By Paul Goble
Polls show, Boris Kagarlitsky says, that “a significant portion of the population passively supports those in power. But today the stress needs to be placed not on the word ‘supports’ but rather on the word ‘passively,” which is exactly what the Kremlin does not want given its desire for high turnout in March and enthusiastic backing of Putin.
In an editorial for the Rabkor journal, the editor of that publication and the director of the Moscow Institute of Globalization and Social Movements argues that today, Russian society is divided into two parts, one that is completely apathetic and another that is increasingly angry (rabkor.ru/columns/editorial-columns/2018/01/31/newyear2018/).
The mass of the population “which the present authorities can conditionally include among their supporters is in fact simply apolitical and indifferent to everything except petty current needs that ever more oppress them, Kagarlitsky argues. That may not seem like much, but “in the current situation, this can be equivalent to a death sentence.”
That is because “the people will destroy the authorities not by means of protests but rather by its indifference to them.”
In this situation, there are many paradoxes. In 2017, the relative stability of the crisis “began to grow into a political crisis” because people at various levels began to recognize that change is required and that the current powers that be are not interested in any change that would in any way take away their power and wealth.
Now, the paradox is that the current worsening of the economic situation may in fact work for the powers that be because Russians will focus again even more intently not on politics but rather on meeting their own most immediate needs. But what is going on above them highlights a society-wide problem.
“Even the ruling circles and the bureaucracy understand the need for change. But these groups are divided in what direction to proceed. Because any discussion of these differences threatens “’stability,’” the conflicts are growing but not into a real struggle for power but rather into a situation in which “solutions simply aren’t being taken.”
According to Kagarlitsky, the country and the state are living by inertia,” something that is visible on the faces of those in power. Indeed, it may be that their faces already bear “’the mark of death.’”
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As the situation deteriorates, he continues, Putin will make ever more promises; but people now know that he will not realize any of them. But as the gap between promises and non-action grows, they will become ever more angry viewing that gap as evidence that “the powers that be are panicking.”
“Liberal experts complain about the ‘Sovietization’ of the economy which is now being put on military rails. Critics of liberalism place their hopes on protectionist measures. But neither the one nor the other is real,” Kagarlitsky argues. The former would require a different society and different values and officials than the ones that now exist.
And protectionism is a complete illusion for a country based on the export of raw materials with a very weak domestic market and the collapse of private investment in industry. “Without the conversion of the state into a locomotive of development, without nationalization, and without a sharp change in social policy, nothing will happen.”
And that won’t happen until there is a change in regime, he says. But even that change by itself is far from a guarantee of changes to the best. Neither God, nor the tsar, nor Navalny, nor Grudinin were they to win would save society.” Society must change, but so far it is too indifferent to what is going on to be able to make any serious effort in that direction.