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The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.
President Reagan’s Speech before the National Association of Evangelicals. Orlando, Florida. March 8, 1983
An advance notice
I am quoting the final words of this book to let people decide right off whether it’s worth their while to read it.
“A freedom fighter is not always a free man. Actually, never. Especially if this is a fight for the freedom of people who don’t want to be free. In our country, in our time, under our circumstances, the road to freedom is very simple. We need to understand and realize that it is useless to guess what is the next act of nastiness a totalitarian power and a totalitarian society are up to. Even less sense makes an attempt to evaluate them by the criteria completely alien to them. The power and the society at all levels treat anyone arbitrarily. Having no legal or moral constraints, they can’t be influenced. It is impossible to have a meaningful agreement with them. Their actions are not difficult to predict, but these projections do not warrant your survival.
The most vacuous and meaningless are indignant denunciations instead of a rational analysis of government and society actions. The power is smart, crafty and resourceful. It manipulates the accusers to make their actions play in its favor. In such a way a self-regulating society is forming. Even more stupid is trying to please the authorities and adapt to social conditions: it will only cause suspicion. It is equally disastrous whether you choose confrontation or collaboration, nonconformism or adaptation.
The realization of all this gives people freedom. No choice to be made between denunciation and conformity. A person can be destroyed at any moment, no matter how he or she behaves; they can be humiliated, deprived of family and property, and there is no way to avoid it. And this is exactly the genuine freedom: a minute before demise, physical or social, and this moment of truth can last for the rest of one’s life.
Actually, this reflection is about no one and nothing in particular. Absolute majority of people doesn’t pay attention to government and society, being harmonically in unison with them. The ones who act otherwise are nonexistent neither for the power, nor for the society. The victims and the resistance heroes are chosen and appointed by the power and society for their own needs and interests.
To be free in such a society is a hard and thankless labor that does not have any public mission. Still, this is the individual freedom of choice, which can’t be denied.
An order from above
When we came out of the toy railway restaurant on the Wenceslas Square, Anya ran away somewhere, and we were left alone with Eva. We wanted to take a leisurely walk to the Old Town, but first I had to show her monuments to Palach and Zajíc.
On our way home I was telling the story of Prague Spring and the Soviet tanks in Prague. As a 7 year old, she needed clear explanations; first and foremost I had to make her understand the nature of the events and then tell what happened. The point at issue was the reason for the invasion, and inevitably we had to touch upon the specifics of the Russian identity. Eva heard me out very carefully. She said:
“You say bad things about your own people. This is a minus. But you tell the truth. This is a plus. A book about this has to be written.”
Chapter I. Without much effort
To comprehend the evil
The historical and political impotence is not equivalent to the intellectual one. And the last thing to do nowadays is to writhe in hysterics or fall silent in depression. To live through several epochs in three decades is a gift from God, a sign of his benevolence. Those were the fateful moments, but people failed to use them, waiting for an invitation to the feast, instead of laying the table with their own hands. A sudden three hundred sixty degrees turn instead of one hundred and eighty is a great incentive for mental activity, free from all previous concepts and schemes.
There are rules that cannot be argued, but it is really difficult to follow them.
When you are contemplating the social structure, the political culture and the national mindset, it is necessary to consider how all this works in a certain system, and not the personal qualities of those who are in charge of all this. Obviously, this is the right approach. But when the system is built around certain individuals and depends on their personal qualities, you can’t help but place greater focus on them. Bonapartism is a complex socio-historical phenomenon, but you can’t understand a thing in it without taking a close look at the personality of Napoleon Bonaparte.
If you talk about the country’s historical prospects, the strategy for its development, you shouldn’t pay much attention to conflicts between different people in power, their squabbles and passions. Few people in the country know their names. But if there is no public policy and public examination, when strategic decisions are not discussed and taken according to the personal interests of contending individuals and groups, we have to figure out what is behind the exchange of barbs in the press campaigns, rather than try to understand the meaning in confusing statements of politicians.
If the concepts submitted for public debate claim to sum up the experience of the past few years of the country’s development, than, of course, we need to look into them in detail, and debate in a well-argued manner. But if it is clear that behind them there is nothing but claims to absolute power, to comply with the rules of debate is simply dangerous. In humanitarian context, such concepts deny equality of participants in the debate. Because the debate is aimed at the destruction of this context.
