Editor’s note – Due to popular demand, the below Surkov essay’s translation has been entirely cleaned up, clarified, and where needed with respect to certain political-science and historical references and concepts which by themselves require a certain understanding, these are annotated by myself. Therefore, the below is the best existing translation of the now viral Surkov essay, which FRN holds to be at least in part a ‘tell-all’.
Vladislav Surkov was First Deputy Chief of the Russian Presidential Administration from 1999 to 2011, during which time he was widely seen as the main ideologist of the Kremlin who proposed and implemented the concept of sovereign democracy in Russia. From December 2011 until May 2013 Surkov served as the Russian Federation’s Deputy Prime Minister.
In this explosive tell-all piece, Surkov reveals that Russia’s democracy – like ALL democracies – are essentially illusory systems created to lend legitimacy within the age – this age, but one coming to an end – where democracy itself equals legitimization. Nevertheless, the Russian model of this illusion – ‘Sovereign Democracy’ – is a much more attractive model to countries emerging from peripheral and neocolonial status, as we have moved past the post-WWII era; one which Russia has exported not by force but incidentally and by example.
Published on: Feb 16, 2019
“It only seems that we have a choice.” This statement is striking in both depth and boldness. Said a decade and a half ago, today they are forgotten and not quoted. But according to the laws of psychology, what we have forgotten affects us much more than what we remember. And these words, going far beyond the context in which they sounded, became as a result the first axiom of the new Russian statehood, on which all theories and practices of topical politics are built.
The illusion of choice is the most important of illusions, the main trick of the Western way of life in general and of Western democracy in particular, which has long been committed to the ideas of Barnum rather than Cleisthenes. The rejection of this illusion in favor of realism of predestination led our society first to reflect on its own, special, sovereign version of democratic development, and then to the complete loss of interest in discussions on what democracy should be and whether it should be.
It is necessary to understand, comprehend and describe Putin’s system of government and in general the whole complex of ideas and dimensions of Putinism as the ideology of the future. It is the future, since the real Putin is hardly a Putinist, just as, for example, Marx is not a Marxist and is not a fact that he would agree to be if he knew what it is.
The paths of free state-building were opened, directed not by imported chimeras, but by the logic of historical processes, thereby the “art of the possible. Impossible, unnatural and counter-historical disintegration of Russia was, albeit belatedly, but firmly stopped. Having collapsed from the level of the USSR to the level of the Russian Federation, Russia stopped collapsing, began to recover and returned to its natural and only possible state of a great, increasing and gathering land community of nations. The immodest role assigned to our country in world history does not allow us to leave the stage or keep silent in the crowd, does not promise peace and predetermines the uneasy character of the local statehood.
And now – the state of Russia continues, and now this is a state of a new type, which we have not yet had before. Formed into a whole from the midst of nothingness, it is still little studied, but its originality and viability are obvious. Stress tests, which it passed and pass, show that just such an organically formed model of political structure will be an effective means of survival and elevation of the Russian nation for the next not only years, but also decades, and most likely for the whole coming century.
Thus, the Russian history is known for four main models of the state, which can be conventionally called by the names of their creators: the state of Ivan the Third (Grand Duchy / Kingdom of Moscow and the whole of Russia, 15th through 17th centuries); the state of Peter the Great (Russian Empire, 18th through 19th centuries); the state of Lenin (Soviet Union, twentieth century); Putin’s state (Russian Federation, 21st century). Created by the people’s, to put it in Gumilev’s style, “strong determination”, these big political machines, replacing each other, being repaired and adapted as they went, century after century, provided the Russian world with a stubborn upward movement.
Putin’s big political machine is only gaining momentum and tuning in for a long, difficult and interesting job. Its output at full capacity is far ahead, so that after many years Russia will still be Putin’s state, just as modern France still calls itself the Fifth Republic of de Gaulle, Turkey (despite the fact that the anti-Kemalists of the old way are in power there now) still relies on Atatürk’s Six Arrows ideology, and the United States is still addressing the images and values of the semi-legendary founding fathers.
It is necessary to understand, comprehend and describe Putin’s system of government and in general the whole complex of ideas and dimensions of Putinism as the ideology of the future. It is the future, since the real Putin is hardly a Putinist, just as, for example, Marx is not a Marxist and is not a fact that he would agree to be if he knew what it is. But this must be done for everyone who is not Putin, but would like to be like him. For the possibility of broadcasting his methods is approaching in the coming times.
The description should not be executed in the style of two propaganda, ours and ours, 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 required, since the political system made in Russia is suitable not only for a home future, it clearly has significant export potential, the demand for it or for its individual components already exists, its experience is being studied and partially they adopt, they imitate both ruling and opposition groups 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 interferes in their brains, and they do not know what to do with their own altered consciousness. Since, after the failed 90s, our country abandoned ideological loans, it began to produce its own meanings and moved to an information counteroffensive against the West, European and American experts began to err in their forecasts more and more often. They are surprised and enraged by the paranormal preferences of the electorate. Confused, they announced the invasion of populism. You can say so, if there are no words.
