Streetwise Professor

March 2, 2009

A Slavophile Moment

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:41 pm

Via LR, this article by Susan Richards describes a study prepared by my friend Sergei Guriev and two co-authors:

The findings are stark. When Russian attitudes to democracy and the market place are compared with those of other countries, Russians come out as among the least enthusiastic  in the world, a good deal less keen even than the people of Belarus.  
. . . .
The obvious response to these findings is that attitudes will change over time, as people get richer. But this study appears not to bear out these hopes. For where you might have expected young Russians to like the West more than their parents, in fact, the opposite is true. The youngest respondents (20-year-olds) showed the same degree of dislike of the US as their grandparents, while the 35-45 year olds were less hostile to the US.
. . . .  

The authors point to the fact that Russians have made a false connection between positive economic outcomes and the reversal of market and democratic freedoms, and adjusted their beliefs accordingly. They have come to associate market reforms with poverty and unemployment.
. . . .

One interpretation of the attitudes Sergei and his colleagues document are the result of (a) fallacious  post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning (incomes plummeted during the brief period of “democracy” and rose during the restoration of a “power vertical” but there was no real causal connection), and (b) relentless propaganda (note that the attitudes of senior citizens formed in the Soviet days match those of 20 year olds who grew up during the period when Putin began to dominate the information space, especially television).  But the report’s authors note that there is a historical component too:

The authors of the report conclude that these attitudes are unlikely to change. They remind us that ever since the 15thc the Russians have seen themselves as the standard-bearers for an alternative kind of civilisation, under the banner of Orthodoxy.  They observe that it was this belief that fuelled the sharp divide that emerged in the 19th  century between the Westernisers and the Slavophiles, who argued that Russia must resist the temptation of following the path of European development, in favour of a spiritually superior Russian path.

How alarmed should we be by these findings? It is tempting to quibble that the Russian people had, and still have, no idea what they are talking about when they reject democracy so glibly. After all, they have had no experience of it. At the time when they were most enthusiastic about it, in those final days of Soviet power, what they were invoking was not so much a political option as a magical spell which they trusted would, when pronounced, yield ‘liberation’.

Still, the authors’ conclusions should not be dismissed. This would risk echoing the mistake the market fundamentalists made when, believing in ‘the end of history’ they imposed on the rest of the world a model a set of political values which was the hard-won product of Europe’s particular history.

The attitudes in this report certainly reflect forces deeply rooted in Russian consciousness. These go back, indeed, far further than the 15thc, to the basic facts of Russia’s unpropitious position on the map. The underlying culture of its people has been conditioned by a wretched climate, unreliable rainfall, (mostly) poor soil and a short growing season.     The   experience of surviving in these difficult conditions forged a deep-rooted mentality very different from the European one out of which liberal democracy developed. Russia may no longer be a peasant society. But the high premium on the solidarity of the group over individuality and   initiative so characteristic of peasant societies has not changed.  

A glance at the map reinforces the findings of this report in another important respect too. Russia is a vast land which is not on the crossroads to anywhere, it reminds us. The suspicion of ‘foreign’ ideas echoed in this report is deeply rooted in that geography. It will take far more than a decade or two of exposure to foreign travel and a global market place to change it.

I do have one quibble with Richards’s blanket characterization of “market fundamentalists” who embraced an “end of history” vision when the USSR collapsed.  I yield to few in my preference for the market or individual liberty, but I always thought that Fukayama’s “end of history” stuff was bilge, not least because it was based on crypto-Hegelian bilge.  I was–and am–far more sympathetic to Huntington’s civilizational approach, which is quite consistent with the views expressed above.  

There are certainly some economists, including some market enthusiasts, who paid and pay insufficient attention to these historical and civilizational continuities.  These folks pay insufficient attention to the institutional architecture of a functioning market economy.  (And by institutions I mean not just formal ones, but beliefs and values.)  Those economists who take institutions seriously realized–and realize–that the historical inheritance passed to modern Russians by Orthodox and peasant culture, the Russian empire, and the USSR, and hell, the Mongol Yoke, poses serious challenges to a successful transition to market economics (as opposed to crony capitalism), individual liberty, and pluralistic politics.  

