Aftermath of elections: what is to be done?

It's noteworthy in this context, that Putin’s program represents the values of the social-democratic, left-of-centre origin. Source: AFP/EastNews

It's noteworthy in this context, that Putin’s program represents the values of the social-democratic, left-of-centre origin. Source: AFP/EastNews

The expectations of change became an independent factor in the political life of Russia. But at the same time both society and authorities reasonably fear a repeat of the chaotic past times.

"What is to be done?" - Russian citizens tend to ask themselves the Lenin's sacramental question after Vladimir Putin’s victory in the presidential elections. The well-known maxim, "The elections have passed, but problems remain to be solved," has withstood the time-test.

It's noteworthy in this context, that Putin’s program represents the values of the social-democratic, left-of-centre origin; it incorporates all the attractive points from Putin's opponents. However, expectations of change have already become an independent factor in the political life of Russia. "God forbid that the euphoria of victory has gone to Putin's head and he will sustain the status quo. If this is the case, then the protests may become more radical than what has been true over the last couple of years, when everyone was waiting for change," notes Andrey Uglanov, a well-known journalist. However, transforming promises into concrete policy decisions has always been quite difficult. Today, the following hierarchy of factors has materialized to impede  the country's movement towards modernization.

First of all, the lack of an intellectual elaboration of the very concept of social change in the initial phase of the post-Soviet period, i.e. in the 1990s, is having an ever greater adverse impact on the efficiency of economic policy. The domestic situation is also deteriorating by the influence of new trends: the Russian economy in its current "liberal" form has stopped responding positively to the persisting price-rise on world markets for raw materials, especially energy resources. It is worth adding, between the lines, that the crisis over Iran cannot continue indefinitely, and in addition the United States, the world-largest energy consumer, is progressively moving towards complete energy security/independence, which will affect world prices  for oil and gas, to the detriment of Russia.

Secondly, public opinion in Russia is becoming increasingly sensitive (or even restive) to the defects of the economic science thinking in terms of inefficient response to new challenges generated by the Revolution in Science and Technology. Over the last two decades, we have had little progress in understanding the nature of our society, of its political-economic and socio-cultural polarization, which, having grown on a daily basis, is threatening the unity and territorial integrity of our country. The desired scheme for solving this pivotal problem has not been elaborated. Thus, to blame the Kremlin exclusively for the lack of  societal progress towards modernization is ahistorical, and thereby incorrect.

Thirdly, the history-inherited feature of Russia, as distinguished from, say, the West, remains the underdevelopment of historical subject of modernization within society. In the West, such a subject of economy and politics is existent in the form of the middle class. In Russia, the middle class, which was created as a by-product of Soviet modernization and became a driving force for democratic reforms in the late 1980s, was virtually dissolved by the "liberal reforms". The main force of modernization in Russia remains the state (the "visionary state," as conceptually addressed by the late Edward Kennedy), on which rests the historic task of rebuilding the middle class, the "engine" of development of any society. We should not forget:  the middle class, which gives rise to ideas of the qualitative transformation of society, is not identical to "the class of owners." By the way, in modern India the middle class is not only the community of more than 300 million people, but it represents the political self-expression of civil society and its institutions, namely public opinion and political parties.

Fourthly, Russia has not overcome the crisis of development, which is a delayed problem, i.e. it is temporarily eased by the persisting high prices for energy resources on a world market. The recent Russian presidential campaign has indirectly confirmed a similar suggestion: almost all figures who sought the presidential office participated quite formally, being confident that in a lingering world and national crisis reforms of an evolutionary, that is institutional and inertial, character do not have any chance of success.

However, the crisis also has positive significance for society, which was correctly noted by Ralf Dahrendorf in his time: It mobilizes the nation intellectually for the sake of "negation" of non-viable elements belonging to the past and encourages people to engage in "creative destruction," as Joseph Schumpeter described the nature of “watershed” periods in the life of a society. However, this "destruction" will only lead society to a higher level of equilibrium when it is manifested in the form of “breakthrough” ideas. The Soviet Orientalist and social science theorist Lev Reissner termed the totality of these ideas a "Reform" beginning with a capital letter. As it is understood by the present author, such a Reform is the process of the qualitative transformation of society, and it can be split  into three main time periods: 1) the elite's awareness of the historical non-viability/loss of vitality of existing systems, both economic and political; 2) the formation of an ideal image of a new society and the means of its creation resulting in formulation of strategy / philosophy of development, 3) implementation of a newly-born macroeconomic policy. The Indian reader will easily guess that the "Nehru's path" organically fits into this three-act scheme.

However, this three-step trajectory cannot be applied to all societies, but only to highly-disciplined, tightly-organized and culturally-homogeneous communities, such as those of the Far East. We will call this path "Japanese," and one of the genetic characteristics of it is rapid and sustained economic growth, up to rates of 10% and higher annually. (For Japan rapid economic growth covers the period from 1950 to 1985, as well as earlier growth spurts).

