We are publishing an article by Grigory Yavlinsky which he wrote not in the haste of the election campaign he was not allowed to participate, but almost a year ago.* We consider it a programme article that is why we are publishing it under the rubrics where we publish articles of presidential candidates.
This year marks the 20th anniversary since Russia emerged from the ruins of the USSR. Peaceful rejection of the previous totalitarian system represented a historical achievement of global proportions. At the time society was clearly ready for change and the construction of a new life based on respect for the individual, democratic principles and a free competitive economy. Today we understand that this potential has not been realized. These dreams have not come true.
The Russian political regime today, which emerged after 1991 and was formed over the past decade, has still not created a modern state.
As a result, we are witnessing today an unremitting chasm that is deepening and is being transformed into an insurmountable rift between the authorities and the people, the state and society.
This is not a temporary credibility gap, but rather a systematic problem. The high ratings of the country’s leader do not attest to public support for the powers that be. The vast difference in the public trust shown in these individuals and all other state institutions attests to the ultimate instability and fragility of the entire Russian state construct.
Over the past 100 years we have witnessed on two occasions the unexpected rapid and utter collapse of the state on the following basis: «there it was and all of a sudden it was gone».
This is not due to hunger, war or repression, but rather a profound and insurmountable chasm between the authorities and the people that had evolved by the time of the collapse.
A growing chasm is also visible today. Sociologists are looking for signs of some form of «opposition», but are missing the point entirely.
The Russian people are not opposing the state. The current situation is far worse – they are taking flight. The people do not trust the state, are not interested in it, fear and do not expect anything good from the state and believe it to be both a hindrance and a threat. The people do not want to improve the state, as they have already been given to understand that they have no influence on anything and that as a rule they are irrelevant to the state.
The people are organizing their lives outside the state. The people are taking flight, as they believe the state to be alien, and naturally not to offer them any support. At critical moments in the past (such as in 1917 and 1991) this led to the state’s disappearance.
The increasing levels of alcoholism and drug addiction, departure into virtual worlds and crime – these are also forms of flight from a reality bereft of any opportunities. The rapid and profound criminalization of the state is a direct result of the chasm between the people and the authorities. In the opinion of the Chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin, today these problems have attained such proportions that: «Russia’s very survival over the next ten years is at stake.»
The belligerent immorality and all-encompassing lies taking root in society, coupled with the return of gross official propaganda, have led to the population’s spiritual fatigue, political and social apathy, «brain drain» and desire to emigrate.
Polls of Russian youth show that 45% of the graduates of higher educational institutions have not ruled out the option of leaving the country, while 18-24% intend to emigrate. Up to 30% of businessmen are ready to leave Russia. The mass exodus of talented scientists to take up jobs abroad, including countless young researchers, undermines the potential of Russia’s science sector. The key motive for flight is not low incomes, but rather the inability to live in a dignified manner. The motive for 79% of potential emigrants is attributable to a desire to live in an environment governed by the rule of law, rights and freedoms, while 69% want to be able to avoid arbitrary rule.
Such a frame of mind yet again accounts for a material proportion of the collective consciousness and represents a clear manifestation of the very same fatal chasm.
This is a reaction to the unjust shock reforms, the utter contempt for the current and long-term interests of the people and all their rights, coupled with the total theft of the authorities that has been elevated into official policy and brutal “law enforcement” anarchy and corporate raids.
This chasm cannot be liquidated in one go by holding even comparatively honest elections or suddenly abolishing censorship. This time has already been missed. The public consciousness is split and spasmodic.
Elections can only help to resolve today’s problems once the country has reached consensus on the underlying principles and goals of the population. Then it will be necessary to choose how best to realize these common objectives for the people as a whole and decide who should be entrusted to undertake this task. If society is split, demoralized and humiliated, however, even a comparatively honest election will not generate any result. You can find countless examples.
In Russia the level of public debate has been deliberately debased. Surrogate public and political programs broadcast today on Russian TV channels are reminiscent of fights in a communal kitchen, where the goal is to outshout your neighbor. The crux of the issue is emasculated and is reduced to a confrontation of state-approved diametrically opposing viewpoints. The Internet offers an alternative on certain topics, but fail to offer the depth and style that you would expect from a real «discussion». Elections in such instances are transformed into a competition between populists and loudmouths.
