Typology of Conservative Thought in Modern Russia

Aleksandr Shchipkov

The conservative movement is the most problematic in Russian politics. Unlike liberals and leftists, Russian Conservative constantly faces the problem of self-identification: which values should be upheld, saved and "conserved"?

After all, the national tradition, any way you look at it, comes off as a negation of the values of the previous historical period. How can we talk about preservation then? First of all, it is necessary to make sense of a paradoxical situation, when the break of the tradition has become a tradition itself and is repeated from period to period.

More than once in the history of Russia has the ruling class ran a scenario of tradition breaking. In addition to the above, the historical situation artificially returned to the previous level, like in a computer game. Such has been the case during the Time of Troubles, the church reform (Church dissent) in the early 18th century, and the events of 1917 and in 1991.

In each case, we see a revolutionary revision and tightening of the old terms of agreement between the government and the society. Each new historical period has been setting itself up for a downfall.

Briefly, the secular policy of the Russian ruling class can be defined as a permanent revolution from above and an artificial break of the national tradition. This ideology and method of state administration made the upholding of conservative ideas in Russia quite problematic. Let us recall the historic expression by A.S. Pushkin, spoken on meeting one of the grand dukes: "All of you, the Romanovs, are the revolutionaries." And one more expression by poet Maximilian Voloshin in the 1920s, when he gave such a poetically defined Peter the Great as "the First Bolshevik of the Russian Land."

The Russian "revolution from above" had absolutely nothing to do with the so-called "conservative revolution". On the contrary, this phenomenon was rather the opposite. Such an ideological and political format always caused problems for the upholding of conservative ideas in Russia. It never had influential protectors. That is why, unable to resist the revolution from above, the Conservatives found themselves in a political offside time and time again at every turn of the historic spiral.

Unfortunately, the post-Soviet period has merely complicated this problem rather than solve it. This is the time of just another historical break. The rejection of the Soviet identity, stated in the late 1980s, has led to "nowhere." The society has not returned to a line of development or a system of values.

Until the society finalizes its attitude to its own history, conservatism will not take its rightful place on the social and political map.

"What should be conserved?" that is the main conservative question. That's right. However, when this question is raised, the conservative camp suffers the variety of opinions.

What is today's conservative ideal? We often receive a set of eternal concepts of "family", "religion", "nation", "bygone achievements" in reply. Or quite simply and artlessly "stability" and "patriotism". The vision of traditions worthy of conservation differ for various conservatives.

Here is the approximate typology of the mainstream conservative thought in Russia.

1. Antiquarian onservatism

It focuses on separate pieces of historical reality, torn from the general historical context. For example, the monarchists are nostalgic about the succession to the throne and Nicholas II, an innocent victim. At the same time, the question related to the "quality" of the monarchy or to the comparison of the representatives of the dynasty is not raised. While it is clear that, for example, the names of Ivan III, Aleksey Mikhailovich, Peter II, Peter III, Paul I, Alexander I, Alexander II, Alexander III represent widely different trends in the Russian monarchic statesmanship and it is not just the historical distance of these figures. Sometimes the conversation drifts to claims for the Russian throne of some of descendants of the Romanovs, but it is unclear what political objectives would such claimers pursue. This approach resembles a craving of some European conservatives of the late 19th early 20th century for the estate-dynastic Europe. Antiquarian onservatism has a fragmentary view of history. It is often intolerant to Conservatives of another type, i.e. de facto, it works in separation rather than integration of Conservative forces. It has no direct relationship with Russia's political reality.

2. Situational Conservatism

The other extreme. Situational Conservatism is tied to a short-term political situation. As a rule, it is a reaction to the secrecy and elitism of political interests, the opacity of politically-motivated decisions as well as the struggle of oligarchic groups and clans in modern Russia. All of this excludes a strategic line and clear ideology in the national politics.

Noting this situation, the "Situational Conservative" uses the conservative idea simply as a synonym for the need of directive decisions and accretion of political centralism. As such, the position itself is clear and understandable, but it is indirectly relevant to the conservative ideology. You need not necessarily be a conservative to adhere it.

For example, in the context of the Ukrainian crisis we can see that the same position is shared by a significant part of Russian leftists. Conservatism and Statism represent a natural and healthy combination. However, it often ends up calling "We need a conservative policy! Urgently! Here is a political program." By default, it is assumed that such a new wonderful program will help to win the elections and start a new life. There ends the real participation in politics. Even under Yeltsin's multiparty system, conservatives never came to light at a pre-election stage, saying nothing except the notorious overcoming of the 5% barrier.

3. Conservative Communism or "Project "USSR-2"

The most paradoxical phenomenon in our typology. On the one hand, conditional Soviet-style "conservatives" inherit the doctrine of historical nihilism, that is, the tradition of freedom from tradition. This is the paradoxical nature of their position. The second paradox is that they, unlike most other conservatives, know exactly enough what they want to reconstruct. They want to restore the historically local project of the Soviet statist social state. It is a clearly defined but hardly feasible task at least because the material base of the Soviet Union is destroyed and there is no one to re-create it. Migrant workers building the "new Soviet Union" is a bad idea. Not to mention the problems with the formation of an adequate ideology.

