IT’S TIME FOR SUPER-PUTIN
Self-fulfilling prophecy of elites
The main idea of Surkov’s article is as follows: the regime that has emerged in Russia at the present time optimally corresponds to national interests and will exist forever. Putin will leave once, but everything will remain exactly the same as now. And it is forever.
This is reminiscent of spells about the “inevitable victory of socialism” and “the further strengthening of the socialist system”, pronounced by the party propagandists in the late 80s. In our history, as a rule, they begin to say that the regime is eternal and strong as ever, and the status quo will always last, just before its end.
Of course, the political elite that has adapted to Putin, rooted like Surkov himself to the Yeltsin entourage and liberals of the 90s, or who has reached oligarchic heights already under Putin, would like very much that everything would remain as it is. And here Surkov expresses the collective will of this elite, of its wishful thinking, in the form of a futurological forecast. The whole article is built as a self-fulfilling prophecy and at the same time as a threat: everything will be in the future just as it is now, it is a “scientific fact” (“so says Surkov”), and those who want to change something will pay for it, and the result is that they will fail. Quite a tough article in general.
Why Surkov wrote it is understandable: he again, as before, claims the main Putin ideologist and PR man and tries to justify this role in the last phase of the Putin era. This era is inevitably approaching a logical conclusion, and the elite are striving to give their status in society a fixed status “for centuries”.
It is presented to Putin in a slightly different way: they say, we bow to your genius and the people will have to bow down too, and some dissatisfaction comes from misunderstanding, and your loyal servants will take care of it. Therefore, we are ready to embalm you during your lifetime and turn you into a mausoleum now. You have created a state, it is optimal and will be the beginning of a new era – from now until the century. Putin is forever.
Putin as a compromise
I find that in the article of Surkov the main message is sincere and reflects the will of the current elites to self-preservation and to preserve the regime in an unchanged state and in the post-Putin period. So that Putin himself does not decide to change something by chance, he is reassured: everything is perfect. But sincerity does not mean truth. The solipsism of the ruling elite still cannot replace history and political logic. Therefore, Surkov’s analysis of the state of the political regime in modern Russia is entirely and completely false in its very foundations.
The main mistake of Surkov is that he does not take into account: Putin completely belongs to the political present of Russia, but he will not have any influence on the future that comes right after him. So it was with Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Their successors pursued a completely different course, completely ignoring their predecessors. Of course, something passed from epoch to epoch along the line of institutional inertia, but the main vector changed radically. Putin’s truth is that his future control does not extend. He did not introduce the state idea, did not give an institutional expression to his course, did not establish a new state elite, did not formulate a strategic path for Russia. He said and did different things, some successful and enchantingly positive, saving, others completely failed and deeply erroneous. The balance of these pros and cons can be folded differently. In my opinion, there are a lot more positive elements in general than negative ones. Putin saved Russia, hovering over the abyss, returned it to history. It is excellent. But none of his successes have reached the point of irreversibility. All of them will be questioned after its end. And this is such a common feature of all his deeds that it is absolutely obvious that he could not or did not want another way, and he could not and would not want to in the remaining time. This is essentially a solid half effort of governance.
The modern political regime in Russia that has developed under Putin is a compromise. Compromise between all poles and the forces of the state and society. It is stable only because of Putin himself, who is a compromise – between patriotism and liberalism in the economy, between Eurasianism and Europeanism in international politics, between conservatism and progressism in the sphere of ideas and values, between people and elites, between sovereignty and globalization, between 90s and non-90s (that is, “something else”). But this compromise is valid while Putin is there. It is intuitive and authoritarian, based on the manual control and constant adjustment of the course by Putin himself. It is not reflected in either the strategy or a project, it does not rely either on society as a whole or on the elites.
