Staunton, Nov. 14 – Despite continuing repression, Vladimir Putin in recent weeks has devoted ever more attention to ideology as he seeks to complete “the final transition from an amorphous post-communist authoritarianism” to “a reactionary-restorationist post-modern totalitarianism,” Vladimir Pastukhov argues.
The chief weapon in this campaign designed to impose on Russians a different vision of their society has become “the imposition of myths, the massive production and distribution of which has become one of the most important functions of the regime,” the London-based Russian analyst says (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/11/13/poveliteli-mifov-i-puzyrei).
The ease with which the Kremlin leader has achieved this reflects the fact that the Kremlin is participating in what is taking place in the world as a whole. “The regime understood and has ridden the wave which came to Russia from the West and now is rapturously sending back” for its own purposes.
According to Pastukhov, “Russia always has been part of worldwide trends, if they are negative.” And so it should not come as any surprise that it is moving in a direction similar to that abroad toward some “’new Medieval period,” rejecting positivism and relying on myths as the guiding principle.
“Myths are returning, but not in the form of an old one handed down from generation to generation but as a completely new and virginal myth, literally fabricated out of deception and woven together via billions of unseen network links,” one of the ways that new technologies have assisted this development.
The London-based analyst notes that “present-day technologies allow the ordinary user of the Internet to personally take part in the mass production of myths without leaving his couch. This, in fact, changes a lot.” And the Internet has become “a powerful trigger and catalyzer of the return to a new Middle Ages, but it is in no way its cause.”
That cause, Pastukhov continues, lies in “the fear of enormous changes which are touching the delay lives of ordinary people throughout the world.” They feel that forces are at work which they do not understand and can’t control and thus seek stories which give them reassurance even if those stories lead to a new authoritarianism.
“Today, Russia is ahead of the entire planet in the production of cultural consumer bubbles” that provide people with reassurance, he argues. “In Russia, contemporary technologies of myth-making are supported by the preservation of archaic mythological consciousness which has remained practically untouched from neolithic times.”
And this combination of factors has given the Putin regime a comparative advantage. “It appeared at the right time in the right place. In another time and another place, it would not have been nearly as effective.” But even more, “in Russia, myth is the affair of the state,” and by controlling the state, Putin has been able to control this process.
“In the course of the ideological modernization being carried out by the Kremlin, traditional Soviet technologies of propaganda and counter-propaganda were integrated with the latest methods of promoting content on the Internet.” The Kremlin’s successful use of the Internet is why Moscow has not moved to shut off Russians from it.
In sum, Pastukhov says, “the enormous success of the Russian propaganda machine is based in the final analysis in that by acting locally, it has fallen in the global demand for myths.” Indeed, it has seen this opportunity more clearly than others and exploited it in Moscow’s interests.
The global shift from rationalism to mythological consciousness “inevitably leads to a crisis in democracy and the growth of authoritarianism throughout the world,” but it is also the case that this is “a disease of growth,” one that reflects a transition from the order of the last half century into some unknown future. It therefore won’t last forever.
When the real world catches up with the virtual world, the virtual world will recede in importance both as a political tool and as the definer of life in various countries including Russia. But this transition is going to be difficult and will likely last many decades so it is far too early to dismiss those who see an opportunity here and are using it.
Historically, Russia has often jumped on trends and then gone further than others in trying to exploit them. Sometimes that has worked, but often the Russian attempts have shown the underlying contradictions of any trend Moscow tries to follow. There are thus good reasons to think that this may be true once again.