Putinism – a greater threat to the West than Soviet communism was

Putin and Putinism (Political cartoon by Zhenya O. / radiosvoboda.org)

Putin and Putinism 

2016/11/19 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics, Russia

Putinism, as ideology and practice, is now a greater threat to the West than Soviet communism ever was, a reality few in Western countries now recognize precisely because the Kremlin leader is making use, in the best tradition of the judo master he is, values and methods that are part of the West against the West.

There are many reasons for this disturbing conclusion, one suggested by various Russian commentators who took part in the Second Boris Nemtsov Forum at the European Parliament this week. Five especially striking qualities of Putinism as a threat include:

First, the old Western anti-communist consensus that included both capitalists and rights activists has dissolved. The existential threat communism posed to each kept them allied. Now that Putin has dispensed with communism, that alliance has been torn apart, with many capitalists only too eager to get involved in what they hope will be profitable markets. That leaves the rights activists isolated and often crying in a wilderness even though Putin’s commitment to genuinely free markets is nonexistent and his actions against his own people and Russia’s neighbors is in many cases worse than that of Soviet leaders after 1953. That means that in important respects, Putin is less likely to be contained than were they.

Second, Putinism uses the new media environment that Soviet propagandists never had access to, an environment in which truth is devaluated, lies are the norm, and the mainstream media has not learned how to avoid being co-opted, given that it is often forced to disseminate the very kind of stories that its outlets would not run on their own. Some other political leaders, of course, do the same, but none with as much skill and with as few scruples as the Kremlin dictator. Truth no longer matters in this universe, and it is no accident that the Oxford English Dictionary has called “post-truth” the new word of this year.

Third, while Putin constantly talks as if Russia doesn’t have an ideology, many have failed to note that he has articulated one and that it is remarkably congruent with the ideology of many populist and right of center leaders in Western countries. His ideology and the practice which flows from it should be labelled as Putinism.

Putinism is a doctrine, which draws on but radically undermines values found in the West, it allows Putin to reach into Western societies in ways that none of his Soviet predecessors ever could.

No Western country would ever have elected someone who was known to be close to communism; now an increasing number of these countries have populations quite prepared to choose someone who is often working hand in glove with Putin or Putin surrogates.

Fourth, the combination of living in a post-truth world and of having certain values of traditionalism and deference in common means that many in the West are unwilling to challenge Putin’s arguments because to do so is to challenge arguments being made by many in their own societies, including some with enormous power.

Putin is the leader of a weak and declining power, but he can count on this reluctance of many to challenge his ideas and actions to help him appear and thus for certain purposes be stronger than he really is.

And fifth – and this may be the most important of these five – Putin casts himself as concerned in the first instance about stability rather than change. That puts him at odds with his Soviet predecessors who, at least in principle, styled themselves as revolutionaries committed to radical change. At a time when many Western countries are tired of the burdens of international responsibility and feel the need to pull back, someone who offers stability as the main goal is a potentially attractive partner.

The tragedy, of course, is that Putin is not committed to stability or any of the other values routinely ascribed to him.

Instead, he is completely without scruples in changing course whenever it suits him even while denouncing others for doing the same thing and is prepared to use underhanded and illegal means to achieve his revisionist goals.

If the threat Putinism presents both to and within Western countries is not recognized as even greater than the one Soviet communism presented, there is a great risk that at least in the short term it may be more successful than its predecessor, something that would be a tragedy not only for the West but for the people of his own country as well.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • zorbatheturk

    Putinism is the most evil -ism out there. It must be crushed.

  • Dirk Smith

    The Moscow bombings in 1999 kicked off this evil. 9/11 enabled the gay dwarf to wreck havoc all over the planet while everyone’s attention was on Islamic terrorism. Obama’s lack of qualifications to be POTUSA kicked Putinism into high gear. Trump must understand this and destroy this reptile. Failure to do so can have cataclysmic results.

  • Alex George

    I agree with the sentiments in the article, but we easily forget how dangerous communism was. its easy now just to remember it in its last days of the ’80s and ’90s when the Soviet Union was a clear failure and nobody wanted to admit to being communist. But there were many decades when communism was even more dangerous and pervasive than Putinism is now.

    It is important to recognize the common factors, particularly the Kremlin which is the heir to the Tatar state of Muscovy. As always throughout its history, it desires to bring all nations under the knout.

    Russia is now weaker than it has been for centuries. We must not be fooled into helping it. Unless Russia shows clear evidence of accepting liberal and cultured values, our only course should be to keep the sanctions on and let it go back to the stone age. Its not like we need to do a lot – its own leaders will accomplish it if left to themselves.