In general, the meaning of a statement cannot be reduced to the meanings of the words used in it. It may be the exact opposite of them.
Or maybe not at all connected with them. And if the text is stylistically repulsive, causes laughter or disgust, then this reaction is to be trusted first. Stylistic differences have long been known to be the most profound and meaningful touchstones in public debate. Aesthetic sensitivity and good taste are the most reliable protection against political baseness. And not just political — any. Ethical values are less reliable: a person can be persuaded. But the disgust that stylistic falsity excites is hard to overcome.
There are all sorts of different conventions, the observance of which disarms decent and positive minded people before the brazen depredators. And so, every time we see that the obvious crooks and even potential villains claim to participate on equal terms in the discussion, we should recall how people of their ilk used such occasions to seize absolute power. And how costly it was to get rid of them afterwards.
The main division, which occurred in Russian society, is not the 86% of “Crimea is ours” crowd and 14% sober-minded. The division did not happen at all. It has always been. Now there is another division: one group believe that the time has come for allegories, omissions, haziness and ambiguity, not even Aesop language, but the utter verbal dregs. The other group believes it’s time for clarity. Few people think it is important and necessary to study the transformation of the political system, the imminent collapse of which has been predicted by the intellectuals since last year of the last century. Here is a selection of some statement of the most notable freethinkershttp://www.politonline.ru/interpretation/22880154.html:
Valeria Novodvorskaya, 2000: Mister Putin won’t outlast his constitutional term.
Boris Berezovsky, 2003: Putin’s political life is not going to be a long one. In politics, there are objective processes. And they have a tendency to be precipitous, because we live under the conditions of condensed time. Therefore, this system is going to collapse within the interval of the current presidential term. In other words, Putin is not going to be re-elected in March, because the time flow in 21st century is different: what in 20th century was taking 10 years, will require only one year in the 21st.
Eduard Limonov, 2005: I do not believe that Vladimir Vladimirovich, with his manners mimicking Sovereign Emperor Nicholas, either the Second or the First, can make it to the end of his term.
Garry Kasparov, 31.10.2008: The Putin regime can’t last more than two years. Once I said that this regime would last only until 2012. I have to slightly adjust my forecast: by 2010.
Garry Kasparov, 18.11. 2008: Medvedev will rule no more than 1.5 years, then he will be overthrown by the masses, prompted by the crisis. Very soon, hundreds of thousands of people will be out in the streets.
Boris Nemtsov, 02.03.2009: A year, no more than a year and a half is left till the end of the current political Putin-Medvedev regime.
Mikhail Kasyanov, 07.07.2011: Such [Arab] spring may arrive in three or four months.
Sergey Belanovsky, 2012: Frankly, I doubt that he will sit in the president’s chair for six years — this is my personal opinion.
Boris Akunin, 19.01.2012: I swear, I have a strong sense that Vladimir Putin’s historical time is running out.
Alfred Koch, 2012: Everyone agrees that he’ll be out before the end of his constitutional term.
Vladimir Voinovich, 2014: As the ruler of Russia Vladimir Putin won’t hold on for more than two years.
Slava Rabinovich, 2014: Putin won’t stay until 2018. Not more than two years left for him.
Mikhail Kasyanov, 2014: I believe that the collapse will happen in a year. This would lead to the end of the entire Putin system.
In July 2015 former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said:
“Regime change is inevitable, it is possible in the nearest future.”http://www.rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/55ace5b89a794758504f490a
All their predictions failed. The lessons of history demonstrate that it is better to study in depth the current situation rather than prophesize about its demise. However, the prophecies are often more popular than the knowledge of the actual state of affairs. Still, objectively speaking, the winners in this dispute are the ones who base their argument on the knowledge of the present reality.
Those who try to convince themselves and others that the government is agonizing (“just a jab and it will collapse”), are sidetracking from the most important issue — the adequate comprehension of the country’s main fundamental nature. The knowledge of it is valuable by itself, but also has a constructive value as opposed to empty theorizing and utopian pipe dreams.
Forecasts in the literal sense of the word are not in demand by society. A forecast is a commodity; its success is determined by the market, not by its fulfillment. The main feature of the future, as Vladimir Nabokov famously noted, is its nonexistence. That’s why any forecast is pointless, because it applies to a nonexistent thing. Only the present has real substance, and any forecast is nothing but an attempt to influence people here and now.
