Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Rostov Scholar Says Russian Political Scientists Must Adopt Critical Stance toward the State

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 21 – Political scientists must adopt a critical stance toward the Russian state and its ideology because otherwise they risk becoming merely propagandists for the current regime and thus betray their calling as scholars, according to Viktor Makarenko, a political scientist at the Southern Federal University in Rostov.

            In an essay published in NG-Stsenarii, he argues that most political scientists in Russia today follow the ideology and policy of a special path for Russia, although the field remains divided between investigators, instructors, journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, deputies and businessmen (

            According to the regional scholar, “only representatives of the first two of these groups are scholars;” and they must take the lead in challenging the ideology of the state rather than helping the regime to imposes its ideas on the population.  Unless they do so, Makarenko argues, political science becomes mere propaganda and betrays itself.

            Moscow political scientists who work closely with the Kremlin do so routinely, promoting the worst “cliches” of the regime, including “democracy doesn’t arise immediately in developed forms, it is premature to introduce democracy in Russia, Vladimir Putin is a rightwing conservative, more liberal, democratic and pro-Western than 90 percent of the population.”

            Further, such people accept and promote the notions that “the Kremlin is forced to limit democracy in order to save it,” that “Russia needs sovereign democracy to strengthen the independence of the country; that “the West needs a weak and dependent Russia and finances NGOs to promote its national interests” and that “Putin has restored the Russian state.”

            None of these ideas which emanate from the center should remain unchallenged because most of them are not true or at least not true in the way in which the regime’s propagandists insist, Makarenko says; and challenging them is the proper calling of political scientists especially now.

            In making this argument, the Rostov scholar draws on the ideas of the late French critical political scientist Pierre Bourdieu who argued that “every individual puts himself in danger if he thinks in categories which the state imposes on him” and that it is the proper task of political scientists to challenge the state’s notions.

            Makarenko discusses Bourdieu’s ideas in some detail, but what makes his own article noteworthy is this: It is a rare but important example in which a Russian scholar far from the center is challenging the ways those in Moscow do business rather than following their lead in the hopes of career advancement.

            There are no doubt many more scholars in political science and other fields working at universities far beyond the ring road who also are critical of the Moscow consensus. They thus give the lie to the easy assumption of many that those in “the provinces” can be ignored because they are simply pale copies of the Moscow “originals.”

            That many be true in many cases; but Makarenko’s article is a clear indication that it is increasingly not the case for all. 


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