  • Mephisto

    I am now more afraid of Trump than of Putin. Trump is already appointing Tea Party morons and Russian trolls to his government
    http://www.vox.com/2016/11/17/13673280/mike-flynn-trump-new-national-security-adviser-russia-isis-obama-clinton-turkey
    If US and Putin unite and work together to dismantle the EU and NATO, the world will be in a lot of trouble. It is not only Putin, who is to blame, but dumb voters across EU and US.

    • Turtler

      “I am now more afraid of Trump than of Putin.”

      Then it would help to stop, get away from the keyboard, and get some fresh air and look over at some “light” reading like Putin’s personal history and that of the KGB. Because I generally find that when one starts treating one’s own democratic, legal opposition as more dangerous than a totalitarian thug with absolute power and no qualms abusing it, one’s lost their way.

      There’s a reason why I have steadfastly opposed labeling it.

      “Trump is already appointing Tea Party morons and Russian trolls to his government”

      As somebody who qualifies as the former.. take a look at who Putin has staffed his government with. Veterans of the Secret Police. Literal gangsters. And even some lite islamists like Kadyrov.

      How many people has any given “Tea Party Moron” or Russian Troll in Trump’s government killed? Because a lot of the people on Putin’s side of the Aisle already Have. Even before getting power.

      “If US and Putin unite and work together to dismantle the EU and NATO,
      the world will be in a lot of trouble.”

      The world’s already in a lot of trouble. The fact that Putin, the PRC, and the assorted Islamists have gotten so far on their own power is worrying enough.

      Though I doubt the US will work to dismantle the EU and NATO. It doesn’t have much incentive on the former (and even Trump has posited it more as a reorganization of NATO than not). And frankly the EU’s grievous structural issues are causing more of a problem for its’ longevity than Putin could ever hope to.

      And no, the idea that Brexit was caused primarily by Putin’s army of trolls and that fishermen who were put out of work (and assembled a protest armada for it) because of asinine regulations put in place by an unelected body appointed by another unelected body needed to be racist or influenced by Putin to resent the EU is not true.

      “It is not only Putin, who is to
      blame, but dumb voters across EU and US.”

      On some level I agree.

      However: Stupidity is not evil, and it is usually less problematic than evil. Because Evil is Malicious while stupidity is not.

      And secondly: if we want to complain about dumb voters, we also have to complain about dumb leaders. And particularly their failures at messaging or pushing an agenda (or success in pushing a counterproductive agenda).

      It’s easy to blame the voters because it helps ignore the responsibility leaders like Obama, Clinton, and Trump have. But it is rarely productive.

  • Turtler

    I’ve already grappled with this stupidity before. NO. NO. Bad Article. Bad EM Press.

    GO TO YOUR ROOM and pour over Soviet era OOBs and spy rings.

    I’ve said it again. The Soviet Union was a superpower. Even at its’ lowest point in power it still had the ability to deploy millions of soldiers in the field, as it did when it tried to invade Europe less than a year after the Russian Empire’s shattering, complete defeat in WWI. It had spy rings and ideological sympathizers throughout the world, whose toxic influence is still felt to this day. It had networks of client regimes and groups abroad, from Cuba to FARC (and its’ predecessor groups) to the CCP in China to Uncle Ho in Vietnam. It compromised Western security on a level even beyond what Wikileaks and Putin can dream of even with Hillary Clinton’s Help.

    If you think Putin’s empire- with MUCH less ideological support, a fraction of the resources, a declining population, less land, less industry, and less anything- is more of a threat than that, you are so far p your rear we might need the Jaws of Life to pry you out.

    And it got copious amounts of WMD very quickly , showed every willingness to use them on their own people, and threatened to bring the world to the bring of nuclear annihilation if they couldn’t prevail in a conventional total war that they could sustain for YEARS.

    “First, the old Western anti-communist consensus that included both capitalists and rights activists has dissolved.”

    Assuming that “rights activists” are mutually exclusive from “capitalists.”

    And ignoring how many of both were willing to cut deals with the Reds. Ever heard of the Skokie Trials?

    Or Nelson Mandela’s cozying up to the Communists?

    “that alliance has been torn apart, with many capitalists only too eager
    to get involved in what they hope will be profitable markets. That
    leaves the rights activists isolated and often crying in a wilderness ”

    Oh please.

    Firstly: this was an issue back with the Soviets as well. The Soviets relied immensely on trade with the West for numerous things. Most automotive, Train, and tank factories in the early Soviet Union were built by the West. And one of the most common tricks in the book- as detailed by the Putinist Solzhenitsyn- was to invite greedy and gullible Westerners over with the promise of profits, have THEM set up shop, and then have the work force “spontaneously” organize at the commands of the Secret Police.

    Under the hopes that the Western Capitalists would get fed up and leave, and decide it would be more work than it was worth to destroy what they built. So the “Party” would get it.

    This began just under a century ago. This is not new. Stop treating it like something new.