Meanwhile, the interest of foreigners in the Russian political algorithm is clear – there is no prophet in their homelands, and today everything that is happening to them has long been predicted by Russia.
When they were still crazy about globalization and making noises about a single world without borders, Moscow clearly reminded that sovereignty and national interests matter. At that time, many people accused us of a “naive” attachment to these old things, supposedly long gone out of fashion. They taught us that there is nothing to hold on to the values of the nineteenth century, but we must bravely step into the twenty-first century, where there would supposedly be no sovereign nations and nation-states. In the twenty-first century, however, it was our way. The English Brexit, the American “#MAGA”, anti-immigration fencing of Europe are only the first items of an extensive list of ubiquitous manifestations of de-globalization, re-sovereignization and nationalism.
When at every corner the Internet was praised as an inviolable space of unrestricted freedom, where everyone supposedly can do everything and where everyone is supposedly equal, it was from Russia that the sobering question to the fooled humanity sounded: “And who are we in the world wide web – spiders or flies?” everyone rushed to unravel the Network, including the most freedom-loving bureaucracies, and to accuse Facebook of indulgence in foreign interventions. Once free virtual space, advertised as a prototype of the coming paradise, captured and demarcated by cyberpolice and cybercrime, cyberweights 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 the end of history was pronounced with the final remark “the people are pacified” was imagined by many, the Munich speech suddenly sounded in the ensuing silence. Then it seemed turned on its head, today everything expressed in it seems to be taken for granted – everyone, including the Americans themselves, are dissatisfied with America.
Not so long ago, the little-known term derin devlet from the Turkish political dictionary was replicated by American media, translated into English as deep state, and from there it was distributed to our media. In Russian it was called the “embedded” or “deep state.” The term refers to the rigid, absolutely undemocratic network organization of the real power of power structures hidden behind the external, exposed democratic institutions. A mechanism, in practice, acting through violence, bribery and manipulation and hidden deep beneath the surface of civil society, verbally (hypocritically or ingenuously) manipulation, bribing and condemning violence.
Having found an unpleasant “deep state” inside, the Americans, however, were not particularly surprised, because they had long been aware of its presence. If there is a deep net and dark net, why not be a deep state or even a dark state? From the depths and darknesses of this non-public and non-publicized power, the bright mirages of democracy made there for the masses emerge – the illusion of choice, the feeling of freedom, the 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 the level of anxiety. Celebrity pundits, trolls, and evil bots that joined them formed a shrill majority, displacing from the dominant position the honorable middle class that once set a completely different tone.
Now, no one believes in the good intentions of public politicians, they are jealous of them and therefore are considered to be vicious, crafty people, or even bastards. Famous politographic series like “Boss” or “House of Cards” respectively draw naturalistic pictures of the dull everyday life of the establishment.
A bastard should not be allowed to go too far for the simple reason that he is a bastard. And when the circle of (presumably) some bastards, works to deter other bastards, they have to use the bastards same tactics. A wedge against a wedge, a scoundrel is kicked out by a scoundrel … There is a wide choice of scoundrels and intricate rules designed to reduce their struggle among themselves to a more or less tied result. Thus arises the beneficent system of checks and balances – the dynamic equilibrium of baseness, the balance of greed, the harmony of trickery. If someone still flirts and behaves disharmoniously, the vigilant deep state hurries to the rescue and with an invisible hand drags the apostate to the bottom.
There is really nothing terrible in the proposed image of Western democracy, but it is sufficient to slightly change the angle of view, and it will once again be scary. But the sediment remains, and the westerner begins to twist his head in search of other patterns and ways of existence. And he sees Russia.
Our system, as well as our whole, looks, of course, not more elegant, but more honest. And although not for all the word “more honest” is synonymous with the word “better”, it is not without appeal.
Our state is not divided into deep and external, it is built entirely, all its parts and manifestations are out in the open. The most brutal designs of its power frame go straight along the facade, not covered by any architectural excesses. The bureaucracy, even when cunning, does not do it very carefully, as if on the assumption that “still everyone understands everything.”
High internal tension associated with the retention of huge heterogeneous spaces, and constant stay in the thick of the geopolitical struggle make the military-police functions of the state important and decisive. They are not traditionally hidden, but on the contrary, they demonstrate, since Russia has never been ruled by merchants (almost never, exceptions – a few months in 1917 [ i.e the Kerensky government – ed, J. Flores] and several years in the 1990s), which consider warfare less than trade, and accompanying merchants are liberals, whose teaching is based on the denial of any [real governmental role – ed] except as acting as some “policeman.” There was no one to drape truth with illusions, to shyly push into the background and hide the deeper than immanent property of any state – to be an instrument of defense and attack.
