Saturday, February 11, 2017

Despite What Many Think, Putin is Neither a Conservative nor a Nationalist, Titov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 11 – Vladimir Putin is neither a conservative nor a nationalist despite what he often suggests he is and what many have been led to believe, Vladimir Titov says. “By his ideology and practice, [the Kremlin leader in fact] is a typical leftist,” and his system is “left-wing authoritarianism seasoned with mysticism.”

            And that points to serious problems ahead, the Russian writer continues, because “history doesn’t know any examples of successful left-wing dictatorships.” They may continue for a time on the basis of misplaced enthusiasm, repression or aggression but sooner or later they collapse (

            “One of the widely disseminated myths of the present day is that Vladimir Putin is a “right of center” politician, Titov says. In part this reflects the unwillingness of many to move beyond the left-right spectrum in which politics have been discussed since the French Revolution, however inadequate that one-dimensional approach is.

            Both Putin supporters like Marine Le Pen and his liberal opponents place him at the right end of the political spectrum, he says. And the one and the other point to his expansionism, his militarism, his opposition to immigration, his much-ballyhooed support for religion and “conservative values,” and his stress on Russia’s unique national path.

            Such measures, however, exaggerate some parts of Putin’s agenda and more significantly ignore others which point in a very different direction. 

            “It is no secret that ‘strengthening the state’ in the Putin way takes the form of building a regime of personal power, reducing civic freedoms, cutting back on the independence of regions … and undermining democracy.”  In normal language, “that is called a dictatorship – but dictatorships can be either right or left of center” depending on whom they are based.

            The social basis of right-wing authoritarian regimes, Titov says, are property holders from the smallest to the largest and also “the conservative part of the intelligentsia, officer corps and clergy … Leftist dictatorships find their support in the lumpenized masses and ‘socialist’ bureaucracy.”

            In any case, just because a state isn’t democratic, that does not mean that it is necessarily right of center.  “More than that,” the Russian writer points out, “the majority of authoritarian regimes which have existed since World War II and which exist now are more ‘left-wing’ than ‘right-wing.’”

            Putin’s social policies “do not give a basis for considering him ‘right of center.’”  He has attacked small owners and the oligarchs are really in charge by his permission of state corporations.  He has pursued militarism and an aggressive foreign policy, but left of center regimes have been more inclined to do so that right-wing ones.

            Hitler and Mussolini were aggressors, but both of these oft-cited examples “had socialist roots: it is sufficient to recall the full name of Hitler’s party,” something that is seldom done. Moreover, “neither Francisco Franco nor Antonio Salazar nor Augusto Pinochet not Jan Smits carried out an active expansionist policy.”

            Instead, it has typically been leftist regimes which have sought territorial expansion not only because their messianism led them in this direction as was the case with the USSR and communist China but also because their systems constantly need an infusion of resources given that they seldom can produce a sufficient amount of them on their own.

            Putin’s wars fall into the leftist category rather than the right: His “’hybrid war’” in Ukraine “which is taking place under the slogan of ‘the defense of the Russian world’ bears a suspicious resemblance to the Polish campaign of Comrade Budyonny” and has nothing to do with any Russian national interests.

            That conclusion is also justified by the way Putin treats Russian nationalists at home. There is no Russian nationalist party although many would support one. And Russian nationalists unless they closely hew the Kremlin line or do its “dirty work” against liberals and migrants are often jailed. 

            And it is justified by how the Kremlin leader deals with immigrants. While he “hypocritically” expresses his sympathy with Europeans about immigration, he has shown no willingness to introduce a visa regime for former Soviet republics, and he has backed a regime in Chechnya which is openly hostile to Russian values and even the Russian constitution.

            Some who view Putin as a conservative point to the flourishing of the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s much-covered attendance of religious services, but neither the one nor the other has anything in common with a genuine growth in religion. The ROC serves as the ideological department of the Kremlin.

            Moreover, the traditional values the church and the Kremlin promote have done nothing to reduce “the frequency of divorces and abortions” or “reduce the popularity of all possible kinds of sexual deviation,” Titov says.  Only about three percent of the population are really Orthodox; the rest are only nominally so.

            If Putin were really a nationalist, he would be attacking the revival of Sovietisms in Russian life rather than promoting their ever more rapid restoration. And he would be defending monuments to Gustav Mannerheim and Aleksandr Kolchak rather than allowing them to be attacked. 

            Thus, “even a superficial analysis show that Putin is not in any way ‘a right of center’ politician let alone a nationalist.” But nonetheless, the myth that he is remains widely believed not least of all because he and his regime promote it.

            There are several reasons: Putin is trying to win the support of mass publics who are angry at the power of liberal elites and who feel that they have been passed by. Presenting himself as such a leader has won him backing even though those who are most fervent in that would be among the first to be confined in his jails if they were in Russia.

            And in presenting himself to the world as a conservative nationalist, Titov says, Putin is aided by the declarations of Russian opposition liberals like Kasparov, Yashin, and Borovoy who tell the West that the Putin regime is “nationalist” and “fascist.” That is because mentally, “they remain Soviet people, and in the Soviet cosmogony, ‘nationalism=fascism=very bad.’”

            Not surprisingly, all too many in the West who have looked into the matter closely simply go along and repeat what Putin wants them to rather than what is in fact the case.

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