Boris Sokolov: Is the “Right Cause” Right?

[Editor’s note: we’re pleased to feature this translation of an exclusive article from Boris Sokolov, a Russian historian, political columnist, critic and literary scholar, doctor of philological sciences, candidate of historical sciences. Sokolov was recently in the media and interviewed by Grigory Pasko after he was unfairly dismissed from his position at the University as well as cut from the newspaper following an article he wrote questioning government claims about the war in Georgia.]


Is the “Right Cause” right?

Boris Sokolov

I do not agree with Kirill Benediktov, who asserts that the party “Right Cause” is obviously being created for internal (Russian) use, and not for international PR», inasmuch as «The Kremlin has decided to “save” what was left of the SPS after its downfall precisely because it had become evident: it will not be possible to melt the vanishing identity of the Russian rightists in the kettle of the “party of all the people” even with all the discernible advantages of such an assimilation. The struggle with the SPS, which occupied in the years 2003-2007 a critical position in relation to the power, has led to a situation where the most intransigent rightists left for street politics, for extremism and “dissenters’ marches”, merely adding to the Kremlin’s headaches».

It is precisely for external consumption that the new Kremlin project is being implemented. What they are counting on is that at least a certain part of western liberal society will believe that multiple parties really do exist in Russia, that besides the «party of power» and such odious formations as the CPRF and the LDPR there are also parties of practically a western type – social-democrats («A Just Russia») and liberals («Right Cause»). This can somewhat mitigate the criticism of the Kremlin in the western mass information media. It is naïve to think that those rightists who go to the «dissenters’ marches» are going to join up with «Right cause». Their path lies towards Kasparov or Kasyanov.

For internal consumption was the first Kremlin rightist project – the Union of Right Forces [SPS]. And that the SPS is no more, – this is a fitting finale. The Kremlin created the SPS, and the Kremlin killed it. It created it when what was required was to splinter the liberal-democratic forces, represented at that moment by the party «Yabloko». And it killed it when what was required was to create the completely controlled «liberal» party «Right cause» – to supplement the «social-democratic» «A Just Russia». This was required, I repeat, first and foremost to demonstrate to western society that a real multi-party system exists in Russia and that all is in order with liberalism in our country.

A second task, a domestic-policy one, consists of not giving an opportunity for the SPS Frondeurs, people like Nikita Belykh and Boris Nemtsov, to bring the party into the camp of real opposition, granting the latter, in particular, the opportunity to participate in elections. The two other parties comprising «Right cause», the «Democratic party of Russia» of the mason and accordion player and the «Civilian power» [sometimes also translated as «Citizens’ force»–Trans.] of one charming lawyer at one time numbering among the liberals, – these are genuine Kremlin puppets, with nothing to their name other than the administrative resource supporting them.

The SPS – that’s a different story. This party actually did have real, and not virtual, regional organizations, and into its composition entered famous public figures and politicians, who had just recently themselves been in power. This is why the Kremlin administration was so interested in having the SPS become the core of «Right cause» and something of a decoy for [attracting] the liberal intelligentsia. The latter does not go to «dissenters’ marches, but does at times criticize the current power quite sharply in the mass information media, including foreign ones.

One of the leaders of «Right cause», the literary scholar Marietta Chudakova, who entered into the Higher council of the new party (what this council will be doing – is a great secret, most likely, it will be simply an assemblage of «wedding generals» [VIPs whose only function is to attend “important” events in order to render them important by their presence, the classic example being the inviting of retired generals to attend weddings–Trans.]), justifies her participation in the Kremlin project thus: «I understand very well how to work under the pressure of the power and once again say: my colleagues- humanities scholars in the heaviest of conditions, worse than today’s, worked, wrote their works, when they were saying to us: «Come now, do you honestly think something decent and honest can be printed in the Soviet press». And since then, in the post-Soviet time, the works of my wonderful colleagues – Mikhail Gasparov, Vladimir Toporov, Sergey Averintsev and others – are being reprinted without edits, without a single comma, and nobody will find in them any bending under the Soviet power. Therefore you’ve got to understand that everything depends on people… For years we conducted a slow, gruelling struggle with editors so that our texts would come out in the form that we wanted, and not they. And we would achieve this. This is gruelling, this is outrageously labor-intensive, this is tortuous». In so doing, Marietta Omarovna believes «that everything will depend on people: if they want others to manage them – they will be managed, if they don’t want – they will, with great efforts maintain independence and honest behavior. The way we acted in the Soviet time. Those who wanted to – sullied themselves, those who didn’t want to – didn’t».
But this – is no more than a naïve attempt to justify one’s own participation in the Kremlin project.

