Friday, July 9, 2021

Neo-Medievalism in Russia about Far More than Rise of New Ruling Class, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 4 – When analysts speak about a new feudalism in Russia, they typically focus on the formation of an elite capable of transferring power from one generation to another, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. But in fact, the Kremlin is promoting feudalism in a variety of other, perhaps more fateful ways.

            The Russian economist says one can see the restoration of feudal principles not only in the state but in the economy and society more generally, a development that will make any escape from this system far more difficult than just the presence of an elite capable of handing power to its children (

            “In Putin’s Russia,” Inozemtsev says, “we see the restoration of medieval economic practices in many forms up to and including” things like tax redemption systems in the form of Platon fees “unknown in modern times.” And we see the wealth of the country defined in terms solely of natural resources rather than the skills of the population and its economic activity.

            But more important has been the restoration of the notion that the state stands above society rather than being in some sense responsible to it. In modern societies, rulers realize they must respond to the population; but in medieval ones, the state was a thing in itself above everything else, and Putin has restored that.

            Modern societies reward those who risk their lives for their countries but medieval ones impose this as a duty and do not reward those who perform these duties or provide their heirs with adequate compensation if these individuals die. Russia is like the pre-modern states in this regard as well.

            But it is not only this which is behind the restoration of a caste system in which some must obey the laws while others can ignore them. “The contemporary legal milieu in Russia is actively being destroyed through the formation of numerous groups of people who stand outside its direct application,” thus violating what a modern legal system should be.

            And more generally, the Putin regime’s promotion of “traditional values” is simply a euphemism for depriving women and sexual minorities of their rights and enshrining force as a principle of social relations where men remain unpunished for violent crimes against women, Inozemtsev continues.

            At the same time, he says, the content of the territorial arrangements in Russia has also become increasingly medieval. In ever more places, the ruler is more important than the territory and its people; and he is able to act freely without reference either to the wishes of the population or the strictures of law.

            Chechnya is Exhibit A as far as this is concerned; but one should not think that the situation is better in Daghestan, Ingushetia or Tyva.”

            Inozemtsev says there are two major trends underlying all of these developments. On the one hand, as bad as wealth and income inequality is in Russia, legal inequality is worse and more medieval. What is taking shape there is the formation of two classes of people, those in the state and “slaves” who must obey their rulers.

            And on the other, he continues, those in the first category increasingly feel and act as if they can do anything they like with the people in the second, a medieval vision that subverts all the principles of law and modernity. Those within the state view this as their right and do not see how it subverts the rights of all.

            “The creation of a stable trend to the archaicization of Russian society is an undoubted success of the Kremlin and its main achievement,” Inozemtsev says. “The Russian powers have achieved something practically impossible: stopped and turned back the social development of a major European country.”

            The Putin regime has “created a perfect ‘commercial state’ in which power and money are freely convertible, returned society to the state of suspended animation and free people into subjects dependent on the masters.”  This has become “the natural result of that flight from the present which the Kremlin has offered Russian society” instead of solutions.

            And it is something which “will cost Russia dearly” and won’t be reversed until the appearance of future generations.

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