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Vladimir Shweitzer

New Look at Old Values

Novoe Vremya, No. 11, March 2002

 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 values.

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 liberals?

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 minority."

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 its interests."

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 electorate.

Novoe Vremya, No. 11, March 2002

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