2017: The Year of Ideology

Aleksandr Shchipkov

Pre-New Year analysis is a popular mass media theme that is equally welcomed by the public. It is customary to review the expiring year and to make an assessment of its victories and failures, expectations, fate’s ironies and happy endings. Frankly speaking, I am not over fond of the genre. I am always the one for discussing the future as opposed to reliving the past, for the simple reason that wherever the coming year is concerned, we still retain our freedom of choice and act. This is precisely the reason I am going to ignore Donald Trump triumphing over the financial oligarchs, the mysterious Brexit, the troublesome Turkish Stream and will forego starting my analysis with the historical meeting at the Havana airport and ending it with the demise of the meeting’s no less historical host.

I would instead prefer to paint the outlines of the coming year, 2017, starting with its unique character.

The year 2017 is highly likely to initiate a kind of global perestroika, similar in appearance to the historic Soviet one. In other words, it will start the shift in the global outlook, which will make it for all parties concerned, including Russia, the year of ideology.

There has been a recent discussion among Russian politicians about the need to reform the Russian Constitution so it will conform to the new political and social realities. There is a high probability that the world will start shifting from consumer culture philosophy and neoliberal globalisation to the new mode of existence that will encompass a more humane social policy, supported by the spirit of tradition and traditional values.

Let’s see what kind of global situation we are facing. Right now we are into the deterioration of the general crisis, and the first stages of dismantling the old globalisation model. Conservative democrats start to win elections. Provided that Trump manages to avoid Kennedy’s fate, there is a hope of achieving agreement with the new American administration concerning distinct spheres of interest, stopping Russophobia in the Eastern Europe and Ukraine, and recognising the national interests of ethnic Russians – ‘the largest of the divided nations’, according to Putin’s Crimea speech two and a half years ago.

In other words, we are facing an attempt to leave the twilight zone we’ve inhabited for so many years. Let’s hope the new window of opportunities will finally allow us to get down to solving a number of urgent problems in 2017.

We could choose to see the probable 2017 scenarios as projections of the global tendencies. However, we are often late in our reactions. Secondly, there are powerful intrinsic factors that will largely determine the ideological climate of the coming year. First of all, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the year 1917, which, whether we admit it or not, will pry open the deepest layers of national memory. Our mutual goal here is to work out a functional and balanced approach to those events that will bring the nation together and mobilise its resources, as opposed to dividing it. What makes it doubly difficult is the fact that, from the 1990s up to very recently, we were all slaves to the old destructive approach.

It is obvious that the events that started unrolling in February 1917 constitute a national tragedy. Yet it does not give license to irresponsible politicians’ demands that the society should accept the doctrine of collective guilt and collective repentance, renounce the principles of social fairness and automatically accept the political imperatives of today. De facto, the politicians in favour of this course are calling for civil disruption. With them, there is no hope of consensus, since it can only be founded on a solid moral and ethical background.

When discussing the events of 1917 and its immediate and distant consequences, it is crucial to adhere to the three basic principles that will constitute a systematic approach to the 20th century history.

The first background rule is that it is time to view the 20th century from the ever growing current time distance while also taking into account historic process dialectics. It is imperative not only to assess specific politicians and their decisions, but also the social and cultural tendencies of the time as well as the collective conscience still taking form now, under the influence of the 20th century events.

The second rule means that the events of 1917 up to the 1990s should be viewed in the context of the ‘larger’ 20th century European and Russian history of the time period between 1914 and 2017, that is, in the context of both World Wars that both had a distinct social and racial character.

The third rule says that ultimately only society, on the whole and not separate groups and political factions, has the right to make legitimate socially important decisions on that topic. This does not, of course, exclude the freedom of opinion and the infinite variety of private views on every possible question connected with the 20th century.

Let’s answer the question: what was the year 1917? The events of the year had led first to the elite betraying the nation and the government coup, and then escalated to civil dissention and the civil war, with the society halved into The Red and The White. We should always bear in mind, however, that there were people on both sides of the conflict and, consequently, the war was fratricidal on both sides. In practice, the year 1917 was the equivalent of the 1605-1612 Disturbance, with the two warring factions fighting each other, both events capped by foreign intervention.

The difference is that no national consensus had formed in 1917 to stop The Disturbance, as it had happened at the time of Minin and Pozharsky. The victorious and no less tragic war of 1941-1945 had only partially fulfilled that role. The 1991 events and the disintegration of the former USSR, and especially its Slavic hardcore, constituted the new stage of The Disturbance.

So, although the year 1991 is often viewed as the ideological opposite of 1917, it should objectively appear as its extension, especially in light of the fact that ideology becomes right or wrong only in the context of historic circumstances. If it is deemed wrong, it is most often viewed as anti-systemic and destructive. The Soviet model was demolished at exactly the same moment, when cleansing it of Bolshevik nihilism and Communist dogmas and reworking the Soviet Union covenant, according to new ideological principles, became possible. The country was disassembled by the communist elite that had changed their political colour in time. It was done to their advantage at the people’s expense and allowed them to transfer the national property to their and their patrons’ names.