The forecast sells well if it suits the mood of the buyers. In the 90-ies the apocalyptic predictions were in demand of the progressive and not so progressive public. Trade in them played a significant role in the transition from Yeltsin to Putin and the subsequent development. Now, on the contrary, in spite of the obvious, in everything concerning Russia, the top-selling article is the vain hope. Most of what we call the forecasts is, generally speaking, not even forecasts in the socio-political sense. Quite often these are just a simulation of speech, the imitation of a forecast for the sake of an immediate effect right on the spot. Whether it’s “everything is going to be fine” or “Putin’s regime is about to collapse.” Analysts and even businessmen have no use of projections necessitating a change in their current strategies. In extreme cases, they can go for some modifications. The most accurate forecast has no value; even if it comes true it brings no dividends to the forecaster. The measure of success is the act of selling of the forecast at the moment of its delivery. No fear of repressions and prohibitions since the society has no use of the knowledge about itself.
Dystopias distorted the perception of reality in those who lived or continue to live in the context of the utopia’s implementation. Up to Zamyatin’s “We” the main problem of the society of universal equality was considered a common, evenly distributed satiety. In 1920 Khodasevich wrote:
Same weight of bread for everyone,
The age of justice will supply.
Once in a while a humble man
Will cast a glance at distant sky.
The reality turned out to be hunger, poverty and inequality in everything. And now the images of the future society, created by Alexander Zinoviev and Vladimir Voinovich obstruct the sober look at what is happening now. They believed that technological backwardness, shortages, isolationism and numerous prohibitions would only increase. They saw the future of totalitarianism in its obstinate resistance against the outside world of free, prosperous and self-confident societies.
But it came out quite the opposite. Russia adopted the high tech tools, the instruments of market economy, reached a relatively higher standards of living, doesn’t practice mass repressions and prohibitions, and the main thing, conducts an aggressively offensive policy against the weakening civilized world with its compromised identity, struck by populism and ready to give up its freedoms.
Reflecting on Soviet society and culture, Nadezhda Mandelstam concluded that the Sovok (though this moniker has come later) is not compatible with the tragedy, with a tragic worldview as a reaction to a total derision of human values. Here we see the denial, refusal to acknowledge the defeat, and therefore, the lack of desire for rebirth and the will to win in a struggle for restoration and affirmation of those human values.
Her words constantly come to my mind, when I look at what is happening in the minds of many people of different walks of life. What I am going to say now applies to everyone who believes that Russia is in trouble, whether they are local residents or the Georgians and Ukrainians. The most serious mistake they are making is their unawareness of Putin’s victory and their total defeat. The nation in a state of denial is Kremlin’s triumph.
The ones who can’t accept their defeat never destined to be winners. The longer the losers try to convince themselves and the others that all this is accidental and short-lived, the further they will keep themselves away from the new beginnings, from starting the process all over again in a sound mind and memory. They cherish and aggravate their defeat, refusing to listen to those who tell them about it. They cling to their illusions and their statuses, preventing them from free development of thought and an honest discussion of what is happening.
Their diatribes and insults to Putin and the Kremlin, their prophecies about the imminent fall of the current regime only make them accomplices of those whom they revile. The path to victory begins with recognition of the tragic predicament and its irreversibility in the near future. This is the tragedy of nations who are deprived of the opportunity to develop freely and peacefully.
Above all, it is necessary to abandon the empty hope that all what is happening in Russia is a short-lived period associated with one person. Those who control the discourse are not secret agents of the power, although sometimes they happened to be the ones. Remarkably indicative are the topics that are forbidden to be discussed, not by the power, but the society itself. It is even allowed to vilify Putin and to predict the collapse of the regime in the coming weeks. But you are not allowed to question, how a mediocrity such as Putin has been able to hold power for fifteen years and dictate his will to the world. And you can’t recognize that his power is strengthening day after day. The intellectual and cultural development means constant revision of discourse and the reassessment of hierarchies and cult figures. However, who are the ones allowed to reassess, if the commanders of the discourse don’t listen to anyone but themselves?
Russia can be understood by logical mind. Inevitably, you must, otherwise you can’t survive along with her. This understanding begins with abandoning of democratic concepts of government and society as a yardstick inapplicable to the totalitarian Russia. The totalitarianism requires an alternative political methodology and special instruments of social observation. Most importantly, the uttering of the word itself — totalitarianism — excludes all attempts of a non-judgmental knowledge. The object of the study is the evil. This is the starting point. And it starts with the recognition that evil is never funny; it always gives rise to a tragedy, never a farce.
