Saturday, November 6, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Social Fabric is Disintegrating, Narochnitskaya Warns

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 6 – Russians outside the major cities are undergoing a process of lumpenization, of the loss of all social ties, that is as serious as the destruction of the peasantry of the 1930s and threatens the country’s future development, according to Natalya Narotchnitskaya, head of the Moscow-supported Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris.
In an interview in “Komsomolskaya Pravda,” Narochnitskaya painted a picture of Russia in tones that are even darker than those employed by people she routinely denounces as Russophobes in order to warn her readers that “Russia simply will not survive another revolution” (
Narochnitskaya begins by arguing that it is a mistake to think of Russia as a single homogenous space. “Siberia, the Kuban, Moscow and the Caucasus,” she says, “are different epochs, different cultures, and even different civilizations! We are living at one and the same time in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.”
Moreover, she continues, Russians and those who rule over them have to deal simultaneously with “the problems of the palaces and the problems of the huts, with advanced science and high culture, and archaic systems and an appalling lack of culture.” And that is “an enormous task for any power.”
“You cannot apply one and the same economic doctrines across the entire country.” But at the same time, she argues, you cannot ignore what people expect, and over history, Russians have assumed that just such an approach is necessary and that it is the only basis for overcoming national problems.
These divisions, Narochnitskaya continues, have been intensified, even exacerbated by the radical income differentiation thatpost-Soviet development has promoted. And she insists that the division between the richest and the poorest there is “not 20 times” as many say but rather “100 to 150 times,” a ratio that is hardly “divine.”
And that in turn has been compounded by the increasing acceptance of the notion that in economics, it is always the individual who makes progress rather than the state. “That is not the case,” she says, arguing that such ideas are a reflection of the characteristic of the Russian “educated” who think that it is a matter of “good tone” to always criticize the state.
But Narochnitskaya’s sharpest words concern the decay of Russian social life outside the major cities. “In the rural areas,” she says, “what is taking place is not simply the impoverishment but the lumpenization o fhte nation! The destruction of industry however backward it was is the de-industrialization of the country.”
She argues that “there cannot be any modernization if we lose out working habits,” suggesting that “by its social and cultural consequences for the nation, lumpenization is a catastrophe equal to the destruction of the Russian peasantry in the 1930s” by Stalin through collectivization.
Prior to 1917, Russian peasants had been poor but they had “preserved their social connections, psychology and the worldview of a definite stratum which reproduced itself while preserving society as a whole. But a lumpen is someone who has fallen out of his stratum and does not have any attachment to it.”
“This is a very dangerous social phenomenon. Such a worker will not struggle for his rights” because that is not what he is about. Instead, he will, especially as a result of the “unceasing propaganda of hedonism” to which Russians have been subjected assume that he deserves what he does not have and that he can take it even if it does not belong to him.
That danger can be seen if one travels only a short distance from Moscow. If one takes a highway out of the capital for only 100 kilometers and then turns off on a side road, after only about “five kilometers, a medieval world begins.” But it is a medieval world with television whose advertisements suggest that a good life is only a short distance away.
Many people think that the entire West is hedonistic, Narochnitskaya continues, and that this is the way of the future. But “this is the biggest misconception,” she insists. “Don’t forget that the Puritans with their religious relationship to the fulfillment of their debts build America. The relationship to work in the West in general is very serious.”
As she has done in the past, Narochnitskaya also sharply criticizes both the Russian opposition for its own radicalism and running after the West and the image of the West that many Russians have as a place where there are no problems and where miracles are achieved without work.
Such thinking, she suggests, leads Russians to vacillate between an apathetic acceptance that nothing can be done, a cynicism about the ability of anyone to do anything about problems, and a belief that the best way to achieve their goals is all at once by a revolutionary act rather than by reforms.
In conclusions, Narochnitskaya cites Trubetskoy’s observation that “we don’t need reforms, we need everything or nothing” as an example of this attitude and then warns that whatever may have been true in the past, Russia now, as a result of the lumpenization of so much of the population, “simply won’t survive another revolution.”

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