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March 16, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Marine Voskanyan

RUSSIA AND THE "LEFT-WING PROJECT"

Social Democracy as a cure for Social Darwinism

A PHOBIA OF THE LIBERAL UNCONSCIOUS

Our liberal society has developed a characteristic response to the mention of anything socialist: "socialism is to blame for all our trials and tribulations". This phrase is usually pronounced with force and vigor. Even the mention of the successful implementation of Social Democracy in Europe evokes such a response. For example, a respected weekly economic journal recently ran a cover story entitled "The Ashes of Socialism", in which the socialistic elements present European policy, such as access for all to medical and educational resources, employment guarantees and decent monetary support for the unemployed, aid for the elderly, were blamed for the alleged end of development in Europe. Also, socialism was blamed for the inflow of immigrants, the loss of cultural identity and anxiety about the future. To complete the package, only camps like the Gulag and bloody KGB raids seem to be missing. But, according to Russian neo-liberal logic, this awaits the Europeans for the attempt to give all equal opportunity to receive an education, medical aid, a decent job and a place to lay down their head at night. The future, of course, belongs to liberal values, including survival of the fittest, natural selection and competition, each for himself, without any aid, especially from the government.

Such attacks on socialism are especially valuable because the authors, consciously or not, following their "liberal unconscious", openly express their hostility not so much toward the economic mechanisms as to the ideological basis: the idea of a society based on liberty and justice for all. These critics oppose first and foremost the idea that there are values nobler than maximum profit for the investor.

 

THE END OF HISTORY THAT NEVER HAPPENED

The idea of the lack of alternatives of liberalism is illustrated in Francis Fukuyama's book "The End of History and the Last Man" (published in 1992). Fukuyama wrote:

"The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism". <…> "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government".

And what was the fate of mankind to be after the end of history?

"The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history".

In short, humanity will be forced to abandon all moral ideals, the quest for good and justice, philosophical and religious development. People will only produce and consume goods, which the economic elite of Western countries will reap all the profits and rewards from. But the following 15 years proved that the end of history had no intention of occurring, that the world had entered into a new era of political and cultural conflicts. The number of countries, dissatisfied with the "triumph of liberalism", grows by the hour.

However, Russian liberals continue persuading us that western liberal conservatism is the only way out for our country. They proclaim that history has ended, not globally, but within the borders of the Russian Federation. And they address their speeches to citizens of a country that has stunned the rest of the world by its ability to radically change its governmental system and ideological course within a very short time frame. Yes, there are countries in the world where everything remains the same for centuries. However, Russia certainly hasn't been one of them, as its history illustrates well.

 

IMPORTED STEREOTYPES

The Russian mass media has been quite successful during the last 15 years in convincing citizens that the concepts of "left-wing" and "socialist" are inseparable from "civil war", "seizing from one for the good of all", "rations from a special subdivision", "cruel dictator" etc. Therefore, the left-wing idea has become associated with the worst episodes in Soviet history. However, this completely ignores the fact that this was but one attempt to "build socialism", and of a very specific sort. The left-wing concepts are international ideas, which developed simultaneously in many different countries and were implemented in many different ways.

In "liberal" Europe, where Socialists were or are in power, the upper classes (cultural and scientific intelligentsia) traditionally favor their ideas. (An interesting fact: in 1949 Albert Einstein published an essay entitled "Why Socialism?", in which he simply and coherently, with characteristic scientific clarity, explained why he sympathized with socialistic ideas.) Latin America is currently shifting towards a socialistic course. And note that there is no talk of radical changes like "war communism" and the horrors we are constantly called upon to fear.

Some refuse to call this "moderate" socialism socialism at all, because it doesn't fulfill the definition provided in Soviet textbooks, with common possessions bought by profits from production and the rule of the masses, headed by the working class, watched over by the Party. Actually, today's Capitalism doesn't resemble the classic definition found in "Economics". In the world of multi-national corporations, which stimulate demand by complex use of marketing and advertising mechanisms, finding the classical "invisible market hand" has become as difficult as catching "the elusive Joe" from the well-known anecdote (because there is nobody who is really making attempt to catch him).

Providing the USSR's failures as an example, journalists adhering to Western liberalism have attempted to create a stable dislike and misunderstanding of left-wing ideas in the consciousness of average, politically and philosophically naïve citizens of Russia. Because if allowed to actually think for themselves, many who are concerned only with their own well-being and conscience, who use common sense to choose between right and wrong will find themselves, much to their surprise, in the Socialist camp.

