THEO VAN GOGH NEWS:As Sanctions Bite And War Fever Intensifies, Russia Revisits Soviet Concepts


Introduction – Special Dispatch No. 9838 MEMRI

The tough Western sanctions on Russia coupled by the campaign against opponents of the war in Ukraine have revived terms from Soviet history in the popular discourse. One is War Communism– the policy instituted by the Bolshevik government between 1917-1921.

The economy (including property owned by foreigners) was nationalized and centrally directed by the government. The peasantry was compelled to deliver farm produce to feed the cities for at best rock bottom prices or sometimes the produce was simply requisitioned without compensation. War Communism produced severe economic dislocation and led to sabotage in the agricultural sector and was replaced by the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921. NEP restored small businesses to private ownership and imposed a reasonable quota on the peasants for delivery to the government, while allowing them to retain or sell the balance. Under this policy, the economy rebounded. NEP lasted to 1929, when Josef Stalin, who had emerged victorious in his struggle against the intra-party opposition, imposed collectivization on agriculture and launched the first five-year plan in industry.

Another term in use during Soviet times was the social contract. The people, in return for obtaining an increasingly higher standard of living, would forego political participation and would let the leadership run the show without their input. This idea of the social contract was appropriated by Vladimir Putin, who in addition to touting his role of restoring Russia’s great power status, also favorably compared the economic fruits of his rule to the economic privation that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is clear that this vision of a social contract is currently untenable. After years of anemic economic growth, the current sanctions have hit Russia hard. Even Vladimir Putin acknowledges short term difficulties and economists predict a double digit decline in GDP. Under the best circumstances, Russia’s citizens will experience a decline in their standard of living before things get better.

In this context, Moskovskiy Komosomolets columnist Dmitry Popov offers a revised social contract with pronounced populist overtones. In an article titled “Putin Left No Other Choice: We Are the Power Here”, Popov claims that the Russian people have ceased being quiescent. They support Russia’s civilizational mission in the war and this represents their side of the social contract bargain. In return, they demand from Putin the realization that “the officials, even those that have ministerial portfolios, are the real fifth column.” Officialdom must serve the people instead of the reverse situation that obtains today.

For Kommersant commentator Dmitry Drize, the current hysteria and the shutting down of debate coupled with the calls for punitive measures against foreign property owners and government control over the economy presages a return to the failed policy of War Communism that did not end that well for the Soviet Union.

The two columns follow below:

In this Soviet painting by Ivan Vladimorov ‘The Agitator”, Siberian peasants are gathered for a session with a Communist Party propagandist during the War Communism era.(Source:

Dmitry Popov:  ‘The New Social Contract Must Establish…That An Official, A Deputy, A State Employee Is A Servant’

Dmitry Popov laid out his vision for a revised social contract:

“We definitely need a new social contract, not a piece of paper with signatures, but a common understanding and agreement on how to get on with our lives. Since it’s obvious: the old, disembodied and dependent Russia no longer exists. And the old social contract, prolonged in 2014 by the Crimean consensus, has expired.

“Some two weeks ago, our entire social structure looked rather sorrowful. The situation was as follows: there is a simple majority of the people, i.e. the Russians (the broad popular masses according to the old [Soviet] terminology); there are fat cats (oligarchs, bureaucrats and officials-oligarchs); there is the self-appointed ‘conscience of the nation’, in other words – ‘Russian intelligentsia.’

“As a result of the authorities’ actions (albeit crooked and askew) during the ‘savage 1990s’ and ‘satiated 2000s’ to maintain their own power, some sort of ‘stability’ has been formed.”

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