In today’s Russia there are no premises for a fully-fledged discussion on the basis of party programs. Today only the sparring of specific persona — the bearers of world views of differing orientation, depth and quality — is permitted, including nationalism, the «enlightened conservatism» of the nomenclature [ruling political establishment], the national Bolshevik ideology, Stalinism, which is openly advocated by the leadership of the Russian Communist Party, and Bolshevik-style radical pseudo liberalism.
This chaos in the public consciousness was reflected in and encouraged by the decisions adopted by the ruling authorities on state symbols – the two-headed sovereign eagle with crowns, the Stalinist hymn combining both old and new words and the «quasi-democratic» merchant flag – the tricolor.
Whoever adopted these decisions probably thinks that this set of symbols will unite everyone or at the very least provide something for everyone: for the sovereign imperialist, communist and democratic should find something to their taste. However, the state and national identity and national consciousness cannot be reduced to a puzzle that can be mechanically put together.
In a country lacking any sense of identity and that suffers from a fragmented and splintered consciousness, nothing can be done – neither modernization, nor innovation, nor anything else that is useful. We can only expect total and utter collapse when the loyal people are perverted by the elite.
Lies as the foundation of the state
The main political problem of our country does not relate to the level and quality of democracy or the protection of the freedoms and rights of the people, as is widely thought, but rather to the rampant and absolute lies at the foundation of the state and state policy.
This is not attributable simply to the personal qualities of the heads of state – Yeltsin, Putin or Medvedev: the Russian state has been built on lies ever since the Bolshevik October Revolution in 1917. Lies became an essential component of the state system, which has been illegitimate now for more than ninety-three years and has to conceal this fact in every possible way.
Lies represent an organic component of today’s eclectic state system that is keen to maintain historical ties both with the Soviet regime, an autocracy that is a relic of the past and the modern world. This can only be attempted by clinging to incessant and all-encompassing lies.
The underlying cause of this problem is a catastrophe at a national level and not of geopolitical proportions.
Almost one hundred years – the lives of several generations – have passed in our country on the basis of a complete separation from right and law and the erasure of national identity. This is due to the fact that today’s political system in Russia historically dates back to the tragic events in 1917-1920 – the coup d’etat, the seizure of power by a group of criminal elements and a bloody civil war. For it is the actual refusal to recognize this fact and the attempt to build an allegedly post-Soviet Russia based on a sense of succession and absorption of the life of the previous 75 years that renders impossible any movement forward in principle and predetermines the degradation of the public consciousness. This is a dead end. The only way out is to provide the minimum required legitimacy for the state and the authorities, which was broken almost a century ago, and restore on this basis the logic of the country’s historical development.
Neither Leninism, Stalinist national Bolshevism or formal democracy became sufficiently serious «building blocks», so that the pseudo state could renounce its true foundation — lies and terror — or at the very least to try and not instill fear in its citizens, but instead to secure support in other ways than coercion.
The country has ended up in a vicious circle: in failing to renounce the lies, it is impossible to conduct any effective forms, while the renunciation of the lies would threaten the system as a whole.
If this objective is not resolved and the country attempts to survive on the basis of absolute historical lies, Russia will never be able to create either a modern operable state or an effective competitive economy. One objective needs to be resolved – the restoration of the legitimacy of the authorities that was broken almost a century ago, and the logic of the country’s historical development.
Constituent Assembly as an unused window of opportunity
Autocratic legitimacy, based on the ideas of the divine origins of the Tsar’s reign and the unconditional obedience of his subjects, ran out of steam at the start of the 20th century. This did not signify the automatic end to the monarchy: instead the idea of constitutional limits matured and became the natural result of the development of society, the public and individual consciousness, which became particularly active in Russia in the 19th century and at the start of the 20th century after the Great Reforms of the 1860s.
The moral pressure of the political elite and the growing discontent of the people resulted in the abdication of Nicholas II.