Language and Knowledge
One of the disturbing features of contemporary society is the lack of demand for self-examination, the society’s disinterest in the knowledge about itself. Mass media are supposed to function as a link between society and the fundamental science. But they are failing in fulfilling this mission. Earlier crises in the historical development of Europe turned out to be productive, when it was possible to generate a creative communication environment to connect people of knowledge with people of action, bringing political activity outside of the field of struggle for existence. Knowledge and comprehension of the modern world is born out of a combination of scientific thinking, enabling people to rise above the commonplace, with professionalism in the media, part of which is the ability to collect and analyze information. And most importantly, to facilitate the transfer of sophisticated general knowledge into accessible public language, in order to make the people see the connection of the lofty matters and general formulas with down-to-earth affairs and private lives. That was the case in Russia in the time of Perestroika. Nowadays the exact opposite is taking place, which once again confirms the absence of direct and simple connections and relationships between technological progress (in this case — the communication) and the socio-political progress.
Sociologists talk about “non-obvious aspects” of social phenomena. It is known, at least one case where the social systems of several countries had their “non-obvious aspects.” This is totalitarianism. Closely examined, the fundamental studies about it cannot be attributed to the discourse of a certain science, and some of those studies belong in the field of literature, being an outright product of imagination, where we can find various interpretations of totalitarianism (works of Platonov, Zamyatin, Nabokov, Voinovich, Orwell and Huxley, besides the pre-totalitarian ones like Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Kafka and others.) But these works can be summed as a solid basis for the historical and social knowledge.
Here is only one example: The Mass is the central metaphor in the classic work of Hannah Arendt, based on a post-totalitarian experience. She points out one crucial feature of totalitarianism. In particular, she pointed out such a feature of totalitarianism as the desire to establish a system in which people are absolutely not neededHannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Moscow, TsenterKom, 1996Nikolay Erdman, Suicide. //http://lib.ru/PXESY/ERDMAN/samoubijca.txt
And here is how Nikolai Erdman saw the future as he observed the formation of the new system:
Yegorushka. By the way, under socialism there won’t be any people.
Victor. How come they won’t be? Than what will?
Yegorushka. Masses, masses and masses. The huge mass of the masses. 4
In the case of totalitarianism the language here is completely adequate for the description of the object that often requires not a rational explanation, but intuitive understanding of cause-and-effect relationships, which are rather hard to verify in a logical manner.
The use of the term “totalitarianism” is limited to the Judeo-Christian civilization, and those nations that have made an attempt to break off its value system. We are talking about several European countries, which for the last hundred years, since 1917, established atavistic regimes in an attempt to return not even to the Middle Ages, but rather to the primeval communal system. A variety of ideological devices were used, not necessarily consistent, but easily coexistent with the aesthetic and sometimes temporary political rapprochements.
For the serious scholars of totalitarianism the subject of their research was external. Hannah Arendt published her classic work The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, when the Nazi regime had already collapsed. She had very vague ideas about the Soviets. Quite different was the viewpoint represented by those who lived and worked in Russia and Nazi Germany. Varlam Shalamov said:
“In a sense, the writer must be a foreigner in the world about which he writes… It is impossible to describe things you know too closely.”http://shalamov.ru/library/25/1.html
Nevertheless, he was able to do just that, as well as Nadezhda Mandelstam, especially in her second book. However, preserving their otherness, or foreignness was almost impossible for them being a physical part of the totalitarian organism. Most importantly, as the experience of these two people shows, one must pin absolutely no hopes on the totalitarian power. This distinguishes them from Solzhenitsyn with his Address to the Leaders and Mikhail Bulgakov, whom Nadezhda rightly called “a fool”.
To become a “foreigner” means either to avoid identification with totalitarianism, or desidentify oneself with it completely, without exceptions or exclusions, with a clear understanding of personal incompatibility with the surrounding social environment. For starters, come to understand that totalitarianism is not something you have outside of your person. This is something that dwells in you.