We will address the second path as "French," and it corresponds more to the ethos of the Russian people. Its main feature is not so much accelerated rates of economic growth as consistent and continuous state-directed restructuring of the technical and technological structure and management of the economy. The quality of this restructuring is to a large extent dependent on the elite's political intuition and practical turn of mind. There is no alternative to breaking the stagnating "equilibrium," and no one better than General de Gaulle felt this. The meaning of the French modernization strategy has been memorably described by one of the greatest economists of our time, Charles Kindleberger: "The change in outlook, the entry into positions of authority of new men who replaced those idled during the war or repudiated by the attachment to the Petain regime, led to sustained period of growth. … New men in nationalized industries, returning to the technocratic or Saint-Simonien tradition, pushed for innovations in chemicals, aircraft, railroading, automobiles, electricity transmission, machine-tool production. … France, which had played second fiddle to England for two or more centuries…, was outstripping Britain led by old men"*.

Both the lower and upper classes of Russian society understand the need for an economic "leap forward." At the highest political level, the “elites” are  knowledgeable that, for the sake of their political expediency, in the near future Russia needs annual economic growth no less than 6–7%. Otherwise, the country awaits the stagnation of living standards and increasing social protests with consequences that are difficult to forecast. "In order for the country to be saved," notes the eminent Russian German studies scholar, Leonid Istyagin, "the consolidation of all the healthy forces in society is imperative in order to achieve social justice, equality of opportunity and genuinely equal political rights."

However, the lack of alternatives to broad democratic reforms in Russia is creating a natural "methodological" question: if the state is the main historical subject of transformation, then which social force can become an intellectual, programmatic center for Reform?

The following seemed true to some in Russia and in the West: The December 2011 protests may become a vantage point for the birth of a new economic and political system in Russia. However, already the 2012 presidential campaign has demonstrated that the main opposition forces came closer to imitating the desire for power than to actually seeking it. The opposition, including the Left, still prefers to remain sitting on their haunches, waiting for the executive power to act in the field of economic policy. Thus, the "creative destruction" involving the major social and political forces of the society is adjourned for the time being. But it is this "creative destruction" that is proposed as a solution to problems that are not less significant in scale to those that existed in postwar France (and also in India after it won its independence in 1947), including the creation of horizontal links in the economy and politics (that is, the main means of strengthening the unity and territorial integrity of Russia) and ending the arbitrary rule by the excessively overgrown and selfish Russian chinovnichestvo (petty bureaucrats at the grassroots and in numerous Russia’s provincial cities).

And so, what are the political forces that can help the transformation of Russian society? Some political analysts point to the so-called "creative class" - a social stratum that has become a direct by-product of the "liberal reforms" and the rise of energy resource prices on the world market. Soviet Orientalists as well as African and Latin American Studies scholars have repeatedly applied the terms like "creative class" to transitional societies. The following have been noted as among its features: lack of an independent role in society, the dependence of the social status of members of this group on the volume and quality of the exported commodities (of non-industrial origin), a primary role in trading imported goods in its social and economic mobility, etc. In researching this phenomenon Israel Shamir has added the desire to distribute all sorts of ersatz cultural products to this list, thereby continuing Eric Hobsbawm's notion of "cultural revolution" as the substitution of the classical manifestations of high culture by "plebeian" models of mass communication that are intelligible to the least developed sections of the population. The "creativity" of this stratum is also manifested in the creation of various financial schemes that allow for "operationalizing" cash flows for their own interests, including transferring them overseas.

Meanwhile, the social and economic statistics of "Western" countries do not even know the definition of "creative class", but prefer to apply the proven category middle class, which includes intellect and ideas as the main driving forces of social development.

Alas, in post-Soviet Russia authorities do not have a programmatic center that is able to foresee the future and to form its own supporting economic, political and socio-cultural institutions. The helplessness and hopelessness of pro-government "experts" who act according to the "as you wish" principle and who are actually practicing voodoo economics are apparent. Unfortunately, Russia has not established a mechanism for promoting highly qualified staff into the administrative apparatus and the civil service. By the way, "rational bureaucracy" represents the core of the "developmental state", which is ensuring the rapid development of the Far Eastern societies.

The experience of Russia's BRICS partner countries, Brazil and India, shows that the social sciences taken together function as an important independent form of the self-consciousness of civil society. And if we add to this that both countries possess the strongest economic schools in the world, then it becomes clear that these super-large countries have powerful intellectual support to Reform in the name of Science. One of the heroes of the eminent Soviet writer Yury Trifonov muses: "There is nothing more stupid than looking for ideals back into the past." Similarly, it does not make sense to settle old scores with the recent past. It is necessary to restore the entire range of  social sciences with great celerity, not forgetting that the effectiveness of any scientific constructs is tested by practice, that is, by life itself. Brazil and India, for example, have  elaborated efficient mechanisms for the vertical social mobility of the academic community. And the most convincing evidence of this efficiency is the functioning of internationally recognized authorities in top government posts, obviously not without benefit to society. Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Manmohan Singh are undisputed leaders of the world economic thought, academically and practically.

Obviously, the authorities that are historically sentenced to Reform reasonably fear a repeat of the past, that is Russia's return to the general chaos of the Yeltsin era. However, without necessary changes to society there will be no movement forward. There is a Russian saying: those who do nothing will never commit an error. Overcoming the fears of our people who are still frightened by the "roaring nineties" (Joseph Stiglitz), the Kremlin together with society must carefully pave the way forward, avoiding backward motion. Herein lies the guarantee of preserving Russia's resiliency and vitality. 

* Kindleberger Ch. P. World Economic Primacy: 1500 to 1990. N.Y. – Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 124.

Andrei Volodin, Dr. Sc. (History), is Chief Research Fellow with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ (RAS) Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

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