In Russia, patriotism means government-approved nationalism.
Our preferred way of showing patriotism is to augment the loyalist narrative we find in the mass media. A small selection of photos below from a few years back demonstrates what it looks like at out place. This was the zenith of national pride after the reconquest of the Crimean peninsula.
Russia in defiance of the Russia-hating narrative of Western powers: “Obama and Angela of Death: get your bloody hands off the Russian World!” (Angela of Death is a reference to Angela Merkel)
“Führer Obama, get your bloody hands off Novorossyia” (Novorossiya is the southern part of Ukraine with a large Russian majority)
The sad girl below holds a poster that says “Fascington, sign off the act of capitulation: Russians are coming!”
The patriotic tattoo at the waistline of the man below shows an outline of the Crimean peninsula, the symbol of national pride:
More benign to us—who know how to adapt to it and see early warnings of approaching tempests, snow storms and icy spells—than to our enemies. Our weather famously defeated Napoleon and Hitler’s plans of conquest. This makes the parallel to our government obvious to even the hopelessly obtuse.
The motif in the picture below is inspired by the British Peaky Blinders TV series. It resonates with the deep philosophy of our mighty State in treating its subjects. Gems form under scorching temperatures and unimaginable pressure, geologists say. This is exactly Russia’s secret recipe for producing so many talents at most critical turns of history.
Putin-haters among our Stalinists and radical nationalists loudly bemoan the lacklustre performance of modern Russia on the global scene. They ascribe it to the calm, comfortable life of our generation. Consumerism and the cult of self-gratification spoiled men who no longer seek glory and conquest, they say. The innate ability of our State to corral the populace into epic projects is their last hope that another world is still possible. The great mass of my compatriots also trust that if someone of Stalin’s caliber takes the Kremlin after Putin, the spirit of Biblical endeavours might well rise and shine again in Moscow.
Which is why few of us really want President Putin to leave.
“Black privilege” definitely existed in the USSR. Up until the late 1980s when the crumbling of Soviet rule threw open our borders to a huge variety of international travelers, a black person in the streets of Moscow almost always belonged to a tiny privileged minority.
Below, a front of a Beryózka grocery shop in Moscow somewhere in the mid-1970s. Those in lawful possession of Western money could buy at such places most of what was available at the time in Europe or the US. Beryozkas were for foreigners and those of Moscovites who had savings from their overseas visits and stays as diplomats, sailors, trade reps, spies, and suchlike.
Invalyúta (“hard currency”)! The salt of the earth, the key to all riches, the joy of their lives! The rest of us were relegated to the sad, crowded, chronically understocked places for lowly ruble commoners.
Together with foreign tourists, the total market of Beryozka shops consisted of some tens of thousands of lucky guys with their families and friends. But an imported car like the 1963 Ford Galaxy in the photo was something else altogether! A very, very rare bird.
The car carries a plate that says “D” (diplomatic staff) and “061” (Republic of Sudan).
Moscovites interested in Western cars whispered to each other the names of a few Soviet Olympians (like Secretary-General Brezhnev or the gravel-voiced actor and singer Vladimir Vysotsky) who held such imported beasts in their garage. Even for the nomenklatura elite, this was out of this world. For mere mortals, the wettest dreams stopped somewhere at a spanking new GAZ-24–95, the vehicle you see at the back of the photo.
But for the blacks we used to see around in Moscow, driving such cars seemed to be as natural as for us a trip in the metro.
Below, black students in the USSR learn how to throw snowballs. The Western clothes they wear would turn any male Moscovite Blenda-white with envy. I was a teenager in the 1970s. A getup like this would make me an instant star in the dating scene. (Don’t even get me started about their stylish tan and pearly teeth. Mine sucked big time.)
The thing is, you can’t take people’s word about them being white/black supremacists or not being racists just like that. We humans are social animals. We’re tribal creatures. Often, we’re conditioned to say things and act the way that deep down inside we don’t like at all.
Remember all these priests, prominent Evangelicals and other Conservatives who were blasting sodomy and loose morals—only to be caught out privately enjoying carnal bliss with members of the same sex?
Especially in modern world, proclaiming yourself an anti-racist, WASP nativist, Antifa, or white/black supremacist is a declaration of allegiance to your tribe. We want to belong, so we often parrot what our reference groups say.
“Hold with the hare and run with the hounds”, how about that? Deep down inside, we may hide something very different, invisible to everyone else. I spent half of my life in the USSR, this was how things worked for almost everyone back then.
This is why I believe in horny. That’s your touchstone. Nature made it rock solid against social conditioning. Even buried deep and hushed down by all the voices in your head, it’s still down there, alive and kicking. That’s the surest identification of your true self.
