Staunton, April 6 – Ten days ago, the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences hosted a symposium on “Russia’s Paths: The New Old Order – an Eternal Return,” a subject this institution has examined before but one that, according to a report published at the end of last week, has acquired new importance.
The discussion itself – see msses.ru/about/news/1845/ -- was almost exclusively at the level of theory, but as often is the case, the selection of theories to be considered and the way in which they are examined says more about current realities than many more ostensibly reportorial articles.
On the basis of a critical examination of the work of Thomas Hobbes, A.F. Filippov argued that in Russia as in other countries, “new old orders are not simply ‘imposed’ or ‘accepted.’” Instead, they can emerge in ways that appear “spontaneous” because much of what was in the old did not pass away and thus is almost certain to re-emerge.
Andrey Ignatyev, having noted that “a social order is nothing other than ‘the structured levels of daily routine,’ which we never notice but which are, in addition to everything else, always with us,” argued that “the social order in Russia in practice was always hidden” or at least concealed from most.
He suggested that this reality was reflected in the works of Gogol, Tyutchev, and Chaadayev, “who,” Ignatyev continued, “saw in Russia more a world bordering on chaos than a social order” as such.”
Lyubov Bronzino, in her paper, argued that one of the obstacles to understanding why the old never really goes away but is constantly returning is that there is not one “order” but two, “a state order and an order produced by intellectuals.” And as a result, “despite all the efforts of the state and the authorities, it is never possible for them to completely control the situation.”
“The development of social networks and means of mass communications,” she continues, “has given intellectuals a serious instrument for struggling against the state order and given birth to the phenomenon of ‘the smart crowd,’ which, seeing the manipulation by the state, attempts by all means to counter them and establish its own control over the authorities.”
A “manifestation of this phenomenon of the smart crowd,” Bronzino says, was the Euro-Maidan in Ukraine “where we see a clear attempt of the people,” who having seen that the authorities are doing everything possible to manipulate them, seek to block that effort and manipulate the authorities.
One of the most intriguing papers reported was that by Leonid Blyakher on the competition between the state order and a spontaneous social order in the Russian Far East in the past because of its distance from the center of the Russian state and hence the relatively privileged position of those prepared to oppose it.
Blyakher demonstrated that the two orders, one state-center and one society-centered, formed “in parallel” and that they coexisted for a long time. That is because “any effort by the state to uproot the spontaneous order led to economic decline in the region and social conflicts,” something the state was not always strong enough to deal with.
Another presented developed this conceptual framework and extended it to Russia as a whole. Irina Dudenkova argued that unlike the social order which is formed by informal consensus, “the state order is formed not by means of recognition but via actions behind the scenes,” which gives rise to conspiracy thinking.
“In contemporary politics,” she continues, many Russians view the decisions of politicians as conspiracies but this very perception gives political figures “a suitable means of justifying their decisions. Thus, the state order today is in practice entirely penetrated by secrets and conspiracies of various kinds.”