Staunton, February 11 – Many want to believe that once Vladimir Putin leaves the scene, Russia can and will escape from totalitarianism, Dmitry Shusharin says in a new book, but such people are deceiving themselves because, tragically, the Russian people and the Russian opposition are just as totalitarian as the Russian state.
In a new book, “Russian Totalitarianism: Freedom Here and Now” (in Russian, available in electronic form on Amazon.com and ridero.ru), the Moscow commentator and controversialist draws on the work of Hannah Arendt and other theorists of totalitarianism to analyst the Putin system.
It has now been reviewed by Irina Pavlova, a US-based Russian historian, on her blog (ivpavlova.blogspot.com/2017/02/blog-post_9.html#more). What follows here is based on her review rather than on the book itself, although the author of these lines very much looks forward to reading the complete text.
Pavlova says that Shusharin’s book is very different from most analyses of what is going on in Russia because “he considers the Russian powers that be, the Russian people, and the so-called non-systemic opposition as a single whole” and views them all as “totalitarian” rather than suggesting as most do that the regime may be but the people and opposition are not.
If Shusharin’s approach is accepted, Pavlova says, then “to speak about the presence [in Russia] of an opposition in the Western understanding is senseless. It doesn’t exist and never did.” Instead, the opposition, like the people and the powers, are part and parcel of “’a totalitarian commonwealth.’”
Thus, Shusharin argues, Putin is “in this ‘commonwealth’ … ‘the most popular leader in the entire history of Russia,’ since the democratic opposition today in Russia not simply is in a totalitarian consensus with the authorities but is helping it to renew and perfect the existing regime.”
“And therefore,” Pavlova continues, for Shusharin, what is occurring in Russia now “is not stagnation but a constantly renewed organism,” a “perestroika” of totalitarianism involving a rejection of its “’more archaic aspects.’”
He argues, the historian says, that “in Russia not a single government or social institution ahd the potential for democratic development and therefore the [oft-expressed] hopes that an open society and the development of information technologies would promote democratization in Russia have not been justified.”
“To the contrary,” Pavlova summarizes Shusharin’s argument, “the powers that be have learned extremely well to use these technologies for the strengthening of totalitarianism.” They don’t need an ideology because they can rely on “mass culture, in the production of which liberal rulers of thought have participated and continue to participate with enthusiasm.”
The outside world and its leaders have generally failed to understand what they are up against in the case of Putin’s Russia, and their failure to do so has allowed Putin, who is in a position of relative weakness, to outplay them and look in many cases far stronger than he in fact is.
Pavlova says she “shares the position of the author that the Putin regime is aggressive, consistent and decisive in its actions as never before and skillfully plays on the weaknesses of Western civilization,” but she says that his views about the future are “overly apocalyptic” both in terms of what will happen in Russia and what will occur in response in the West.
According to Shusharin, “’Russia is an eternal and inescapable evil, a constant danger for the entire world, a chronic illness of humanity from which it is extremely likely that humanity will die” because “the threat to civilization comes ‘not from the destroyers of Palmyra or Iran with a nuclear weapon or from networked terrorism. It comes from Russia.’”
Pavlova says that Shusharin’s notion is that “the plan of Putin and the Russian people consists in the idea that ‘the entire world must become Russian or disappear.’” (Not having read the book, I cannot say whether Shusharin means Russian or like Russia, the latter being something very different and perhaps closer to Putin’s actual intentions.)
Shusharin’s book is a “sad” one, although it could help to focus the attention of people in Russia and in the West on some deeper problems, Pavlova suggests. Unfortunately, the question arises: who is going to read such a book given that it challenges the happy optimism of those who think Putin is the problem and that when he goes all will change “in a magical way.”