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Researching Transition

русская версия

Опубликовано на портале: 31-12-2010

Перев.: Yastrebov, G.А. (ориг.: Русский)
Мир России. 2006.  Т. 15. № 1. С. 50-75. 
We started out by asking what can be said about the societies of transitional countries in the light of Pauli Kettunen’s model of “good circles”, which has characterised the development of Nordic welfare states. Having now reviewed from a comparative perspective the situation of transitional countries, we can safely conclude that the preconditions for such a circle are certainly not in place in Russia, at least for the time being. First of all, Russia still lacks the social partners who negotiate contracts or whose interests could be fitted together. This is explained by the continuing weakness of the trade union movement. Trade unions have only limited power and their position is characterised by social partnership without corporatism, i.e. close cooperation between unions and management, a strong tradition of corporate paternalism and very limited and symbolic interest defence. Social activity is not driven by the utopia of socialism. On the contrary, the unintended outcomes of the major social project of the Soviet era represent a huge burden in setting up new institutions or political culture in society. The sharp division of patterns of thinking into two camps, the search for demons, the key role of security bodies, the degeneration of the Communist Party into a caricature of bureaucracy and Stalinism are not providing very fertile soil in Russia for the re-emergence of the socialist utopia. Some Western Marxists seem to be hankering after ”real utopias” instead of the present capitalist ways. However it is hard to imagine that such abstract models could meet with a very enthusiastic response in any strata of Russian society. Even everyday politics related to the welfare state is difficult because of the weak working class and corporatist structures. There are no more than a handful of peasants in the whole of Russia today. Agricultural production is firmly in the hands of major enterprises that have picked up the best pieces of former sovkhozes, and to call them “peasant” is to stretch the concept beyond recognition. Rather, they are best described as the basic unit of the food industry, a production department in a long chain involving retail outlets, product development, etc. Allotment farmers also have no social or political role in their capacity as allotment farmers. They may have an identity as employees of agricultural enterprises or other wage earners, but their position and influence does not derive from the land or their position as agricultural producers. There is no peasant party proper in Russia. Small entrepreneurs, the engine of the project to build capitalism, also appear to be a rather insignificant partner who lacks cohesiveness as a group. Many kiosk holders are probably franchising partners on the payroll of major chains; even more of them probably run their kiosks as a second job. All who remain then are the major capitalists proper, the managers and owners of oil, aluminium, steel and other empires who already are members of various organisations and who wield power even without formal agreements. Capitalists without any real capitalism. It is possible that the interests or structures required by the Nordic good circle would never even begin to develop in Russia. On the basis of their former institutions it would seem a more likely option that a specific type of social state will begin to evolve as a social enterprise state, where many services are obtained via the employer (in the same way as in Japan) while others come via the state. There does not seem to be any real prospects for the emergence of a social state based on a private insurance system. That is simply out of the question on account of the low-income levels. In economic terms a basic precondition for a good circle is strong independent production, and strong support for research and development beyond the fields of oil and gas production or wood production. On the other hand the conditions for a bad circle are already in place Russia: huge income differentials, poverty, a weak trade union and weak civil society, an undeveloped production structure. Although economic growth got under way much earlier in Central Eastern Europe than in Russia, even there the prospects for a development towards the Nordic model do not seem particularly good. In any event it makes sense in an analysis of these countries to start out from the idea of Eyal & co. that there are many different capitalisms and that they should be analysed side by side rather than exploring capitalism “in general” and the socialist alternative – which, as they point out, is not even in sight. The utopia of socialism also seems very remote in the countries of Central Eastern Europe. The working class is weak and lacks any programme or channel through which it could make itself heard. Nonetheless it is legitimate to ask the question about the mechanisms, structures and practices with which the working class is “produced” in these countries. If the working class is now scattered and in many senses lacks the capacity to act, this does not mean to say it has no relevance whatsoever. Surely the “task” or problem of critical sociology or the social sciences in general is to identify the means with which and the preconditions under which empowerment can be created for the working class. This cannot all be left to the World Bank or to the IMF antipoverty programmes. However this does not mean that the working class should be given historical precedence over the middle classes. It may well be true, as Eyal & al. point out, that things are unlikely to change very much if a bunch of Western intellectuals read Marx and Trotsky. However, it is certainly useful to know one’s classics – Weber, Durkheim and Marx – because certain basic features of capitalism obviously remain unchanged. Capitalism is still based on the private ownership of the means of production and on relatively free wage labour, and it still requires a third party (state, etc.) to regulate and balance the activity of different circles of interests with a view to satisfying the so-called general interest. Why, then, do different capitalisms have different logics? Instead of concentrating on structures we need to look at the actors and the policies pursued by these actors. This will draw our attention to collective actors: the working class, the middle class, bourgeoisie, peasantry, etc., their organisations, programmes, etc. The risk here is that we “export” our existing definitions and interpretations to the post-socialist context and are overly optimistic or pessimistic in our view – i.e. we take one or the other of the two stories presented at the beginning as given and adjusts the new emerging facts accordingly. What we need to do instead is analyse the actors and their interests in the process of their formation. Our argument then is that post-socialism is a specific social formation and process which follows its own inherent set of laws and which has no precedent in Latin America, Asia or Europe. In order to unravel these laws and the underlying mechanisms, we need to develop a whole research programme with its own theories, concepts, models and methods. From this point of view the institutional deficits with which post-socialism is fraught, appear not as deficits in relation to some given ideal. On the contrary, the whole process can only be analysed as series and combinations of intended and unintended outcomes produced by actors who themselves are in the process of taking shape.
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