Among Russian liberals, on the other hand, there is an idea that the left should completely reject its Soviet and revolutionary past and become fully fledged participants in the democratic process. More often than not this means recognising not only Soviet-era repressions but also the danger or utopianism in any attempt to reject capitalism. In this context, a new social democracy can be seen as the left element in a future system, something like the Democratic Party in the USA.
It wouldn’t, however, be too clever when creating a new political tradition to concentrate exclusively on the losers of history, the victims, as the Mensheviks and Left SRs are generally seen in the left-wing anti-Soviet myth. It’s true that a multi-party Soviet government and socialist democracy didn’t ever come to power, to the great tragedy of the country. The blame for this (if we can talk in categories of blame) lies on the shoulders of the left-wingers of those days, for their theoretical, tactical and strategic mistakes. And we have to admit that they all became part of that tragic story of Russian socialism which began long before 1917, suffered a defeat in the early 1990s and continues today.
Only by accepting and digesting the Soviet experience as if it were one’s own can socialists in Russia propose a convincing version of history, including the inevitable conversation about state repressions that began after the Civil War. By yielding Bolshevik history with its revolutionary victories and Soviet symbolism, handing everything together with the corrupt and conservative Russian Communist Party, the Russian Left risks dispossessing itself of any historical base in Russia. Remember the 1990s, when many left democrats saw their central task as settling scores with the Soviet Communist Party and its legacy, hoping for future competition with their political opponents in new conditions. The vulgar market liberal propaganda of the time, however, didn’t leave our fellow-socialists, with their complex dialectic version of history, any hope of success.
“We can’t exclude the possibility that the left will develop in Russia along American lines, where they will be active in the intellectual and academic sphere, despite being weak politically,” wrote Pavel Kudyukin, a veteran of the left democratic and trade union movement in the late 1990s. Today, American left-wing democrats are in fact undergoing a political revival, while their Russian colleagues find themselves at a dangerous fork in the road.
The issue is not, of course, restricted to the Soviet period. As Armen Aramyam rightly feels, as well as a battle over social guarantees as a reaction to their disappearance, we need “a positive concept of how Russia will look in the future, which isn’t easy. The Russian Federation has a very unfortunate colonial and imperial history that is hard to re-format as progressive.”
Andrey Konoval reminds us of another crucial issue. “Our society hasn’t yet got to the point where it can accept the strong link between ‘gender’ and ‘social’ issues that are obligatory for western (and not only western) democratic left-wingers. Here, political social democracy has a long road ahead between conservative populism and a radical gender-based programme, which could put off or antagonise its potential audience. One option here would be to concentrate on a social agenda that would unite left-liberal and left-conservative spheres within a clearly articulated anti-racist and anti-sexist code both inside and outside the movement. We also need to cooperate with high-profile voluntary initiatives and NGOs working on gender issues.”Print