Conservative Socialism: ideological features in modern Russia

Aleksandr Shchipkov

The political situation in Russia has accelerated the formation of a new, timely and reasonable ideology – social conservatism. Politicians and political writers have not yet built a sustainable attitude to it.

The new trend is likely to reveal the long-standing separation between Social Democrats and Populists within the left-wing environment. Generally speaking, this separation remained unchanged throughout the twentieth century, although it was buried under the concrete slab of the Soviet ideology. The behavior of the Left wing is going to become more prominent in the nearest future. This is so much the more evident, because social conservatism or conservative socialism is, in fact, a political competitor of the orthodox communism. It is expected to destroy an unjustified monopoly of the Communist Party's successors on the idea of a "social welfare state".

Even today, the social conservative theses at social forums and in press meet counter-theses on the part of the canonical communism followers. One may often hear that the key to any ideology is the class essence rather than any values. The communists of Leninist-Stalinist "format" are therefore sure: class relationship is inevitable between the liberals and the conservatives. They both represent the interests of big business, though, at the same time, may have their own "financial" and "raw" preferences. The conservatives of the sovereign-patriotic wing lobby the interests of the defence unit and the military industrial sector.

Such a classification is quite traditional, but there is one important fact this classification does not take into account. The situation in the first world countries yet satisfies the classical Marxist scheme. However, in Russia, like in any country from the world outskirts, the western political realities are distorted.

In contrast to, say, the U.S., Russian liberalism contravenes the national tradition, rather than follows it. That is why, a Conservative is at a crossroads: should he follow the traditional values or the liberal authoritarianism? The conservative community must inevitably split in this situation. One conservative line operates ("conserves") liberalism – that is what the criticism from the Left wing is aimed at. And what about the other line? The other, alternative line has only one path – to the left. After all, there is no other way. Not anyhow, but "over the Liberals' head" and through their negation. This situation is bizarre in terms of the commonplace sense, but it is extremely fruitful. Objectively, it binds and protects the ties of justice and tradition. However, this movement seems to be inexplicable and farfetched without the understanding of the political framework. That is why communist ideologists call conservative socialists "the Left wing without Communism" (by analogy with the well-known Kronstadt sailors with their motto "Soviets without Communists!") or "the Right-wing Conservatives camouflaged as the Leftists". The second definition is fundamentally wrong, and the first one is not quite accurate. In order to clarify the essence of Russian conservative socialism there is a need to understand the background.

Social conservative leaders and parties has always been present in Russia. They amount not only a moderate part of the Social Revolutionaries. The principle of the conservative socialism was announced, for example, by Valentin Sventsitskii, the Archpriest. In his article "The Christians and the Upcoming Elections" (1912), he wrote that within the elections for the State Duma one should vote for the "candidates of the left-wing parties" (Social Revolutionaries), because only they are able to "explain to the people, who are its enemies" [31].

Konstantin Leontiev, the famous – one can say, the title – conservative, gave a thought even to monarchical socialism. He wrote in 1880-s: "Sometimes I have a feeling that the Russian Tsar will head the socialist movement and organize it the way that Konstantin contributed to the development of Christianity ..." [5, С. 94].

However, the origins of the social conservatism, should be certainly looked up in the Slavophiles' ideas with their understanding of the collegiality. A. Khomiakov and his adherers partially drew this church notion from the old context and transferred it to the society as a whole, implying a special (family and communal) type of communication between its members. Slavophiles interpreted the collegiality as a communal ideal and linked it with the ideal of collective salvation typical for Russian Orthodoxy. With the development of Russian philosophy, the concept of "collegiality" obtained synonyms. For example, N. Trubetskoi named the principle of collegiality "metaphysical socialism", S. Frank designated it as "We-Philosophy". Georgii Florovskii considered "commune enthusiasm" as "the subconscious lust for collegiality". Nikolai Berdiaev compared the collegiality as a universal salvation with a "cruel" (in his opinion) doctrine of Thomas Aquinas that for their blessedness in paradise the righteous are indebted to the tortures of the sinners in hell.

These are the stages of development of the idea. Its main meaning consisted in bringing together the peasant community with the church community through the idea of "collective salvation".

However, the problem was in fact much broader and resided in the creation of a new social contract, which would unite all the parts of the Russian society directed by – not necessarily religion – Orthodox moral values.

The main ideas of the peasant world self-determination primarily represented the fair land ownership and mutual assistance. Of course, the supporters of these postulates (the peasants) could be out of step with the "right" church orthodoxy in their opinions. However, the course of social construction, planned by K. Aksakov and A. Khomiakov, lies precisely in the gradual convergence of these two movements. This is where the growth point of the Russian civil society was. Unfortunately, the maturation of this society has faced political difficulties: the direct opposition (divorcing of peasants from the land, artificial destruction of the peasant community and the unlimited power of the "bread oligarchy") and the revolution turning into a new enslavement.

Historical cataclysms struck the peasant community before it became able to resist them. This way, another one interruption of traditions and rewriting of national identity in the twentieth century have considerably wiped away the efforts of the builders of the Russian civil society.