Richards’s discussion of the peasant mindset is of interest.  This was, to go all Marxist on you, the product of a particular structure of productive relations that no longer exist.  However, these relations, and this mindset, persisted, far later in Russia than anywhere else in Europe.  That, plus the abrupt and violent destruction of this way of life in the 1920s and 1930s which left deep scars, and the forced (and dishonest) communitarianism/egalitarianism of Soviet times, arguably combined to make Russia highly unfavorable soil for the development of individual-oriented economic and political relations.  

[This peasant utopia was highly romanticized by the Slavophiles, and by other Russians in the post-Napoleonic period seeking something distinctly Russian.  (With an emphasis on “highly.”  Read the description of peasant life and culture in Orlando Figes’s A People’s Tragedy for a less idyllic view.)  But it indeed has left its imprint on modern Russia.]  

The marginal role of liberal parties, such as the Kadets 1905-1917, and more recently яблоко provide further room for doubt that liberal, individualist ideas will have a decisive influence on Russia public life any time soon.  

These factors help explain why Putinist propaganda has been successful.  The propagandists are not stupid.  They know what sells in Russia.  They know what strikes a chord.  

I would also suggest, though, that Richards ignores some other important historical legacies, most notably relentless statism and the role of the state in atomizing society, and its active undermining of any incipient liberal tendencies and movements towards civil society.  The “solidarity of the group” in modern Russia is seldom that of spontaneous Burkean “little platoons” forming a dense network of volunteerist groups.  Instead, it is solidarity built on the hub-and-spoke model, with the state at the hub.  The state exploits vestigial cultural longings for communal solidarity by identifying the state with those longings, and cynically and relentlessly marginalizing–and at times destroying–any potential competitor for those attachments.  

I’ve been thinking about these kind of issues and how they relate off-and-on for awhile.  I’m at risk of straying into Michel’s turf, but today’s widespread Russian nationalism–chauvinism, in fact–is something of a puzzle.  (I am talking here about the attitudes of the multitudes, not the intellectuals.)  It is my understanding that historically, peasants had little national, Russian, consciousness.  Their world was defined by the mir. They had some personal attachment to the Tsar, but did not identify themselves as Russians.   They considered themselves part of a locality and the commune, and were attached to the land–both legally (in the days of serfdom) but more important emotionally.  

Collectivization, urbanization, and industrialization shattered those deep ties to the land and to the communal life, and must have left a deep psychological void.  What to fill it? Allegiance to the state, as a sort of commune writ large is one possibility.  In this interpretation, attachment to the state, and Russian chauvinism, was in a sense  a form of transference.  The Bolsheviks and Stalin broke–crushed–the traditional peasant society, and those who survived replaced their communal allegiance with allegiance to the state.  

Just a hypothesis–or random musings, really.  But it seems to help explain some regularities in Russian behavior that are otherwise alien to Westerners.  

Another cheery article, this one by Aleksandr Golts, argues that the attitudes documented in Sergei’s study, and carefully exploited by Putin, will make any rapprochement between the US and Russia highly unlikely, not matter how desperately Obama or Biden or Hillary or Foggy Bottom want it:

The problem is that Putin doesn’t really need [to reset relations with the US]. We [Russia] are in the midst of a crisis. Good relations with the United States and with the West as a whole won’t help — there is no money in it. And you can’t put hungry people to work with fairy tales about getting up off your knees and about how “Washington has been forced to acknowledge Russia’s international authority.”

No, for this you need stronger measures. For instance, a national mobilization against an insidious enemy who is preparing an imminent attack. And we aren’t talking about China. So what good are Washington’s intentions to delay the missile-defense shield or to postpone practically indefinitely NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine? Moscow will immediately throw up some new conditions and complaints. For example, the Kremlin might call for overall limits on the military forces of all NATO countries so that they do not exceed the forces of the Russian Federation. Or the Kremlin might insist that any future NATO expansion be done only with Moscow’s consent.

An unwillingness to comply with any of these demands will be interpreted as proof that NATO is preparing aggression against Russia. The survival of the Putin regime does not depend on cooperation with the West but with a “managed” chronic conflict. Everyone who is reciting the “hit-the-restart-button” line should give some thought to how compatible the two machines that are set to be restarted actually are.

