Staunton, May 20 – Max Weber defined the modern state as a set of institutions that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force on a given territory, Kirill Martynov says. Only its official representatives have the right to use force to ensure that people obey its laws, and the state is responsible for protecting individuals against any unjust use of force.
But when a state as the Russian government has done in recent times cedes that power to private groups be they sportsmen, Cossacks or self-organized militias as the Russian government has done, the political editor of “Novaya gazeta” points out, such actions “testify to the deepest crisis of state institutions” (novayagazeta.ru/columns/73140.html).
Such groups who invariably claim to be the backers of the state against its “enemies” in fact, Martynov says, “weaken” the state because “their appearance means that the state cannot manage to control the situation and cannot serve as a universal arbiter for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.”
That is because the use of such groups by the state means that “we are moving toward a system of vassal dependencies: you can hope for physical security only if you are loyal to an influential lord. Otherwise, you can be declared an enemy, and the force used against you will be considered completely acceptable.”
In that event, the “Novaya gazeta” commentator continues, “the state cannot represent the interests of all citizens.” Moreover, he says, “when non-governmental force becomes the norm of social life, the agony of the state begins” and society returns, as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, to “a state of nature, a war of all against all.”
In recent weeks, groups of people armed or at least prepared to use force and apparently “condoned” by the powers that be have ever more frequently made their presence known in the attacks on Aleksey Navalny, in others against those protesting church construction, and most lethally in the clashes at the Khovansk cemetery.
“It is not accidental,” Martynov says, “that all these events are occurring” at one and the same time. That is because while “the state is conducting ever more pompous military parades and issuing ever more loud patriotic slogans, it is losing real control over the situation in the country.”
Over the last two years, he points out, ever more people “have said that the main goal of the Russian authorities and society is not to allow a repetition of the Maidan in Moscow.” But Martynov continues, allowing or even encouraging such actions of force by independent groups in support of the regime was exactly why the Ukrainian revolution happened.
When Viktor Yanukovich shared the use of force with “young sportsmen brought in by bus from the Donbas,” the game was up and the revolution took off, Martynov says. The Russian authorities should remember that.
Of course, although the “Novaya gazeta” writer does not mention it, the Russian authorities can look to their own national history for instruction on this point: the rise of groups like the Black Hundreds at the end of the Imperial period, groups that claimed to be supportive of the tsar above all, in fact ushered in the Russian revolutions of 1917.