It is significant that, with all the criticism of the 90s, Putin left the main elements of the existing system intact. Constitution, elites, parliamentary parties, government structure, education and information system On the whole, they remained the same, only by swearing to another ruler. They adjusted to Putin’s personal patriotism, to his style, but were not systematically transformed into some intelligible and clearly stated idea. In a sense, the regime of the 1990s, from which, by the way, Putin himself came out, went with him to a compromise, and those who did not, remaining loyal to radical Westernism, ultra-liberalism, globalism and Russophobia, were gradually purged. Putin demanded loyalty personally to himself, and those who were ready for this were left alone. Surkov himself is a typical example of a member of the Yeltsin “Family” and the closest associate of the oligarchs, one of the first to accept the new rules of the game. Earlier, Surkov tried to give a compromise the special name “sovereign democracy” or the slogan “freedom and justice”, but even this did not stick.
Of course, in comparison with the 90s, Putin has changed a lot. But all this was in fact, it was not reflected in the structure of the political regime.
The future does not belong to Putin
The people, society in a broad sense, is a generally organic carrier of two main values: patriotism + social justice. The elite is on the exact opposite position: cosmopolitanism (Westernism) + freedom of large private capital. In the 90s, power as a whole was anti-people. Putin changed this formula somewhat by adopting patriotism, which the masses liked, but retaining liberalism in the economy, which was acceptable to the elites. Therefore, the people accepted Putin for patriotism, which was in short supply in the 90s, but retained their dislike for the elites and clearly regretted more and more about the complete absence of social justice in Putin’s regime. In this absence, the people rightly blame the elite, which they curse in the face of “collective Chubais.”
Such is the structure of the status quo or Putin’s compromise. The people suffer a lack of social justice and an incredible scale of corruption (elite) at the expense of the patriotic component (Putin personally). Although this is not particularly reliable, but still the Putin system has lasted for quite some time now – 20 years. Therefore, it is already quite “long”, but this “longitude” in its eyes ends. And with Putin it will definitely end.
Putin is the compromise. If he is gone, there will be no compromise. It is clear that the elite is so resourceful and mean that it will try to adapt to another system, but this does not fundamentally cancel the fact that Putin cannot decisively influence the future. In a sense, he has already influenced it. And this influence is very positive: he showed that the 90s have an alternative, that it lies somewhere in the plane of patriotism (Second Chechen, Munich speech, “Our Crimea”, etc.), and this, in fact, is a grandiose accomplishment. But at the same time, Putin did not give the form and institutionalization of this patriotism, did not change the foundations of the state laid just in the 90s, did not carry out the rotation of the elites, ignored the popular demand for social justice. The established regime in the eyes of the people as a whole is much better than it was in the 90s (hence its legitimacy), but definitely worse than what is required. While Putin is in place, his merits cover the shortcomings. Once he leaves, a delicate and rather unnatural balance will collapse. By the way, Surkov is not right about de Gaulle: his legitimacy, relying on his role in World War II and the Resistance, lasted only until the early 70s, when he remained in power, and collapsed during the events of 1968, which abolished Gollist conservatism and established new socialist paradigm. Later, de Gaulle remained only nostalgia and simulacra.
So, the main idea of the text of Surkov is deeply mistaken. The present is subordinate to Putin, but he has not created any particular political model; he only corrected the most monstrous forms of pro-Western liberal democracy, against the will of the people established in the 90s. That is, politically, this is still the same liberal paradigm, tamed by an authoritarian ruler with personal patriotic and dimly conservative sympathies. For a new political model, this is absolutely not enough. No need to build illusions. This is a compromise – partly successful and even excellent, but partly failure, and most importantly reversible and devoid of a clearly defined vector to the historical future. Putin personally has a personal future, because his position is strong (due to patriotism and concrete steps in this direction). The modern Russian regime has no future. By the way, this does not mean that Surkov himself does not have one; he can easily fit into any paradigm, as an effective, executive and resourceful manager, technologist. But these skills have nothing to do with political philosophy.
