The State and Society in Contemporary Russian Political Thought

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1 CHRISTER PURSIAINEN & HEIKKI PATOMÄKI The State and Society in Contemporary Russian Political Thought The basic issue between the two traditional trends of Russian political thought, zapadnichestvo (Westernism) and slavianofil stvo (Slavophilism), has been that of whether Russia should follow the path of a universalist modernisation, closely connected to Western or West European modernisation, or whether it should rely on a culture-centred particularism based on a perceived sui generis nature of Russia. Contemporary Russian political thought is in one way or another rooted in this fundamental juxtaposition. For the zapadniki of all kinds, the question is: what kind of political system, or state-society-market relation, is needed for the country to catch up with the developed Western world? In some leftist variations, Russia may also be envisaged as a (potential) forerunner of and model for modernisation. However, for the slavophiles, be they called slavophiles, eurasianists or national-patriots, the question is: what is the real essence of Russia and how can it avoid being assimilated into Western culture? Some of the contemporary slavophiles argue that Russia has become a laboratory of senseless postmodernism. Instead, the political nation should be restored, united by the orthodox church, new asceticism and unique geo-political position that gives Russia a sense of a very specific mission in the world. Against this background, this article identifies and discusses both the hegemonic and more marginalised rival trends in contemporary Russian scholarly and political debates. The results of this investigation are summarised in Figure 1. Civil Society or the Market? Russian Liberals and Neo-liberals Within what might be identified as contemporary Russian liberalism, the main ideological internal dividing line culminates in the question of whether one should rely on political and participatory civil society as the source of development, or whether market forces, accompanied with formal representative democracy, should be the 1

2 principal vehicle of modernisation. Those who represent the former attitude are referred to as romantic-liberal zapadniki in Figure 1. In this discourse, (civil) society is typically presented as a set of free associations defending themselves against the potentially repressive state, especially in the conditions of post-communist Russia. The discourse s concrete roots are in the revolution from below of the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the thinking of the antinomenclature forces that questioned the authoritarian state in the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Communist political system, this discourse remained based on the vision of a civil society fighting against authoritarian and post-totalitarian state practices. The vaguely defined goal is to transform the Russian political system towards more Western-type and often rather idealised model of democracy. Oleg Kharkhordin has explained the success of this kind of discourse in Russian debates arguing that: The clash of the authoritarian system of the Soviet type and the semi- or quasiindependent associations of what was called civil society in Eastern Europe at that time seemed to be the fundamental political dynamic of the epoch [ C]reating and maintaining similar free associations still seems to be the decisive guarantee of the consolidation of the democratic regime in contemporary Russia. 1 However, as to the influence of this discourse on state practices, the romantic-liberal zapadnichestvo never had any major impact perhaps quite logically due to the antinomenclature ideology it represented and its role has been limited to shaping the self-understanding of Russian civil society itself. Furthermore, this trend has rarely been articulated in theoretical terms, but is rather a practical suspicious approach 1 Kharkhordin s argumentation is interesting and different from ours, as it is based on a rather idiosyncratic reading of the religious roots of different civil society models. Kharkhordin argues that the vision of civil life inherent among those thinkers who represent civil society as a set of independent associations that mediate relations between the individual and the state, came to dominate contemporary Russian debates on civil society [ ]. According to him, this understanding of civil society dates back to the Catholic tradition of Western Europe, where the Catholic Church protected the individual against the potentially repressive strong state. By contrast, the Protestant vision of civil society, where secular political power was created as if following the Lockean doctrine, as a body of government arising from the life of a pre-political religious community, was not as successful. A more original, Russian version, the Orthodox version of civil society, which would strive to completely supplant the secular state and its use of means of violence by bringing church means of influence to regulate all terrains of human life, Kharkhordin regards as a potential basis for understanding the role and meaning of civil society, but problematic in terms of its highly idealistic goals and thus its realization in real life (Kharkhordin 1998: 951, 952, 957). 2

