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31.10.2011

Modern-day social liberalism in Russia


Mikhail Khodorkovsky is publishing a cycle of lectures at Novayas request.
Two reciprocal processes are taking place today in a series of countries with authoritarian regimes of various levels of cruelty, among them
Russia.
On the one hand, ever more people who had previously been completely satisfied with authoritarian stability are starting to feel oppressed by
it and to demand changes from the power. Moreover, political rights are being spoken of as well honest elections, fair courts, restricting the
arbitrariness of corrupt bureaucrats.
On the other hand, autocracies are filling their kit with democratic slogans, the names of democratic institutions and procedures, and using
these to cover up the anti-democratic substance.
As a result, it is not just the political leaders of the developed democratic countries who are being deceived (actually, they themselves often
even desire to be deceived). Much more dangerous is that the citizens of the countries with the authoritarian regimes lose the understanding
of the institutional differences and the practices in free and oppressed societies. In so doing, the positive programme of a protest movement
gets the label of radicalism from the power, while the authoritarian regime appears in the likeness of a defender of the stable life and wellbeing of the citizens.
The most dangerous opponent of authoritarian power in Russia are educated liberals, consistently exposing its pseudo-democratic essence.
These people have a distinct vision of the socio-economic tasks facing society and of the mechanisms for their resolution.
In order to counteract the liberal opposition, the power resorts not only to pinpoint force impact, but also to traditional methods of
provocation, propaganda, and lies tailored for the broad strata of the population. This is the way that the corrupt bureaucracy tries to discredit
the liberal movement, to destroy it from within, to position it as being against society.
And although this tactic is unfortunately bringing the power success for now in prospect it turns out to be a serious loss for the country, as it
loses the potential of the most advanced part of its intellectual elite, which does not get real political representation. As a result, the state
apparat, which is not subjected to shakeups and does not get rejuvenated, continues to degenerate, become corrupted, and decrease its
efficiency, which was not all that high to begin with.
The absence of real political competition has stopped the rotation of cadres and has blocked vertical mobility, which, along with everything
else, not only undermines the faith of the youth in its own prospects, but also creates a multitude of stress points, spawned by alternative
leaders not co-opted by the legitimate political system. As a result, the country loses out with no hope of turning the situation around in
the international competition for people and capitals, for a place in the marketplace and quality of life.
History does not know cases when such a kind of process lasted a long time. A breakdown invariably takes place. And our common future is
going to depend on who turns out to be a capable political force at that moment. Hence the task for the liberal movement to become such a
force. And for this, first and foremost, it is important to explain to people just what modern-day liberalism is and represents; what solutions to
socio-economic problems it is actually offering, and what ones on the contrary, are being flung out by the powers in its name, in order to
weaken, splinter, and demoralise the liberally thinking intellectual elite, to put its parts at odds with one another and with society.
More than 200 years ago, the predecessors of todays liberals were speaking out for the complete non-interference of the state in personal
affairs, for a state a night-watchman. They assumed that capitalism and a free market would in and of themselves lead to prosperity, while
a persons success or failure ought to completely depend on this person alone.
This is how it used to be, and such a point of view is being ascribed to Russian liberals today. But this is either inexcusable ignorance, or illintentioned lies. Evolution of political views is an ordinary pattern even in the course of one human life, and all the more so over a period of
two centuries and then some. And such an evolution in liberalism took place long ago.
There is something else too that ought to be considered no less of a mistake or lie: transposing onto todays Russia the views of the modernday neoliberals of the West, who after their own civil society has had several centuries of development, after the laws and rules of functioning
of the market and of social support systems have had a chance to take root in their countries consider it possible to remove the state from a
series of spheres of social life.
It is obvious that a neoliberal movement exists in western society, which is much more highly regulated and law-abiding than current Russian
society. The neoliberals speak about changing laws and legal norms, inasmuch as this is imperative for raising the efficiency of administration in
conditions of a highly-developed market and the excessive concern for the well-being of citizens that exists there. They are concerned that the
western person should manifest greater responsibility and enterprise. This is the case over there, but not over here.