So, the civilizational differences, combined with the current regime’s political needs, makes the prospects for any rapprochement between the US (and Europe, but they have their own issues) and Russia exceedingly dim.  Indeed, Putin has learned to manipulate the sense of civilizational difference and the chauvinistic feelings of Russians to bolster his political position.  His interest in a detente is minimal.  Hence, I agree with Golts: Methinks that Hillary, Biden, and Obama are wasting their time hoping for any thaw, regardless of how much they try to achieve one.

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  1. Cant blame the Russians for the protectionist attitude, when even the American media is questioning the consensus on free trade. Joseph Stiglitz seems to be the latest media darling in the attack against free trade. Is he a bilgewater economist btw? Here is an article by Jagdish Bhagwati defending free markets and free trade.,%202008.doc

    Comment by Surya — March 2, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

  2. In Russia I guess it is truly a case of protecting captialism from the capitalists

    Comment by Surya — March 2, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  3. I see that you have been reading Geoffrey Hosking’s Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917 as it is pretty much his line that “Their world was defined by the mir. They had some personal attachment to the Tsar, but did not identify themselves as Russians.”

    I disagree that Russians had no concept of being Russian prior to the Revolution. All one has to do is to read Vladimir Dahl’s collection of proverbs from the peasantry dating back to the early 19th century. Not only do Russians understand of themselves as Russians, they have a series of stereotypes that portray Ukrainians, Jews and a host of other nationalities in a very negative light. How can the peasantry not understand themselves as Russian when they have stereotypes about others based on their nationality? The only logical conclusion is that Hosking is wrong and that Russians did have a clear sense of being Russian.

    The how is simple. Religion is not the antithesis of nationhood and the biblical texts and liturgy always make reference to nationhood. In the old Russian texts the term for nation/ethos is “yazyk” (also the word for language and tongue as is the case in modern Russian). “Narod” also was used but meant a multitude, a crowd. The switch from yazyk to narod occurs in the 17th century. The icons also display nationality: John-Paul Himka has done some wonderful research looking at icons in Ukraine and Russia.

    Comment by Michel — March 2, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

  4. Surya–Stiglitz is the bilge-iest;-) And yes, the American flirtation with protectionism is shameful. Unfortunately, I think we are about to move quickly from flirtation to marriage. The problem is, there’s no economic parallel to a quickie Vegas divorce. Once we’ve married protectionism in the midst of a severe recession/depression, it’s ’til (economic) death do us part. You’d think that after Smoot-Hawley Congress would have learned. Silly me.

    Michel–Knew I was taking a risk by playing on somebody else’s home field’-) Actually, haven’t read Hosking, so he wasn’t the source of the information. Mainly got it from Pipes, I believe, and perhaps Figes. Also, I think, from a bio of Peter the Great. Have to leaf through some of the stuff I’ve read over the past couple of years to nail that down, but I’m sure it wasn’t Hosking.

    Thanks for the education. Interested in learning more.

    I do have a question though, as to whether the national identity to which you refer was as state-centric as the current nationalism seems to be. That is, was there a conscious effort to identify the narod with the state, and the state with the narod? If so, when did that begin? Have such efforts waxed and waned?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 2, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

  5. The paradoxical thing is that you have a strong sense of nationhood, but weak nationalism. You have weak nationalism, but a strong sense of patriotism/chauvinism. Let me explain, you have a very strong sense of belonging to a state in Russia, but the Russians outside of Russia have for the most part accepted living in other states. There is no great desire to create a “Greater Russia” among Russian-speakers living outside of Russia, but within Russia you have a strong attachment to the state. It is an interesting case to study.

    Comment by Michel — March 2, 2009 @ 10:34 pm

  6. Re-“The youngest respondents (20-year-olds) showed the same degree of dislike of the US as their grandparents, while the 35-45 year olds were less hostile to the US.”

