Vladislav Surkov: Putin’s long-lasting state


"It only seems that we have a choice." These words are strikingly bold and deep.

Pronounced a decade and a half ago, they are forgotten and not quoted today. However, according to the laws of psychology, what we have forgotten affects us much more than what we remember. Extending far beyond the context in which they sounded, these words became the first axiom of the new Russian statehood and the foundation of all theories and practices of contemporary politics.

The illusion of choice is the most important of all illusions, being the main trick of the Western way of life in general, and Western democracy in particular, which has long been committed to the ideas of Barnum rather than Cleisthenes. In the first place, rejecting this illusion in favor of realism of predestination led our society to reflecting on its own, special and sovereign version of democratic development. Then, it completely lost interest in discussions on what democracy should be and whether it should exist at all.

The ways of free state-building were opened. It was directed not by imported chimeras, but by the logic of historical processes, by the very “art of the possible”. Though a bit late, but the impossible, unnatural and counter-historical disintegration of Russia was firmly brought to an end. Having collapsed from the level of the USSR to the level of the Russian Federation, Russia stopped breaking and began to recover.  Finally, it returned to its natural and only possible position of a great, expanding and land-gathering community of nations. The role assigned to our country in world history will not let us leave the stage or keep quiet in the crowd scene. Neither does it promise peace. It also predetermines the complicated character of the local statehood.

There we are - the state of Russia goes on, and now this is a state of a new type that we have not experienced yet. Formed generally by the middle of 2000s, it is still not studied well enough, but its uniqueness and viability are obvious. Stress tests, which it passed and is still passing, indicate that it is this very organically shaped model of political structure that will become an efficient way of survival and glorification of the Russian nation for the next years, decades, and most likely for the whole coming century.

Thus, the Russian history has witnessed four basic state models that can be conventionally named after their creators: the state of Ivan III (Grand Principality of Moscow and of all Rus, XV – XVII); the state of Peter the Great (Russian Empire, XVIII – XIX); the state of Lenin (Soviet Union, XX); the state of Putin (Russian Federation, XXI). Created by people of “long will”, to put it in Gumilev’s manner, these huge political machines, replacing each other, repairing and adapting on the run steadily promoted the Russian world higher and higher over the centuries.

Putin’s grand political machine is only gaining momentum and preparing for a long-lasting, hard and interesting work. It will start functioning at its full capacity in the long run. Therefore, years later, Russia will still be Putin’s state, just as modern France keeps calling itself the Fifth Republic of de Gaulle, Turkey (although the country is ruled by anti-Kemalists) still rests on Atatürk’s Six Arrows ideology, and the United States continue applying the images and values of semi-legendary Founding Fathers.

It is necessary to realize, comprehend and describe Putin’s system of government and the whole complex of ideas and dimensions of Putinism as the ideology of the future. Future ideology it is indeed, as today's Putin is hardly a Putinist, just as, for instance, Marx was not a Marxist. One may wonder, if the latter would have agreed to be one had he learnt what it would imply. However, it should be done for everyone who is not Putin, but strives to be like him. Is should be done to ensure transferring of his methods and approaches in the times to come.

The description should not be performed in the style of ours-theirs propaganda, but in a language that both Russian officialism and anti-Russian officialdom would perceive as moderately heretical. Such a language can become acceptable for a fairly wide audience, which is excellent because Russia-made political system is suitable not only for domestic future. Obviously, it has a substantial export potential:   there is certain demand for it or for its specific components. Its experience is being investigated and partially adopted. Both ruling and opposition groups try to imitate it in many countries.

Foreign politicians ascribe to Russia interference in elections and referendums across the globe. In fact, the matter is even more serious - Russia intervenes in their brains, and they do not know what to do with their altered consciousness. After the failed 90s, our country abandoned the idea of ideological loans, began to produce meanings itself and launched its information counterattack against the West. Following that, European and American experts happen to make mistakes in their forecasts more often. They are surprised and enraged by the paranormal preferences of the electorate. Being confused, they announced the invasion of populism. One can call it so, if there is nothing else to say.