3 towards the state, expressed by those civil society practitioners who often already have a dissident background from the era of the Soviet Union. The against-the-state vision of the role of civil society is immanent in this discourse, and is enforced by any repressive or co-opting state practices in contemporary Russia. In a 2001 text, Boris Pustintsev, a civic activist with a dissident background, reflects this understanding of an independent civil society, which is constantly threatened by the state, still rooted in totalitarian or authoritarian practices and ways of thinking: It is the instinct of the new administration [ ] to control everything that moves (Pustintsev 2001). However, as has been pointed out by Kharkhordin, in an interesting way this vision presupposes a strong state as a negotiating partner, at least in the longer run. In contemporary Russia, where the state s traditional competencies [ ] are diffused among many firms and corporations, civil society suffers from, or even becomes impotent because of, the weakness of the state. For this kind of model of civil society to make sense in these conditions, one has first to re-create the absent monopoly of legitimate violence [ ] (Kharkhordin 1998: 963, 964). Thus, one could suppose that the romantic-liberal zapadniki are implicitly in favour of a strong and socially oriented state, based on the rule of law and cooperation with an independent, active civil society. Though it is rarely articulated in this discourse, should Russia s political system finally be democratised (in the Western sense of the word), this kind of civil society would still remain important, working as a kind of mediator between the individuals/groups and the state, while at the same time controlling and monitoring the activities of the state authorities. In Russian party-political life, this traditional liberal approach is perhaps best represented by Yabloko: All individuals have right to freedom, prosperity, security and the opportunity to develop their abilities. The state is no more than a tool to attain these goals. The state exists to serve the citizen and not to sacrifice him for abstract ideas. 2 2 The Democratic manifesto of the Russian Democratic Party Yabloko, adopted by the 10 th Congress of Yabloko, Moscow, December 22, 2001, is available on Internet at 3

4 If one relates this discourse to Western political thinking, it is easy to see that it comes close to what can be called a traditional liberal approach connected to thinkers like John Stuart Mill or more recently John Rawls, 3 though modified against the background of Russian totalitarian and post-totalitarian experiences. Contrary to those who emphasise participatory civil society, neoliberal zapadniki in Russia see the market based on private property as the most important element of the reforms. Consequently, and typically for what in Western political thought might be called a Schumpeterian approach, 4 the Russian neoliberals focus explicitly on property rights as the highest value of freedom: An imperative for Russia in the XXI century is: freedom without property is fruitless, property without freedom is inefficient. 5 It might be argued that it was formally this kind of political system that was developing in Russia in the early 1990s, and it is in many respects still the picture of today s Russia, though with some reservations as will be discussed below. It seems that this kind of system was developed as a result of a combination of many interrelated factors: the erosion of the old political, economic and social systems, a miserable economic situation as well as continuous political struggles that prevented the implementation of any comprehensive strategies, the low institutionalisation of civil society, and political decisions that relied on an overoptimistic view of (neo)liberal shock therapy as the main strategy for transformation. This vaguely defined approach to reforming the country by quickly adopting or imitating formal Western political and economic institutions, was partially initiated and supported by President Boris Yeltsin (with the encouragement and support of Western political and financial actors) during his first term in office. As an ideological stance, however, it can best be associated with the Russian (liberal or neo-liberal) right-wingers, reaching high state positions in the beginning of the 1990s and often coming from the younger generation of the old nomenclature. While most of the practitioners of this political approach have today been either pushed aside from power or have adopted more conservative attitudes towards the role of the state, in 3 For a detailed treatment of this Millian-Rawlsian discourse, see Patomäki and Pursiainen (1999). 4 For a detailed treatment of Schumpeterian discourse, see Patomäki and Pursiainen (1999). 5 Russian Liberal Manifesto, prepared in 2001, is the programme of the SPS s (Union of Right Forces) and can be found at the party website 4

