|Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society|
|Open Up, Military Police!|
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1. The Political Economy of Spirituality*
If there are goods, money, work, and law and order in society then ideological and political pluralism are seemingly unnecessary. In a healthy, civilized, stable, and functioning society ideology and religion are generally outside the main flow of life; they are a background which does not determine the substance of the economy or the activity of a majority of the people.
What is the main set of guidelines of the majority of the people in a healthy society? Interesting highly-paid work, personal comfort, a good family, healthy children, sufficient rest, and accessible leisure activities (according to one's taste). All the rest (including ideology and religion) go in the category of leisure activities. This set of guidelines completely determines the public administration (the state and government). It only demands that a person work, pay taxes, and not perform obvious anti-social actions. A person earns but the administration receives the taxes from which public order and social programs are financed. A simple logical model of society. Patriotism in such a society is determined by a simple formula: "the welfare of my family is inseparably connected to the welfare of my country". Such patriotism need not be especially propagandized; it appears by itself.
But in some cases it does not form an administration whose people have such natural guidelines. A textbook example is an imperialist war. People do not want to leave their homes, family, and work at all to take a rifle in hand and head to God knows where in order to shoot some foreigner or be shot by him. But military patriotic propaganda convinces him that these supposedly hostile foreigners are the biggest problem in life and there is nothing more important than killing them. The guidelines are changed, and people want to kill an enemy soldier or die "for the Motherland", and home, family, and work recede into the background.
Another textbook example is a clan-based government which dispossesses the citizenry. People do not want to break their backs for the ruling clan at all "for a crumb of bread and a cup of water". But civilian patriotic propaganda convinces them that the clan is the most important national value and its welfare is the main goal. Guidelines are changed, the people want to serve the ruling clan, and home, family, and work recede into the background.
A patriotic change of guidelines is a redistribution of resources. An unpleasant surprise awaits a person who has engaged in a real business (earning money) and has not been interested in "any sort of stupidity" (like ideology or religion): society comes to him and takes away his personal assets "for patriotic purposes". "Oh, hell", says the person, "how can this be?" But how can it be otherwise? Patriotism is an expensive thing and someone must pay these expenses. The lumpen proletariat has practically no money. The money of crime bosses is well hidden. The ruling clan is not going to hand over its own money, for otherwise the whole meaning of patriotism would be lost for them. Only skilled workers and engineers, specialists, and businessman of the "middle class" are left. They are the ones who pay for all the patriotism.
In real political life military and civilian patriotic education is usually done by a single structure. The ruling clan develops a "program of patriotic education" according to which hatred of foreign and/or domestic "enemies" and their own inconceivable value are simultaneously propagandized. The country is turned into a hybrid of military and corrective labor camps. Then a fervent welcome to all natural values. How can a citizen think about such trifles such as personal welfare if his beloved Motherland is encircled by enemies and the fathers of the Fatherland, the bulwark of the nation, are threatened with death? The fact that the children of the "fathers of the Fatherland" live and study among these "enemies" and the "fathers of the Fatherland" themselves vacation among these "enemies" in their own villas (obtained at the expense of the subjects) somehow escapes the notice of the well-propagandized patriotic citizens.
A person engaged in a real business and who looks at things pragmatically finally begins to be interested in politics, ideology, and religion inasmuch as these factors intrude into his economic life. Looking into things, he declares indignantly, "Oh, hell! This is common theft disguised as spirituality and patriotism!" But how can it be otherwise? They wouldn't tell you anything. This is about money, more precisely, various ways of getting it.
2. When the Tail Wags the Dog
Wouldn't you think that the "bulwark of the nation" would engage in normal government instead of patriotic theft? Wouldn't it really more pleasant for them to have normal conditions in this country and for themselves, their children, and (at the same time) for the people?
The answer is astonishingly simple: "the fathers of the Fatherland" cannot govern. They are incapable of doing so. They do not have the skill, intellect, education, experience, or practical common sense. At some moment a successful confluence of circumstances tossed the "fathers" to the top of the social pyramid and allowed them to stay at the top for some time. Then conditions changed and now power is maintained only by propaganda. If the propaganda relaxes the people will return to the natural set of vital guidelines and the "fathers of the Fatherland" will be asked to leave. The ruling clan can find support in military power but this does not work for long and ends either in a military coup or a popular revolution.
