Posted 16 сентября 2021,, 07:29

Published 16 сентября 2021,, 07:29

Modified 25 декабря 2022,, 20:57

Updated 25 декабря 2022,, 20:57

Zemshchina and oprichnina of the 21st century: why we do not understand the lessons of our history

16 сентября 2021, 07:29
Дмитрий Шушарин
The current ecstasy of power, like the obedience of the Zemshchina, will not end well. As one mayor said: “It will just be bad for us, not for the Turks”, - says Dmitry Shusharin.

Dmitry Shusharin, historian

Vladislav Inozemtsev, in his recent discussion of the fatal role of imperial expansion for Russian national genesis, began a discussion of the historical reasons for the current situation in Russia. Joining this discussion, I consider it necessary to express my agreement with the position of Mr. Inozemtsev, having discussed only one detail. The term "imperial expansion", which I also use, is borrowed from the works of the outstanding Russian Byzantine scholar Gennady Litavrin, who pointed to this phenomenon as one of the factors in the destruction of Byzantine statehood. So I'll start with Byzantium. But with its' inner history.

Byzantine autocracy, which, like the Russian autocracy, had nothing in common with later Western European absolutism, was distinguished from Western Europe by the high vertical mobility of the ruling elite. Medieval Western European society took shape in the course of Romano-Germanic synthesis - the legacy of the Roman Empire interacted with what the barbarian tribes brought to Europe. In Russia, there was a Byzantine-Horde synthesis. And the attitude towards the individual, and the attitude towards law, and the attitude towards institutions are still determined by this. Western society with its class barriers and intra-class hierarchy seems stagnant, musty, devoid of the potential for internal development. But how then to explain that the Middle Ages have outlived themselves, began to modernize, led to a long era of revolutions and changes?

To many, of course. But not least because the elite, in its isolation, developed social subjectivity, which became a hereditary value for representatives of different classes, for in different parts of Europe the composition of the ruling elite varied. There was a long way from class subjectivity to personal and national subjectivity, but it was open.

Byzantium, with its conspiracies, coups and changes in the composition of the elite, stopped developing. The subject of change could not be formed, the only possessor of subjectivity in such a society was the basileus, who was under constant threat.

The social mobility of the Russian elite was akin to the Byzantine one; its renewal took place mainly at the initiative of the autocratic government, which never particularly trusted it. The tsarist government could not allow the self-organization of any social group, left for itself the possibility of its replenishment and change, created something outside or above institutions. Ivan the Terrible had a terrorist character. Peter I built his oprichnina differently, trying to create an integral system of power-possessive relations, but he started with amusing regiments, also a kind of oprichnina. Of particular importance was the economic oprichnina of Peter - the expansion of state-owned manufactories and factories designed to prevent the free development of market relations. The first emperor can be considered both the destroyer of the inherited institutionality and the creator of a new one.

Oprichnina in its various manifestations can be called the efforts of the highest power aimed at creating around itself a zone of private law, opposed to public law - state and institutional. It is clear that the question of public-law, written legitimation of the power of the supreme ruler could not arise. She was sacred. If you look closely, zones of private law around the highest power existed in both the Russian and German models of totalitarianism. And it is precisely such a zone that Orwell called the Inner Party in relation to Ingsoz.

Russian parliamentarism was and remains flawed, not real, parodic. Modern European parliamentarianism arose out of the need for agreements between the monarch and the estates in taxation. The Russian autocrats, when they needed to increase the tax base, did not agree with anyone, as, for example, during the secularization of 1764. And in Western Europe, it was the demand for the complicity of the estates in tax policy that initiated the so-called bourgeois revolutions. If we talk about the Russian curse, then it is not a resource, but a sovereign one. Terror, oprichnina, extensive development, the destruction of growth cones in society, economy, culture, which I called the doctrine of Karandyshev - all these are constants of Russian history. The very traditions on which the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Stalin, relied.

What's going on today?

