Ideology Rehabilitated

Aleksandr Shchipkov

The year 2019 witnessed a historical stage that can be defined as the rehabilitation of ideology. The need for an open discussion of Russian ideology was clearly expressed in the presidential address to the Federal Assembly in January 2020. The taboo on discussing state ideology has been lifted, which means that the elites are ready to express themselves directly in a forthright conversation with the people.

There are two types of ideology in Russia today, which appear to be too poorly coordinated. The first one, used in foreign policy, explains the historical role of Russia and its approach to political institutions from the standpoint of the multipolar world values and cultural and historical equality. The second one is used in domestic politics and since the 1990s, has continued to take origins from values approved in the narrow framework of secularized Anglo-American Protestantism, although declared ‘global’ and ‘universal’.

Ever since the return of Crimea during February–March 2014, Russia has been dominated by a foreign policy ideology with the most important premise defined by a key concept – the return of sovereignty. This ideology is hindered and restrained in action by Article 15 of the Constitution, which the President actually proposed to neutralize with other novelties, clearly prioritizing national law over international.

Sovereignty is the basis of any national ideology. Sovereignty is not just a policy, whether it concerns, for example, the unacceptability of dual citizenship for state officials or the need to protect our interests in the Mediterranean. Russian sovereignty, like Russian culture, is linked to the preservation of tradition, the national agenda, and the end of Russophobia. It is expressed in concrete achievements of the country and the people, such as the return of Crimea, the development of strategically important gas transport corridors, promoting our interests in remote regions of the world, the gradual overcoming of the church split, and so on. Yet for the declared sovereignty to work, the country must be able to protect it – that is why Russia has significantly increased its defence capability during the presidency of Vladimir Putin. Simultaneously, the full use of defence levers requires the freedom of decision – hence the issue of the dual citizenship of the political elite.

Now that the foreign policy course has been formed and set for decades to come, it has become fully possible to discuss internal ideological issues. Not only will the country be unable to further develop without this discussion, but, frankly speaking, a truly serious breakthrough in foreign policy will also be impossible.

Discussing ideology begins with setting the coordinate system: to understand which ideology is most favourable for us, we must clearly understand the current ideology in our country. The current Constitution gives a contradictory answer to this question. While Article 13 states the impossibility of a generally binding ideology in the Russian Federation, Article 2 states the fundamental principle of liberal ideology. The dominant Russian ideology of today is the liberal-monetarist ideology of transnational top management, as opposed to that of nations and peoples. It has nothing to do with the Russian cultural and historical type and traditional ethics.

For the sake of normal social development, the imbalance between the two ideologies, external and internal, must undoubtedly be overcome. One of the conditions for a serious conversation about national ideology should naturally be the rejection of liberal language clichés.

As proven by our history in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, a society devoid of an ideological mindset should inevitably find itself in a long-term crisis and risk being pushed into the sidelines of history. Vladimir Putin, however, gave us hope that the situation can be changed.

There are no real grounds for ideophobia as the fear and distrust of ideology. And yet, it is precisely ideophobia that is to blame for the fact that the scope of the concept of ‘ideology’ is now critically narrowed. It is no coincidence that in recent years, no theses coded 23.00.03 Political Culture and Ideology have been written. The development of this scientific discipline in Russia has been artificially stopped, while in Europe this area is actively exploited.

Since the Soviet era had formed a distorted view of ideology, those who replaced the Soviet ideologues did not fail to take advantage of this fact. For more than 30 years, we have been taught to see ideology as a ‘theory of everything’, a scientific and philosophical doctrine explaining both the world and man. Like a child shown a black swan or a tailless monkey, we were led to believe that all swans were black and all monkeys were tailless. And yet ideology was not born and did not die with scientific communism, its historical forms are much broader. In the same way, totalitarianism is not limited to fascism and Bolshevism.

Doctrinaire ideological surrogates such as historical materialism that claim to be infallible, complete, and universal, or ‘universal’ concepts, are but weeds in the garden of ideological thought. The same applies to liberalism of today, whose image of the world and man is associated with immanentism (explaining things ‘out of themselves’), the myth of being chosen and superiority (Calvinism), the myths about the benefits of natural selection in human society (Malthusianism, social Darwinism) and about the secret knowledge of expert technocrats (Gnosticism). The radicalization of liberalism is indicated by the emergence of new current concepts and terms, such as ‘new normality’, ‘alternative facts’, ‘deep state’ and ‘post-material values’ (at the same time neither material nor spiritual).

Within the framework of liberalism, the right to design the future is only granted to those sharing the ‘post-material values’ – that is, to ‘creative’ individuals. This paradigm will declare you incapable of building the future if you refuse to deconstruct traditional (in their interpretation – ‘totalitarian’) principles and institutions. All this, including imperious and discriminatory attitudes, defines both the doctrinaire and totalitarian character of liberalism. Yet, as our President stated in another speech some time ago, liberalism is outdated.

A living and genuine ideology can only be formed in the field of national discourse and always takes into account the real experience of the people. It reflects the cultural images of the hero and the enemy, the image of history and world culture, the image of humanity and its problems and, finally, it speaks with its own vocabulary.

The principles and concepts of the new ideology will inevitably be derived from the traditional Russian discourse, which, due to the Soviet period and the post-Soviet turmoil, has not yet completed its formation. In any case, it is going to include such components as etatism, justice and solidarity, spiritual democracy and the iconicity of consciousness (where the higher is reflected in the lower, and the image of ‘heaven’ is reproduced on Earth).

Designation of the spiritual and historical mission of the people is an important part of ideology. The Russian mission in the twentieth century, for example, was to free the world from Nazism, while other nations had other missions. This kind of mission means solving a number of historical tasks. The ‘road map’ for moving in this direction is ideology as a whole. It goes without saying that at different stages of the journey, you need different maps, including updated ones.

Ideology explains the links between the past and the future in the history of the people by providing an answer to the question: ‘Who are we, what are we doing and where are we going in this world?’ While the historical context may change following historical circumstances, it is always in touch with cultural and historical experience and tradition.

Ruptures in tradition that occur due to revolutions, occupations, colonization, wars and genocide throw the ideological consciousness of the people back, creating an ideological vacuum that does not heal for a long time, and give rise to primitive and doctrinaire products of ideological thought. Ideology stands to develop optimal solutions, as opposed to explanatory schemes. In stable times, therefore, the range of fluctuations in ideology gets wider, while narrowing down in times of crisis, as serious challenges tend to limit our space of choice and forces us to use only the most reliable and proven ideas.

2020, January