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The past and present of the "Red Man" myth in Russia


In the February issue of e-flux journal, Ilya Budraitskis writes about the “Red Man” myth, a figure of Soviet ideology that served to explain away the USSR’s failures, and that serves today to explain away the Putin regime’s authoritarian tendencies. Read an excerpt below, or the full text here.

Clearly, a Soviet legacy exists in today’s Russia under Putin. It lives on at all levels, especially in mass consciousness, in certain distinctive traditions of the state apparatus, and in the vestigial survival of Cold War foreign policies. And it is alive in the trauma of the post-Soviet intelligentsia, which recognizes its historical mission in terms of a struggle with the communist specter. But all these elements have been rent apart; they do not form a complete whole that could be separated from the non-Soviet, the post-Soviet, or even the pre-Soviet. Neither on a stand-alone basis nor in simple combination can they represent some kind of central opponent. Nor do they form the fundamental issue of the present, whose solution would definitively mark the irrevocable step from one historical epoch to another.

The growing need for the Red Man myth reflects the nostalgia of the Russian (and the Ukrainian) intelligentsia for an integral picture of reality now lost. The need for moral abstractions and vulgar generalizations is based on a dogmatism of thought, the roots of which can be sought in the Soviet period. The dogmatic post-Soviet intelligentsia outlived not only the demise of its encompassing society, but also its own demise, the loss of its own social and ethical basis in post-Soviet reality. Using the construct of the remnant, designating a contrived communist specter as a primary enemy, the intelligentsia strives to affirm its own existence in this reality by insisting that the specter is other than a shadow.

Image: A statue of Lenin in Berlin is removed from its plinth to be demolished on Nov. 13, 1991. Photo: Sygma/Corbis/Regis Bossu.