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Mental Archetypes


The dramatic years of the reforms and political and social upheavals have failed to transform Russia into a Western-style democracy. Moreover, many commentators increasingly talk about a resurgence of Soviet mentality. In order to define the main characteristics of contemporary post-Soviet mentality and understand the reasons for the continued influence of “Soviet” attitudes, it is necessary, first of all, to single out the principal elements of pre-Soviet – traditional – Russian mentality that still exert a powerful influence on Russian contemporary political culture and public attitudes. 


These are the so-called “archetypes” – deep and stable structures of the collective subconscious that define the sum total of the original characteristics of a nation.  Long before the Bolshevik takeover, Russian mentality displayed the following features:  

  • Statism and the acceptance of the priority of the interests of the state over those of the individual
  • Deification of power and longing for a “strong hand”
  • Paternalism
  • Ambivalence and suspiciousness toward the West
  • Messianism
  • Collectivism and solidarity taken to the point of denying interests of the individual
  • Negative attitudes to social inequality
  • Poor ability of self-organization
  • Longing for a mobilizing philosophical idea
  • Negative attitudes to private ownership
  • Dogmatism, asceticism, and the ability to bear suffering and sacrifices
  •  Searching for truth and justice
  • Disrespect of laws
  • Radicalism and inclination to extremes

When speaking of “Soviet” mentality, it is important to bear in mind that the above basic national archetypes were to a great extent adapted, assimilated, and used by Communist ideology. Indeed, the Communist Party would hardly have been able to run Soviet society successfully for so many decades if its policies had gone always against the grain of these basic mental characteristics.

Many of the traditional characteristics, such as statism, imperial mentality, and collectivism, were “ideologized” and incorporated into the system of Soviet propaganda. Even the Communist claim that the USSR showed the way to a luminous future of humankind was a reflection of the traditional Russian messianism.

Thus, Soviet mentality was a result of the adaptation of Russian traditional mentality to Communist dogmas. The Soviet value system was in many ways grafted onto the traditional pre-Soviet one. Both value systems rejected Western values. This is one of the chief reasons why the transformation of the contemporary Russian mass consciousness toward democratic and pro-market principles has been so slow and painful.

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