Generation M – The End, Or a Continuation?

October 12, 2011

By Mikhail Khodorkovsky


And that, really, is the end of that, isn’t it. The intrigue with president-2012 is over. It has been explained to the country and to the world that there actually never really was any intrigue at all, that everything is going to stay just as it was, and that it is precisely in this that our future and our happiness lie.

Judging by my correspondence and the many publications with which I had a chance to familiarise myself after 24 September 2011 (when the historic “castling” move was announced at a United Russia congress), disappointment reigns among the active part of the Russian population.

And this is completely understandable. Because it is not about the different personal qualities and relative merits and shortcomings of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. But, more likely, it is about how a continuation of the Putin era – this is a step back into the past. For any political system and political elite, moving back into the past – is bad, because it destroys hope, and with it – the necessary preconditions for the consolidation of the active part of the people and for its ability to reach a mutual understanding with the power.

2 years ago, soon after Dmitry Medvedev called the modernisation of the country a key objective of national development and of his own policy, I attempted to put several questions to the head of state in my article “Generation M”.

The main questions were these:

  • Is the third president of the RF proceeding from the understanding that successful modernisation needs a full-fledged subject of this process – a modernisational class (that same “generation M”), comprising not less than 3% of the economically active population of the country?
  • Is he prepared to agree that the modernisational class needs special conditions for its formation and cultivation, among which the most important is – the creation of real mechanisms for effective vertical mobility; which, in its turn, is hardly possible without the political liberalisation of Russia and a qualitative reduction in the level of corruption in the country?

By the main groups of the modernisational class, potentially able and prepared to play a foundational role in the fate of the reforms announced by Medvedev, I understood (and understand) first and foremost:

  • professional innovators, including the owners and managers of not-large and medium-sized private innovational companies created from the ground up;
  • scientists and engineers born in the 1960s-1970s, who received an education in the USSR and have not completely lost hope of realising themselves in the Motherland;
  • scientists and engineers who abandoned Russia in the post-Soviet period and have realised themselves in the West, but who see some kind of prospects in Russia;
  • young specialists with high creative potential, who are making the choice right now, today – to leave or to stay; 2
  • the humanities intelligentsia, not poisoned by glamour.

Along with this notional social stratum’s social characteristics, its mental ones are important as well: the modernisational class can be formed by people with a creative, and not a parasitic, type of thinking. By those who are oriented towards creating, not towards distributing what others have created.

Then, in October of 2009, a representative of the Kremlin raised my hopes with an announcement that the President had read my article. I deemed that actual presidential policy in the sphere of modernisation would give me – along with everybody else for whom this topic is of interest, – answers to questions about “generation M”.

Now there are serious grounds to deem that these answers have been received. And they are that the real priorities of the power are completely different.

To the extent that I can judge, the power has not conducted and is not conducting any targeted work in this direction with the social groups that could – and, it is extremely likely, would want to – become the foundation of the modernisational class in Russia. The maximum that is being offered to such people is – complete freedom from state interference in their private affairs. The state does not particularly meddle, but neither does it help. If you want to develop a business – go right ahead and develop it, but if you want to – you can drop this thankless occupation. If you want to stay – stay, if you are planning to leave – nobody is stopping you.

In all the even remotely significant management positions – all the same faces, personifying “pipeline economics”. At the UR congress Vladimir Putin announced that Dmitry Medvedev, having become premier, is going to form some kind of “new, young” team in the federal government, suitable for the business of modernisation. Should we believe this? Will the newness of this team be real and not simulated? In any case, if you are truly going to start a personnel reformation, then everything that came before that historical moment, just like the word “modernisation” itself is going to irreversibly become an object of general mockery. And this moment is already very close at hand.

The people at the very highest state level in our country now who are being associated with innovational management, from all appearances, deem that modernisation boils down to the import of relatively fresh (although, if you take a closer look, – not very) technologies for the manufacture of industrial goods that are obviously incapable from the very start of competing on the world market. On the technology market – because of their secondariness, on the consumer market – because of the obvious price disadvantage compared to the “Asian tigers”.

That said, systemic innovational decisions that could potentially change the life environment of the Russian person and that therefore clearly fall into the category of modernisational ones – for example, the “Electronic government” programme” – are somewhere in the back alleyways of the ruling bureaucracy’s attention: it recently became clear that the country, all the bravura reports notwithstanding, is technically not prepared for an electronic government, and therefore the launch of the system is being postponed, at a minimum, by a year (from 2011 to 2012). Will a third presidency for Putin do anything to speed up the process?

