Socio-political conflict in Russia: the state and prospects

Kozyrev, Gennadiy I., Moscow.

Socio-political conflict in Russia: the state and prospects

Specifics of socio-political conflict

Socio-political conflict as if combines in itself both social and political conflicts, each of which separately is used for solving of «its own» problem. Besides, different in their qualitative characteristics parties (subjects) confront each other in those conflicts. The main differences of social conflict from political one are as follows:

  1. In social conflict confrontation takes place between social subjects (individuals, groups, social organizations, movements and institutes). In political conflict the same takes place between subjects of policy (political parties, political (state) institutes, states). It cannot be ruled out that transformation social subject into political and vice versa takes place in the course of development of both social and political conflict.
  2. The objects of social conflict (in a narrow sense) are social interest, needs, values, social statuses, etc. The integral object political conflict is political (state) power and relations of power.

Since socio-political conflict combines in itself both social and political conflicts, then both social and political subject may interact and counteract therein simultaneously. But the subject matter of such conflict may be simultaneously social and political interests.

Thus, socio-political conflict is confrontation of two or more social and political subjects (parties) resulting from incompatible socio-political interests, objectives and values directly or indirectly connected with political (state) power. It is any social conflict affect political relationship and/or for settlement of which it is necessary to use political methods and means. For example, if in the course of any strike of employees of a large enterprise or the whole industry turn out to be impossible to solve social (economic) problems underlying a conflict then such strike may be transformed into a political action with political requirements (for example, resignation of a governor, the government, the president). But political this action cannot become political one until it will «force» government institutions to solve arising problems by political methods.

One of conflicting parties in a socio-political conflict is represented by large social groups (labor teams, retired persons, young people, population of a region, ethnoses, etc.), as well as social institutes, and political ones opposed to the power (parties, trade unions, social and political movements). The other party to a socio-political conflict is the ruling political regime or some of its institutes.

The common object for the both conflicting parties in a socio-political conflict is political power. But either of the parties may have its own subject matter in such conflict. For example, for subjects of policy (state and its institutes, political parties) the object of any conflict is the state power, and the subject matter thereof are the limits of power authorization. For social subjects of a socio-political conflict political power is not, as a rule, the goal in and of itself (subject matter) in such conflict. Power (public authorities, officials) is considered here only as the cause of arising social problems and/or as a method (means) for achievement of desired social purposes. But in certain conditions social subjects may be transformed into political ones and to lay claim to political power also.

Socio-political conflict may be considered as one of forms of political conflict. But there are certain differences between those conflicts in the nature of problems to be solved and qualitative characteristics of conflicting parties. In political conflict (in a narrow sense) formal subjects of policy (state institutes and organizations, political parties, political leaders) confront each other.

Formal subjects of policy (professionals) usually do not wish to involve large social groups in political conflicts, since this may result in destabilization of the political system. They strive to monopolize political activity and, in the opinion of P. Bourdieu, to produce political product meeting, first of all, the interests of monopolists themselves. For example, in the last 10 years the legislative bodies of Russia (the State Duma and the Federation Council) adopted, and the President of the RF approved a number of laws and legislative acts prejudicing substantially the rights of average citizens and expanding the rights of the ruling class. For example, 52 article of the RF Criminal Code providing for confiscation of illegally acquired property was abolished (without any special publicity) at the end of 2003. «The law on monetization of benefits» deteriorating considerably the economic situation of millions of individuals being in need of social protection was passed in 2004. The Water Code of the Russian Federation legitimizing construction of villas on the shores of rivers and ponds was passed in 2006. The Forestry Code passed in 2009 is also scandalous. This and similar «lawmaking» of the ruling regime enables future socio-political conflict.

Thus, it may be stated that political conflict (in a narrow sense) is small-scale in comparison with socio-political one. Usually it arises and develops within the limits of the function political system, which may be «narrowed down» to the minimum limits, in which case people «keeps silence» and does not prevent the ruling class in exercise of its power and use of the country’s resources for solving its own problems.

But if in the country exists real opposition to the ruling class, which can initiate political conflicts both in the political system itself and outside of it then the limits of the political system expand. Real opposition to the authorities strives to give a political tone to any contradictions in any sphere of the society and so «to force» the ruling class «to fight» in the «alien» socio-political field which is uncomfortable for the former. It strives also to enlist sympathies of social actors (large social groups). Thus, political conflict may be transformed into a socio-political one.

Another variant of origination of socio-political conflict is the situation wherein social subjects dissatisfied with the policy of the ruling regime, initiate themselves socio-political conflict. For example, retired persons and other social strata dissatisfied with enactment of the Law on monetization of benefits (January, 2005) forced public authorities by their mass protests to reconsider and improve this Law. In June, 2009 people of Pikalevo in Leningrad region dissatisfied with closure of the township-forming enterprises blocked off a federal highway and forced the RF Government to solve the problem using political methods.

