Of late, we’ve often seen Putin compared to Hitler. Some do it to attract attention to the current Ukrainian crisis (which, left untreated, can easily become European crisis of tomorrow). Others use this word as a generic title for a bad guy. Others still find traits in Putin’s decisions which can be validly compared to Hitler’s. Unfortunately, however, it is an indication of just how widespread the Soviet point of view of history is still in today’s world. By this we mean the mythology in which Hitler was the Absolute Evil, and any rational analysis of the Soviet history was tantamount to treason. An objective analysis, however, allows us to see the invasion of Ukraine and forced annexation of part of its territory, in particular, and the whole of Russian economic and political strategy in general, somewhat differently. Putin is not a neo-Fascist. He is a neo-Bolshevik.
Putin started by stripping those oligarchs of the 1990s who were less than loyal to him of their property. And if we allow that the prosecution of Berezovsky was somewhat justified (he stole, robbed and fleeced in quite significant amounts), the Yukos OJSC and Media Most were essentially expropriated. The properties in question were transferred to the corporations or people who proved their loyalty to the state, which is, de facto if not de jure, tantamount to nationalization. These acts of transferring someone’s property in favor of someone more loyal, as we intend to show, are a cornerstone of Putin’s politics. The gullible are fooled by his mockery of capitalism, and so say that, formally, the private enterprises are legal in Russia. They forget that NEP was invented by the Bolsheviks and overlook Stalin’s tolerance of private cooperatives. In any case, the act itself is not what is important. The famous and frankly boring rhetoric of
“returning the people what was stolen from it” is a mere window dressing, romanticizing the ugly act of stealing into a Robin Hood myth. The vital part is the state’s rigid control over the flow of funds, and the absolute necessity of achieving economic growth in a static economy. Since this is a contradiction and thus an impossibility, private businesses are allowed a measure of freedom from time to time. They revive the economy and are then, for their pains, robbed of their achievements.
The end of NEP came when Stalin’s policy shifted towards the mobilization economy. Today we can observe Putin do the same. Military aggression against a neighboring sovereign state and unimaginable (for today’s Europe) annexation of part of its territory provoked severe sanctions in retaliation. These, in turn, required the neo-Bolshevik answer of mobilization and shift to state-controlled economy. Soon enough we’ll see the raise of taxes; the citizens will be barred from making money off the property which is only belongs to them by the government’s say-so. For instance, the Russian government intends to make apartment renting illegal. They also intend to ban internet shopping. For one thing, Russian internet will soon become a closed-off stub, free from “unnecessary information and foul influences”. Even now Russian banks do not support nor receive cooperation from Western-based electronic systems. Additionally, all sorts of web money will
also be eliminated. Anonymous electronic money transfers are already under government’s attack. Putin has also declared his intent to expropriate the international private property. For the neo-Bolsheviks there are only two kinds of property: mine and why-the-hell-is-it-not-mine-yet. This healthy attitude allows them to disregard, for instance, the difference between the private and the state international property. Up until now they lacked the power to act on this and also had to maintain a certain reputation. They had to do with Luzhkov’s schemes for stripping the Moscow citizens’ property (see “Russians Godfathers” vol. 3), or Sochi model. Ukrainian invasion changed the equation: a law is drafted even now which will allow Putin and Co to nationalize international property. Sharikov is born again.
All through Putin’s regime Russian media suffered from arbitrary shutdowns and control transfers. The fight for annihilation of the freedom of speech was justified using age-old Bolshevik rhetoric. For instance, Volodarsky (one of the most hated Communists in Petrograd, chief editor of the “Red Gazette”, chief commissioner of print and propaganda for the Union of Northern Communes) used abolish the oppositionist media saying that they “engaged in anti-Soviet propaganda”, “critiqued instead of reporting” and, perhaps the most fey, “used misprints to communicate military secrets to Russia’s enemies”. Later, in Stalin’s times, the fanatical hunt for “malicious” misprints (supposedly used to signal Stalin’s location and plans to the Enemies of the State) became a constant source of accusations and arrests. Nowadays, the Russian government uses similar methods. An announcement from the Attorney General’s office intimating that an
internet site contains extremist slogans or is used to coordinate an unsanctioned rally is sufficient excuse for blocking the site. This, in neo-Bolsheviks’ opinion, is what freedom of speech means: not letting everyone speak their minds, but deciding which minds are allowed to speak and what should or should not be heard by the people. In addition to illegal media bans and to direct murder of the more notorious journalists, the state employs another known tactics: dismissals and control transfers. For example, an independent news company “Lenta.ru” was dismantled and replaced with state-loyal moralizer Goreslavsky as the new chief editor.