5 the ideology of today s marginalized Russian neo-liberals, the state s traditionally strong role in Russia is still seen as a major problem: A serious obstacle on the way to popularizing liberal values and liberal solutions to the problems Russia faces is the vestige of the servile attitude to the state. Almost all through the XX century Russians lived under the domination of the omnipotent state, and the habit of expecting all possible benefits from it, as well as considering it responsible for everything, became deep-rooted in wide strata of the population. Feelings of dependency, social passivity, a humble acceptance of all actions of those in power, the incessant temptation of the strong hand and the rod of iron - such was the social and psychological background of the post-totalitarian society. The possibility of a step back to the omnipotent state regime is still a real threat to the further democratic evolution of Russia, its transformation into a truly open civil society. The liberal response to this challenge is that we see the priority task in forming a new democratic civil consciousness, based on an understanding of the state as an important but not the only function of the society, as an instrument for solving the problems recognized by society. The route to Russia s resurrection in the XXI century is: from the omnipotent state to the law-governed state with clearly defined functions (Russian Liberal Manifesto 2001). The party, representing these ideals, The Union of Right Forces (SPS), went to the December 2003 State Duma elections by putting forward their alternative of developing democracy and market against the perceived development towards police-bureaucratic capitalism. Interestingly, the pre-election programme saw the citizens divided into social classes in the very same way as the Communists. The working class should see itself as taxpayers, who for this reason can demand services from the state. 6 At the same time, in this conception civil society is, or should be, taking over many of the (social) responsibilities of the omnipotent state, basically in terms of the third sector ideology adopted from US practices of civil society-statemarket relations. The political role of civil society thus seems to be twofold: to enable the final democratisation of Russia towards a Western democracy model, and to make it ideologically and practically possible to dismantle the overloaded state apparatus. 6 Predvybornaya programma Sojuza pravykh sil (2003), available on Internet 5

6 Modernisation from Above: From Authoritarian Discourse to the Strong State Discourse In the 1990s, the belief in the power of formal democracy with a market economy as well as in a gradual, unforced democratisation through the emerging political civil society was often abandoned or at least questioned within the liberal-conservative zapadnik discourse. The problem was that while market forces led to anarchy and stagnation rather than comprehensive modernisation, it was at the same time difficult to identify those social forces and related mechanisms that could enact the formula modernisation from below in post-communist Russia. Some participants of the liberal discourse put their cautious hope in the activity of the Russian middle class, or as V. Khoros defined it, in the activity of scientists and industrialists. In 1997, Khoros saw only two positive alternative perspectives in the present situation. Either these people will form a union at the level of civil society and put forward a strategy for economic and political modernisation, representing the interests of the majority of citizens ; or a far-sighted political leader will appeal to this group, laying grounds for a constitutional state with a genuine civil society. If neither of these alternatives takes place, then Russia would turn into a Third World country, until a new Peter (or a new Stalin) will come. And everything will start all over again (Khoros 1997: 98). Some liberals were pinning their hopes on the emergence of a union of radical and conservative liberal ideas, and on a gradual democratisation occurring through this union (Matveeva 1994). Others were more sceptical about Russia s ability to abandon the top-down model of development, and actually questioned whether it would be possible to run from totalitarianism to democracy without a period of authoritarianism. In fact, looking at the zapadnik-oriented debates of the 1990s, it is easy to identify a certain tendency towards authoritarianism, or at least towards an extremely strong state, in the name of the necessity of modernisation. The conclusion drawn from the popular claim about the absence of civil society in Russia was that the source or engine for modernisation had to be looked for elsewhere. In these conditions, it became tempting to argue that the problem defined as the absence of a proper capitalist market economy and economic modernisation 6