Depending on the scope, forms of confrontation and applied means, socio-political conflicts may be classified on the following bases: 1) local (regional) – large-scale (nationwide); 2) non-violent (meetings, strikes, manifestations, marches, etc.) – violent (revolt, civil war); 3) system conflicts (not supposing replacement of the ruling regime of power) – regime conflicts (supposing replacement of the ruling regime of power).

If a regime socio-political conflict presuppose deep qualitative transformation of all spheres of life activities of the society and state then it is named social revolution. The Great October revolution of 1917 in Russia and the Islamic revolution in Iran (January, 1978 – February, 1979) may exemplify such conflicts.

2. Subjects (parties) of socio-political conflict The issue of the kind of social actors who may be transformed into political subjects and form a conflicting party able to confront the existing political regime is very topical for modern Russia.

Political science assumes differentiation of the notions of «subject of policy» and «political subject». For any subject of policy political activity is principal. State, political parties, political institutes and organizations, political leaders may be attributed to this category. The category of political subjects include those persons who forced be engaged in politics apart from their principal activities (average citizens, social groups, public organizations, etc.) .

In accordance with the current Constitution of the RF (article 3), «1. The bearer of sovereignty and the sole source of power in the Russian Federation shall be its multinational people. 2. The people shall exercise its power directly, as well as through State government bodies and local self-government bodies». However, it should be realized that subject of law and political subject are not identical notions. This article of the Constitution confirms the right of the people to exercise its power, including direct exercise thereof. But it cannot impart the qualities of a subject to people the majority of whom are bearers of the loyalist political culture.

Political authorities are gained in the course of political struggle. Social or political actor evading political struggle cannot be a subject of socio-political conflict. As a rule, such «subject» loses also the status of a subject. For example, A. Akaev, the president of Kirgizia, striving to evade bloodshed during public disturbances (in the spring of 2005) left the country and lost the president’s position. Nicholas II abdicated in February, 1917; he was a subject of socio-political conflict and became a victim thereof. Citizens (according to the Constitution) unable or not wishing to protect their interests are the subjects tolerating any arbitrary treatment on the part of the ruling class.

The tragedy of the modern Russian society lies in the fact that the majority of the Russians because of their passivity, the lack of organization, the lack of trust in the possibility to affect political process do not wish to take part in policy. For example, only 19% of respondents asked in the course of questioning of the Russians conducted by Levada-Center in February, 2010 answered the question: «Are You ready personally to take more active part in policy?» as follows: «certainly yes / to a certain extent yes »; 77% of them answered: «rather no than yes / certainly no» to this question. This data is identical to the same obtained in the course of similar questioning in February, 2006. Hence, even the economic crisis failed to «force» the Russians to increase their political activity. One of the causes of political passivity of the Russians is the fact that 85% of respondents consider that they cannot affect governmental decision making in the country. This being the case, the highest passivity, according to expert opinion, is demonstrated by the Russian students, i.e. the social stratum, which is the most active participant of socio-political processes in developed democracies. The highest activity was also demonstrated by students and other young people in people’s uprisings, which took place in the beginning of 2011 in a number of countries in North Africa.

A serious problem for the Russian society is the lack of legitimate political leaders constituting real opposition to the authorities and able to support wide strata of Russian citizens. So-called «systemic oppositionists» like Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov, have long ago became inherent attributes of the ruling regime, which uses them extremely efficiently in order to let off periodically excess pressure from «the boiler of the people's wrath». «Non-systemic oppositionists» like E. Limonov, G. Kasparov and B. Nemtsov, because of their marginality, eccentricity or past «sins», are unable to attract in their ranks wide social strata of citizens.

The absence in the Russian political field of any significant opposition leaders is conditioned, in particular, by preventive actions of the ruling regime, which strive to prevent the appearance and formation of such leaders. For this purpose the authorities provide wide field of activities such pseudo opposition leaders like V. Zhirinovsky, other persons are attracted by them by senior positions and academic ranks (D. Rogozin, N. Belykh, S. Glazyev), the activities of third group of persons (E. Limonov, G. Kasparov, B. Nemtsov) are discredited and restricted in every possible way. But the main reason for the lack of significant opposition leaders in the Russian society is insufficient maturity of the civil society itself. The main social base of civil society in industrially developed democracies is the middle class, which constitutes the majority of population (from 60% to 80%). The class is also opponent the upper middle class, high official and a part of the lower social strata inclined to extremism. Besides, the middle is the main productive force in the society able to work intensely, to learn new information, to be engaged in creative work, educate new generations of citizens, etc.

However in Russia over the period of the last 15 years the share of the middle class in the social structure of population ranges from 14 to 25%. This being the case, in certain periods of time after small increase of the middle class follows usually its reduction. Thus, within the period from 2003 to 2006 the share of the middle class in the country decreased from 25% to 20%. The point is that the ruling political regime crated socioeconomic, political and legal condition unfavorable for development of the middle class. Taxation existing in Russia does not facilitate the development of small and medium business. The facts of criminal outrage in Kuschevskaya Cossack village, Krasnodar Territory, in Gus-Khrustalny, Vladimir region and other regions of the country which came into the public domain in the autumn of 2010 evidence that gangsters, a considerable part of defense and law enforcement agencies and corrupted officials joined forces in the fight for liquidation of the middle class and civil society. For example, in the course of investigation of tragic events which took place in Kuschevskaya Cossack village the Federal Protection Service (FPS) came to the conclusion that «the structure of management» of population in this Cossack village was formed and functions throughout the country. «Executives manage with the help of criminals the territories of the country they are entrusted with». It is needless to speak under such conditions about the development of the middle class and civil society.

As for formation of legal culture, then the behavior of the ruling class may be compared here with the behavior of negligent parents whose way of life is immoral, but, at the same time, they require chastity from the children educated by them. The overwhelming majority of citizens of Russia consider that it is legislative bodies and public officials which do not observe the laws developed by themselves and force other people to observe the same. For example, according to a survey, 76% of respondents find oneself unprotected from arbitrary treatment on the part of the authorities, 65% consider that many officials today disobey Russian laws. Therefore, in the opinion of 60% of citizens, they are unable to protect their rights in the event of violation thereof. In the last 10 years the ruling political regime «trample down» purposefully infirm yet sprouts of young Russian democracy, both in the political system itself and in the socio-political field of civil society. As a result of that, there are no political parties, which are real opposition to the ruling class, in Russia now. It is difficult recollect substantial enough public protest organized during this period and headed by any particular political party opposed to the authorities. Hence, it is unreasonable to expect that any political party able to initiate and head a large-scale socio-political conflict will appear in Russia in the nearest future.

As for initiatives coming from the civil society itself, then there is slow, but steady growth of protest movements in Russia in the last 5 – 6 years. The reasons for such actions are: deterioration of socioeconomic situation for the majority of people in the country, growth of community charges, increasing gap between revenues of «the poor» and «the rich», aggravation inter-ethnic relations, alienation of people from power, arbitrary treatment on the part of security, law enforcement and defense authorities, provoking behavior of top-ranking civil servants. But protest actions of any particular social groups are of adaptive, «self-protective» and not offensive nature. When people are afraid to lose something they possess. Many of those actions may be characterize as: «gesture of despair» - the events in Pikalevo; «massive protest» - public protests of the Russians against monetization of benefits; «actions of defiance towards arbitrary behavior of officials» – the fight of car drivers against flicker devices; «social protest» - events in Moscow and other cities in December, 2010.

3. Prospects of socio-political conflict in Russia

But, suppressing in every possible way democratic opposition, the ruling regime did not pay sufficient attention to newly-emerging ethnic extremism and racial intolerance. Moreover, not preventing illegal migration and not fighting properly against ethnic criminal groups, public authorities facilitated the growth of inter-ethnic tension and extremism. For example, according to the data from the RF General Prosecutor Office, 130 acts of extremism were performed in the territory of the Russian Federation in 2004, 152 in 2005, 230 in 2006, 356 in 2007, 460 in 2008, 548 in 2009. According to estimates human rights activist organizations, during the first half of the year 2010 90 attacks owing to aggressive xenophobia were fixed in the country as a whole, 22 people died and 105 were wounded. 36 people died and 550 were wounded in inter-ethnic clashes during the year 2010.

A kind of «the moment of truth» occurred on December 11, 2010. This day about 5 – 6 thousand soccer fans (and not only fans) arrived to Manezhnaya square in Moscow with the requirement to the authorities to put things right in enforcement bodies. During several days similar actions took place also in other large cities in the country (Saint Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Bryansk, Krasnoyarsk, etc.). The reason for such unauthorized action became the fact that enforcement bodies released from investigatory isolation ward a group of immigrants from Caucasus suspected of the murder of Egor Sviridov, a Spartak fan. But the actual reason for that socio-political protest initiated by friends of the killed young man became absolute corruptness and inefficiency of the entire system of state administration and infringement of laws by the authorities existing in the country.

In the course of development of the socio-political protest it was joined by various nationalist and extremist groups, and the nature of the conflict became ethno-political. The main hatred of protesters disposed to extremism was transformed into beating of persons with non-Slavic appearance, which gave many analysts and politicians (including chief executives of the state) a reason for naming xenophobia and extremism as the major causes of the massive protest. However, such point of view regarding the causes of protest, in our opinion, is true only in part. It is expedient, first of all, for the ruling regime of power. It is more simple to accuse tens of thousands of teen-agers and young people of ill breeding than to admit corruptness and inefficiency of the power itself. But many analysts accused the ruling regime of the events which took place on December, 11 and during several days after that in Moscow and other cities in the country. For example, in the opinion of Ilya Yashin, the chairman of the federal bureau of «Solidarnost» movement, «corruption and lawlessness, impossibility to achieve justice legitimately path provoke revolt and mob punishment».

Notwithstanding ethnic coloration of mass actions in December, 2010, the main causes of those actions were social contradictions. For example, according to the data obtained as a result of questioning of the Russians conducted by Levada-Center on December 24, 2010, the overwhelming majority of respondents named as the main cause of the December events impunity of disorderly person and criminal, i. e. those who, using money and contacts evade responsibility. In this connection 37% of respondents agree completely with this point of view, and 39% of the same agree in principle. Such reason as: strong stratification of the society, unsettled state of young people, the lack of prospects and inequality of chances for the Russians in Russia ranked second in the number of those who named it (33 and 35% of votes, respectively). Defiant and violent behavior of newcomers themselves (29 and 38% of votes) ranked third. Such reasons as: 1) provocations of ultra-nationalists and extremists; 2) criminal ethnic groups «covered» by law enforcement bodies and bureaucrats ranked only fourth among the causes of mass protests (28 and 37% of votes).

Thus, the overwhelming majority of the Russians consider ethnic antagonisms as a consequence of ineffective and sometimes criminal policy of the ruling regime, and not a «all-sufficient» cause of mass protests. Therefore December events in Russia must be considered, first of all, as socio-political protest of the Russians directed against socioeconomic, legal, inter-ethnic policy conducted by the ruling regime.

According to the data from a survey conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 11% of the Russians do not exclude their own participation in mass protest actions. On a national scale this is large enough number of people able, in the event of their organize action, to force the ruling regime to meet the requirements of the civil society. But to declare their «eventual participation» in an action and real participation therein are different things. There are no efficient socio-political institutes of self-organization of people in Russia now. Presumably, only soccer fans whose organizations are stable and exist over a period of several decades can call to the streets several thousands of people in an orderly manner. But those organizations are under control of state and other political forces not oppositional thereto. Many social strata try to carry out self-organization for protection of certain «particular» interest. For example, among them are «car drivers of Russia», «defenders of the Khimki Forest», «deceived investors», etc. The purposes of such social movements are of local nature.

The situation being what it is now when the growth of protest moods is observed in the society, but legitimate opposition institutes and leaders able to give the organized nature to spontaneous protest actions of the Russians are absent, the growing social tension may provoke «the Russian revolt, senseless and ruthless». Such «revolt» may be also classified as «socio-political conflict». But this conflict is already not institutionalized, but absolute (according to L. Kozer), in which the fight is conducted without any rules, perhaps, for extinction of each other by the parties. If social tension in Russian society will surpass the tolerance threshold then next thoughtless or criminal action of law enforcement bodies or an escapade of extremists may become a reason for such conflict. The reason for the conflict is poor response of the authorities to the main demands of the society.

People's rebellions in January-February, 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries of North Africa and Near East were started according to the scenario described above in many respects. Undoubtedly, Russia is not Africa. But their problems are similar in many respects, and the theory of origin and development of socio-political conflict is the same for all of them. In order to prevent development of socio-political conflict in Russia according to the Tunisian or Libyan scenario, the ruling regime must support development of the institutes of civil society (including oppositional ones), start real fight against corruption, first of all, in its own ranks, and respond more adequately to the main demands of the society.

  1. Bourdieu P. Sociology of politics. – M. P. 184-185.
  2. On specifics political and social revolution. See: Kozyrev G.I. Political conflictology. M., 2008. P. 286 – 293.
  3. See: General and applied politology. M., 1997. P. 514.
  4. Constitution of the Russian Federation. Article 3. M., 2004. P. 2.
  5. Cherepova P. Relationship between society and state in the eyes of the Russians //
  6. Ibid.
  7. Novikova I. No wisdom like silence. Why political activity of the Russian students is practically non-existent // Novie Izvestiya, December 21, 2010
  8. The middle class in modern Russia. M., 2008. P. 18.
  9. Kuschevskaya» Russia // Argumenty nedeli. 49 (238), December 16, 2010. P. 3.
  11. Dudin B. Institutes, networks, rituals // Pro et Contra. 2-3 (41), March-June, 2008. P. 24.
  12. Pogroms in Moscow: radicalism or the majority’s attitude // Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 17, 2010. P. 5.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Revolt at the Kremlin walls // Argumenty i fakty. No. 50, 2010. P.4.


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