We have a different problem. Today in Russia, the traditional argument about the role of the state in the life of society is a conversation about
its efficiency. The greater part of legally sane people, both those found in power and those identifying themselves with the opposition,
acknowledge two obvious circumstances.
The first. The factual role of the Russian state is much lower than the normative (that prescribed by the laws), and even lower than the one
that states play in developed liberal-democratic countries. This also concerns the scales of participation in the development of infrastructure,
fundamental science, culture etc. The weakness of state mechanisms for social protection, defence, and ensuring rule of law is obvious. On the

whole, state institutions, possessing huge powers, are extremely inconsistent and inefficient in the application thereof for the benefit of
society.
And the second. At the very same time, the inefficiency and monstrous corruptedness of the state apparat lead to a situation where practically
any additional participation by the state in any questions of social life entails disproportionately high costs and often just makes the situation
worse.
Does what has been said above signify that Russian liberals must come out for reducing the role of the state, as neoliberals do in the developed
countries?
To my view not at all in every respect and not at all always! Our state does indeed need to get away completely from, or to substantially
reduce its role in, a series of spheres in which its presence is conditioned almost exclusively by the interests of an avaricious bureaucracy
engaged in collecting tribute and justifying its own parasitical existence.
For example, it is obvious that licensing mechanisms work much better in the hands of self-regulating organisations than when they end up
being the feeding troughs of modern-day publicans. It is likewise clear that public safety is inversely proportional to the quantity of police
functionaries.
At the same time, the factual, not the declared, role of state institutions in establishing and supporting rule of law, the rules of the game, in
ensuring a persons rights, including the right to life, security and health, is obviously insufficient. Moreover, it is insufficient precisely in
consequence of the inefficiency of these institutions, and not at all because of they lack the necessary funds or powers. In such a manner, the
main complaint against the state, against the power is their inefficiency.
The reasons for such inefficiency of the state apparat can be seen first and foremost in the absence of mechanisms of real control over it on the
part of society, which mechanisms would force the bureaucracy to serve the interests of citizens.
Such mechanisms are well known to modern-day management science and are even reflected in our Constitution. These are political
competition, honest elections, separation of powers (including an independent judiciary), federalism and local self-administration, a civil society
that includes independent mass information media, influential and independent socio-political associations. However, despite the fact that all
of these mechanisms in Russia are declared or are formally present, they do not function in practice, making the entire construction
inefficient. In what does the problem lie then?
The answer to this question ought to be sought through determining what the main defect of the social organism is something that liberals
and ideologists of the corrupt bureaucracy see quite differently.
They try to convince us that the power is short on powers and toughness, that manual operation ought to be improved and deepened,
stepped up, the practice of public punishments of individual petty functionaries expanded within the framework of a campaign to fight
corruption etc. Total poppycock!
In a modern-day complex society, in a huge country, none of this works. Simply because the system is too complex for one person to be able to
manage it, irrespective of his name, official job title, volume of powers and willingness to use them.
The quantity alone of the necessary decisions is too great, while thousands of assistants too quickly acquire their own interests, separate
from the interests of the country, for an archaic power vertical to be able to be efficient in principle. It is precisely this that is the breeding
ground for corruption, and the assistants they are that very same inefficient, corrupt bureaucracy that the power intends to fight.
A key element imparting stability and dynamism at the same time to the structure of a modern-day state, this is an all-encompassing system
of checks and balances and competitive relations built in a particular manner. But competition not for show, but real competition, based on
the comparability, the approximate equality of forces, of its participants. Of course, any competition complicates the procedure of
management, increases the costs connected with the preparation of decisions, and leads to duplication of a part of the functions. But in so
doing, the actual quality of the decisions turns out to be an order of magnitude higher.
All this presents itself as clear to a liberal.
But to an ordinary person, a non-specialist, it seems: let some one person do the managing, let the responsibilities be clearly divided. The best
thing a management pyramid, where at the top is a tsar (a president), under him his assistants, at the bottom the people, and the
commands clearly come from the top down, while everybody executes them. In short, a power vertical.
