Tuesday, March 30, 2021

More than 20 Times since 1991, Russians have Tried and Failed to Create a Social Democratic Party

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 28 – Russians often talk about whether Russia is “a real democracy,” but they rarely discuss the more specific question as to “why in post-Soviet Russia the ideas of social democracy have not been taken up and supported,” Rosbalt commentator Leonid Smirnov observes.

            Given Russian concerns about social justice and about the role of the state in promoting that, he continues, one might have expected otherwise. But in fact, while almost all other trends in public opinion led to the revival of their own political parties, with regard to social democracy, these attempts have proven stillborn (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2021/03/28/1894199.html).

            Pavel Kudyukin, deputy labor minister in Yegor Gaidar’s government, notes that “over these 30 years, there have been no fewer than 20 attempts to create a more or less social-democratic organization.” But as of now, “the results are close to zero,” the result, he suggests, of the absence of horizontal ties and paternalist rather than competitive attitudes.

            But there may be a more fundamental reason, Yury Korgunyuk of INION says. “In reality, in the Russian Federation now, socialism is very well combined with conservatism and very poorly with democracy.” Those who might fight for socialism as democrats instead back authoritarian solutions like Putin’s constitutional amendments.

            Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center, concurs. While 25 to 27 percent of Russians call themselves social democrats, they understand this as “’socialism with a human face’” from Soviet times rather than as identification with any political movement that would fight with others for social benefits. Such people have “practically no interest” in politics as such.

            This represents a dramatic change from the period immediately after the collapse of the USSR. Tatyana Vorozheykina of the Free Unviersity, says at that time, interest in and demand for left of center and social democratic ideas and movements was very high given that the state had “ceased to paly any role in the structuring of social relations.”

            According to her, “Gorbachev also wanted social democracy and there was a drive toward self-administration in enterprises and cooperatives.” And if a clear alternative had been formulated, “it could have made its banner the development of capitalism from below.” But that didn’t happen.

            Unfortunately, both the traditional top-down approach to change and the state’s recovery of its dominant position did not allow this to happen. As a result, “there was not established a legal state, a legal judicial system and the defense of property” within which a social democratic movement could have operated as a union of intellectuals and workers.

            Finally, Konstantin Morozov of the Institute of Russian History says that underlying all of this is a change in the intelligentsia. Earlier it saw itself as allied with or at least the defender of ordinary people. But now it is out only for itself, and the people feel that and reject the leadership of those who “only push pencils.”

            The historian says he first felt this change in 1994 when, while riding a train, he listened to the comments of ordinary Russians and was for his troubles viewed by a Russian journalist in much the same way that an ethnographer might have viewed a wild and dying community, as a kind of freak, for having such interest.

            With the end of the Soviet Union, Morozov says, the intelligentsia “dispensed with a commitment to equality and to love for the people.” Now, as a result, members of the intelligentsia instead of supporting progressive ideas, “feed on right-wing conservative ones.” And that makes any social democratic project an almost impossible task.


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