Esquire Interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Part 5 of 5

The Russian version of Esquire magazine has published a very interesting and extensive conversation between Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the writer Grigory Chkhartishvili – who is better known for his extremely popular fiction writing under the pen name of Boris Akunin. Each day this week we will publish a section of this important article. Below is Part 4, click here to read Part 1, here for Part 2, here for Part 3, and here for Part 4. khodorkovsky070308-thumb.jpgGrigory Chkhartishvili: In two of your articles with respect to the inevitability of a turn to the left much, of course, is fair, but the general idea seems to me to be erroneous and superficial. Or maybe I (and very many together with me) understood it incorrectly. [One gets] such a feeling that you have mixed up the name and the essence. Those who among us call themselves communists and socialists are not that at all. Zyuganov and company are no leftists, this is worthless good-for-nothing and powerless fragments of the ancien régime. How can you seriously count on these worthless obkomovists [former functionaries of oblast party committees—Trans.] (the smart ones all long ago passed the initiation rites and joined business) being able to fight for social justice? In exactly the same way as we must have “new rightists”, we also need “new leftists”. They will certainly appear, moreover soon. From the strike movement, from real trade unions, not Potemkin-village ones. They’re the ones with whom it will be necessary to draw up a normal balance of fields of strength, to seek a golden mean between “right” and “left”. Surely you don’t still believe that the CPRF has a future? Mikhail Khodorkovsky: If you perceive the CPRF as “divide everything up” and comrade Zyuganov personally, then, without a doubt, these two symbols do not have much of a future.

But we’re not outside observers, though. If we look deep inside – what other people there are in that party, what values do they confess, what goals are they planning to achieve and with what methods, then it’s easy to notice: in actuality, the CPRF is for a long time already no longer the ACP(b) nor the CPSU.The CPRF, in essence, today is a normal social-democratic party, which, on the strength of absolutely understandable reasons manifests no more than symbolic homage in relation to the shadows of the past. Not to work together with decent people only because they retain loyalty to symbols that have besmirched themselves? Foolish and not the way humans should act. This party has taken responsibility for the social adaptation of millions of old people upon itself. Old people, the best part of whose life passed under communist slogans, in which these people believed and believe. To take away their memories, though they be erroneous, though they not correspond to the historical truth – this is to take away the lives they lived. I’ll say it again: foolish and cruel. They’ve not got it easy as it is. After all, in actuality, they understand everything.And not to work together with people who share democratic convictions, but who have different views (not all that different really) about running the economy, about the size and quality of social services in the current situation, when the main question is the establishment of democratic institutions – is a political mistake, about which I spoke in my “Turn to the Left” The “left-right” division is imposed on us right now, this is an erroneous division. More precisely, the old division of “leftists” – “rightists” doesn’t work any more already. Both leftists and rightists do exist, but the dividing line between them doesn’t pass through the same place where it did 100, 50, or even 20 years ago. Today it isn’t antagonistic.The link “communist” in the name of the CPRF is misleading. Many of today’s members of this party, and indeed the party as a whole, are for democracy, for human rights, against authoritarianism and a corrupt bureaucracy. In this struggle – we’re allies. Does the leftist movement in Russia have prospects? No doubt whatsoever.Will the new leftist movement grow out of the CPRF or out of the “strike committees”? That depends to a large extent on the power. Either way is possible. What’s important is not to refuse to work together with those people who adhere to values acceptable to us. Today many of them are – in the CPRF.Now, as concerns the possibilities for joint work at elections – this is a very situation-dependent question, and it ought to be discussed with sociologists. My article did not contain recommendations of this sort, while what it did contain was a statement of fact about the increasing “left interest” among the population and a wish that the liberal forces react to this interest. How? I’m no political scientist, nor a sociologist. One could assume that for the SPS a “tilt to the left” is impossible, at the same time for «Yabloko» it is absolutely organic. But these are my conjectures about a question in which I do not feel myself to be a specialist. I am absolutely confident of only one thing.When democratic institutions gain a foothold, the main task will become the optimal correlation between the interests of industrial growth and social interests. I have no doubt that