May 17, 2005 by AK
Careful with democracy: the middle class is a minority in Russia
It is clear to me now that a revolution in Russia may not, should not — I’d like to be able to say cannot — be democratic. It has to be middle-class or oligarchic in essence. In politically underdeveloped countries with dramatic inequality, democracy is inimical to liberty, and true universal liberty is unattainable. Liberty only has a chance when there is a strong and large enough social group ready to fight for it and handle it. The rest neither value nor understand political liberty but would appreciate economic opportunity, although many would still prefer the dole.
Let us call this revolutionary group the emerging middle class. It wants both political liberty (safety from the government) and economic freedom (safety from the mafia and extortionist bureaucracy) but it is well aware that society at large is prone to abusing its political freedom. The masses may serve as a battering ram in the revolution but they will not benefit from it as much as the new middle class. If the revolt is successful, the rest will depend on the new elite’s character. If it is essentially oligarchic — small, self-centered, and self-contained — it will perish, and the sprouts of liberty with it. (Remember Venezuela: a triumph for democracy was a triumph for ochlocracy and a disaster for liberty.) If it is reasonably open and dynamic, we shall see commoners fight a long, painful fight with the elite — not to deprive the latter of its privileges but to expand the circle of the privileged.
Democracy in Russia has always been, and should stay, managed. The key is who, and in whose interests, and to what ends, is going to manage it.
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