7 should be solved by a unified elite acting under an effective, integrating ideology. This modernisation from above approach, represented by those called authoritarian zapadniki in Figure1, emphasised authoritarianism as the best strategy for the transitional period. This authoritarianism vs. democracy debate had in fact already been introduced in 1989 in a newspaper interview, where A.Migranyan and I.Klyamkin emphasised the role of an authoritarian elite in reforming society. As Migranyan put it: Nowhere, not in any country of the world was there ever a direct transition from a totalitarian regime to democracy. There has always been a necessary provisional authoritarian period. 7 After this, many gradually adopted the same idea. The argument was that under Russian conditions, the elite functions and should function as the subject of modernisation (Ashin 1995). A responsible elite as a synonym for the state should be able to formulate clear strategies and realise them, yet remain responsive to the ideas coming from below. This positive attitude towards authoritarianism was based on a distinction between authoritarianism and totalitarianism. As V.P. Pugachev (et al.) among others emphasise, in contrast to totalitarianism, authoritarianism maintains the autonomy of individuals and society in the non-political spheres of citizens lives. While totalitarianism penetrates all spheres of life, authoritarianism concentrates on governance of the state and does not interfere in the citizen s life. 8 Therefore, authoritarianism is closer to democracy than to totalitarianism, and Russia has to make, according to V.V. Vintyuk in 1994, an optimal choice in favour of that kind of authoritarian model which furthers the emergence of a constitutional state and opposes attempts to turn backwards. In so doing, one must understand that there exists an organic interrelationship between economic modernisation and the development of civil society, and therefore authoritarianism should take a form, which is characterised by a special attention being paid to the creation of the necessary conditions for modernisation (Vintjuk 1994: 90, 92). Krasiltshchikov (et al.) put it more firmly in 1994: 7 Literaturnaya Gazeta, August 16, Cited from Migranjan (1997: 240). 8 Pugachev (1995: Part II, Ch. 15, section 4). 7

8 The necessity of modernisation means the necessity to establish in Russia an authoritarian regime, a liberal-technocratic and at the same time patriotic class, which would undertake the mission of guaranteeing politically and constitutionally the true development of Russia. Through economic means only, without a strong, or even cruel power, it is impossible to suppress the activity of Mafia-clans, to put an end to corruption among civil servants, to discipline the lumpen (Krasiltshchikov et al. 1994: 105). In the same spirit, Migranyan saw the danger in the combination of a weak state and civil society polarisation into rich and poor. In this situation the communists might be successful in reconstructing total state control over the economic and social life of society, thus jeopardising the existence or re-emergence of civil society. Therefore, an authoritarian regime is needed to maintain the stability of the socio-political system and to create conditions for development in the direction of consolidated democracy (Migranyan 1997a: 406, 312). Elements and effects of this thinking reaching democracy by authoritarian means can be easily identified in the Russian political system and practices in the 1990s and also today. In analysing Russia s 1993 Constitution, a group of liberaloriented politicians and analysts came to the conclusion that the democratic elements in the Constitution, its humanistic pathos was largely neutralised by the authoritarian elements in it. 9 Although a developed civil society was usually acclaimed as forming the basis of a free, democratic and just society in Russia s official doctrines from the early 1990s on, 10 the authoritarianism-oriented zapadnik discourse undoubtedly contributed, directly and indirectly, to a direction which set the alternatives only in terms of state and capitalist markets, thereby paying mere lip service to civil society in its political form. Thus, at the state strategy level one could identify a move away from the original neoliberal model towards a more authoritarian and state-centered model. In September 1997, President Yeltsin put the elements of this discoursive change from free-market enthusianism to strong-state ideology as follows: 9 Gennadi Burbulis (ed.) (1996), here especially Chapter I. 10 See, for instance, the national security doctrine presented by Yeltsin (Yeltsin 1996). 8

9 On the threshold of the reforms, the only force capable of overcoming the profound crisis was the force of the free market. But in order to make the transition to stable economic growth, economic freedom alone is insufficient. We need a new economic order. And for this, strong and intelligent power is needed and a strong state. 11 However, it seems that the heyday of this sometimes very extreme authoritarian zapadnik discourse was reached or even passed in the late 1990s. More and more it became clear that a weakened state could not develop a functioning authoritarian order overnight and resolve all the problems on anything other than merely a declarative level. The natural result of this kind of intellectual development within contemporary zapadnichestvo was a kind of mixture of authoritarian and democratic tendencies, leading basically to an understanding of the close interrelationship and partnership of civil society and the state. While the authoritarian zapadniki became more moderate, some who were above called neoliberal or even romantic-liberal zapadniki also became more receptive to the idea of a strong state if that did not mean too authoritarian practices being directed towards society, but rather a paternalistic state cooperating with a third-sector-like civil society. Thus, towards the end of the 1990s it was easy to identify as an emerging hegemonic trend within Russian zapadnichestvo and Russian political thought as a whole a tendency to move from a civil society against the state position towards a civil society within the state position or what is in Figure 1 called conservative zapadniki. A. M. Vorob ev describes this approach as follows: We think that civil society does not exist outside the state. We think that it is exactly the state, within the limits of which this civil society exists, who gives the civil society the necessary protection, serves as a kind of frame, strengthening this society, giving it unity. The state has certain social responsibilities before society and the right to correct the realization of the private sphere for harmonizing the interests of society (Vorob ev 1998: 31). 11 Yeltsin in an address to the upper house of the Russian parliament on 24 September For the whole text, see: BBC Monitoring Service, 25 September

