By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia
Despite the conviction of many that conflicts among opposition figures are simply battles among individuals, Vladimir Pastukhov says, “an ideological struggle in post-communist Russia not only exists but is proceeding within a long discredited mental paradigm” which explains why Russian history, its reflection, is a vicious circle.
The recent debates between Aleksey Navalny and Igor Strelkov, the St. Antony’s College historian says, are “the clearest public clash in recent years of all the main Russian ideological trends at the new turn of Russian history,” a clash that involves “not two but three,” the last being the spirit of the Russian liberal opposition (republic.ru/posts/85454).
“In the final analysis, Navalny and Strelkov appealed not so much to the nationalists … as to the liberal audience. [That is,] they discussed not the nationalist but the liberal agenda.” And “at the center of debates was one single question which has political and economic meaning in Russia – the question about power.”
Navalny has been criticized for failing to detail his program, but in fact, Pastukhov suggests, duringn the debate everthing that one needs to know about his views on politics in Russia” because “he expressed his attitude toward state power.”
Pastukhov says that “in Russia there is not and cannot be a political ideology” in the Western sense “because Russia as in the past remains a pre-political society… [Thus] the right-left matrix doesn’t apply to Russia as it was constructed as a derivative involving relations to private property which did not and does not exist in Russia.”
“Having expressed his attitude toward power,” the Russian historian continues, “a Russiann politician answers the question about his program in an exhaustive way. One needn’t knw anything more about it or him in an ideological sense.”
According to Pastukhov, there are a total of “three traditional points of view on this sensitive issue for Russia:
First, there is the patriotic or Slavophile position, whch Strelkov embodies. For those who hold this view, “the powers are a prior good” and justify themselves by existing. “Democracy is not only unnecessary but even dangerous since it is capable of destroying the natural unity of power and the people and become a weapon in the hands of plutocrats as well as the foreign and domestic enemies of Russia.”
Second, there is the liberal or Westernizer position to which both Navalny and Strelkov appealed. For it, “power is a prior evil: it opposes society its interests are opposed to the interests of society and therefore it must be controlled, contained and forced to act in the interests of society in spite of its egoistic and ‘bloodsucking’ instincts.”
And third, there is the progressive, that is revolutionary-democratic position. That is Navalny’s position. It holds that “power by itself is neutral and everything depends in whose hands it is held: if it is in ‘bad’ hands, then it will be ‘reactionary’ and must be opposed; if it is in ‘good’ hands, that is, progressive ones, it must be supported.”
Put in lapidary terms, Pastukhov says, “the three ruling ideological trends in Russia today can be summarized in the following way: power must be served (the patriots), power must be fought (the liberals) and power must be used (the progressives).”
At first glance, these appear quite far apart, but they really aren’t as distant from one another as all that. “They have a common platform: the Russian patriots, the Russian liberals and the Russian revolutionary democrats (progressives) recognize the objective inevitability and even necessity of the existence in Russia of a harshly centralized, built from top down, vertically integrated state.”
In short, they all accept the Leviathan state as a demiurge and vie society as “an infantile youth incapable of any independence and more than that capable of committing a mass of stupidities and even calling forth a universal catastrophe if suddenly they separate themselves from the supervision of the state.”
The problem is that thinking in this way the liberals have no chance of coming to power except as a result of some cataclysm. The progressive Bolshevik types do have a change because they seek power above all and will do what is necessary to seize the state. But neither of them or of course the patriots will challenge the autocratic state.
“Autocracy,” Pastukhov says, “in the final analysis can be extremely varied: Orthodox, communist, anti-communist, corrupt and even anti-corrupt.” But the fundamental vicious cycle of Russian history won’t be broken until the vicious cycle of Russian thought is broken and Russia adopts “at a minimum” three fundamental reforms.
First of all, there must be rules that prevent anyone from remaining in power for very long and ensure the circulation of elites. Second, he says, there must be a fundamental decentralization of power. And third, there needs to be a clear transition to a parliamentary republic or “as a variant,” a parliamentary-presidential one.
Rephrasing a popular political notion in the past, “one can say that “all previous ideologies have put as their goal the modernization of Russian autocracy … now the time has come to demolish it.” That requires that the opposition come together to get power and only then debate their differences. Worrying about the latter first ensures that it won’t take power.
There is a clear example of what is at stake if the two opposition trends don’t come together. That was in Germany in the early 1930s when the two main opposition groups decided their differences were more important than anything else and thus lost out, opening the way to the rise of Hitler.
Or put another, Pastukhov concludes, “present day Russian politics reminds one of a computer game: in it, there are many levels, and one must not jump to the next level without fulfilling the program of the previous one.”
By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia