Gregory Kiselev: Monographs & Articles

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 A Tragedy of Society and Individual.
An Attempt at Thinking Over the Experience of Soviet History

Summary

The aim of G. Kiselev’s monograph A Tragedy of Society and Individual. An Attempt at Thinking Over the Experience of Soviet History is to offer a theoretically wholesome interpretation of contemporary Russian history without dividing its two main subjects-society and individual.

The methodological basis of the book is the principle of phi­losophical dualism according to which an individual lives not only in the social world but also in the ideal, superhuman world. The author proceeds from the prerequisite that an individual is concurrently active at two historical levels: the social level, since he creates civilization, and the spiritual level, since he creates cul­ture. The life of any society and any member of society is the result of interaction between culture and civilization. But not every individual is in possession of a high spirit capable of creating culture: an undeveloped spirit creates a quasi-culture. The bearers of a high spirit comprise the cultural elite: they are not “people of the mass” but “people of culture”.

Their participation in society takes various forms. Besides, both civilization and culture are subject to various outside influen­ces. This is why any society faces the contradiction between cul­ture and civilization. How is this contradiction being formed in contemporary Russian history?

In its first part the book criticizes those approaches to analyzing the past of Russia which proceed from monistic premises. They are primarily the fundamentalist concepts which are reduced to spiritualization of such social phenomena as nation, state, and even monarchy. Social development follows in this case not the laws of its own but the will of free spirit. As a result, the social affinity as an autonomous sphere of universe is actually eliminated. On the other hand, the author reveals the mythological nature of theories built by official Soviet historiography, according to which Russia has had a Marxist “Socialist revolution”-an a priori monistic concept. It is shown that in both cases practical application of a monistic principle leads to violence with respect to society and individual.

The book offers a theoretical assay on the development of Russian civilization with the use of the latest achievements of social science, including that on the “third world”. Firstly, it is the idea of power-property as the basic type of social link in traditional non-European societies when political power becomes the subject of property and power, while the object is represented by the pro­ductive forces including individual himself. Hence the maximum lowering of the individual’s status and social role, the extreme forms of the individual’s political non-freedom.

Secondly, it is the idea of state property as the primary social relation reflecting the synthetic condition of society, when market relations and the capitalist structure evolving in the course of mo­dernization do not expell power-property but form together with the latter a hybrid of a sort. An important part in this “hybrid” for­mation is still played by the appropriation of an individual as an element of a system of productive forces, with all the consequences for the individual.

It has been proved by the author that in the course of this century Russia’s social history has been reduced to rendering the economy of society and individual at the disposal of state, i. e., to emergence of a totalitarian regime. This has been presented ideo­logically as “communization of the means of production” in accor­dance with the Marxist theory of succession of socio-economic structures and of building socialism. Hence the conclusion: from the point of view of its objective content, Gorbachev’s perestroika con­stitutes the beginning of disintegration of totalitarianism and crea­tion of prerequisites for a civic and law-governed state in the future. Among the factors which hold up the process we should first of all mention the tenacity of state property as primary social rela­tion supported by human degradation since individual is a social being by nature.

What are the peculiarities of a social individual, the creator of contemporary Soviet civilization? Part two of the book starts with a search for an answer to this question. It is devoted to a detailed analysis of those features of social character of Russian and Soviet individual which stand in the way of establishing a civic society and a law-governed state. He is not simply a “mass­ produced individual” of our time but a new “Moscow individual” (according to Fedotov), in whom the social features of Russian lower classes are not only combined with the mass-totalitarian trends of the contemporary world, but have actually brought about the “uprising of the masses” invoked by Ortega y Gasset, the uprising that had taken place and succeeded only in Russia. As the result of the revolution and civil war the nation’s active and creative potential has been almost completely destroyed.

Similarly to the Western “mass individual”, the contemporary “Moscow individual”, the bearer of quasi- and pseudo-culture, is flourishing on the soil of confident and thoughtless possession of all the achievements of technological civilization and the society socio-political setup. But the crisis of communism pulls that rug from under the feet of that individual. Unlike his Western counter­ part, the new “Moscow individual”, being totally dependent on the political and socio-economic system (as determined by the very nature of the state-ridden society) now finds himself virtually left to the mercy of fate. He is incapable of doing anything without the conditions he is accustomed to but which are fast disappearing. He has no motivation not only for labor but even for recreating his former social role and “normal” social relations. This is why society in this country is fast losing the features of human society. Hence the immorality, crime, totalitarian conscience, which repre­sent major obstacles in the way of Soviet society transformation. All this acquires the form of a profound and tragic gap between culture on the one hand, and pseudo-and quasi-culture, on the other.

What is then the part played by the moral-intellectual elite in this context? This is the subject of the book’s final chapters. A suggestion is put forward to the effect that in the process of individual’s social, political and economic emancipation in the society of the time of technological revolution and revolution in information, there comes to the fore the contradiction between the society as such and the tasks of individual’s spiritual and intellec­tual perfection. Hindering this perfection, the society tries to thrust upon individual behavioral models of a “partial individual”, to in­ still into his conscience the concepts of mythological conscience.

One such concept is represented by the myth of self-sufficiency of society for building the kingdom of good and justice, the ideal society. But this society has the nature of an eschatological dream and it is unrealizable in social life. Attempts to create such a so­ciety on earth may only result in the nightmarish anti-utopias of the type of Oświęcim and GULAG.

This is why an intellectual functioning in a society should first of all know the real opportunities of his function. Secondly, he should have precise scientific data on the nature of this particular society. Only then would he be able to act, “playing up” to the laws of history according to which the society is developing.

Thus the prophetic and creative role of moral-intellectual elite in contemporary Russian society becomes extremely important. This elite alone is capable of mapping the ways for survival of Russian ethno-social organism under conditions of the ongoing cri­sis of communist system on the one hand, and the mounting attack on this elite of pseudo- and quasi-culture, on the other.