The ruling clan must use ever stronger forceful means of propaganda in order to hold onto power, even as far as unleashing wars to "raise patriotic spirit". A similar scenario was spoofed in the film "Wag the Dog". There, an unnecessary war is concocted in order to distract attention from a US President's sex scandal. But if it is planned to distract the people from serious domestic political and economic problems the war ought to be sufficiently serious, with a real enemy, real dead, wounded, and crippled…
"In order to avert a revolution we need a small victorious war", Minister of Internal Affairs Plehve told Czar Nicholas II in 1904, justifying the domestic political need for the war with Japan. He planned to suppress socioeconomic protest "by introducing strict social discipline in all areas of the people's lives which are amenable to state control", countering the revolutionary movement with "the spiritual force of the moral and religious reeducation of our intelligentsia". The experiments with "spiritual force" ended poorly for both participants of that conversation: Plehve was killed by the SR's in the summer of 1904 and Nicholas II [was killed] by the Bolsheviks in the summer of 1918. The people ended up even worse than them: 50,000 died and 150,000 returned home crippled. By September 1905 the "small victorious war" had ended with a crushing defeat for Russia and the loss of the main ports on the Pacific Ocean, and the empire of the Romanovs had begun to irretrievably collapse…
Seventy-five years later new "fathers of the Fatherland" tried again to strengthen the regime according to Plehve's formula. A "small victorious war" in Afghanistan was started. It lasted 10 years. Fifteen thousand Soviet soldiers died and 50,000 were crippled. The USSR suffered a crushing defeat in 1989 and begun to collapse. This process of collapse has not yet concluded and "fragments" of the great Communist empire still continue to crumble at the edges (Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the Dnestr region [Pridnestrov'e]).
The Russian Federation is the largest of the fragments of the USSR, where a clan has come to power which inherited all the vices of its predecessors:
- from the government of the Romanovs, ignorance and a passion for experiments with a "patriotic moral and religious spirit" with the participation of the Orthodox Church;
- from the Soviet elite [nomenklatura], a predilection for playing at "genuine democracy" and the creation of multi-million member "parties of power"; and
- from both former elites, a habit for incompetent regulation of everything on earth and a love of militarist spectacles.
However, something useful was inherited, namely enormous territories populated by well-educated people and mineral resources with the richest reserves in the world. For any competent and active elite these two things would be good, but just not for our current [elite].
3. Before the End of Oil
Many countries engage in ambitious patriotic games but in different ways. In prosperous civilized countries these games are financed according to the residual principle, that is, from funds which people can allot without tightening their belts. In countries of the opposite political pole the real needs of people are met from the residual principle and the national income is spent mainly on military patriotism (thus in the middle of the last century the Soviet empire busted a gut in the pursuit of strategic parity in a "cold" war).
The profits of oil and natural gas exporters have grown continuously in the past five years. Political risks in the oil-rich Middle East and the development of industry in Southeast Asian countries have inflated the prices for energy to unthinkable heights. The Russian state budget began to literally burst with money. Russian oil barons got on the lists of the richest people on the planet and some money even found its way to the people. Again, just like in Soviet times, Russian government bureaucrats felt like heavyweights in the international political arena, a "great power"…
During all this time spirituality and patriotism were financed by a relatively painless means for the people: from the holes in the Earth from which natural energy sources flow, exchangeable for hard currency. The natural wealth of the country has been spent in a useless way for society but also without perceptible harm to it. In the final account Russia could end up without such mineral wealth (as in neighboring China) but this in itself would not lead the country into a catastrophe.
The public stopped caring that oil and gas resources were being burned in a spiritual and patriotic furnace to the glory of the national idea and world entropy. Obviously it was assumed that at the end of the oil boom the patriotic boom would also end inasmuch as its economic foundation would disappear. But meanwhile let the ruling clan built itself decorative "Potemkin villages" throughout all of Russia where a specially trained people are infused with spiritual values, love the President, vote for the "United Russia" [political party], and go to our best Orthodox church on Earth.
The fact that in the course of spiritual and patriotic games the ruling clan first trampled the political opposition, then the human rights movement, and then "unreliable" religious and charitable associations was perceived as an unavoidable evil. From ancient times government in Russia has been perceived as an uninterrupted catastrophe which destroys something without fail. The fact that ideological, ethnic, and religious minorities fell victim to misfortune and not the millions of ordinary people who accidentally fell under the steamroller of the punitive state machine (as during Ivan the Terrible or Stalin) was perceived by the public with undisguised relief: "It seems it passed by this time".
