Debates on politics and culture
Almost half of this issue of NZ is about the way two great political ideologies, Conservatism and Liberalism, have fared in Russia recently. Conservatism gets pride of place. In the Liberal Heritage, we start off with a shortened Russian translation of Chapter 2 of Ted Honderich’s Conservatism (from the forthcoming second English edition), entitled Theory, Other Thinking, Incentives in the original, and Conservatives and Theory in our version. Honderich reviews different Conservative claims about the sources of Conservative ideas, and argues that references to intuition, common sense, empiricism and the like as distinguishing marks of Conservatism are ill-guided and indefensible. He goes on to argue that if Conservatism rests upon a unifying principle, this principle is not to be sought in any distinctive Conservative ways of thinking. Our editorial introduction maintains that while Honderich’s indebtedness to the tradition of analytic philosophy and his exclusive references to British and US Conservatives may seem to render his argument irrelevant to a Russian context, the former actually compensates for the latter: while the specific political ideas and projects of Anglo-American and Russian Conservatives may differ, their arguments about the superior sources of their ideas do not. This renders Honderich’s non-contextual enquiry applicable to Russian political debates.
Topic 1 (New Russian Conservatives in Search of a New Russian Conservatism) looks at the latest attempts to forge a Conservative ideology for Russia. Alexander Verkhovsky presents a detailed analysis of the Seraphim Club, a coterie of intellectuals centred around Expert magazine. He looks at the evolution of this club and the different currents within it, and concludes that its most active protagonists, Alexander Privalov and Maxim Sokolov, are best dubbed ▒liberal Conservatives’ since, despite a strong nationalist streak and much talk about Orthodoxy, the basic principles they expound and their reactions to most major political events remain rooted in liberal values (The Seraphim Club: The Romantic Appeal of Liberal Conservatism). Andrei Kolesnikov, a liberal journalist who has followed the Club’s activities closely, concurs with Verkhovsky’s assessment. In an interview entitled Conservatism in Salons and Big Politics: A Liberal’s View, he shares his observations on how disillusioned former liberals turn to Сonservatism as a sort of anti-liberalism that has no positive content of its own, and how this leads to a type of conformism which, unwillingly, contributes to the radicalisation of the Russian political climate and the rise of extreme nationalism. Finally, Galina Kozhevnikova analyses the new fashion for Conservative rhetoric since the run-up to the 2003 Duma election, showing that this essentially boils down to a destructive anti-liberal discourse rather than a set of positive policies (The Putin Levy: Ideologues or Myth-Makers?).
In his Sociological Notes, Alexei Levinson asks, For How Long? After reviewing the parallels between 9/11 and the Beslan tragedy, he reports findings to the effect that most Russians are prepared to tolerate a down-scaling of democracy and civil liberties for the sake of combating terrorism. However, Levinson argues, this new thirst for a unifying political totality symbolically headed by Putin is merely a compensation for growing social differentiation. While this disregard for democracy is dangerous, it is also transitory since it functions as a palliative rather than an expression of real group interests.
Topic 2 continues the debate on Russian liberalism that has flared up again since Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s infamous ▒letter of repentance’ published earlier this year. Sergei Turkin looks at the two main structural issues that divide Russian liberals: remaining in the opposition vs. participating in government, and blaming the current regime vs. blaming the Soviet heritage, and concludes that in order to survive, the liberals need to find a way of working together despite those cleavages (The Russian Liberal Movement: Anatomy of a Schism). Boris Kagarlitsky thinks that all of this is A Useless Debate, since Russian liberalism is now a thing of the past, though its main tenets have been integrated into the current political system. Society, and especially young people, he argues, are turning to socialism in response to the regime’s anti-democratic drift. Putin’s authoritarianism and nationalism, writes Kagarlitsky, is a logical consequence of Russia’s new place in the capitalist world-system. In a comment on Kagarlitsky’s articleentitled Self-Alienation, NZ editor Anton Zolotov argues that the latter’s criticism of Russian liberals rests upon a distortion of liberal principles. The main problem of Russian political and economic development, Zolotov contends, is an absence of social institutions that could act as checks and balances, and striving to create such institutions is a project around which liberals and socialists should unite, if only for the sake of self-preservation.
In his Humane Economics column, Yevgeny Saburov discusses Figures, Prices, and Values, calling upon us to pay attention to the social facts behind economic figures such as teachers’ salaries, and discussing the recent government attempt to use a German bank to lend legitimacy to its project of selling Yukos assets at a ridiculously low price.
In this issue’s helping of the Culture of Politics, Historian Semyon Charny reviews Nazi groups in the USSR in the 1950s–80s, showing how elements of Nazi style and ideology were first appropriated by a handful of bizarre groups, laying the basis for the fully-fledged Nazi movement that emerged in the later 1980s to become one of the major parts of the Russian nationalist camp.
The Politics of Culture section continues our previous issue’s focus on school history textbooks with an article by ethnologist Viktor Shnirelman on Myths of Origin in Contemporary School Textbooks which discusses the competing myths about historic origins to be found in textbooks published in some of Russia’s ▒ethnic’ republics.
Topic 3 is entitled Distinguish and Show: On the Cultural Functions of Fashion. In Bows and ruches, flowers, cockades, Olga Vainshtein reviews different approaches to analysing the function of fashion in establishing social distinctions. Political scientist Christoph Bieber discusses Adidas, Nike, and the Origins of Athletic Fashion, showing how competition between the world’s major sneaker producers led to the spread of sportswear as a mass fashion. Anna Tikhomirova presents an analysis of Russian provincial attitudes fashion in late Soviet times, in 280 km from Moscow: Fashion and Clothing Consumption in the Provinces (Yaroslavl, 1960s—80s).
The Morals and Mores section features a reflection by writer and artist Julia Kissina on the evolution and significance of dress codes in the globalised West and their adoption and transformation in post-Socialist Eastern Europe (The Symbolic Body of Clothing).
Under the New Institutions rubric we present the People’s Assembly Club which co-ordinates joint actions and reflection by major players of civil society, ranging from human rights groups to defenders of consumer interests.
This issue’s Journals Review focuses on periodicals in the social and political sciences. The New Books section includes a review article by Anatoly Vishnevsky and Nikita Mkrtchyan on two recent volumes analysing the run-up to the 2002 census in Russia, as well as ethnicity-related aspects of the census itself. Shorter reviews cover recent books in Russian, German and English on Conservatism, Empire, elections in Eastern Europe, Russian political, science, and trade history, and the Frankfurt School.