When Americans decide that so and so is a dictator, so and so always becomes Hitler. Except in the case of Russia. American pundits have a great time making the connection between Putin and Stalin. It is a mythogram that is set and fixed in the narrative.
However, it is absolute nonsense.
Stalin’s economic and social policies look nothing like Putin’s. One doesn’t see a major purge of former Putinista trundling off to the camp. One doesn’t see the enormous resources devoted to an industrialization that will create a proletariat which will retrospectively legitimate the regime. To put very briefly events that deserve, and have generated, opuses. Opusi?
No, the Russian leader that Putin resembles most closely is America’s favorite Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin. From the crony capitalism, which brings into alignment the government and certain favored oligarchs, to the manipulation of the media through companies that are aligned with the ruling party, to the use of war as a means of stirring up nationalism and support, to the reliance on primary products as the base of the economy, it is all Yeltsin. Of course, Putin isn’t a drunk, and he hasn’t shelled parliament or signed any treaties breaking up Russia between glasses of vodka. Plus, he hasn’t allowed Western economists of the privatize and profit school to share in the gravy of the Russian economy. But Putin is a product of Yeltsin, both politically and programatically. The class that favors Putin is the clas that favored Yeltsin – the class that has received, in fact, the most favors.
Thus, the backstory of the convenient forgetting of Yeltsin and the conjunction of Putin and Stalin has to do with a piece of shared history. Somehow, though, neither side – Yeltsin’s abettors in the West, and Putinistas in Russia – want to credit that history.
This is what makes the “defense” of Russia in, for instance, Ukraine such a muddled thing. There are, indeed, unregenerate leftists who really do think Putin’s Russia is like unto the kind of socialist project that needs to be defended against capitalism. This is rather like defending Kuwait’s socialist project against capitalism. It is moronic. It isn’t even sweetly moronic. It is simply making Russia a rag for political anger generated elsewhere.
No, the defense of Russia should be confined to the criticism of obvious stupidities in the attack on Russia by unregenerate neo-libs and cons. I always think that what happened in Ukraine shows how off the mark both sides are. To my mind, the Maiden revolution choked what would otherwise have been an election that would most likely have overturned the corrupt as fuck Party of the Regions. It would have put in place the corrupt as fuck opposition parties. And it would have moderated the issue of accepting the EU’s terms for economic aid, as opposed to Putin’s.
Instead, what happened is that the heart of the Party of the Regions’ vote – Crimea – voted itself out of Ukraine with the aid, obviously, of Russia. I don’t think the vote would have gone against that course even if it had been overseen by some international body. Crimea was responding to the loud, radical right in Kyev. In doing this, however, Russia created a very unbalanced Ukraine, in which the heirs of the Party of the Regions vote will never gain a majority in the Parliament. This is a very Yeltsinian outcome, of course – the grab for power leading to the quagmire that disturbs that quiet period during which the powers that be can digest their booty.
The EU and the US have, of course, made up a different narrative that simply excludes the history of the recent past – one of the favorite tricks of the interventionists in the opinion world, who disdain referring to recent history – they prefer high sounding labels, Democracy, Stalinism, etc., which they attach with abandon to the baggage they intend to support, regardless of whether the baggage is mislabeled or not.
It isn’t really that hard to remember recent history and to make reasonable inferences, however. That is what the Internet is for!