A spectre of liberalism

Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis) is the belief in liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, and the free exercise of religion.”

Liberalism” (Wikipedia)

A high-ranked official from the United Russia party Andrei Isaev produced an anti-liberal manifesto, “What does the ideology of liberalism bring to Russia?”  (Yes, it’s that Isaev who on Dec. 30, while congratulating Russians with the approaching New Year, told them that in 2012, they will face “a new battle for the freedom and independence of Russia against attempts by the United State of America to establish control over our country.”)  Isaev is in charge of the party propaganda portfolio, so his desire to bring some ideological clarity — at the time when United Russia struggles to formulate its “ideology” – is quite understandable.

According to Isaev, the major ideological threat to Russia comes from liberalism, which, as Isaev regretfully notes, is becoming a “fashionable ideology” in the country.  Too bad, says Isaev.  It was liberals “who flooded France with blood” (that’s how Isaev interprets the historic events of the French Revolution).  It’s liberals who, while speaking of the freedom of religion, harass the Church, including as of late the Russian Orthodox Church.  And, to my great surprise, it was liberals who caused the split of Serbia and the creation of independent Kosovo.

Naturally, Isaev reserves the harshest words for the home-grown followers of liberalism:

“The major political recipe of [Russian] liberals is the return to the 90s when there were many parties, no parliamentary majorities, endless discussions going, and new Cabinets and coalitions [constantly] formed.”

What a horror! Compare that to the virtues of “social conservatism” espoused by Isaev.  Would it not be nice to have no political parties created without explicit nod from the Kremlin?  Would it not be nice for United Russia to always have the constitutional majority in the Duma (and the Duma itself being not a place for discussions)?  And would it not be nice to have the same ministers occupying their seats for years regardless of performance?  Heaven!

Quite expectedly, Isaev composed a long list of people responsible for the shameful perversion of the intrinsically conservative Russian soul; Grigory Yavlinsky, Mikhail Prokhorov, Alexey Kudrin and Igor Yurgens top the list.  Yet, I couldn’t shake off the impression that the real target of Isaev’s manifesto was none other than his fellow “edinoross” Vladimir Pligin, the chairman of the Duma committee on constitutional law.

Pligin is well-respected by the presidential administration and the Cabinet as the most prolific lawmaker of the United Russia Duma faction: for the past 12 months – even despite the distractions of the election season – Pligin has introduced 18 draft laws (compared to Isaev’s three).  Besides, he’s one of the very few people in the party leadership who does have coherent ideological views.  Recently, Pligin jumped into the ring by insisting that in order to remain relevant, United Russia must develop a solid liberal platform, morphing eventually into a right-of-center party.

As United Russia is facing unavoidable and unavoidably painful “re-branding” – with likely cadre reshuffling and even change of the formal leadership — the internal squabbles are bound to intensify.  And as it often happens in politics, fighting for the place under the sun takes shape of “ideological” debates.  It thus appears that Isaev’s anti-liberal fatwa is just one of the first salvos of the future battles.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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9 Responses to A spectre of liberalism

  1. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene
    As the result of your post, I read Isaev (from your link). ..the impression was as if I was forced to watch a striptease by a geriatric transvestite suffering from arthritis.. Did the UR’s ghost writers all moved to the opposition? You, probably, correct about the reason for this notable piece to appear – Isaev was given a task to formulate an “ideology” and somehow thought that he is up to the challenge.

    BTW – as any automation tasked with dealing with human creativity, WordPress ‘s AKISMET sometimes does need an assistance 🙂

  2. Eugene says:

    Hi Alex,

    It was Isaev who headed crushing the “liberals” back in 2005; it’s therefore not surprising that he’s charged with the task again.

    At the same time, as much as the UR leadership may disagree “ideologically” with Pligin, they will never let him go. Who then will rights laws? Isaev and Yarovaya?


    p.s. I helped AKISMET “to do right thing” 🙂

  3. marknesop says:

    It kind of reminds me of that old joke, about the woman who is convinced
    her husband believes nothing she does is good enough. When he is opening
    his Christmas gift from her, she says, “You’ll probably hate it”. Trying
    to lighten the mood, he says, “I’m sure I’ll love it, honey”. He opens
    it to find two neckties; a yellow one and a green one. To show how
    pleased he is, he immediately puts on the yellow one, saying, “This is
    great, just what I wanted!”

    “Don’t like green, huh?” she says sadly.

    With some people it has to be all or nothing. While not endorsing
    Isaev’s position – which is indeed extreme – something comfortably
    between the two would probably be the way to go. And liberals are every
    bit as extreme as Isaev in their own way; if you don’t wholeheartedly
    accept the liberal agenda, you are part of the problem rather than part
    of the solution – you must just close your eyes and trust the liberal
    leadership. Nobody in their right mind is going to do that.

    Also, some (present company excepted, of course) use arguments like
    this to imply that the notion the liberals are western-backed is
    ludicrous. It certainly is not.