Putin also follows the familiar Soviet guidelines in his international politics. He either buys the governments, like the USSR bought Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala; or takes the countries by force. Thus, he returned to the fold several countries in the Middle East, Central Asia and South America. Just recently North Korea, breaking its long silence, openly supported Russia’s invasion of Crimea. It is obvious that Russia is attempting to rebuild a worldwide geopolitical coalition capable of opposing the West. In this cause Putin employs several political paradigms opposing the principles of capitalism, democracy, transparency and civil liberties. These paradigms include, but are not limited to, corrupted ethno-dictatorships of Central Asia; the “new left” of the Latin America (Chavism, Kirchnerism, Sandinism); the religious dictatorships of the Middle East. Kremlin provides its international comrades with outdated but still useful Soviet propaganda
handbooks translated into appropriate languages. The results are somewhere between amusing and frightening: Gaddafi, Chavez, Maduro, Ortega and Yanukovich give the exact same speeches, whose contents might have come directly from 1975.
Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear that the same is true of the Crimean annexation. Let’s not forget that only in the last 100 years Russia violated Ukrainian independence three times. All these acts involved military invasion and rhetoric of the most primitive kind, barely suitable for formal justification of the acts. Ukraine’s opinion, as well as that of the other countries, regarding the right of a nation to self-determination was never of much interest to any of the Russia’s governments. Bellowing about brotherly love Russia invaded again and again, smothering the so-proclaimed relative in its bear hug.
Another, no less important, issue we should remember is that, no matter what political upheavals it underwent, Russia’s attitude towards Ukraine remained the same. Bolsheviks spoke of the right of the peoples to self-determination; yet at the same time they massacred the people attempting this self-determination, drowning whole countries in blood, not hesitating to sacrifices yesterday’s allies. Nestor Makhno, whose paradigm included open dialog and cooperation with the Communists, was destroyed as soon as his usefulness to the Bolsheviks ceased. So why should it surprise anyone that the UPR, loathed by the Red Russia, was invaded and destroyed? Ukrainian nation made another bid at separation in 1941. They declared their independence as the Ukrainian State. This state was annihilated, its leaders and political activists murdered. The latest attempt at independence took place in 1991. As we can see today, the brotherly love Russia has for its neighbor
did not include respect or partnership; Ukraine remained but a part of an Empire, a secessionist who should be taught its place.
In short, comparing Putin to Hitler is in no way justified. He simply repeats the strategic, economic and foreign policies of the Soviet Union, borrowing from time to time some early Soviet methodology. He exports the same social model to all his “allies”. Lacking the territories and capabilities of the USSR, he is forced sometimes to play the role of a civilized leader, caring about law, people’s rights and international crises. Sometimes he makes overtures towards the nationalists, fascists and similarly inclined “European right-wingers”. This could fool us in the beginning of his reign, when he could have been viewed as a Russian Juan Peron. But no longer. Bolsheviks easily exchanged the military communism for NEP and then killed the latter. Similarly, Putin has finished the preliminary stage of rebuilding the USSR. He created a dreadful, incompetent geopolitical structure in which Moscow’s most important allies are Caracas, Havana and
Tehran, and now he is ready for more explicit actions. It is unlikely his ambitions, so obviously extending beyond the CIS, will stop with the annexation of Crimea. He intends to fashion an anti-globalist, anti-Western, anti-civilization formation with Russia at its center, and to reap the profits. Incidentally, Putin is in no way unique in this aspiration: Mao Zedong tried to realize it as a self-appointed leader of the world revolution after Stalin’s demise; and after him, Castro attempted the same, though he limited his interests to Latin America.
One cannot call USSR, Mao’s China or Cuba a normal country and keep a straight face. Their ideas were non-viable, and what kept them going were informational isolation, censorship, brainwashing and aggressive behavior. Russian government has decided to go this way, forgetting or not caring about the extent of the territorial and financial losses suffered by the USSR once it lost its capability to buy or terrify its own third of the world. But the Russian Federation is not USSR: it’s much weaker, thus making Putin’s neo-Bolshevik aggressive stance look rather pathetic. However, weaker or not, the danger is quite real. Ukraine has just witnessed this, and Europe would do well to feel threatened as well. Serious, competent measure should be taken immediately to support Ukraine if this monster, not dead and never buried, is to be stopped. Let’s not forget: a zombie moves much slower than a man, but its bites are much more dangerous.
Kitty Sanders, April 2014