Below, a scene from a Stalinist propaganda musical “Circus”. It’s about an American show girl who got a child with a black man and was harassed for it by evil Capitalist Westerners. In the movie, the lady found refuge and happiness in the USSR. Yet somehow, her new love interest happened to be a snow-white Soviet man.
In a way, the Soviet Union didn’t really pass the gut test for non-racism. For all the anti-racist propaganda, our mass culture never managed to produce a compelling love story that would involve a black person of either sex with a Soviet citizen.
In post-Soviet Russia, our sexual preferences haven’t changed much, if we trust the stats provided by PornHub. Below, their stats for the last decade:
As you see, “interracial”, “ebony” and suchlike are nowhere to be found, in a clear contrast to East Asian content. How about regional differences?
Our Muslim compatriots in North Caucasus seem to have a preference for Mediterranean/Middle Eastern ethnic types. The Far East, with a visible presence of local Asian minorities as well as guest workers, demonstrate a taste for East Asian flavor. But Black is absent.
How about about the most popular stars?
Not being an expert myself, I see that ethnic diversity here doesn’t go beyond Mia Khalifa (Lebanese) and Asa Akira (Japanese). Both seem to be rather white in skin color.
(1) The desired pace of progress and (2) views on minorities.
Both Libs and Communists want to proactively change the way we’ve been doing things, our culture. In their heads, this also will make humans better, wiser, kinder to each other. This is why they both are progressives.
Communist hares and liberal turtles
However, there’s a huge difference between the two of them. Communists want to improve the world in a giant leap, by abolishing private property. Meanwhile, Libs have more faith in incremental changes. In a way, Libs are “Kaizen Progressives”.
This is theory. In real life, from the right half of the ideological continuum—especially if you belong to the Trumpists, paleocons, right libertarians, hardcore Evangelists and alt-righters—it’s often hard to tell them apart.
But don’t despair! I’ll teach you a trick how to do it, solidly tested by us, the old practitioners of Soviet propaganda.
Communists don’t believe in identity politics. They believe in classes. The question is, do you possess the means of production—which makes it possible to exploit other people? If yes, you’re an enemy. If no, you’re a good guy, maybe one of us.
As to “identities” that people might stick to you, it’s a figment of bourgeois mindset. It’s there to confuse you. “Identities” distract you from your fundamental class association with the working class and your historic mission of defeating Capitalism and abolishing private property.
As Lenin said:
“People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be, until they have learned to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises.”
This is why Communists hate organized minorities—if it’s not the Communists themselves who organize them. It happens that Communists strike tactical alliances with the most influential and active minorities, like leftist libertarians. But these rarely last long. And they never survive Communist power grabs.
“Minority” itself is a dirty concept for practicing Communists. They are passionate “99 percenters”. There’s strength in numbers for them. The central point to their faith in themselves as a vanguard of the working masses is their ability to lead the proletarian majority (not necessarily electoral one) against the tiny clique of exploiters and bloodsuckers.
Look at their view on “identity politics”. No matter how far to the left they go, if they encapsulate their supporters within a narrow cocoon of shared lifestyle, or ethnic and cultural values—they are not Communists.
Below, some examples of visual propaganda that may help you tell Communists from the rest of the progressivist pack. First, a drawing of Gay Pride parade shared with me by Stephen F. Condren. Through the lens of Communism, this is a patently parochial, ideologically wobbly, Liberal approach to politics, revealing a “confused, petty-bourgeois mind”:
As a contrast, look at the Soviet propaganda poster below. It’s dedicated to the Olympic games in Moscow in 1980. The Olympic colors making the teddy bear’s belt and the word MИР (“peace”) symbolize human diversity, just like the rainbow flag above.
However, the Communist teddy bear Mísha to the right refuses to let the diversity run its own course. The flag in his paw is distinctly red. The Olympic symbol on the flag mimics a tower of the Kremlin, the beating heart of world Communism. It has the same golden color as the hammer and sickle on the USSR’s banner. The flag is raised high above the cacophony of apolitical colors. There’s no doubt who runs the show.
The text says: “Our main motto is peace”.
Below, a Stalinist poster from the early 1950s, “We won’t allow to sow discord between peoples of the world!” Variations of this motif with small additions used to adorn many a gay club in Moscow in the 1990s. The stern faces, close body contact and a distinct sense of hierarchy reveal a clear-eyed Communist mind behind this piece of progressivist art.
Putinology, i.e. the approach “Know Putin, Know Russia”, has dominated the newsfeed from Russia and research about it. This Putin-centricity assumes that the man is motivated by a core set of beliefs—and if you can decipher them, you can make sense of his policy, as well as predict what’s the future has in store for us.