4. The Eurasian Doctrine

The Eurasian Doctrine stated in terms of geopolitics. An edgy conservative project. It is characterized by a clear anti-western orientation. However, an equally consistent rejection of the eastern vector of dependence (no less dangerous than the western one) is absent. An imbalance originates. The "Russian Eurasia" project can be described as "multiculturalism for great power nationalists."

5. National Conservatism

One of the forms of nationalism. National Conservatives are in direct ideological and political competition with the adherents of the Eurasian Doctrine.

Recently, Russian nationalism remained at a crossroads between the so-called imperialism and public liberalism typical for Westernism. Navalny and his case are a clear confirmation of this statement. Nationalism has experienced inner dissociation. Perhaps, the Nazi putsch in Ukraine will weaken liberal nationalists and adjust some nationalists in the left direction.

Sometimes it would look as if the activities of some national conservatives are a bit carnival and are aimed at marginalization of the national conservative discourse itself. For example, Ivan Okhlobystin in his Doctrine 77 successfully marginalized the imperial idea, and then started to make a mockery of Orthodoxy, telling the world about his celibacy.

6. Religious and Subreligious Conservatives

Religious Conservatives believe that Russian Orthodox Church is responsible for the conservation of the national tradition and not only of the internal church tradition. The reason is that this function was not supported by the state in the '90s and is poorly performed by it right now.

The second thesis of Religious Conservatives: Orthodoxy is not only the main ("related to national development") Russian faith, but also the foundation of public ethics, like the Protestant ethic in Europe and the United States.

The capacities of Religious Conservatism are limited because the church is separated 'de jure' from the state and has no right to form political organizations. Moreover, priests cannot be selected for public posts. Russia has not developed its own understanding of secularism that the United States, for example, has acquired by allowing priests to be significant political figures.

7. Liberal Conservatism

A form of liberalism, the members of which adhere to great-power patriotic rhetoric, but don't deny the economic liberal course (resource-based economy, curtailing social programs, export of capital, dependence on international financial centers). Conservative phraseology creates an illusion that its members protect certain values and national priorities. In this case, they obviously conserve Russian liberalism not as an ideology but as a development model.

Such are the basic models of conservatism in Russia.

This typology contains one important logic. Each of these groups is either not involved in real politics or hides different political content under the cover of conservatism. The latter is particularly well observed using the example of liberal conservatives.

Liberal onservatism is a common phenomenon for Western countries. The researchers rightly united American "neo-conservatism" and European "neo-liberalism" under this term. However, this phenomenon is counterproductive for Russia, as a country with a peripheral economy.

In general, global politics and economy are an example of a "dual paradigm" involving the concepts of center and periphery. Capital flows from the periphery to the center, that is, from the third world countries to first world countries. Under these conditions, western liberals strengthen their economies by defending the status quo.

Modern Russia objectively belongs to the world periphery. Liberal principles in Russia also take part in the conservation of this model, but in Russia it means not acquisition but emission the export of materials and capital and loss of domestic market captured by import.

Therefore, a western liberal conservative is namely a conservative in his function: he stabilizes the system useful for his society. The Russian liberal conservative is socially destructive, despite the fact that he supports the same views. He is a "guarantor" of capital export from the country.

In view of this specific feature of the modern world, it is necessary to check up the number of provisions considered inviolable before the era of ultra-capitalism.

It is necessary to raise the following question: which position on the Russian political stage is objectively conservative and which position cannot claim to be conservative, even if it relies on conservative symbols?

Unfortunately, this topic is not discussed in the Russian public space. The question of real and objective attitudes of certain Russian politicians to conservatism within the global context rather than in vitro has not been raised yet. Moreover, both systemic leftists and systemic "conservatives" bound with political consensus obviously shrink from raising the question of relationship between conservatism and left ideas.

Today it is one of the key figures dissembled in Russian politics. The destruction of the Russian political myth in this sphere is going to happen in the nearest future. However, any of today's average man is still sure that a conservative is the one who has a plate with the inscription "Conservative" on his breast.

Unfortunately, Russia is gaining strength in the unrestrained juggling with political concepts. There are a lot of evaluative judgements and only few criteria of political affiliation. The most important one is connected with the answer to the following question: What is the relationship between the economy and ideology?

Real conservatives do not take up a position in the political framework which lives today in the consciousness of the average man. But eventually and historically, Russia will inevitably come to the need of conservative politics.

The reason is that the only alternative (liberalism) is hostile to the majority in Russia, as in any country of the world's "periphery". Consequently, it can be only authoritarian. Or it may exist as well.

This is the main reason why Russian liberalism seeks to acquire a conservative pattern.

Aleksandr Shchipkov, Notes on Conservatism (ISEPR Fund), 2(1), 2014.