Political Upgrades

Sergei Mironov, the leader of Just Russia, calls it “Socialism 3.0”.  An interesting choice of words considering that this year marks the 90th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution.  Anniversaries tend to function as both remembrance and rebirth, and the talk of “socialism” at Just Russia’s party congress might certainly be a rebirth of sorts.  Even if the revival of “socialism” in Russia might simply be political verbiage rather than possessing any real material content.

Be that as it may, what is clear is that talk of “socialism” is a way for Just Russia to position themselves politically as Russia’s left wing alternative to the Communist Party.   To see this all one has to do is peek into Mironov’s historical positioning of Just Russia in the “history” of socialism.  In his 30 minute speech to congress delegates he spoke of how the Russian Revolution ushered in Socialism 1.0. This version was something called “war socialism”.  This was later countered with Socialism 2.0, a western intervention, presumably to quell the attractiveness of version 1.0 among its populations, that was  more “humanitarian.”  Both of these, however, “proved to be unsustainable and inviable.”  Now Mironov and his party are going top all those with “Socialism 3.0”.  Not only will this socialism be the most humanitarian to date, it will do so by recognizing that the “socialist idea is supported by not only economics, but also cultural endeavors of our people.  We are for a dignified and secure life for Russians.”  Judging from this rhetoric, I fail to see what the upgrade features 3.0 portend to offer.

It doesn’t take a keen observer to notice how all of this sounds familiar.  So much that Svetlana Goriacheva, former Communist Party member and now State Duma deputy for Just Russia, made a point to emphasize that Just Russia’s platform is different from the Communist Party’s.

But Just Russia can split hairs over this “socialism” and that “socialism” all it wants.  The truth of the matter is that the party, which is nothing more than a Kremlin creation, is there to gradually whittle away at the Communist Party’s electorate.   After all, Kremlin doesn’t call it “managed democracy” for nothing, and while many seek to dismiss the notion as simply ideological hot air, there is something very real in the concept.

What is “managed democracy”?  Its meaning is right there in its name.   It means that in the eyes of Team Putin, the Russian State will erect the building blocks for a stable democratic system that many Western states enjoy, but took decades to develop.  As a great power swimming in a sea of “democratic states” Russia can’t afford to waste time taming the groundswell of democracy from below, as say the United States did to its many labor and civil rights struggles of the 20th century, by subsuming little “d” democracy back into the hegemonic machine of big “D” democracy.  Such efforts require tolerating the chaotic and sometimes unpredictable nature of social movements long enough for them to fizzle out and reside themselves to work within the system rather than against it.  The Russian elite is clearly not ready, or at least confident enough in their power, to give a little in the short run for grander riches in both power and money in the long run.  Since the democratic lie can’t be formed organically, it must be manufactured from above.

In this sense, then, the architects of Russian democracy are working from a political position akin to Alexander Gershenkron’s ideas about the benefits of economic backwardness.  Here the Russian state is privy to all the bells and whistles that most “mature” democratic states possess and use so effectively to keep their populations gleefully bathing in their own repression.  Mass media, the internet, political PR firms, consultants, advertising, pundits, spokespeople are all available in Russia to package and repackage democracy as a slick, smooth, and shiny object, all consumable in one bite, or at least in one sound bite.  If postmodern life is a characterized by a litany of single servings, then there is nothing to suggest that “single serving democracy” can’t be one of the choices available at the smörgåsbord of affective chimeras that constitute the modern political subject.  With this in mind, if “democratic backwardness” is truly an advantage, then the Russian elite’s ability manipulate democracy’s most advanced technologies to overcome that backwardness might prove to be nothing less than revolutionary.

This is where the Just Russia’s “Socialism 3.0,” Nashi’s DMD militias, the fiction of the “specter of colored revolution,” Zubkov’s nomination, “Operation Successor,” the demonization of Berezovsky, Litvinenko, Other Russia (as if they have any power), the curtailment of NGOs, the Public Chamber, and many, many other forms of “democratic management” all enter the picture.  All of these little pawns are put into motion with the hope that democracy will function in Russia like it does elsewhere else–a predictable, well oiled machine where the people are made to believe that they do the choosing, when in reality the range of choices is no more diverse than one between Coke and Pepsi.

This is by no means to suggest that Russia is any less democratic than their Western counterparts. It’s that the mechanisms for realizing democracy in Russia are much more visible, harder, and violent.  With that in mind, as Mironov announces “Socialism 3.0” as part of global history of socialism, one can’t help wonder what political upgrades “managed democracy” looks to bequeath upon the world.