Dimensions and Challenges of Russian Liberalism: Historical Drama and New Prospects
Liberalism in Russia is one of the most complex, multifaced and, indeed, controversial phenomena in the history of political thought. Values and practices traditionally associated with Western liberalism—such as individual freedom, property rights, or the rule of law—have often emerged ambiguously in the Russian historical experience through different dimensions and combinations. Economic and political liberalism have often appeared disjointed, and liberal projects have been shaped by local circumstances, evolved in response to secular challenges and developed within often rapidly-changing institutional and international settings.
This third volume of the Reset DOC “Russia Workshop” collects a selection of the Dimensions and Challenges of Russian Liberalism conference proceedings, providing a broad set of insights into the Russian liberal experience through a dialogue between past and present, and intellectual and empirical contextualization, involving historians, jurists, political scientists and theorists.
The first part focuses on the Imperial period, analyzing the political philosophy and peculiarities of pre-revolutionary Russian liberalism, its relations with the rule of law (Pravovoe Gosudarstvo), and its institutionalization within the Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets). The second part focuses on Soviet times, when liberal undercurrents emerged under the surface of the official Marxist-Leninist ideology. After Stalin’s death, the “thaw intelligentsia” of Soviet dissidents and human rights defenders represented a new liberal dimension in late Soviet history, while the reforms of Gorbachev’s “New Thinking” became a substitute for liberalism in the final decade of the USSR.
The third part focuses on the “time of troubles” under the Yeltsin presidency, and assesses the impact of liberal values and ethics, the bureaucratic difficulties in adapting to change, and the paradoxes of liberal reforms during the transition to post-Soviet Russia. Despite Russian liberals having begun to draw lessons from previous failures, their project was severely challenged by the rise of Vladimir Putin. Hence, the fourth part focuses on the 2000s, when the liberal alternative in Russian politics confronted the ascendance of Putin, surviving in parts of Russian culture and in the mindset of technocrats and “system liberals”. Today, however, the Russian liberal project faces the limits of reform cycles of public administration, suffers from a lack of federalist attitude in politics and is externally challenged from an illiberal world order. All this asks us to consider: what is the likelihood of a “reboot” of Russian liberalism?
Introduction: The many dimensions of Russian liberalism 1. Reassessing liberalism in a conservative framework 2. The historical dimensions of Russian liberalism 3. Liberalism under pressure in post-Soviet Russia
This chapter is meant to highlight the peculiarities of strategic planning in the Russian Federation. The great variety of cultures and traditions of social and economic conditions of Russian regions is compensated by the standardization of Federal legislation on strategic planning and strict requirements about the structure of regional and municipal strategy as well as procedures of strategy preparation and realization.
This situation turns strategic planning in the Russian Federation into a stratified and bulky bureaucratic process, with elements of methodical arbitrariness and an abundance of control and supervising functions. At the municipal level, additional difficulties of strategic planning are caused by a dependence on subsidies of most municipalities from federal and regional funds that are allocated “from above”, by a multilevel system of municipal management. Recently the process of strategic planning is resulting in uneven resource allocation and considerable financing deficit at the lowest levels (rural settlements). Nevertheless, strategic planning in the Russian Federation in general induces municipalities to think more carefully about their core purposes and tasks to find the proper proportion of allocated resources and results of their use.
This chapter deals with emerging illiberal challenges—international and domestic—and their impact on the current state and prospects of liberalism, particularly in Russia. Is the liberal world order in peril and, if so, how grave is the threat? Has liberalism really failed ideologically speaking and in terms of policy? As happened during the New Deal, can liberalism in general—and Russian liberalism in particular—be “rebooted” conceptually and programmatically in response to pressing challenges? What are the fundamental issues of the liberal ideological and political agenda that need to be reevaluated? How can modern liberalism be “reset”? These are some of the fundamental issues addressed in this chapter. It provides a tentative typology of today’s illiberal challenges, a conceptual differentiation between the institutional and normative aspects of the global liberal world order, an analysis of the political and ideological context that may, at least partly, explain the miseries Russian liberals experience at the present moment, and also a tentative blueprint for the path forward of liberalism in non-liberal Russia.
