Thursday, August 27, 2009

Window on Eurasia: ‘Russians Have Exactly the Capitalism They Deserve,’ Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 27 – Russians now blame the world economic crisis or the government for the crisis in their society, but according to one Moscow analyst, their current difficulties are “only tangentially connected” with the former and cannot be solved by the latter because the Russian government is “hostage” to the circumstances in which they themselves are trapped.
Those circumstances, Vladimir Pastukhov argues in the current “Argumenty nedeli,” reflect the fact that “the economic system which exists in contemporary Russia does not have any relation to capitalism” because Russians have not integrated into themselves the cultural principles capitalism requires (
“More than a 100 years ago,” he continues, “Lenin published his work, ‘The development of Capitalism in Russia,’ but capitalism in the Western sense did not exist in Russia then and it does not exist in that sense now. Instead, Russians have evolved a unique economic system that makes the operation of “normal capitalism” impossible.
Many are inclined to blame the government, either the current Russian one or the former Soviet one, for this situation, but while “it is well known that the government in Russia is responsible for everything including fools, roads and capitalism,” it remains “unknown who is responsible for a government which interferes with capitalism.”
Pastukhov provides an intriguing answer: “Rephrasing Hegel,” he says, “one can say that Russians have exactly the ‘capitalism’ they deserve. That is the kind of capitalism that only can exist in a country where there is no bourgeois consciousness and where the elites are incapable of economic cooperation – not to speak about social partnership and political participation.”
To a great extent, the Moscow commentator suggests, “economic relations in most cases remain primitive and archaic.” Russians “do not trust one another,” always assuming that others will cheat them. But trust, confidence that partners to a deal will do what they say will do is the essence of modern capitalism.
Indeed, Pastukhov argues, “capitalism is a system of organized trust. Without trust, this system cannot work under any government.” And because the Russians lack that quality, along with a cultural commitment to honesty, something which “has practically disappeared” from their midst, it is impossible for capitalism to work among them.
“The absence of honesty is compensated with interest in Russia by an excess of will. For centuries, Russians have confused will [volya] with freedom [svoboda].” But Pastukhov says, “will is the enemy of freedom [and] paradoxically, the greater will an individual has, the less free society is as a whole.”
“Will, not limited by reason or governed by the norms of morality is [simply] a manifestation of natural instincts which are hostile to any civilization, not to mention such a complex arrangement as capitalism.” Those who do not recognize that, Pastukhov suggests, are doomed to be disappointed.
Unfortunately, many Russians and their friends clearly are not yet willing or able to understand this. All of them talk about competition as a basic characteristic of capitalism, but they ignore that “capitalism besides that presupposes social and economic solidarity the external expression of which is a civic position.”
“The inability of the Russian elite to act in a consolidated way,” Pastukhov points out, is legendary. But as a result, “competition Russian-style is a process of unending efforts at surprise, betrayal and cannibalism.” And thus, “while one Khodorkovsky sits in prison, thousands of ‘Khodorkovskys’ are eating away at this shares.”
In principle, a government could teach people bourgeois values. But the Russian government faces an impossible task: “a society in which there is no trust, self-control or cooperation, under any government will be incapable of building capitalism.” Instead, it is condemned to an archaic kind of economy, based on primitive trade and theft.”
And thus, Pastukhov concludes, those concerned about Russia must recognize that “Russian society itself is sick and that not government can help it until it is cured. Economic growth in Russia is possible [over the longer term] only by means of ‘a cultural revolution’ and by the reestablishment of lost (and in some cases not pre-existing) moral guidelines.”
“Who will bring the people back to its senses and return respect to basic moral values? Who? This is the most important and difficult question,” Pastukhov says. Tragically, he continues, the Russian government “is not capable of doing that” because it does not stand “’above the fight’ but in the very dregs of ‘the events.’”
Consequently, as long as there are “no essential changes in the existing ‘code’ of economic behavior, the Russian economy will remain in a ‘permanent crisis.’” And the country will remain “at the tail end of the world economy,” suffering from its problems and falling ever further behind technologically.
“Their crises will be ours,” Pastukhov tells the Russian, “but their recoveries will be beyond us. No, of course,” he adds, this is not the end of Russia. We are too rich in order to die quickly.” But what Russians are experiencing because of the archaic quality of their society and economy can hardly be called “a life.”

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