In so doing, people for some reason forget that a state is a more complex system than, for example, an airplane. An airplane does not have
140 million independent elements individuals, an airplane does not consist of tens and hundreds of industries, tens of thousands of plants,
power stations, objects of infrastructure etc. Nevertheless, even in an airplane many systems are redundant several times over, the autopilot is
controlled by the pilot, while he himself is being kept a watch on from the ground, and all of them together are connected by mandatory
instructions that must be executed without fail. And situations when the captain takes all powers upon himself, are a rarity, do not last long
and are called an emergency situation. It would not occur to anybody to make it the norm, as this was at the dawn of flight.
The harm from monopolism and its natural consequences arbitrariness and uncontrolledness exceeds many times over the costs of
civilised competition, duplication of functions between branches of power, the state and society. A monopoly on power does not only reduce
the long-term efficiency of a state on account of the growth of corruption, decisions that have not been thought through and are erroneous,
the stoppage of social lifts, aging and growing ossification, and does not lead to stagnation alone.

Over the last hundred years, authoritarianism, in attempts at self-perfection or self-preservation, has on numerous occasions acquired radical
forms and fallen into a tailspin has crossed over to totalitarianism, has resorted to state terror. And peoples have paid in full, with their
own and others lives, for the longing for simple solutions, for docile submissiveness, for unwillingness to control the power.
Independence of the branches of power, federalism, elections, really competing political parties, independent mass information media all
this, and much else besides, must be a part of a complex system of checks and balances. A system that strictly regulates the actions of the
leader who is built into it for example, the president, but does not allow for the existence of a figure of an uncontrolled and self-willed
national leader or leader of peoples. If there is no such system or if it does not work the mechanism of state administration on the
whole loses its efficiency, irrespective of any magic words. And this means the state is not capable of carrying out its functions. Which is
what is happening in our country.
***
Let us take a look at the factual condition of Russian state institutions and civil society structures.
The federal parliament does not have real powers even in the realm of budgetary control over the activity of the executive power. The budget
is approved without being worked through and discussed in detail, and this is nearly 50% of the factual expenditures! But even having
approved it in such a flawed form, the parliament is deprived of the opportunity for control over the execution of its decisions.
A mechanism for parliamentary inquiries is factually absent, while the Accounting Chamber is not subordinated to the parliament. And there is
no need to even speak about the possibility of concrete accountability by concrete functionaries before the legislator.
Also absent is a legislative (lawmaking) process in its true meaning. Laws are adopted under dictation from the executive power, without due
procedural and public expert study (or contrary to the opinion of the experts), in essence even without discussion. Parliament is not a place
for discussions this was said with complete sincerity, after all. As a consequence, the quality of the laws, and their appropriateness to social
needs, have been offered up as a sacrifice to the here-and-now. Amendments and novelties are born in the heat of the moment, contradicting
one another and making many laws unexecutable and inapplicable in practice. And this, in its turn, creates fertile soil for arbitrariness and
corruption. In such a manner, parliament, the Constitution notwithstanding, can not be considered an independent branch of power.
An analogous situation with the courts. Judges are factually appointed, paid, replaced, rewarded and managed by the executive power with
the use of the judicial part of the vertical.
That is, the judiciary too once again notwithstanding the Constitution is not independent, and this means, it is not a Judiciary an
independent branch of power. To this ought to be added two things that are deeply rooted in the courts of general jurisdiction: punitive
traditions and the faulty approach to the formation of this part of the corps of judges almost completely from people in epaulets and from the
clerks of those same courts.
Parliamentary parties, likewise created and financed by the executive power or, in the best case, with its assent, for this reason merely mask
the absence of real political competition. The electoral commission, whose head publicly declares about his complete and total psychological
dependence on the chief of the government, is cultivating distrust towards elections among people, and in full measure fits the role of a
decorative component in the power mechanism.
So-called federalism and local self-administration, where the heads of regions, and now even of municipalities, are factually appointed from
Moscow, is flawed from the start. But the main thing is a local and regional power that is forced to come running for money to that same
Moscow, a power that is specially notwithstanding the Constitution and the Budget Code deprived of the opportunity to form its own
budget out of its own incomes, inasmuch as the proportion of regional and local taxes has been artificially reduced to the benefit of the federal,
is neither an independent power nor self-administration. Just like the mass information media system is not independent in our country.