The question of «what next» did not arise after the abdication. Virtually everyone realized that this would lead to the Constituent Assembly, which would draft and adopt a Constitution. The Constituent Assembly was expected to legitimize a democratic form of rule. The elections to the Constituent Assembly were universal, direct and equal, offering equal voting rights to women and demonstrated a new political direction. Any abrupt deviation from this path appeared improbable at the time.
This represented an opportunity to achieve peaceful political transformation: an opportunity to avert civil war; an opportunity to resolve the key issues facing Russia at the time – issues about land, nationality, war and peace — through democratic mechanisms in a legal environment: an opportunity to legitimize adopted decisions. This represented a real opportunity.
Over 44 million people, who had to survive in far from simple conditions, participated in the elections, thereby demonstrating to themselves and the whole world the legitimacy of changes in the state structure and the significance of the Constituent Assembly for Russia.
Even the Bolsheviks carried out the coup d’etat under the slogan of protecting the Constituent Assembly. The Council of People’s Commissars, established by a decree dated 26 October 1917 was called the “provisional working and peasant government», which had assumed power «prior to the holding of the Constituent Assembly». A decree on land started with the statement that the land issue «can only be fully resolved by the nationwide Constituent Assembly».
At the elections to the Constituent Assembly held in November 1917, 410 out 721 mandates were own by the Socialist Revolutionaries and 175 by the Bolsheviks. The Constitutional Democrats received 29 seats and the Mensheviks 16.
After losing the elections, on 6 January 1998 the Bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly.
In dissolving the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks overthrew the legitimate authorities and drove the country on the way to civil war. As the power of the Bolsheviks had no legitimate basis, they could not dispense with terror or lies from the very outset. De facto the red terror started immediately after the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.
The Bolsheviks won the civil war, firstly as they did not have any moral constraints and elevated terror and brutality into a principle. Secondly (and this is important from the perspective of legitimacy), after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly their power was attributable to the political expression of support for the idea of socializing the land and transferring it to the peasantry, an idea that had garnered widespread support. However, the violent collectivization of the 1930s, accompanied by the destruction of the peasantry as the bearer of a consciousness that was anathema to the Bolsheviks, to all intents and purposes wiped out all the hopes of a social group that constituted the majority of the country’s population.
Lies and terror became the underlying elements of the state.
The country existed on these grounds until the very end of the 1980s. The democratic minority elected in 1989 in the first elections since the years of the Soviet era in an election (albeit of restricted scope), was more perceptible and authoritative than the «aggressively-obedient majority» not only because it was represented by outstanding individuals – such as A.D. Sakharov – but also because these very deputies, elected contrary to the will of the authorities, were perceived as the truly legitimate representatives of the people. However, this legitimacy was based on negation: a democrat was first and foremost «not a communist» (not in the sense of the existence of the party ticket, but in terms of the individual’s attitude to the party and situation in the country). You can fight against the authorities and for power on this basis, but you can’t build a new state on negation.
In the 1990s the problem of the positive democratic legitimacy of the authorities was similarly not resolved.
An attempt to reform the Soviet system through amendments to make the nominal Constitution of the RSFSR operational (although it had never been used), and combine the system of Soviets with the principle of power sharing, culminated in the events of September-October 1993.
The Constitution in 1993 was compiled as a nine-day wonder and was not discussed by society. Furthermore to date the actual organization of the referendum on its approval and calculation of votes raises extremely serious questions over the document’s adoption.
The legitimacy of the political system in the 1990s was also undermined by these circumstances and by the fact that democracy remained an imitation at odds with the anti-democratic oligarchic element at the center of power. A new lie was added to the old lie – the myth on the inevitability of the nature of the reforms; that Yeltsin and Gaidar had saved the country in 1992 from starvation.
Even in the most «liberal» years the members of the Tsar’s family have still not been recognized as victims of political repressions, while the Voikovskaya metro station, named in the honor of the individual who participated in the cold-blooded murder of the Tsar’s family, including a twelve-year boy and four girls, has similarly not changed its name, while many archive materials remain closed, “KGB Day” is celebrated, and so on. These are not simply words and calendar dates, but rather a whole chain of associations, logical connections and a standard mindset, which shackle the modern system to its Soviet predecessor. As a result even this lifestyle has been reinforced, where lies and doublethink remain core elements of the system. The system’s policies have nurtured and consolidated the supremacy of cynical “political expedience”, corruption, manageable elections and media wars.