Disidentification has not always happened consciously, sometimes it was imposed on the apologists of totalitarianism, as in the case of Andrei Platonov, who left classic artistic studies of this phenomenon. In Soviet times, attempts were made to distance from the Russian totalitarianism model by studying the German model. Two names must be mentioned in this respect: Lev Kopelev and Alexandr Galkin, although one of them was a dissident, and the other a ranked Soviet scholar. But their contribution to understanding the nature of German totalitarianism was a great one, which cannot be said about Mikhail Romm’s film documentary Common Fascism.
In the current situation, to be a foreigner, you have to pull yourself out of the space of mass culture without losing its understanding. In my opinion, such a distancing begins with understanding that mass culture is incompatible with the tragedy and the tragic worldview and the ability to perceive tragedy. The paradox is that the tragedy excludes suicidality, and only a tragic consciousness compels to action.
But the managers of the discourse are not at all the power, it is the intellectual and media elite that calls the shots, and they won’t accept the grim simplicity that makes the tragedy a tragedy. Again and again, all is drowning in hypocrisy, moving the Russians away from what could be the basis for Russian national renewal.
A thorough systematic conceptual knowledge and meaningful action on the basis of this knowledge is the most dangerous adversary of totalitarianism.
In the meantime, all the actions of those who consider themselves the opposition are based on the knowledge of the former regime of classical totalitarianism, whose experience and mistakes the current regime has learned to take into account.
The regime conceals nothing, there is no cover-ups, on the contrary, it exposes and parades its abomination and obligingly announces: “Topics for resentment are served.” Like a crowd of freeloaders rushes to the buffet table, the progressive community hurries to their computers to amplify the hatred and aggression and prevent the free and dispassionate understanding of what is happening.
The Soviet and post-Soviet mind is characterized by depersonalization of humanitarian achievements of the free world, their dehumanization. It is particularly noticeable in the studies of totalitarianism. The main thing is to identify five or six distinguishing features of this social order. And to make it not too meager, a few quotes is needed. Arendt’s style in The Origins of Totalitarianism is highly aphoristic, her passages read bitingly publicistic, creating beautifully accurate parallels with the present.
The main theme of this first and still the most comprehensive study of totalitarianism is its nature, its inner essence, which is manifested in its relation with the individual human being and the communities of people derived from this individual that let the human creativity to be manifested. The findings made by Arendt are based on the observations of the outcome, but we need to project them on the observation of the process.
In recent decades, Russian scholars have actively translated and abstracted works of some of their Western colleagues. They did it with such eagerness that their work creates an impression that the main occupation of modern Russian thinkers is the interpretation of some individual authors, selected by not entirely clear criteria, translations of their texts and abundant citation; without any attempts to link this knowledge to the here and now. This also applies to the so-called philosophy, and the so-called fundamental sociology. Almost all the institutions created for research in these fields can practically be called not more than translation bureaus and referral services.
The language of the referred research, perhaps, is much more imaginative and metaphorical than the language of thinkers who tried to comprehend totalitarianism. We are dealing not so much with concepts as with images, not with different methods but with different optics, as the luminaries of social knowledge would say (as John Urry has argued about metaphors of sociology). And this is quite suitable for the society dominated by popular culture with its constantly replicated stereotypical images. This is a fragmented society offering a wide variety of fragmented images in which everyone can find something to their own liking. The intellectuals get the images produced by intellectuals. The former social knowledge, that was almost sacred, has lost its value, along with the historical knowledge. Also it has lost its integrity. Paradoxically, the globalization has not spawned the need neither for a global view of the world, nor in generalizing concepts and strategic studies.
However, if you look closely, the description of totalitarianism by less than a couple of dozens of authors, are also fragmented. So, there is a temptation to use any of the fragmentary pictures as a generalizing concept. In Russia this is reflected in the fact that, until the new cult figure comes, they just repeat a certain guru statements, no matter how outdated they are.
Since the beginning of nineties, the Western world had toyed with the simplistic predictions of Francis Fukuyamahttp://www.nietzsche.ru/look/actual/fukuama/. Dreams, Dreams.
And there was also an interview with John Urry he had given during his visit to Russia in autumn of 2006.Shirikov, А. The Evolution of the Global, North West Expert №37 (291). October 9th 2006 (http://expert.ru/northwest/2006/37/urri/) Borrowed from the language of natural sciences, the words sound convincing: globalization; going beyond the civil society and the nation-state; dissolution of national borders and class distinctions; future abandonment of government as an universal regulator and converting it into a kind of moral authority. His statements are still being quoted. But his predictions never made it beyond wishful thimking. So far, everything is going in the exact opposite direction.
