New Russian elites. Who are they and what is their role in future changes

New Russian elites. Who are they and what is their role in future changes
New Russian elites. Who are they and what is their role in future changes
22 July, 17:39Photo: Соцсети
The best way to diagnose the state of society is to look closely at the role of elites.

Grigory Khrabrov, Dmitry Makarov

How do the unspoken "leaders of society" behave? Are you ready to take responsibility, making independent, albeit difficult, decisions? Do the key people of the country have a plan, a strategy, a set of original ideas that can be offered to "the city and the world"? For all the ambiguity of their historical role, it was the elites that for many centuries acted as the foundation of any conscious changes, reforms and served as a kind of locomotive for modernization in our country.

From the point of view of political science, there are two theories of the elite: domineering and meritocratic. "Elite as power" is that part of society that occupies key managerial positions and has direct levers of administrative influence. At the same time, it does not matter at all whether these people have any personal merits or merits. The term is associated primarily with access to power.

In contrast to this literal approach, a meritocratic theory arose (from Latin meritus - worthy and Greek kratos - power, literally “power of the worthy”). It implies that at the helm of society are the brightest minds and the most healthy forces of the nation, with inner dignity and a sincere desire to act not only for the personal, but also for the common good.

Summarizing both of these approaches, we can say that the elites are the part of society that is ready to take responsibility for the development of the country. Those citizens who are able to manage changes and offer a coherent project for the development of macro-communities.

Of course, the cultivation of the elite does not happen all at once - a long tradition is needed, which, unfortunately, was constantly interrupted in our country. This topic has been seriously reflected on by various historians and various authors. For example, a historian

Felix Razumovsky, author of the cycle with the eloquent title Elite: Foundation and Dynamite of Russian Power, traces the genesis of the Russian ruling class from the time of Rurik and the calling of the Varangians. The historian especially emphasizes the contradictory nature of the relationship between the elite and the authorities, which often made the elite an antagonist of the autocracy.

Another researcher, Petersburger Daniil Kotsyubinsky, is literally now implementing the project Fatal Cycles of Russian History, which highlights the gradual devaluation of the role of the elites due to the Tatar-Mongolian influence.

According to the historian, the tradition of khan power was gradually absorbed by the Moscow autocrats, as a result of which the role of independent intellectuals was abolished. By the time of Ivan the Terrible, the elite was either expelled from the country, or continued to perform its function in the form of a simulacrum, without having an independent political subjectivity and without offering its own image of the future.

Ideally, reforms as a project of the elite should be associated with a deep understanding of the processes that are taking place in society. The task of the reforms is not to cross out the existing paradigm, but to find "living" elements in it in order to introduce them into the new model. This is exactly how Georgy Shchedrovitsky, the ideologist and founder of the Moscow Methodological Circle, tried to act in his time. The philosopher offered practical solutions and tools, including in the design of a new reality all those who were already at the helm of the economy. Discussions, games, brainstorming - all this was necessary in order to model the future and propose an algorithm of actions now. It is no coincidence that the "Shchedrovites" subsequently occupied prominent government posts.

While Aleksei Kosygin, a representative of the ruling elite, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, made futile attempts at systemic work, which, due to the architecture of the system itself, were doomed to failure, Georgy Shchedrovitsky understood the inevitability of the collapse of the Soviet system since the late 1970s.

Preparing for the worst-case scenario and looking for ways to overcome future challenges has given birth to the concept of ADI - a bold attempt at "reform from within". It was an attempt to reconfigure the thinking of the personnel nomenclature, thereby avoiding the worst scenario, which eventually came true and was associated with the total "zeroing" of the previous economic and cultural model. However, in order to change the management system, it took more time.

However, this is a good example of a meritocratic project. Many of the ideas of the methodological circle formed the basis of specific initiatives, whether it be the management model of the state corporation Rosatom or the Leaders of Russia contest. However, in general, Shchedrovitsky's line was not dominant. The so-called "young reformers" proceeded from other premises, relying more on market theory than on "thinking". The result is notorious for everyone: shock therapy, hasty economic reforms - what ultimately caused the deepest stress and depression in Russian society.

