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Public Lecture by Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Modern-Day Social Liberalism in Russia

Public Lecture by Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Modern-Day Social Liberalism in Russia

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Published by: mikhailkhodorkovsky on May 31, 2012
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Modern-day social liberalism in Russia
Two reciprocal processes are taking place today in a series of countries with authoritarian regimes of various levels of cruelty, among themRussia.On the one hand, ever more people who had previously been completely satisfied with authoritarian stability are starting to feel oppressed byit and to demand changes from the power. Moreover, political rights are being spoken of as well
honest elections, fair courts, restricting thearbitrariness of corrupt bureaucrats.On the other hand, autocracies are filling their kit with democratic slogans, the names of democratic institutions and procedures, and usingthese 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 ofteneven desire to be deceived). Much more dangerous is that the citizens of the countries with the authoritarian regimes lose the understandingof the institutional differences and the practices in free and oppressed societies. In so doing, the positive programme of a protest movementgets the label of radicalism from the power, while the authoritarian regime appears in the likeness of a defender of the stable life and well-being 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 discreditthe 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
, which is not subjected to shakeups and does not get rejuvenated, continues to degenerate, become corrupted, and decrease itsefficiency, 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 everythingelse, not only undermines the faith of the youth in its own prospects, but also creates
a multitude of “stress points”, spawned by “alternativeleaders” not co
-opted by the legitimate political system. As a result, the country loses out
with no hope of turning the situation around
inthe 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 isgoing 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 aforce. And for this, first and foremost, it is important to explain to people just what modern-day liberalism is and represents; what solutions tosocio-economic problems it is actually offering, and what ones
on the contrary, are being flung out by the powers in its name, in order toweaken, 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 today’s liberals were
speaking out for the complete non-interference of the state in personalaffairs, for a state
a “night
watchman”. They assumed that capitalism and a free market would in and of themselves lead to prosperity, whilea person’s 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 ill-intentioned 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 today’s Russia the views of the modern
-day neoliberals of the West, who
after their own civil society has had several centuries of development, after the laws and rules of functioningof 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 aseries 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 Russiansociety. The neoliberals speak about changing laws and legal norms, inasmuch as this is imperative for raising the efficiency of administration inconditions of a highly-developed market and the excessive concern for the well-being of citizens that exists there. They are concerned that thewestern 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 aboutits 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 onethat 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
lead to a situation where practicallyany additional participation by the state in any questions of social life entails disproportionately high costs and often just makes the situationworse.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 developedcountries?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 substantiallyreduce its role in, a series of spheres in which its presence is conditioned almost exclusively by the interests of an avaricious bureaucracyengaged 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 upbeing the feeding troughs of modern-
day “
”. It is likewise clear
that public safety is inversely proportional to the quantity of policefunctionaries.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”, inensuring a person’s ri
ghts, including the right to life, security and health, is obviously insufficient. Moreover, it is insufficient precisely inconsequence of the inefficiency of these institutions, and not at all because of they lack the necessary funds or powers. In such a manner, themain complaint against the state, against the power is
their inefficiency.The reasons for such inefficiency of the state
can be seen first and foremost in the absence of mechanisms of real control over it on thepart 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 politicalcompetition, honest elections, separation of powers (including an independent judiciary), federalism and local self-administration, a civil societythat includes independent mass information media, influential and independent socio-political associations. However, despite the fact that allof these mechanisms in Russia are declared or are formally present,
they do not function in practice, making the entire constructioninefficient. 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 liberalsand 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 fightcorruption 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 tomanage 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 q
uickly 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 systemof 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 sodoing, 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 bestthing
a management pyramid, where at the top is a tsar (a president), under him
his assistants, at the bottom
the people, and thecommands 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 have140 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 iscontrolled by the pilot, while he himself is being kept a watch on from the ground, and all of them together are connected by mandatoryinstructions that must be executed without fail. And situations when the captain takes all powers upon himself,
are a rarity, do not last longand 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 reducethe 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
allthis, and much else besides, must be a part of a complex system of checks and balances. A system that strictly regulates the actions of theleader 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 thewhole loses its efficiency, irrespective of any magic words. And this means
the state is not capable of carrying out its functions. Which iswhat 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 budgetis approved without being worked through and discussed in detail, and this is nearly 50% of the factual expenditures! But even havingapproved 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 isno 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 dueprocedural and public expert study (or contrary to the opinion of the experts), in essence
even without discussion. “Parliament is not a placefor discussions”—
this was said with complete sincerity, after all. As a consequence, the quality of the laws, and their appropriateness to socialneeds, have been offered up as a sacrifice to the here-and-now. Amendments and novelties are born in the heat of the moment, contradictingone another and making many laws unexecutable and inapplicable in practice. And this, in its turn, creates fertile soil for arbitrariness andcorruption. 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
anindependent branch of power. To this ought to be added two things that are deeply rooted in the courts of general jurisdiction: punitivetraditions and the faulty approach to the formation of this part of the corps of judges almost completely from people in epaulets and from theclerks 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 maskthe absence of real political competition. The electoral commission, whose head publicly declares about his complete and total psychologicaldependence on the chief of the government, is cultivating distrust towards elections among people, and in full measure fits the role of adecorative 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 fromMoscow,
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 sameMoscow, a power that is specially
notwithstanding the Constitution and the Budget Code
deprived of the opportunity to form its ownbudget 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 orcontrolled 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 thebalance of forces within a modern-day state and society that compels the bureaucracy to not simply pay attention, but to react promptly andefficiently 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 forraising 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, toonce 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 personalproximity
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 mostimportant process
the inevitability and regularity of such replacement, transforms
the politician and the functionary from a “monument
himself” into an ordin
ary person, who understands that his activity will certainly be publicly and meticulously checked, and makes out of him aperson 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 theright, but also a real opportunity, to independently determine his own fate.

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