    Far beyond simply supporting GOLOS, the National Endowment for Democracy
    supplies money to the listed organizations in the stated amounts.
    Bearing in mind this is merely one of many liberal-activist NGO’s in
    Russia, have a look through the stated purpose for the various funding;
    for the Yuri Levada Analytical Centre, $61,460.00 to – in part –
    “conduct qualitative research into the organization, strategies and
    perspectives of leaders in the noncommercial sector and socially active
    youth, with a particular focus on their strategies for interacting with
    government institutions and the public.” To the Institute of
    Globalization and Social Movements, $22,125.00 to “produce a film
    examining the antifascist youth movement in Russia…increase awareness
    of racism and xenophobia in Russia…” To Civil Rights Defenders,
    $115,000.00 to “support the activists working in the region”. The
    Foundation “Independent Press Center” gets $60,000.00 to “focus on
    issues such as corruption, illegal actions by government officials and
    human rights violations, which would otherwise get little coverage in
    the Russian press.” To the “Interregional Association of Human Rights
    Organizations “AGORA”, $100,000.00 to “render legal and informational
    assistance to Russian activists and organizations under pressure from
    the authorities as a result of their work.” And so on: “activists” this
    and “repression” that. This, as I suggested, is only one NGO, although
    it is a big one.

    Imagine how a large, government-supported, deep-pocketed Russian NGO in
    the USA would be received if it gave substantial donations to American
    agencies to make films about America’s part in the slave trade. To study
    American racism and xenophobia, which most certainly exist. To provide
    free legal aid to dissident movements. Would the American reaction be,
    “Welcome!!! Come and show us where we’ve gone wrong!!”. Hardly. Federal
    security agencies would suggest the motive of this NGO was to sow,
    spread and nurture civil discontent. And they would be exactly right.
    Russia is perceived as a major influence in a region where the west
    would like a free hand, and I don’t think anyone would try to argue the
    financing provided to these groups is intended to help the present
    government improve living conditions for everyone so it can become more
    popular. It is a well of money designed to be drawn from to drive the
    government from power. Other countries, such as Ukraine and Georgia,
    have allowed western NGO’s to operate freely, and were given colour
    revolutions by way of thanks, not to the benefit of either. I don’t
    think it’s too unrealistic of the Russian government to be suspicious of
    liberal movements: it’s not like they have never brought grief before.

    • Eugene says:

      Hi Mark,

      Honestly, it’s not easy to see what the US funding of Russian NGOs has to do with Isaev’s anti-liberal manifesto. But having looked at the list of NGOs getting foreign funding, I felt a shame for the Russian government that can’t find money for environmentalists and people who fight against torture. At the same time, millions of $$ go to “charities” like “Russian Mir” allowing Russian bureaucrats travel around the world and throw lavish parties with local “compatriots.”

      Going back to Isaev, I’ve been following him since 2005. His solution to every problem facing the country is to tax businesses to death and then spend the resulting loot on increased pensions and salaries of state employees. This is fine: there are enough closet (and former) Commies among UR leaders. The problem is that according to Peskov, Putin — Isaev’s current party boss — is a true liberal (http://top.rbc.ru/politics/26/03/2012/643418.shtml), and Medvedev — Isaev’s likely future party boss — is considered even more liberal. Which doesn’t prevent Isaev from licking asses of both. Tell me about “between the two…is a way to go.”


      • marknesop says:

        Hi, Eugene;

        If I recall correctly, William Browder once considered Putin a liberal as well. Now he can’t revile Putin enough, and is the agitator behind the Sergei Magnitsky Act.

        I just don’t believe wide-open liberal is the way to go. I find it hard to believe that American aims at the foreign-policy level mean well for Russia and are dedicated to helping some future liberal government build a strong state that is a major influence in the region. I don’t know why; maybe it was that “Russia is our number-one geopolitical enemy” thing. I know that was probably foolish, and was likely just Romney wanting to use a six-syllable word. Then there was all the encouragement provided to the protesters to, well, go on protesting, although the group included a strong nationalist element. Or the We Heart Navalny movement, despite his somewhat radical ideas for dumping the Caucasus. But perhaps I’m just being paranoid, and Russia would suffer no ill consequences from simply throwing its arms wide and crying, “help me be better, America!!!”

        There’s a simple answer for where America can find money to give to high-profile environmental causes like Khimki Forest and Chirikova – it takes it from American environmental movements. Anyway, I can see we are far apart on this issue, and will not pursue it further.

        Best, Mark

    • Alex says:

      Hi, Mark

      So … who is the simpleminded wife in your story? Isaev, who no matter what troubles his party faces, carelessly delivers rubbish in a piece which is perceived as an official “party line”, or me (or Eugene) who no matter what, seem always ready to criticize the UR ? 🙂 (not to worry – it was a “Russian joke”)

      But just in case, let me make it clear – I absolutely do not mind any views or political/economic platforms – as long as whoever presents them makes sense. In the opus under discussion, Isaev did not, even though he could and should. In a sense, the UR represents the views of the majority of the population in Russia (whatever Churov’s definition of this is) and is responsible for the image they project.

