From Confrontation to Social Contract. 1991

In: Social Science. University of California Press. 1991

From Confrontation to Social Contract

Oleg G. Rumiantsev

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Mm are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these Rights Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form a/Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." From the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, July 4, 1776

Perestroika has intensified sleeping antagonisms—social, national, and culture-historical. But a special conflict of a more general sort lies behind them. It splinters social consciousness, confronting two con­cepts with each other. There "they" are—and here are "we." The inevitability of this confrontation, as well as its prevention, depends in large part on our perception of what lies behind this division. Reform is suffering from an ever greater arrythmia. People are tired of the tor­menting questions: "who is to blame" and "what is to be done." It is becoming increasingly clear that the real question is: how is it to be done? An escape from the dangerous mindset of civil war and an arrival at the realia of a civil peace is possible, but the given path is difficult. It lies along the route of a social contract—between "them" and "us."1

The Awakening of Civil Society

In the camp of state socialism a social ferment is underway. A second society, a parallel polls, unofficial movements, oppositions—these are

1. About the concepts "them" and "us," and also for the "games" of perestroika and its "players," see Oleg Rumiantsev, "Authoritarian Modernization and the Social-Democratic Alternative," Social Research (Summer 1990).


signs of purification. The liveliness of informal movements, the solidifi-cation of independent social structures—in this lies the uniqueness of the present stage ofperestroika.

The displacement of social diversity to the periphery of public life resulted in a sort of massive internal emigration. Establishing the links between citizens and the surrounding world, the system restricts the right to autonomous self-affirmation in a given social environment. It cannot cope, however, with its adopted role of absolute "spokesman for the interests of all the members of society," since, in reality, it only destroys the society itself.

Perestroika is an initial, but crucial stage in the political socializa­tion of the masses. The self-organization of an atomized people is a step on the road to its transformation into a society. Conditions are being created for a rapid and improved combination of two hypostases of man, who finally may become not only a beautiful and whole biological being, but also a free, cultured, sovereign social subject, actively enjoy­ing his civil status. We are not speaking here of a "new man," but of a rational one.

After a century of oblivion, the problem of the dichotomy, "state vs. civil society," has returned to the arena of socio-political ideas. This is especially true in the countries of Eastern Europe, where the one-party system has systematically extracted and destroyed structures alien to it, waging war against society. For this reason the concept of civil society became a central one in the works of the ideologues of the self-organizing movements.

The diversity of interpretations of civil society can be reduced to three types: a) a world of interests (according to Locke, Hegel, Weber, and others); b) a broad interpretation of society as the aggregate of all social groups and ties, independent of the state; c) a narrow, politically honed concept of civil society as the product of the purposeful self-organization of socially active forces.

Civil society is a realm in which the natural human yearning for a deeper reflection of reality manifests itself. It is a mistake to view the goal of independent movements as protest against or criticism of the system. They are essentially governed by a serious task: independently to receive, process, master, develop, and transmit adequate information about the external world, about their own past, and about themselves. This occurs in discussions, in independent publications, in extra-parliamentary forms of pressure on the powers-that-be (beginning with meetings and ending with warning strikes); and also in participation in the electoral struggle.

The primary trait is a striving towards complete emancipation; inci­dentally, this is the essence of every revolution. Social emancipation can be observed on several planes.

As Timothy Garron Ash correctly notes, the first is civil society's comprehension of its past. Attention to life in the past includes an interest in pre-Communist history, in former political, culture-historical, and regional ties, in past and present national minorities. Various move­ments are arising: cultural-enlightenment ones (like "Memorial"), national-patriotic ones ("Pamiat" and others), national liberarionists (the National Fronts in the Baltic), and others.

It would be a simplification to label this phenomenon as "national­ism"; it is more complex. An independent view of the past is fundamen­tally important. Alienation from traditions and cultural ties, a com­plete dissociation from the past, was a part of official ideology and policy. Power over memory and the manipulation of the past are among the typical traits of the system. For this reason a turn towards the past becomes for the informal movements a specific path of liberation from the legacy of the system.

The current idealization of the past is also a reaction to the crisis of the present. The effort to achieve a national-patriotic consolidation in order to counterbalance a collapsing, false socio-political unity is an act of defiance of imperial pseudo-internationalism.

Nevertheless, concentrated attention to the national experience is frequently accompanied by conservatism and enters into conflict with the aspirations of the liberal opposition, which has a pro-Western orientation. The contradictions are especially acute in our country of Russia, where philosophical skirmishes have sharpened abruptly be­tween the two main currents of social thinking: between the Western-izers and the national fundamentalists (pochvennikt). The majority of the democratic movement has a liberal-constitutional character and is fight­ing for the openness of Russia. The true cultural rebirth of Russia is possible only by means of a rapprochement between these currents. Without such a rapprochement we will long remain atop the smoking powder barrel of a fruitless and exhausting internal rivalry.