This being said, those of them that are accessible to the greater part of the population, are once again directly or indirectly financed or
controlled by the executive power.
In such a manner, the system of checks and balances stipulated by the Constitution does not exist in actuality. And yet it is specifically the
balance of forces within a modern-day state and society that compels the bureaucracy to not simply pay attention, but to react promptly and
efficiently to any requests from a little person. If one mighty force the federal executive power is not balanced by a system of other,
just as mighty, state and social forces, the ordinary citizen is deprived of any real influence and any real freedom.
The restoration of a balance of forces both within the state and between the state and society here is the modern-day liberal recipe for
raising the efficiency of administration in the interests of the people. And we need to start with the restoration of real political competition,
inasmuch as only it inferring the presence of a strong and influential opposition is capable of not allowing the power, the bureaucracy, to
once again deceive society and yet again talk to death and postpone reforms whose time has come.
Only the irreversibility of a real personnel replacement of functionaries irrespective of position, degree of loyalty to the regime and personal
proximity will force them to get moving, to fear non-execution of the law more than the displeasure of their bosses. In so doing, even if
there are not any better politicians and bureaucrats available, replacement of the ruling team by another one (even a bad one) opens up a most
important process the inevitability and regularity of such replacement, transforms the politician and the functionary from a monument unto
himself into an ordinary person, who understands that his activity will certainly be publicly and meticulously checked, and makes out of him a
person interested in the support of other, ordinary people, inasmuch as they come to the electoral precincts.
It is deceitful and extremely dangerous to substitute something else for the comprehensible and concrete liberal programme, the essence of
which is in the attainment of a balance of the efforts of the state and society, in uprooting monopolism, in granting a person not only the
right, but also a real opportunity, to independently determine his own fate.

In the name of liberals, the power is attempting to impose on society the idea of limiting the social obligations of the state, supposedly with the
objectives of eliminating budget deficits. Such a position has nothing in common with modern-day social liberalism. Furthermore, in the
opinion of the entire opposition, the limiting of social obligations is masking the inefficiency of state administration and systemic corruption,
and the low, poor-quality economic growth in the country these have given rise to.
Particularly disgusting is the ill-intentioned lying of the bureaucracy in the field of education, health care and culture, inasmuch as the liberal
opposition is to a large extent formed out of people working specifically in these spheres of human activity.
I shall repeat yet again: liberalism today is different than it was 200 years ago.
Today nobody in Russia, besides the state itself, considers the volume and quality of the social services being provided to the population to be
sufficient. In actuality, liberals speak of the impermissibility of the powers (or, even worse, of concrete politicians) attempts to buy peoples
loyalty by way of populist actions instead of systemic and efficient state social support.
The state ought to help a person who finds himself in a heavy life situation to create such conditions so that he himself can change his life for
the better. It is amoral to transform him into a seeker of handouts or to drive him into the position of a pauper to whom regular paltry alms are
promised.
A pension, an entitlement benefit, insurance this is our money, either set aside for a rainy day, or that money which we allow someone
who needs it more right now to get. This money is ours societys. It is not the property of the bureaucracy, not alms taken by it from its
own pocket and bestowed for loyalty on a citizen.
Yet it is precisely the peoples money that this same bureaucracy considers its own today; it is precisely such a spin that the states
propagandists give to its gifts.
The essence of what makes the liberal view distinct is precisely in this: you, the bureaucracy, are not disposing of what is yours, but are
merely managing what is ours at our pleasure; therefore be so kind as to account for it. In detail, in public, in a comprehensible manner,
without lying. We do not trust you and are not obliged to trust you.
The accessibility of education, health care, and the achievements of culture for every person, from the point of view of a liberal, is one of the
most important conditions of fairness. Equal basic living conditions for people are ensured by this, and in this, in the final analysis, along with
providing for security, is the sense of the existence of the state.
