Protest Rent

Aleksandr Shchipkov, Doctor of Political Science, professor at the Faculty of Philosophy of Lomonosov Moscow State University

The confrontation (supposedly spontaneous) between anticlericals and religious persons is just one of the points of protest activity application in the Russian ‘non-systemic' politics. The opposition insists that there is a conflict between the authorities and the civil society it claims to be by putting forward demands on behalf of all citizens, whom it does not represent in fact. This is a false mediation.

The protest group has diverse names, such as ‘active citizens’, ‘civil activists’ or ‘creative class’. However, it doesn't represent the society as a whole. It represents the Russian middle class, which has been considering itself a privileged social stratum for a quarter of a century, yet shrinking in recent years and becoming increasingly aggressive and antisocial. The special social missions ascribed to the middle class, such as being a feedback channel to the state authorities or a filter of society’s demands on the current political system, have little in common with contemporary reality. Meant to serve as a buffer between the upper and the lower strata and to consolidate the society, the middle class today is splitting and destabilizing the latter. Its goal is to achieve the status of an influential sub-elite appointed by the very state authorities, which are so dramatically renounced by the middle class.

The middle class lives on the protest rent serving as a wedge between the elites and the people. They are political rentiers trying constantly to stir the pot (let’s remember the Bolotnaya Square and Saint Isaac’s Square).

In 2014, the Crimean events caused the nation to consolidate and blocked temporarily the political opportunities of the middle class. However, the Crimean effect has weakened in 5 years, and today in Yekaterinburg we see another attempt to break through ‘on the flank’.

The elites can maintain the level of consumption typical for the middle class only by going against the interests of the rest of the population. This means, for example, taking out external loans with the interest burden being imposed onto the lower classes, monetizing education and health care, cutting budget for social expenditures and sacrificing pensions, real estate sector and jobs. The interests of the middle class are effectively opposite to the interests of the lower classes, regardless of political slogans. They are also opposite to the interests of elites, who need political stability. Surprisingly, the interests of elites and the lower strata meet here.

In a real democracy mode, the middle class has no chance to outplay the society. That’s why its leaders do not like the idea of ‘real democracy’ and call it ‘populism’. For the same reason, they foster political infantilism in the audience by talking endlessly about the totalitarian past, the ‘genetic servility’ and the national shame (‘I am ashamed to be Russian’). The subject of ‘pobedobesie’ (victory frenzy) and the bullying of the Immortal Regiment stand apart. All this suggests that the avant-garde of the middle class stages strikes not only on the historical religion (Orthodox Christianity), but also on all points of the consolidation of society deliberately opposing the ‘white’ to the ‘red’, the believers to the non-believers, the traditionalists to the left and playing them off against each other.

Effectively, the middle class competes with society for the resources and the attention of the elites but the people is not fully aware of this and therefore loses to the aggressively ambitious minority. It gives up the media and the political initiative and is deprived of the right of choice which is made by the so-called ‘active’ stratum. In the current conditions of developing socio-economic crisis, the middle class loses its sense of reality and begins to destroy the entire public administration system, becoming more and more dangerous both for the people and for the elites.

In the XIX century, the middle class was formed as a narrow stratum of educated people meant to service the liberal-capitalist society. But the direction of capitalism development and the role of the middle class in it changed gradually. Amid the dictate of the non-productive financial sector, social relations have become more like corporate-banking feudalism. The ‘consumer society’ emerged and the middle class became a stratum of professional consumers.

In the 1980s, on the back of neoliberal consensus and reaganomics, the West proceeded to artificially stimulating private demand, increasing sharply the size of the middle class. To this end, the credit model was changed, replacing the usual return of debt by the refinancing characteristic of large economic entities. The standard of living of such a middle class no more corresponded to its real earnings. The middle class was taught to live beyond its means. It demands from the elites (and receives) many times more than it earns. Its main specialization is now increased consumption, which made it piggyback on the social organism. The whole society has to pay for the monetary growth corresponding to the creation of money and for the expansion of related obligations under a ‘long-term loan’. It pays with the standard of living, with jobs and social guarantees.