Why, I do not doubt that the members of «Right cause» are going to be given full freedom in the creation of works on the textology of Soviet literature, profound works on the history of Russian liberal thought or the Stalinist terror. The prominent figures of the newly-created party will be allowed to loudly call from television screens for removing Lenin from the Mausoleum and not putting up monuments to Stalin. But in order to engage in all this and in the other «small business» so beloved of our liberal intelligentsia, it is not at all necessary to be a part of any political party. But engaging in real politics is exactly what they are not going to let «Right cause» do. Serving as a guarantee of this is the fact that at all the key posts in the new party ended up people close to the Kremlin, such as the lawyer Andrey Dunayev, who became chairman of the party executive committee. Rightists obedient to the will of the Kremlin will be allowed only to simulate political activity, and even this more for external consumption. On people, i.e. members of the party, nothing will depend. They will either accept the rules of the game, or will quietly move aside. It can not be ruled out that at the next Duma elections, five and a bit percent of the votes will be whipped up for the Kremlin rightists, in order to realize president Medvedev’s idea about giving such parties two or three mandates. It may be that they will give these places precisely to the three co-chairmen of «Right cause». It can not be ruled out either that the party will be deemed sufficiently loyal in order to give it 7-8% of the votes in the elections of the year 2011 and to allow it to form its own faction in the Duma. Otherwise it’s just not good: a left wing the party of power has – «A Just Russia», but it just doesn’t have a right one. How can the power soar in the political heavens with just one wing?

The co-chairmen of the party – Leonid Gozman, Boris Titov and Georgy Vovt have rushed to publicly declare their intent to protect small and medium-sized business from the arbitrariness of the powers. Surely businessmen won’t believe this? After all, the newly-appeared defenders are going to get approval for every step they take from the Kremlin, i.e. from the very powers that are putting the pressure on business. It is another matter if they let businessmen know that you’ve got to join this pro-Kremlin party, and then they’re not going to shake you down any more than necessary. In that case, we will observe a mass signup of entrepreneurs into «Right cause», but this will in no way signify the triumph of liberal ideology.

In the West, rightist (or right-centrist) parties usually subdivide into liberal and conservative ones. The liberals place the emphasis on the protection of individual rights, on minimizing state interference in the economic life of the country. The conservatives, likewise coming out against the excessive interference of state institutions in the economy, nevertheless come out for targeted state assistance to individual social groups, and place their emphasis not only on the rights of individuals, but also on the rights of communities. And both liberals and conservatives in the West, as a rule, declare their commitment to basic Christian values.

But the Kremlin’s “rightists” want to be both liberals and conservatives simultaneously. In their time, the leaders of the SPS spoke of themselves as liberal conservatives. And today’s «Right cause» simultaneously would like to be both conservative and liberal, and even with a sprinkling of social-democratic tendencies thrown in as well. No mention is made of any Christian values, or indeed of any intelligible general ideology. Just one thing unites the leaders of «Right cause» – the desire to get into the Duma, there to fulfill the role of an obedient Kremlin puppet, like «A Just Russia» or the LDPR. These will be engaged functionaries approved by the Kremlin. And as to the liberal intelligentsia who find themselves in «Right cause», they will be allowed to carry out a memorial function – to speak beautifully about Russian liberalism and its usefulness for the country and to create fundamental works on its history. The new party is not going to engage in any real political activity.

In the meantime, for the robustness of the current power, especially in the conditions of the financial-and-economic crisis that has arrived, it would make sense to allow real, and not virtual/PR parties to function, parties which, in particular, could together with the party of power share the power and the responsibility for the conducting of the unpopular measures that will be needed for getting the country out of the crisis. But for this s needed real freedom of speech and truly competitive elections. But they haven’t yet gotten to the point where they’re ready for reforms like this in the Kremlin.

Marietta Chudakova — Russian literary scholar, critic, authoress, memoirist, public figure (photo by Grigory Pasko)