Putin is weaker than Lenin

Why modern Russia lacks the resources for a sustainable dictatorship

Putin is weaker than Lenin
Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Let us not deceive ourselves and instead look at things plainly. All of us — both those who have remained in Russia and those who had to leave — live in a hope for a prompt downfall of Putin’s regime. A century ago, however, those in Berlin and Paris, Belgrade and Riga who had fled or were ousted from Russia — the nation’s best people — had the exact same hope with respect to the Bolshevik regime. We shall return, and return soon. Even our Orthodox church in Belgrade we shall build without a foundation — money is tight, but we do not need it for long anyway. In the same way, people in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Tambov awaited the regime’s end. After all, such insanity cannot last for long!

In Russia, the Bolsheviks controlled nearly everything. But in Berlin and Paris, Belgrade and Riga, Russian culture flourished: countless newspapers and magazines were being published, bountiful lectures and discussions were being held. We shall return.

And then, all of these marvellous people — military men and professors, politicians and poets — died in foreign lands. Long before their demise, Russian newspapers and publishing houses started closing, people attending lectures and discussions became more and more scarce, while members of military unions grew old without progressing through the ranks.

Thus, we walk through Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois as though across the pages of a history book, surrounded by names familiar since childhood.

Those who remained in Russia either perished in the camps or lived trying not to attract any attention to themselves.

The vermin that had taken hold of Russia tortured the country for three whole generations, killing indiscriminately, destroying culture, and unleashing wars. Only having spent everything — all of its material, human, and political resources — it unwillingly relinquished power. Then again, as it turns out now, it never did.

From this, it seems that we, who have 100 years later flooded Istanbul, Berlin, Riga, and dozens of other cities in Europe and Asia, as well as we who have stayed in Russia, trying to glimpse the imminent collapse through a nearly closed-off Internet, do not stand a chance.

We also have like-minded friends, we have newspapers and discussions, demonstrations and concerts in exile. The history wherein criminals establish their power is repeating itself, the story of mass exile is repeating itself.

Everything else is then also doomed to repeat itself.

It seems to many that History itself is telling us to give up hope: “You will not get your country back and neither will you return. Russia is doomed.”

But, no, that is not what History is saying: one must simply know how to listen to it. In contrast to the Bolsheviks, the current regime will not last long, and while there is no hard evidence for this — nothing in these matters can be proven definitively — there is certainly good reason to think so.

Support independent journalismexpand

Comparing the regimes of Lenin and Putin, I see several points that suggest Putin is weaker than Lenin and will likely fail to hold on to his power.

A general consideration: the communist regime fell once it had no human, financial, and moral resources left. What is Putin’s resource situation then, compared with Lenin’s?

Lenin and his successors had a nearly limitless source of slaves — they incarcerated people in camps and forced them to move from the countryside into cities by using direct violence and induced famine. Putin does not have this resource. And it is not simply because his apparatus of suppression is not geared for mass purges — such a development is only a question of time. What matters here is that the reservoir from which the Bolsheviks had fished their human catch — the villages — has long since been empty.

Trotsky had built the Red Army in an incredibly small timeframe and managed to make it quite disciplined and efficient. Putin’s army is woefully inefficient:

stuck in Ukraine, suffering huge losses, trying to pass off a town of 10,000 people as the new Stalingrad. Moreover, it is not disciplined. It encourages — or at least does not punish — banditry, and like feudal armies, consists of groups that are at odds with each other.

So far, Putin has managed to continue his mobilisation, but as the losses mount — not among criminals, most of whom have no families and whose deaths no one cares about, but among law-abiding citizens — it becomes obvious that more and more men will dodge the draft, desert, or surrender. Already, more people have fled the mobilisation than have been conscripted through it.

Lenin inherited a good infrastructure from the Russian Empire, although damaged by the civil war — indeed, it was this infrastructure and other imperial resources that the Bolsheviks mooched off of. In contrast, everything in Putin’s Russia is falling apart: the economy and social system are failing, demographic indicators are appalling.

