Vienna, October 19 – Those commentators who describe Russia as “a failed state,” Irina Pavlova says, would be correct if in Russia “we were dealing with “a state,” but instead, the Grani.ru observer says, today as in the past, Russians are dealing with “vlast’” or power that has little in common with Western notions of statehood.
In an essay posted online today, Pavlova argues that “there was never a state in Russia in the Western sense of being the product of agreement among various social groups.” Instead, she says, “in Russia what arose was not a state but rather a power not responsible to the people” but rather “a demiurge” which seeks to create “a social space it then manipulates for its own goals.”
Understanding that distinction, she suggests, is important not only for evaluating what is taking place in Russia now and what the current leadership in Moscow seeks at home and abroad but also for understanding both the Stalinist past and for defining how people living in Russia should act regarding the current “vlast’” (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.160841.html).
Pavlova’s comments came in reaction to an essay by Dmitry Shusharin that appeared on Grani.ru last week, in which he pointed out that most Western observers think that the famine of the early 1930s and the Great Terror that followed it “testified to the weakness of Soviet power,” to its internal instability” (www.grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.160703.html).
But in reality, Shusharin said, “for the power itself, these were the greatest means of its self-assertion,” a view with which Pavlova completely agrees and suggests provides an important clue to understanding what the current Moscow regime is doing to reconstitute its power but not to create a Russian state.
The contemporary Russian powers that be, she continues, drawing on part of “the Stalinist power construction, are “asserting themselves in the same way – inside the country, the Kremlin is subordinating the people to itself by making it an object of its own manipulations and in the international arena striking to become the center of attraction for anti-Western forces.”
If one examines either the Stalinist 1930s or the current Russian scene, she says, it is “difficult to agree with assertions” about the weakness of the powers that be, statements like “Russia has become completely ungovernable” because governance in the Western sense is not what the powers, Stalinist or Putinist, seek.
Instead, the Grani.ru commentator argues, the Stalinist “vlast’” was strong because it sought “the enslavement of the people and in this way its own strengthening” and “the creation of a military industry which would allow for the realization of its intention to spread its influence across the world.”
Indeed, she says, the archives show that “the massive manifestations of disorder for the Stalinist power were the very chips which fly when a forest is cut down” both because the power itself “provoked them” and because the power “looked through its fingers at these events as an inevitable attribute of its policies.”
According to Pavlova, Stalin even “attempted to use the disorders [of his times] in his own interests. Once he told Lazar Kaganovich that it was useful to “let these foreign asses not see beyond the trees of their own forest” and continue to think that they can deal with Moscow from a position of strength. “If you don’t deceive them,” Stalin said, “you don’t win.”
It is of course entirely possible to charge such powers with “arbitrariness, disorders, corruption and so on,” Pavlova acknowledges, “but at the same time one must not fail to notice that this Russian reality distracts the people from the goals and tasks of the supreme power and dissipates its forces in the constant struggle for existence.”
“Chaos and disorder,” she writes, “interfere” with some things the power wants to do. “But they represent for the power an incomparable lesser evil that ordered resistance, and therefore the power need only keep the disorder within definite limits” in order for the power not to be threatened.
And this approach of the power in Russia represents a threat not just to the Russian people but to the international community because the power in Moscow is “guided by traditional ideas of great power status.” Unfortunately, Pavlova adds, “no one can oppose this, not in the country and not in the world.”
Worse, “one can observe with the naked eye how the leaders of the Western countries step by step make concessions without recognizing to what at the end such a policy can lead,” especially since, “the strategic goals of contemporary Russian power are no less ambitious than Stalin’s were.”
Pavlova suggests that there is one difference between the 1930s and now regarding the nature of Russian “vlast’.” And it is this: “Practice has shown that it is possible to achieve one’s goals in the international arena with more precise means than Comrade Stalin used who exhausted the country by throwing all its forces into the production of tanks and planes.”
Now, she argues, “it is possible to achieve ones ends with ‘nanotechnologies,’ giving preference to the mastery of information wars, hacker attacks, corruption, provocation, and both nuclear and energy extortion,” a shift in tactics that in no way represents a shift in the strategy of a power rather than a government.
If Russians and the international community are to respond adequately to this, Pavlova concludes, they must both face up to the reality of what is going on rather than assessing the Russian power the way they would appropriately assess the government of one or another country.
Even with that understanding, she suggests, neither the Russians who are forced to live under that power nor the members of the international community which are forced to live with it will find it an easy task to cope. But without it, she strongly implies, the future of Russia and the world will both be bleak.