The regime's eagerness and determination to reduce Russia's
multi-party system to what will be essentially a two-party system
makes it urgent for parties to seek their own political niches.
Russian conservatives from the pro-presidential United Russia
and post-communists from the Communist Party have the least problems
with this issue and are the favourites in the next election. The
conservative-liberal Union of Right-Wing Forces may also occupy
part of the political spectrum. Social democratic ideas in their
pure form remain absolutely unwanted in Russia. Liberalism, with
an emphasis on human rights, characteristic of YABLOKO in the
past, is also not popular with the masses. Hence the active search
for a new system of coordinates.
YABLOKO and Mikhail Gorbachev's Russian Social Democratic Party
pioneered the programme boom among social democrats. Both parties
proclaim as their objective the construction in Russia of a democratic
(in every sense of the word), fair, and humane society. Both parties
advocate its construction on the basis of the principles of social
liberalism. There are, however, some differences. These principles
are fundamental for YABLOKO. The Russian Social Democratic Party
promotes an integration of humane, social democratic and liberal
Expressed in the Democratic Manifesto, YABLOKO's "Europeanism"
stipulates the establishment of a state of general prosperity
that is "approximate in parameters with European standards".
It sets a strategic task as well - "accession as a fully-fledged
member to the European Union and other political, economic, and
defence organizations of Europe." A special part of YABLOKO's
program is entitled Russia's European Way.
The Programme of the Russian Social Democratic Party doesn't
even mention the terms "Europe" or "European".
External attributes are important of course, but they do not
define the vector of the program searches of domestic liberals
and social democrats. Finding one's niche means finding one's
electorate. Who is targeted by the program provisions of social
Both programs claim to address the middle class. Both parties,
however, differ on what they mean here. The YABLOKO program makes
it clear that the middle class is merely an addendum to the major
social target, the intelligentsia. YABLOKO member M. Amosov from
St. Petersburg handed out his brochure to delegates of the
January 2002 Congress. According to Amosov, the middle class comprises
the owners of small and medium-sized businesses, well-paid managers,
and all kinds of freelancers. Social-democratic construction,
on the contrary, assumes that the middle class is composed of
employees. "They teach, educate and treat the people, ensure
the security of the people, state and society. These men and women
comprise the nucleus of the middle class:" this is taken
from the program of the Russian Social Democratic Party. On this
basis, the owners of small and medium-sized businesses constitute
an independent category, do not represent the social base for
the party, but are surely a natural ally.
Social democrats in the West know all too well the cost of vague
program postulates and are very careful with the wording. European
social liberals appeal to the middle strata, consisting of.highly-paid
employees involved in physical and intellectual labour in high-tech
spheres. They place spiritual intangible values to the level comparable
with material and social needs. It isn't hard to see that in Russia
of the early 21st century, such employees have still not found
their niche in social stratification.
In view of all the nuances of its perception in the West and
in Russia, the social-liberal model incorporates some general
essence. This boils down to an attempt to establish a connection
between the individual demands of every citizen and collectivism
as a phenomenon of social relations. The remainder is termed major
values. Both programs put liberty at the top of the list.
The Russian Social Democratic Party mentions freedom of choice
for every individual and his or her responsibility with regard
to society. YABLOKO is more precise. It means freedom of Russia,
ensuring the citizens' prosperity and security. Both parties associate
this value with another, justice. A society that has not been
split into a prosperous minority and impoverished majority is
YABLOKO's ideal of justice. Equality is the third value. It comprises
the equality of rights and equal opportunities to enable the individual
to realise his/her potential. Social democrats in turn treat justice
as a synonym to equal opportunities. The Russian Social Democratic
Party also objects to unwarranted privileges and social parasitism.
Both programs mention solidarity as another value. YABLOKO merely
utlines the problem of social solidarity for the strong and weak
in society. The Social Democratic Party equates solidarity with
mutual assistance and the mutual responsibility of citizens, including
assistance and responsibility in the war on the abuses undertaken
by the regime and businesses. Business is only condemned in its
extreme embodiment. On the whole, however, the values and program
postulates of the Russian Social Democratic Party favour private
property. Here is one of the key provisions of the program. It
states: "We call our policy of developing businesses in the
interest of the population social liberalism." The Democratic
Manifesto agrees with social democrats, "The social liberalism
of the 21st century should aim to implement reforms in the interests
of all Russia's citizens, and not in the interests of a prosperous
The parties both adhere to the Western model where liberals equated
justice with fair treatment of the aspirations of the poor, and
social democrats recognised freedom to be a vital pillar of economic
prosperity and development of society. Here solidarity is adequate
to a partnership connecting the interests of all citizens in a
state where law rules supreme.
The advocates of social liberalism in Russia understand the
enormous difference between the tasks existing in Western states
where law reigns supreme and where economies are socially-oriented
and based on a free market ones and the tasks facing Russia. What
is a fact of life in the West is still a goal in Russia. Theoreticians
of Russian social liberalism are aware that verbally the problems
are properly outlined by their opponents on the right and left.
Only the lazy do not talk about the need to build a civic society
and social state in Russia nowadays. Social democrats in particular
emphasise that the tasks are inter-related. YABLOKO agrees. The
program states: "Social progress in Russia is impossible
without society imbued with a sense of responsibility that can
criticise and control the authorities and force them to promote
Both programs call local self-rule one of the factors holding
civic society and state together. YABLOKO objects to all forms
of administrative and financial pressure on the institution. The
Russian Social Democratic Party is even more radical in this respect.
It advocates the principle "as much of self-rule as possible,
and as much of the state as necessary." Specialists comment
on the influence of West European social democratic positions
that have always taken account of initiatives from below. "The
European trace" can be seen in the opinion of the Russian
Social Democratic Party on social partnership as a "cornerstone"
of civic society.
Social liberals build their own scale of priorities in relations
between the state, society, and market. Approving of the state's
activity in the establishment of economic order, YABLOKO points
out twice (!) that the state should merely advise the market to
be socially-oriented, without forcing its will in any manner.
The opinion of the Russian Social Democratic Party is fairly close
to that - "... there should be as much of the market as possible,
and as much of the state as necessary." Both programs denounce
the liberal-conservative opinion that economy is the dominating
base for society. As far as social democrats are concerned, the
economy is "a necessary means towards social ends."
The publication of the programmes may be regarded as the beginning
of social liberalism in Russia. Will the people accept these ideas?
It does not depend on the ideas. It will depend on the policies
of the parties and their leaders, as well as on their ability
to exploit the political situation, the needs and wishes of the