Raving priests and faithful deputies on television. Spy mania fanned by the ideologically vigilant state security. Orthodox patriotic lessons in school. Good dry wines from Moldova and Georgia which have disappeared "for patriotic reasons". City parks spoiled by new phallic cult structures, symbols of a new state religion. Spiritual and patriotic censorship. Demonstrations of "patriotically minded citizens" in squares under the slogans "Glory to the Russian People; Death to the West; Beat the Kikes, Caucasians, and Blacks; Orthodoxy or Death!". An ordinary middle-class person who is engaged in real business shrugs his shoulders: "Well, what can you expect of fools? They've spent money on them 'as if by magic' but they make a big fuss over it… It's shame there's no good and cheap wine to drink and no guys from Central Asia to hire to make repairs in the apartment – there's neither wine nor guys…But, alright, we'll get by somehow".
4. A Banana Republic Without Bananas
In 2006 prices for oil stopped at the benchmark of $78 a barrel and began to fall in the 3rd quarter, and by 26 September had dropped below $60. OPEC countries went to rescue the cashbox in an organized manner, that is, to reduce production quotas in order not to allow a collapse of the market. It would seem in the face of such a threat that the Russian authorities also ought to set aside their spiritual and patriotic trifles and deal with these urgent problems, for the economy of the country is only maintained by high oil prices! But far from it. Everything was just the reverse. The leaders of the state are immersing themselves even deeper in economically unpromising military and espionage games against "the anti-Russian Georgian regime".
Desperation? No, a completely deliberate preparation for the next phase of the development of spirituality. The oil economy is collapsing all the same, not right now, then in a few years, but spirituality will allow power to be retained even after an economic collapse.
In North Korea the economy collapsed long ago but with the aid of the Juche [Translator's note: "self-reliance"] spiritual system the Kim family continues to remain firmly on the captain's bridge. There is no opposition to their regime although the people have no money, the counters of the stores are empty, and the people have already switched to [eating] grass.
At first blush one might say that the state propaganda of "patriotism" and "special spiritual values" is stronger than the prospects for the real economy are worse. If matters proceed more or less normally then a balance of the material and spiritual is being propagandized but if the economy begins to go into a tailspin then propaganda prescribes a severe asceticism for the public to achieve imaginary heights of national spirit.
Of course, the realization of Juche will not come so simply. The ordinary mass media might be able to convince a person who is living comfortably to sacrifice a certain share of goods for "spirituality". It is much more difficult to convince a poor person to share the last crumb of bread for "spirituality". To do this it is necessary to wash his brains for a long time with a mixture of ideological (religious) mysticism and patriotic propaganda without permitting any outside influence from liberalism, cosmopolitanism, or post-modernism. It is simplest to do this from childhood but if the moment is lost one can try such strong means as "a short victorious war". Naturally, the entire opposition will immediately end up being enemy agents and they can be openly torn to pieces to frighten the bourgeoisie and the rotten intellectuals. The war can then even be lost; it isn't important. The controlled mass media will all same write: "We have won the greatest military victory" but access to the rest of the mass media will have to be closed down nevertheless inasmuch as Juche does not work in an open media atmosphere.
But for the idea of Juche to triumph it is completely insufficient to simply destroy the opposition, close the disloyal mass media, and introduce mystical patriotism lessons in school. Everyday signs of the inequality of peoples need to be eliminated. If this is not done then the public will recall the natural system of values (a desire for comfort and personal welfare). The idea of spirituality will be derided and mocked, as it was with Communist ideas in the era of stagnation. Juche does not work in such conditions.
5. Lumpen are the foundation of Juche
The lumpen are the main human resource of any Juche. The entire essence of Juche is in the psychology and the way of life of this stratum. In the first place, the lumpen are poor, greedy, and envious, and therefore they always genuinely support any policy directed at "taking and sharing". They are ready to personally participate in the procedure of removal and division if only they are armed and gathered into a sufficiently large mob. In the second place, however much the lumpen steal in the process they still would never rise out of the muck. Everything they stole would slip through their fingers. In the third place, the lumpen genuinely hate non-lumpen, believing that they are at the social bottom because of their roots. The lumpen love to think that they are the pride of the country because they belong to a certain race or church. Charge the lumpen with identifying the "bourgeoisie, kikes, and intellectuals" and they will list everyone in those categories who is not like them with delight and become richer in the process, if only by one ruble. The official patriotic Orthodoxy is heaven for the lumpen. In the last period that this ideology was dominant, it was a rare lumpen who did not participate in the pogroms of non-Russians [inorodtsy] and other disloyal bourgeoisie. We saw the same thing in Kondopoga** in August of this year.
