icon bookmark-bicon bookmarkicon cameraicon checkicon chevron downicon chevron lefticon chevron righticon chevron upicon closeicon v-compressicon downloadicon editicon v-expandicon fbicon fileicon filtericon flag ruicon full chevron downicon full chevron lefticon full chevron righticon full chevron upicon gpicon insicon mailicon moveicon-musicicon mutedicon nomutedicon okicon v-pauseicon v-playicon searchicon shareicon sign inicon sign upicon stepbackicon stepforicon swipe downicon tagicon tagsicon tgicon trashicon twicon vkicon yticon wticon fm
11 Aug, 2021 10:58

The West wants Russians to reject the legacy of the Soviet Union. But, for better or for worse, it’s still a part of who they are

The West wants Russians to reject the legacy of the Soviet Union. But, for better or for worse, it’s still a part of who they are

Is Russia plotting a return of the Soviet Union? That is the question Western politicians and talking heads ask every time Moscow so much as contemplates the more positive aspects of its history, imagining imperialism everywhere.

Liberalism versus communism was the lens that dominated discussion throughout the Cold War while, since then, the question has been about whether Russia has finally driven out its purported past sins in favor of US-style liberalism. Any sign it hasn’t, and any failure to transform itself into a carbon copy of the West, is interpreted as a retreat to its Soviet past.

Renowned scholar Samuel Huntington dismissed this binary ideological prism as the “Single Alternative Fallacy” that severely corrupts analysis of Russia. For most of its history, Moscow pursued conservatism as a third alternative and is now returning to this long-held tradition.

The communists and conservatives were typically fierce enemies, although conservatism demands a cohesive national narrative and identity. Thus, Russian conservatism entails salvaging what it can of Soviet history.

A millennium of fragmented history

Conservatism embraces the concept of evolutionary change, stability and national unity. These things, it holds, hinge on building the present on the solid foundations of the past. In contrast, revolutionary change entails uprooting the past to give way to something entirely different.

Also on rt.com Putin is right about the West’s endless attempts to woo Kiev: Rejecting Ukraine’s history with Russia could destroy the country

Russia’s attraction to conservatism derives from the disruptiveness of its revolutionary history. The continuous uprooting of Russia’s past has created a fragmented history that produced conflicting national identities and aspirations. Subsequently, society becomes divided and vulnerable to subversion by foreign powers.

From a conservative perspective, the development of Russia has been disastrous due to that tumultuous history. Its roots are commonly said to have been laid down in Kievan Rus as a “normal” European power. The first revolutionary change occurred in the 13th century when Kievan Rus fragmented and the Mongols invaded.

After 250 years under the Tatar-Mongol Yoke, Russia gained its independence under a new Muscovite Russia. In the early 18th century, Peter the Great launched a Cultural Revolution that purged Russia of its Mongol and Asiatic history in the effort of returning to its European past. Throughout the 19th century, Russia was divided between Westernisers and conservatives romanticising the distinctive early history of Muscovite Russia. Eventually, it was the communists who took power following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and once again purged the nation, the Orthodox Church and other key institutions to create a Marxist society liberated from his own past.

In 1991, the state collapsed again and Russia reinvented itself as a liberal country yet again seeking a revival of Peter’s policies and a “return” to Europe. When Russia was excluded from the new Europe after the Cold War and dismayed by the direction of Western liberalism, it began its return to conservatism.

Also on rt.com Tikhanovskaya's traveling Belarusian circus the latest example of failed Western ‘regime-change’-based policy in ex-Soviet Union

Russian conservatism today recognises that stability depends on incorporating all the fractured periods of Russian history into one national narrative and idea. This entails recognising that Kievan Rus, Mongol Russia, Muscovite Russia, Peter the Great’s Russia, Soviet Russia and liberal Russia are all important parts of Russian history. Doing away with even one episode is a revolutionary act that will merely cause domestic fragmentation that opens the door to those wishing to stir up discontent.

The decoration of the Kremlin with both Orthodox crosses and the Communist red star is paradoxical but consistent with Russian history. Salvaging the Soviet legacy is not a retreat to communism or an effort to restore the Soviet Empire, rather it is a conservative policy to bring competing political factions under the common tent of the Russian nation.

Time for Western liberals to take note?

While Russian conservatives are attempting to overcome the country’s internal divisions by pegging out a bigger tent, the West is moving in the opposite direction with a revolutionary liberal ideology that reduces the ability to accept political opposition to a narrow set of values. The Soviet effort to create Marxist Man, untethered from his own past, is to some extent emulated by Western societies seeking to create Western Man liberated from his illiberal past.

The demand for ideological conformity with common values implies that compatible values are rejected, thus the size of the tent and possibility for real multilateralism diminishes. The insistence on open borders and centralisation of power in Brussels pushed the British out of the EU. Next in line may well be Poland and Hungary who no longer seem to have a place in the liberal West as they pursue conservative Christian policies to rehabilitate institutions and values that suffered under communist rule.

Also on rt.com Gorbachev blames communist hardliners & nationalists for Soviet collapse, most others blame him, but USSR was doomed from start

At the same time, rather than accept that Russia requires a certain degree of historical continuity, a widely-held expectation among the Western political-media class is that Moscow should swear off its Soviet past and turn over a blank page to be accepted as a liberal democracy. For now, at least, Russians show few signs of wanting to forget their history.

Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.