Let’s recall the other projections of John UrryUrry, John. Sociology beyond Societies. Mobilities for the twenty-first century. London and New York: Rutledge, 2000. IX, p 255.. The global citizenship in the global community remains a beautiful dream. The metaphors such as “nomad”, “tramp”, “tourist”, of course refer to different forms of mobility, but why there is no metaphor for “refugee” in the world without borders? It sounds somewhat pathetic to rhapsodize over another brave new world without borders, blood, sweat and tears, brushing aside one serious category of people on the move.
In fact, why millions of refugees are missing in the general picture of the world of mobility?
Apparently, because the picture is too glamorous and narcissistic. These sentiments have come about many times before and, as a rule preceded the global upheavals. Suffice it to recall the Enlightenment, crowned with the invention of the guillotine and mass terror and the ecstasy over technical progress, new culture, new comfort and new mobility, which preceded the First World War.
The picture of universal mobility was brought up for the purpose of psychotherapy, in order to offer the consumer society, which is by nature incapable of reflection, another version of its identity. The refugees’ motivations are fear, survival instinct; a refugee is an evidence of the world’s imperfection and an appeal to compassion. Another thing is the outlook of a tourist in perpetual holiday, motivated only by the desire to have a good time. This world of Universal (extra-, post-) social mobility presents a new utopia, the brave new world that can’t be other than a totalitarian world. Indeed, and not according to Orwell, but rather HuxleyAuldous Huxley, Brave New World, Saint Petersburg, 1999 (Russian translation) and PostmanPostman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. NY, 1985.. The atomization of society leads to its disappearance. The social being is destroyed in the process of constant entertainment and perpetual relocation. The exact social knowledge is not required, the demand even in scientific texts is now for models of different reality, glamorous and utopian. The new utopias became the subject of mass production.
Dreams of citizenship for the animals are beautiful, but hardly consistent against the backdrop of persistent reports of illegal migrants, drowning by the hundreds off the coast of the countries known as the birthplace of European civilization. Providing the coveted citizenship to people of other civilizations and cultures and creating their diasporas in the developed countries does not automatically lead to their integration in the historically formed western societies, which I would call “resident society”, a term I never have come across, so let me be the coiner of it. Obviously, the recognition of the resident society existence contradicts the spirit and meaning of the “sociology beyond society.”
Reality is always a challenge to those trying to create social knowledge. And the challenges of the present time are not the same as ten years ago, when the globalization and information revolution were universally and enthusiastically welcomed. Those were the hopeful days when people believed that universal mobility would dissolve the perennial problems associated with national peculiarities, ethnic and cultural isolation, and the incompatible civilizations would be reconciled even with societies that have no desire to lose their identity organically formed within their original nation states.
Have they really found the right word?
Until Russian attack on Ukraine it seemed that the most accurate term describing the political system in our country was the word neo-totalitarianism.
As it happens often, a researcher introduces a new term, even substantiates it, but the concept does not catch on and becomes useless as a research tool. This happened to be also the story of neo-totalitarianism. It has been very actively used in the description of the modern information society with its potential for total control, but rarely for the characteristics of the system, which has evolved in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe over the past twenty years.
Meanwhile, it was precisely for the description of these countries that the concept of “neo-totalitarianism” was proposed. This was done in the second half of the nineties of the last century by the Serbian scholar Zoran Vidojevic in one of his booksVidojevic Z. Tranzicija, restauracija i neototalitarizam. — Beograd, 1997.. The book, having been abundantly referred to in RussiaRussia and the modern world, Issue 3 (20), 1998 (http://www.inion.ru/product/russia/vidoevich.htm), was quickly forgotten. Now the right time has come to bring it back.
From Vidojevic’s point of view, the post-socialist neo-totalitarianism is a historical innovation: an authoritarian system evolves into a totalitarian mode, but more often it presents itself in a pseudo-democratic (pseudo-parliamentary, pseudo-pluralistic) form. According to Vidojevic, one of the guilty parties in bringing totalitarianism to power was the superficial liberal optimism. In his opinion, the modern superficial liberalism of the past was responsible for the emergence of Fascism and Nazism.