Another plane is that of the independent culture. It can play the role of

 a "moral counter-power" outside the realm of the "establishment." Culture becomes the milieu of independent politics. An ethics of spiri­tual opposition is worked out, a refusal to accept the official language, symbolism, and style of the press. Alternative cultural communities are formed. Incidentally, they do not go beyond a moral challenge, due to the disunity of society, the absence of strong independent institutions, and the weakness of grass-roots social and cultural ties.

Independent culture and the "opaque press" as Lev Timofeev noted correctly, were the first in our country to proclaim an uncompromising social war on the ideology and violence. And common sense triumphed—the ideology of political violence (not to be confused with the practice of violence) suffered a defeat. This is a nurturing environ­ment for a democratic movement. In the USSR the cultural forces of society increasingly become the transmitters of new social norms, ideas, projects, symbols.

The third plane of social emancipation is the rebirth of religion. The unexpectedly powerful return to various (including nontraditional) con­fessional forms was predetermined by the vacuum of belief that arose from the ideological crisis, a crisis of morality, a general crisis of the system of values. In conditions of restricted political freedom the church frequently assumes the role of "roof" for independent move­ments, striving towards dialogue. Examples of this symbiosis include the Uniate Ukrainian church and the nationalist movement RUKh in the Western Ukraine.

Religion in the USSR presents a special case. Soviet society, in the opinion of A. Salmin, has a strong ethno-confessional plurality, and today the confessional elements are decisively invading politics. Reli­gion often appears together with the ethnic factor, forming strong movements on three levels—the national, cultural, and psychological. Here another question will have to be resolved: what sore of political structure will provide a framework which will make possible the har-monizarion of relationships among nationalities and religions?

The next plane is the expansion of the "alternative economy" (co­operative forms, private enterprises, etc.) An alternative economy— whether legal or shadow economy—fills the vacuum left by the self-destructing governmental sector. This is a singular form of protest against a situation in which "the controllable poverty of the prop-ertyless is becoming a way of life" (M. Heller).

Material interest is not always the single or primary motivating force. The new entrepreneurship offers one of the most interesting channels of self-expression for the new generation. Talented and full of initiative, the "neo-liberal" youth choose nowadays not political opposi­tion, but business. Characteristically, many of the Soviet informal activists (neformaly) subsequently chose to engage in enterprises in the co-operative or mixed sectors. Farsighted organizers of co-operative enterprises have close ties to the democratic movements. New entrepre­neurs are joining ranks with those politicians who uphold ideas in favor of privatizing parts of the economy and organizing a genuine pluralism , of forms of ownership.

The policy of institutionalization of civil society, the achievement of constitutional rights, is regarded as the main field of social emancipa­tion. Since the second half of the 1970s, this has been the basis of the democratic opposition's strategy.

The development of individual and collective independent social initiatives is becoming the primary instrument for the peaceful transfor­mation of the political system and the social environment. Various models have been delineated for the emancipation of civil society in the post-totalitarian era: a "new evolutionism" (Adam Michnik); "the power of the powerless" (Vaclav Havel); the formation of a "parallel polls" (Vaclav Benda); the development of a "second society" (Elemer Hankiss). They are, in essence, very similar: each is based on the education offerees ripening within the depths of society, the strength­ening of parallel structures, and a gradual movement into the position of a strong and equal partner to the official power. The restoration of civil society—not as an abstract mediator between the individual and the state, but as an alternative power—this task has been adopted in democratic circles. This may be a solid foundation for a transition from the halfbaked pseudo-reforms, which were being carried out by the party-state's apparatus, to a conscious alternative: the constructive anti-politics of the independent movements.

The Revolution of the "Informals"

The immediate roots of today's movements derive from two key events of 1968: the Prague Spring in Eastern Europe and the "youth revolt" in the capitals of Western Europe. Under their influence a new stratum developed among the intelligentsia, youth, and students. It arose from among those whom 1968 helped liberate from utopian illusions, from the complex of nonparticipation (or, on the contrary, from pseudo-revolutionariness) and helped to take a stand on the path of peaceful, but active opposition to violence.

The next step was a break with the dogma of official ideology and the formation of independent intellectual communities—schools, semi­nars, circles, and also samizdat publishing organizations. The realiza­tion of an elevated civil responsibility led to a rejection of "status" in the official world in favor of new communities and alternative forms of behavior. At the time of the Helsinki accords the rudiments of an organized opposition had already formed. A significant moment was the rise in the second half of the 1970s of organizations with an em­phatic social orientation: the Workers' Defense Committee (KOR) in Poland; the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia; the Democratic opposition in Hungary; the civil rights movement in the Soviet Union. The monopoly on "concern for the human being" was shaken. Activity developed in connection with the defense of the citizen from the om­nipotence of the state—by observing the fulfillment of the Helsinki accords and by organizing social and legal defense for the people.

