The Government, the Elite and the People

NEW – February 19, 2023

Russia faces civilisational challenges, including the challenge of unprecedented Russophobia, which has transformed into a firm decision by certain forces in the West to destroy Russia and erase it from history by any possible means, including the use of nuclear weapons.

In this article, we will consider the existing opportunities of real and potential subjects of modern Russian politics to respond to these challenges.

The first thing to understand when we talk about the opportunities and motivations of Russian elites and society as a whole to formulate adequate responses to external geopolitical and geo-economic challenges is the problem of subjectivity.

Theoretically, each society usually has three main political actors: first, it is the supreme power represented by the leader or leading oligarchic group, second, the national elite, and third, the masses of the people.

Can the head of state in modern Russia be the subject of positive changes? Yes. In fact, this is exactly what the majority of the country’s citizens expect from the President of Russia — wise and effective decisions. But we do not yet know whether there will be a harsh purge of the elites, a change in the economic model, and when this will happen.

Let us turn to the second potential subject of positive change — the masses of the people. There is an opinion that “sooner or later the people will rise up, as it was in 1917, and again do a revolution, taking power in the country into their own hands”. However, the situation of a hundred years ago in the Russian Empire, being similar to the situation in the current Russian Federation in some formal indicators (World War), is fundamentally different from it. And above all, the absence of mass and real subjects of political action in modern Russia. The “proletariat” in Russia is practically nonexistent as a class, and there is no “revolutionary party” in the country.

Finally, the elites. Are the Russian elites and some groups within these elites capable of taking on the mission of implementing positive changes and, on the one hand, self-organising and armed with an attractive agenda, leading the masses, and on the other, influencing the renewal of the entire management vertical in the country?

To answer this question, it is necessary to clearly understand the genesis and evolution of the Russian elite who came to power in the Soviet Union as a result of perestroika and the subsequent libertarian revolution of August 1991.

The author of these lines has for many years been describing in detail how the internal and foreign policy course in the Soviet Union changed in the late 1950s and early 60s.

Thus, in 1956, at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, widely known for the report of N. S. Khrushchev “On the Cult of Personality and its consequences”, unnoticed by the party and the country, the position of the party leadership in support of the supposedly Leninist principle of “peaceful coexistence of the socialist and capitalist systems” was passed, which in fact marked the beginning of a new political and, consequently, economic course of the USSR. Further, in 1959, during the 21st Congress of the CPSU, N. S. Khrushchev declared that “there are no forces in the world today that could restore capitalism in the USSR, crush the socialist camp. The danger of restoring capitalism in the Soviet Union is excluded”. (And if this is the case, then, according to Khrushchev’s thesis, without fear of the corrupting influence of capitalism, we can start cooperating with it.) Finally, in 1961, at the 22nd Party Congress, the principle of “peaceful coexistence “was enshrined in the new (third) edition of the CPSU Program — in a special section entitled “Peaceful coexistence and the fight for universal peace”.

That is, contrary to Stalin’s thesis that the peaceful coexistence of the socialist and capitalist systems is hardly possible due to the inherently aggressive nature of capitalism, the leadership of the CPSU in 1961 made an official decision to begin rapprochement between the Soviet Union and the West. The basis of this rapprochement was the intention of the Soviet leadership to direct the country along the path of increasing the level of income of citizens — in the direction of “communism” as a consumer society.

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The problem, from the point of view of proponents of this approach, was solved simply: the USSR sells raw materials to Western countries, and receives from them high-quality goods, equipment and everything that is needed. The Communist Party ideologists adjusted the key ideologeme of socialism “From each according to one’s abilities, to each according to one’s work”, replacing it with the phrase “From each according to one’s abilities, to each according to one’s needs”.

On the one hand, there seems to be nothing wrong with the desire of the party elite to meet the growing demand of the population of the USSR for a financially secure life. Such a request was quite natural for a country that had experienced the horrors and hardships of the Great Patriotic War. People deserve an increase in personal wealth. On the other hand, the country’s turn towards the raw material nature of the national economy was fraught with a number of long-term pitfalls.

The main economic trap was determined by the very nature of the international division of labour and, in particular, by the structure of the neocolonial, in essence, world economy, when the “centre” somehow exploits its “periphery”. Under this division of labour, the United States and the United Kingdom represent the governing centre, which has concentrated global finance, intellectual property, NBIC technologies, military power and control over international institutions, the European Union is the main industrial and technological base of the world economy, and all other countries (including the USSR-Russia) are the raw materials periphery.

Thus, despite the launch of the second wave of industrialisation of the Soviet Union by Khrushchev’s leadership in 1956 and ambitious plans for the development of nuclear power, aerospace, mechanical engineering, etc., Western demand for Russian raw materials gradually turned the priorities of the Soviet elite towards the export of natural resources and the inevitable slowdown in scientific and technological progress in advanced industries.

