Staunton, December 1 – In a new book, Russian Totalitarianism (in Russian, Moscow, 2017, 386 pp.), Dmitry Shusharin argues that the Russian authorities, the Russian people, and the so-called extra-systemic opposition (not to mention the systemic kind) are all part of a single whole and all totalitarian.
In a review published in today’s Novyye izvestiya, US-based Russian historian Irina Pavlova says this approach sets him apart “from the overwhelming majority of anti-Putin authors” and thus merits close attention for the lessons it offers (newizv.ru/comment/irina-pavlova/01-12-2017/ob-ekt-izucheniya-zlo-kak-ponyat-novuyu-knigu-dmitriya-shusharina).
Among the most important, Pavlova continues, is that “to speak about the existence [in Russia] of an opposition in the Western understanding is senseless. It doesn’t exist and never did.” Instead, it, along with the powers and the people, are part of “a totalitarian community” based on “a totalitarian consensus.”
If that is understood, Shusharin says, then “Putinism isn’t stagnation” as many think but rather “a constantly renewing organism” even though or perhaps because there has never been in Russia “a single governmental or social institution with the potential for democratic development.”
“On the contrary,” the author continues, “the authorities have learned how to use [democratic] technologies for the strengthening of totalitarianism” rather than for its demise. As a result, he says, “contemporary Russian totalitarianism doesn’t need any ideology.” Instead, it relies on mass culture.
Shusharin, Pavlova says, also focuses on the impact of Russian totalitarianism on the surrounding world. That world now is “in deep crisis” and has displayed its weakness and inability to address the most important problems, including those posed by the aggressive Putin regime in Russia.
Pavlova says that she shares the view of the author that “the Putin regime as never before is aggressive, consistent and decisive in its actions and is capably playing on the weaknesses of Western civilization.” But she suggests that Shusharin’s arguments end by being entirely too apocalyptic.
For Shusharin, in what Pavlova describes as “a very sad book,” Russia is “an eternal evil,” “a constant threat for the entire world,” and “a chronic illness of humanity,” an ahistorical position that ignores what Russia has been at some points in the past and what it might under certain conditions be in the future.
And the author doesn’t address what the West might need to do to promote that better future, Pavlova says. But there is an even bigger problem, she suggests. Few in either Russia or in the West are likely to read this book and take its arguments seriously, the first because of their own apocalypticism and the second because of the personalization of the problem.
Many in Russia assume that all of Russia’s problems will disappear when Putin does, a position that many in the West accept almost as readily. Shusharin’s book is an antidote to such thinking and deserves an audience in both places, even though it is certain to make each of them uncomfortable.