The concepts of "collegiality", "community" and "collective salvation" cannot be narrowed down to the borders of the "peasant case" and church issues. The principles of the peasant community and the church collegiality influenced the Russian life as a whole. This influence can be easily traced in archival documents and works of Russian classics (N. Leskov, F. Dostoevskii, L. Tolstoi, V. Rozanov et al.). There is ample evidence of this influence. It is no coincidence that any socially significant event in peasant Russia was perceived in the religious and ascetic sense. For example, the revolutionist Vera Figner wrote that "people of the peasants" uniquely defined even actions among the people: they believed that the cause of populists' actions is the salvation [20, С. 125]. A lot of people perceived the religious meaning in attempts to set the peasants free. Even Yemelyan Pugachev drafted peasants into his army and promised them to "grant the land, the cross and the beard", that is to bring back the old and true faith in addition to the land. No matter how we treat the personality of this impostor, he (and later – the populists) appealed to the principle of collective salvation.

Today, conservative socialism is once again in demand. Sometimes the liberal publicists mention that this line is a sort of remake of the early '90s. A remake of those very events in 1991-1993, when the former communist functional bureaucrats concluded a temporary alliance with the patriots. It is an absolutely wrong analogy. Communists, liberals and governmental patriots are the three troops of the "ruling party" in the broad sense. The events of 1993, when those troops suddenly got to close quarters, were just a war for the distribution of the former Soviet inheritance. Conservative socialists (social conservatives) are not associated with neither the old nor the new nomenclature and business groups and have never participated in the split up of the Soviet pie. Truly speaking, many todays communists call themselves conservatives too – in particular, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), but only because they would like to revive the Soviet project. However, this concept has little to do with real socialism, and even more so with genuine conservatism.

As realized by the Communists, the historically local project of the Soviet social state is subject to a reconstruction. Nevertheless, this project was originally built on the bones of the peasant world and the church community. That is, on the bones of the very beginnings, at the junction of which a conservative, socialist and solidary project was to be launched in the early twentieth century. Bolshevistic corporate collectivism became a substitute for the historical Russian collegiality. The aim of the communism at the initial stage was to build a society, taken out of the history and tradition context. The state distributing control mechanism was enforced instead of the justified forms of community life.

Therefore, social conservatism cannot be considered a remake of the communist patriotism or simply communism. It is not surprising that its adherents are now in fierce polemics with the successors of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). They seek to destroy the unjustified monopoly of these successors on the idea of a "social welfare state". This is supplemented by a fundamental dispute with neoleninsm in all its forms.

According to social conservatives, the militant atheism forever cut the Bolshevistic project off from the Russian traditions. In addition, it is not clear which class took the power in 1917. The revolution was generally made by hand of peasants rather than proletarians. The peasants were armed with the outbreak of the World War I. The Bolsheviks used the peasant masses by promising them land and stirred them up against the state. Subsequently, they were "gifted" collectivization and communal farms (kolkhoz) on the work-day basis. In fact, the peasantry has been destroyed as a class. If we take into account the logic of conservative socialists, that was one of the tasks of Bolshevism. From this perspective, the Bolsheviks were not revolutionaries at all. Conservative socialists are not alone in their assessment.

It is commonly known that Karl Marx clearly mentioned in his correspondence with Plekhanov and Vera Zasulich that a revolution in 80% peasant Russia can only be a peasant revolt. Therefore, he accounted his Russian followers populists rather than the Social Democrats. That correspondence was shielded from the public eye, and its existence was not displayed in the Soviet period.

The proletariat in pre-revolutionary Russia was numerically insignificant. This class was artificially "formed" by the Bolsheviks, driving the human "resources" off villages. The consequences of this artificial lumpenization of the society still determine the social atmosphere in the country. However, the process itself is very similar to the "social engineering" of the global community ideologists.

The tragic metamorphosis of 1917 was the result not of progressive social movement, but of a succession of historical failures – the moments of "tradition interruption".

All that does not negate some obvious achievements of the Soviet period. Namely: handling the problem of education accessibility, the Victory in 1945, as well as the progress in fundamental science and social welfare state formation. There is no reason to refuse this heritage, regardless of ideological positions. This kind of refusal has already caused the focus on social degradation. Today, it is very sharply expressed in the events involving the Russian Academy of Sciences and the education system as a whole.

For a quarter of a century the country has been "eating away" everything created until 1991 and has no way to rise to the level of industrial development of 1990. It is not surprising that about two-thirds of Russian citizens deplore the USSR. It is unacceptable to call them "Sovs" and consider as an inferior social group on that basis. Such a practice is one of the manifestations of moral impurity of the Russian liberal establishment. There is a need to separate the crimes of the political party and the rights of former Soviet citizens, whose labor lies at the root of scientific and technical base of the USSR. The lives of ordinary Soviet people were given for the victory in the war. Those people were the victims of the persons they believed. They are entitled to moral and material compensation.

Aleksandr Shchipkov, Moscow, 2014