Meanwhile, the interest of foreigners in the Russian political algorithm is clear - there is no prophet in their homelands. Besides that, Russia has long ago predicted what is happening to them today.

When they were still crazy about globalization and made loud claims about a flat world without borders, Moscow transparently hinted that sovereignty and national interests really matter. Many of them accused us of a “naive” attachment to these old-fashioned things. They taught us that there is no need to stick to the values of the ХIХ century. They told us to step bravely into the ХХI century with no sovereign nations and national states. However, the ХХI century turned out to be our way. Brexit, the American “#greatagain” thing, the anti-immigration fencing of Europe are only the first points of a long list of widespread manifestations of de-globalization, restoring sovereignty and nationalism.

When the Internet was praised here and there as an untouchable space of unlimited freedom, where everyone supposedly can do everything and all are presumably equal, it was Russia that asked the sobering question to the fooled humanity: "Who are we in the global net - spiders or flies?" Today, everyone rushed to unravel the network, including the most freedom-loving bureaucracies. Moreover, they now accuse Facebook of indulging foreign interventions. Once free virtual space, advertised as a prototype of the coming paradise, it is now captured and divided by cyberpolice and cybercrime, cyberarmies and cyberspies, cyberterrorists and cybermoralists.

When the hegemony of the "hegemon" was not contested by anyone and the great American dream of world domination was almost fulfilled and many fancied the end of history with the final remark "peoples are voiceless", the silence was suddenly broken by the Munich speech. It could seem dissident, but today everything expressed in it is taken for granted - everyone is dissatisfied with America, including Americans themselves.

Not so long ago, the little-known term derin devlet from the Turkish political vocabulary was replicated by American media as deep state, and then was spread in our media. The term means harsh and completely undemocratic network organization of the real power of security structures concealed behind the external, parading democratic institutions. It is the mechanism that functions through violence, bribery and manipulation and is hidden deep beneath the surface of civil society. The latter, by the way, verbally condemns (hypocritically or ingenuously) manipulation, bribing and violence.

Anyway, having found an unpleasant “deep state” inside their country, Americans were not surprised much, since they had long been aware of its presence. If there are deep net and dark net, why not introduce a deep state or even a dark state? From the depths and darkness of this discrete and reserved power, the bright mirages of democracy made for the masses emerge - illusion of choice, sense of freedom, feeling of superiority, etc.

Mistrust and envy, used by democracy as priority sources of social energy, necessarily lead to an absolutization of criticism and an increase in anxiety level. Haters, trolls, and wicked bots formed a shrieking majority, pushing back the honorable middle class that once set a completely different tone.

Nowadays, no one believes in the good intentions of public politicians. People are jealous and, therefore, consider political figures vicious, cunning, and even rogues. Such well-known series about politics as “Boss” or “House of Cards” draw naturalistic images of the establishment's dull everyday life.

Rogues should not be allowed to go too far for the simple reason that they are rogues. And when there are only rogues around (presumably), one will need other rogues to restrain them. Fight fire with fire; fight a rogue against a rogue... There is a wide range of scoundrels and tangled rules designed to reduce their struggle to a draw. Thus, there arises the beneficent system of checks and balances - the dynamic equilibrium of meanness, the balance of greed, and the harmony of trickery. If someone gets too involved in the game and breaks the harmony, the cautious deep state hurries to the rescue and with an invisible hand pulls the apostate to the bottom.

In fact, there is nothing terrible in the proposed image of Western democracy; just change the angle of view slightly and it will not scare again. However, the bitter taste can still be felt, and a Westerner turns his/her head in search of other models and ways of existence. And there it is: Russia.

Undoubtedly, our system, as well as everything of our origin, does not look more elegant, but it is more honest instead. Although not for everyone the words “more honest” are synonymous with “better”, they still attract attention.

Our state is not divided into deep and external; with all its parts and manifestations, it is built to be exposed. The most brutal designs of its security frame go straight along the facade, not covered by any architectural excesses. The bureaucracy, even when cheating, does not do it very carefully, as if assuming that "everyone understands everything."

