In this article we would like to talk about the Russia’s instability as a civilization caused by its historical and other more general factors in the face of the current global crisis.
According to the modern civilizational approach, Russia is an independent civilization. Some experts call it a “Eurasian civilization” because of its geography. In geographical terms, Russia is neither Europe nor Asia but an independent “developmental place” – for even though similar in form, the processes developing here are essentially different from what is going on in Europe or Asia.
As a civilization, Russia emerged in an area where there had been no civilizations before. Hence, this territory has a quite modest cultural heritage. On the one hand, the core of Russia in the East European Plain has been formed as a result of a Baltic-Scandinavian-Byzantine cultural contact. Along with Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium, this contact has become the cultural-religious matrix of Russia. On the other hand, Russia, with its imperial mentality, is a direct successor of Genghis Khan’s empire.
Chronologically, Russia is quite a young civilization. Just for comparison, in BRICS, Russia is a partner to China and India - two civilizations that have millennia-long histories and are therefore more stable in terms of culture, economy and, especially, mentality - which is really unbreakable. The times when India was a colony and China was in chaos were a vivid example of this. Despite quite long periods of foreign dominance, both nations have managed to keep intact their civilization matrices and are successfully developing now. Unlike them, Russia is facing a civilization crisis and will either overcome it or will go even deeper into it.
One of the key reasons why Russia is a young civilization is its unfavorable climate. Just for comparison, subtropical and tropical agricultural civilizations emerged in the 5th-4th millennia BC, while the Russian one dates back from the 10th century AD. In terms of chronology, Russia is on the very bottom of the list of civilizations – below that level there can be no civilization as such. Understanding this marginal position of Russia in the list of civilizations means that in the face of the global crisis of the current technological industrial community, Russia is more unstable than civilizations with better climates.
An individual in Russia has much more natural needs than in Europe or Asia but cannot get all he needs because of worse climatic conditions. Climate is one of the basic factors that have made Russia different from Europe or Asia in terms of types of ownership and statehood. Political structures in Russia are very different from those in Europe. But we don’t mean that the Russian type of statehood is close to “Asian despotism.”
From the very beginning, Russia has been a society of a special type - a society with a surplus product just enough to survive. But the Russians have not only managed to survive but have even found “compensation mechanisms” for development and territorial and cultural expansion. Those mechanisms laid the foundations of Great Russia. Among them were peasant community and serfdom. In the Soviet times, the peasant community was transformed into workforce, while serfdom was the only way for the pre-Soviet Russian society to survive.
Taken together, those two mechanisms constituted the core of the autocratic rule in Russia. Once market relations began shattering communal unity, Russia faced depopulation and cultural decline.
It was due to compensation mechanisms that central authorities in Russia were strong from the very beginning, while social classes emerged very late and were relatively weak.
The key peculiarity of the Russian society is the high activity of the Russian state in creating the so-called general working conditions. The state in Russia is the key driver of the economy. Without a special state sector, there can be no economic development in Russia.
Russia’s military expansion of the 16th-19th centuries came from the state’s aspiration to increase its surplus product. But though formally an empire, Russia was a community of very different social and ethnic groups with a minimum surplus product.
Small surplus product was the key reason why capitalism in Russia began developing as late as the second half of the 18th century. The existing level of rental relations in farming was not enough for capitalism to stem from agriculture. As a result, capitalism in Russia is not the way it is in Europe. Private farming has never been the key form of land ownership in Russia.
Due to its peculiarity, farming in Russia failed to give rise to any firm private land ownership traditions. Even today Russia has no general land registry.
The key aim of the post-Soviet reforms in Russia was to overcome its civilization matrix. Deindustrialization was one of the measures to integrate Russia into global economy. All energy used for the needs of the Soviet-time industry was sent to Europe. Oil and gas constituted the core of Russia’s post-Soviet economy, with the export of natural resources set to compensate for the country’s poorly developed agriculture.
But exactly at the time Russia entered the global market, the world began running short of fuel and searching for new sources, like “shale oil.” This instability has forced global corporations to establish direct control over oil and gas sources. This is the key reason why Russia is facing external pressure today. Only by destabilizing Russia can global corporations get access to its natural resources. They have already taken the first step by forming joint stock companies. All they have to do now is to make private Russia’s state-owned corporations and to give them all that will be left of the Russian statehood as a result of a revolution. Russia continues to be the weak link in the system of global capitalism. The crisis of the global industrial civilization has made the Russian capitalism even weaker and therefore even more likely to produce a revolution.
The Eurasian concept of the Russian civilization was meant as an explanation of the results of the revolutionary processes in the beginning of the 20th century - when the Russian Empire was transformed into the Soviet Union - and as an argument in support of Russia’s unity as a Eurasian civilization. But this unity is not obvious. Should one try to separate the north of Russia from its south and Siberia from the center, Russia will stop being a Eurasian civilization and will turn into a periphery of the European civilization which is being exploited. The process to cut the north from the south has already been started by cutting out Ukraine and turning it into a country hostile to Russia.
Today Kuban and the southern regions neighboring on Ukraine have become the center of possible agricultural production in Russia. If those regions are thrown into chaos or are cut from the so-called Non-Black Soil Zone, the north of Russia will start to degrade.
With no Siberia, Russia will lose export revenues, with its natural resources left for other global players to use.
The key obstacle to Russia’s disintegration as a civilization is the Russian statehood. Meanwhile, since 1881 it has been in crisis. The revolution of 1991 was a big blow for it. The current authorities seemed to be a regime of post-revolutionary restoration were it not for the new instability.
The present-day Russian statehood is a personalized Bonapartist regime. This is why it is unstable. The other “democratic” structures are just an imitation. The parliament in Russia has no power. The country’s multi-party system is a fiction as it is not based on civil society, if there is no civil society. After two decades of reforms, Russian society sticks to the same values. This all shows that Russia is unstable as a civilization. Its economy falls short of its civilization status. The ongoing economic decline should either continue or should turn into an economic growth. Today, Russian society no longer fits into the framework it was placed in after the revolution of 1991.
The current forms of government in Russia do not benefit either the government or the people. As a result, the Russian society is facing a crisis of identity. And this will be the key topic of the next article.
Alexander Berg, political writer specially for EADaily
The first part of the article is available here