    Actually there is a pretty simple but politically incorrect (at least in these quarters) explanation of that. I think this article sums it up best (

    “Putin’s gentle leg pulling of a few doe-eyed western reporters, and the spontaneous reaction of thousands of Russian internet users to the outrageous assumption made by the BBC, both carry the same message (though many in the West will be loathe to hear it)–unlike their elders who were uncomfortable dealing with the outside world, today’s young Russians are not about to let insulting stereotypes about their lives and their values pass totally unchallenged. To earn their respect, one has to give it.

    Until recently, Russians rarely ever saw what was said about them in the Western media. When they did, language barriers and scarcity of internet access meant they had no way to respond in a timely manner, and to set the record straight.

    But now that a quarter of the population has regular internet access, they can read what is being written about their country in real time on Russian translation sites, and they are finding out, as Daniel Thorniley, Senior Vice President of the Economist Group recently put it, that it is “95 percent rubbish” (true, he was talking about business–an area where the coverage is still relatively favorable).

    For the first time in history, the global reach of the internet is allowing large numbers of Russians (and others within the former Soviet Union) to talk to the West directly, rather than only through the filter provided by visiting journalists and pundits. This means the free pass given by Russians to those who write about them, something that most of us here have long taken for granted, is rapidly coming to an end. We already see the first signs of the new era in the blistering comments from outraged Russian readers that now appear regularly on the web sites of major British newspapers…”

    This is the reason that university-educated Muscovites are according to polls the most disillusioned of all social groups with the West; they have concrete experience of it, unlike the rose-tinted nostalgia the middle-aged carry towards it from the days of the Cold War. One must also qualify how to define being “hostile” towards a country – for instance, the greatest level of support for getting educated in a Western university is among that same youngest demographic, which indicates that their “hostility” is a pragmatic rather than ideological/propagandistic thing.

    Re-“I yield to few in my preference for the market or individual liberty, but I always thought that Fukayama’s “end of history” stuff was bilge, not least because it was based on crypto-Hegelian bilge.”

    As an admirer of Hegel, I thought it was quite convincing (and not contradictory to the “clash of civilizations” thesis either). That said I do not believe modern liberal democracy and free markets are the final stage of history.

    Re-“It is my understanding that historically, peasants had little national, Russian, consciousness. Their world was defined by the mir. They had some personal attachment to the Tsar, but did not identify themselves as Russians. They considered themselves part of a locality and the commune, and were attached to the land–both legally (in the days of serfdom) but more important emotionally. ”

    Another strong plane of attachment, which I suspect was much stronger than Michel’s nationalities, was with the Orthodox world in general (a bit like the concept of the Muslim umma today). Making fun of Ukrainians does not imply a large degree of “separateness”, since there are plenty of examples of such within other nations. Italy would make a good example, with the northerners viewing the south as lazy and criminalized, and the southerners viewing the north as arrogant and aloof. In fact IIRC for a long time in Tsarist Russia, the “nationality” entry in internal passports was either “Orthodox”, “Jew” or “Mussulmann”.

    Comment by Da Russophile — March 2, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

  7. Da Russophile writes: “Making fun of Ukrainians does not imply a large degree of “separateness”, since there are plenty of examples of such within other nations. Italy would make a good example, with the northerners viewing the south as lazy and criminalized, and the southerners viewing the north as arrogant and aloof.”

    Yes, but they don’t call them French or Spanish or German. I.e. they do not use different national terms for them. Here are a few of the examples of how the sayings Dahl collected characterize Russians and distinguish them from other nationalities:

