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The Russian Authoritarian Regime: Strength in the Collectivist Consciousness of Society – Paul Tolmachev

The Russian Authoritarian Regime: Strength in the Collectivist Consciousness of Society

For many in Russia and over the world, the end of February was a litmus test of Russian society, an indicator that revealed key features of social development in Russia. For me, however, the last few months are no more than an occasion to confirm the obvious fact: social behavior and the dominant public mood have a clearly traceable cause-and-effect relationship and evolutionary foundations that do not assume any surprises or surprises.

I will permit myself to be brief and to call things by their proper names. Russian society is archaic and primitive in almost all its manifestations, from individual self-awareness to the objects of social consensus. The social individual in Russia is a sub-individual, striving to blur personal responsibility between other members of society or sub-society on the one hand, and simultaneously counting on personal success at the expense of that same society on the other. This intension toward paternalism and irresponsibility is the evolutionary consequence of the historical development of the Russian state in all its manifestations and aspects. Centuries of slavery (I will not discuss its genesis and drivers in this text) has preserved human development in the literal sense and, as the most archaic form of collectivism, has developed the following “genetic” traits

– futility and aimlessness of active individual initiative as a consequence of minimal right

– predisposition to collectivism as the most convenient way of surviving in a limited right

– irresponsibility and civic passivity as the most advantageous strategies for survival in total collectivism

– the sacralization of power and the acceptance of its unconditional domination on all levels in exchange for paternalism and the guarantee of a minimum level of prosperity as the basis of a social contract that corresponds to the formed environment.

 All the familiar everyday and cultural manifestations of Russian society, from domestic slovenliness to a militant rejection of liberal values, are side effects and legitimate effects of a preserved social-institutional and ethical archaicism. At the same time, this situation is equally true for Russia of the 16th century and, unfortunately, for Russia of the 21st century.

All cases, or more precisely, attempts at transformation, were characterized by three obligatory features.

First, the ideology of the social contract remained virtually unchanged, and the social configuration remained the same: the unconditional domination of the rights of power and its affiliated beneficiaries and the unconditional legal nullity of the subordinate society.

Second, the sacralization of power and the unification of the concepts of “country and state,” with all of the ensuing consequences, such as national patriotism (of varying degrees of aggressiveness) and the cult of the supreme power figure, was an obligatory scenario.

And third, as a consequence, the actual preservation of the collectivist paradigm with all of its features described above.

Socio-political changes in Russia have ended this way throughout history up to the present day, including the fall of the Soviet regime of the late 1980s and the conditional democratization of the 1990s.

The so-called reforms of Peter the Great did not lead to an essential change in social relationships and ethical attitudes, leaving the parties to the social contract in their previous roles. The abolition of serfdom was not accompanied by the intensive formation of new institutions balancing and expanding the rights of the population, leaving the predominant rights to a small powerful social group. The October Revolution of 1917 ended with the continuation of the same social frame with the same actual positions of the participants in the social contract: a small dominant elite that had taken power and was endowed with maximal rights and preferences, and a rest collectivized society with minimal rights and a subordinate position, totally dependent on the interests of the power group and existing within exogenously determined rules.

In fact, one form of collectivism – slavery – has spilled over into another, essentially similar form – totalitarian socialism.

Collectivism as a kind of formed social evolution gene determines to a great extent the civilizational development of Russia: ethics of behavior and individual consciousness, the nature and configuration of socio-political institutions, humanitarian development and technological potential. And to describe all these civilizational aspects, there are two most appropriate and complementary terms – archaicism and primitiveness.

Now let us turn to modernity. In fact, today’s Russian authoritarian regime has made rational use of historical grounds and social memory and has managed to conclude essentially the same social contract that Russian society has lived by for centuries. It is based on collective incentives, limited rights and low social opportunities for the majority of the population, and, at the same time, on the maximum rights and opportunities for the power group. The power group and its affiliated interests may include, as in any cavalry state, the persona of the domain itself, the political elites and the people built into the system of ensuring the interests and stability of the positions of the domain and the elites, in other words – “budgetary employees” and the security forces.

Exploitation of the social historically established nature of Russian society and keeping it in the paradigm of collectivism are interrelated and even interdependent processes. Archaic social consciousness implies an archaic social ideology and ethics, in particular national superiority, imperial revanchism and expansionism, ethical conservatism at the level of rejection of liberal values, cultural isolation under the guise of the doctrine of cultural identity, religious sovereignty as part of national self-sufficiency. These innate “historical” traits of social character are successfully used and encouraged by the ruling regime elite, creating a collective cohesion of society and sacralizing power as the only and undeniable source of social welfare and security. 

