the geography of de-sovietization & modernization

A recent study conducted by the Carnegie Endowment in Russia and the Caucuses  determined that Stalin – still “commands worryingly high levels of admiration”. The report is littered with incredible bias, including but not limited to accusations about the “Russian Character” that include their dependency issues and lack of  exposure to twitter. However the most interesting accusation, to me,  is the geographical divide between the two parties – those who generally approve of Stalin and those who generally disapprove.

Beyond indifference, in Moscow, 18 percent of those surveyed perceive Stalin positively and 46 percent negatively, while in small towns the figures are 29 percent and 16 percent and in villages the difference is even more striking—35 and 18 percent.

The main reason for this being, in CF’s own words, that de-Sovietized Russians are likely to be:

…products of the new, postindustrial economy that has developed chiefly in Moscow. They belong to the modern globalized world and have learned to assume responsibility for their choice of careers and lifestyles. They have an achiever’s mentality, something the traditional Russian experience could not have taught them.

Here we have a fascinating insight into the mechanizations of the “civilizing” theory of urbanization. To digress for a moment: I only have experience in the Middle East when it comes to truly having dialogue with NA countries, but the city/village divide was coming on strong. In Palestine, it added extra injury to the situation because children leaving their families in the countryside because vacant land is soon seized by the occupation. People had to leave for the cities because that’s where restriction hit the least (almost all of Area A, the part “governed solely” by the Palestinian Authority is located in urban areas) and where jobs were the easiest to find. These émigrés changed the urban landscape as well, turning tight communities where everyone knew each other into frightening possibilities in strangers who had no communal accountability.  Still, both émigré and local would down their noses at “baladeeya”, those from the countryside. In Palestine, the countryside is the root of national identity. Before the occupation, Palestinians were mainly rural.

Now, just like everywhere else in the world, communities are becoming more urbanized. The largest human migration in human history is currently taking place in China, where hundreds of millions have moved from the countryside – once Mao’s seat of power – to the cities. They flock to the promise of jobs, but, more often than not, end up in cheap housing, sometimes considered “slums” on the outskirts of town.

The culture that has sprung up around this phenomenon is that of the modern urban dweller (not citizen) – those more “plugged in” to the global economy, are more sophisticated and informed than those who live in the countryside where life is more backwards. As the $300m Carnegie Endowment for Peace says:

The key point here is not so much that Russia’s poor, depressed, stagnating, and often declining provinces are a repository of Soviet-style thinking, but the reasons behind those attitudes. These areas lack social diversity, most communication is basic and personal, and the price of human life is very low. A few institutions (mainly schools and television stations) compensate for the lack of development by indoctrinating citizens with collective symbols and ideas. In big cities, by contrast, increasing individualism and more complex social interactions lead to a rejection of the myth of Stalin, not just indifference to it. (Emphasis mine) 

The city, therefore, is the factory in which the 21st century human being is made. Stalin had gulags and was the head of a system that killed a lot of people, sure. He was also the head of a system that did indeed win the Great Patriotic War. The city seeks to erase this, make the former vestiges of what was once a point of fact into a lesson on individualism.

Stalin’s death was accompanied by an outpouring of public grief. In a last act of mass murder on March 9, 1953, the deceased tyrant caused hundreds of deaths as hysterical mourners were crushed and trampled in the gigantic crowds trying to take a last look at Stalin’s body.

This kind of contempt for the people parallels with the photos of mourning we see being published from Venezuela. Collectivization is a source of  shame and hysteria, the countryside and villages are bastions of backwardness. The people don’t know anything, they are dumb animals who will trample each other and languish in stagnation. The individual is the only subject to address, the only being with rationality. The hope for the future is found in a new economy based in the cities, where access to individualism and “complex social interactions” (not defined in this paper) will pull the backwards, collective-thinking global countryside into the slums and black markets – both considered admirable examples of free trade in neoliberal literature – of the 21st century.

Instead of looking at the material conditions of the countryside, where support of Stalin has risen over the last decade, the paper assigns racist and classist attitudes towards rural lifestyles and traditions. The mass automation of farming and industrialized slaughter of livestock has led to the impoverishment of billions worldwide who are left with little choice but to move into urban centers and engage in cheap manufacturing or service-based livelihoods. Their lives were probably better under the Soviets. Yet it is not their collective conditions to be examined, rather, their individual attitudes.

For the first time in recorded history, more humans live in cities than in rural areas. The idea of the “citizen” is stripped away as collective society disappears and the notion of dwellers as consumers is adopted. They are not entitled to anything and should expect nothing from anyone – an individual, after all, is responsible for his own well-being. If the trajectory of the global economy continues, then the folks over at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace have nothing to worry about – Stalin should be dead soon.

One response to “the geography of de-sovietization & modernization

  1. wonderful post, thanks

    having a mother from a village was really about the only ‘civilizing’ influence i’ve ever had

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