Andrei Nekrasov: Vladislav Surkov and the Ideology of Russia’s New One-Party State

[We are pleased to feature this exclusive special guest column from the Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, the director and producer of “Rebellion, The Litvinenko Case” (which premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival), “Disbelief” (2004), and many other films. Here Nekrasov takes a look at the dialectic of Vladislav Surkov’s “sovereign democracy,” and a critique of the “institutions of latter-day ideological eclectics.” – Robert Amsterdam] Andrei_Nekrasov.jpgThe Ideology of the Sole Party (or «Not Our Ideology») By Andrei Nekrasov The fact that a one-party system is being re-established in one form or another in Russia can be seen with an unaided eye. But I am not in agreement with the idea that the party that has set its sights on the leading role in the new historical tragedy does not have a political face and an ideology from where the legs grow. The opposition, on the other hand, today does not have that comfort and leisure which, apparently, allow for Mr. Surkov’s flights into near-philosophical empyreans; his ideological texts now are worthy of attention not because one ought to respond to them – after all, he himself, it seems, is from that cohort which does not conduct either negotiations or discussions with those who are not with them. But now, when society again finds itself behind the bars of one-partiness, one can and should come to several interesting conclusions from the way this modern-day classicist-careerist implemented the theoretical preparation of this campaign.

At the beginning of the year 2005, I wrote the essay entitled “On the Meaning of the Russian Rebellion,” which was published in Kiev as the book “This – Is revolution!” Someone called its political orientation liberal-patriotic, but now I mention this only in connection with Mr. Surkov’s texts which have appeared since then in the capacity of the ideological substantiation for «sovereign democracy». What Surkov wrote was very similar to the reasoning in my book – but with absolutely opposite conclusions. Russia is chronically behind, our role in the world’s division of labor is primitive, we are strangling in the fetters of the bureaucracy clinging to oil pipelines, and we are suffocating in a vast quagmire of corruption – on this point Vladislav Yurich and your humble servant agree.But one of them makes the straightforward, unoriginal conclusion that the system needs to be changed, the power needs to be changed. While the other finds an extraordinary solution: we need to unconditionally support the power – and Comrade Putin personally!But for my money, Surkov is still head and shoulders above such specimens as Leontiev. And if Putinism were regularly presented on television at least at Surkov’s level, then maybe some kind of roots of discursive culture just might start organically sprouting up in our country. Leontiev, perhaps, may also be capable of working more subtly, and the role he is playing has been simply allocated to him, but just the fact that he’s still not bored of doing it says a lot. surkov2.gifCynicism is a defect not only of the conscience, but of the intellect as well, although under authoritarianism this is less noticeable than under democracy. But the fact that today, the political broadcasts of the audiovisual mass media, with rare exceptions, do not rise even to Surkov’s level is no accident, and not at all simply because editors are afraid the people won’t appreciate Surkov’s “archetypes” and “holism”, and won’t understand references to Kennan and Prigozhin. They’re afraid of something else. They’re afraid that the very structure and nature of the language that they’re testing out in loyal service to the non-democratic power will unwittingly, just in passing, make people think. After all, the struggle, of course, is going on not for ideology, but for speechlessness, which, according to Kant, forces people to ask the nice smart man to do the work of making sense of reality for them. The regime of intelligence operatives, oilmen, and gasmen is in need of consecration by some kind of ideological Kabbalah, but its over-exposure is a high-stakes poker game; if you overshoot the mark, it could lead to incorrect conclusions from Surkov’s admissions, and from Surkov’s unadmitted errors.”Inherent to a Russian’s outlook is a romantic – a poetic, I would say – farsightedness. What is close at hand – a sagging fence, a bad road, garbage in the gateway next door – he sees dimly. But then, brightness in the distance, mirages on the horizon are known in every detail. Devoting