“If we create quite a convincing scheme for interpreting the world for people, they will consider any repressions justified”

Philosopher and sociologist Aleksandr Filippov on the modern Russian political system

“If we create quite a convincing scheme for interpreting the world for people, they will consider any repressions justified” Photo: polit.ru

“Under authoritarian rule, the leader’s apparatus and the state officialdom have great competence and general sanity. Under totalitarianism, emotionality, overexcitement and purges paralyse the will of the top itself that loses the ability to level the lawlessness with its competence,” philosopher and sociologist, editor-in-chief of Sociological Review magazine Aleksandr Filippov notes. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, he explained why the “hybrid regime” was a weak explanation to the political system in Russia, how separate grains of distrust for authorities turn into a “bunch”, that’s to say they get another quality state, and why the situation we live in reminds the era of Renaissance.

We don’t match classical definitions of democracy. Neither can we call it a return of totalitarianism”

Mr Filippov, how can one describe the modern state management system in Russia? Is it democracy with elements of authoritarianism, authoritarianism with elements of democracy or anything else?

You know, there is a lot of debates about it among political experts, sociologists and in opinion journalism. They boil down to that we seem not to match classical definitions of democracy. Neither can we call it a return of totalitarianism. There are such authorities who love to talk about totalitarianism in case of systematic violations of freedoms. But classical totalitarianism, in the way we know it and which formed in the 20th century, vaguely reminds what’s going on here.

What’s the problem here?

The problem is that those theoretical decisions that are now offered aren’t very satisfactory. For instance, it is said that Russia imitated democracy. It is seen that there are elections, there are parties, some executives change. It is impossible to say that they turned into a completely untouched caste when you look at the abundance of corruption cases, high-ranking functionaries who were convicted, who are in prison. This isn’t an illustration of democracy in itself, though we can’t conclude, as it is sometimes imagined, there is a fight of clans, that’s to say, internal processes at the ruling top that’s isolated from the others’ opinion. On the other hand, we don’t have the heart to say it is normal democracy either because there is a lot of well-known violations in electoral procedures, or legality based on the transparency of the procedure. This procedure is turned inside out. Using Lenin’s formula we can say: “It is formally correct, but is essentially sheer mockery”.

And the more parties try to pose themselves as all people’s party, the more alarming it sounds because the people is presented as some unsegmented unity that has unsegmented interests, in other words, it doesn’t have any groups inside that can disagree with each other, compete for access to public resources and for choosing the state’s strategy. There aren’t any issues that are hard to resolve, for instance, in national policy. There aren’t alternative, not just theoretically invented, but alternative interests of foreign policy from a perspective of internal arrangement. And one group of interests might like a rise in exports and a fall in imports, and another group — the other way around. And they have two different parties. But we don’t see it, neither do we many other things.

I will just clarify that whatever you call them, there are groups, but they don’t have a clear public design and readiness to consecutively formulate their interests and defend them during a public discussion.

There is little readiness consider it won’t get better in any circumstances”

In other words, do we witness a new hybrid regime?

It is what our scientists say: “imitated democracy”, a “hybrid regime”. There is one thing behind all these words: if we see a camel with the head of sheep and the tail of an ox, let’s call it a hybrid. We see it is a hybrid without scientists. We see the head of sheep, the tail of an ox and the hump of a camel. Science isn’t needed for this. Science must explain how all this functions and why it is possible in general because such hybrids don’t appear in nature. And if they do, they at best remind such an animal as a mule. It can exist but it can’t sire. Using an ironic expression, I think science owes a big debt to those who try to count on it because it seems to me that scientists have been a victim of what’s called in English wishful thinking for quite a long time. In other words, when we consider something desirable as a result of our reasoning. So they wouldn’t like Russia to move to a less democratic side, and they made up that if they expose it as unreal democracy, the arising regime will collapse because of the words. But it didn’t collapse for some reason. After it didn’t collapse, it started to be called hybrid or imitated secretly cherishing hopes that it will probably collapse because of this.

To tell the truth I don't know a regime to collapse because it was called offensively

On the one hand, one can understand the scientists. When they face a new occurrence, they need some time. Theoretically, such a thing shouldn’t have existed, while in practice it exists. One just needs to have a look. Perhaps tomorrow we will be laughing at my words and pointing the finger: “Haha, he said it perfectly existed, but it has disappeared”. And it is possible that we witness a new lasting political experience that will need new words to understand. Just in case it would be sensible not to misinterpret your desire to live in greater democracy as a humankind’s law, which just waits to start to run efficiently.