The ideology of the middle class implies an understanding of the very process of consumption as sacred. The USA middle class, created artificially as a counterbalance to the proletariat, is paid so that it could consume intensively in exchange for guarantees of political stability. And for the time being, it fulfills its main function, holding the society together. In Russia, on the contrary, it provokes division. Compare the situation in Ukraine. There, middle class activism led straight to Nazism. In Russia, to ultraliberal Russophobia. So far.

Today, the privileges of the Russian middle class are fabulous. In addition to banks and the service sector, the entire cultural and media industry works for it. The most sensational movies are designed not for the mass audience and not for picky intellectuals but for the middles. Top-rated authors and screenwriters write for them, fiction, tabloids, and scandalous theatrical productions are aimed at them. The entire Russian cinema serves the interests of the middle class, being its integral part. So films that are clearly antisocial and simply Russophobic, such as Matilda, Bastards, Leviathan, Holiday, Leaving Afghanistan and hundreds of others, are the rule rather than the exception. All of them ‘shoot’ at the lower strata and the elites at the same time.

It is the middle class that is the customer and the main beneficiary of the new draft Law on Culture, the idea of which is to take its creative ‘avant-garde’ completely out of the state control and to free it from any moral, political and social obligations or restrictions. The new Law on Culture, which will all but tie the hands of elites in the field of political ideology, is being forced through with the same iron perseverance with which they forced through the pension reform that resulted in the lower classes losing money and the elites losing support of lower classes. Only the middle class stood to gain, earning huge political capital for years to come. It was a revenge for the Crimean consensus of the elites and the lower classes that almost marginalized the middle class, throwing it to the side of the high road of social development.

In the Russian Federation, the criteria of belonging to the middle class are noticeably distorted. They are less property-related and more ideological. The Russian middle class consists of people with typical consumer behavior and, more importantly, with a standard ideology. That is why among the protesters there are many students and other have-nots. They dress and talk like their more well-off fellow thinkers and have similar political views but a diverse level of income. They falsely perceive their interests as assertedly common with those of the middle class and take to the streets to protect not their own economic interests but another’s. This is a result of organized ideological work. It’s for its development that they are forcing through the new Law on Culture, already dubbed the ‘Law on Liberal Ideology’ by the experts.

As soon as the crisis made the bloated privileges of the Russian middle class shrink, it spoke bluntly against the elites that brought it up. The rebellion of the middle class against the elites is not a revolution but an ultra-right coup associated with Russophobia and social racism.

The lower classes have no savings. Their only capital is in social rights and traditional moral values which are the only guarantor of the preservation of these rights. That’s why the people stands not for a new estates system but for a value agreement with the elites. This provides the people with legal instruments that do not require a certain level of prosperity. For the middle class, a welfare state means total dumping, zeroing of the benefits that give it an appropriate income. Therefore, the task of the middle class is just the opposite, i.e. to struggle against social rights based on morality and tradition and to replace the ‘justice right’ with money right. Hence the violent attacks of the middle class on those social institutions that communicate traditional values, like the church, the family, the school, and the recognized art. It seeks to instill bourgeoisness (glamor) in the church and to destroy the family by juvenile justice and advocacy of abortions and sodomy, the school by pseudo-reforms and ‘variability’, and the art by actualism and amoralism.

Trying to consolidate and increase its privileges, the middle class insists on the monetization of the social sphere and on the formal ‘state of law’ model. Such a model is useful precisely for the middles, not for the elites who live in a special frame of reference and not for the lower strata who are deprived of access to the instruments of such a ‘state of law’ by the monetary cut-off mechanism (monetary qualification).

The social majority can only use legal instruments that are not related to a certain level of prosperity. These tools are related only to the moral right, i.e. the right based on tradition and traditional values. This ‘justice right’ is available to everyone, since morality is also one for all.

There is only one alternative in this situation. Either the middle class is deprived of its privileges or a crisis of social stability will develop.