Patriotism is enough

As regular readers will have divined, I have a particular interest in the ideological underpinnings of the modern Russian state and its leaders, including President Vladimir Putin. Western analysts often mistakenly describe the people now governing Russia as nostalgic for the Soviet Union, an idea which Putin’s recent statements about Lenin should surely discredit. But if it’s easy enough to say what Putin is not, ideologically speaking, it is much harder to say what he is. Judging by a comment he made on Wednesday, the man himself might tell me that I am wasting my time trying to work it out.  At a meeting of the Leaders’ Club business association, Putin responded to a remark that Russia needs some unifying ‘national idea’ in the following way:

We do not have and cannot have any unifying idea other than patriotism. … You said that public servants and business and all citizens in general work to make the country stronger. Because if that is the case, then each of us, each citizen will live better, and have higher incomes and be more comfortable, and so on. And that is the national idea. It isn’t ideological, it isn’t connected with any party or any stratum of society. It is connected to a general, unifying principle. If we want to live better, then the country must become more attractive for all citizens, more effective, and the public service and state apparatus and business must all become more effective. As you said, we work for the country, not understanding it in an amorphous way, like in Soviet times … when the country came first and then there was who knows what. The country is people, that’s what working ‘for the country’ means.

I consider it interesting that Putin picked on ‘patriotism’ as his key word, and not something like liberty or equality or some concept of national greatness. But his definition of patriotism is a surprisingly tame and individualistic one, and also fairly materialistic. Despite all the talk of Putin’s promotion of traditional conservative values, here his objectives are limited to people living better, having ‘higher incomes’, and being ‘more comfortable’. Although it may be wrong to draw too much from one remark, this does not accord with much recent commentary about Putin installing a scary new nationalistic ideology in Russia.

That doesn’t mean that Putin lacks personal beliefs. It’s just that he appears to draw a distinction between what he believes and what he thinks should be the ideology of the state. Take Lenin, for instance. Putin doesn’t like him. But he’s made it clear that that is his personal opinion. If other people happen to like Lenin and want to have a statue of him in their city, or name their town square after him, then Putin isn’t going to stop them .

In fact, Putin’s position corresponds with Article 13 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation which states that, ‘Ideological plurality shall be recognized in the Russian Federation’, and that, ‘No ideology may be instituted as a state-sponsored or mandatory ideology.’ Putin’s statement represents adherence to the limits of his constitutional powers. Given that he is often described as an all-powerful dictator, that recognition is worthy of note.

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32 thoughts on “Patriotism is enough”

  1. Well, one way to look at it would be to realize that ideology is a luxury. Ideology is for those who already satisfied their basic needs: food, clothes, shelter, security.

    In the last 15 years that country has been struggling to survive, slowly backing away from the abyss, step by step. So, maybe for now pragmatism is the ideology. Similar to 1920s NEP.

    They did achieve one remarkable (imo) result, although I’m not sure if this falls under the category of ideology. They stopped their oligarchs from exercising direct control over the politics and the media.

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  2. If you choose “equality” or “liberty” or “justice” people could look around and wonder what the hell happened with these. The “patriotism” doesn’t have these problems – you just need to suffer in silence, because You Suffer For Your Country. Remember Boxer from “Animal Farm”?

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    1. Well, if you read the quote above, it explain what is meant by ‘patriotism’ in this context, and that’s exactly the opposite to “you just need to suffer in silence”. It’s to “live better, and have higher incomes and be more comfortable”, together with your fellow countrymen. Raising living standards. It’s a purely pragmatic concept, and it’s in fact something that can easily be measured and put on a chart.

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  3. If he chose “liberalism”, “equality” or “justice” people would look around and wonder what the hell happened with them. “Patriotism” doesn’t really have this problem. Remember Boxer from “Animal farm”?

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    1. Lordy lordy, bless my soul!
      The “cortes” comment from 4-feb-2016 1:56 PM is almost identical to the “Kortezza” comment from 4-feb-2016 1:55 PM.
      Another glitch over at the Troll Factory — hee hee!