 

A QUESTION OF VALUES

Socialism in its Social-Democratic form may appeal to many Russians. There are several reasons for this. The most significant probably is the fact that the ethical basis of the "left" idea as a civilizational project and the post-soviet mentality of our citizens.

The "engine" of Western liberalism is competition, endless individual rivalry, the fight for success and survival. But such a basis doesn't appeal to everyone, and it's wrong to say that it's the only one worth adhering to, applying the label of "loser" to anyone who chooses the alternatives. But this is exactly the attitude that our government took during the last 15 years towards those who just couldn't fit into the market economy, who couldn't compete within the system.

Why is the right of some to make a million dollars more important than a secure future for the rest of the population, guaranteed by the government? The small business that was supposed to make our capitalism accessible for the people needs the protection of the government. The prospects for an individual, attempting to venture out on his own, are very grim indeed. However, asking such questions is considered politically incorrect and even impolite. Besides, why worry about others, they should think about themselves?

The questions don't end there. "Each for himself", "let the best man win", "strength conquers all", and "if you're so smart why are you so poor?" – these are all slogans of social Darwinism, offered by the neo-liberals. They are incompatible with the values that most people in Russia (and in the world, really) adhere to, even though they belong to different nationalities and religions. And all have a right to ask why the ideology of individual success in such a radical form should be considered better than one based on loving one's neighbor, helping him in need (and hoping he'll help you when you're in trouble), in working together for the common good, combining equal opportunities for all with support for the weak and aged. In Russia the latter ("Socialistic") ideology probably better reflects the ethics of most of the population. Also, the Socialistic ideology is based on a system of values that closely resembles Christian ones: the ideas of equality and justice, love of one's neighbor, when the person next to you is an ally, not a foe.

 

THE FUTURE?

In today's Russia many have learned to rely only on themselves. However, they still consider that the government should care for its citizens. Most people need social guarantees; few are willing to go without. And they have a right to expect attention from their government, not contemptible ignorance.

The idea of justice and social guarantees assumes that the government takes on certain responsibilities concerning the life and living conditions of its citizens. Also, it has to intervene in the economy, sometimes supporting necessary, but financially unprofitable industries. The proponents of liberalism, however, suggest that the government should leave the economy alone. Hence, unprofitable ventures will never be supported, since no investor wants to lose money. This leads to an interesting ethical conclusion: only that which brings money has a right to exist.

A typical example of such a conflict is taking place in Europe today. Airbus management wants to fire tens of thousands of employees as part of its business strategy. Socialists, who have sided with the trade unions, ask: "What is more important: the right of thousands to a decent, stable job, or the right of a company to optimize business?" The company views an employee first and foremost as an expendable resource, while the government feels responsible for the human being. The relationship between a hired worker and his employer is something the government should be involved in, protecting its citizens' rights at all costs. In Russia, with its "official" and "unofficial" salaries, the employee depends solely on his boss's goodwill and honesty.

Few aspects of human beings lives can bring monetary gain per se. For example, the arts and sciences are necessary for the well-being, mental stability and happiness of many people. What material gain can be found in exploring the Northern regions, outer space, studying medieval philosophy or dead languages? Why create non-commercial movies, books and music? Why support senior citizens (so they can enjoy life, and not struggle to survive), provide free higher education, pay unemployment and childcare subsidies? All of these are unprofitable, but that just isn't the point. These are all done not to boost the economy, but to care for the human beings that are the "consumers", in market terms. How many people are really willing to agree that all unprofitable endeavors should be banned? And what if such an endeavor happens to be your job or your vocation? Does this mean that you have to change who you are? No one, except the government, can protect the interests of those who are involved in "non-commercial" areas, to guard from market logic.

The Liberal journalists keep trying to plant the idea into our heads that only senior citizens, out of nostalgia for their youth during the USSR, can support the "left-wing" movement in Russia; everyone younger, hoping for success, must be content and enthusiastic about making it in a dog-eat-dog world. Yes, reincarnating the left-wing strategy carried out in the USSR is probably not a good idea. But that's not all the Socialist movement has to offer! And today's citizens should be allowed to weigh the pros and cons of both Russia's neo-socialist and neo-capitalist ideologies and to choose one of their own accord, without intentional brainwashing by the press. Is Russian liberal capitalism really our only option? When out of many only one can succeed? Is survival of the fittest a normal law for human society? Should one choose a career based only on salary expectation? And when one gets old, to be at the mercy of chance, hoping that one's children are decent enough to help when the going gets rough (and the childless- well, they should have saved more when they were younger. Tough luck!)? These questions will have to be answered not by the generation that remembers the soviet "golden age", but by their children and grandchildren.


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