What is the mistake if reforms were inevitable?

The fact is that both the Shchedrovites and the Young Reformers, led by Yegor Gaidar, used technocratic optics. In one case, "cultural codes" were omitted as an insignificant factor against the backdrop of more global "thinking", in the other they were not taken into account at all. Everything that is connected with mentality, with mindsets, with a person's understanding of himself as a member of this community, with the image of the future - receded into the background or was completely ignored. The transition of the economy from socialist to market rails led to catastrophic consequences in the form of nationwide frustration, the consequences of which we feel today.

But how to move on to something new without stepping on the usual rake? How to offer meaningful solutions based on a deep understanding of the needs of communities, strata, classes, cohorts - all those who inhabit vast Russia? And is there any ground in today's Russia for the formation of a new, meritocratic elite capable of offering a clear and reflective project for the future?

Social navigation as an optimal action scenario

A mechanistic view of social systems, when changes are exclusively “introduced from above”, and decisions can only be made by a narrow circle of people, is the way to another dead end. In our opinion, society is a living system where decisions imposed from above cannot find unconditional approval and acceptance. If we want to find a solution, it is worth paying attention to any form of participatory practices, cooperative or collective initiatives.

In modern education, there is an approach called navigators - these are people who work with teams or communities not as experts, but as facilitators. They do not offer their knowledge, but grow their own knowledge with it, along the way helping with advice and experience in organizing such work.

The “leader as facilitator” model is about letting collective awareness emerge, rather than imposing one's position by hoisting a flag for the uninitiated masses to follow.

On the example of the Scandinavian model of governance, we see how great is the role of public organizations in determining the way and principles of life at all levels. But the Scandinavian approach is not only about the big role of NGOs or meaningful participation in political parties, it's about process-oriented politics. In practice, this means that a number of parties do not have a program written by experts or leaders. The action plan is formed in the course of direct discussions with voters, ad hoc . Decisions arise in the process of discussion in various facilitated processes. And the role of the elite is to organize these processes, to let them take place.

In order for reforms to begin to be implemented, a strategy is needed that would link the various and often disparate projects initiated by civil activists into a single meaningful canvas. The new elites are those who are ready to take responsibility for the implementation of the explicit and implicit social order. Society, in fact, itself puts forward meritocratic leaders who are the opposite of the nomenklatura elite. Acceleration of this process can be achieved by creating think tanks - hubs for the implementation of reform programs. Here the worlds and contexts will come into contact, which means that the out of oneself” necessary for a breakthrough into the future will also occur. Urbanists will get acquainted with teachers, business trackers with art curators, and owners of independent bookstores will be able to communicate with municipal deputies.

This horizontal exchange will lead to the synthesis of a new quality of thought and ideas, the development of a new language and new optics. The value of such collaborations is in expanding the point of view necessary to take into account all interests and make a truly inclusive approach. Different worlds need, first of all, a space for interaction - and clear principles for the exchange of content. In this sense, an expert hub can take on the function of facilitation and navigation. And in the future - to act as a communicator with executive authorities, which in the future will become customers of such projects.

If we see the results of emergent social processes already today, then navigational support will help to accelerate and strengthen such processes.

All of this is reminiscent of the strategy-as-pattern approach described by business literature classic Henry Mintzberg. And this is one of the possible participatory forms, which is also possible in Russia. Where already today there are different communities of facilitators (Svyat Murunov's School of City Moderators) - they call themselves differently and are not always aware of this role in public processes, but they deal with important issues "from within the problem". For example. rethinking urban spaces or local environmental policies, opposing hazardous industries, landfills, etc.

These are also living processes that may not be noticeable against the backdrop of the global media agenda, but they are happening everywhere, and this manifests the process of collective awareness and identity construction. It is often at the local level that innovative practices are born invisibly and imperceptibly. And the next task is to support these processes, including relying on established institutions.

