Wednesday, May 4, 2016

For First Time in a Century, Young Russians Face Downward Social Mobility, Kagarlitsky Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – For the first time in 100 years, young Russians face the prospect not just of slowing upward mobility as was the case at the end of Soviet times but of actual downward mobility in which their life chances and achievements will be less than their parents, according to Moscow sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky.

            In the course of a wide-ranging interview with Kazan’s “Business Gazeta,” he recalls that in the mid-1970s, “reformist sociologists calculated that social mobility was two times lower in the Brezhnev’s times than it had been in Stalin’s” and that this alone suggested the system was entering a period of crisis (m.business-gazeta.ru/article/309544).

            Today, Kagarlitsky says, the situation is quite a bit  “worse” because “if at the end of the USSR, one of the factors of its decay was the reduction in the rates of rising social mobility, now, what is seen is not simply a reduction in the rate of increase but their [actual] movement downward.”

            He points to the findings of his colleague Anna Ochkina who he says “very justly has noted that the phenomenon of falling social mobility is unique for our time” and that “the generation now entering working life faces the risk not only of not rising above the level of its parents but of falling lower.”

            According to Kagarlitsky, in Russia at least, its members are “also less well educated because the level of education has fallen. Sometimes people say that pupils earlier read ‘War and Peace’ but now don’t because it isn’t important. Instead, they know how to use computers.”  But he argues this “thesis is incorrect.”

            “The problem is that they are poorly educated even according to the measures and demands of the contemporary market system.” They lack general knowledge and thus the possibilities of adapting to the market because as studies in the US have shown, those who do best are not those with specialized training but rather broad and high quality education.

            “In other words,” Kagarlitsky says, “the current reform of education which is focused on habits and competences creates a generation not capable of adapting and which will find it extremely difficult to survive under market conditions.”  Such people will be among the first to discover that the social guarantees that had existed no longer do.

            There are many possible responses to this crisis ranging from escapism to political activism, but “in Russia,” the sociologist continues, “young people will not be the factor which will put someone forward.” Instead, they will be available for mobilization by older people as is happening in the US with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

            “Today in Russia,” he argues, “as polls show, the older generation is much more radical and ideological” than the younger ones.  If one considers attitudes toward the family, for example, “the older generation in Russia even pensioners sees a quite emancipated role for women and supports freedom and equality of the sexes.”

            Young Russians in contrast, Kagarlitsky says, are increasingly attached to “domostroy” traditional values at least at the level of declarations.  “In practice, of course, everything is not that way: young people live free lives but their ideas about what is ideal are very conservative” compared to their parental generation.

            “Conservatism can be healthy, but this is simply an archaic revival,” the sociologist concludes. “Therefore there will be an inversion of roles: young people now will not be in the avant-garde.” Instead, at least at the beginning, older people may take the lead – although once the young realize their own power, things could get “really interesting.”


Moscow and Regions Adopt Different Protest Strategies, Kagarlitsky Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – Russians always talk about the divide between Moscow and the rest of the country, but according to sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky, most of them fail to understand either just how deep this split has become and how it is likely to be a primary factor in Russian political life in the coming months.

            In a wide-ranging interview with Kazan’s “Business Gazeta,” the sociologist says that all too often analysts, despite nodding to this Moscow-provinces divide, extrapolate from what they see in the Russian capital to the country as a whole and thus fail to understand what is going on – and even more what is likely to take place (m.business-gazeta.ru/article/309544).

            Observers see in Moscow that members of the middle class do not consider themselves part of anything or trust anybody. That is true of the middle class of the country as a whole but the situation in the regions is not what it is in Moscow. “The capital’s middle class emotionally [is sliding] ever more into depression;” those in the regions somewhat less so.

            In both places, he continues, members of this group “will not vote for anyone, but however strange it may seem, they will not protest either. And what is most interesting is … [that as a result] the middle class will marginalize itself, psychologically and emotionally but not socially.”

            Russians are dissuaded from taking part in protests not only by what they see in Ukraine but also by the fact that Russian society today has greater access to information: it is “open informationally, in contrast to the USSR.” In Soviet times, people often thought the regime was lying about the West; now, they can read what people in the West are saying.

            As a result, he says in expressing agreement with his interviewer, Russians in the middle class are afraid that any protests they engage in will be exploited by outsiders. They will only decide to protest when they feel there is no other way out. That will reduce the importance of the middle class at the beginning of any rising.

            “An effective protest [in Russia],” Kagarlitsky continues, “will not be the style of the Maidan. It will be a mass political expression through the channels of loyal reporting of information which will then become converted into demands.  That is, first we will use these channels to report to the powers that be and then demand that they act.”

            In this process, he says, the situation in the provinces and the one in Moscow are “radically” different.  The Russian middle class in Moscow and St. Petersburg is more inclined to grow depressed rather than to act even in this way, while those in the provinces “will begin to be drawn to these channels” of communication and thus begin to respond to the powers that be.

            There is a good reason for this: “the regional middle class is much more closely tied to the bureaucracy. In Kazan, there are universities, theaters, a city with all the institutions that exist in the capitals. But the distance between the lower and middle links of the bureaucracy and intelligentsia and small business is much smaller and emotionally and socially the integration of these groups is higher.”

            The middle class in the capitals “will sit, cry and get angry about live on Facebook, but in the regions people will get involved in channels that give a chance for a feedback loop and they will quickly understand one thing: they are potential leaders because they have the experience, knowledge and social status and in some cases psychological qualities which will allow them to quickly move forward.”

