What Vladimir Putin loves

Among my old Marxist contemporaries, I have noticed a transference — nearly always unacknowledged — of love for the old Soviet Union to today's Russian Federation.  Accordingly, they have transferred much of their affection for Lenin to Putin.

Admiration for the Bolshevism of 1917 naturally entails jubilation at the downfall of the exploitative tsarist regime.  The face — "snoot" is the appropriate term, say my acquaintances — of anti-Bolshevik resistance belonged at that time to General Anton Denikin (1872–1947).  He commanded the White Army from 1918, fighting for the restoration of the Romanov Empire.  Denikin blamed the Bolshevik revolution not on the enormous Youth Bulge of his homeland, but on its Jews.  In 1920, he escaped to Belgium.  In 1945, he emigrated to the USA.

Almost all my left-wing acquaintances are unaware that in 2009, Putin visited Denikin's grave in Moscow's Donskoi Monastery, to which Putin had had Denikin's body transported from Ann Arbor (Michigan) in October 2005.  Like all officials of the former Soviet Union, Putin, the KGB man, had been brought up to hate the anti-Bolshevist Denikin.  By laying a wreath on Denikin's memorial stone, however, the Kremlin leader finally turned his back on Lenin, and even more so on Yeltsin, to whom he owed his office.

The former had preserved the Russian Empire but had undermined it, Putin is convinced now, by granting autonomy to minorities.  Only later, and only partially, did Russianness regain its old prerogatives.  Then, however, Yeltsin, by preventing the Great Russian coup attempt of August 1991, stalled the revival of the empire.  He finally dissolved it in December 1991, unconditionally distributing its territory to the old Soviet nationalities.  To Putin, this was a tragedy.  For him, communism did not go down with the Soviet Union.  It never existed anyway.  In truth, the Russian Empire, which had merely camouflaged itself with communist colors, went down.

On May 24, 2009, Putin told the Russian people, "Have you read Denikin's diaries?  Do read [them], by all means!"  Denikin wrote about Great Russia, growing out of the 16th-century Grand Duchy of Moscow, and Little Russia — that is, Ukraine.  He believed that the two lands belonged indissolubly together, a union that must not be damaged by the granting of minority rights.  That is why in 2009 Putin implored his compatriots: "Nobody should be allowed to meddle in relations between us.  This has always been a matter for Russia itself!"

Out of 146 million inhabitants of the Russian Federation, only 116 million are actually Russian.  Among 42 million Ukrainians, there are also only 7 million Russians.  This profile is roughly equal to the demography — and also the economy — of Mexico (33 million children under 15 versus 26 million in Russia in 2020), which, however, cannot wipe out humanity with nuclear weapons.  Right in Moscow, Alexander Sokurov — Russia's most respected intellectual and winner of the Golden Lion in Venice for his Faust film — reminded Putin in December 2021 that ethnic minorities within the Federation are afraid of Russians.  If they want to leave, he said, they should be allowed to go.  In reply, Putin — who adores Sukurov — warned the director harshly.  He accused him of trying to shrink the Russian Empire to the Grand Duchy of Moscow.  Putin made clear that his empire is not to become like the former empires of Western Europe.  All the conquests of the tsars that are still under his power, he wants to keep forever.

Putin's first declaration of war on Ukraine was made almost thirteen years ago.  It certainly stems from an amour folle that would rather take the life of the adored love than lose it to others.  To some extent, this is understandable, because Russia has had less time to process the pain of separation than other imperialist countries.  The empires of the Germans and Austrians went down as early as 1918.  The Western Allies followed suit in 1970, and Portugal did not give up its empire until 1974.  The Western left was always on the side of the rebelling colonies, most of which communicate in the same languages as the master countries.

The Muscovite empire, which did not sink until 1991, has not yet been seriously analyzed by its old Marxist defenders.  Putin recognized its character as Russia, with all territories ever conquered in 2009 at the latest, and fell in love with it.

Perhaps 2022 will be the year in which Putin's left-wing admirers become frightened by the implications of their worship of Denikin, who used to be their devil up to 1991.  By supporting Ukraine's independence, Marxist admirers of Putin can finally return to their anti-colonialist roots.

Gunnar Heinsohn (b. 1943) introduced the subject of war demography at the NATO Defense College (NDC/Rome) in 2011 and taught it until 2020.

Image: Vladimir Putin via Flickr, CC BY 3.0.

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