An example is the Moscow Helsinki Group. On the one hand, it is an established institution, a mastodon of the human rights movement, and on the other hand, an organization ready to support civil and human rights initiatives that have just appeared. And in this connection of traditions and institutions, this is the very emergent practice that helps bridge the gap between the experience of previous generations and the young, pulsating energy of today's activists.

The question is not that the new system completely negates the old one. The question is to see in the old something that can support the emergence of the new. And this, in particular, is a facilitator's function.

If we move to a practical plane, then these can be various forms of urban forums where urban policy and grassroots initiatives are discussed. What urban space might look like: What should be the educational programs of our society, both for children and adults?

What solutions do we see for breaking social systems, be it education, medicine, urban space, courts, police.

For a long time, the Moscow Helsinki Group has been engaged in applied forms of activism, launching various campaigns of civil control.

For example, citizens' assessment of the state of justice is the most important element of justice itself. Even if the basic procedural forms are observed, but this is perceived as an unfair decision, then such a court cannot satisfy the public interest. It's the same with the police. You can say as much as you like that the only possible reform is to completely dissolve the outdated systems of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and collect new employees. But isn't this a more utopian view than saying to ourselves our police are our responsibility and, proceeding from this postulate, exercise civilian control?

All of the above is an attempt to "pull" people into the space of subjectivity and agency. When the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is not something that was "launched from above", justified by expert opinions and put on the table, but a living demand in society to reduce police violence.

Finding a way to express this request by launching public discussions on this topic is the task that the so-called political and cultural elites must now solve.

It should be a practical tool that works with a real request. The chance for change lies in a multidisciplinary dialogue.

From what has been said, there are two important needs. First, it is necessary to establish a mechanism for continuous monitoring of various requests from society. And secondly, to ensure the connection of activist leaders to a single media and information environment, where it would be possible to exchange acquired skills and tools. Whatever sphere of life this may concern - the courts, education, business development, health care - it is important that public organizations that coordinate the activities of various activists become subjects of politics.

In fact, we are talking about improving the institution of Public Councils, qualitatively updating their role, composition and principles of work.

There should be a community of practitioners who have experience of change, regardless of the scale and level of projects they have implemented.

The main role of such leaders-facilitators is to force the very social agenda that we are talking about. Do not try to predict it, but hear the real request.

In a sense, this is a supra-political task that puts the individual and his needs at the center, rather than the needs of the elites.

Business and entrepreneurs are an important agent of change

So, the new ones - meritocratic elites - are all those who put forward their own initiatives, and the projects themselves need a clear and recognizable media image, as well as a marketing frame. The reform market is, in general, an ordinary competitive market, where there are various proposals of different quality. And those of the projects that will be the most convincing and satisfying the common interests will be selected. But, more importantly, everything is not limited to one plan and program - it is very important to bring what was planned to life so that specific actions bring measurable results.

And here it makes sense to look at the experience of business and the practice of implementing the strategy in life with a comprehensive reassembly of organizational processes.

What has long been an axiom for business circles is still know-how in the practice of reforming state institutions. Therefore, the transfer of knowledge and methods is the most important element for the success of any hypothetical transformations.

Customer experience design, business modeling, "theory of work", the concept of "disruptive innovation", "lean start-up" - these and many other models that have been successfully tested with products and organizations should be transferred to the plane of public goods infrastructure. If we consider any initiative that comes directly from people who are interested in making specific changes happen, we can interpret them as a kind of start-ups. They have an idea, there is some kind of prototype of this idea, but they need to be given a methodological basis and help the growth of their initiatives, protect them from typical mistakes, and at the same time provide them with access to investments, to mentoring and markets.

New elites are those who have a specific change project, which means that you take responsibility, manage processes and have a development strategy. And this applies to business at all levels.

For example, development companies could take on the role of agents of change, helping the development of people through the launch of local entrepreneurship support institutions. Building another microdistrict for thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of people, it is necessary not only to equip courtyards, boulevards and playgrounds.

