Staunton, January 7 – Forty years ago, Soviet leader Yury Andropov said that “we do not know the society in which we are living,” an expression that democratic commentator Yury Afanasyev later expanded to mean that “we in fact were the blind leading the blind,” Sergey Kara-Murza says.
Now, the senior Soviet-Russian scholar says, Russian elites are again in that position because they lack both a vision of their country’s past, present and future and thus lack the possibility of understanding what has been going on and how they should proceed in the future (svpressa.ru/post/article/286523/).
In part, Kara-Murza suggests, the series of traumas Russian society has suffered over the last century have left it without an adequate defense of its own intellectual traditions and means of cognition against the increasing impact of Western developments that he argues are promoting atomization and violence.
But in any case, “the old instruments for the study, understanding and mastery of reality are insufficient” and as a reuslt, “we are wasting ever more time” on misdirected efforts that are leading to mistakes. “Disciplines and theories, norms and taboos, and institutes and authorities are all falling apart.”
As a result of “the floods of ignorance, manipulation and nihilism in the media and the degradation of mass culture, the thinking and mutual discussion of people are suffering,” Kara-Murza says; and because this atmosphere is affecting all groups and peoples, it has left society at loose ends, open to the worst possibilities.
“If we want to survive as a people and a culture, we must know and understand” the revolutions we have passed through and those we are facing now. That means it is absolutely necessary to restore “the chain of past-present-future” and consider how to deal with the forced transition from organic solidarity to mechanical ones.
The Russian intelligentsia bears heavy responsibility for the situation the country now finds itself because its members have “forgotten that any political decision is preceded by a change in the consciousness of the rulers and their entourages. Consciousness defines existence,” in short. Not the other way around.
Many of its members have been racing after the West even though Western social science has a very different origin than theirs, the scholar says. In the West, social science arose out of the scientific revolution. In Russia, it came instead “out of classical Russian literature and not from science.” It was always focused not on what is but what should be.
Perestroika revealed the fatal defect of putting such a Russian social science in service to the state, but now, members of the intelligentsia and not only them do not know what their country is. It isn’t capitalist or socialist, to be sure; but just what is it? Unless that is defined, nothing else will be.
In 1993, Kara-Murza published a book called “What is Happening in Russia? Whither are They Leading Us?” He says that now, almost 30 years later, those questions remain without an answer because the influx of ignorance and confusion from an atomized West whose mass culture is promoting violence and destruction.
The Russian intelligentsia, he argues, must take the lead in opposing this influence and do so in the first instance by making clear to themselves and then to others what Russia now is, how it came to be that, and what it should do next.