    Чу! — здесь русским духом пахнет.
    Русский бог велик. Русским богом да русским царем святорусская земля стои#т.
    Русский народ — царелюбивый.
    Земля русская вся под богом.
    Велика святорусская земля, а везде солнышко.
    Велика святорусская земля, а правде нигде нет места.
    России и лету союза нету. Русь под снегом закоченела.
    Летит гусь на святую Русь (Наполеон).
    На Руси никто с голоду не умирывал.
    Руси есть веселие пити, не может без него быти (Владим.
    Русская кость тепло любит. Пар костей не ломит.
    Русский гостинец — кулага с саламатой.
    Русский человек хлеб-соль водит.
    Русского человека что парит (баня), то и правит (лечит).
    Русский терпелив до зачина. Русский задора ждет.
    Русский ни с мечом, ни с калачом не шутит.
    Русский молодец — сте басурманам конец.
    На пардон, на аман у русского и слова нет.
    Русский человек — добрый человек (чувашский привет).
    Русак умен, да задним умом. Русский назад умен.
    Кабы у немца напереди, что у русского назади — с ним бы и ладов не было (ум).
    Русский народ не боится креста, а боится песта.
    Бей русского, часы сделает. Русский что увидит, то и сделает.
    Русак не дурак: поесть захочет — скажет, присесть захочет — сядет.
    Русский догадлив (сметлив, себе на уме).
    На Руси не все караси — есть и ерши.
    Русский человек любит авось.
    Русский на авось и взрос.
    Русский человек любит авось, небось да как-нибудь.
    Русский крепок на трех сваях: авось, небось да как-нибудь.
    Русский человек и гуллив и хвастлив.
    Русский аппетит никогда (ничему) не претит.
    Крестьянское горло — суконное бердо: все мнет.
    В русском брюхе и долото сгниет.
    Что русскому здорово, то немцу смерть.
    Русский час — десять, а немецкому и конца нет.
    Я русский, на манер французский, только немного погишпанистее.
    Он, видно, по-русски не понимает (т. е. хоть ему какую правду в глаза говори).
    Родом не немчин, а указывать горазд.
    Принять кого по-русски (т. е. или прямо и грубо, или хлебосольно).


    This is how Dahl characterizes the “khokhol” (a pejorative for Ukrainians or “Malorossians”)

    Малороссы — мазепинцы, хохлы, чубы; индюшка высидела; галушкой подавился. Индейка из одного яйца семерых хохлов высидела.
    Черт с хохла голову снял да приставил ему индюшечью.
    Хохол глупее вороны, а хитрее черта.
    Хохлацкий цеп на все стороны бьет (хохлы молотят через руку).
    Чтоб те хохлы да повыдохли! — А чтоб те москали да их повытаскали (ответ).
    И по воду хохол, и по мякину хохол.
    Хохол не соврет, да и правды не скажет.
    Он хохол (т. е. хитер и упрям).

    Comment by Michel — March 2, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

  8. Dear Da Russophile, I have finally figured you out. You are a Great Russian Chauvinist 🙂 What you did in your post was deny the existence of Ukrainians as a distinct nation and it also explains your insistence that the “silent majority” in Ukraine wants to be part of a Russian “empire.” Всё понятно с Вами!

    Comment by Michel — March 3, 2009 @ 12:54 am

  9. How is it Great Russian chauvinism to point out that a distinctive Ukrainian national identity has historically been weak (and next to non-existent before the late nineteenth century), was typically associated with Russia and that today only a minority of about 20% want to reject its traditional Eurasian identity?

    Comment by Da Russophile — March 3, 2009 @ 2:45 am

  10. Why? Quite simple. Typically Great Russian Chauvinists deny the existence of separate nationhood for Ukrainians. They see them as misguided Russians speaking a regional dialect that should be “corrected.” When you write: “Making fun of Ukrainians does not imply a large degree of “separateness”, since there are plenty of examples of such within other nations. Italy would make a good example, with the northerners viewing the south as lazy and criminalized, and the southerners viewing the north as arrogant and aloof.” What you are in effect saying is that the differences between Russians and Ukrainians is not greater than northern Italians from southern Italians, and by extension, the two should be part of the same country. This is what you are also arguing for in another thread: you believe that there is a “silent majority” of Ukrainians who want to be part of a Greater Russian Empire. In other words, you have a very typical agenda of Great Russian chauvinists: political integration of Ukraine and Belarus into Russia and then fusing them into one larger Russian nation.

    Comment by Michel — March 3, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  11. Or perhaps it is a reaction to the other extreme view which seeks to use historical revisionism to provoke conflict between historically close and friendly peoples so as to divide them and more effectively loot their resources.

    Comment by Da Russophile — March 3, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

  12. What is the other extreme view? The belief that Ukraine is an independent state? What exactly are the resources that will be looted?

    Comment by Michel — March 3, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  13. […] commentators like SWP and the writer herself attribute this to “(a) fallacious post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning […]

    Pingback by Armageddon | Sublime Oblivion — March 4, 2009 @ 5:21 am

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