Putin’s ‘Conservative Revolutionaries’ Dreaming of National Socialist Utopia

February 1, 2015
Moscow demonstration November 11, 2014 of "Novorossiya" supporters. Photo by New Times

Staunton, January 30 – The old left-right continuum in Russian politics with its differences between conservatives and reformers ceased to be relevant as the basis for analysis and understanding with Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and the formation of a populist left-right alliance of support, according to Aleksandr Morozov.

In a commentary in New Times, he argues that “with the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in the east of Ukraine, all the political space of the Russian Titanic together with its tables, chairs and orchestra slid to one side” and came together in ways few expected.

“All the old political distinctions lost any meaning before both former reformers and former conservatives and even national Bolsheviks and national organizations like Barkashov’s and socialists like Kagarlitsky found themselves in one multi-voiced crowd shouting ‘Send the tanks to Kyiv! Fascism will not pass!’”

“The so-called ‘peace party’ in such circumstances,” Morozov continues, “cannot possibly be qualified as liberals. What kind of liberalism is in there in wartime? In wartime it can be only ‘a fifth column’ and ‘traitors to the motherland.’”

What has formed instead is “a broad left-right populist consensus,” one that is quite familiar to historians of interwar Europe and especially of Germany and Italy. Left-wing political thought has always characterized fascism as “reactionary and conservative,” but there is more to it than that as recent analysis has shown.

Today, many historians are more inclined to talk about the movements of that time in terms of populism rather than in terms of a left-right continuum. Indeed, it seems, Morozov says, that “each new stage of globalization and the inclusion in communications of new masses generates a reaction in the form of an epidemic spread of populism.”

However that may be, he continues, “one must not say that this was or is an exclusivey conservative reaction.” In the Russian case now, “the populist synthesis includes within itself both former revolutionaries like Eduard Limonov and such died-in-the-wool state types like Ramzan Kadyrov.”

“The fate of this ‘post-Crimean populist consensus,” Morozov says, “is still unclear. It may break apart or it may form the basis of a new state system.” It may lead to “Italian fascism or Hitlerism” or it may go off in another direction altogether. “The next three years,” he suggests, will provide the answer.

One of the reasons for uncertainty is that past analogies are useful only up to a point and “populism mutates” regularly. Putin’s “’post-Crimea consensus’” is in the very early stages, and where it will lead to could vary from judicial pressure on the Sakharov Center to the smashing of its windows by mobs while the police look on.

Russia’s current “post-Soviet ‘rightists’ always were not completely conservative because they called not for the preservation” of a real past in the present but rather for the construction of something “impossible, a kind of conservative utopia” be it “Stalinism, Byzantium or the Russian 19th century.”

“All of them conceive the war in the Donbass not simply as a war for territory but as a struggle for the construction of a new society corresponding to their national socialist idea in a separate gubernia.” As such they are truly “conservative revolutionaries” who join together both left and right ideas.

“Now, this right-left consensus works in the following way.” It draws on popular support from below and uses television from above, and it is seeking to form “a new social fabric based on anti-Americanism, the opposition of Putin to weak Western leaders, support for Russian values against the degenerate West, state sovereignty, and the militarization of public life.

As one can see, Morozov says, “the right, like the left, has dissolved in this post-Crimea consensus.”

“The ‘televised Ukraine’ has been transformed into a field of virtual war with the West and the United States for millions while the Donbass is a real war for several thousand citizens with Russian passports. No one knows what this new populism will become when it matures.” But one thing is clear: “the degeneration of society is proceeding very quickly.”