in Russia the shift in the direction of “social redistribution funds” must be significant. This is why I speak of the Scandinavian model.G.CH. Here’s another one of your assertions, which appears to me to be untrue in essence, although it is very widespread among us and is being advanced every which way by pro-Kremlin theoreticians. You write in the article “Property and freedom”: “The Russian people is used to regarding the state as a higher force that gives hope and faith. This force can not be hired for work – for starters you’ve got to stop regarding it as a higher power.But as Russian history teaches us, the loss of a special, beyond-rational respect for the state inevitably and invariably leads our country to chaos, insurrection, revolution”. In my opinion, this is absolutely not so. (Here you and I are in some measure continuing and parodying Belinsky’s dispute with Gogol about the people, but, apparently, this dispute is eternal). Our people does not regard the state with hope and faith. Exactly the opposite: with suspicion and distrust. The normal response to state compulsion – artifice, subterfuge, circumvention of the law. Precisely because the state is not perceived of as something that is ours.Here’s where you’ve got the biggest misfortune and problem of Russian statehood. People know by genetic memory and personal experience that the state – is the enemy, which is all the time attempting to concoct inconvenient laws, to deceive, to rob, to maim and mutilate [their] sons in the army. That’s how it was under the tsars, under the general secretaries. That’s how it’s remained. In democratic countries the state is perceived of as a somewhat dull and boring, but benevolent force, providing protection and support.The attitude towards police there is more or less the same. Their motto “To serve and protect” sounds like something a dog does, but it’s a good motto. The motto of our state, and especially of the police (which is perceived of as the state in the mass consciousness): “To squeeze and rob”. What the hell “higher force” are you talking about?M.KH. A very interesting problem! I already wrote once that the Russian state since the times of the Tatar-Mongol invasion – or, more precisely, even earlier, from the moment of the start of the “eastward march” – appears in relation to the population as an occupier to a conquered people. Not feeling responsibility, not needing a social contract, collecting not taxes but tribute, which it does not consider it necessary to account for. In general, it reigns instead of serving. For this there is a series of historical causes.Those localities where there were fewer of these causes are more “internally democratic”. In the main what is being spoken of is North-Western Rus’ (the Lithuanian-Russian principality). In the rest of the regions – alas. And only now, to the extent of the expansion of the processes of global integration, is the situation starting to change slowly.Of course, not sensing the power as “their own”, people tried every which way to circumvent the oppression and the exaction. And the power, from its end, consistently restricted the opportunities of the population with respect to self-organization.The result – outwardly the people became docile, they got accustomed – [while] demonstrating submissiveness – to keeping a hand making an obscene gesture in the pocket. And here you and I understand the situation identically. However, being found in extremely heavy natural-and-climatic conditions, under the pressure of outside forces (aggressors), not having forms of self-organization, the Russian people have become accustomed to turn for help to that same power which it does not consider “its own”! A certain kind of “Stockholm syndrome” has arisen between the captor and the hostage.There is no doubt that in the modern world a transition from an “occupied” type of mutual relations to a normal one, based on a social contract, is necessary and possible. But the “collective unconscious” is very inertial. If we destroy the attitude towards the state as a “higher force”, not having managed to create and secure in people’s consciousness a faith in democratic institutions, we will get a Russian insurrection, “senseless and merciless”. Maybe not in its extreme forms, but, maybe, in the extreme [forms] after all. That is why I’m convinced: the task standing before today’s power and democratic community is extremely complex: to nurture democratic institutions and faith in them, [while] not destroying initially the faith in the state as a “higher force”. Because of this [there’s] a whole bunch of problems and a constant rolling backwards. One could just go ahead and “dive in head first”, but here there is a big risk of the country collapsing.However, a paradox truly does exist: each bureaucrat individually does not evoke confidence, but the state as a whole – is a sacral symbol.G.CH. Thank you for the responses. There are things to think about here, and things to continue arguing about. In our country there is got no small number of writers and cultural figures who want to support you and for whom it is important to know what you think. I am confident that they will continue this dialogue and will maintain it until all of us – civil society – have attained your release. Endurance to you and health. ≠