10 N.E. Belova advances the same idea by identifying two alternatives, the negative one being a non-managed evolution of civil society, and the more positive, managed evolution, where the state is functioning as a guarantor of the rights and interests of society. For the latter to become a reality, Belova lists four conditions: consensus about the basic direction and questions of modernisation; long-term and remarkable economic growth; the growth of individuality; and a spiritual or moral development of the people (Belova 1997). In more optimistic terms, I.M. and B.S. Model are ready in their 1998 book to identify a tendency in civil society-state relations, which they call as in the subtitle of their book a development from social interaction to social partnership (Model and Model 1998). While this approach as a whole is rather sympathetic towards civil society as a negotiating partner of the state, and avoids too authoritarian formulations, it relies on the leading role of the state as the main source and initiator of social development and Russia s modernisation. Thus, B.N Topornin in his 2001 analysis defines the civil society-state relationship as follows: The state has to take special care of civil society. There are several unresolved problems. The question is not even about the fact that the relations between the state and civil society are not yet regulated and adjusted. That is not so difficult to correct. The heart of the problem is that in conditions, where civil society has not yet been formed, and its institutions have not yet developed, the role of the state is particularly important in forming the civil society. It is exactly the state s mission to promote the unfolding of citizens initiatives and independent action, drawing the society into the processes of reorganization. On this basis a common consent, which is so needed today in our country, has to be achieved. Without it, society cannot unite, but instead the political opposition and active antagonism of different trends and forces will preserve (Topornin 2001: 16). Topornin s article is entitled typically in the spirit of pro-putin euphoria: A strong state the objective necessity of the era. M. M. Mchedlova puts forward the same model, however with a stronger argument that it is not only the particular era of post- Communist Russia, but the characteristics of Russian civilisation that necessitates the strong state formula for the sake of the civil society itself. In so doing she actually 10

11 comes close to the ideas presented in the next section, the culture-oriented eurasianism. Mchedlova writes: The role of the state in the shaping of a civil society is more significant in Russia than in other countries, because the very development of the various institutions of a civil society is dependent on a strong political and state power, which guarantees both the functionality of these institutions, mainly through the creation of a legal framework, and their very existence. [ ] At this stage one can talk about a change of social paradigm, about striving for social consensus in terms of both political segments and ethnic ingredients. The above mentioned idiosyncrasy of Russian civilisation, however, means that only the strong state, being a warranty for fair play and an active subject of the social process, can appear [as a unifying factor]. The integrative ideology, sufficient to maintain and strengthen all cultural identities, on the one hand, and unifying the whole society, on the other hand, plays an important role in this process, too (Mchedlova 2000). It is argued here that this discourse, which emphasises a strong paternalistic and harmonising state, combined with formal procedural democracy and an assisting civil society, has already achieved a hegemonic position in contemporary political debates. It is also easy to argue, that this approach pretty well characterises the Russian presidential administration s practical effort to co-operate with civil society in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Moreover, this approach is also the ideological backbone of the support parties and political forces of President Vladimir Putin, usually referred to as centrists. Putin s party, the United Russia, has tried to found the right balance between the state and civil society, and starts its programme with two subtitles, the first one being A strong state, the second one The developing civil society. 12 Socialist Modernisation from above: Contemporary Marxism-Leninism While the different versions of (liberal-)conservative zapadnik ideas described above dominate contemporary Russian political debates and practices, there are also what 12 Programma Vserossiyskoy politicheskoy Partii Edinstvo I Otechestvo Edinaya Rossiya, 29 April 2002, Available on Internet 11

