Westerners have semi-legitimate reasons to like Lenin. Hard-headed proponents of Realpolitik and plain old vanilla Russophobes might appreciate his role in crippling Russia relative to what it could have been in the 20th century (i.e. a full-spectrum challenger to the American order, instead of Upper Volta with missiles). The increasing popular strains of SJW leftism would logically subscribe to the belief that Lenin’s program of national deconstruction (decolonization), struggle against Great Russian chauvinism (white supremacy), and bourgeois parasitism (white privilege) were actually good things in and of themselves.
This shouldn’t be a problem in Russia. The first category of self-haters does exist – somebody like Garry Kasparov comes to mind – but it is electorally negligible. The second category is hardly any more relevant, at least for now. Marginal Trotskyist figures, such as Sergey Biets of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party, and various anarchist collectives, such as Pussy Riot, come to mind. There is an incipient SJW trend emerging amongst the students of the elite Moscow and SPB universities, but based on the American experience, it will be a couple of decades before it leaps into the general population. The KPRF is stronger on immigration than the ruling United Russia pattern, and the Russian Left has been no less firm in its support of the Donbass than mainstream nationalists.
And yet, Russians remain considerably more positive towards Lenin than most Westerners. An April 2017 Levada poll showed 56% positive towards Lenin, versus 22% negative. He incites positive emotions in 44% of Russians, and negative emotions in only 9% of them. Only 14% of Russians support removing Lenin statues, versus 79% opposed – even though 99% of those statues, being mass produced, have no inherent artistic or historical value. Most of the “powerful takes” against my (negative) article on Lenin came from Russians.
Egor Kholmogorov explains the apparent paradox brilliantly in his latest essay (currently in the process of being translates for this website). He points out that modern apologists for Bolshevism hardly ever cite their actual values, slogans, and programs (e.g. world communism, the unchaining of the working class, the triumph of atheism), but instead appeal to “patriotic, nationalist, conspirological, populist, and even Orthodox” frameworks, all of which were mostly or entirely antithetical to the Communist value system itself. He points out that this has a long history, stretching back to the National Bolsheviks of the 1920s, such as Ustryalov and Kluyev – who, incidentally, were both shot in the late 1930s. (I would point out that this is, of course, hardly the only example. Tens of thousands of Orthodox priests were murdered under both Lenin and Stalin. But that’s all fine, because Stalin allowed them to help crowdfund tanks in 1941. And yet this “reconciliation” between Stalinism and Christianity was the main academic focus of Russia’s current Minister of Education.)
No, there is a more basic reason why Russian patriots/vatniks are driven to engage in Red apologism.
As Kholmogorov points out, in the 1990s, it was a clique of thieves and their professional apologists – many of whom were themselves the literal descendants of nomenklatura bigwigs and NKVD executioners – who took the lead in claiming they had “freed” Russians from Lenin, Communists, and the revolutionary heritage. But since those very same people had also “freed” Russians from their economic and territorial birthrights through criminal privatizations and the Belavezha Accords, all cynically done under the banner of “anticommunism,” a redstalgic counter-reaction was inevitable.
This counter-reaction was merely most visible in the case of Stalin, the best about whom can be said is that he stopped the hysteria around Great Russian chauvinism, while stamping down hard on those non-Russian nationalisms that had gotten too carried with the leeway afforded them in the 1920s (while ironically also moving away from progressive economics: Wage inequality in the USSR peaked under the late Stalin, and fees for the last two years of school were reintroduced in 1940).
Consequently, Stalin was far more palatable as a figurehead of the “resistance” – the name of one of the biggest “patriotic” publishers of authors like Maxim Kalashnikov and Andrey Parshev is literally “The Russian Resistance” (Russkoe Soprotivlenie) – than the internationalist and overtly Russophobic Lenin. Consequently, while the share of Russians claiming Lenin was one of the “greatest persons of all times and places” plummeted from 72% in 1989 to a still cringeworthy 32% by 2017, Stalin’s rating rose from 12% in 1989 to 35% by 1999 – that is, before Putin even came to power – and has stayed at around that level ever since. This was also enabled by the liberal elites directing their most concentrated venom against Stalin, up to and including making up new crimes, as if Stalin’s real record wasn’t sordid enough.
Politically, the liberal-oligarchic faction (The Family/Putin) basically co-opted the redstalgic one (“patriots”/Primakov and the KPRF) in 1999-2000, and the two have been living in an uneasy but surprisingly stable union ever since.
Socially, this resulted in the coalescence of two tribes in Russia, which – borrowing from Scott Alexander – I will call the Blue Tribe and the Red Tribe.
