Svetlana Alexievich’s Dead Ends

DSCN2329Repeated endlessly by the Russophone liberal intelligentsia over the past three decades, claims that Russians are genetically programmed Stalinists and thus inevitably suspectible to Putin’s nonexistent charms and his neo-authoritarianism are false and pernicious cognitive dead ends that have done untold amounts of damage to the country’s grassroots democratic movements. Photo by the Russian Reader

With all due respect to the writer Svetlana Alexievich and her imaginary addressee, the late Anna Politkovskaya, Ms. Alexievich’s letter to Politkovskaya, published two days ago in the Washington Post, is the kind of reckless Russian liberal intelligentsia nonsense that saps people of the will to resist in the first place.

It also happens to be wildly wrong in the sweeping claims it makes, both objectively and subjectively.

“Now it is Putin who talks to them; he’s learned from our mistakes. But it’s not about Putin alone; he’s just saying what the people want to hear. I would say that there’s a little bit of Putin in every Russian. I’m talking about the collective Putin: We thought that it was the Soviet power that was the problem, but it was all about the people.

“The Soviet way of thinking lives on in our minds and our genes. How quickly has the Stalinist machine set to work again. With what skill and enthusiasm everyone is once again denouncing each other, catching spies, beating people up for being different . . . Stalin has risen! Throughout Russia they are building monuments to Stalin, putting up Stalin’s portraits, opening museums in Stalin’s memory.”

Really? Throughout Russia? I would imagine these portraits, monuments, and museums (?) number in the dozens, if that many.

Meanwhile, I have it on impeccable authority that Last Address and the hundreds of ordinary extraordinary Petersburgers who have joined them have erected nearly three hundred plaques commemorating the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror over the last few years.

In fact, there are are three such plaques at the entrance to my building. I see people stopping, looking at them, reading them, and taking snapshots of them all the time.

It is an insult to everyone who has been involved in Last Address and the other myriad acts of resistance great and small over the last twenty years, including, of course, Politkovskaya herself, to claim “there’s a little bit of Putin in every Russian.”

In fact, there are millions of Russians who do not have even a teensy bit of Putin in them, whatever that would mean. If you don’t believe me, take a few or several or ten dozen dips into this website and its predecessor over their eleven-year, nearly two thousand-post run.

You will not see and hear what Russia is “really like,” but experience a few or several or ten dozen ways in which Russia is definitely NOT “Putin’s Russia.” You will read and hear the words and the stories of rank-and-file Russians who, remarkably if you believe Ms. Alexievich’s boilerplate, music to certain western ears, are nothing like Putin at all.

When will any of the wiseguys who dictate our opinions about everything from “Putin’s Russia” to the latest Star Wars movies tell us about those other Russians and other Russias? {TRR}

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Minority Report

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But in 2000 Putin came to power. Now Putin was director of the FSB (KGB), the executive branch, as it were, of the Soviet government’s war against God. [In reality, Putin was director of the FSB from 25 July 1998 to 29 March 1999. He was acting president of Russia from 31 December 1999 to 7 May 2000, when he assumed the same office as the popularly elected president of Russia.—TRR.] or such a man to become president was therefore a profound shock and a stern warning for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It was as if the head of the Inquisition had become head of the World Council of Churches, or Himmler, the president of Germany after the war.

Nothing similar would have been tolerated in a western country. But it was tolerated in Russia, first, because, as surveys showed, most Russians still considered the Soviet Union to be their native country, and Lenin and Stalin to be heroes; and secondly, because the west clung on to the stupid belief that over seventy years of the most terrible bloodletting in history (far longer and far more radical than Hitler’s twelve years in power) could be wiped out and reversed without any kind of decommunization, without even a single person being put on trial for murdering innocent people in the name of Soviet power’s collective Antichrist.

The tragic farce has reached such a stage that the KGB has become a hero of Russia literature and film, with its own church in the middle of its chief prison, the Lubyanka in Moscow, not, as it might be thought, to commemorate the martyrs who suffered so terribly within its walls, but for the executioners.

The west concurred with this filthy whitewash. The official Orthodox Church (itself run by KGB agents) concurred. The masses of the Russian people concurred by voting Putin into power repeatedly.

And then the rebirth took place. Without repenting in the slightest of his communist past, and while gradually reintroducing more and more Soviet traditions and symbols, Putin underwent a conversion to Christ. Or rather, from being part of the body of the Soviet Antichrist, which was anti-, that is, against Christ, he is now preaching a form of Communist Christianity that, as Makarkin puts it, copies Jesus Christ, placing its own ideas in place of Christ’s and passing them off as His. And if the copy is a poor one (just as Lenin’s stinking body is a very poor imitation of the fragrant relics of the saints, and the murderous “Moral Code of the Builder of Communism” is a very poor imitation of the Sermon on the Mount) this does not matter, so long as the masses are taken in by it or, if they are not taken in by it, at least convinced that Christ and the anti-Christian state are now on the same side.

So the Russian revolution has mutated from one kind of anti-Christianity to another, from Lenin’s anti-Christianity, which was openly against Christ, to Putin’s anti-Christianity, which pretends not to be against Christ but to copy Him and take His place.

There can be no doubt this new, more sophisticated kind of anti-Christianity is more dangerous than the former, and closer to the kind that will be practised by the actual Antichrist himself at the end of time. For of that Antichrist the Lord said, “I have come in My Father’s name and you do not believe Me: if another shall come in his own name, him you will believe” (John 5:43). In other words, you have rejected the real Christ, and as a direct result you will accept an imposter, a man-god, for the real thing, the God-Man.

But we must not be deceived, remembering Putin’s words: “Once a chekist, always a chekist.”

Excerpted from Vladimir Moss, “Putin, the Communist Christian,” 23 February 2018. Mr. Moss’s text has been lightly edited to make it more readable. Photo by the Russian Reader

Pavel Pepperstein: Post-Socialism as Ecosocialism

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Russian taiga

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