Staunton, July 19 – As in many countries, generations and the change from the dominance of one generation to another have played a key role in Russian history. Now, picking up on the work of Teodor Shanin about that, Vladimir Pastukhov argues that today “the lost generation” of the 1990s is being replaced by “the generation without a future.”
And that leads to “one extremely dull conclusion: one should expect a serious shift in public life in Russia most likely after 2020-2025” because until then there won’t have been formed “a subject of social action capable of any changes, the St. Antony’s College scholar says (novayagazeta.ru/comments/69250.html).
Generations, Pastukhov begins by pointing out, are “a social not a biological phenomenon.” That is, they are formed by some major historical event which transforms “in a mystical way” those born over the course of a particular period from “a statistical category” into “a generation” whose members were defined by a common and “unique social experience.
Following Shanin’s research, the Russian scholar says that generations typically include people born over the course of a 15 year period; and he then discusses the series of generations who have mattered in Russian history over the last century in order to consider where Russia is likely headed next.
The first of these generations, those born between 1910 and 1925, he calls “the people of the front.” Their views were defined by the Great Terror and the Great Victory. Having suffered in both, they became after 1945 “the second edition of the Decembrists,” that is, they believed they had a right to a better future because of what they had struggled against.
They gained a partial victory with “the arrest of Beria, the rejection of mass terror and the unmasking of the cult of personality,” Pastukhov says.
The next generation, those born between 1925 and 1940, became “the people of the ‘60s.” For them, “the main event of their entire lives” was Khrushchev’s thaw, and that defined their attitudes ever after. They believed that Russia could change for the better, and “in part,” their faith was reflected “in the ideals of perestroika.”
The third generation in Pastukhov’s account, those born between 1940 and 1955, were “the people of the ‘70s.” The defining event of their lives was the Brezhnev reaction not the changes of Khrushchev or the Stalinist past. And they were affected less by the Prague Spring than by its suppression with Soviet tanks.
To a large extent, he writes, this generation “was transformed into non-ideological pseudo-communist consumerist plankton.” They were more affected by the delights offered by the Western market than by the arguments in samizdat. One of the many ironies is that “the USSR feared” Western weapons “but it capitulated before mass consumption.” And for this generation, the most important new freedom after 1991 was “the freedom of imports.”
The fourth generation, born between 1955 and 1970, was in Pastukhov’s telling “the generation of perestroika.” This generation grew up as the Soviet system rotted. They weren’t prepared to defend it, but at the same time, “this generation valued freedom only nominally because it was given to it without a struggle like manna from heaven.”
For its members, “perestroika forever has remained a holiday” that they meet “with tears in their eyes, something which generates not so much delight as perplexity.” They did not become a second ‘60s generation. Instead, they were infected by a narrow pragmatism, something that “in large measure” was responsible for “the destructive character of perestroika and all succeeding events.”
The fifth generation, those born between 1970 and 1985, Pastukhov calls “the disappointed generation,” a generation of complete cynics who grew up “in an atmosphere of banditry or worse. It still remembered Soviet standards of living, and it was disappointed in what had happened to its country.
Its members thus “became the chief social support” of Vladimir Putin; and “it was from among them that he selected his new post-communist aristocracy.” He provided them with stability and predictability, but he didn’t prepare them for the fact that they would be succeeded in turn by a generation “more cynical” than their own.
The sixth generation, those born between 1985 and 2000, constitute “a lost generation,” the St. Antony’s historian says. This is “a generation of mega-consumers,” Pastukhov writes. For them, the early years of Putin’s rule were a defining moment. They weren’t formed by either the 1990s or the last years of the Soviet Union.
As a result, “authoritarianism, especially in the form of ‘sovereign democracy’ is for [this generation] a customary and natural milieu.” Their goal is to take everything from life they can; they are “convinced consumerists; and “the main event of their life was the oil boom” which gave them without effort more toys. “They are infantile and aggressive.”
Moreover, he continues, they form “the social base for all pro-power radical movement, but not because they love the powers that be but because they love a beautiful and comfortable life. [They] not only support the growing over of authoritarianism into neo-totalitarianism but do everything to provoke that.”
The seventh generation, those born between 2000 and 2015, Pastukhov calls “the generation without a future.” For them, what may be most important is some “epic event,” possibly “a new war” that one hopes will be “local and not a worldwide one.” They are growing up in an atmosphere of obscurantism and of a cult of force.
Almost every day, the members of this generation “have to make a serious moral choice. Many make it not in favor of good, but those who reject evil will stand firmly on that position.” That gives hope, but it also means that those who choose evil may define the future more than the others and will seek to bend reality to their will.
This generation will enter political life at the beginning of the next decade when the current regime will have reached its “apogee,” Pastukhov says. And it may have a far greater impact on the future of Russia than did its three immediately preceding ones.
“The generations of 1955-1970 and 1970-1985 are the demiurges of the existing status quo, and the generation of 1985-2000 has not justified the hopes that have been laid on it,” Pastukhov says. That makes the generation of 2000-2015 especially important, one over which “a most serious struggle” must begin.
If there are unexpected shocks, a revolution in Russia could begin earlier than 2020-2025, he says, but that would hardly be good for Russia “because a revolution in a country where there are no forces capable of seizing it and heading it, of giving it a clear direction,” is likely to develop, as has been true in Russia in the past, in an especially dangerous way.