Staunton, Mar. 15 – Historical parallels are rarely as exact as those who use them think, Svetlana Stephenson says; but the one between the groups committed to an authoritarian and militarist ethos rose to power in Russia after the 1990s is very close to the way similar groups rose to power in Germany under Hitler. At the very least, it explains a lot.
The sociologist at the London Metropolitan University bases her argument on the logic of civilizing and de-civilizing forces developed by the late German-English social theorist Norbert Elias in his discussions of the ways in which the Nazis reversed the march toward more peaceful and civilized approaches in Germany (novayagazeta.eu/articles/2023/03/15/dolche-bita).
“In Russia as a result of the crisis of the 1990s,” Stephenson writes, “social groups which were bore an authoritarian and militarist ethos and then these groups were able to suppress the weak first growths of Russian democracy.” In fact, the alliance of mafia groups and force structures “having become the elite … consciously resisted peaceful development.
“The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the destruction of the former social structure and opened the way for new processes of social mobility,” she continues. “In the course of the struggle for the Soviet inheritance and capitalist property, ‘force-based entrepreneurs’ came to the fore.”
“Young people from the streets, former sports figures, Afghan veterans, and various bandit communities struggled among themselves for power and property at the level of streets, districts, cities and entire regions;” and “parallel with them and often in tandem, representatives of the force structures, the MVD and the FSB, struggled as well.”
“Gradually the one and the other formed coalitions and created ties of friendship as they shared similar goals and approaches to life.” Many expected that after the forceful division of resources in the 1990s, this coalition would fall apart and would be succeeded in power by those committed to a more peaceful and legal approach.
“But this did not happen,” Stephenson notes. Instead, one of their number, Vladimir Putin, came to power; and both he and those who shared his inclinations assumed that their time had come and so adopted a nationalist ideology that few of them had had before in order to extend their influence.
As had been true with Hitler and the Nazis, Stephenson continues, “the nationalist ideology gave both the powers and the masses a felling of power and superiority,” setting the stage for them to take revenge first against their enemies within the Russian Federation and then their enemies abroad.
Those who might have been expected to resist them successfully failed not least of all because of the Anschluss of Crimea which appeared to carry with it the lesson that the use of force could solve Russia’s problems. Of course, those who were pleased that “Crimea is ours” didn’t understand that that would lead to a major war.
But with a military victory in Crimea and then one in Syria, “permanent war became the main means of existence of Russian society” and there was no one left to compete against elites committed to the use of force. That was largely because of the unexpected direction Kremlin policy took over the last 20 years.
“Contrary to the expectations of the early 2000s, the Russian government began to engage not in monopolization but in the widespread diffusion of violence,” Stephenson says, backing “nationalist and paramilitary groups, the introduction of sadistic practices in prisons, and extrajudicial reprisals” against opponents.
This “normalization and spread of violence” was also promoted by “the de-criminalization of family violence, the militarization of the church, and the glorification of the military in kindergartens and schools,” all steps that had the effect of uniting power and people around violence.
“One can only hope,” Stephenson concludes, “that after the end of military aggression, new forces, interested in peaceful development, will come to power in Russia and the civilizing process will finally get a chance there.” As long as the war goes on, that isn’t likely to happen – instead, the reverse is ever more likely.
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