The more time passes, the more relevant the problem of the absolute inconsistencies and eclectic nature of statements by the new Russian authorities on the underlying historical legacy for their rule. The state, which made a total mess of economic reforms and is responsible for the abrupt fall in the living standards of the absolute majority of the population, started to consciously play the «autocratic» card of the national consciousness, combining in some bizarre manner Tsarist imperialist elements with Soviet imperialist traits.
It is no accident that the imperial two-headed eagle with crowns was approved as the coat of arms of the new Russian republic. It conveyed the message that the Russia of the end of the 20th century — start of the 21st century was the successor of the ideal-mythical «Russia that we have lost», that Russia was the only autocracy to have the left the political scene; it imparted the image of Russia as a «candy sweet» second-rate icon of the past.
This ideal did not take root. However, it blazed the trail for another Soviet utopian ideal. The imperial eagle ultimately «attached» itself to the stodgy Soviet hymn, which dovetails nicely with this eagle – in virtually the same way as Putin’s oligarchic system dovetails with Yeltsin’s version.
In addition, in the 1990s the issue of the regime’s legitimacy that remains unresolved was weighed down by utterly punitive reforms, the extensive voucher privatization swindle conducted by the state, which engulfed the country’s entire population, and the illegitimacy of large private property, dished out on the basis of corruption schemes through so-called «loans-for-shares auctions».
The time for a free mass media has still not come into being, as the powers that be emerging from the ruins of the Soviet system cannot exist without lies.
Today it is clear that the new political order based on the 1993 constitution and emerging on the basis of the reforms in the 1990s has become over the past ten years a method for consolidating the power of a Soviet-style political establishment in the new economic environment, including certain provincial and homegrown elements such as a «capitalist Juche » or the «democracy of a flourishing discipline».
As in the past this order is based on lies, terror and corruption that have only increased with the passage of time, as none of the terms for establishing a modern state have been implemented:
— a legitimate private property institution, relying on grassroots ownership, has still not been created;
— citizens are not equal before the law;
— instead of courts and arbitration courts, we have an imitation that acts as a screen for the supremacy of the “right of the strong»;
— power is not a public function, but rather an instrument of individual and group enrichment.
In essence, instead of a state today we have been presented with the empty shell of a system capable only of imitating state activities. The objectives of ensuring the safety of citizens, the defense capability of the country, the unity of a multinational state covering a vast territory and social and economic development cannot be resolved in principle in this environment. The main problem is that a cohesive and viable Russian society cannot evolve, function and develop in the existing environment.
I believe that the situation unfolding by spring 2011 has started to pose a threat to Russia’s very existence.
The authorities are losing the remnants of even formal democratic legitimacy, by systematically falsifying the elections. People don’t vote for United Russia because they support them: simply the people are indifferent and understand that this is how things are. Turnout is falling. The role of the Constitution is being systematically debased by gross encroachments of the text, such as the abolition of direct gubernatorial elections or the extension of the terms of the President and parliament. New attempts to replace the vacuum with messianic sovereign imperial ideas even in a modernized form (Moscow’s aspirations to become a global financial center) have demonstrated their futility. This should come as no surprise. Lies and the propagation of such lies still constitute the underlying core of the system. Political thinking has frozen at the levels demonstrated at the start of the last century. There is no unambiguous condemnation of state terror, while attempts are constantly being made to find some justification for such actions in the spirit of «Realpolitik». The limitations of Soviet foreign political thinking complicate the development of such breakthrough projects as the Russian-European anti-ballistic missile defense system. The majority of the «elite», when discussing this topic, do not think about the future, but rather about the past.
The underlying cause for developments that have placed the country on the brink of national disaster can be reduced to the nature and specifics of the Russian political system. It is based on the bureaucratic nomenclature, which fills in for the political and business elite that has concentrated power and property in one and the same hands, inclined as they are to perform only one function in power — conservation.
A political course driven by conservation is not a path to stability, but instead sows the seeds of stagnation or destabilization. Its fundamental weakness relates to the lack of a distinct state concept, understanding of the country’s development prospects, and consequently the ability to offer society a modernization program that is worthy of trust and interest.