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      1. Yes, both are mine and I’m sorry for duplicates but the comments do not always appear immediately and I was thinking it’s some kind of spam filter and posted with different nick.

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      2. If there are links in the comment, WordPress sometimes puts it in the pending basket for moderation. Why it does this sometimes and not others, I’m not sure – some sort of spam algorithm, I suppose.

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  4. That “Putin’s statement represents adherence to the limits of his constitutional powers” is a very typical example of focusing on words, while ignoring actual actions taken. It would be a pity if you were eventually remembered as someone of Duranty’s fame! This mistake, very common among visitors of Russia, was highlighted by Bertrand Russell in his 1920 book on theory and practice of bolshevism (as well as in Muggeridge’s “Winter in Moscow”)

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    1. Actually, in this case we do see Putin respecting the constitution in deed as well as word, as he has in practice resisted promoting a state ideology. There may be other instances in which he has exceeded constitutional power (and if you think so, then examples would be welcome), but this is not such an instance.

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      1. Putin was accused of violating the constitution on a number of occassions, especially in the 2008 constitutional reform, which restricted rights to be elected, creation of de facto single-party system and concentration of legislative and executive power. Further accusations of violation constitution followed with the Internet censorship, “extremism” laws as well as further expansion of FSB surveillance. There were further laws where these accusations were raised reducing access to social and medical services as well as free transport and public administration services (which was quite ridiculous by itself taking into account the widespread bribery).

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      2. Putin was accused…

        Oh, boo-hoo! Accused by whom and where? Was there some sort of tribunal? Dave Cameron was accused of screwing a dead pig’s head, and Obama is nearly daily accused of beign a foreighn-borne Commie-Muslim who wants to “turk ur jerbs!” and leave the great American people defensless and without weapons against the Tyranny of the Fed (c).

        This impresonal “was accused” is meaningless and worthless. For a true fanatic and Russophobe its all the proof zir needs. For a person with functioning brain this is a reason to ignore the whole rant.

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      3. By… who? It’s amazing, cortes! Zhe found a party even more obscure and unvotable than Mishanya 2% Kasyanov’s PARNAS!

        I found out recently, that in the US of A there is “Rent Is Too Damn High Party”. I guess we are talking about organisations of the same weight category here

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      4. Ok, so first it was “accused by whom and where?”, now it’s “but she’s unvotable”. Care to comment on specific issues she raised? She’s pretty clear and consistent, for example in the section on “О выборах депутатов Государственной Думы Федерального Собрания Российской Федерации”. Or you didn’t even read? Or maybe didn’t understand?

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  5. I’m pretty sure that the Western powers have no such problems – they do have ruling ideology, namely – adherence to the market capitalism as the economic model and to the so-called liberal democracy as the governmental model. And, by hook or by crook, they manage for their ideology not only be a dominant in their respective countries – they also strive to spread it across the world, as the only True One ™.

    And as for patriotism – Paul, I think you’d be much more surprised if Putin indeed said something about equality and liberty. But if we are talking about patriotism – is that such a bad thing, love to one’s country? I can’t recall any of the current presidential candidates in the USA saying anything even remotely unpatriotic, while at the same time, sticking to this or that interpretation of the ruling ideology.

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    1. Saying that capitalism is a “ruling ideology” is quite silly. Both Russia and Sweden are capitalist but they are different in literally every aspect of political and legal culture. And if you really loved your country you would probably focus more on those who steal from the state rather than on those who point at the thieves.

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      1. I didn’t claim that “capitalism is an ideology”. You are lying, cortes. I said “adherence to the market capitalism as the economic model and to the so-called liberal democracy as the governmental model.”. Said countries would never entertain even a thought about workers owning the means of production – because of their ideology.

