Ilya Kalinin: Petropatria

Smash & Vengerov & Bobina, feat. Matua & Averin & Kravets, “Oil”

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Extractive nationalism is a machine for turning the nation into a resource for the imaginary regeneration of empire (whose present prospects are, nevertheless, ever more real). Hence the demographic policies of the 2000s, the concept of the “Russian world” (now also equipped with the right to intervene militarily on behalf of compatriots abroad), and the precedent of territorial expansion. In this case, there is another, geopolitical aspect to the resource state’s demodernization: a return to the imperial idea, which ignores both the postmodernist model of globalization and the modernist model of the nation-state. (Although the new empire has been assembled under the quasi-national cover of the “Russian world,” the Russian language, and Russian culture, thus papering over the conflict between the national and the imperial.) The conversion of fossil fuels into one of the main instruments in the war for imperial influence is only the most brutal and aggressive version of the total resource-driven mentality we are discussing.

Thus, the logic of the resource state is deeper than Alexander Etkind writes.* It is not merely that the elite triggers demodernization, turning the populace into an object of paternalistic care based on the charitable redistribution of income derived from the sale of natural resources. It also has to do with the fact that the “modernization project,” the official agenda of the 2000s and 2010s, consists in transforming the populace itself into a natural resource, as it comes to be seen in terms of the same pragmatic struggle for limited resources.

“There is increasing competition for resources. And I want to assure you, dear colleagues, and emphasize that [it is a competition] not just for metals, oil, and gas, but primarily for human resources, for intelligence. Who shoots ahead, and who remains an outsider and inevitably loses their independence, will depend not only on economic potential, but first and foremost on the will of every nation, on its intrinsic energy; as Lev Gumilev said, on its passionarity.”**

We are confronted here with a typical example of translating the discourse of nation into the organicist language of energy resources. Victory in international competition is vouchsafed to those who realize that not only natural but also symbolic resources (“spiritual bonds”) are limited and also need to be placed under state control. If Russia’s economic potential is based on metals, oil, and gas, its human resource consists in the capacity for appropriating “intrinsic energy,” the “will of the nation.” Thus the Russian state’s superextractivity can be described not only as the economic exploitation of “natural resources […] almost without the populace’s involvement” (Etkind, p. 164) but also as the political exploitation of the populace, turned into raw material for the reproduction of the elite.

The values to which the elite appeals in its search for national identity—the historical past, Russian culture, the Russian language—are turned into the exact same sort of raw materials.*** Its ideological obsession with “spiritual principles,” “historical origins,” “tradition,” and “cultural foundations” is defined by the selfsame chthonic horizon of the earth’s depths as the mineral resources on which the elite’s material prosperity and political stability objectively depend. The dialectic of current Russian (de)modernization involves making Russia’s future dependent on intensively exploiting its past (represented as its natural or cultural heritage). A resource is a condensation of the past; it inhabits the present in concentrated form.

The constructed “national tradition” and de(modernization) are deployed in keeping with a simplified version of the Marxist dogma of base and superstructure. In our case, the base is occupied by resources (mineral resources fuel the economy, while the resources of national tradition drive ideology and cultural policy), while the superstructure emerges through modernizing technology for exploiting these same resources. That is why, in a resource state, modernization inevitably devolves into demodernization—a circular movement that over the longer term will increasingly deplete material resources and thus become more dependent on symbolic resources. Hence the increasingly strident attempts to put them under state control: as the final victory of the resource-driven mentality approaches, the struggle for resources has only exacerbated. Natural resources, public institutions, people, and values are converted into raw materials for strengthening the current political order’s stability.

In the end, extractive nationalism itself is a resource for the production of raw petropatriotism. The petropatria is a homeland for the petromacho in which everyone else has to live as well, that same populace for whom it is time to make their choice between their country and oil.

Source: Ilya Kalinin, “Petropatria. Rodina ili neft’” [Petropatria: homeland or oil], Neprikosnovennyi zapas 95 (3) (2014)

* Alexander Etkind, “Petromacho, ili Mekhanizmy demodernizatsii v resursnom gosudarstve” [Petromacho, or demodernization mechanisms in the resource state], Neprikosnovennyi zapas 88 (2) (2013): 156–167.

** President Putin’s Address to the Russian Federal Assembly, December 12, 2012.

*** Cf. Ilya Kalinin, “Boi za istoriiu: proshloe kak ogranichennyi resurs” [The history wars: the past as a limited resource], Neprikosnovennyi zapas 78 (4) (2011): 330–340; Ilya Kalinin, “Proshloe kak organichennyi resurs: istoricheskaia politika and ekonomika renty” [The past as a limited resource: historical policy and the rent economy], Neprikosnovennyi zapas 88 (2) (2013): 200–214; an expanded version of the article can be found on the website Polit.ru.

Editor’s Note. For another take on the topic of Russian history as a limited resource, see Vasily Zharkov, “Enslaved by History,”

Still image from the finale of video "Oil." Courtesy of YouTube
Still image from the finale of the video “Oil.” Courtesy of YouTube

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