Furthermore. The significance, for example, of the quality of education for a modern-day liberal goes beyond the scope of the pragmatic
opportunity for a person to lay claim to a well paid job. A quality education is a guarantee of the ability to make a conscious, free choice.
This is a value in and of itself, one that incidentally also raises societys potential even above and beyond the requirements of production.
The same thing concerns questions of health care. For any normal person be he a liberal, a communist or a conservative it is
unacceptable, for example, when children are deprived of the right to health, to life itself, under the lying pretext of a shortage of budgetary
funds or under the ridiculous pretext of the need to top up the fund of future generations. To pin such monstrous cynicism on liberals
veritable Jesuitism!
The liberal view on the development of culture likewise does not assume abandonment of its support by the state in favour of commercial
projects. The most educated part of Russian society, which is the breeding ground of liberalism, concurrently makes the greatest contribution
to the national culture, deeming precisely culture to be the backbone of the preservation of the identity of modern-day peoples in todays
global world.
However the true distinction of the liberal view is the denial to the bureaucracy of the right to determine what specifically to support. This
is a matter for authoritative specialists, for civil society. All the more unacceptable is a situation when functionaries buy their own
glorification or the glorification of their views with the money of all the people, and impose their own personal tastes, that do not exactly
measure up to the standards of high culture much of the time, along with using culture funding as yet another corruptional feeding trough.
Another widespread accusation addressed at liberals is the accusation of lack of patriotism, inasmuch as liberals, it is said, stand for removal of
the barriers in the way of the movement of ideas, goods, people and capital, and reject a special Russian way that can not be understood
with the mind, can not be measured with a common yardstick.
Any human freedom, of course, is a sharp knife for anyone who lines his pockets on erecting and servicing barriers and boundaries, who
dreams of a monopoly inasmuch as he is not capable of competing on the global market, who does not know how to make the economy and
the living conditions of the citizens of his own country modern and attractive.
However, for an ordinary person, greater competition signifies greater availability of goods and services, their better quality, and a greater
quantity of good-paying jobs that is to say, greater freedom.
I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of problems that arise, for example, with the uncompetitiveness of individual Russian
production operations or even entire industries, is one of the results of that same inefficiency of the corrupt bureaucracy, for which, like for
a bad dancer, something always seems to be getting in the way of success.
The global division of labour for Russia is an inevitability. The two percent of the Earths population who comprise our people will always be
reproducing nothing but backwardness outside the global market, outside global competition. Only integration with the most developed
countries in the capacity of a partner with equal rights, along with attractive living conditions and conditions for economic activity within
Russia, are the guarantee of mutual long-term success.

Of course, far from all fellow citizens regard personal freedom as the main value. Some do not realise its direct interconnection with quality of
life; others have not become accustomed to the idea and are afraid of being responsible for their own fate themselves; still others, being
deprived from the beginning of equal starting opportunities, have given up.
Such a situation is our mutual misfortune. Today the main driving force in society, the guarantee of the countrys competitiveness, of the
survival of the people as such, are free people, individuals taking responsibility upon themselves. This is those passionaries Lev Gumilev
was talking about.
It is precisely on whether we will be able to awaken ourselves from hibernation, will be able to create the conditions so that our children will
become free people, will be able to attain a situation where it will be comfortable specifically for free people, and not for gloomy functionaries,
to live in Russia, that our mutual future depends.
Incapability of managing a complex modern-day economy and state, unwillingness and inability to moderate the appetites of the bureaucracy,
fear of political competition here are the reasons for the erection of an inefficient, unsustainable and miserably working vertical of power
instead of a more complex model of checks and balances in the form provided for by the Constitution.
Inefficiency of administration the main condition for and simultaneously the result of corruption, the reason for the low rates of economic
growth for a developing country, the unreadiness of the state to take on and execute the necessary volume of social obligations, to allow social
power access to administration.
The liberal prescription for treating this ill real political competition as the basis for a rule-of-law, democratic state. The liberal objective
the welfare of the free person, his right and ability to freely choose his fate. Everything else can and should be open to discussion.

http://khodorkovsky.ru/mbk/articles_and_interview/2011/10/31/16731.html
31.10.2011 .


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