Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Russian Middle Class Least Able to Defend Itself and Thus Remains at Risk, Vinogradov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – The rich in Russia are quite capable of defending themselves, and the poor not only complain more about their suffering but attract the sympathy and support of others But the Russian middle class is far less capable of defending itself because it depends on institutions that in its country are weak or non-existent, Aleksandr Vinogradov says.

            The economic observer for Kazan’s Business Online portal argues that “the problem of the present-day middle class is that it is weak when it comes to its self-defense” and thus its members remain at risk of falling into poverty and the class as such disappearing (business-gazeta.ru/article/508595).

            Because Russian disposable incomes have been falling since 2013 and because of a recent article about Yaroslav Kuzminov, the rector of the Higher School of Economics, talking about the number of those in Russia’s middle class who have fallen into poverty over this period, this issue has attracted more attention.

            Kuzminov and others point to the fact that the middle class is a source of innovation in the economy and stability in the political system, but neither he nor others have focused on why the middle class is particularly at risk, not only internationally but especially in the Russian Federation, Vinogradov continues.

            This is not surprising because in most countries but especially in Russia, “the middle class is a phenomenon of very recent times. There even exists the opinion [in Russia] that it was intentionally ‘created’ in the West as a kind of antithesis to the Soviet egalitarian society, an alternative that arose to reduce the risks of a revolution of the Soviet type.”

            But obviously, the problem is more complicated than that, the Business-Gazeta observer says. Those referred to as middle class arose in response to the development of particular kinds of economic and political institutions. What is increasingly less certain is whether as those institutions weaken, the middle class with its virtues will be able to survive.

            What is happening in Russia today, he continues, is the erosion of the very institutions that allowed the middle class to come into existence, an erosion that many in the middle class do not understand as a direct threat to their survival. As a result, members of the Russian middle class are falling into poverty and the class as such with its virtues is disappearing.

            According to Vinogradov, “the middle class is not reproducing itself. Its best members are not being incorporated into the elite. It is degrading and society is degrading as well having lost the competitive struggle.” That has happened and is happening elsewhere, but it is especially obvious in Russia.\

            For the Russian middle class to survive, he suggests, its members will stop having to think of the state as its friend and begin to act as a class, organizing in defense of its own interests and demanding the creation of the institutions both political and economic that made its appearance possible in the first place.

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