Monday, December 12, 2005

My Political Credo

What's my political credo? I'm a liberal intelligent who supports the state although it sounds as an oxymoron. Sergei Roy, the editor of intelligent.ru (you find the English version of this site at the sidebar) defines it better than I do. Here's his thoughts about the poor state of Russian liberalism published by Peter Lavalle's Untimely Thoughts.

Putin is indeed a statist, and thus the opposite of liberal, in that he has stopped the country rolling along an inclined plane into the abyss of disintegration. By the end of Boris Yeltsin, the Liberal Pretender’s, rule, Russia was fast becoming an assemblage of fiefdoms that were “territories of free hunting” (Khodorkovsky’s phrase) for oligarchs/barons of two types, regional and financial-industrial, without a clear demarcation line between them. It came to pass that the biggest and the most impudent of these, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, made a grab for ultimate political power, buying the services of 250 deputies of the Duma and preparing to sell to a U.S.-based transnational 50 percent of the biggest oil company in the land, which would have put him beyond the reach of Russian law.

Putin put a stop to that, in the nick of time, and did some other things to restore the notorious “vertical of power,” which on closer inspection proves nothing more nor less than a functioning system of governance securing a more or less unified legal, political, and economic space.

What about Putin, the Statist Pretender’s, liberal credentials? Alas, they are no better than his predecessor’s. Although some of the oligarchs have been slapped into line, the oligarchy as a system of post-communist order is still with us and, which is more, it is thriving. Some of the members of Putin’s government – Mikhail Zurabov, German Gref, Viktor Khristenko – enjoy the tags of liberals, or neo-liberals, or radical liberals. In my view, these appellations can only be applied to these people if the word “liberal” has irreversibly passed into the swearword section of the Russian vocabulary. Monetization of social benefits was one example of their liberalism, housing and utilities reforms will be another. As a result of these liberal reforms, oligarchic profits (say, Zurabov’s pharmaceutical interests) will swell, while the populace at large will find itself in a still harsher grip of those oligarchic interests and at the mercy of the state’s handouts. Liberalism, forsooth.

I have stressed in the above the primary tenets of liberalism: freedom from state intervention and control over the sovereign individual’s affairs. In Russia, this principle has undergone a fantastic perversion: an owner or top manager of a company is free from state control and intervention precisely because he himself is the State – a government minister or a member of the President’s Administration. That’s what oligarchy is in a nutshell. And that’s what we have.

A few words on the subject of Russia’s political parties and liberalism – simply because they do not deserve more than a few words. I will leave Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal-Democratic Party entirely out of account; it is the proper provenance for the Public Prosecutor.

The Union of Right Forces, or SPS: Headed to this day by the founding fathers of oligarchic capitalism, it is a graphic illustration of the perversion of liberal principles, as described above. Chubais’s call for a “liberal empire” is a classic, in this respect: it will be an empire for a few “liberals” up top, just as it is now, and the masses vainly awaiting liberation from the slavery of poverty, at bottom.

Yabloko, the left-leaning branch of the liberal intelligentsia: For one thing, it is tarred with the oligarchic brush, much as it would like to expunge that memory. For years it fed out of Khodorkovsky’s hand. For another, it has shown a readiness to take Russian liberalism to a point at which Russia would simply disappear. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Anatoly Chubais had every right to call Yabloko head Grigory Yavlinsky a “traitor,” very publicly, on NTV, because of Yavlinsky’s stance on policy vis-?-vis Chechnya. I would hate to agree with Chubais on the time of day, but here he hit the nail right on the head: any concessions in the matter of Chechnya’s independence mean one thing, and one thing only – wave after wave of Islamic fundamentalism hitting Russia from the Caucasus, threatening to split it right down the middle, along the Turkic-populated regions of the Volga. As president, Yavlinsky would one day be crowned with the same laurels of Russia’s destroyer as Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexander Kerensky before him, not counting the scum that started the Times of Troubles.

So, aren’t there any true liberals left in Russia? There are. We are simply looking for them in the wrong places.

One locus is the same as decades and hundreds of years ago: the liberal intelligentsia. True, its role is pitiful right now, reduced to criticizing the current state of affairs and preaching to the younger generation that things can be different from the existing heap of manure as long as they keep the faith. A sad role, but a necessary one, and there are enough memories to sustain the intelligentsia in this role; it has seen much worse times. Words can barely say just how much worse they were.

The other agent is a much more robust one: the non-oligarchic capitalist. His fate is perhaps even worse than the pensive intellectual’s, for it is he who has to grapple with the forces of the bandit bureaucracy, the pressure of bandits in the more traditional sense, and of oligarchic monopolies. These people would be very much surprised if you informed them that they were the brightest hope of liberalism in Russia. Yet that is a fact. Of course, they are mostly extremely rough diamonds, their esthetic taste is abominable – you only have to look at the “castles” they are building all around Moscow or any other city. But, as Anna Akhmatova said, “If only you knew out of what garbage poems grow, unaware of shame.” Liberalism seems to be akin to good poetry, growing out of garbage. Among other things.

4 comments:

rev. billy bob gisher ©2005 said...

would love a link with this blog:

reverendgisher@yahoo.com

W. Shedd said...

"In Russia, this principle has undergone a fantastic perversion: an owner or top manager of a company is free from state control and intervention precisely because he himself is the State – a government minister or a member of the President’s Administration."

Isn't this straight from The Communist Manifesto? The State exists only to protect the interests of the Capitalist and oppress the proletariat. In most nations and particularly the West, corporations hold undue political sway .. at least up to the point where it conflicts with the voting populace and the politicians chances of being re-elected.

I know it is popular to call Russia an "oligarchy" ... but wouldn't a true oligarchy require that only the oligarchs are capable of voting? In this sense, communism in the CCCP was more of an oligarchy than the current state of Russia. Where before power, influence, and creature comforts were in the hands of a relatively small group of corrupt communists ... now power, influence, and creature comforts are in the hands of a relatively small group of wealthy capitalists (and the politicos who may serve them) who quickly consolidated wealth amid free-market chaos.

The difference as I see it is ... at least now Russians can vote and can speak out ... if they are inclined and motivated to do so.

Although some (such as Masha Gessen) might suggest that Russians aren't really all that free to act out politically.

Anonymous said...

Dear Colleague,

this is not a comment -- just advice to delete the link to intelligent.ru (which is defunct) and replace it with guardian.psj.ru -- which I currently edit.

Sincerely,
Sergei Roy
sergeiroy at yandex.ru

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