Tim Frye demonstrates that the worldview of President Putin and his personal power is hugely exaggerated as a policy factor. He faces a wealth of constraints we can’t even imagine. Studying his tactical thinking and his reactive frame of mind is much more relevant.
2. Stress on quantitative research
The author doesn’t go down the beaten path of profusely quoting newsmakers, activists, media persons, dissidents and tidbits from past newsfeeds to prove his points. Quantitative research, with a lot of figures and summaries of opinion polls takes much place in the book. I wish this would be a golden standard for those who make a claim to explaining Russia’s current policies to the public.
3. Cross-cultural context
Tim Frye pulls together much international research about countries with political traditions comparable to Russia. It show that what happens here is rather mainstream in the global context. If you believe the author, Russia is no longer the “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” like it was in the era of Churchill and Stalin.
My favorite quotes:
Former leader of the Soviet Union Khrushchev… described governing Russia to Fidel Castro as follows:
“You’d think I could change anything in this country. Like hell I can. No matter what changes I propose and carry out, everything stays the same. Russia is like a tub full of dough, you put your hand down in it, down to the bottom, and think you are master of the situation. When you first pull out your hand, a little hole remains, but then, before your very eyes, the dough expands into a spongy, puffy mass. That’s what Russia is like.”
Russians have long since abandoned hope that the government will help solve their problems… Russians continue to rely heavily on friends and family to find jobs, earn a living, and solve their daily problems. They turn to the state and politics primarily when all other options have failed. As Greene argues, “The general quiescence [of the Russian public] coexists with a deep-seated antipathy toward the country’s ruling elite.”
“As late as June 2002, Putin stated that NATO enlargement to include the Baltics was “no tragedy” so long as no new military infrastructure was introduced.”
Three reasons not to read Tim Frye’s book
1. The yawn factor. The language is approachable alright, the topics fully in trend. But the more you read it, the less exceptional modern Russia looks to you. If you believe Mr Frye, almost all that’s going on here in our neck of the woods, has been observed someplace else in the world, time and time again.
2. Ideological non-alignment. If you belong to Putin’s fan club, or are a Putin-hater, little in the book really gets you excited. Our beloved President mostly comes across as a shrewd guy who just minds his own business of getting the best out of his stay in the Kremlin for himself, his friends and his family.
3. The book is a bit too light on Russian sources for empirical research data. I would expect more from someone with “fluent Russian” as his CV has it.
The picture below shows a half pint of dark ale at the bar Pig and Rose in Moscow. It teaches us to better tell foam from beer in President Putin’s policies—the way Tim Frye does in his book.
From the POV of propaganda, I only find one obstinate chink in President Putin’s armor.
All the billion-ruble worth PR notwithstanding, here’s a glaring mismatch. On the one side, his cerebral, down-to-earth nature that values loyalty, predictability, professionalism. On the other side, the awkward, sleazy, feeble-voiced, vindictive stalker that pop-ups now and then from behind his adopted macho-man persona we all came to love.
Putin-haters try to spin this for all this is worth. Our President is famous for his efforts to keep youthful looks. Below, an artist uses the masculine faces of the hirsute Communist prophets Russia was venerated in the past to contrast them with our barefaced President oozing slick chutzpah of a street hustler.
One of the PR-stunts by our President’s PR department backfired recently. Below, Mr. Putin and his trusty Minister of Defense Mr. Shoigu posing to a court photographer on a vacation tour in South Siberia. Irreverent Russian Internet users dubbed the scene “Brokeback Taiga Mountain”, in a reference to the romantic movie blockbuster about two gay cowboys some 15 years ago.
Neoliberalism isn’t ending. It’s metamorphosing. And this happens in one of the most unlikely places.
Like any Capitalism worth its salt, the neoliberalism of Reagan’s and Thatcher’s mold is a shape-shifter.
Of all the places, Russia is showing the way to the rest of the world. President Putin has blazed new trails that two decades ago no one could imagine.
Putin is a de-ideologized political player. He hates ideologies, platforms, roadmaps, and brainy visions for a better future. They cramp his style. And he doesn’t believe in the future. The past makes much more sense to him.
But he was brought into politics by neoliberals. He is an anti-Communist, and it shows. He keeps shielding the “top 100,000 families” in Russia from price controls, regulated capital markets, and trade barriers. He keeps shrinking the rump social benefits we have from the Soviet era. A sworn austerity man, he trusts his monetary and fiscal policy to people who use old good neoliberal cookbooks. He seems to have no qualms about globalism in its Chinese version.
