Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
When trying to understand during many years why Putin doesn’t rotate the elite but works with what already exists, very few people understand the subject of discussion. Experts already know almost by heart the president, his biography, and the story of his arrival to the top of power. Much less attention is paid to the elite of Russia, and that’s why there is much less understanding of what it represents and whether the president has some opportunities to radically influence the elite (for example, like how Stalin did) or these opportunities are very limited.
Society already understands that the elite isn’t just economic and interest groups. The elite is a system that the head of state leans on. It is impossible to destroy this pillar without creating another one. There isn’t another system.
If there is a system, then there is an arbitrator. The elite of the 90’s reached an agreement with society whereby it listed the obligations of society and evaded from any obligations concerning society.
The system is clans. It is impossible to remove clans, since this will destroy the system, because any system consists of clans. Including the Soviet system. Since the Secretary General couldn’t change the system against the will of key clans, the president can’t do it either. Clans have resources for the purpose of undermining the system. Some clans undermine one type of pillar, other clans undermine other pillars. External participation is implied: Thatcher via Gromyko made huge efforts to appoint Gorbachev.
Gorbachev managed to break the system not because he outwitted everyone, but because the Soviet party elite wanted it long ago. A big echelon of anti-Soviet elite demanding to demolish socialism ripened. It was able to replace the old and grown decrepit Soviet elite. Now in Russia there is no mature anti-liberal counter-elite. After all, we can’t consider the pocket State Duma opposition as counter-elite! And that’s why Putin doesn’t have the resources to undermine the system. The elite has these resources, but Putin doesn’t, and there isn’t yet a counter-elite.
The media in the hands of the late 90’s oligarchy is an instrument of blackmail. So that the system doesn’t go haywire, it started to need an arbitrator. Putin then receives a mandate from the elite to preserve the system and demands the strengthening of the power wing for the fulfilment of his function. After this law enforcement bodies appeared in the elite where they previously were not. Before this they were the attendants of the oligarchy and gave power and the expeditious provision of the repartition of property. This led to the erosion of the special services and became dangerous for oligarchs themselves: a war of all against all with the participation of the special services is the most horrible thing that large businessmen can receive.
Since then one of the president’s tasks has been to ensure the stability of the elite. This explains the personnel policy of Putin. At the same time, Putin demands the adequacy of the elite in relation to society. Only in this case can he protect it both from society and from other clans. These are the resources of the arbitration position of Putin.
In Russia the elite defines the identity of the president. It is especially the opinion of the liberal wing of the elite, which was afraid of Ivanov, that became key in the appointment of Medvedev as president. Today, with the coming change of government, the opinion of this wing hasn’t lost its weight. Despite all strokes of bad luck, liberalism remains the ideology of the administrative and commercial elite. This isn’t at all because they are such villains by nature. It’s simply because they aspire to be with the West since it is profitable. It is there that all the institutes of storing money and all opportunities for their profitable use reside.
Sun Tzu said: in order to force someone to come towards you, there is only one way – to make it profitable for them. The western system of multiplying money is more profitable than the domestic one if sanctions are removed. And this system works if among the elite there is the absence of a code of honour, the absence of congenital or acquired as a result of education self-respect and self-sufficiency, the absence of due education in relation to patriotism, the absence of the participation of their own destiny in the fate of their Motherland, but the presence of a feeling of secondariness.
A considerable part of our elite, especially its nomenclature business part, is still deeply secondary in relation to the West. And the worst thing is that this, seemingly, completely suits it.
Sanctions didn’t dampen the aspiration of the elite to be with the West, but it generated an aspiration to somehow bypass sanctions and to cancel them as soon as possible or at least to weaken a part of them. The way to the West for our elite still remains the main one, despite the assertion that there are insuperable disagreements with the elite of the West. Another option that is comparable in terms of profitability doesn’t exist. Deripaska returned to Russia because of sanctions, but as soon as they will be canceled, he will again rush back there.
All of those who are now in elite positions themselves as patriots and anti-Westerners will rush together with him. As A. Fursov often says, quoting A.Galich: “All of this, my dear, is just for the public”.
A reduction of the resource base seeded confusion in the elite and demanded from the arbitrator to remove certain players from among the active clans by force. But Putin has no such powers from the elite. In the elite he has the role of the Director-General, who doesn’t have shares in the company and can’t expel someone from the Board of Directors.
That’s why the current term of Putin is characteristic not of a mandate from the elite, but of a mandate from the people. Putin received this mandate. And the scared liberals, having a presentiment of rotation, started to sink him. The first attempt to do this was Bolotnaya Square.