The subject of this chapter is the ethical and sociological aspects of events during perestroika and after. At that time, Russia reached the zenith of liberal ethical values, of romantic hopes and expectations and public demands for justice and the accountability of public authorities. Unfortunately, substantial underestimation of the importance of non-economic factors—especially moral ones—in the reform process resulted in a moral crisis, general disappointment in liberalism and other substantive negative consequences. Acquisition of intellectual and political liberties coincided with a catastrophic economic crisis and the imposition of urgent and necessary measures that were very hard on the population. These measures saved the country from economic collapse but for high political cost, because they were associated (wrongly, as it happens) in mass consciousness with the liberal concept as such. The borders of tolerance toward material impoverishment for the benefit of political freedom were crossed. Also, the paradox of double, contradictory treatment of liberalism in both Soviet intellectual and bureaucratic circles is analyzed in this context. The continuity of former Soviet administrative personnel engendered moral anomy, an identity crisis and alienation among them because inherited officials proved to be unprepared both morally and professionally for work under conditions of transition from socialism to a marketoriented system. This promoted the growth of systemic corruption. The public trust toward the state and public officials have been broken. Moreover, public trust in democratic institutions in general and even a very belief in the possibility of honest government have been undermined then. Despite this, we can find in the contemporary situation a certain ground for optimism. This is based on the revival of demands for social justice and unwillingness to tolerate its absence any longer. Public political protest is considered in this context as a natural and positive element of social activity and political participation, and as a pre-condition for the existence of civil society. In addition, the revival of liberal values in such a form, intuitively sometimes, such as the evolution of horizontal connections and parallel structures in different areas of social life, efforts of people to become maximally independent from state bureaucracy, is the subject of final pages of the chapter.
The chapter takes the case of the formation of the Constitutional Democratic party (the Kadets) in the context of emerging mass politics, 1905 revolution, and political reforms. Going against the genealogical approach, the author stresses the contingency and novelty of party liberalism in the early twentieth century. In particular, the chapter explores the heterogeneity of the Kadet ranks, the concept of rupture and pluralism in self-representation of the nascent liberal party, and techniques of compromise and negotiation in the pluralist political setting that allowed the party and its platform to cohere. The author also argues that the pluralism of political and ideological context of the Kadet party formation was also matched by pluralism of mobilized space of imperial diversity, that included national, regionalist, and autonomist voices. The context of mobilized imperial diversity is shown to be not only inhibiting, but aiding the liberal politics in the Russian Empire.
From 1992 until the present, Russia has seen two cycles of public service reform. These cycles clearly demonstrate the shortcomings of Russian community of experts in the area public administration. Both cycles began with government statements, responding to a “public request” for the creation of a professional and effective public service. A phase of limited reform followed in both cases, where low-quality, even flawed, administrative procedures were developed. At this stage, the expert community expanded in number, but—paradoxically—its role weakened. Final “bureaucratization of reform” (i.e. realization of the final stages of reform in every cycle by the bureaucracy itself) resulted in the curtailing of experts’ participation. Thus, reform became an instrument to increase the weight of influence at the very the top levels of the bureaucracy and to strengthen the power of the political
and administrative elite. In this way, both cycles came to an end more or less in failure, although not a total debacle. The chapter claims that the weakness of Russia’s expert community underlines this cyclical reform cycle. The community of experts in the area of public service reform, as will be shown, is not able to act jointly to support the reform mission. Effective communication among experts working in governmental bodies and outside government (i.e. expert organizations), we argue, is not properly organized. The Russian expert community in the area of public service reform, in other words, does not act like a “guild of professionals”, guided by the liberal principles of open and transparent administration, and effective and citizen-oriented public service. The success in Russian public service reform (including exit from continuous reform cycles) is possible, as we will argue, only in the presence of certain conditions, which rest on an understanding of liberalism as a social phenomenon. We call this “guild liberalism”, or the existence of groups with professional competencies and abilities to change the Russian system of governance in a liberal direction by applying their expertise and by direct participation in reform decision-making. First, the expert community—as a part of civil society—must become rather creative, mature and solid if it is to protect the reform process and keep it on track to achieving its goals. Secondly, top bureaucratic managers must not be the leaders and main stakeholders of the public service reform process. To conclude, we will argue that liberalism in Russia, as social phenomena at the level of professional expert groups, is not completely dead and has the chance to be restored.