Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Russia Lacks Basic Preconditions for Democracy, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 27 – This week, as Russia enters yet another pseudo-electoral campaign, two Moscow newspapers, Yezhednevny zhurnal and Novyye izvestiya have taken the highly unusual step of publishing an October 2015 address by Vladislav Inozemtsev on why Russia has never been, is not and won’t likely ever become a democracy.   

            The speech, to a Lodz conference under the title “Five Reasons Why Democracy is Impossible in Russia,” provides a useful checklist of the major obstacles Russia faces in actually moving toward what many hope for and what some incorrectly assume has already happened ( and

            Over the millennium of its existence, Inozemtsev says, “democracy has not existed in Russia and does not exist today. There have been periods when the opinion of the population meant something,” but none when there was democracy and popular control of the government and its policies.

            “More than that,” he continues, when the population forced a change, it did so by “destroying the state as such since no other means existed for it to do so – and certainly no other means no exists and won’t” anytime soon.  According to the Russian commentator, there are five reasons for this unhappy conclusion.

            First, there is history itself, the Russian analyst argues. Over the course of time, “the country has been associated with the state and the state with the figure of the ruler” and it has been a place where any alternatives were viewed as a threat to the state and in many cases as treasonous.

            “In Russia today,” Inozemtsev says, “there is no democracy: in it, there is only unlimited populism,” a system built “not on a choice of programs but on the preferences of personalities.” That is why Putin has retained his popularity even though he has moved from a pro-European market-oriented politician to an anti-Western and anti-capitalist position.

            Second, and arising from this is “the cult of personality,” something even more important than the first. “Democracy is a system where society is divided into mobile groups, called the minority and the majority.” They have to have a minimum respect for each other because each can become the other over time.

            “In Russia with its constant cult of personality (in the broad sense of this term) and the dramatization of contradictions, a view of disagreement has a crime has been formed.”  The opposition is first viewed as trouble makers, then as foreign agents and criminals. No one imagines anyone moving from a minority to a majority and thus worthy of dialogue.

            Third, Russia has always had a resource-based rather than entrepreneurial economy. The resources have changed from furs and gold to grain to oil and gas, but the relationship of the state to them has not.  This means that the state wins by expanding territorially to control more resources and by forcing the population to extract them rather than develop on its own.

            Entrepreneurialism in Russia “has traditionally been considered not as a mean of promoting the well-being of society but as speculation or as an activity motivated exclusively by profit.”  That contradicts the basis of a democratic society which is entrepreneurial in far more ways and views the values associated with it in a positive way. 

            Russia was and remains a rent-based system. Indeed, Inozemtsev points out, it is now more so than it was in late Soviet times. Then, raw materials constituted 38 percent of Soviet exports. Now, they constitute “almost 73 percent.” And there are no indications that this is about to change.

            “This means,” he continues, “that democratization looks not only unrealistic but in part unjust.” Those who ask the powers that be for favors rather than who demand their rights are not the milieu out of which democracy emerges but rather a condition of servility that precludes its rise.

             Fourth, Russia and Russians suffer from “an imperial mentality.”  They justify the sacrifice of freedoms to the protection and enhancement of “the greatness” often interpreted as the size of the state.  Democracy would have only hemmed in this drive, and so presenting to Russians the choice as between democracy and greatness usually is no choice at all.

            Adding territory to the state has been the chief criterion of greatness for Russian rulers, and “the loss of territory is the absolute criterion of the failure of a ruler” in his primary function. Putin’s successes in Chechnya and his annexation of Crimea “transformed him into a more respected leader of the country.

            And fifth, corruption.  “Russia is a country in which corruption and the misuse of power is a characteristic aspect of state institutions,” something that requires the “de-structuring of society” and of any possibility of collective action.  After all, “in contrast to lobbying, corruption is an individual almost intimate process.”

            As a result, Russia “in its present-day form” is a radically individualized society, one in which individuals seek exceptions to the rules via corruption rather than a change in the rules by political action, as is the case in democratic societies, Inozemtsev says.  And that has an unexpected consequence.

            Any increase in personal freedom in an authoritarian society, he points out, “leads to the formation of ‘an anti-democratic consensus’” because people want to be able to press their individual demands via corruption rather than take part in broader changes in the rules of the game.

            What does all this mean? Inozemtsev asks rhetorically. “The striving for freedom and autonomy, the sense of the supremacy of individual goals over state tasks, an attitude toward the state as the provider of public goods and not a sacred symbol, a readiness for collective action and no the individual solution of systemic contradictions” are all lacking.

            And these are precisely the preconditions for a democratic society. Russia over time may be influenced from the outside, Inozemtsev says, but he concludes that he does “not see any reason to suppose that Russia will be able to become a democracy as long as the main legislative, judicial and executive decisions continue to be taken [only] in Moscow.”

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