Russia’s Liberals: Just who and how strong are they?


July 16, 2016 – 

By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ

Translated by J. Arnoldski

On September 8th, elections to the State Duma of Russia will be held. The electoral campaign is taking place under very difficult circumstances. The already very difficult, even disturbing military-political and diplomatic situations are becoming even more complex. Economic slowdown, financial crisis, and a sharp drop in living standards of the population are the consequences of Western sanctions and the extremely inefficient monetary and economic policies of Russian authorities. 

Russian society has long since harbored the conviction that the entire economic block of the government of Dmitry Medvedev is in the hands of the liberals. An important clarification is that liberals in Russia have almost nothing in common with classical liberals in Europe. The main markers of this influential group are not ideas of monetarism and the self-regulated market, but cultural factors. Perhaps the most successful definition of this group is the term “the small people” belonging to the historian of the French Revolution Augustin Cochin. Under other circumstances, the representatives of this group would easily sacrifice their ideas of His Majesty the Market for the sake of achieving more global and fundamental goals. The main marker of so-called liberals is total anti-patriotism, a consistent spiritual and cultural alienation from so-called “Russian civilization” and contempt for the “mentally backwards” social majority. This recalls the words of Dostoevsky in his novel The Idiot: “A Russian liberal is he who hates Russia.” This is perhaps the most succinct characterization of the “liberal party” in Russia.  

This group does not hesitate to show its contempt for the country in which it lives. Literally today, live on Russian Public Television (a state channel), an interview with Dean Auzan of the Faculty of Economics of Moscow State University was shown in which he said: “In this country, you can earn, but it is impossible to live. You have to transport your family to some other country.” The children of “liberals” indeed do prefer to study in the West while their fathers earn money in “this country.”

The liberalism of today’s “liberals” is a situational phenomenon. Not so long ago, one pro-government website published an interesting article on the subject of just who are the ancestors of the leaders of the liberal opposition. As expected, it turned out that the fathers or grandfathers of the leaders of the Bolotnaya Square protests were functionaries of the Communist Party or senior employees of the repressive organs (Cheka – NKVD – KGB). I could not resist positing this article on my Facebook page with the comment: “And who were the ancestors of today’s ruling elite?” The tragedy of the situation in Russia lies in the fact that the establishment is genetically traced to the same layers as the leaders of the opposition. 

The “party in power” and the “liberal opposition” are one and the same layer in a mental sense too. The exceptions are made up of the security and military organs, and this layer itself is very heterogenous and far from ideal. But it is the “security force patriots” who are the main opponents of the “liberal party.” The weakness of the “security patriots” lies in an absence of any conceptual, ideological alternative to the liberals of their own. The strength of the liberals is not even their Bolotnaya protest opposition or even in their support by the West. They are the only ones who have been able to offer (or rather impose) a complete ideological project upon Russian society. In a somewhat toned down form, liberalism is the ruling ideology in Russia. The liberals’ strength is thus in their domination over minds. 

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In Russian society, the word “liberal” is perceived almost as an insult. But even the patriotic layers of society are in thrall to liberal ideology. Literally ever article of the Russian Constitution was written from a liberal position. President Putin, a patriot and former member of the security layer, is on basic economic and a number of other issues (such as domestic policies) also a liberal. 

The liberals managed to convince not only the government, but also society, that liberal dogmas are not only the best, but the only true ones. The higher the political ladder one climbs in Russia, the higher percentage of liberals there are. They constantly incorporate new representatives of their own into the government. However, the liberals long ago suffered a humiliating defeat in fair electoral competition (even though they never fought fair). The last electoral project of the liberals, the Union of Right Forces (Chubais and Belykh’s party) shamefully lost elections to the State Duma in 2003 despite the government’s support. Thus, the liberals have made a brilliant move: they’ve simply begun winning over the government from the inside out. Not only does the financial-economic bloc of the Medvedev government belong to the liberals, but they also head the fields of education, science, and domestic policy. The so-called “party of power,” United Russia, calls itself the party of “social conservatism” but in reality, the ideologues of the party are liberals.

In Russian society today, hatred towards liberals is growing, but they have managed to quickly adapt to new conditions. Unable to stop the process, they have tried to seize the head of it to the point that liberals have taken the lead of “state patriotism” in Russia. The most popular political talk show host is Vladimir Solovyov, a former member of the Zionist movement. A number of representatives of liberal and pro-American circles have shifted and now call themselves patriots (Sergey Karaganov, Vyacheslav Nikonov, and many others). To their credit, these are very intelligent and professional trained people. It is this layer that Alexander Dugin aptly calls the “sixth column.” 

Attempts to buy off the loyalty of these clever liberals lead to nothing good. The Ukrainian oligarchs and even the leaders of Yanukovych’s presidential administration betrayed their own patron for their own financial and political interests. 

And so, the “liberal party” in Russia has two factions: the Bolotnaya street opposition and the liberals in power. The first excites the population, provoking social discontent, while the liberals in power generate the causes of this discontent by pursuing inefficient financial and economic policies and destroying the education and healthcare systems. It is probable that both factions are operating according to a single plan. Both factions also work closely with the American elites.

Patriotic forces in Russia are faced with an ever more difficult task of cleansing the ranks of the ruling opposition of “liberals” (a synonym for the American lobby). Not only does the dominance of liberals in power hamper this resolution, but also the system of corruption. Defeating it by purely repressive measures, however, is impossible. It is necessary to create a new, mobilizing ideology which could unite the efforts of the patriotic layers of the government and society. In the history of Russia, there have been several successful experiments in such mobilization. This gives reason to hope that although the current situation is difficult, it is not impossible to win. 

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