A natural question arises here: isn’t the export of raw materials (for example, hydrocarbons) a source of super-profits for the elite and, consequently, for the prosperity of the population of countries with rich natural resources? After all, there is an example of Norway with the highest standard of living for its citizens mainly due to oil production and export, there are Persian Gulf countries whose citizens are truly “swimming in gold”, etc. Why did the “resource curse” become such in the USSR?

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There are several reasons, but since the discussion of this problem is not the subject of our article, we will briefly note the main reason. In Norway, Saudi Arabia and many other countries, the export of hydrocarbons is carried out on a market basis with a state-controlled level of production costs and controlled distribution of income. In the USSR, in present-day Russia, and in countries like Venezuela or Nigeria, for example, the cost of production is blurred, as it is hidden in state expenses, as well as the appropriation of profits that corrupt officials and their business partners hide in offshore “general stores”. Ultimately, the “resource curse” led to the collapse of the Soviet economy in the late 1980s and destroyed the USSR.

Recall that in the 1960s, along with the change in the foreign policy strategy and foreign economic course of the USSR, the structure of the elite began to change in the country.

The adoption of the policy of priority development of export industries led to the accelerated creation of trade missions of the USSR abroad and the formation of groups of specialists in the field of foreign trade, who received the right to travel to Western countries, contact foreign partners, make commercial transactions with them, handle currency, and most importantly — manage huge material resources. As a result, over the past two decades, the Soviet Union has developed a semi-shadowy (“in a special position”) layer, which is a collection of increasingly powerful two or three dozen “interest groups” that control the export of oil, gas, metals, gold, diamonds, grain, timber, fertilizers, etc. (and, accordingly, import products of high conversion, including the so — called deficit) and having the following characteristics.

Firstly, these “interest groups” and joint ventures with Western capital operated in a real market environment, unlike the rest of the Soviet economy.

Secondly, due to the specific nature of their activities, representatives of these groups were freed from strict ideological control by the party bodies.

Thirdly, ideological control in these groups was carried out by the KGB, whose employees closely guarded the specialists of Soviet trade missions and companies.

Fourthly, representatives of these “interest groups” have somehow been integrated into foreign businesses and Western lifestyles; almost all of them have become hooked on Western consumption standards over the past two decades.

Fifthly, almost all employees of these foreign trade clans, during contacts with foreign partners, were somehow subjected to ideological influence, and sometimes even recruitment by Western intelligence agencies.

Thus, by the beginning of the 1980s, in parallel with the degeneration of the party leadership and the weakening of the party segment of the Soviet elite, the positions of foreign trade clans in the country significantly strengthened, merging with representatives of the law enforcement agencies and criminal groups that control them (in particular, those engaged in smuggling, currency transactions, deficit trading “from under the floor”, etc.) in a single symbiosis of beneficiaries of future perestroika.

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Is it necessary to explain that all this powerful, shadowy, actively supported and directed by foreign intelligence agencies and transnational corporations “anti-elite” already from the end of the 70s hatched plans to transform the system of power and social order in the USSR in the direction of the abolition of the ideological superstructure represented by the CPSU in the country and the subsequent privatisation of those gigantic assets that the “merchants” and the “raw materials workers” already disposed of it, but did not formally own?

It was the foreign trade and raw material clans, with the support of a certain part of their supervisors, that became the main agents of perestroika and its most important act — the privatisation of profitable state assets.

To this end, these trade and power clans consistently supported first perestroika in the USSR, then the radical “democratic” opposition, and then the libertarian revolution (in August 1991), eventually abolishing the allied structures together with the CPSU and creating a new system of power from their nominees.

These clans (joined by financiers in the early 90s) supported the reforms of Egor Gaidar, the vouchers of Anatoly Chubais, and the course of the Russian leadership to build a “gas empire” and a “Greater Europe”.

Post-Soviet Russia not only maintained the priority of raw material exports in the country’s economy, but also made them absolute: unlike many other countries where export industries work for the country, in post-Soviet Russia the country as such has become a means of ensuring the selfish interests of private owners of leading export corporations. At the same time, the profits from the sale abroad of all the same oil, gas, metals, gold, diamonds, grain, timber, fertilizers and other things largely did not return to the country, but remained in offshore accounts.

And in modern Russia, the part of the elite that was historically formed as a class of preferential trade and “big grab” [the liberal reforms of the 90s – SZ] remains so to this day and is not motivated by pro-national changes.

A significant part of Russian business representatives are seeking to leave Russia, restructure their companies in view of the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation, and save or withdraw their assets abroad. A significant part of the bureaucracy is also paralysed.

What is the solution? And what do we see as a guarantee of Russia’s victory in another clash with the West and serious systemic problems inside the country?

Theoretically, the formula for Russia’s optimal response to the challenges of the time is known. The answer lies (given that the main front of the civilisational hybrid war against the Russian Federation has become the economic sanctions of the West) in Russia’s change of its economic model, with the country moving beyond its imposed peripheral role in the global capitalist division of labour. If we try to build an algorithm for this exit, it should look like this: “From the mobilisation of elites — to economic modernisation, and from it — to a solidary state.”

Vladimir Lepekhin

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