Do most of the citizens of the country accept modern authorities in Russia as legitimate?

I think very unlikely. It is impossible to establish it as a routine. There is our life routine, it is important not to overestimate this routine, though we can’t underestimate it either. What is the routine? For instance, you ask a person who is rushing to a demonstration in summer: “Where are you running?” You can’t understand what he is fed up with, why he certainly must go to the demonstration. He says: “I can’t live this way any more! It turns my stomach! I am incompatible with these authorities, this regime!” Some time later you meet him again and ask: “How are you there?” He tells you about his health. It turns out he keeps going to the same work he used to go, lives the same life, plans his winter holiday, his children’s future, implants teeth or, on the contrary, has them pulled out. And he has a routine life as if he isn’t living under terrible power one can’t live with.

One can just laugh at it. Did he pretend? No. He was absolutely convinced: “Victory or death! I can’t! It turns my stomach!” It was absolutely sincere, he didn’t deceive you. It is just what he thought in summer, and now it is different. And given how our life goes, routine like swamp sucks any energetic impulses against it.

This routine has quite big room. But it doesn’t have to deceive anyone because there is little readiness to obey and consider you can’t change anything and it won’t get better in any circumstances.

The forming distrust, the feeling of illegitimacy can at first not be shown in protests. It can not let itself known in answers to questions. A mountain grows out of some small parts

If we create quite a convincing scheme for interpreting the world for the subordinate, they will consider any repressions justified”

Max Weber defined the state the following way: “human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. Where is this border of legitimacy?

Weber is cited very often here, and they usually bump into this formula of “legitimate use of physical force”. We’ve bumped into it. You cited the full definition. But before we find out what the legitimate use of physical force is, we should look once again at who uses the force. All of a sudden we see that strictly speaking some community does it, in other words, some people know where they came from. It isn’t unknown where they came from in Weber’s case, the history of state and way of its formation are known to those who live there. And the most important thing here is that the state is special, separate people. How to get there? How to turn out among these people? Can one be there? Is it good for the whole society that some people settled here, barricaded themselves and think about how to impose their will?

What is Weber’s idea? The state is those who have all the means to impose their will on everyone, moreover, to impose it so craftily that people consider it not just as the supremacy of power but as legitimate justified management. The state isn’t eternal. Once there was no state and political life worked differently, but the state appeared like the question you are asking.

Still, if the majority of people tolerated the regime of political repressions in the USSR, what level of violation are they ready to tolerate today?

What does “tolerated” mean? Everyone who says that authorities can’t live on violation is cunning a bit. I always put an example. Put four towers with machine guns in corners in a small space, and it is highly likely that those who are in this space will start to obey those on the towers. There might be some separate expressions of discontent, but it is clear what they will lead to. People won’t necessarily think the power is legitimate. They just obey brutal violence. It is possible theoretically, and practically such things have existed in nature.

But most countries’ political life isn’t based on such a primitive formula. The reasons are numerous, but the major reason is that it is impossible to issue an order for every movement that is needed

So it is impossible to arrange life in a way the boss wants no matter how favourable the circumstances are. It means: “That’s it, stay and look at how is everything dying out around you, including your boss, how crops are dying on the fields, how steel is manufactured wrongly, how people receive the wrong treatment. Sooner or later the boss (the one who orders and requires others to obey him) has to hand over some of his duties to those who are subordinate to him. Handing over this authority, giving a chance to act, giving freedom, he needs one who subordinates him despite this freedom, who is not just ready but had a desire to obey, that’s to say, won’t cross the border of freedom.

And then we enter a very complicated area of political philosophy, which studies problems of legitimacy because the issue where people’s faith in power legitimacy, its fairness, its justification is rooted is very complex. It is resolved in different eras differently. It is a short direct answer to the question you asked.

If we create quite a convincing scheme of interpreting the world for the subordinate, they will consider any executions and repressions justified. And, on the contrary, if we soften the situation, one can distance oneself from the strictest management style but not get bonuses for it if you didn’t make up a usable scheme for interpreting (or you made up it but it turned out useless).

To be continued

By Matvey Antropov