      I am not sure if your examples of foreign interference in the Russia’s internal affairs were intended as arguments against “freedom” (or “liberalism” in Isaev’s definition). While I don’t think that the dollar amounts you quoted were anything significant considering the cost of living in the major Russian centers, I absolutely agree that such sort of activities should be controlled – not forbidden, but controlled – eg. taxed as foreign income – with full tax reports, import duties where applicable etc . A win-win situation 🙂 . (speaking of taxes – Eugene mentioned “taxing to the death” – is it true? It does not look like the Russian business tax is limiting its growth .. Maybe rather the ordinary business – under the current Government- have excessive “administrative expenses”? 🙂

      BTW, Mark, do you agree that under capitalism, the freedom of personal and political views– and more importantly –practical means to express these views in the form of democratically elected Government (preferably not composed entirely and exclusively of the owners of large businesses), is the only known tool to limit the business’ appetite for profit – and thus the only known way to ensure at least some stability? It is a necessity. (I should have mentioned the Second Amendment too:) Just in case we don’t mix up freedom and Isaev’s definition of “liberalism”, let me quote F. Engels (via Lenin): “Freedom … consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature, a control founded on knowledge of natural necessity.” 🙂
      Apologies for the overly-long comment.


      • Eugene says:


        I used to defend UR from naysayers who claimed that it was yet another doomed “party of power” project. The turning point for me was 2005 — and the so-called Letter of 21: http://www.polit.ru/article/2005/04/22/lib/ (Alex, you may want to read it and take a look at the names who signed it). Back then, attempts by UR “liberals” to establish a platform was quite rudely suppressed by Isaev and Gryzlov. I give a credit to Pligin who’s still around; the rest of the Team 21 either gone or gave up. Long ago.


        p.s. When I was talking about “taxing to death” I had in mind predominantly Isaev’s personal attitude. Fortunately, it’s not him who decides on the amount of taxes on business. It’s not actually the Duma, either, for that matter…

        • Alex says:

          Hi, Eugene

          I read the “manifesto” from your link. If my opinion of any interest – I agree with most of it, but not with everything. The most of the “not everything” includes re-considering the results of “privatization” and limiting time frame for investigating tax fraud. IMHO the latter should be limited only by the prohibitive costs of investigations going too far back in time. Otherwise, it is written quite well.

          BTW, I am impressed with your knowledge of who and how was doing what at different times in Russian “politics” – I don’t recognize names of almost all the people who signed the Address To The Party above. Considering my ignorance in this respect, I am forced to evaluate the opinions expressed by the Russian politicians “as is written” i.e. without knowledge of the author’s implicit/assumed position/platform from their previous publications . Just as if I were to review a current scientific paper submitted to a journal. I mentioned this because according to you, Isaev is almost a socialist (though, according to the previously discussed Isaev’s piece, I would classify him as a monarchist) and he is for taxing Russian business as much as possible – I am for the latter too.

          Maybe we were talking about different taxes? Eg. tax on business profits which remain in the business (or re-invested) and tax on the business profits which are “personalized” in one or another form – i.e. moved out of active business and become (or potentially become eg. when moving capital offshore) available for private spending? Obviously, the first should not be taxed at all – even encouraged – as long as the money remain in the active production, while the latter indeed – IMHO- should be “taxed to the death”. On exponential progressive scale. How much exactly is “to the death”, is a social psychology question for the specific culture and social/economic conditions. But – IMHO- a flat tax rate on personal income is a powerful stimulant to “hit and run” human and natural resource robbery and generally criminal business orientation. If businesses fail to start and develop under even moderate progressive personal income tax scheme then bad luck – you don’t want business which would develop otherwise. Go back to socialism (which would not be bad if run properly – well, IMHO : )


          PS. I though you would ask who was the implied husband in the Mark’s story 🙂

  4. Eugene says:

    Hi Mark,

    I used this opportunity to re-read the manifesto myself and was impressed again with how precisely these guys had predicted certain trends in Russia development, for example, the increase in the influence of law enforcement.

    I think it was a fair game to argue with them back in 2005 on the results of privatization and investigating tax fraud. But now — after a new class of oligarchs was created and tax cases are increasingly used for personal gains by investigators — I feel that “The 21” were generally correct.

    I don’t know all the people on the list, but know some: Makarov, Pligin, Krasheninnikov and Reznik are still in the Duma and are still the most experienced and prolific legislators. Margelov is senator and Medvedev’s personal representative in the Middle East. Kosachev left the Duma and is now head of Rosgossotrudnichestvo. Boos used to be governor in Kalinigrad; Zelenin in Tver. Both were fired. Lebedev is co-owner of Novaya Gazeta (along with Gorbachev).

    Taxes is a complex subject, no question about it. Recently, the so-called insurance tax (страховые взносы) was increased from 30 to 34% (original idea was to 36%). All the experts were against, but the Cabinet insisted. The result is that the total revenues from this tax have DECREASED because the business immediately switched to “envelopes” — surprise!

    Putin’s 13% personal flat tax is widely credited for increased tax collection back in the 2000s — and, as such, for the improved economic situation in general. However, I’d agree with you here: it’s perhaps time to start gradual introduction of progressive taxation. If not for increasing tax collection, then to address the issue of income inequality, which is becoming socially dangerous.


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