Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Putin Restored ‘Stalinist Mechanism of Rule’ in Modernized Form, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 26 – Under Vladimir Putin, a leading liberal Russian commentator argues, “the reestablishment of the Stalinist method of rule took place,” something that most people have ignored because they have focused on what is visible rather than what is taking place in the increasingly opague “black box” of Russian politics at the highest levels.
There currently is an intense debate, Irina Pavlova notes, between those like Andrey Piontkovsky who argue that Putin has created his own form of personalist power and thus is essential to his form of rule and others like Stanislav Belkovsky who suggest that what is important is “not a personality but the place in the system of Russian power.”
But in fact, she continues, what both sides miss is that what has been established is not “a monarchical ritual” but rather “a structure traditional for Russia” -- more precisely, “an infrastructure of power” that defines the way in which power is built and maintained and politics conducted out of public view (
Pavlova points out that “however strange it may seem, the key question [of the mechanism of Stalinist rule] has up to now not been considered sufficiently even by historians,” who instead have provided details about the dictator, his family and circle and of course the crimes he committed. Discussions of the nomenklatura system represent only a small exception.
According to the commentator, if one holds the Putin system up to a mirror, one sees reflected back “precisely the Stalinist political arrangement.” This involves “not only the rebirth of the appointment of governors. This is the rebirth of the secret infrastructure of power with its all embracing secrecy.”
“This is the reanimation of the invisible army of covert co-workers of the KGB, the ranks of which are being filled by contemporary young people who are prepared to serve the regime. The visible part of this army,” Pavlova continues, “consists of the parties, social organizations, foundations and centers established under the aegis of the Kremlin and serving the powers.”
Moreover, she argues, there are “covert representatives of the special services in all institutions and in all enterprises, including business structures.” At least equally important for the functioning of the system, “there is an informal Politburo (which is not foreseen by the Constitution again as under Stalin).”
And there is “the administration of the president which operates according to the rules of the Secretarian of the Central Committee, sending out directives to the Duma, the Federation Council, the Central Election Commission, the FSB, the Procurcacy, and all other agencies, governors and also parties and movements, social and religious organizations, and the media.”
During Putin’s presidency, she argues, this “Stalinist mechanism of rule was not simply reestablished but modernized, and the conspiracy [of those in power] reached a level which even Stalin would have envied,” given that the Soviet-era dictator had to put out paper orders while the post-Soviet one can hide his tracks with the delete key on a computer.
Putin and Medvedev, Pavlova argues, “represent ‘the political interface’ of the invisible Russian power: precisely in the post-modern style with two heads like the eagle on the Russian state shield.” And because the system is now back in place, it does not matter as much who fills these positions as many imagine.
If one understands this reality, she says, then it becomes far clearer why those near the Kremlin talk so much about democracy and liberal reforms: these are a reliable means of hiding the facts of the situation from the public and from foreign observers, many of whom just like in Stalin’s time are prepared to accept anything they are told.
And it also becomes clear that “the current powers that be [will not under any circumstances voluntarily] agree to limit their powers and become ‘a state’ in the Western sense with the inevitable division of power, openness, competitive elections of central and local bodies and all the rest.”
That reality, the Moscow commentator remarks, in the comments of Kremlin political scientist Vitaly Ivanov who argues that every time Russia tries to democratize “in the Western way,” that leads to disaster and forces Moscow to “begin again,” to return to its commitment to the ideas of “stability, predictability, and administrative control and direction.”
Underlying all “the successful periods of Russian history” have been “’eastern’ principles of unity, wholeness and harmony.” And “therefore any means for limiting political competition are justified. Competition is not our value, it has been introduced into our organism [not organically but] from the outside.
“We can tolerate it in certain clearly defined limits but to construct a Russian political system on the basis of competitiveness is impossible.” (These are the portions of Ivanov’s essay that Pavlova quotes. For his entire article, “Our Liberals Have No Future,” see
Irina Pavlova concludes that “today as in the 1930s, the people turns out to be a hostage of the powers that be. Today, this time voluntarily. Mass repressions aren’t required. Then Stalin secretly prepared and provoked a new world war hoping to spread his power beyond the borders of the Soviet Union.”
Just what the current powers that be may be “preparing for the people can be imagined only by understanding how they act” out of public view. And while Pavlova’s view is certain to be dismissed by many, her insights on how Russia is ruled and her fears about what that means for the future of that country and the world must not be.

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