Politically it is irrelevant who will be selected and drafted as President: — Putin, Medvedev or someone else. The key issue is that the system will remain unchanged – illegitimate, politically and economically ineffective, derogatory and powerless for the citizens. The Russian political system is an imitation of modern statehood, a «Potemkin village», consisting of pseudo-institutions, constantly and grossly falsified procedures. There is no authenticity in public life, as it has been replaced by endless «simulacra». Instead of any diversity of opinions and style – a tandem, instead of modernization – Skolkovo, games and championships: instead of a multi-party scene – utterly boring Kremlin projects and a protest “street” vote, blatantly devoid of fresh ideas, which replaces the dialog of the authorities with citizens on the most burning issues of civil freedoms, the judicial anarchy of the paltry administrative and police battles, with professional protesters and protest «heroes». As a result larceny and the divide between the monetary and power nomenclature and the defenseless public at large are the only authentic and real things left. In your opinion, who would like this state of affairs?
The triumph of simulacra merely serves to add to the validity of the question about the country’s future. The imbalance in politics, law and the social status of citizens, industry and infrastructure may soon lead to consequences that will significantly exceed the convulsions of 1991. We need a principled and qualitative change to this system.
Historically attempts to realize the concept of “raw materials power” or “sovereign democracy”, relying on the wealth of a country’s subsoil resources and global demand for resources, have proved futile. The one-sided, primarily raw material-based development of the economy, the refusal to recognize the inviolability of private property, the state tax racket, and the insolubility of the problem of creating state-of-the-art production facilities are not only holding back Russia’s economic progress, but are also undermining the country’s long-term prospects. While retaining these long-standing vices, as well as new ones acquired over the past 20 years, Russia is becoming economically vulnerable, and in terms of the legal capacity and effectiveness of the state authority – an impotent country.
It is quite possible to propose a professional program for economic reforms aimed at establishing in Russia a state-of-the-art diversified and innovation-based competitive market economy, which would make it possible to elevate Russia within a limited time frame to the rank of economically developed countries globally, decisively raise the quality and level of living standards in the country and overcome negative demographic trends.
However, the events of the past fifteen years have provided compelling evidence that modernization is impossible in principle, when set against the backdrop of today’s Russian political regime, by virtue of its illegal and uncontrollable nature, just as the creation of a competitive market economy is impossible.
The current system cannot be reformed. Numerous programs to improve the system, in particular the Russia 2010 Strategy and the Strategy 2012 prepared by the Institute of Contemporary Development and some other programs, contain tactically important considerations. Strategically, however, they merely recall efforts to improve the economic mechanism in the Soviet Union in the 1960s-1980s. It is important to understand first and foremost that piecemeal decisions will not function properly and will only compromise themselves, and secondly that it is impossible, if we are to survive into the second decade of the 21st century, to revert to the start of the 1990s, in order to take a “second attempt” at a development that didn’t happen back then.
In the current power system to all intents and purposes the leaders are not legitimate, as they do not have the backing of either the Law or the Constitution.
The legitimacy of the authorities should be guaranteed by due process, historical popular recognition and real achievements. The legitimacy of the Russian monarchy was related to a belief in the procedure for appointing the Tsars.
The Soviet authorities, which were from the outset absolutely illegitimate, were partially accepted by the people now and then, as they were associated with numerous feats and the attainments of Soviet citizens, which had been performed primarily in spite of the unlawful system and not because of it, and which prevented this system from disintegrating any sooner.
The current system is not backed by any real legal procedures and has little in the way of constructing its own historical asset that could provide it with reliable historical and popular recognition. One can only credit the system for one thing: even though they had an opportunity to set in motion the most powerful destructive and repressive impulses, its leaders did not leverage this option. However, this is insufficient as a historical justification for the system. This system has in the many years of its existence failed to offer any grounds for its legal and historical legitimization and now needs a radical overhaul.
To all intents and purposes, the illegitimacy of the current Russian state and its authoritative political system imitating democracy implies that it can be perceived not as the mouthpiece of the people’s interests and its representatives, but rather as a system that ensures the material and political interests of a small group close to the authorities. However, as a principled opponent to all forms of violence, I believe that dialog should be conducted with this power, for example, in the form of a round table, in other words that we should seek compromise and interim decisions.
