Russia Faces Five Socio-Cultural Crises Simultaneously, Ikhlov Says

July 5, 2014
Russian Communist Party flags alonside Russian Orthodox icons. Photo via

Staunton, July 5 – Russia currently is confronted by five socio-cultural crises at one and the same time, and any effort to solve them quickly by force will lead to the disintegration of society and the state, much as such efforts have done elsewhere, according to Moscow commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov.

Indeed, he suggests in an article posted on yesterday, the only good if not easy way forward is the implementation of reforms in such a way that “all the conflicts will be resolved in an evolutionary” rather than a revolutionary one and thus lead all social groups to conclude that their interests will be satisfied at some point.

Whether that is possible, of course, depends on many things including the leadership of the country. But no one can deny the challenges which the five underlying socio-cultural crises pose not only to the Kremlin but to the Russian people as a whole.

The first crisis, Ikhlov says, involves the superficial and unequal Europeanization of Russia, where for “already 200 years,” urban residents have “belonged to European civilization” but where over the same period, much of the rest of the population continues to conform to “a Byzantine cultural” matrix.

Such divides have existed elsewhere, he points out, and where they have, that division has led to conflicts between those who support the institutionalization of Europeanization and those who support “a special path” that does not lead in that direction. That is exactly what is taking place in Russia now.

The second crisis arises from the first and involves a conflict between “European understandings of law and rights” and “’Byzantine’” or “if you like, ‘Asiatic’” attitudes about “the relationship of the state to these rights and the imitative character of legal and democratic institutions.”

This may be called, Ikhlov says, “the second crisis of Westernization.” The first involved the resistance of the population to the imposition by elites of standards from the West. Among examples of that are Bolshevism, Maoism, Hitler’s National Socialism, and Khomeini’s Islamic revolution.

The third crisis involves the “bourgeoisification” of what remains a largely “feudal” social and ideological structure of society. The nomenklatura system, paternalism, and ritualism of the bourgeois society and feudal society is “a typical manifestation of ‘mature fedeudalism,’” Ikhlov argues.

The historical record suggests that such societies first more toward absolutism and only then to a bourgeois revolution, and in the process there is “an autonomization of the personality and a profanation of the state ideology.” The result in almost every case is “the collapse of statehood,” and the state results by bans and other prohibitions.

The fourth crisis involves the inclusion of people from a patriarchal peasant culture into the larger, urban society, something that is not comfortable for either the one or the other. “For the last ten years,” he says, “higher educational institutions have practically completely replaced the army as the instrument for the socialization of youth.”

And the fifth crisis arises from Russia’s view of itself as an empire and a civilization, a perspective that points to the ultimate division of the country “into ethnic states and historic regions (the Russian Caucasus, the Urals, Siberia).” The Bolsheviks delayed that by coming up with “a pseudo-religious super-national ideology on the model of the Caliphate.”

“Yeltsin,” Ikhlov says, “attempted to introduce the American model of a civic nation which did not arise because of the absence of a civil society,” or more precisely arose in a fragmented way given the fragmented quality of civil society in Russia. Now Putin is using “’tsarist methods,’” but those, like the ones at the end of Soviet times, “will end with the disintegration of the empire.”