Political scientist Igor Jordan identifies the following stages in the formation of a new political system from September 2004 (the terrorist attack in Beslan) to March 2007 (Putin's Munich speech):

  • reform of the electoral system, elimination of the minimum turnout threshold, prohibition of criticism of opponents, imitation of democratic institutions;
  • the adoption of laws on extremism, equating criticism of government institutions and people in power with extremism and terrorism, as well as a law giving the Russian special services the right to eliminate terrorists and extremists regardless of their location;
  • the emergence of national projects, which boiled down to an increase in funding for a number of socially significant industries and to an increase in corruption; actual bribery of those employed in the public sector;
  • creation of state corporations as a system of sectoral state control with financial opacity of the corporations themselves;
  • the creation of private troops of Gazprom and Transneft as a power reserve of power;
  • the expansion of border zones that went almost unnoticed, sometimes several times, as a result of which almost all oil and gas fields were under the direct control of the FSB; entry into these areas requires special permission from the FSB.

The last point again brings to mind the oprichnina. And you cannot do without this word when describing the situation here and now. I am very grateful to my colleague who drew my attention to the article by Andrey Blokhin.

According to Blokhin's observations, several dozen companies - the largest exporters with access to relatively cheap foreign financing and state financial resources - are actually not limited in cheap (from 0 to about 5%) financing of current needs and their investment projects. The sector includes five to seven largest Russian banks serving the activities of these companies, as well as expenditures from the federal budget and state development institutions. The state invests in this sector and receives fixed assets from it.

The next level is several hundred companies, leaders of industries and sectors of the economy. They have administrative support in sectoral and regional executive bodies and, accordingly, are admitted to part of their budgets.

Below - all the others, forced to attract funding at the highest rate.

According to Blokhin, the factor determining the unevenness of the country's economic development is the isolation of sectors in terms of access to financing: “within the sectors, relatively closed circuits of the turnover of cheap, medium-cost and expensive money have appeared.” The transition from one group to another is impossible, development is excluded. If there is an opportunity to make money by pumping resources from a dependent sector, then there is no point in investing.

This is, in its most general form, the current scheme of exploitation of the zemshchina by the oprichnina. There are many manifestations of such exploitation and the special position of entire industries both within the country and in their foreign economic activity. Among the latest examples are the attempt to create oprichnina agglomerations, the construction of oprichnina cities in the east of Russia, and other megaprojects. It is not so difficult to collect this material solely from open (yet) information. The tightening of the regime, evident from the beginning of 2020, was expected, as was clear only the propaganda nature of all plans, such as national projects, May decrees and others. The government cares exclusively about the sovereign sector; in relation to the rest of the economy, power is a fiscal and repressive force. These are modern oprichnina and zemstvo. And at all times the Zemshchina did not dare to become an independent force capable of self-organization. Even now, when the whole metallurgical industry has got into the plundered zemshchina, not to mention the ruined small business. And what can we say about health care, education, social protection. So it was, so it will be. There are no prerequisites for fundamental changes. Zemshchina will endure everything.

Moreover, the Zemshchina itself still helps the authorities. The oprichnina began with the boyar massacre, but ordinary people in villages and cities suffered most from it. Peter's deeds ravaged the country and engendered corruption. Ordinary citizens made up the bulk of the victims of the Great Terror, which was originally directed against the nomenclature. This is the nature of vertically organized terror, the technology of royal and dictatorial purges - they must reach the foot of the pyramid. But Stalin's great terror also included the mobilization of the masses - ostentatious and effective, rallies and denunciations. Putin also carried out a kind of mobilization, making the frustrating part of society an accomplice in the purge of the elite. This is the whole bulk project, which included the intimidation of the elite ("the party of crooks and thieves"), and the degradation of the opposition to peeping through the keyhole, and Operation Trust-2 - a massive self-infliction of a potentially protest part of society. A negligible part - I must admit.

And the prospects are bleak. Both the oprichnina itself and what may be so called in later times have always led to severe and long-term institutional crises. The Time of Troubles after the death of Ivan the Terrible involved Zemshchina in this crisis. The post-Petrine era of palace coups was limited to palaces, but paved the way for the Pugachev region. And the current ecstasy of power, like the submissiveness of the Zemshchina, will not end well. As one mayor said: "It's just that it will be bad for us, not the Turks".

* Zemshchina - boyar domains under Tsar Ivan the Terrible; Oprichnina - political and administrative apparatus established by Ivan IV.