Sunday, November 22, 2015

Russia Remains a Pre-Class System of Social Strata, Kordonsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 22 – Russia remains a pre-modern pre-class society, one based on social strata created and defined by the state “for the solution of its tasks and the neutralization of any kind of threat” and must be analyzed as such, according to Simon Kordonsky, a sociologist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

            Speaking with a journalist from TV-2 in Tomsk, where he went to and then was expelled from a university in Soviet times, Kordonsky both describes the nature of a system based on social strata and contrasts it with one based on social classes (

            In a society based on strata, each of these is defined by the state by “a particular law in which are written down all the obligations, privileges, and benefits of that stratum. A stratum is a pre-class thing; classes arise in the market on a natural way, but social strata are created by the state.”

            “If a society has a class structure,” the sociologist continues, “a mechanism for the agreement of interests among classes appears. This is called democracy. Relations between classes must be regulated. A parliament appears as do laws which regulate these relations [and] a judicial system.”

            In a strata-based system, Kordonsky says, there is no need for such institutions. There, “there is no market, but there is a system of distribution,” and there is an individual at the top who is “the supreme arbiter” who makes decisions about “the two kinds of complaints: some take too much and others are given too little.”

            All such complaints “rise to the level of the arbiter” who then decides about these things and is expected to produce a kind of justice as a result.

            There are numerous strata in Russian society, and individuals are often members of more than one stratum, Kordonsky says.  At the same time, he continues, “the new strata system in Russia has not yet been completed set up: there is the form, but stratum self-consciousness has not appeared.” There remain some remnants of class structure.

            “In present-day Russia, this strata arrangement is not recognized,” the sociologist says, adding that one’s membership in a social group is not only a question of external arrangements but also of “internal self-identification.” There are problems when these two things do not, as in many cases now, correspond because people do not know how to identify themselves.

            In part, he suggests, this problem is part of a larger one, “a deficit of power.”  What Russia has at present is “an imitation of power.” There is “the power vertical” but there is no power.” People turn to those they think have power only to find out that they don’t, although the system of transferring wealth does work as long as there is wealth to transfer.

            Despite the assumptions of many, Kordonsky says, this system is highly stable because it has been in place for centuries.  At the same time, he adds, the more the top wants to take out of society, the more repressive it has to become – and that could at some point trigger a negative response. 

            But those who think this will happen quickly in Russia are deceiving themselves, the sociologist says, because “in place of the civil society about which [such people] love to talk, we have our own institutions” like the bath and the garage and our own assumptions that there are no others and never will be.

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