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The Future Is History

How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

By Masha Gessen
18-minute read
Audio available
The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

The Future Is History (2017) tackles the complex issue of Russia’s love/hate relationship with democracy. By looking at the lives of a select few, Masha Gessen takes us from the collapse of the Communist Party to deep within the activism of the Putin era – all in an attempt to show us how and why Russia’s modern brand of totalitarianism came about.

  • Readers curious about Russian politics
  • Students of sociology and world politics
  • History buffs

Masha Gessen is an esteemed journalist living in New York City. Her writing has been featured in the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker. Her previous books include The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.

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The Future Is History

How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

By Masha Gessen
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
Synopsis

The Future Is History (2017) tackles the complex issue of Russia’s love/hate relationship with democracy. By looking at the lives of a select few, Masha Gessen takes us from the collapse of the Communist Party to deep within the activism of the Putin era – all in an attempt to show us how and why Russia’s modern brand of totalitarianism came about.

Key idea 1 of 11

Russia’s lack of self-reflection put the nation at a disadvantage when society began to change in the late 1980s.

Marina Arutyunyan was a rarity in Russia. In the 1970s, she studied psychology at Moscow University and went on to start her own practice. It was extremely rare to find a female psychoanalyst in Russia given that hardly anyone was practicing psychology, sociology or anything of the sort.

To understand why, we need to go back in time to the period after the Bolshevik Revolution in the 1920s.

This revolution was fueled by Marxism, which promoted a new kind of ideal man – one who had no use for the kind self-reflection which is at the heart of these disciplines, since individuality was seen as insignificant. The new man found sufficient pride and purpose in life by being a cog in the Soviet machine.

This is why, in 1925, Moscow University’s Psychological Society was dissolved, and the work of leading thinkers like Sigmund Freud was placed in the restricted area of the library. By 1931, all social sciences and humanities had been censored from Russian universities.

But the tide began to turn in the 1960s, and, by 1968, psychology and the humanities were making a comeback at Moscow University. However, since materials had been very hard to come by for the past few decades, most Russian professors were woefully out of touch and unaware of the progress that had been made.

This lack of knowledge contributed to the mess that followed in the late 1980s and 1990s when the rules of society drastically changed.

Most governments value sociology, especially in the form of polls that are conducted in an effort to understand what people want and how they may react to certain policies.

But, remarkably, the Soviet Union had not conducted any research polls before 1987, and even when they began, it was a rough start since there wasn’t any data to compare it against or even an understanding of how to write useful questions.

This lack of sociological understanding was especially unfortunate in the mid-1980s when General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev began a series of reforms aimed at opening up Russia and moving away from the terror of previous regimes. These reforms would set off decades of psychological and political consequences for a citizenship little understood by the country’s leaders.

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