 Among other things, the expansion of such social attitudes makes it possible to compensate for the real low level of income and quality of life of the population. In fact, the narrative of so-called Russian spirituality and special national values in Russia is simply a way of replacing sober individual thinking, humanization, and effective material creation with ideological and often anti-humanistic chimeras that inhibit social progress and the development of human capital.

Primitive nationalism in general, as a form of manifestation of collectivism, has always been an important social setting of the Russian state, a kind of eternal fetish of social self-identity. Transforming itself from a nationalism based on religious endemism and a “particular way of life” for hundreds of years, Russian nationalism has settled on the ideology of state imperialism.

Little has changed since Peter’s time in this sense, but today, the government in Russia does not forcibly impose its social hegemony, but sells to the population exactly what the population is ready and willing to buy. This readiness and desire, however, is a classical case of conditioned behavior: the population is stimulated to make this particular purchase and is maximally limited in its choice of other options. This preserves the archaic nature and reinforces the primitiveness of the social consciousness of the Russian population.

Social and ethical progress in Russia was possible in the early 90s because a window of unique opportunities opened up, similar to what happened in 1917, when both the population and the authorities found themselves in a state of critical disequilibrium. Social discontent and turbulence in the power elites converged at a point of equal interest – the need for a radical and immediate civilizational transformation. At such points, among others, the most favorable environment is formed for the formation of institutions that mediate future progress and the transformation of social consciousness and norms. Institutions can change and determine the behavior of people in the appropriate progradational direction quite quickly, even despite the historically conditioned archaism of social and ethical modus operandi. Suffice it to recall successful examples with proactive urban strategies.

However, such institutional metamorphoses rarely occur without painful civilizational breakdowns with corresponding social and economic costs. On the other hand, one cannot count on the exogenous reforms of an enlightened dictator in societies at a low level of social progress and primitive individual consciousness: authoritarian power will satisfy its interests primarily on the basis that is as accessible as possible and implies minimal costs. In Russia’s case, it is the natural rent and the degenerative features of social consciousness. 

The breakdown of the political and economic system in Russia in the late 1980s and early 1990s did not lead in the end, as in all cases before, to a fundamental change in fundamental social preferences. Everything ended in the early 2000s with another social acceptance of a strong authoritarian regime, a re-indoctrination of national-cultural exceptionalism, and incitement of aggressive-patriotic imperial revanchism, against the background of Russia’s obvious economic and technological lagging behind the developed and most developing economies of the world. Thus, the population glued together in a more or less homogeneous mass, and a new form of collectivism emerged, based in fact on a voluntary choice under the influence of information magnapulation, rather than due to fear and the threat of physical violence, as had been the case throughout Russian history. These processes are clearly and lucidly described in the recent book Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century Hardcover by Professor Sergei Guriev and Daniel Tristman of Science Po University.

The current state of society in Russia is in the same rut, an evolutionary kind of captivity in which social development is preserved by atavistic illusions of national greatness and cultural-spiritual exceptionalism, by the threat of ethical and physical absorption by a rapacious and profligate West and by other moronic dogmas of Russian authoritarian dictatorial propaganda. 

As a result, the preserved social archaicism and individual primitiveness of the population in Russia is both the basis of the stability of authoritarianism and the consequence of the Regime’s policy of exploiting and reinforcing degenerate social and individual traits.

As Count José de Mestre said in 1811: “Every nation has the government it deserves”. Said, incidentally, of Russia…

Neither diminish nor add….

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The Russian-born Paul Tolmachev is portfolio manager at BlackRock (London, UK) with more than $500 million in personally managed assets. He also is a visiting scholar at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, where he researches institutional and political economy, decision science and social behavior. Paul Tolmachev is a Certified Professional in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE Program), Duke University. Having 20 years’ experience on the financial markets, Paul Tolmachev held management positions in leading Russian and international investment and wealth management firms. As a research scholar for the past few years, he has also specialized in the analysis of macroeconomics, politics, and social processes. Paul is a columnist and contributor to a number of international think tanks and publications, including Duke University, Mises Institute, Eurasia Review, Investing.com, etc.