It is difficult to write about Putin’s Russia, something one does reluctantly. One hesitates to use the word Putin because by this act alone you intrude into the political arena, where your least utterance doesn’t remain mere hot air but can also turn on you and make you regret what you’d said. Such regret doesn’t arise because you were wrong or unfair, or because you were misinterpreted, but because your words are always addressed not to those who listen, but rather to those who eavesdrop. Some might be inclined to detect paranoia in this last phrase, to interpret it in the light of conspiracy theory, the “rise of the secret services,” or something of the sort. I have in mind something else, however: the specific shift in Russian political sensibility that has taken place before our eyes. A hypersurplus of mutually repetitive utterances has now been stockpiled, and their lack of content underwrites their existence in the mediaverse. It is simply impossible to listen to them any longer, just as listening itself has become a chore. Continue reading “Oleg Aronson: The New Russian Strikebreakers”
I was born in Moscow in 1966, at the height of the Soviet space program. We might regard that year as the zenith of Soviet power. Two years after I came into the world, Soviet tanks laid waste to the Prague Spring, and the Soviet project began to slowly verge towards decline. A few years later, Brezhnev would remark in one of his speeches that a new supranational community, the Soviet people, had taken shape. Brezhnev was almost right: this people really had formed in all the central regions of the USSR. But the ethnic hinterlands—the Caucasus, the Baltics, Western Ukraine, Moldova—remained. The stronger older nations destroyed the young Soviet nation by exploding it from within as soon as they could. Nevertheless, I can say for myself that I am part of that nation that died in infancy and of which Brezhnev spoke. I am a Soviet person and I wish to remain one until the end of my days. It suits me to be part of something that has disappeared.
The Soviet world as I knew and understood it arose after Stalin’s death. It was founded on two powerful forms of ignorance: ignorance of capitalism and ignorance of communism. There was something defective and sickly in this ignorance, but there was also something heavenly, a kind of apophatic wisdom. In the Soviet idiom, the combination of these two forms of ignorance was called “socialism.”* This was not an idiotic name. Socialism is curious because it is an economic form that denies its own economic essence. The largely paradoxical nature of Soviet socialism was reflected in such odd Brezhnev-era slogans as “The economy should be more economical.” To a certain degree, words played the role of money under Soviet socialism. As a whole, the Soviet Union was a triumph of language, a militant albeit complexly organized logocracy. It would be wrong to call this system ecological: “wordless” nature was polluted by the toxic wastes of word production. In those days, all of Soviet industry (especially the arms industry) was engaged in the gigantic, messy, and poisonous servicing of “Soviet words.”
Only the interim between Soviet socialism and capitalism was ecological. It was a time of crisis: the factories stood idle, and the air became cleaner. It is a pity, but those days (the nineties) came to an end, and now (under cover of patriotic speeches) our country is becoming a colony of international capitalism.** They try and persuade us this is success, but it is not true. We should (my dreams tell me, and I believe them) put our beautiful country to a different use, for example, by turning it into a colossal nature and culture reserve. (After all, our country, like Brazil, produces the most valuable thing on Earth: oxygen.) We should close the borders to foreigners (but let anyone leave as they like), carry out a program of deindustrialization, and limit the birth rate.
—Pavel Pepperstein, “A Critique of Dreams (Dreams and Capitalism).” In Viktor Mazin and Pavel Pepperstein, The Interpretation of Dreams (Moscow, 2005), pp. 697–700.
∗ We should verify whether the “sickliness” and “defectiveness” that was contained in post-Stalinist Soviet socialism was in fact its shortcoming. It is possible that it was a virtue wisely camouflaged as a “shortcoming.” However, either the oriental nature of this wisdom, of this ascetic camouflage, was gradually eroded during the course of the irreversible, “creeping” westernization of the entire Soviet society (this took place over the entire post-Stalinist period), or the people who instituted this camouflage themselves fell victim to this “effect of unsuccess,” which was originally conceived as a clever disguise, as a form of the sagacious ambiguity that marks the “dialectics of socialist survival.”
∗∗ This could be said with certainty after Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in 2000. The Putin regime is analogous to the Latin American juntas. Clothing themselves in nationalist and statist rhetoric, the “organs” (which in Russia are a caste with the same relationship to central authority as the army in Latin American countries) are gradually repressing the final albeit paradoxical obstacle to colonization of our country: the criminal, “shadowy,” undisciplined, disobedient “wild” national capitalism generated by the Yeltsin era. The paradox lies in the fact that such Jews as Khodorkovsky, Berezovky, and Gusinsky—post-Soviet Russian financial adventurers—are the last flowering of the “Russian national spirit.” They are the last form of the alternative effect that the authorities must eradicate to bring Russia into the orbit of the “integrated world of today,” a world that it essentially joins as a new economic and political colony.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Reuters