12 could be, with some reservations, called contemporary leftist variations of zapadnik ideas. At a practical level, the representatives of these ideas naturally strongly oppose the dominance of liberal-conservative zapadnik ideas in today s Russia; at a more fundamental level most of the contemporary Marxists, in a similar manner to most of the Soviet Marxists-Leninists, nevertheless share the zapadnik commitment to universal time and progress, rather than to looking back at Russian particularist traditions as a source of social order. After the collapse of Soviet Marxism-Leninism, the radical left has splintered into several rival ideologies, however. 13 The hard-line orthodox Marxism-Leninism- Stalinism of different kinds has also clearly become marginalized within the very leftwing of the Russian political spectrum. The representatives of these ideologies have contributed to this marginalisation themselves by continuously splitting into smaller and smaller groupings on ideological and personality-related grounds. Most of the parties drawing on this ideological trend feel nostalgia for the pre-gorbachevian or pre-khruschevian period of the Soviet Union and for the brotherhood of nations. These groupings call on the Russian people to provide opposition to the anti-people, authoritarian, criminal and bureaucratic dictatorship of national capital. 14 While some groupings are committed to peaceful means by using parliamentary and extraparliamentary political means of struggle others proclaim revolts and open violence as a method for the people to resist the present power in Russia. In the idealised picture of the political order that should be established in Russia, these groupings and related ideologies are clearly in favour of establishing a proletarian dictatorship according to Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist theory. Two slightly different trends can be distinguished, however. The more conservative ideologies and programmes see democracy in economic terms, as social and economic equality, and consequently the private ownership of production is condemned. In practical terms they presuppose a re-nationalisation of the privatised economy. Political democracy would be furthered by making the political leadership more collective, thus abolishing the hierarchical institutions at the top-level of the administration, such as the presidency. 13 For an analysis of Russian radical left-wingers, see Forsberg, Pursiainen et al. (1999). 14 From the Communist Union of Russia (RKS) programmes, quoted from Forsberg, Pursiainen et al. (1999: 39). 12

13 The more reformist trend is connected to a critical evaluation of past Soviet experience. The bureaucratic and nomenclature-centred Soviet political system is seen as having been alienated from the people. In these texts, declarations and programmes, the alternative to both the old Soviet system and to the present liberalconservative system would be the power of the working class and people s selfgovernment, in terms of returning to the Soviets as subjects of economic and political power. In some sense, these approaches come close to many Western republican theories that focus on democracy in economic organisations. 15 While the orthodox hard-liners are clearly in the shadows in current leftist debates, the two other strands competing for dominance within the contemporary Russian radical left are much more successful, the nationally-oriented State patriots and the moderate Marxist-Leninists. Of these, the nationally-oriented State patriots have, in fact, little connection left with traditional Marxism-Leninism, and come ideologically closer to contemporary slavophilism or eurasianism (and will therefore be discussed below in the frame of these approaches). The moderate Marxist- Leninists, in turn, have remained more true to the traditions of Soviet Marxism- Leninism. However, these two lines are married politically in the leading leftist party in Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Despite its marginalized role in federation-level politics in contemporary Russia, the party still plays the role of advancing the main alternative model to the present Russian political and economic system. This party dissociated itself from the very beginning from both perestroika and its consequences. Furthermore, it distances itself from the nomenclature image of previous Soviet Communism and emphasises the difference of contemporary Marxism-Leninism from the former practices of Communism. The former Communist Party of the Soviet Union is criticised particularly harshly for having become a sluggish power structure, unable to reform the country in the wake of scientific and technical advancement. Representatives of the moderate Marxist-Leninists thus discarded any intentions of founding an ideologically united Leninist party of the Soviet Communist Party type, or of establishing a totalitarian one-party political system and a Soviet-type command economy. Contrary to the demands of the most orthodox Marxist- 15 For these economistic republican theories, see Patomäki and Pursiainen (1999), op. cit. 13

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