However, Khodorkovsky’s position remains diametrically opposed to that of the authorities. The out-of-favor oligarch says that business generally is guilty before the people of dishonest privatization; the Kremlin, for its part, is convinced that privatization was quite all right, with the exception of a few transgressors such as Khodorkovsky. Matrosskaya Tishina’s famous inmate says he did not evade taxes, but that he’s willing to pay more taxes; the Kremlin, on the contrary, believes that the tax burden on businesses should be reduced and that Khodorkovsky did engage in tax evasion.
The more guilty business is before society, the less inclined it is to repent. The fact that the majority of business supported President Vladimir Putin and not Khodorkovsky is quite natural.
And it took progressive and labor movement about a century to force liberal ruling classes to accept universal suffrage. This was also the beginning of decline of classical liberalism in economics. Now it is coming back under the name of Neoliberalism, and the consequence is crisis of democracy everywhere, not just in Russia.
The duality of Khodorkovsky’s own position can be explained by the contradictions within liberal ideology. He offers the people repentance, while seeking a compromise with the authorities. Yet the interests of the authorities and the people are diametrically opposed. The administration seeks to foist a liberal model on the country, while the people passively, but doggedly, resist. It appears that Khodorkovsky feels more kinship with those that put him behind bars than with the majority of his compatriots.
This contradiction makes the crisis of Russian liberalism impossible to resolve. In this context, secret police operatives are just about the only effective liberals. In order to force liberal values upon a resistant public, you have to abandon democratic niceties; you have to pressurize, imprison and perhaps even execute some people. There’s no other way, unless you are prepared to acknowledge that your overarching goal is wrong.
Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.