Staunton, March 19 – “Behind the façade of today’s chaos,” Irina Pavlova argues, is taking place a process that recalls Stalin’s destruction of the NEP and that set the stage for his totalitarian system: the destruction of small businesses which provide the foundation for democracy and the total failure of the opposition to understand what is going on.
In a commentary on Grani.ru yesterday, Pavlova, one of the most thoughtful observers of the Russian scene, says that the destruction of small business by the Putin regime is accelerating but taking place “outside the field of view of progressive society which does not tire of talking about the apathy of the Russian population” (grani.ru/opinion/m.212700.html).
This destruction of the group which history suggests forms the basis for the emergence of “democratic procedures and institutions,” she continues, was documented by “Kommersant” several weeks ago (www.kommersant.ru/doc/2132842), but the consequences of this action have been ignored by leading opposition figures.
And that is a tragedy, Pavlova suggests, because it means that they do not understand either the significance of that trend, that fact that it means that no alternative to the Soviet model has emerged or the need to support small business and the conditions for its development as a core part of their thinking and political program.
The Soviet model, she points out, consists of the “stratification” of everything, perhaps with contemporary trappings like computers and I-phones but one “with the very same traditional supreme power and the enserfment of the people,” who are thus left with no alternative but to rely on the state.
A decade ago, Russia’s “small and mid-sized entrepreneurs could still have become the basis of the democratic opposition if the liberal parties had reached out to them and learned to express their material interests in the language of politics.” Had that happened, there would have been a chance for “a genuine democratic opposition in the country.”
But it didn’t, she says, and both the reasons it didn’t and the continuing consequences of that failure of those who view themselves as leaders of the opposition are very much on view in an exchange of comments by Kseniya Sobchak and Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the current issue of Moscow’s “Snob” (snob.ru/magazine/entry/58166 and snob.ru/magazine/entry/58239).
The most immediately striking aspect of this exchange, Pavlova suggests, is just “how far these people are from real life in the country and from an understanding” of what is taking place. Khodorkovsky, for all his words about democracy, speaks “like a typical Soviet factory director” and does not mention the need for guaranteeing private property.
There is no evidence that he understands that it is precisely private property and the interests of its owners that are “the foundation of a legal state in the West” and that “honest elections and independent courts arise not from the simple desire to be honest and independent” but rather as “the result of the struggle for concrete material interests.”
In contrast to Khodorkovsky, Sobchak represents not those who think that Yeltsin created a legal state and that Putin is destroying it but rather “the generation of the ‘golden’ youth for whom in recent times the existing Russian authorities have become ‘boring esthetically unattractive and having exhausted themselves.’”
Like many of her cohort, Pavlova says, Sobchak has accepted “not only democratic rhetoric but also all the clichés of contemporary Russian liberalism.” But she and it “are not able to propose any alternative” to the existing system besides “pathetic words about the importance of democracy, division of powers regular rotations of elites by elections” and so on.
And neither Sobchak nor those like her has recognized that the Russian people no longer cares or is moved by “all these abstract considerations.” In that she is like Khodorkovsky because she does not understand that Russians “understand their real interests” at least in the immediate term because they been so “disappointed” with what democracy has given them.
Pavlova says that she fears “this process has already become irreversible” and that “it is difficult to imagine” how Russia could return to “the enthusiasms of the late 1980s and early 1990s.” Each turn toward stratification “only intensifies the degradation of the country” and, as Herzen said, means that “all the good qualities of the Russian people” are disappearing.
Neither Khodorkovsky nor Sobchak understand this or offer more than abstract slogans about the struggle for “real political reform.” And such appeals are “extremely far from the demands of real Russian life.” Indeed they are more “useful” for the powers that be because they cover its actions than they are for the people to whom they are addressed.
The sense that these and other opposition figures do not recognize what is going on or have any idea what is at stake is perfectly symbolized, the commentator concludes, by the fact that the exchange of ideas by Khodorkovsky and Sobchak took place in a publication called “The Snob.”