High internal tension connected with possessing huge heterogeneous spaces, and the constant presence in the heart of geopolitical struggle make the state's military and police functions crucial and decisive. They are traditionally not hidden. On the contrary, Russia demonstrates them, since our country has never been ruled by merchants (almost never, except a few months in 1917 and several years in the 1990s) that place military art inferior to trade and liberals that accompany merchants. Liberals' dogma, in turn, implies rejection of everything at least close to "police." There was no one to veil the truth with illusions, shyly pushing back and hiding deeper the immanent function of any state - to be a weapon of defense and attack.

There is no deep state in Russia, it is all in sight, but there is a deep nation.

On a glossy surface, the elite is shining. Over the centuries, it has been actively (we must pay tribute to it) involving people in some of its activities - party meetings, wars, elections, economic experiments. People participate in the events, but are a bit detached, without showing off, living a completely different life in their own depth. Two national lives, superficial and deep, sometimes pass in opposite directions, sometimes coincide, but never merge into one.

One never knows what the deep nation has in minds. It is inaccessible to sociological polls, agitation, threats and other methods of direct study and influence. It often happens late and unexpectedly for those who are not able to do anything to understand its essence, thoughts and desires.

Not many social scientists will take the challenge to accurately determine whether the deep nation is equal to the population or it is just a part of it, and if so, which part? At various periods, peasants, proletarians, non-partisans, hipsters, and state employees were thought to be deep nation. It was “sought”, it was “entered”. It was called God-bearer, and vice versa. Sometimes it was decided to be fictional and non-existent, so some galloping reforms were adopted without taking it into account. However, it made them hurt, leading to a conclusion that "there must be something." It repeatedly retreated under the pressure of internal or external invaders, but always returned.

With its gigantic super-mass, deep nation creates an irresistible force of cultural gravity. That force connects the nation and attracts (presses) its elite (that tries to soar cosmopolitanly from time to time) to the ground (to its native land).

Nationality, whatever it may mean, precedes statehood, predetermines its form, limits the theorists' fantasies, and forces practitioners to certain actions. It is a powerful center of attraction that inevitably pulls all political trajectories. In Russia, one may start with anything - conservatism, socialism, liberalism, but it will more or less have the same ending. Actually, it is what we experience now.

The ability to hear and understand the nation, to see it through its full depth and act accordingly is the unique and main advantage of the state of Putin. It corresponds to the people, it shares their way. This means that the state is not subject to destructive overloads from the oncoming currents of history. Therefore, it is effective and durable.

In the new system, all institutions are subordinated to the main task - trusting communication and interaction of the supreme ruler with citizens. Various branches of power converge to the personality of the leader. They do not pose a value just by themselves, but only to the extent that they provide ties with him. In addition to them, informal ways of communication work around the formal structures and elite groups. And when stupidity, backwardness or corruption become obstacles for communication with people, vigorous measures are taken to restore the lines.

The multilevel political institutions adopted from the West are sometimes regarded as partly ritual. They are applied just to be “like everyone else”, so that the differences in our political culture do not strike our neighbors so much, do not irritate and frighten them. They are like a solemn dress or suit that you wear to look good in front of strangers while at home we wear what we really like.

In fact, the society trusts only the leader. It is hard to say whether it is a matter of pride of a nation that has never been conquered or it is the desire to straighten the paths of truth or something else, but this is a fact and not a new one. What is new is that the state does not ignore that peculiarity, takes it into account and proceeds from it in its endeavors.

It is worth mentioning that it would be an oversimplification to reduce the topic to the simple "faith in the good tsar." The deep nation is not naive at all and hardly considers good nature as royal dignity. It rather could think of the right ruler the same as Einstein said about God: "Sophisticated but not malicious."

The modern model of the Russian state begins with trust and rests on trust. This is its fundamental difference from the Western pattern that cultivates mistrust and criticism. And this is also the source of its strength.

In the new century, our new state will have a long-lasting and glorious history. It will not break. It will act in its own way, receive and keep prizes in the major league of geopolitical struggle. Sooner or later, all those who demand Russia to "change behavior" will have to accept it. After all, it only seems that they have a choice.