The forecast of the Serbian scholar about the forming of neo-totalitarian society. is the most applicable to the current period. In the second half of the 90ies he assumed that post-socialist neo-totalitarianism, while avoiding the mass terror, will nevertheless seek to establish full control over the masses. From Vidojevic’s point of view, the transformation of the individual post-socialist societies in the direction of establishing neo-totalitarianism would be the most dangerous and regressive phenomenon. According to him, the totalitarian system cannot be transformed into a democratic one. The belief in the possibility of such a transformation, he argues, has led to the spread of false theory of the transition period, according to which, in the countries of the so-called real socialism a democracy surely must emerge after communist totalitarianism. And, to make it happen, between totalitarian and democratic systems there must be an intermediate link — the authoritarian system. And only after the disintegration of the latter there comes the time for pre-democracy, followed by the full-fledged democratic system.
However, says Vidojevic, social changes may flow in the opposite direction, from pre-democracy to neo-totalitarianism with the same intermediary — an authoritarian rule. All totalitarian periods are preceded by a Bonapartist or authoritarian rule. This is the road to unlimited one-person rule, an essential component of neo-totalitarianism.
Same as the former socialist totalitarianism, its new post-socialist model can’t allow democratic pluralism, neither political nor ideological. But according to Vidojevic, “weak and strictly controlled ideological and political pluralism is needed to camouflage the new totalitarianism’s true colors.”
Concluding the analysis of trends in neo-totalitarianism in a post-socialist country the Serbian scholar highlights the most essential characteristics of the phenomenon:
The essence of the totalitarian rule is disguised with pseudo-democratic institutions
— Factually one-party political monopoly under a fictitious multi-party system.
— Uncontrolled power of the leader, his irremovability and unaccountability, the new cult of personality.
— The monopoly on the main mass media and informal censorship of information about real state of affairs in the country and society.
— Forcible total privatization, larcenous appropriation, subordination of the economy under mafia protection racket, arbitrary preservation of state property and forcible retention of the main sectors of the economy in the interests of the ruling class.
— Intimidation of political opponents, political assassinations, the elimination (including physical) those who represent a threat to the interests of the government and its related entities of sometimes illegitimate nature, or attempt to resist the extreme and aggressive religious fanaticism.
— Legal, economic defenselessness and insecurity of the masses, their lack of confidence, as the first person of the state keeps distance from them.
Once again, I must remind, this was articulated back in 1997. It is characteristic for totalitarianism, says the book, that it is ingrown and accepted by all of the major social groups, from top to bottom of the social pyramid. Indoctrination of the masses with totalitarian mentality, their consolidation into one aggressive “We” can happen under condition of abundance of wealth and relative prosperity of the greater society. According to Vidojevic, depersonalization and purposelessness of life, lack of interest in anything except material well-being, fatigue from the race for all kinds of earthly goods, the aggressive spirit, engrained in the society, all this makes it objectively possible to establish postindustrial totalitarianism.
What the classical and post-modern totalitarianism have in common is the enslavement of the mind that in the latter continues to deepen due to the unprecedented development of the media.
Vidojevic maintains that the Neo-totalitarianism cannot affirm itself under the banner of a new Auschwitz or the Gulag. However, it can act under the sign of persecution of every kind of otherness and non-conformism, destroying other people’s freedom with violent imposition of its own values.
Extremist movements, right- or left-wing, organized into appropriate movements and parties, constitute the first step towards totalitarianism. According to Vidojevic, if one of the prerequisites of post-socialist totalitarianism is the inherited mentality of loyal obedient subjects, accustomed to strict order and hierarchy in society and state, the post-modern totalitarianism in developed capitalist societies, among other factors, stems from the mentality of a happy idiot or a robot.
It is easy to notice that the latter goes back to the tradition of describing a totalitarian society, associated with the names of Aldous HuxleyAuldous Huxley, Brave New World, Saint Petersburg, 1999 (Russian translation)!4Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. NY, 1985. and Neil Postman, not George Orwell. The brave new world where people amuse themselves to death, provides much greater opportunities for control over them than watchful screens and the ministries of love or truth. This is where we can see the contact zone between democratic and potentially totalitarian countries.
The man of the crowd on the throne
Nearly twenty years after the appearance of Vidojevic’s book we may talk about overcoming neo-totalitarianism in two different ways.
Now it is obvious that the so-called color-coded revolutions (the first one was in Serbia) were a continuation of the velvet revolutions that ended the totalitarian occupation, the tank-enforced socialism. Color revolutions were aimed to overthrow the newly established totalitarianism in post-soviet states.