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Cook The Leftists


I can’t help admitting that when Mikhail Khodorkovsky was a model liberal oligarch, I fancied him more. What can one expect from an upright liberal? First of all, he should be tolerant towards others’ views. He may (even has to) feel strongly about the left-wing, but, being an adherent of the pluralism, he also has to accept the fact, that left ideology is as necessary for a healthy democratic society, as his own. It’s not about diversity of views. All this diversity can easily be observed even within one party, even under totalitarianism. What we are talking here about is the ability to tolerate the existence of certain forces, whose worldview, principles, and interests are the exact opposite to your own.

If Khodorkovsky somehow did stick out of our oligarchy, it was only due to his demonstratively displayed political and ideological tolerance. When he went to jail, a lot of people in Russia had mixed feelings. At least one oligarch got a punishment they all deserved. But what an irony that the selected one was Khodorkovsky who seemed to be the least aggressive and corrupt! And the trial that was omitting oligarch’s real unlawful deeds accusing him of crimes that he didn’t commit created even more sympathy for him.

Once in prison former owner of an oil company started writing public letters. He seemed to follow the example of Antonio Gramsci who wrote his best political and philosophical texts in jail. But unlike Gramsci Khodorkovsky is no political activist and his past experience doesn’t make him look like a popular leader. On the 1st of August 2005, however, right from the prison “Matrosskaya Tishina”, the former oligarch solemnly informed the world about his ‘left turn’? And that very second he stopped being an outstanding figure.

Khodorkovsky’s ideas are simple and not original. The Russian society hasn’t put up with the privatization results and perceives it as a massive spoliation of the country. By all means people want to preserve free education, free healthcare, and other social protection components, which are gradually being undermined by the present authorities. Building a successful state as well as establishing an efficient economy is impossible in the atmosphere of alienation of the population from the political elite. It had been repeated hundreds of times by the oppositional media. It’s not the description of the symptoms of the disease that draws our attention to Khodorkovsky’s article (it is pretty much traditional), but the remedy.

Taking it back to the mid 90s, Khodorkovsky recalls that Boris Yeltsin regime was extremely unpopular with the society. He was however positive about the fact that Yeltsin still had to stay in office. The only thing to be done was to appoint the Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov a Prime-Minister. According to Khodorkovsky, this was the standpoint he used to defend during the meetings with the Kremlin officials.

Reading about it was stunning to me. That’s the plan we had been blessed not to have experienced! Zyuganov could have fallen on country’s neck in addition to arbitrariness of Yeltsin ‘family’! In this way an attempt was made to achieve balance by placing corrupted Kremlin bureaucracy on one side and illiterate State Duma whip-crackers on the other. Moreover, it was seriously meant to be a good way to attain stability.

In the early 90s all the Communist Party bonzes and government officials, who had a real power and a control over the economy, joined the neoliberal stream, while the others, who had suddenly found themselves in the wilderness, had taken up restoring the Communist Party. And while doing that, they meticulously eradicated all the attempts of high-principled communists to revive the party from the lower level. Now it becomes apparent that ten years ago Khodorkovsky wanted to bring back to life the unity of the Soviet nomenclature, which was to be rested on a new capitalist base.

The attempt failed, but Khodorkovsky keeps his spirits up. He is sure that all good things are just around the corner. According to his strong believe, the future of our country belongs to the Orthodox patriots from the Zyuganov party and to windbags and anti-Semitists from the Rodina bloc. Someone of these worthy men is sure to become a President one day, using author’s own expression, “by hook or by crook: in course of the elections or without those”.

Left-wing may only feel exasperated by such a forecast. But why would Khodorkovsky need this metamorphose? He himself explains it in the following way: the opposition should take over the power to legitimize the results of the privatization, to make people reconcile themselves to the existing state of affairs. The right-wing wasn’t able to settle this matter, now it’s up to the left one: “the result of the legitimization will be strengthening the hold of ‘effective’ proprietor, who in people’s perception will no longer be vicious vampires, but the legal owners of the legal items.

Therefore, the large property owners need this ‘left turn’ as much as the majority of the population, who until now consider the 90s privatization to be unfair and, as a result, illegal. The legitimization of the privatization results will justify their property and ownership rights – maybe for the first time it will really work for Russia”.

While Khodorkovsky was a liberal, he, at least, admitted the left-wing’s right to keep their essence, to oppose the private property, to fight against ‘effective proprietors’ (i.e. those who succeeded most in exploitation of the working class). Now the left-wing is even deprived of the right to have principles of its own, it is suggested to act as a volunteer assistant (maybe not quite disinterested) of the newly-emerged bourgeoisie.

It is clear that Khodorkovsky is not an exception. To put it more precisely, his position reveals authoritarian (totalitarian even) tendency, typical of the modern liberalism on the whole and its Russian branch in particular. The idea of pluralism is rejected, substituted by the principle of the identity of ideas, ‘penseé unique’, as the Frenchmen have it. All political parties and groupings have but one objective – that is to serve the needs of the large proprietors’ class – and the only possible content of political and ideological competition in this case may be embodied in the answer to the question who serves it best. Any other ideas as well as forces are expelled from the serious politics.

The recent events proved that such a system wouldn’t work in the long-term perspective. Khodorkovsky refers to the experience the Eastern Europe countries have had, where leftist governments strongly favored rightist policies (social irresponsibility of the leftist cabinets in Poland and Hungary has left the rightist ones far behind). The same course of events has actually taken place in Western Europe or Brazil where the power had been handed over to the neoliberal left parties. However, there is one major thing Khodorkovsky is mistaken about: in none of the aforementioned examples these politicians did manage to legitimize privatization results or make the majority of the population put up with the order of free market and capital’s dictatorship.

All they managed to do was losing political and moral authority, accumulated by several generations of their predecessors, who faithfully fought against capitalism. The parties began to lose influence and break into smaller factions. A strong dislike of the population to all politicians was provoked, regardless labels politicians stick on themselves.

In their novel called “The Ugly Swans” the brothers Strugatsky tell a story about an artist Kvadriga. Mister President had invested a lot of money to make this artist take his side. All he finally got was a dull tinker. The moment the painter had sold himself, his talent betrayed him. The same thing happened to the left-wing. One may buy politicians or even entire parties. But the result would definitely be pitiable, and money would be wasted.

It is too bad if Khodorkovsky hasn’t realized it yet. Even the right newspaper “Vedomosti” couldn’t keep quiet and corrected its author in the editorial: it is wrong to entrust all of the producer’s goods to the private property, and leave the distribution to the market. If it comes to dealing with the government, then it is necessary to find “officials, who don’t need ‘Mercedes’, but truth and fair play for people. In what kind of ‘Rodina’ or the Communist Party are those to be found? Who will take care about victims, who were deprived by the liberals? And finally, where all this fortune is supposed to come from? What is this leftist idea worth without someone ready to become its self-sacrificing adherent? In this case only real knights may help.”

Alas! Knights don’t serve the private property. They have a code of honor of their own.

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