In other words, 1991 was marked by the same betrayal by the elite as in February 1917, when the nobility betrayed the monarch and the people and objectively paved the way for the Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks proved victorious largely because they had succeeded in what the Tsar had proved unable or afraid to do – they relied on the support of the people, on those notorious 85% of the population that are so much talked about now. Thus, the execution of Nicholas II and his family had more to do with getting rid of a political rival than with the Bolshevik press version of executing a class enemy, which does not lessen the crime, of course.

For those in power, ideology is just a tool. It is especially vivid now in digital society. So, if we manage to put ideological dogmas aside, we can see clearly that notwithstanding the ostentatious yet unconvincing change of colours, the events of February 1917 and August 1991 share the same hidden motive. It concerns the elite exercising antinational policies out of self-interest, and has nothing to do with social fairness whatsoever.

The ultimate consequence of the 20th century civil war is the double rip of national traditions. The rupture of 1917 and the rupture of 1991 were implemented by the same kind of people, with the second event being the direct sequel of the first. Ideology and propaganda masters’ long-standing attempts to prove the contrary only serve to highlight the truth.

Unfortunately, Russia is now threatened again with the probable treachery of the elite. As the world crisis escalates and the Russian economy withers, the probability increases. The likely winner will be the one who manages to win the support of the people, or namely, of those 85% of the ‘Crimea consensus’.

In that respect, the Crimea consensus is extremely important as a necessary step in the right direction, though yet inconclusive by itself. To strengthen the initial impulse, it must be continued. Fortunately, there are now some good signs.

Now we can finally ascertain that the civil war that had been going on in Russian ideology during all the Soviet and Post-Soviet period had come to its end in 2014. It ended with a national reunion as the whole nation was faced with a historic challenge which could only be answered all in one. The party principle gave way to solidarity, as the Crimea consensus laid the ground for national reconciliation.

The Crimea liberation, the Russian nationalist and the international antifascist movements in Ukraine and the Russian resistance to outward political and economic pressure are all the natural factors that created the situation when the former Whites and Reds found themselves facing the common enemy and confronting them as a single unit. This is the way that common trials end civil wars. We’ve come to understand that, former disagreements notwithstanding, we share the same traditions and values. In the same way that the previous rupture meant a common defeat, we are now able to discuss a common victory.

This does not naturally absolve specific people of the specific Soviet time of crimes for which they are accountable, political sentences without trials and class purges in particular. This is the question of personal, not collective, responsibility. It does not leave our contemporaries with any specific historic responsibilities. We do not condemn any side of the conflict; we only condemn the guilty parties. The most important question at present is, where to now?

It is important to state that the principle of personal as opposed to collective responsibility contributes to the lasting national reconciliation and helps knit together the ruptured national traditions.

The first thing that must be taken into account while discussing the historic consequences of the 20th century events is that the separation of the ‘smaller Russian history’ of 1917–1991 from the ‘larger’ Russian and world history of 1914–2014 is completely unjustified.

There are no a priori answers to difficult questions. Such answers can never be. They are only valid in the national consensus context. There are nonetheless some preliminary considerations which do not provide ready answers but may give cause for reflection within the national discussion.

There is a need to perform objective research of the 1914–2017 historical period along with its preconditions and sources, both in the context of modernity and the world history of the 20th century.

A serious change in our perception of the February 1917 ideology is in order, as its adepts had destroyed the state and opened the door for the Bolsheviks. February and October of 1917 must be viewed as two stages of the same historic event.

There is no justification for separating Russian 20th century events from both world history and modern historical challenges. It should be noted in particular that the 20th century communism did not take its origins in Russia, but was connected with radical modern ideology and the radical anti-democratic idea of unlimited social experiments, which is characteristic for a liberal point of view.

It is imperative to absolve the society from the myth of collective guilt and historical alarmism, which are often used to manipulate people into renouncing the idea of social justice and the results of the 1945 victory. Stalin was not the author of the idea of social welfare state, and the ethnic war of 1941–1945 was waged against the Russians and their friends, not against the Communist regime. The war resumed in 2014 in Ukraine.

The 20th century was marked with ethnic purges and military terror that hit a number of nations, including Russia at the time of both World Wars.

All this had led to the immeasurable suffering of the people, a great number of victims, exodus or banishment of compatriots, artificial segregation of a single Russian nation and an intentional de-russification of Orthodox peoples.

It is necessary to recognise the Russians and their friendly peoples as victims of not only the revolutionary, or civil, war, but also of ethnic and socio-racial wars. The legitimate recognition of the genocide of Russians and friendly peoples in the 20th and 21st centuries is in order.

If the class hatred ideology was overcome at the end of the 20th century, racist ideology both continued and developed in the 21st century, both in its old and new forms. Communist and class war viruses are no longer contagious, since they no longer determine the ideological mainstream and intellectual atmosphere of the times. At the same time, the ideas of neo Nazism, cultural and civilised superiority and social racism are still considered as accepted and officially approved by some elite political groups. We have no right to condone this situation and every obligation to oppose it.

I believe that the year 2017 will be the year of change: instead of being the bone of contention, our national history will become one of the preconditions for national consensus, whose ideology is being formed as we speak. We can feel its presence in the social atmosphere, but it has not been formulated yet. I am sure that we will find the answer to this long-standing question – in less than a year.