At the same time, however, the main goal should be a radical change in the political system, resulting in the establishment of a law-abiding state in Russia based on international standards for individual rights and freedoms, the ability to remove the authorities through free and fair elections, the independence of jurisprudence and unswerving observance of private property rights.
The challenge is to attain all these goals peacefully and constructively, without disparaging the human dignity of a single individual.
Everything should be done to extricate the country from the current situation peacefully in an evolutionary manner.
The round table strategy and tactics, the composition of its participants and countless other related matters should be considered during a separate debate. However, one of the key goals of this dialog is to adopt a decision at the level of the state on restoring Russian statehood that was destroyed by the coup d’etat in 1917 and the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly on 6 January 1918 as the kick-off point from a legal perspective. It is necessary to continue and complete the political transformation embarked upon in spring 1917 and interrupted by the anti-state coup d’etat.
The Constituent Assembly may become the fundamental event in the construction of the modern Russian state. For the Constituent Assembly (in particular in the form of the Constituent Assembly as stipulated in the existing Constitution) is capable of restoring Russian statehood. The challenge is to ensure that each citizen (with the exception of total outcasts) should feel part and parcel of this work either directly or through his or her representatives and not the trumped up people who now sit in the State Duma and Public Chamber, but the real and legitimate representatives of the people.
Naturally I am talking here about the need for democratic legitimacy. It goes without saying that the Constituent Assembly of 1917 would have resolved this challenge. These considerations on the Constituent Assembly are not the first public statement on this topic. However, we need to take this step now — aimed at directly offering society an opportunity for an open and extensive discussion on such issues. I would also like to stress that the following should also be understood – the trivialization of the idea of a Russian Constituent Assembly of the 21st century would represent the final loss of an opportunity to develop and would instead lead directly to a continuation of the existing stagnation and decay and in the end, to some or other form of disintegration.
It goes without saying that the preparation of the Constituent Assembly will be an extremely complicated and protracted process. We need a far-reaching process for re-evaluating the position of Russia that has evolved to date, its geopolitical place in the world, and consequently an extensive discussion of the problems of statehood and the specifics of the Russian economic system. It is impossible to repeat the mechanical experience of 1917-1918 and any attempt to perform such analogies would appear inappropriate. However, it is unlikely that we will manage to achieve this goal without serious institutional change. Peaceful progress towards the Constituent Assembly should represent such a political process, which would de facto partially legitimize the Russian authorities, while operating within the framework of the existing constitutional system. In theory this is possible. However, radical democratic provisions should be adopted for this purpose on the basis of the existing Constitution, aimed at ensuring the equality of everybody before the law, the independence of the judicial system, establishing restrictions on the executive authorities, providing for a decisive division of business and power, arranging for the liquidation of the irresponsible bureaucratic systems of sham “stability”, corruption and passivity, the political superstructures of the existing rulers, ensuring the development of parliamentary and civil control, termination of the current practice of shaping policy and the legal system based on «understandings», the formation of an articulate geopolitical course and the complete renunciation of the policy of self-isolation and state survival through a combination of backwardness and military resources. In other words, the Russian authorities should acquire a qualitatively different reputation and create the requisite premises for their legitimacy at a reputational level. Hardly anyone believes that this could happen in the foreseeable future. However, any renunciation of this process would result in even more radical changes in future, which would in all likelihood be even more destructive. This is the reason why we must actively work to implement a non-violent and constructive variant despite all the obstacles that may arise.
P. S. The author of the article would like to thank A. Zubov, M. Krasnov, A. Kelin, T. Bobrinsky, T. Chernikova, V. Ukolova, V. Kogan-Yasny, S. Mitrokhin, A. Kosmynin, V. Shvydko, S. Ivanenko, S. Kovalev and many others who contributed to the discussion and generation of the ideas that have been reflected in this article.
Translated by Basil Ballhatchet.
Novaya Gazeta: we are planning to publish the follow-up of Grigory Yavlinsky’s article soon.
[*] The article was first published by Radio Free Europe /Radio Liberty on April 6, 2011.