I rather like Boris Kagarlitsky. And his retelling of his recent appearance on a Russian political talk show makes me like him even more.
Kagarlitsky was invited to participate as the “expert” in a discussion on the relationship between Russian business and the state. Clearly, they didn’t read his resume carefully. The panel featured a self-described “patriotic economist,” an “aggressive” former publisher of a well-known newspaper, a brewer cum financier, and a token “small businessman” gas station owner. The topic centered around “yet another report of the patriotic economists” that pointed the finger at Russia’s oligarchs for the nation’s economic woes.
I actually wonder about this. Not in regard to the veracity of the claim, but what the “oligarchs” as blame means politically. After all these oligarchs are now Putin’s oligarchs. Their screw up can double back as his screw up. As Marx once remarked, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” But then again, this maxim doesn’t always fit Russia. The elite has a tendency toward cannibalization, and the vozhd has historically shown to have no problem making an example of his underlings. So are the oligarchs merely lambs to the slaughter in waiting? Maybe. Let’s hope. If the Russians really want to adopt the Chinese model, then they should really adopt it. The economic crisis has revealed the oligarchs for what they really are: “billionaire-bolsheviks” who run to the state hat in hand to cover their debts, or worse continually fleece it and its people while the former use their ownership over the culture industry to propagate the lies that say that “crisis” is merely a aberrant tick in an otherwise socio-economic ubermensch.
Predictably, Russia isn’t the only place where such creatures reside. As Mark Ames recently put it in his own eloquent way: “[The Russians] had their bolsheviks; we [Americans] have our billionaire-bolsheviks. The effect of these two rapacious ruling elites is the same: the state and the people serve the tiny ruling class; and when we’re not serving them, we can fuck off and die. Literally. Because that serves them too.”
But back to Kagarlitsky. Unsurprisingly the “greedy oligarchs as guilty” meme prompted a fiery discussion, or one could say, a performance where each “shouted, squealed, called one another abusive names – almost seized the other by the hair.” Kagarlitsky continues:
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.
How to disentangle this mess of rhetoric and contradictions? Instead of trying to grasp on and untie its tangled threads, Kagarlitsky simply chose to blow them apart:
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.
The billionaire-bolsheviks were out bolsheviked. But Kargarlitsky’s broadside reveled something much deeper. His use of the N-word, not that N-word, but the one that throws any capitalist into a tizzy, nationalization, proved that when push comes to shove the the business class displays a uncanny measure of class unity. But there is more. And for that more, I will let Kagarlitsky speak for himself (with me adding emphasis):
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.