(Reminder that Communism ≈ conservatism in Russia, so the analogy is even more relevant that it might appear at first glance).
The Blue Tribe are the 105 IQ residents of Moscow, the hipsters, the neoliberal reformers, the Echo of Moscow faction that ruled Russia in the 1990s.
The Red Tribe are the 95 IQ residents of Mukhosransk, the vatniks who work in Uralvagonzavod, the budzhetniki, the people who voted for the Communists in the 1990s and now vote for Putin.
Now here’s the thing. Russian liberals – the Blue Tribe – have succeeded in setting the terms of the debate and adoration of Lenin, Communism, the USSR, and especially Stalin is now for all intents and purposes a tribal identifier for the “patriotic” camp, the Red Tribe. In the same way that, say, subscribing to a spectrum of retarded positions (sexual hystrionics, conspicuous religiosity, flag worship, denial of global warming, Israel Firstism, and moar tax cuts for the 1%) has become a tribal identifier for the Red Tribe (or at least its boomer subfaction) in the United States.
The Blue Tribe essentially poisoned the well of the patriotic reaction. This is a very bad, very sad, state of affairs – and it’s not obvious how to get out of here.
Even though sovok worship might be good for triggering Blue Tribe snowflakes – the Russian equivalent of LIBERAL TEARS – it is bad for Russia’s image abroad (excepting, perhaps, in Venezuela and North Korea), it repels intelligent Russians and inducts them into the ranks of the Blue Tribe, so long as it is the only alternative on offer. As Kholmogorov points out, the “canonization of Bolshevism, Leninism, and Stalinism” is not a friend, but an enemy, of Russia’s own future.
The good thing is that the foundations of this narrative are creaky, and can only be sustained by yawning logical fallacies. Here are some typical ones:
If not for Lenin/Stalin, time would have literally frozen still and Russia would have remained a Third World cesspool for the rest of the century (variation: Stalin took us from the plow to the atomic bomb). An argument which only someone devoid of any knowledge of economic history or even elementary logic can take seriously. Or a rabid Russophobe who believes that the only way Russians can achieve anything is if they’re prodded to it by a mustachiod Georgian BDSM master.
The Western club only lets its own become wealthy. Japan, South Korea, The Republic of China, the People’s Republic of China (once it started taking the “people’s” part less seriously, that is), Singapore, must all be figments of our collective imagination.
Russia would not have won WW2 against Nazi Germany. Of course it wouldn’t have won (or lost) a war that would have no longer existed.
The Tsar/bourgeoisie/aristocracy was oppressing the peasants/serfs (though the serfs were reactionary scum who deserved it anyway). So… the Tsar was good, then? Or bad? I don’t even know.
Lenin offered the people land, bread, peace. I suppose he did, by the standards of the Ministry of Truth:
Civil War is Peace
Prodrazvyorstka is Bread
Collectivization is Land
Okay, here’s another one: “What he’s effectively saying is “for 70 years multiple generations of Soviet people have followed the legacy a traitor, parasite, failure”. All those generations of people were that stupid, apparently. And probably still are. Only A.Karlin is smart. Yeah, right.”
Yes, that sort of does hit closer to the truth.
Which is why letting go is hard, and provokes anger…
… as the first stage on the road to acceptance.
In the long-run, the de-sovokization of Russia is inevitable, on the basis that in a free market of ideas, the good arguments eventually tend to win out over bad ones.
This is already happening; as in the United States, where the GOP is known as the stupid party, so in Russia “based” sovoks can’t cognitively compete with the brain fund at the Blue Tribe’s disposal. Once the latter win out, and there is no good reason to think they won’t, there’ll be no more Stalin, but he’ll just be replaced by Soros, and that’s hardly an improvement.
Opinion polls indicate that it is the younger, more educated, wealthier people who are much more skeptical about Lenin. For instance, according to a FOM poll from April 2014, 52% of Russians thought Lenin was a good person, versus only 10% who thought he was bad. However, the percentage thinking he was good falls from 68% amongst the over 60s to 39% amongst the 18-30 age group; from 59% amongst non-college education to 41% amongst the college-educated (36% amongst college-educated youth); 67% amongst the pool to 43% amongst the wealth; and from 64% amongst rural dwellers 39% amongst Muscovites.
But not all hope is lost. One can posit the existence of a third tribe in Russia – let’s call it the Black Tribe – that rejects the truthisms of both the sovok Reds and the pozzed Blues and offers an alternative vision of Russia’s future.
And it is up to us, the Black Tribe, to continue patiently, systemically, humorously dismantling the myths and narratives of sovok and liberalism.txt alike before the Poz swallows us all.