The truth about Putinism

h/t Wayne Curtis via Andrew Sullivan

Orwell wrote:

One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army. A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life. The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.


  1. Guy says

    I think you’re overrating it. The site is actually the tomb of the unknown soldier on the west side of the Kremlin. Other than the goose-stepping, the ceremony is exactly the same as the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. It almost certainly has been going on much longer than Putin has been in power. Not shown is a sign above the tomb that reads, “In memory of those who died in the victory over Fascism” or something to that effect. About 50 yards further west is a McDonalds and a Sbarros.

    Goose-steppping has long been a form of marching in the Russian military, and here it is merely a way to honor someone who died 70 years ago who marched in much the same way. There are many examples of Putin’s cruelty and his lust for power and adulation, but they are seldom so visible and this definitely isn’t one of them.

    • Altoid says

      Agree. Granted that here in the west goose-stepping is now primarily associated with blackshirts and Nazis, the Russians have (I think) more substantial reason to be aware of who it was, exactly, who goose-stepped than we do. But is it so inconceivable that other national militaries developed the step independently, and so use it in spite of those associations? Not to deny that its use by other than German and Italian fascists may ultimately trace back to the same origins as for them, just that this one association isn’t necessarily going to trump everything else for everyone. In this way we can probably think of it as being a lot like the Richard Wagner problem.

    • Altoid says

      Besides, Orwell’s talking about parade step of entire units. Curtis’s post refers to the particular event shown here as a guard ceremony, similar to another at the Greek parliament, and not subject to the same strictures. His post is really a nice little essay that highlights an early 20C argument about the relative efficiency of bent-knee vs straight-leg walking and doesn’t deserve what Sullivan did to it.

      What really gets me about this video are the captions and credits. They got my right-wing BS detector clanging wildly, and I’m surprised, Mark, that you weren’t also affected the same way.

  2. ferd says

    Males of a certain emotional age, though, eat up this kind of theater with a spoon. It’ll bring tears to their eyes.

  3. CharlesWT says

    The North Koren goose step has nice spongy bounce in it as though stomping on rubber faces.

    • Ed Whitney says

      Yeah, Herschel. but did you know that the deficit hawks (or deficit scolds, as Paul Krugman calls them) are targeting the Ministry for major budget cuts in the coming year?

  4. Blanche Davidian says

    I think I’ve been seeing film and video of this changing of the guard at the Kremlin for the last 40 or 50 years. They always used the goose-step as I recall. This isn’t new to Putin.

  5. karl says

    Hmm, everyone here sees a different point here than I do. What I get out of this is: nothing’s changed, “Putinism” is working its way back through Brezhnevism to, if it could, Stalinism. Admittedly, this isn’t exactly news.

    • Brett Bellmore says

      I’m just puzzled as to why you’d focus on symbolic hints of boot stomping when you’ve got boot stomping available to point to. You hardly need marching styles to indict Putin.

        • Brett Bellmore says

          Symbols are redundant in the face of the reality they’re supposed to symbolize. The “goose step” is nothing more than an exercise move, intended to make marching somewhat more productive of fitness. It has an accidental association with tyranny, but the problem with Putin’s Russia isn’t how the soldiers march, it’s the press censorship, and political opponents being jailed, and neighbors threatened with military action…

          Don’t obsess about symbols when you can point to reality. It just gives people an easy way to look away.

  6. Anomalous says

    Four uniformed men performing a ritual cerimony don’t look too scarey but a few thousand doing that march in unison is pretty intimidating to see. But a few thousand soldiers marching is supposed to look intimidating.
    I notice the big hats. Seems that whenever I see really big hats on soldiers they are from really hardline totalitarian states. The bigger the hats the more vicious the dictator. Hollywood has used this to great comic effect over the years so I’m not the only one to notice.
    Face it, when the exhead of the KGB takes charge and continues to stay in charge despite supposed constitutional curbs to avoid such a thing you’re gonna get what ya got. Did anyone doubt it when they heard Putin was going to be Prez way back when? I know next to nothing about internal politics in Russia and I said ‘uh-oh’ when I heard the news.

  7. says

    ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’

    Well actually I did laugh.
    Quite loudly in fact. At the utterly stupid, silly, seriousness of it.

    For me this ballet incorporates the utter essence of humanity:

    A species that has argued that falling trees don’t make noise unless one of their own precious kind is there to record it.
    And that material objects exist only as concepts in their mind. (Seriously!)
    And that they are the “central fact” of a geocentric universe.
    And that of course other animals don’t have consciousness.
    And that they are formed in God’s image.

    I mean come on…

    Is there anything funnier than the grim seriousness of Ayn Rand’s: “I am Man, Man, Man!” expressed in goose-step?

    • Ed Whitney says

      That bit about “made in the image of God” is intended to frame our view of others, not just ourselves. C.S. Lewis said it thus: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.”

  8. Some Idiot says

    I am fairly sure that I prefer goose-stepping to the Received Pronunciation smugness of Orwell and Sullivan.

  9. Kolya says

    Guy commented:

    “Goose-steppping has long been a form of marching in the Russian military”

    It’s ironic that most people think now that this is a Russian thing. Goose-stepping was introduced by the Germans (the Prussians) and there was NO goose-stepping in the pre-revolutionary Russian army. It wasn’t the Tsars, it was the Soviet regime that decided to copy this ridiculous form of parade marching from the Germans.

    • Altoid says

      It isn’t necessarily the last word, but the Wikipedia entry linked above says this: “The Russian Empire adopted the goose step during the 1796–1801 reign of Paul I.” What exactly happened afterward and particularly from the revolution through WWII isn’t addressed, but nobody seems to doubt that the Soviets used it through the Cold War. Presumably they were continuing earlier practice. The entry continues, “During the Cold War, the Soviet Union trained the military forces of many of its client states with Soviet military drill and ceremonial practices.” So it spread more widely then.

      According to the same article there actually were practical reasons for using it as a march step. Not unlike the exaggerated British-army arm swing you sometimes see in movies, as well as the exaggerated high-knee halt step they used (and which is brilliantly shown in Breaker Morant, imho one of the finest movies ever made about British attitudes to nationality, and used to great effect by Monty Python). Training, march spacing, unit morale, etc.

  10. Mark says

    If we’re going to characterize the relative authoritarianism of a nation by the behaviour of its military, what would you assess a case in which a soldier and his accomplices killed the parents and sister of a 14-year-old girl in their home – then raped her, shot her and attempted to burn the body to cover up their crime – says about the country they come from?

    Makes a little goose-stepping seem pretty ridculous as a measure of brutality, doesn’t it?