The social, political, and historical dimensions of modernisation are simply being ignored by representatives of the power – I at any rate never did manage to hear even attempts by them to responsibly discuss these topics. The top leadership does not regard modernisation as a subject of dialogue with society at all; it – is a thing unto itself, a “black box”, which, in practice, may turn out to 3

me more likely empty than full. The logic of the Russian bureaucrat-“moderniser” is akin to the famous philosophy of Hermann Goering: in my agency, I decide myself what is modernisation and what is not.

Corruption over the 2 years of the announced modernisation has grown significantly. Whilst parliament was fast-tracking the adoption of a law on multiple-fold fines for bribes (a dubious measure for those who understand the mechanics of how modern-day corruption works), the average amount of a kickback during the distribution of state funds in Russia exceeded 30%. What modernisational decisions can be effectively realised with such a level of corruption?

Finally, even if the political system is developing in some kind of direction, it is hardly a modernisational one. I was of course – indeed, like many other Russians – delighted to hear that now, parties that have received more than 5, but less than 7 percent of the vote can theoretically get into the State Duma. But then the political landscape before the 2011-12 electoral cycle has become even more barren, and the real limitations, both for politicians and for voters – even tougher.

The attempts by the Kremlin itself to re-invigorate political life and to create additional intrigue in the Duma elections with the help of people who are anything but run-of-the-mill (Mikhail Prokhorov, Dmitry Rogozin) have met with failure right from the very start: it is obvious that the system for managing domestic politics is set up in such a way that it can go only downwards by way of further simplification and reduction of political diversity, but it can not move upwards – towards development.

The decision about Putin’s third term – the apotheosis of this simplification. The last hopes that the system could, of its own initiative, voluntarily go towards democratisation and liberalisation, and this means – allow at least some kind of real political competition – were destroyed on 24 September 2011. As the classicist once said, “I hasten to set your minds at ease, this will not be”. Everything has already been said before me about how the political decisions and events of the end of September could in no way increase trust in the existing political system and in the personalia who personify it on the part of the citizens of the country who still retain a sense of human dignity.

From all appearances, we have already stopped waiting for modernisation to come to us from above.

So what should representatives of “generation M” – those who consider themselves to be a part of the modernisational class (and self-identification is what is most important here) – do in such a situation.

Option one. Integrate into the existing system of “pipeline economics and politics”.

Not realistic. All the places in the system are already taken, and it has no need for any fresh and brains and ideas. Indeed, quite the contrary: any influx of fresh air could lead to the oxidation of the existing framework and a reduction in its stability, which, from the point of view of the “pipeline class”, is most definitely a threat, not an opportunity.

Option two. Leave Russia.

I am not going to recommend this. For various reasons, not the least of which being because I will not be able to join those leaving.

Option three.

Try to do what can be done, proceeding from an understanding of the necessity of modernisation for Russia and of democratisation, as its component part and condition, to create a new modernisational class. 4

Go to the elections and vote the way your conscience prompts (for some particular candidate, or by voiding the ballot), because action, although not any action, – this is modernisational behaviour. For those who for understandable reasons do not want to vote in today’s electoral realities, – participate more actively in the corresponding social network protest actions – and this too will be modernisational behaviour.

The main thing is – act! Unite and fight to protect your civil rights, even at the very lowest – municipal, neighbourhood – level, inasmuch as this – is action, this – is experience, this – however minimal – is still a result.

Participate in real help for other people, inasmuch as only by investing your time can you attain the building of a modern social milieu.

It is imperative to learn how to move beyond the Internet into the “real world”, to learn how to tear through the envelope of habitual, slavish behaviour. Stop trying to convince yourself that “I can’t make any difference”. You can!

Modernisation – is the destiny of those who do, not those who contemplate, not those who adapt.

The internet, social networks – a wonderful environment for seeking out like-minded people, discussing common positions, an irreplaceable mechanism for communications, capable of uniting the real citizens of a huge country for real actions.

You could say that nothing will come of this. And this will be true.

Or you could say that you can create the ruling class of the next Russia in this way. And this too will be true.

But the second truth – is more valuable than the first. With such a truth you can work to make our country free and prosperous!

Mikhail Khodorkovsky,
Correctional colony No. 7,
town of Segezha, Karelia