more attention to the desired than to the actual, such an outlook on things leads to quests for the sole truth, for higher justice. It creates a sense if not of exclusiveness, then of a distinctiveness, an otherness from one’s neighbors.” (From V. Surkov, “Russian Political Culture“).Garbage in the gateway – nothing to argue with there.Although poetic farsightedness did not get in the way, for example, in Ryazan in that fateful year of 1999, of citizen Kartofelnikov noticing people with suspicious sacks by his house. He, and other inhabitants, and the Ryazan UFSB demonstrated those same analytical abilities which are not very typical, according to Surkov, of the Russian synthetic consciousness, as the result of which were caught the failed terrorists who turned out to be agents of the FSB. Then, as is known, there was the once again untypically analytical NTV television program «Ryazan sugar», in which the majority of the inhabitants of the building expressed distrust in the FSB, which was insisting that the laying of the explosives was for training purposes. Several deputies of the Duma demanded an investigation. Kovalev with Yushenkov created a commission. Litvinenko wrote a book. Trepashkin started poking around in the cases, I shot the film «Disbelief».Everything somehow not in the Russian manner, as Surkov puts it, too analytical, not synthetic somehow… But as a result isn’t everything fine and dandy? The obliterated NTV, blocked inquest in the Duma, intimidated inhabitants and witnesses, the case classified as secret… (Yushenkov and Litvinenko were murdered, Trepashkin locked up – but all this, of course, is unrelated) Now this is already synthetic, this is already “po-russki” – in the Russian manner.Is Mr. Surkov aware, at least in those rare moments when his style remotely aims to invoke sincerity, that he enjoys a dramatically uneven playing field as the opposition has been gagged with all the might of post-Yeltsinite statehood? And is he aware that, at the higher “culturo-civilizational”, “archetypal”, “holistic” level, this gag consists of all the unlawful secret classifications, intimidations, framings and killings? I deem that he is very much aware. And that he calls all this “the sole truth”, or “higher justice”.In the meantime, among the Russian citizens with whom Mr. Surkov has to associate, far from all suffer from poetic farsightedness, suffering sagging fences and “garbage in the gateway.” Decidedly prosaic billionaires pay both for quality fences and for security protection, but most importantly – for a protective ideology, which is very sensible, for no fences with security protection will help prevent a revolution.Surkov is no Suslov and today’s gag is not the total control of one-party of the Brezhnevite type. Today’s one-party system allows Surkov to cite Berdyayev and even Brodsky, while Surkov’s allies, «young guards» soothe the traditional left electorate with pro-Soviet nostalgia. What is this, internal party democracy, or is it already the sovereign one? Yeltsin, Brezhnev, Stalin, Nicholas II, Peter I anyone at all can be turned in the direction needed by the party – but then, this is dialectics, everything is ambiguous after all.Total dialectics with one single objective and value: the Russian State (it goes without saying, with the condition, that l’état, c’est them). Nearly three years ago, in my essay, I recommended to Surkov that he add Hegel to his arsenal. Could it be that he has? Nah, probably this stuff is just floating around in the air. Or perhaps it is wandering around like that haunting ghost. Only old man Hegel had yet another absolute value – freedom. But freedom seems to have gotten lost someplace in the Surkovian clichés that are conning the calculating West and poetic Russia. For the simple reason that the institution of latter-day ideological eclectics can only exist and carry out its propagandistic functions in the absence of freedom.Universal human values do exist. And in the West too (and not only in Germany) there were and are attempts to present chauvinistic mythologies as the source of higher values. But in Russia, what a real, not professional, patriot values in our tradition is not the vertical of power, but love and compassion for people. It is specifically these, expressed by the best of our writers and artists, thinkers and public figures, that are the core of our national self-awareness; love and compassion, and, yes, yes, freedom (read the classics whom you cite more carefully, Mr. Surkov), a dream of freedom from tyranny and bureaucracy, and not a mania of depersonalized imperial grandeur, the lot of slaves and slave owners.