            Consider the recent case of truck drives in Yekaterinburg, he continues. There, the drivers wanted to form a union but didn’t know how. They first turned to the KPRF, but the KPRF advised them to ask university instructors who investigate trade union movements.  “In this way, the instructors became involved in this activity.”

            “If the provincial middle class begins to ‘succumb’ to the bloc of issues arising from the demands of ‘the proletarians’ and lower bureaucracy,” Kagarlitsky concludes, what is likely to emerge in Russia in the near future is a real divide and conflict between “the patriotic provinces,” on the one hand, and “liberal-comprador Moscow,” on the other.

Lower-Level State Employees Nucleus of Coming Social Revolt in Russia, Kagarlitsky Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – The reasons Russians are protesting haven’t changed but the composition of those taking part in protests has, Boris Kagarlitsky says; and the groups that are likely to form the nucleus of a new social explosion are not the young and the pensioners as in the past but men in their 30s and lower and mid-level state employees.

            In a wide-ranging interview with Kazan’s “Business Gazeta,” the Moscow sociologist says that his projection reflects certain underlying trends in Russian life whose implications have sometimes passed unnoticed, including in the first instance the degradation of the institutions of the social state (m.business-gazeta.ru/article/309544).

            As long as the economy was growing and incomes were rising, no one paid much attention to these government support mechanisms because most people did not have to use them; but now that the economic situation is getting worse, Kagarlitsky says, “we have suddenly discovered that these mechanisms do not work.”

            Not surprisingly, he continues, that has changed the composi, tion of those doing the protests even if it has not changed what they are protesting about. “Earlier the protesters consisted of pensioners or young people or those in very specific situations with a particular problem.”

            Some of that kind of protest, which Kagarlitsky calls the protest of despair, continues; but it has been joined by a larger group of people, more male, aged 30 to 40, with families who had jobs but have lost them and who are now ready to protest. That is, he continues, the groups that earlier were viewed as the most stable and the least likely to strike.

            This has the paradoxical consequence that initially, this new composition of the protests “lowers the degree of protest and the level of its radicalism” because unlike young people who have not yet been integrated into the economy and the pensioners who believe they can count on something, these are people who have something to lose, know it, but are driven to act.

            Look at what has happened in the Donbas, Kagarlitsky says.  There the main participants in the pro-Moscow movement “are not the young. They are adult males … [who] went their consciously and understood what they were going for.” They also understood the risks and were ready to take them because of a sense that they had no other way out.

            Many people now talk about “the terrible Russian rising,” he says; but “these people do not want risings.” However, if they are driven into a position when they feel that is the only option, “this will be very serious” -- and not any playing at revolution as some of the marginal in Russia today do.

            This group of people is broader than what is meant by the working class, Kagarlitsky says. It includes all who live from paycheck to paycheck.  “But there is another category of citizens” that make it up and that are all too often “underrated.”  These are “the middle and lower ranks of the Russian bureaucracy,” a group that is seldom studied.

            Because Russia remains “extremely bureaucratized, there is an enormous mass of petty and mid-level bureaucrats who now make decisions or are people we do not consider bureaucrats but they work for the state such as the head or dean of a faculty in a higher educational institution or a deputy chief doctor in a hospital.”

            “However paradoxical it may seem,” Kagarlitsky says, “our crisis and the neo-liberal reforms have hit this mass of people harder than the population as a whole” because they are subject to pressure “from all sides.” Their incomes are falling, they are losing their positions, but they are still required to act, often against their own interests.

            At a certain point, he says, they will revolt; but “this will not be a rising of those at the bottom. This will be a rising of the lower and mid-level links of the state apparatus which already now with all its force is sabotaging the neo-liberal policies [of the central government] at the local level.”

            The central government understands this because it has created the problem by giving the regions ever less money while demanding that they be ever more responsible.  This leaves regional officials “between the hammer and the anvil” with “a dissatisfied population below and conflict with those in power above them.” 

            Such feelings will only be exacerbated by “the senseless parliamentary elections this fall,” Kagarlitsky says.  And the Kremlin knows this: these people are and will remain loyal to Putin but only as a specific individual “but not to the system” and they are thus available for mobilization against the system but not the president.

            “This is an unprecedented situation,” one in which such lower level officials have a remarkable degree of freedom. “For the authorities and for our liberals, the marker is the attitude toward Putin. But for society, this is far from the main criteria.” Russians agree on that but not on other things.

            “For liberals and hurrah patriots, the key questions are how we relate to Putin, Crimea, the Donbas or the Americans; but for society, these aren’t questions of interest because on them there is already a consensus. No one in Russia wants to give Crimea back to Ukraine … and therefore it is completely uninteresting for society if that is discussed.”

            In many respects, Kagarlitsky continues, “Putin is our Queen Victoria,” “not an absolute monarch” but more than a mere “decorative figure,” someone whose opinions have to be respected and followed but whose opinions aren’t expressed on all things or followed on many of them.

            That can be seen in voting in primaries and in single-member districts where the powers that be have not always won or even controlled the situation. “In the future, this will be even more true,” the Moscow sociologist says.  In a sense, this “recalled the times of perestroika” when the regime felt compelled to try to reform itself.

            But as de Tocqueville warned and as Russia has experienced, the worst time for a bad government is not when it is at its worst but when it tries to correct its mistakes. Then, it can lose control with others coming it to demand change. It is possible that Putin may remain popular at least for a time, but his current system may be destroyed by pressure from above and below.