Bolshevik roots of Russia’s civil society repression


JODoct15Russian society, long unaccustomed to participating in civic organizations, will now be further discouraged from doing so by fear, says analyst Anne Applebaum. Very soon, it may become difficult to found, run, or join an independent organization of any kind at all in Russia; the only “legitimate” organizations will be run by the state, she writes in the latest Journal of Democracy.

She outlines the Leninist ideological roots of recent measures to proscribe non-governmental as “foreign agents” and to shut down “undesirable” foreign organizations of any kind, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

As part of the Journal’s ongoing coverage of resurgent authoritarianism, she delves into the Bolshevik roots of Russia’s efforts to crush independent civil society.

The question now is whether other postcommunist societies—and indeed the many other societies heavily influenced by Soviet ideology—will take a similar route, she writes:

Most of the Central European and Baltic countries that made it into the European Union seem likely to maintain the right to organize freely (although Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has fulminated against the existence of some independent organizations in Hungary that receive money from abroad). The civic sector is also very strong in Ukraine, drawing on pre-Soviet Ukrainian traditions of self-help and peasant organizations. But in Belarus, Central Asia, China, Cuba, parts of Africa, and much of the Arab world, those in power remain attached to the old Bolshevik idea that independent civic institutions are a threat to the state.

“There is an irony here, for in their most important goals, the Bolsheviks failed,” she adds. “They never did succeed in carrying out an international communist revolution, their economic theories have been discredited, and central planning is no more. But Lenin’s narrower ideas about civil society live on in places as varied as Beijing, Cairo, Havana, Minsk, Pyongyang, and Tashkent—proving, perhaps, that they were always the most potent and dangerous of all.”

Ben_WittesPutin’s repression of civil society is one reason why Brookings analyst Benjamin Wittes (right) wants to expose him as a “wuss,” Fiscal Times reports.

In a Facebook post, he wrote, “[Y]es, there is a serious side to all of this. As the great Putin biographer Fiona Hill explained recently on the Lawfare Podcast, these displays of masculinity are important to Putin’s image domestically. In my opinion, they are also deeply connected to his aggression against his neighbors, his repression of dissidents, and his grotesque treatment of the LGBT community in Russia.”

“So all I’m saying is this: Man up, dude! Either fight a reasonably well-trained but not especially expert middle aged martial artist in a situation in which he’s actually allowed to kick your ass without fear of reprisal, or face condemnation worldwide as a wuss,” Wittes added:

Putin_in_judo_uniform“It is real,” Wittes said in an interview Monday. “I am prepared to meet him mano a mano any time, any place he lacks the jurisdiction to have me arrested. Everything else is negotiable. The style, the rules. I’ll work with the Kremlin on that.”

Wittes, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog, has trained as a martial artist himself, and he thinks Putin is a fraud. “He is a phony martial artist who uses these displays of masculinity as a legitimation device of his rule. If you take a close look at any of those videos, what you’ll see is that he’s not repelling devoted attacks. These are very short clips designed to make him look good. I can’t promise that I will kick his ass, but I can promise I won’t try to make him look good,” he says. Wittes, who holds a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo, describes himself as “proficient but not especially high-ranking” on the scale of martial arts expertise.


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