Now we are observing the second attempt in the form of pension reform and tax and fuel increases in combination with the budgetary rule. The current government, from the minister to the deputy prime minister, consists of representatives and lobbyists of large financial and industrial groups. Some of them are secondary because they were put in place by deputy prime ministers who themselves are such representatives. This is about the economic bloc of the government, because the so-called power bloc is a prerogative of the president and is appointed by him. This is what the analytical community calls “the consensus of the elite”.
The structure of the liberal wing is multi-structured, it consists not only of members of the government. Its structure ranges from those who supervise this wing of the bureaucratic group in the Presidential Administration, to the liberal part of the government, the liberal oligarchy, deputies of the State Duma – both represented by the party in power and represented by some of the parties of the so-called opposition, the liberal intellectuals, and the liberal street. Because there is also another, illiberal part of all these institutions, but its resources are much less.
All radically or moderately liberal groups in power are one way or another connected to the export of raw materials and the taking out of loans from the West. This is indeed the social base for supporting the raw material model of the Russian economy. And since this model doesn’t bring in any more such income that allows to keep social consensus, a serious crisis of the base model of power and property appeared in Russia. Although nobody laid down a challenge to this model from the inside. It is precisely for this reason that, with all obvious deadlockness, this model remains the main elite-forming model.
Any attempt to radically change the composition of the elite and the conditions of their functioning will end in the same way (except for Stalin’s three purges) that all attempts to change the system bypassing the elite in Russia ended – a palace coup and a conspiracy (including Stalin’s fourth purge) Instead of perestroika there will be a firefight, which in Russia always took the form of a civil war with the subsequent collapse of former statehood.
The demand for a left-wing elite that exists in society will be fulfilled very slowly. The transition period for this change will arrive only in 2024. It is precisely at this moment that those whose Soviet childhood took place with dreams about capitalism as a system of replenished counters and general consumer prosperity, accompanied by “melodies and rhythms of a foreign estrada”, will leave the arena due to old age. Those who have no illusions neither concerning socialism nor concerning capitalism will start to penetrate the elite. Those who during capitalism passed through petty-bourgeois temptations, rose to their feet, then became bankrupt, became poor, lost everything, and hate this system with already ripened class intuition.
This new generation is now being formed. It stamps its feet at the rallies of non-systemic opposition, it doesn’t watch TV, it doesn’t take part in elections. It is those who were deprived of pensions, free education and treatment, and stable work and their small business, who are exploited as a slave by our distribution networks – and it is those who are preparing in 6 years to arrive at the foreground of history. They will come from different social classes, and the children of current oligarchs who claimed power and property by inheritance will be obliged to deal with them.
Of course, those who now look like a master of life dream of preserving the current situation for ever and ever. And, of course, none of them will manage to do it. Regardless of how they make plans and secure themselves via constitutional reforms, their time is coming to an end, and they will be forced out by new forces. This is inevitable, and they feel it. The current method of reproduction and accumulation (a raw colony of the West) is almost exhausted, and this is the main reason why new forces will come to power. This will be the middle of the 21st century. Now these forces are ripening in the depths of the people. They are waiting in the wings.
That’s why now it is impossible to demand from Putin to overthrow the elite and to radically transform it only on the grounds that the necessary internal and external conditions for this allegedly formed – they, unfortunately, haven’t yet developed. The current system hasn’t yet exhausted all of its resources, and it will continue its fight for life. The dying off of any formation is a historically long process, it is impossible to hurry and push it. The problem doesn’t lie in breaking what exists. The problem lies in understanding what should succeed it. As long as this notion doesn’t exist, then what currently exists will remain.
Speaking about the process of feudalism rotting within the framework of the arising capitalist society, Marx and Engels wrote that the most difficult thing is the process of torturous rotting when elements of the old departing system (remnants, as they called it) exist alongside the elements of the new and emerging one, and neither of them have enough forces for a historical victory. It is precisely such a period that the whole world, including Russia, now passes through. Capitalism in its remnants departs, it weakens, but it is still rather too strong to depart. But what’s new is still being formed and can’t force out the old system.
The new substance of society, which still hasn’t been understood and named, starts to be born. The old and new coexist together for some time, creating special social tension. Old mechanisms already cease to work; the new ones are in the process of creation and can’t be used. The intermediate state is the most torturous. No overtaking will bring salvation, but on the contrary – it is capable of slowing down the ripening of the new one.
The one who learnt nothing from the bitter experience of the USSR is ready to repeat its destiny. Russia can’t afford this. Premature birth often ends sadly. It is necessary to have patience and to allow the fruit to ripen. Other ways lead to an ebb towards past, historical stages that weren’t completed at the right time. And in this case it is good when statehood is preserved.
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