There is no deep state in Russia, it is all in sight, but there is a deep-seated nation.
The elite shines on a glossy surface, century after century, it is actively (we must give it its due) involving people in some of its activities – party meetings, wars, elections, economic experiments. The people participate in the events, but are somewhat detached, they are not shown on the surface, living in their own depths with a completely different life. Two national lives, superficial and deep, sometimes live in opposite directions, sometimes coinciding, but never merging into one.
The people, the ‘deep-seated people’ [Surkov is, to be clear, contrasting the idea of a ‘deep state’ with a ‘deep people’, deep-seated meaning ‘beneath the surface’, and the people being the fount of society itself – ed, J. Flores] live within their own world, they are inaccessible to sociological polls, impervious to campaigning, to threats, and other methods of direct study and influence. Understanding who he is, what he thinks and what he wants, often comes suddenly and late, and not to those who can do something.
On rare occasion social scientists will take to the task of determining exactly whether the deep-seated people is the same thing as the population or instead is just a part of it, and if so, which part? At different times, it was taken that these were the peasants, then the proletarians, the non-partisan, the hipsters, and the state employees. They were “looked for”, and they “went” to him. They called the ‘deep-seated people’ the ‘God-bearer’ [Theotokos – the Virgin Mary – ed, J. Flores], and vice versa [the people bestowed that on various social scientists – a reference to Marx? – ed]. Sometimes it was decided that concept of the people was a fictional construct and did not exist in reality [this is a reference to Thatcher’s infamous claim ‘there is no such thing as society], they began some galloping reforms without considering the real needs of the people, but quickly broke their own skulls on the people, coming to the conclusion that “there is something there after all”. The people repeatedly retreated under the pressure of this or that invader, but always returned in force as the people.
With its gigantic super-mass, the ‘deep people’ create an irresistible force of cultural gravity, which connects the nation and attracts (presses) to the earth (to their native land) the elite themselves, who from time to time are trying to soar in a cosmopolitan fashion.
Whatever the meaning of the nation, it precedes statehood, predetermines its form, limits the theorists’ fantasies, and forces practitioners to certain actions. It is a powerful attractor, to which all political trajectories inevitably lead. You can start in Russia with anything – from conservatism, from socialism, from liberalism, but you will have to finish with about the same. That is what in fact is the reality.
[This is a common deduction in numerous Russian sociological/historical/political science circles, referencing the Tsar-like qualities that emanated from the socialism of the Stalin period, and the religious/dogmatic nature the previously open-ended western philosophy of Marxism took in Russia, mirroring Christian Orthodoxy – ed, J. Flores]
The ability to hear and understand people, see through them, to the full depth and act accordingly – this is the unique and main advantage of the state of Putin. It is adequate for the people, as it goes, which means that it is not subject to destructive burdens from the oncoming currents of history. Therefore, it is effective and durable.
In the new system, all institutions are subordinated to the main task – having a trust-based communion and interaction of the supreme ruler with citizens. The various branches of power converge to the personality of the leader, not being considered a value in and of themselves, but only to the extent that they provide a connection with him. In addition to these, informal ways of communication work around the formal structures and elite groups. And when stupidity, backwardness or corruption interfere with communication lines with people, vigorous measures are taken to restore hearing.
The multilevel political institutions adopted from the West are sometimes considered partly ritual, instituted more so that it is “like everyone else”, so that the differences in our political culture do not so much strike our neighbors, do not irritate and frighten them. They are like a dress, in which they go to strangers, and at home we are at home, everyone knows the truth about himself.
In essence, society trusts only its own perspective. Whether it’s a matter of pride of a never-subdued people, it’s hard to say whether it’s a desire to straighten the paths of truth or something else, but this is a fact and a fact that is not new. What is new is the fact that the state does not ignore this fact and takes into account and proceeds from it in undertakings.
It would be an oversimplification to reduce the topic to the notorious “faith in the good king.” The ‘deep people’ [or ‘deep-seated people’, ed J. Flores] are not at all naive and hardly consider good nature to be royal dignity. Rather, he could think of the right ruler as Einstein said about God: “Sophisticated, but not malicious.”
The modern model of the Russian state begins with trust and holds on to trust. This is its fundamental difference from the Western model, cultivating mistrust and criticism. And this is the strength of the Russian state.
Our new state in the new century will have a long and glorious history. It will not break. It will act in its own way, receive and retain prizes in the major league of geopolitical struggle. Sooner or later, all those who demand that Russia “change behavior” will have to accept it as it is. After all, it seems that this is their only choice.
translated by J. Flores, for FRN