Saturday, May 24, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s ‘Negative Convergence’ about More than Just Economics, Eidman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Igor Eidman, who has argued that Putin’s Russia represents the coming together of the worst features of the Soviet past and Western capitalism (, says that this “negative convergence” involves far more than economics.

            In a post on yesterday, the Moscow analyst argues that almost wherever one looks in Putin’s Russia, this unfortunate combination is in evidence, an outcome that few predicted, that no one should want, and that is ultimately likely to prove extremely unstable (

            As Eidman points out, convergence theorists predicted that the capitalist and socialist countries would become ever more similar, but “in practice, post-Soviet society after 1991 proceeded not in the direction of convergence with the real Western world but with a model of capitalism as the leadership of Russia at that time imagined it.”

            That model, he says, was the one made by “familiar to Soviet people by communist propaganda,” a “’wild capitalism,’” which in fact nowhere existed any longer if it had ever done so.  And in moving toward the adoption of that “model,” “the Soviet system lost its own positive qualities without acquiring the positive characteristics of Western society.”

            And this “monster-system” has become worse as Russia under Putin “has become the restoration of Soviet shortcomings,” which most had assumed “had been left in the past.  But even as the Kremlin has done that, Eidman says, he has only “intensified” the borrowing of the worst aspects of capitalism.

             In support of his argument, the Moscow analyst surveys the way in which these two sets of negative features have converged in a variety of sectors of Russian life.  In the political system, Putin has drawn from the Soviet past “the authoritarian, leader-dominated   system,” the exclusion of the population from decision making in favor of a closed nomenklatura system, and the rule of the bureaucracy “in all spheres of life.”

            At the same time, he has borrowed from the capitalist world “the manipulation of voters,” the “protection of the ruling class” regardless of electoral outcomes, the exclusion of the poor from representation at the top of the political system, and “the recruitment of the higher bureaucracy from among the richer bourgeois portion” of the population.

            Putin’s “post-Soviet synthesis” in this area is “imitation democracy, systematic corruption, and the fusion of political authority and business.”

            In the economic sphere, Putin has retained or even intensified the worst shortcomings of the Soviet past: “the bureaucratic diktat in all spheres of economic activity, the limitation of private initiative,” and the continuation of a major role of corporations under government control, in particular the natural monopolies” which are like “Soviet industrial ministries.”

            Meanwhile, the Russian leader has borrowed capitalist shortcomings like the creation of a financial-industrial business oligarchy, “the extremely weak defense of the rights of workers, low social protections for the unemployed, invalids, and others, low pensions, and an enormous gap between the level of incomes of the rich and poor.”

            The post-Soviet synthesis in this case has been an economy based on raw materials rather than manufacturing, a weak middle class, monopolist pricing policies, a low level of effectiveness, and “a lack of competitiveness of the majority of the branches of the economy” compared to other countries.

            In the ideological and media spheres, Putin has revived from the Soviet past state control over most of the mass media, use television as a means of state propaganda, and “ideologized” education even as he has taken from capitalist low quality mass television culture and the use of an excessive amount of commercial advertising.

            The result has been the appearance of “a new state ideology, propagated by the media and based on patriotism, xenophobia and homophobia, clericalism, hatred to the West, militarism, the cult of military victories and the cult of the ‘leader’ (Putin).”

                As far as education and health are concerned, Putin has drawn from the Soviet past “the low quality of services ... poor material support and conditions in hospitals, polyclinics and schools, [and low pay and low quality of the work of personnel” in these sectors with Western shortcomings like “commercialization and limited access to such services for poor people.”

            The post-Soviet synthesis here, Eidman, says, includes rising prices, limited access by the poor to such services, and a significant reduction in the quality of education “as a result of commercialization and clericalization.”

            In the courts, Putin has completely restored the Soviet-era’s complete lack of judicial independence and “’telephone justice’” even as he has taken from capitalist systems arrangements that have frozen many people out of the justice system by rising prices.  That in turn has resulted in “the absence of independent and equal justice for all citizens.”
            Regarding the rights and freedoms of citizens, Putin has drawn from the Soviet past “the politically motivated limitation” of all freedoms, increased “political repression against opponents of the regime,” and given virtually unlimited power to the special services in support of himself.
            At the same time, he has taken such capitalist shortcomings as income-driven inequality and thus produced a “synthesis” involving “the legal defenseless of ‘the weak’ against ‘the strong,’ of the poor against the rich, and of citizens against the authorities and the criminal world.”

            And in foreign affairs, Putin has restored from the Soviet past “an ideological, aggressive foreign policy with pretentions to messianism, an obsession with foreign policy greatness, and a confrontation with the West leading to a new cold war.” From the capitalist shortcomings, he has drawn the idea of “territorial and economic expansion in the interests of big business.”
            The post-Soviet synthesis in this sphere has led to “a declared ideological opposition to ‘Gay-Europe’ and ‘American hegemony in the world,’” claims that Moscow is the defender of “conservative, Christian-clerical and xenophobic forces” everywhere, an effort to subordinate its neighbors by military force and restore the Soviet empire and “the status of a super-power under a new ideological sauce.”
            Neither market fundamentalists nor advocates of “’a Soviet rebirth’” are in a position to be “consistent critics of the Putin regime, Eidman says, because the supporters of each will always support part of the Kremlin’s system or be at risk if Putin tilts more one way than the other.  And that limits the ability of these oppositions to reach out to the population.
            The only kind of opposition with a future, he suggests, is one that will “unmask” both aspects of the Putin regime.

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