Staunton, March 30 – One of the unfortunate consequences of the collapse of the Soviet empire internationally and domestically, Vladislav Inozemtsev says, is that people in the West and in Russia called many countries democratic when they in fact were not out of a desire to proclaim “the end of history.”
That has led to the rise of an era of hyphenated democracy in which the adjective takes away most of the meaning of the noun, the Russian economist and commentator says, something that allows people on all sides of the divide to remain convinced that they live in a new democratic society when in fact they live in an authoritarian one.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of Russia where both many Russians and many in the West refuse to recognize that the Russian state today is not a democracy but rather a kind of authoritarian regime that resembles in various ways the fascist one of Mussolini, a point made in the latest excerpt of his book A Non-Modern Country (ej.ru/?a=note&id=33598).
Russia is not and does not currently have the ability to transform itself into a liberal democracy, Inozemtsev says. That reflects first of all the fact that in Russia, the state has an elevated role that does not permit the formation of any opposition: Dissidence is possible; but real opposition movements and parties are not.
Second and related to that, the state is highly personified; but not only the state is. So too are those who oppose it. As a result, they cannot form political parties of the kind that exist in democratic societies. And third, Russia is a raw materials producer and the state is about redistributing its earnings from that rather than promoting the development of the economy.
The commentator suggests that Russia should be called not a democracy but rather “a preventive plebiscite” state, one which doesn’t respond to social demands but creates its own environment on the basis of which it acts, insists on an agenda defined in such a way that no one can really be against it, and is involved in everything except economics as such.
Many in Russia and abroad can’t see this, he suggests, not only because they don’t want to admit that “an ordinary authoritarian dictatorship” has arisen in a major Western country in this century, especially after they proclaimed the triumph of democracy, but also because there has been so much real progress in rights and freedoms since Soviet times.
But in addition to these two restraining factors, Inozemtsev says, there is a third which makes dispensing with this prejudice that Russia is a democracy especially difficult. And that is this: Russians themselves feel free even though they are not in a democratic state, something Westerners can’t fully understand.
Many in the West do not understand that few Russians connect their lives with the state or seek to change it beyond getting it out of their way. What happened at the end of Soviet times was people organized to force the old state out of this or that sphere of their lives, thus destroying it, rather than working to create something new in its place.
That has had three major consequences for post-Soviet Russian, the economist says. First, there has been a complete disconnect between political and economic interests for the vast majority of Russians. Second, the state has allowed people to violate the rules as long as they don’t challenge the state.
And third, Inozemtsev continues, people can now exit the system by emigration or simply dropping out. The state doesn’t need to destroy them as it did in the past. It can simply dispense with them in one of these two ways. “As a result,” he says, “we have a free society with an authoritarian regime, a symbiosis which always was thought impossible” but exists and survives.
The hyphenation of democracy should lead people to recognize that there are not only many kinds of democracy but there are many kinds of authoritarianism. Russia resembles a fascist state but in its original Italian rather than German Nazi form in four significant ways:
First, it celebrates force, war and imperialism; second, its state seeks to control all major branches of the economy; third, it both increases and decreases the state’s monopoly on the use of force; and fourth, it relies on mass mobilization via propaganda which also promotes a charismatic leader supposedly backed by the will of the people.
In calling Russia a fascist state, Inozemtsev says, it is important not to equate it with Nazi Germany. “The authoritarian powers that be in Russia do not have – and apparently cannot have – a firm nationalist component.” And at the same time, while Nazism came to Germany with Hitler, corporatism came to Russia not with Putin but via the 1993 Constitution.
That document “was written it would seem by democrats,” but it introduced the notion that any president could not be pushed from the scene except by death or his own choice. That happened in the authoritarian Russia of the present time “not in 2012” as many imagine “but in 1996,” the first election after the new constitution was adopted.
“Russia in its current form cannot be called a democratic country,” Inozemtsev says. “At the same time, however, it remains a European country,” one that oscillates between authoritarianism and democracy, private interests and public values much as is the case elsewhere in Europe.
“Today,” he suggests, “one must start one’s analysis from the fact that in modern European history deviations from the democratic path although encountered often always remain temporary. More than that, the history of corporate regimes is characterized by the fact that they never survive after the departure of their founders.”
What that means for Russians is this, Inozemtsev says: “One need not try to destroy the retrograde and undemocratic Russian regime. One must try to ‘survive’ it and when this happens, one must hope that the surrounding world will not repeat the errors it made in the past and work to incorporate this un-modern country into its sstructures.”
“Only by such methods will it be possible to bring it up to date,” the analyst concludes.
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