But the lumpen have an important shortcoming which is an extension of their undoubted merits: the lumpen cannot and do not want to work. Therefore, although the lumpen are also the foundation of the Juche state everyone else must work for them. Absolute Juche is a system of three classes: the elite, the lumpen, and the workers. The elite shears the workers, the "lambs", and the lumpen, the Red Guards, "herd" them so that they do not run off and organize some sort of revolution. The lumpen have no inherent mutual assistance and self-organization and therefore there is no risk that they will take up arms against their masters, the elite, at their own initiative.
It is only necessary to keep watch that no one catches the lumpen, and proposes more carefree conditions for theft and drunkenness to them, or else they're as good as lost. For example, in 1917 the lumpen, organized to smash the liberal bourgeoisie under the banner of "Orthodoxy, autocracy, and collegiality [sobornost']", fell under socialist influence and the banner of "steal the stolen" and began to smash their masters, Orthodox priests and monarchists. But the stability of the Juche state will be ideal if the entire opposition is reduced to its roots. No domestic force will be able to disrupt the holy ruling bloc of the elite and the lumpen.
Progressive poverty is the main problem of the Juche state. The catch is that it is impossible to offer the worker in this system any incentives to work, neither material nor moral. Everything is clear about the material [incentives]: if the workers are proud of their skill then the rational ideals of the workers or the engineering profession will start to push aside the mystical ideals of Juche and this is a direct path to the collapse of the state. Accordingly the workers ought to work only out of fear, but this is notoriously inefficient.
6. The Dilemma of the Elite and the Mystic
The lumpen are stupid. In the absence of obvious inequality in a Juche state they are not aware of their poverty. The elite is not so stupid. They are already thinking about this while just preparing for the "Jucheization" of the state. In a society where everything is held up by the ascetic myth about the baseness of material benefits and the loftiness of spirituality even the elite is forced to pretend to be poor. But what is the sense of luxury which has to be carefully concealed? Besides, it is not very pleasant to live in a poor society, but if one separates oneself from poor people by barbed wire barriers and an armed guard then this will be strongly reminiscent of imprisonment, even if with all the comforts. There is one more problem: from the point of view of the rich and spiritually impoverished postindustrial West a poor ideological, patriotic, and militaristic Juche state is a loathsome sore on the body of the planet. You never know when the next American president will decide to export democracy and cauterize this sore with a new Pentagon invention. What then? Hide in a bunker like Saddam Hussein or flee to the mountains like Mullah Omar?
Thus the main dilemma of the elite arises and the problem is articulated: how to deceive nature and combine a stabilizing spirituality and the popular asceticism of Juche with the material wealth and technological might of postindustrial civilization. In search of a response President Putin has taken a keen interest in the teachings of Ivan Il'in (1883-1954), an Orthodox mystic and even quoted him in his message of 10 May 2006. Sycophantic oligarchs immediately bought up Il'in's archive from the University of Michigan right away and moved it to Moscow. Il'in's body had previously been exhumed and moved to Moscow in October 2005. Ivan Il'in was an emigrant monarchist and supporter of Nazism (the article "National Socialism. A New Spirit", 1933) and was in a fascist association, the Aubert League. After the defeat of the Third Reich he propagandized neo-Fascism for Russian conditions (the articles "On Fascism", 1948, and "Education in a Future Russia", 1953).
According to Il'in, "correct" neo-fascism differs from Nazi fascism [in that]:
1) It is ideologically reliant on the priesthood and the national church.
2) It does not rule by totalitarianism but by an authoritarian dictatorship.
3) It does not insist on a one-party system but allows several loyal parties.
4) It does not pursue ethnic genocide, but rather religious genocide and ethnic separation.
5) It does not raise conquest of the world as a goal but rather occupies only a limited region.
6) It is not based on a cult of personality of the leader but on a religious cult and the cult of the nation.
7) It will not accept bourgeois materialism and strives for a spiritual goal.
In addition, Il'in advises future Russian neofascists not to use the word "fascism" in public activity since this word has been discredited by the enemies of fascism.
