Until the mid-50s, the Soviet government successfully used a wide spectrum of ideological narratives.
Effective totalitarianism implies not merely existence of some idea, but also relies, primarily, on a person or a group that is a manufacturer and a carrier of “meanings”.
After Stalin’s death, and more precisely, after the XX Congress where Khrushchev proclaimed the destruction of the cult of personality, the process of depersonalization of elites was launched in the socio-political life of the country. One side effect of that and at the same time the most important result was the deconstruction of Soviet ideology.
In effect, with Khrushchev’s coming, a slow, but consequent transformation of the regime began in the USSR.
Stalinism required active involvement from people. Feuchtwanger wrote about Muscovites of 1937, “Yes, this youth disseminates a contaminating feeling of power and happiness around them. Looking at them, you understand Soviet citizens’ faith in their future. The faith that helps them to not notice shortcomings of the present.” Indeed, totalitarianism works only when it is able to offer a perspective. At the time of “Thaw”, a joke wandered around the country, “Under Stalin, the economy was on a precipice. Under Khrushchev, it stepped far ahead.” The destruction of Stalin’s semi-religious despotism really brought to the fore anti-subject leaders.
Until 1956, the idea of “great victory” was linked with the mythologem of the role of identity in history in the heads of Soviet citizens and Soviet political elites.
Today, as practice has shown, there barely is a political system in the region that can afford the monolithic totalitarian model. The leaders, late-Soviet nomenclature, have to reproduce conceptual models of the past. This is natural. The new countries that were formed in 1991 do not offer any special political history. The cult of personality is not a subject to restoration: it’s not that one historical moment, and moreover, any event gets smaller if compared to events of the past in such a turbulent information flow.
Society’s shift from totalitarian consensus of “involvement” to authoritarian consensus of “absence” provokes pure self-replication, depriving the idea of air, and thus, of life and content.
In the book It was forever until it ended, Alexey Yurchak describes this process as “a performative shift”, “In the context of late socialism, the reproduction of the norm of ideological expression, ritual or symbol was predominant at the level of their form, while their meaning was shifting, becoming different from the literally “declared” meaning.”
Repeatedly reiterated devastated ideological narratives transform into what postmodernists called metanarratives, when the answer is known in advance.
At present, the most dangerous instrumental metanarrative of World War II is the term “Great Patriotic War”. It was firstly used by Molotov in his speech on June 22, 1941.
The irony is that Molotov as the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs signed the covenant in the names of him and Ribbentrop. As is known, the essence of the document comes down to the distribution of “areas of influence” in the region between two governments – the level of world’s confrontation, where Soviets are not a victim.
I am worried not as much by the insolvency of this “token” as by the inherent attempt to recollect history, tearing the coherence of the world’s historical process.
The idea of victory, especially in a special, separate (patriotic) war (as if there was not anything before it) is a great quasi-ideological foundation for the modern post-Soviet authoritarianism.
An important detail: the GPW narrative in modern reality is intended to provoke political absenteeism – non-participation. While before the XX Congress, Stalin was the self-proclaimed author of the great war, in the next years, the focus was shifting from the winning leader to the winning nation in the midst of that depersonalization of the elites.
Today, the false GPW construct should create an illusion of the universal ownership of the victory as to a fact that happened: an idea, directed to the past, is doomed to be a monument to itself.
In 1941, “Patriotic” as a narrative was necessary to unite the citizens against the real threat.
After the war, ideologists had to face the issue of chronology and roles in the war.
The sacralization of the 41-45 period had to give the answer to the question “when did the war begin and end”: the civil one in Spain, the Soviet-Finnish, the Soviet-Polish, Far Eastern operations, and, say, the redistribution of the Korean peninsula were seemingly excluded from the equation. This way, the Soviet ideological machine sought to create the illusion of cleanliness of its role. Although, if you look distantly, it becomes clear that World War II is a result of the global process of totalitarianism of governments on the ruines of monarchies that failed as the results of World War I.
Today, autocracies use the GPW metanarrative to justify their own existence. The line between moral and immoral is drawn in the line of division between those who are ready to look at the tragic past as a shrine and those who try to look into the future in the «end of history» paradigm: not the end where the western democracy has won, but that end in which ideology as an instrument has lost its effectiveness.
This is a division of the primitive principle “ours – theirs”. It is not without a reason that the political crisis in Belarus is accompanied by remarks by the state in the spirit of «Stalingrad forgotten?» or by cannibalistic «we can repeat». The concept of «external enemy» today is inseparable from the narrative of GPW.