    And secondly: the “Rights Activists” are guilty in part too. I’m from California. In my native state I had the ability to observe countless moonbats, “rights activists”, and other people like Sanders- who cannot be called “Capitalists” under any stretch of the term- shill or at least apologize for Putin.

    It may be tempting to imagine Rights Activists are inherently more noble than those seeking profit, or at least to chafe at the idea that somebody would sell out to a murderous thug without at least the prospect of getting something out of it. But no, there are no shortage of people who are deluded enough to believe this is Legitimately the best thing. Like an RP partner of mine (and Canadian Socialist) who earnestly told me she believed the “NeoCons” started the Georgian war.

    ‘Second, Putinism uses the new media environment that
    Soviet propagandists never had access to, an environment in which truth
    is devaluated, lies are the norm, and the mainstream media has not
    learned how to avoid being co-opted, given that it is often forced to disseminate the very kind of stories that its outlets would not run on their own.”

    Seriously? Are we going to ignore the entire history of Soviet propaganda?

    “Third, while Putin constantly talks as if Russia doesn’t have an ideology, many have failed to note that he has articulated one and that it is remarkably congruent with the ideology of many populist and right of center leaders in Western countries.”

    Riiiiiiight on the latter. I see where this is going.

    Nevermind how many Left of Center Populist leaders also do it (just ask Schroeder what he’s been doing lately).

    And nevermind how this is a small, shallow pool compared to the TENS OF MILLIONS of avowed Communists and Socialists in the West who defined friendliness with the Soviet Union as an integral part of their ideology in the Cold War.

    The Communist Party of Italy was able to consistently have better per capita turnout results than Orban and Zeman put together.

    “No Western country would ever have elected someone who was known to be close to communism;”

    ARE YOU STUPID MAN?

    We know this is not true because they actually DID. Seriously. San Marino elected the Communist “Committee of Freedom” in 1945.Before WWII was EVEN OVER. Hyderabadi Politics in India was dominated by the Communist Party for a few years after they overthrew the monarch (who was admittedly a douche).

    Nothing- and I mean NOTHING- Trump, Orban, Zeman, or the rest have done- even if we mashed them all together- can compete with the closeness the longest serving Finnish Head of State- Kekkonen- had with the Communists. Or how much he acted as a Soviet proxy (like advocating Norway ditch NATO). Especially since he quite blatantly blackmailed his own electorate by positing himself as the “guarantee” of good relations.

    Am I missing anybody? YES. But they are more than enough to demonstrate my point. This is LUDICROUS and Provably So!

    ” Fourth, the combination
    of living in a post-truth world”

    No, we’re not. In spite of the attempts by people like Putin, Clinton, the PRC and others to change that. We will never live in a post-truth world because truth can never be erased. It can be denied, it can be acted against, and it can be aped to kingdom come. But it will still be there.

    To quote Phillip K Dick…

    ““Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

    “and of having certain values of
    traditionalism and deference in common’

    … seriously.

    This is one of the best things you can argue with. In spite of the fact that Trump is just the fountain head of a nearly decades long electoral backlash against Obama in Congress and at the state level? You seriously want to argue that the freaking TEA PARTY stands for deference?

    I should just quit now while I’m ahead before this gets any more stupid. But I’m going to go on.

    “means that many in the West are
    unwilling to challenge Putin’s arguments because to do so is to
    challenge arguments being made by many in their own societies, including some with enormous power.”

    Agreed on this much.

    “And fifth – and this may
    be the most important of these five – Putin casts himself as concerned
    in the first instance about stability rather than change. That puts him
    at odds with his Soviet predecessors who, at least in principle, styled
    themselves as revolutionaries committed to radical change.”

    But who also went to a great deal claiming to be commuted to international peace and stability. Or are we going to ignore the entire history of Detente in addition to the rest?

    “At a time
    when many Western countries are tired of the burdens of international
    responsibility and feel the need to pull back, someone who offers
    stability as the main goal is a potentially attractive partner.”

    On this much I can somewhat agree.

    “If the threat Putinism presents both to and within Western countries
    is not recognized as even greater than the one Soviet communism
    presented, there is a great risk that at least in the short term it may
    be more successful than its predecessor, something that would be a
    tragedy not only for the West but for the people of his own country as
    well.”

    Translation: if we do not merely recognize the threat Putinism faces but Exaggerate it WELL AND COMPLETELY beyond evidenciary, historical, or logical conclusions, we are doomed.

    Seriously?

    One of the key steps to confronting a threat is to accurately gauge its’ capabilities. It may be better to overestimate its’ capabilities than underestimate them (see how the nonexistent “Missile Gap” helped cement the survival of the West), but that doesn’t make overestimation beneficial.

    And this article fails the most basic task.

    • MichaelA

      you could add italian and greek communists in government

      • Turtler

        Indeed, I forgot about them but I was probably overrunning as it was.