The Future Is History? How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia


“This is what the Putin regime represents: an entire society psychologically damaged and unwilling to come to terms with its own past, leading to a widespread depression and belief that the country has no future,” notes Francis Fukuyama, a senior fellow and the Mosbacher director of the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford.

That’s the impression left by Masha Gessen’s latest book, “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” he writes for The New York Times:

Credit: YouTube

The most sinister figure in “The Future Is History” is Alexander Dugin {right], an intellectual who hated the Soviet regime and plunged into promiscuous reading of philosophical books, beginning with Nietzsche and Heidegger, once that became possible. ….. Dugin was unmoored from any deep intellectual traditions, and like many self-educated people, began to wander off in some strange directions. When he could finally travel, he ended up consorting with a group of Western New Right thinkers whose underlying theme was hatred of liberal modernity and the worship of tradition. From there, Dugin invented something called Eurasianism, a mishmash of Russian culture, authoritarian government and worship of a strong leader. Today, he would like to cast himself as the unofficial ideologist of the Putin government.

But the ideological dimension is missing, adds Fukuyama, a National Endowment for Democracy board member. “One cannot really label Russia as totalitarian in the absence of a strongly mobilizing ideology,” he insists.

Lev Gudkov: RFE/RL

Gessen recounts how sociologist Lev Gudkov’s surveys for the Levada Center revealed the existence of homo sovieticus. 

Her reconstruction of the ongoing saga of Russia’s reversion to vozhdizm makes for thrilling and necessary reading for those who seek to understand the path to suppression of individual freedoms, and who recognize that this path can be imposed on any nation that lacks the vigilance to avert it, one reviewer notes.

Gessen takes turns focusing on four particular earnest brave resisters to the totalitarianism of their country, Zhanna, Masha, Seryozha, and Lyosha, adds reviewer Bob Blaisdell:

They’re more similar to Greek mythic tragic heroes, like Antigone, Electra, and Orestes – smart and capable, admirable for their persistence and integrity, and for their necessary courage in opposition to tyranny. …..Zhanna’s father, Boris Nemtsov, a politician regarded as dangerous by the Kremlin because of his faith in democracy, was assassinated in 2015 in front of Red Square, his murder covered up by the government. Lyosha, a careful, cool, optimistic gay rights advocate and sociology professor, has had to move to New York for fear of his life.

Totalitarian return ‘unlikely’

The West must defend its values against Putin’s Russia, argues Vygaudas Ušackas, the outgoing EU ambassador to Russia, especially when ‘inside Russia, we are likely to witness the continued rejection of the cornerstones of European democracy, including civil society activism, freedom of speech and political pluralism,” he writes for The Guardian.

“In the 1930s the USSR was totalitarian but gradually evolved into a normal authoritarian system, while the post-Soviet Russian Federation evolved from a competitive authoritarian to a normal authoritarian system in the first decade of the twenty-first century,” argues William Zimmerman. In Ruling Russia, he “traces how the selectorate—those empowered to choose the decision makers—changed across different regimes since the end of tsarist rule….. While a return to totalitarianism in the coming decade is unlikely, so too is democracy,” he concludes.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email