Also, consider the following:
Putin is the man who brought us into the WTO—even though for an extractive economy this brings few economic benefits.
He presided over the de-industrialization of the country. The process started before him when the Soviet military industry lay with a broken back after our loss in the Cold War. But the sheer number of industrial enterprises shut down under Putin far overgoes the darkest time of Yeltsin’s rule.
On Putin’s watch, the number of Russian billionaires shot up from zero to over a hundred. Many of them relocated to London and other known nests of neoliberalism while staying on best terms with the Kremlin.
He introduced the flat income tax of 13% on individuals. Even after its rise to 15% in 2020, Russia is a shining beacon of low taxation for wealthy people.
He made the Russian Ruble a fully convertible currency.
On his watch, as much as a trillion USD has left the country for Western shores. Despite several promises from the Kremlin, he did nothing to stem the capital flight.
After the Crimea annexation, a combination of low petroleum prices and Western sanctions led to the stagnation of Russia’s economy. It continues to this day today. But the fortunes of our oligarchs have only increased.
Apparently, Putin’s anti-Westernism and the expansion of our mighty State into the economy go against his neoliberal grain. But the former is just a function of his internal politics. And the latter is little else but powerful state-oligarchical clans grabbing national wealth under the disguise of the State bureaucracy (“Stoligarchy”).
Below the radar, President Putin has boldly redefined the neoliberal game. In a way, he’s doing with neoliberalism what the Franks did to the Roman imperial legacy. The barbarians of the Dark Age absorbed its splendor as best they could and passed it on under their unique trademark to what is now Western civilization.
Below, President Putin greeting on the home turf Henry Kissinger. The two had at least 16 known rendez-vous during the post-Soviet era. The first of these happened well before Putin was summoned by Yeltsin to the service in the Kremlin.
No other proclaimed fighter against neoliberals has been observed having such a chummy relationship with the grey patriarch of America-dominated world order. Stalinists and radical nationalists in Russia have a nagging feeling that behind the wall of the anti-Western bluster, President Putin is quietly taking orders from international bankers and Anglo-Saxon globalists.
To answer this, all you need is projecting on Russia what has happened in the neighboring former Soviet republics.
Russia as a clan-ruled, cleptocratic, chaotic democracy? Look at Ukraine.
Russia as a hugely profitable petroleum-extracting business run by one family? Look at Azerbaijan.
Russia as a populist low-key continuation of the USSR. Look at Belarus.
Russia as a petrostate ruled by a benign business-minded nationalist? Case Kazakhstan!
This is it. This is about all the range of what Russia could have been in the alternative reality.
We could not have become like China. We don’t have the work ethics and the tradition of the elite’s moral accountability that Confucianism has instilled in the Chinese
We could not have become like Poles. They have a tradition of civil society and self-reliance that we don’t have.
We could not have become like Balts. We like the Nordic way of life, but only as tourists. Their ideas of equality and the puritanical simplicity of their lives put us off.
(What we possibly slowly become is Italians of the Great Steppe. Kremlin and our best palaces are built by Italians, we like to wear Italian brands and luxuriate in Venetian interiors, and Putin seems to get a lot of his political ideas from the hidden vaults of Mussolini).
From the outset, the Soviet Communists declared the abolition of state and classes as their ultimate objective. But it never happened. Ruling the nation without a state turned out to be impractical from day one.
A Communist revolution per definition is a very violent project, with exploitative classes resisting the arrival of new world to their dying breath. That means a dire need of police, secret police, spies, firing squads, army, navy, the full monty. All these things are the trappings of State.
As the North Korea clearly shows, even several generations after the bourgeois classes in your country had been eradicated, you can’t do without state.
Now, to the classes.
In theory, as soon as you nationalize and collectivize everything, as we did in the USSR, classes in their Marxist definition cease to exist. Somehow, in the Soviet Union, it didn’t happen!
Due to some obscure perfectionist quirk of our Communist scholars, we held to the view that collective farmers had collective rights of ownership to their land and equipment. Workers as a class didn’t have comparable ownership rights to their machines and tools. That means we continued to have two classes, and no one said when this was expected to end.
In addition, we had “a layer” (as opposed to “class”) of “working intelligentsia” who didn’t work manually as prescribed by old-school Marxists, yet anyhow had the right to exist in the new society.
This is what these guys looked like, during the late-era Soviet Union:
The suit to the right is obviously the “layer” person. A badge on his lapel has hammer and sickle in it to prove his office work is no better than toiling in the fields or at the steel furnace. The macho guy in the middle impersonates the leading role workers as a class were assigned in the Soviet Union.