Many have remarked that the 100 year anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution has been more discussed in foreign circles than in Russia itself. In many ways this is unsurprising. The current Russian government has taken an approach to all periods of Russian history which seeks to highlight events which emphasise unity, while downplaying those which emphasise ideology and consequently, division.
But just as Russia is coming to embrace history as either academic or patriotic rather than ideological or divisive, the west is taking the opposite approach both to its own history and incidentally to Russia’s.
If in 1990, in the long shadow of Reagan years, one were to remark that in 2017, the US would be more obsessed with last year’s election than Moscow would have been with honouring the events of October 1917, one would probably be told that they are simply out of touch. After all, the Soviet Union held a grand parade every 7th of November (new style) to honour the October Revolution, while no electoral events in the US are ever celebrated after the fact.
Of course this year in Russia, Communists marched with pictures of Lenin and Stalin, while anti-communists held events to solemnly mark the end of the Orthodox Russian Empire, but on the whole, these events were relatively small and completely peaceful.
Meanwhile, one year to the day since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and American politicians, mainstream media and social media are still arguing over the results of last year’s vote. The FBI and Congress meanwhile continue to investigate the vote all the while the shrieks from the peanut gallery grow louder.
What’s more is that the US has combined every point of western ideological hatred for Russia into a debate about a US election between two American candidates. The US media is full of everything from anti-Orthodox hatred of Russia, to rehashed conspiracies from the McCarthy era about ‘Soviet conspiracy” to caricatures of the current Russian President as both a Tsar and as Stalin.
Just while Russia has become generally calm and placid about its history, the US is going off the wall about both Russian history and its own. It isn’t just Tsar Putin or Stalin-Putin cartoons which grace the pages of US newspapers and MSM websites. There are also cartoons of Trump as a Confederate soldier in the US Civil War, in spite of his very New York yankee heritage. People are talking about the Ku Klux Klan, reliving the so called ‘sexual revolution’ and arguing about New Deal style policies versus traditional capitalism, thus blowing out both the Great Society consensus and the Reaganomics consensus all at once.
It is not in Russia where statues coming down or tombs and mausoleums are being removed, it is the United States where such things are happening. It is not in Russia where people are arguing about Stalingrad versus Volgograd, but the United States where a news broadcaster of Asian background was not allowed to be on air because his name happened to be Robert Lee, although the man clearly no relation to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Is Russia really that much more contended than the US? The answer is yes and no. Russians are notoriously dissatisfied with local politicians, in the same way that a Russian grandmother always thinks her grandchild isn’t eating enough of the right foods and makes her worries known to everyone within ear shot and more. This is a stereotype, but it exists for a reason.
Russians will be the first to tell you that at a local and regional level, they have a lot to constructively and peacefully say about how to improve their country. But at a national level, the President remains popular, most people think Russia is generally going in the right direction and no one’s patriotism is challenged when making contentious points, whether they support the ruling United Russia party, the conservative/anti-communist LDPR or the far-left Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
In the US, it is the opposite story. The President trashes his opponents on Twitter, the President is called a foreign agent but his opponents, radical leftist groups commit acts of violence against people and property and Trump supporters, while generally less violent than the new American left, also have not at all nice things to say about the ‘snowflake left’.
For a country that had no formal revolutions in the 20th century, this is saying quite a lot, especially when compared to Russia, a country which in the 20th century had 5 very different and difficult revolutions: 1905, February 1917, October 1917,1991, 1993. Some would even argue that the Khrushchev reforms of 1956 were yet another revolution, thus bringing Russia to a total of 6 revolutions in the 20th century.
There are several explanations for this.
The best argument against revolutions is having too many of them. After a long 20th century, the Russian nation has revolution fatigue. Russians do not want stagnation but they are willing to settle for gradual change in exchange for not facing any more social or economic upheavals. After a long and turbulent 20th century, Russians want stability and President Vladimir Putin has accomplished this which is the primary reason, along with economic growth, why he remains popular among notoriously sceptical Russian voters.
By contrast, Russians often mock Americans who think their government is right even when it isn’t. The domestic exceptionalism of many US voters who think it treasonous to challenge the government on things that every Russian home, bar, park or university echoes with on a daily basis, tends to stun many Russians who would think that in a land that calls itself ‘free’, people would be free to bitch and moan about the things that Russians tended to always take for granted in private and now take for granted in public also.
Instead, the “you can’t say that” so-called politically correct culture in the land of the 1st amendment, is anathema to Russians whose culture of organic straight talking long predates Anglo-Saxon concepts of legal free speech.
There is an element of tragi-comedy to the entire state of affairs. Russia has suffered greatly in the 20th century, often at the hands of the United States. This was true not only in respect of Wall Street helping to fund the Bolshevik Revolution and then the US deep state of its day conspiring to thwart it just after, but also in the 1990s when the Russian super-power became little more than a client state to the US deep state and financial machine.
Today, Russia is once again an independent superpower which has yet to even reach its full potential by a long way. Russia continues to progress in this respect and the Russian President has stressed his commitment to improving Russian living standards at home while making Russia more powerful in the name of peace and stability abroad.
By contrast, the victorious candidate in the 2016 US election ran on a platform of four words: “Make America Great Again”. The clear implication is that, like every country on the brink of a revolution, something is wrong–greatness has been lost and it must be restored, come hell or high water.
While Trump and the US as a whole, continue to run and re-run the 2016 election, an event which is beginning to feel like a revolution for some of the right and all of the wrong reasons, Russia is a country increasingly putting the ghosts of her past to peaceful slumber while focusing on a hopeful, strong, prosperous and peaceful future.
The contrast could not be greater.