to make his system continue to function.

            According to Pastukhov, “the transition from the struggle with active opponents to the struggle with those who have different opinions is not something mechanical.” But even more important is the change in scale. “If earlier, there were relatively few ‘enemies’ and they could be ‘excluded,’ now their number is infinitely many” and an individual approach won’t work.

            What that means is that “the shift to the struggle with dissidence is the inevitable overture for mass repressions.” There are signs that is already beginning to happen, and they, plus the logic of the situation means that “Russia is pregnant with a new GULAG” that will swallow up both portions of the society and portions of the elite.

            “Broadscale repressions within the Kremlin pool are practically inevitable, and this is a question of the very nearest future,” Pastukhov argues. These repressive moves will “touch not only” those who have already shown some independence of mind but also those close to Putin who do not appear to.

            The question now is what will this lead to, he concludes. Neither the society nor the elites in Russia are what they were in Stalin’s time; and consequently, it is possible that one may hope that “the second edition of ‘the great terror’ will be an easier parody of the first, less bloody and significantly less long-lasting.”

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