It is important to create an infrastructure for the development and disclosure of the potential of the people who will live here, the capitalization of their talents and abilities. For the developers themselves, this means a new business model, where a startup accelerator for residents or a cultural center become independent units in the organizational structure. Such an approach, which we call D2D - "developer for development" - will allow launching "grassroots" initiatives aimed at transforming the environment around at all levels - from everyday to mental, and the development companies themselves will become locomotives for the development of territories than they, in general, then, and must be according to the definition.

The fact is that entrepreneurship is not just a business as a profit. It is a form of thinking that tells us that we are taking responsibility for our lives into our own hands.

Going beyond etatism, which is accepted in our society as a dominant approach, to the ability to rely on oneself is a good mission in order to launch such changes.

The School of Life and Practice is still the best of schools, and if we approach the issue with fresh ideas and tools, it is worth inviting not those who have a diploma from a prestigious Western university or MBA, but those who were able to create and develop their own business project in the most unfavorable conditions of Putin's Russia.

Civil activists have a lot to learn from entrepreneurs, but activists themselves have a lot to give to the entrepreneurial community. On the one hand, no meaningful action is possible in the absence of resources. This means that it is necessary to establish a dialogue with already established business structures. On the other hand, business needs meanings, values, a moral basis - these are the perpetual motion machines of the human rights movement. The connection of these worlds is the key to future changes. To the discovery of the very subjectivity, where we independently make efforts to transform the space in which we live.

The crisis of creative ideas among the current elites was predetermined by the fact that they do not think entrepreneurially, are absolutely dependent on all levels and are not accustomed to moral responsibility.

An important conclusion that we can draw from this reasoning is that in business, in entrepreneurship, as in social activity, the ethical component is important. The same moral core, without which neither knowledge nor intention will bring a creative result. In the Aristotelian triad "logos", "pathos", "ethos" none of the elements can be excluded. Whatever we do, each project must be associated with an understanding of our responsibility to those people for whom it is being done.

An elite deprived of the dimension of transparency and honesty, not ready to work in a eudaimonic way, is not an elite at all.

Modern Russia needs, first of all, a cultural reform agenda. Shifting focus from a "pure economy" to a model of interaction between people.

In a sense, these processes have already begun. We see many spontaneous communities, places of horizontal coordination of efforts, projects and opportunities. Global Russians, who have put the concept of the "Russian world" of Peter Shchedrovitsky into practice, are successfully interacting anywhere in the world, creating new services and tools for mutual support. Creative change occurs without any support from the authorities, which is successfully replaced by the holacratic concept of situational leadership. And these global changes will certainly affect what is happening inside the country.

A decent life here and now, not for future generations. Happy and lively cities, quality medicine and education - the recipe is well known.

The historical, primordial understanding of elites is connected with the idea of serving people. All privileges were aimed only at ensuring that representatives of a special class could free up enough time to consciously devote themselves to educating themselves as the best. Strengthening the mind, physical skills, education of honor and valor - all this was necessary only in order to act for the common good.

The elites consciously chose the duty of service to future generations without isolating themselves from their nation.

We see that the reforms that the new elites can propose are connected with the opportunity to finally feel at home in their country. The vast expanses on which Russia is spread have brought to life a special type of mentality. Here everyone feels like a wanderer, who is at a transit point on the road from his native Uryupinsk through Moscow to a beautiful foreign country. Only when Russia becomes a place with which you want to connect your future and the future of your children, everything will really change. But this is possible only through the emergence (and manifestation) of civil subjectivity.

- This reflection is aimed at finding a way for the gradual renewal of the elites. We have yet to seriously think about how we can approach in a more structured way to help the different people who are interested in these changes to get involved in the process and get full support.

about the project

Reformer is a laboratory of social innovations. The project aims to study the strategy of change aimed at finding a new cultural identity and accelerating evolutionary processes in society.

About the authors:

Grigory Khrabrov, Reformer community coordinator, creative director of Evolut

Dmitry Makarov, contributor of the Reformer community, co-chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group

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