Sunday, 5 July 2009

When Putin Reacts

What type of political ideology privatises land, nationalises petroleum, introduces a flat tax, uses soldiers to verify tax accounts, enforces protectionism, celebrates diversity, celebrates patriotism, celebrates science, introduces state protection for the National Church, supports the NATO war in Afghanistan, opposes the war in Iraq, is strongly democratic but largely authoritarian, takes power from an atheist, alcoholic Communist apparatchik and leaves it in the hands of a devout, prissy lawyer? For want of a better word we could call it ‘reactionary’… or maybe Putinism?

This somehow highlights one of the oddest paradoxes about British Russophobia. Putin is only called a 'reactionary' because British ‘intellectual’ culture has frozen to such an extent that we have no real word for his ideology.

Ironically, the Anglosphere where Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are regarded as heroes is frozen in its political views.

As the World Bank and IMF are used as weapons to heighten the infant mortality rate of struggling countries and drain their resources, the state employs increasing numbers of people in Britain and the USA. As a government employee and British citizen, I support a form of intelligently planned Social Democracy in Britain (other nations can vote for their economy of choice). However, whilst most British journalists and politicians would break into a cold sweat at the idea of renationalising the railways, an army of bureaucrats run the passport agency and are employed in other unproductive roles.

This could be seen as an indictment of the free market: that it has not created universal employment and the state has to take over by creating 'follies' for people to work on. Yet religious belief in Thatcherism and Reaganism goes marching on.

It seems to me that as with so much else, this goes to demonstrate why Russophobia is so big in Britain. The Russians have moved ahead in ideological and political terms, have a class of politicians that are popular, patriotic and act in the national interest. Britain by contrast is stuck in 1979.

There is a lot of hated towards Russia. It is comical that Christopher Hitchens is called in to shower hatred on 'reactionary' Putin. Hitchens supported Lenin who destroyed the Silver Age of Russian culture. Now that Putin is undoing his handiwork, Hitchens is acting all indignant*.

Yet, ridiculously, Hitchens' feelings (I won't say thoughts) actually count for something. According to Prospect Magazine he is Britain's leading Public Intellectual.

Whilst there are many valid criticisms of Putin, especially his handling of the Chechen war, 'reactionary' is not one criticism that can be made against him. Yet all the negative epithets Stalinist/ Fascist/ Tsarist/ Imperialist are used against him. British intellectual culture is like a stage with papier mache pillars. They want to dress themselves up as Churchill or Pericles and their enemies up as Hitler/ Stalin/ Chamberlain. Words like 'dissident' and 'emigre' are applied to known criminals and scumbags. Perhaps this is a conscious conspiracy; or else it is an effort to distort facts to create familiarity.

Or to deny that the world has changed and that Britain has been left behind in the changing world, where 'reactionaries' are advocates of change.


  1. A very insightful post, Gregor.

    A few quibbles though... What is it about soldiers checking tax accounts? Haven't heard of that one. And although Putin is certainly devout, I'm not sure Medvedev is.

    Thinking up an epithet for Putinism is indeed hard.

    How about, postmodern neo-Tsarismy? Post-Soviet sovereign democracy? What do these even mean?

    (PS. The third sentence there can also be interpreted as an epithet, perhaps it is even the most appropriate one). ;)

    Of course another big problem is separating the current reality of Russia from the ideals / dreams the Putin circle may have for it.

  2. It would seem that with Bin Laden being an extremely slippery (and rarely seen) fish, the powers that be are looking for a more reliable bogey man.

    Trying to make Putin out as a new Hitler or Stalin is ludicrous, whatever legitimate concerns there are about him.

    In fact, the over the top demonisation of Putin and Russia in general makes it much more harder for rational criticism to be heard, or taken seriously.

    As you rightly point out, perhaps people are afraid of Putin and Russia because they can't easily be pigeon-holed.

  3. @ Anatoly

    I was basing that comment about soldiers on something I heard about Khodorkovsky's arrest; probably I should see if it is verifiable. I've heard that Medvedev is more devout than Putin; some say that Putin has never taken communion in public, but I don't know about that. In fact that is the most difficult thing about commenting on Russia; there are so many 'counter-facts'.

    I think most political titles are more counter-productive tribal designations than verifiable or useful. Many would see them as artificial creations to divide populations. If more countries follow Putin in using eclectic policies and becoming vastly popular, then perhaps political labels will go as they divide people who may agree on some issues.

