[Marxism] The Closing of the Russian Mind: Four Snapshots

Thomas Campbell avvakum at gmail.com
Fri Aug 1 23:16:23 MDT 2014

Here are four reasons why, despite my affection for Kirill Medvedev's work,
I found his recent appeal to the "intelligentsia," "youth," and "all people
of good will" a little odd. He should be honest enough to know he is
appealing to what is, increasingly, thin air. Fifteen years of Putinism has
decimated "public discourse" and intellectual life in Russia, and now it
seems that the regime wants to finish the once-mighty Russian mind off once
and for all.

Which is not to say that the pro-Putin "euphoria" described in the first
two items is not a stage-managed affair to a huge degree, as obliquely
suggested by the fourth item.


According to a survey published this week by the respected independent
pollster Levada Centre, 82% of Russians believe MH17 was brought down by
either a Ukrainian army fighter plane or missile. Just 3% thought the
insurgents were to blame. Given these kind of figures, the prospect of
Putin facing a backlash of public anger over suspected weapons supplies to
separatist gunmen is virtually zero. Ironically, Putin probably faces more
danger from Russians disappointed by his failure to provide more assistance
to the rebels. “Many people feel cheated by his refusal to use military
force [in east Ukraine],” Alexander Dugin, an ultranationalist thinker
whose ideas are reported to have influenced recent Kremlin policy, told me

Western officials may be hoping economic sanctions will force Russians to
rethink their support for Putin, but in reality such measures will achieve
little more than an entrenchment of a growing fortress mentality. State
media’s routine and increasingly vitriolic attacks on the west’s “decadent”
morals mean Russians are likely to accept any economic and social hardships
brought about by US and European sanctions. Tellingly, in another Levada
Centre poll this week, 61% of Russians said they were unconcerned by the
threat of sanctions, while 58% were similarly unfazed by the looming
possibility of political isolation over the Kremlin’s stance on Ukraine.

These head-in-the-sand attitudes are bolstered by what the director of
Levada Centre, Lev Gudkov, calls a “patriotic and chauvinistic
euphoria”rooted in the almost bloodless annexation of Crimea in March,
which was popular among Russians across the political spectrum. It’s
alsoworth noting that many “ordinary” Russians are uninterested in politics
and have only scant knowledge of the issues at hand.



MOSCOW, July 31 (RIA Novosti) - Life satisfaction and social optimism
indices in Russia skyrocketed, reaching all-time highs despite political
challenges according to polls conducted by the Russian Public Opinion
Research Center (VCIOM).

“Within the last three months, indices of social well-being have shown
unprecedented growth, stabilizing at extremely high levels. In June the
satisfaction index reached its all-time high of 79 points and the indices
of financial self-assessment and social optimism, now at 76 and 77 points
respectively, have also risen and stabilized at new highs,” says the poll.

The economic sanctions imposed by the US and EU over the crisis in Ukraine
seem to have little effect on Russians. According to the polls, Russians
are now far less concerned with the future of their country than they were
last year.

The number of Russians who have not ruled out the possibility of a war with
neighboring countries is now 23 percent of the population, up from just 10
percent last year. However, the number of those concerned about a Western
military threat has held steady at 13 percent for the past eight years.

The VCIOM opinion poll was conducted in 2014, interviewing 1,600
respondents in 130 communities in 42 regions of Russia. Data are weighted
by gender, age, education, working status and type of settlement. The polls
have margins of error of no more than 3.4%.



It’s bad news for Russian bloggers, then, that starting today, anyone who
attracts more than 3,000 daily readers to his blog is considered a de facto
journalist and must register. (In a largely symbolic gesture, LiveJournal
has already stopped reporting blog subscribers beyond the 2,500 mark.)
Registration entails turning over your personal details to the
government—including, of course, your name, meaning anonymous blogging is
now illegal for many. (By the way, the law applies to any blog written in
Russian for Russians; a post you write from a Brooklyn cafe could face
censorship from Moscow.) Bloggers will also be held liable for any alleged
misinformation they publish, even in comments written by somebody else.
And, insult to injury, bloggers aren’t even allowed to use profanity; a
single naughty word would put them in violation of the law. Failure to
comply results in a $280 to $1,400 fine as well as a ban on your blog.

The new legislation represents a rather obvious attempt by the Russian
government to shut down all criticism of the Kremlin, particularly from the
left. The government has already granted itself the authority to shut down
any website and used this power to crush popular left-leaning news sites.
With this next step, the Kremlin clearly hopes to scare the smaller fish
into complying with the official party line. And Russia’s insane Internet
crackdown won’t stop with blogs: Starting in 2016, all websites that store
data on Russian citizens will have to move their servers to Russian soil—a
blatant attempt to assert control over social networks and search engines.



The application of this law [on compulsory registration of NGOs receiving
foreign funding as "foreign agents"] against scientific institutions, in
fact, constitutes a professional ban on sociologists. Sociology that does
not affect public opinion (directly or indirectly) is nonsense. Sociology
that does not raise sensitive issues or suggest original answers that run
counter to public opinion is intellectually bankrupt. Sociology that does
not affect management decisions is as defective as governance that does not
use the opportunities of independent social research. Sociology that is
deprived of critical analysis of different “policies” loses connections
with social science and turns into political technology. Sociology that
does not succeed in the competitiveinternational research grant market is
devoid of incentives for growth and is doomed to extinction.

In the modern world, any science that exists in isolation from the global
context loses its ability to develop. All attempts to control global
processes of scientific exchange only lead to the bureaucratization of
science, the flourishing of pseudoscientific theories, and talented and
open-minded scholars leaving the country. The persecution of independent
researchers and research organizations puts an end to the development of a
full-fledged scientific community and leads to the degradation of the
humanities in Russia, which will ultimately result in a deficit of ideas
and strategies for the future of our country.

The law on “foreign agents” is not the only sign of the long-standing
crisis of the Russian administrative and political system. It is embedded
in a series of decisions that aim to expand state control over various
aspects of society and their submission to the bureaucratic logic of the
“vertical” power. We can see this in the introduction of censorship and
persecution of disloyal media, financial and administrative pressure on
public (and especially human rights) organizations, the sterilization of
historical memory (pressure on the “Memorial” and ”Perm 36”), criminal and
administrative persecution for political reasons and independent (not
controlled by the state) activism, dismissal of leading high school
teachers for being disloyal touniversity superiors and many other cases.
Self-censorship is booming in this society, for which survival has become
the main motivation for its members. Overt or non-obvious subjection of
one’s own activity to the goals of the “vertical” power is turning into the
most effective model of behavior.

It is obvious for us that an independent social science is crucial for a
society whose interests are not limited to maintaining stability and
“unity” at any costs. An authoritarian state does not need reflection that
a professional independent research can provide. It is satisfied with VCIOM
polls and various ratings that allow the maintenance of “vertical” tension
and promotion of “patriotism”. Such a regime will inevitably degrade and
become obsolete, but during its heyday it manages to destroy much of what
came before it and exists in spite of it.

We believe that the lack of interest towards the professional opinion of
independent sociological community, which often oppose bureaucratic
perspectives, points to the incompetence of the Russian administration. The
pressure exerted on NGOs and non-governmental scientific centers indicates
that the political administration of our country no longer needs feedback
and has no interest in the actual state of affairs in Russia. This means it
condemns our country to the harsh effects of unreasoned political and
economic decisions.


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