        And if those who really loved their country did point out its flaws and corruption – without taking money and instructions from our “Western collegues” – they would indeed be something more than a bunch of 5th columnists. The very moment Navalniy switched from just RosPil to shaking hands with the prominent “friends of Russia” from abroad (and went there to get some “education”) he became “зашкваренным”

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  6. I think this statement by Putin may be an example of the pragmatic approach he takes and how he regards his role as President and that of his administration. Russia has been in a state of transition from what it was at the end of the Soviet period and during the Yeltsin period, to what presumably will be a position where it can create a new role for itself in the world and project power from that. The process is ongoing and who can say what Russia will become after Putin leaves the presidency?

    In this situation, Putin leaves it to individuals to decide for themselves what patriotism means and what love of Russia means to them personally. The benefit of this is that patriotism and love of Russia are not tied to believing in a particular political or economic ideology that could eventually become ruinous to the country yet is not given up for a better alternative, because to give it up would open people to accusations of treason and make others suspicious of them.

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  7. The mildly collectivist call for unity is a universal feature of how patriotism is defined in all cultures, isn’t it? The justification of prosperity is about as innocuous as it gets, just as with liberté, fraternité … feel-good politics, in the best capitalist tradition. The test for honesty is the same there as here. Watch the lips. Look for signs of movement.

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      1. I skimmed it, the usual talking points, albeit in a less idiotic form than what we see in standard trolling.

        Opposition is widely represented in the media (the fact) – but, oy, it’s all scripted anyway! (a wild unsubstantiated assertion).

        And then the KGB thing. Please, so what, what of it? The security apparatus was the only force capable of stopping the 1990s free-fall, and it did. As general Cherkesov said: the post-soviet society was caught by the KGB ‘hook’, and hanged on it, while some wanted for it to hit the bottom and break into pieces. Here: http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/812840

        Some whataboutitsm here, if I may: George Bush, before becoming president, was a fucking CIA chief. The fucking C-I-A, we all know what they do, and he was the chief of it. And have you ever seen anyone berating him for that? I don’t think so.

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  8. As a Putinversteher, this piece is basically a gigantic strawman, in the parts where it isnt straight out wrong.

    It also conducts the cardinal error of confusing Stalinist repression, which was severe, with post Stalinist repression which seriously was not even remotely out of step with most other Empires.

    One can actually make a good case that the Post Stalin KGB was considerably “less harsh” then the repressive organs of a number of contemporary pro western governments. The KGB did several warning shots before they actually went after someone, and accepted repentence.

    Putins stated policy is to establish Russia as an independent pole, surrounded by a ring of allied, or at least neutral states. This is in fact centuries long Russian tradition, and it is a rather less expansionary version then those of the Czarist and Soviet Empires.

    What makes Putin a Russian people should be able to live with is that he does not use force as a first measure. Russia supported Ukraine to the tune of 5-10 billion per year (gas subsidies, hidden subsidies coming from preferetial trading constructs) to keep it neutral, and offered greater incentives to gain it as an ally.

    I think the severity of Russias reaction to Maidan is perhaps best explained by the following thing: The west makes big words about how it is respecting the Helsinki declaration, about being in a state of law, about its “soft power” etc. In Ukraine, Russia competed mainly by soft power instruments. They offered a legitimatly better deal, they convinced enough powerbrokers to support their pov., people open to an association with Russia (under terms beneficial to Ukraine) won democratic elections, and, after some very hard and successful bargaining by these people Russia got its association agreement.

    They had, by conducting massive investments, effectively beaten the West at its own soft power game (mostly because the West was not willing to put anything on the table that a non-Dontsovite would sign).

    What does the west do? Unwilling to accept this, they broke the rules, turned over the table and legitimized and incredibly unconstitutional power take over, and then forced through the “EU association agreement” with those they helped to gain power by subversive means.

    Some particular western interests, mainly the military industrial complex and the Neocons, may have actually wanted to break Ukraine as blatantly as possible in order to provoke a severe Russian reaction, assuming correctly that such a severe reaction will greatly increase their sway inside their own countries and make it easier for them to enforce their imperial policies.

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