Frankly, in general I hate talk shows, but this one was especially disgusting. I do not have a TV at home, and this time I had to observe the event live, being present in the TV studio as a designated “expert”.
The talk-show conversation was about Russian business and its mutual relations with the state. There were four panelists: a pompously self-important “patriotic economist”, (as he characterized himself); the nervously aggressive publisher of a once well-known newspaper; a brewer who has left manufacturing behind behind and is engaged now in financial operations; and also the owner of a gas station, whose despondent countenance accurately advertises his role here as “small businessman”.
The talk show host announced the publication of yet another report of the patriotic economists, who have convincingly proved that all the troubles of Russia are to be blamed on oligarchs who have squandered vast sums money in offshore businesses. Because of them, our country is mired in its present crisis. One of the authors of this report is present at the studio and, he genially confirms that yes, this is indeed the truth. Greedy oligarchs are guilty.
It’s hard to call what ensued a discussion. The panelists shouted, squealed, called one another abusive names – almost seized the other by the hair. “Your patron makes money) out of slave labor!” – the former brewer expostulated to the publisher. “And you inebriate people!” – the publisher shouted in response, having forgotten that the brewer has now graduated to the rank of financier. “And you, you have called him a coward!” cried the patriotic economist, choking with anger and pointing a finger at the small businessman , without bothering to name him. The gas station owner nodded and murmured. “And what else to call him?” The publisher was amazed.
The intellectual and theoretical level of discussion matched this display of tact and delicacy. The publisher said that oligarchs generate the ongoing blessings of efficiency. The others, united for a moment, condemned him; however, they then plunged into confusion and disarray as the topic devolved towards economic policy. It seems that it is necessary both to strengthen the state and give more freedom to business; at the same time, not interfere with market processes yet to provide appropriate regulation down the corporate line. Credits, which once again the government has given to corporations, will be once again plundered.. Everybody, even the publisher, took this as axiomatic. But, in the future, they all agreed, very radical steps are necessary. The system of “guaranteed loans” has to be changed . Big companies now get credit from the state against the “security” of future profits, which – it is very clear – will not be forthcoming. More tangible guarantees are necessary though the deep-thinking patriotic economist has no constructive suggestions as to what these might be.
The audience sat stupefied, receiving insufficient guidance from the talk show’s floor-managers–claqueurs, to be exact–who themselves were mystified by the meandering discussion and uncertain as to when precisely to urge the audience to erupt in supportive cheers.
Near the end of the show, I am allowed a few seconds for my “expert’s” contribution. Because time is running out, I have to limit myself to a very short summary: Nationalize everything, and confiscate without any indemnification. We – the people of Russia – have already paid for this property twice. The first time, when all these factories were built and then, for symbolical pennies, were given to the present owners; and now, the second time, when the owners of the companies led their businesses into bankruptcy and the state promptly bought out their debts out and, again, has left the companies with the owners.
At this point, all hell broke loose!
“Nationalization!” – yelled the publisher. “That’s what you propose? It is a catastrophe! It is the end of Russia! It spells universal destruction!”
The other panelists, fresh from hurling insults at each other, now, all of a sudden, unite and amiably support the publisher. Somehow, the squabbling is instantly replaced by constructive conversation, in which the publisher — the ideologist, after all — finishes with the conclusion that it is necessary to strengthen the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie. His exact words: “class consciousness.”
I leave readers to draw their own conclusions; I will only allow myself a small sociological comment. The point, in fact, was not about the overthrow of capitalism, not about socialism or revolution. It was a question of elementary rationality – the same rationality on which, if Max Weber is to be trusted, bourgeois society is based. For example, that it is impossible to redeem the same goods twice in a row and not own them as a result.
The Russian businessmen and their liberal intellectuals adore complaining about the state and officials, and simultaneously about rackets, the mafia and corruption, dumping the responsibility for these phenomena on this same state. However, on a closer look, it is easy to understand that they have exactly the state they want. If you underpay taxes (which are rather low anyway), it is quite clear that the vacuum generated by the weakness of the government will be filled by corruption. You complain about bribes, but – using those bribes – you receive contracts and public funds. And all time you ask for new privileges, grants, help and indulgences. Certainly, business would prefer to not pay either taxes to the state treasury or bribes to racketeers and officials. But if you would choose between taxes and bribes, between the strong state and systematic corruption, most likely, your business without hesitation would choose the latter. And anyway the choice has long since been made. Our state – as it exists today – entirely corresponds to that that choice of our domestic bourgeoisie. As the saying goes, “two boots are a pair,” not only are they ideally similar to each other, but they are unable to function without each other.
And what about loud quarrels, with breaking of dishes? The same can happen, even in families. The falling out of lovers is the renewal of love.
Translated by Alevtina Rea.
BORIS KAGARLITSKY is Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements (IGSO) in Moscow and editor in chief of the Levaya Politika (Left Politics) quarterly. He is also coordinator of the Transnational Institute Global Crisis project He has written many books, including most recently Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (2008).