It is not difficult to note that the national projects of the Putin Administration rely on the very hyperutopian ideas of Il'in, which leads all these projects to collapse naturally at very earliest stages of realization.
7. The Dilemma of the People and Reality
Large-scale investment by government hyperutopias has only three realistic results. One is billions in the personal fortunes of the officials around the President in whose pockets a considerable part of the "utopian" money accumulated. Another is the quick proliferation of Orthodox ultranationalist and neo-Nazi organizations who got the rest of the money from the same source. The third is the destruction of all the "disloyal" (according to Il'in) public institutions.
With all this cargo on board the superliner Russia is moving toward the beginning of 2008 when a smooth replacement of the person on the captain's bridge is planned. It makes sense to us, as the passengers, to estimate beforehand where all this is sailing to in various scenarios.
If the new captain continues the policy in the spirit of Il'in and Kim Il Sung and no one stops him then we will get a complete Orthodox Juche with a gradual relocation into barracks and a switch to eating grass. This system will hardly last long (the world community will not permit the existence of a North Korea of such enormous size) but this is weak consolation for those who first have to live under such a regime and then during its liquidation at the hands of foreign soldiers.
If the new captain is less devoted to mysticism and more to pragmatism then he will most likely ladle out from the Fatherland's treasury as he ought to and, speaking the immortal "farewell, unwashed Russia" from the steps of an airplane, disappear into the blue sky, having granted the citizenry an opportunity to disentangle themselves from the consequences of the political experiments of the last decade. This is not the worse alternative. Then Russia would most likely approach the model of South Korea, that is, an ideologically neutral technocratic authoritarianism oriented to modernization of the economy and the accelerated development of material production. The fanatics of military patriotic spirituality will most likely be sent to prison as were the "Gang of Four" in China, and it will be correct to do so.
There is also a third alternative which takes the immense spaciousness of Russia into account. The country simply splits and collapses into pieces with various political systems. Two "South Koreas" result (in the west and the east), one North Korea (in the center), and all the rest are taken by neighboring countries.
Of course, one can examine a fourth alternative: a vigorous leader of the West European type comes to power, a sort of Charles de Gaulle, but this is already from the category of utopianism. A De Gaulle has not appeared on our political horizon in at least the last 200 years.
Generally speaking, there is the opinion that Russia, having rejected the safe bourgeois liberalism which has been tested by experience, has now stepped on the old national patriotic Orthodox monarchical rakes of a "Russian Juche". Now at each move it will get these rakes in the forehead until it takes a step forward or back.
8. Open Up, Military Police!
We will return to the questions raised at the very beginning. What is the meaning of liberal values, in particular political pluralism and the right of the minority to freely disseminate their opinions about questions of religion and ideology?
The sense is the same as that of the canary in the first submarines. The canary was the living indicator of the oxygen level since it was more sensitive to a shortage of it than were people. If it fell claws up then it meant that there was not enough oxygen on the submarine and if nothing was done then soon people would drop paws up.
Similarly, if religious and ideological minorities fall paws up then there is a shortage in society of pragmatism, which ensures a calm attitude toward the opinions of others. Not one wisely organized system of government reacts sharply to opposition ideology: let them chatter as much as they want, only let them not call for killing and stealing. If sober-minded citizens see in practice that the actions of the government are consistent with the goals of the people's welfare, economic, scientific, and technical progress, and public safety why [should they] pay attention to various windbags?
On the other hand, a system of government which is foolishly organized and a government whose actions are destructive to the economy need an irrational ideological basis for its doctrine. The dissemination of any alternative ideology will be a real threat to such a system of government (like the famous mythical monarchy where a child says: "Look, the king is naked!"). The government will initially begin to exercise political censorship, then persecute ideologically disloyal associations, and gradually bring the private conversations of the people under control.
If nothing is done then soon Big Brother might knock on the door of any citizen suspected of insufficient enthusiasm: "Open up, military police!" Then a railroad car, a [prisoner] convoy, and a re-education camp. Complete Juche. This is why the question is "either/or". Either the rights of any individual citizen with respect to the interests of the state have priority or all the people are nothing. The state machine can demand any sacrifice and if its interests have priority then the sacrifice can turn out to be everyone and no one can sleep in peace.
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety" (Benjamin Franklin).
* This article is being published with some abridgements.
** Translator's note: a town near St. Petersburg where there were inter-ethnic clashes between Russians and Chechens.
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