    For example, you say you are pro-abortion and anti-welfare. I am pro-welfare but anti-abortion. Does that make me right and you left? Or you right and me left? Who knows? We have disagreements (and if we wre both citizens of the same country we could vote for separate parties) but we are both concerned with the coordinated efforts of the Western 'free' media to smear Vladimir Putin and to ludicrously support people like Berezovsky and Kasparov.

    Incidentally, whilst our 'free' media is portraying David Cameron as vastly popular, he actually did abysmally in the local council elections, only looking good in comparison to the abysmal performance of New Labour. Certainly he will not be elected by any margin comparable to Putin or Medvedev.

    (Black cat?)

    'In fact, the over the top demonisation of Putin and Russia in general makes it much more harder for rational criticism to be heard, or taken seriously.'

    This is true. Interestingly enough, shortly before she was killed, Anna Politkovskaya reportedly said that she suspected Khakamada and her ilk of being Kremlin stooges designed to distort principled criticism of Putin into a 'greed is good' parody of human rights activism.

    She may have been right.

    As a Brit I feel far more disturbed by the way that Russophobia is also eroding this country. After the Brits said that Lugavoi should be extradited, no questions asked, no evidence given, the Russians understandably said 'no'. We expelled some of their diplomats. They expelled some of ours. I think that is as far as anti-Russian action will go for now.

    But in Britain, the constant diet of fear and hatred is like a mountebank's trick. The Brits are so busy watching their TV screens, they don't notice that they are on TV as soon as they step out the door. It is a criminal offence to 'support terrorism' and there is a possible ten year prison sentence for taking photos that 'may be' of use to terrorists.

    On internet forums I'm often accused of hating my country, but over 1000 Brits were killed by the IRA, and our civil liberties survived intact.

    Incidentally, I think this speaks very badly for neo-liberalism. 'The troubles' started under one nation Tory Heath and continued through Wilson and Callaghan's time. Thatcher (to her credit) actually did quite well.

    But I'm digressing. The point is that the British government would love Russia as an enemy. Then Big Brother could tuck us into bed as it guards us from the evil Eurasians.

    Incidentally, did anyone get the Frank Zappa reference?

  4. So ytou are a historian eg? Have you noticed then how what I call the circle of power has been constantly moving west and slightly north through out history? I stared somewhere in the Middle East went west to Egypt, jumped to Greece, then to Rome then froze for a bit, then started back again in Italy, miendered all around Europe: Austria, France, Spain, England, then jumped to USA, from there went to japan and is now firmly moving into Chinese territory?
    I noticed that when I was about 10-12 years old. As one lover of history to another.

  5. Hi Petkov

    Interesting idea, but I’m not so sure about how power is moving. ‘Power’ is very hard to define: is it the power to inflict or take casualties? America and Britain are pulling out of Iraq already. Is it economic power based on the stockmarket, or the potential economic advantages of an educated workforce and natural commodities?

    The Spanish and Ottomans both had major empires in the Medieval times. Also the USSR was a major power centre in the 19th Century.

    Still, there does seem to have been a general trend for a cultural and imperial focus to be moving NW.

    I’m a regular reader of your blog, keep up the good work!

  6. Sorry to post some skeptical comments:

    1. Putin 'devout'?! The 'simbiousis' between political leaders in Russia, Romania, Greece, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Church hierachs is often misleading... Sadly, most often religious gestures of Orthodox leaders are but 'PR stunt'.

    They are effective in countries where over 80% of people are 'namely' Orthodox believers, and would probably be counterproductive in secularised countries like the UK.

    2. I mostly agree with the criticizing remarks against British anti-Russian hysteria, however, there's no smoke without a fire. Russia offers itself as a 'perfect enemy' for the neoliberal establishment that Gregor rightly criticizes.

    3. Sorry folks, but no one could ever convince me that things are 'getting better' in Russia...

    - the above I would add - especially in Gregor's attention! - that the way Patriarch Kirill is 'opening' the Russian Church to the Vatican won't eventually bring anything good :-(

  7. ...oh, and I was close to forgetting this 'lovely' little detail:


    ...of course that the surveillance society in the UK is worrisome, but the Brits can still 'fight back'. I'm afraid Russians haven't got the slightest chance to influence their government.