After Putin, elites will lose legitimacy
What will follow the end of Putin, who sooner or later will come in spite of the imaginary and so desired by the elites of “eternity”? Here we have with the direct opposition of what the people want and what the elites want. The people are a patriot and a supporter of social justice. Elites, if you imagine them without Putin, most likely will try to return to the 90s. We saw this under Medvedev: as soon as Putin moved a little to one side, Yurgens-Gontmakher squealed “back to Yeltsinism!” worth the unbearable …
Without Putin, the elite and power in general will be completely illegitimate, as it was under Yeltsin. At the same time, no structures that would reflect the position of the people, for all these years have been created. Largely because of the peculiarities of Russian society, but partly because of the strategy of the authorities (and, in particular, of the same Surkov), which subjected any independent popular initiative to the repression or replaced it with meaningless simulacra. Some of the simulacra of the “people” of the elite have been prepared for the post-Putin period, but they are unlikely to work, since the main question about the fate of Russia after Putin will be put in a historical rather than political-technological plane. The people demanding patriotism and social justice will find themselves in direct opposition to the elite, which, as follows from Surkov, will try to build “Putinism without Putin,” which cannot be done without Putin. It is absolutely impossible to foresee how all this will end, but obviously, not what Surkov writes about. Of course, Surkov in many respects appeals to the liberals who sleep and see Putin’s end precisely as a return to the 90s. But their spells do not scare, Surkov, they just do not believe, and probably will do right. If you look at them from the position of the Russian elites, who consider themselves part of the global elite, it is in their interest to curtail patriotism, come closer to the West, cede sovereignty and completely spit on popular legitimation (as well as on the people themselves). For the elites to believe in the seriousness of the patriotic imperative, demonstrative repressions are needed, much more extensive and systemic (and not selective) than Putin did. But Surkov doesn’t say anything about this. In order to maintain balance in society at the next post-Putin stage, it is necessary to launch an attack on the elites, their qualitative rotation, their cleaning, only this will keep balance. The same balance that is now, after Putin, will only weaken, not increase. Consequently, conflict is inevitable.
The decision of the Russian people
If a leader had emerged from the elite, who would have turned out to be even more radical than Putin, and not only preserved and strengthened the patriotic line, overcoming a number of unsuccessful compromises (for example, in relations with Ukraine), but also carried out reforms in the national and social spirit in domestic policy, harsh and traumatic events could have been avoided. But we do not see such a figure. Moreover, against his background, Putin himself would have somewhat faded, but for the elites he would present a real threat this time. Therefore, Putin and the elite as a whole are at the same time wishing that such a figure should not be in an orbit close to power. The same is true of a consistent state national ideology: its current government is in fact afraid of fire, because following it would force it to compare accepted norms and ideals, on the one hand, and concrete actions of quite definite politicians, on the other, which would reveal the whole the inadequacy of modern elites. It is always easier to adapt to personality than to ideas.
Putting all the considerations together, we have the following picture. Surkov and in his person the ruling elite begins to introduce the project of “eternal Putinism”, that is, turning the status quo into an endless repetition of the same thing, in a kind of “Groundhog Day”. But it will not be a compromise, but a simulacrum of compromise, not Putin’s lively and sincere patriotism, albeit inconsistent and unsystematic, but his cyborg imitation. The new “Putin”, apparently, in the spirit of the advanced technologies with which the Russian government is raving, is supposed to be printed on a 3D printer. Obviously, the omnipotence of technology is overvalued here, as well as the idiocy and passivity of the Russian people. Putin himself showed that the 90s have an alternative, although he did not explain clearly what it is. Now society may well reflect on the content of this alternative and demand clarity in its relation.
If this does not happen, the collapse of statehood will begin at an accelerated pace. After all, relations with the subjects of the federation, which have pronounced ethnic specificity, are built on Putin and his tough line in the cause of Russian sovereignty. The slightest hesitation in this issue instantly throws everything into the situation of the 90s and again makes the disintegration of Russia a quite probable threat.
In the future, we need not Putinism, which is not possible, but something much more consistent, powerful, wealthy and systemic — a kind of Super-Putin, in which all his best heroic features will be continued, but his weaknesses and mistakes will be overcome.
translated by Kristina Russ