Even the population of million-plus cities, which are a magnet for people from smaller settlements, is decreasing. Putin has achieved nothing. Compare the USSR of 1945 with the USSR of 1968, 23 years later — they are virtually two different countries. 23 years is how long Putin has been in power for — and there have been no new cities, no breakthroughs, at least none that could come close to sending the first man into space. If anything has changed, it has been for the worse. This is a level of stagnation that Leonid Brezhnev could not have imagined.

The world largely couldn’t care less about the Bolsheviks when they came to power. The Great War was still going on, and few people understood the danger coming from Lenin — the consensus was to let the Russians do what they wanted and figure out the consequences later, by which time the whole thing might collapse on its own anyway. This is not the case today: the West has realised that Putin’s regime is an existential threat, that he is attempting not just to seize some land, but to destroy Western civilisation. The readiness to fight back has increased accordingly.

Lenin, incidentally, did not go to war with the great powers of the day, instead merely suppressing the colonies’ aspirations for independence. Being a rational man, he accepted defeats — Poland, Finland, the Brest Treaty, and other examples. Putin, on the other hand, has gone to war with the entire developed world and, despite all setbacks, continues to bang his head against the wall. More countries and resources have now united against him than had rallied against Hitler.

Lenin’s repressive structures were not only monstrously brutal (something that is far from lacking in modern Russia), but also deeply ideological. At least some of the Chekists were not just executioners, but also people who believed in an idea and in their leaders. However, anyone who has encountered Putin’s “guard” — the OMON riot police, the prison wardens — will confirm that, while there are sadists among them (naturally), nobody is a staunch supporter of the regime, let alone loyal to his superiors. Yes, they will carry out any order, but they will not die for the sake of the system.

In the days of Lenin and his successors, parts of the populace also subscribed to their ideology, believing what the Bolsheviks said (though the Bolsheviks themselves probably did not). That is, at least some people had faith in the utopian idea of the coming “garden city”. Nowadays, nobody espouses such ideas — only a hatred towards the rest of the world.

It is unlikely that under Lenin and his successors the government was ever as discredited in the eyes of the population as it is now. Facts of corruption, lies, and hypocrisy no longer surprise anyone. 

This counts even for the “primal people” — the allegedly simple folk on whose support the authorities rely. People do not respect the current government — they are ready to put up with it and accept that the alternatives may be even worse, but they will not go out of their way to defend it in the same way as they defended Yeltsin in 1991. After all, it is not the number of people storming the proverbial Bastille that matters — what matters is whether there will be anybody to defend it.

Trust in Putin personally has also vanished — how many Russian households are there where people will still drink to his health in front of family? It has also been a long time since anyone has listened to his speeches. Nobody is interested in what he has to say. Putin’s support today does not come from people with particular views, like fascists or nationalists — it comes from those who do not care about anything. It is not him or his policies that they support, but the government in general. If Putin leaves, if current policies do a 180, these people will continue supporting the government.

In his circle, Lenin enjoyed great respect, whereas Putin’s elites are obviously disappointed with their leader. They realise that not only has he driven the country into a mire, but he has also ruined their own lives by putting them under sanctions that prevent them from enjoying their billions of dollars in peace. In this regard, Putin is looking more and more like Paul I, who had quarrelled not with the people — after all, who cares what they think? — but with those closest to him.

And another general consideration — I do not believe that the regime can exist for an extended period of time at this level of pointlessness, inefficiency and lies. It is, essentially, flightless.

In the 2000s, the architect of Russia’s post-Soviet economic reform, Yegor Gaidar, at this point no longer holding any position of power, travelled to the USA and met with Vice President Cheney, among others. At the end of their conversation, as he was escorting Gaidar to the door of his office, Cheney asked: “Have you got that for seventy years again?”

“No,” Gaidar replied, “fifteen to twenty years at most.”

Gaidar was seldom wrong — and time is running out.

Everything will work out. Do not give up!

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.