Staunton, February 1 – Russia society today is “extremely individualistic,” Larisa Nikolskaya says, with most people focusing on their own survival rather than any broader goals, a pattern that simultaneously prevents the formation of groups for the promotion of any political cause and makes Russians less willing to sacrifice for the state than many think.
That is the conclusion offered by Larisa Nikolskaya, a Moscow sociologist, in a study published at the end of last year (isras.ru/index.php?page_id=1198&id=4917) that has been summarized and expanded today by Pavel Pryanikov on his Tolkovatel portal (ttolk.ru/2017/02/01/крайний-индивидуализм-россиян-и-моск/).
In Russia, the sociologist says, there are “two types of social adaptation: active and inert. The active type is characterized by an orientation toward initiative, entrepreneurialism, [and] a readiness to accept change. The inert type, on the contrary, seeks to strengthen the status quo, control from outside and stability and reproduction of the self in an unchanged way.”
Polls show that about 40 percent of Russians fall in the active category, about 37 percent in the inert one, and some 23 percent manifest a combination of the two. And the attitudes of the two are very different in many ways but profoundly the same in the Russian context in others, Nikolskaya suggests.
“For Russians of the active type, social justice is achieved through the securing of human rights, democracy and the freedom of self-expression, but in Russia this is interpreted as having a powerful state which unites various peoples.” For the inert, there is “a demand for a harsh power which can secure order and also a return to traditional values.”
Thus, there is support for a strong state from both groups albeit for different reasons, but even support for the state has its limits because of the extreme individualism of Russians. Some 56 percent of them say personal interests are more important than anything else, while only 36 percent are “prepared to sacrifice their own wellbeing for social goals.”
That pattern has been extremely stable over time, the sociologist continues, but Pryanikov for his part argues that “the syndrome of ‘negative family-ism’ has been again reproduced in the conditions of the drawn-out financial-economic crisis.” And that in turn has led to the rise of “a new type of individualism,” one hostile to cooperation and anyone’s rules but his or her own.
The Russian commentator cites the earlier findings of Russian scholar V.V. Petukhov that “Russian individualism is the individualism of people who have encountered difficult problems of survival and therefore it does not yet give impulses for various forms of civic and professional consolidation and solidarity.”
Nikolskaya says that this situation is unlikely to improve and may get worse if the Russian powers that be continue to operate without regard to the attitudes of the population whose members will then increasingly view the state as yet another external group with which they do not want to cooperate.
That points to an increase in the dangers American political scientist R.D. Putnam pointed to in the 1990s. He suggested at that time that “in the absence in society of mutuality and structures of civic involvement, the variant of the Italian South – amoral family actions, clientelism, illegality, ineffective rule and economic stagnation is a more likely outcome than democratization and economic progress.”
Indeed, he famously observed that the future of Moscow may be seen in the past and present of Palermo, the hope of the Sicilian mafia. (See Putnam’s Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, 1993). In the view of Pryanikov, the situation in Russia has not gotten better but worse as he argues the research of Nikolskaya shows.
“In such circumstances,” Pryanikov continues, there is little reason to think that Russians are likely to “strive to combine with one another for the resolution of common problems.” Indeed, “they are step by step losing the ability to collective resistance to those forces which crudely violate their rights and freedoms.”