In the course of time the content of the term "alternative movement" changed. Even in the mid-eighties this term referred to embryonic movements in youth subculture. Amidst the rich variety of world-views among this latter group, special forms of criticism of the system joined with Utopian proposals for its transformation. In this group were the pacifists and the Greens, feminists and emancipated sects, spiritual -ists and Christian Socialists, youth communities and groups favoring an alternative life style. Their alternative often appeared as an attempt to perfect contemporary industrial society by means of nontraditional po­litical forms: forms of "direct" democracy, demonstrations of civil dis­obedience. This was an elemental protest against individualism, the alienation of personality, and the bureaucratization of social govern­ment.

But now the "informals" are primarily considered as those spontane­ous social organizations that do not share official doctrines and political goals—whether they work in nontraditional or in legal political forms. Those who identify themselves with independent politicization are fighting for democracy. Why democracy, rather than an alternative life

 style, as, for instance, in the West? State socialism differs from pluralis­tic representative democracy precisely in that the self-organization of society was for many decades taboo here. The very fact of an indepen­dent, organized struggle for freedom of speech, of assembly, and of association already places the bearers of this struggle in an alternative position in relation ro those who have monopolized politicizarion as such. The "formal" system long ago ceased to function. But a vacuum is unstable—and the spontaneous organizations are becoming de facto democratic forms for the manifestation, representation, and defense of the interests of social groups.

The diversity of spontaneous groups is a condition for an internal dynamics and maturation of society. Bursting into view, its representa­tives pose nonstandard questions and create a definite inconvenience for the institutions of power. Tension arises. The need appears for a mecha­nism to resolve this tension through a constructive cooperation of all (both the old and the new) participants in the political game.

"Informality" arises in pre-crisis situations—not as a sign of disaster, but as a sign of the anti-crisis aspirations of society. The deepening economic crisis expands the space for the application of market instru­ments, of new forms of ownership; the crisis of ideology spurs alterna­tive searches in the sphere of science and culture; the political crisis requires the establishment of new mechanisms for the individual to express its social experience. The repressive actions of the state and a feeling of solidarity with the oppressed spur participation. Since 1987, one more, extremely efficacious factor has been added—the "Gorba­chev factor".

The Great Confrontation

For the government the problem of interactions with the "second soci­ety" is an omnipresent dilemma. Practice reveals three models of behav­ior: 1) A regime of opposition—total suppression and confrontation; 2) An uneasy coexistence—authoritarian modernization of the system, with a varying degree of restriction on democracy; 3) A constructive dialogue and co-optation into the structure of power, self-restriction of monopolistic power, and a dialogue in the name of the peaceful develop­ment of reform.

Entering into dialogue is far from simple. A mutual rejection hinders it: the regime refuses to recognize the "informals," provoking a refusal on their part to recognize the legitimacy of the regime. The political credo of opposition movements was long subordinate to the thesis of "confronting an illegitimate power." The effort to achieve self-government of parallel structures awakened society. As a transitional tactic this policy was justified. But it, evidently, has no serious politi­cal prospects, as it is based on a Utopian concept of self-governing democracy, ripening outside the power structure, abolishing the state and the very structures ofpower^by means of the "real" power of local organs of self-government. (. . . hello from Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin!).

The democraticness of democracy is shown in the way in which the mechanisms of power themselves function, whether citizens and their communities have the opportunity to prop up and renew power from below, thereby securing a broad basis for its legitimacy. In such a healthy system, a place will be found both for the mechanisms to counter power and for independent, spontaneous movements, which will hardly become a part of "politics," if they do not feel like it. However, we have no healthy system of institutions of democratic, representative, legitimate power; for this reason, in the conditions of state socialism, civil society inevitably enters into the realm of politics—in its own, informal way. And when it is denied this, the notorious conflict between "them" and "us" arises.

Here it is important to sense in time the transition from one stage to another—from the level of an informal opposition to power to one of parliamentary participation in the performance of the functions of power, in the sharing of responsibility for decisions. Passing through a difficult period of establishing themselves, the oppositions in Hungary and Poland became convinced that the key lay in a skilful combination of "external" pressure from parallel structures with their participation in the democratization of power "from within."

A Change of Model: From Social Control to Social Contract

Thus, the question arises of the conclusion of a sort of social contract between the party-state and society. This would mean a change from the harsh social control by a totalitarian regime to a system of agreements.

Such a possibility is very real: the autocracy of the party-state is increas­ingly restricted by the parliament and the institutions of democracy.

In a totalitarian system the very concept of a "social agreement" was nothing more than a conventionality. The power of the governments was unjust—since it did not derive from the consent of the governed to govern themselves in such a fashion. It was impossible for the citizens voluntarily to renounce a part of their rights and liberties in favor of the state power, because this latter: a) was not legitimate; b) did not safeguard the property and safety of its citizens, but on the contrary; c) appropriated to itself the right of unreserved disposal of these rights and liberties, utilizing its distributive monopoly.

An agreement of the authoritarian type is possible with one condi­tion: the citizens will renounce certain liberties, if the state will guaran­tee them a stable rise in the standard of living. We saw something like this in the course of the seventies in Hungary, in East Germany, and in Czechoslovakia. But in the Soviet Union with its entirely destroyed market, a contract of the authoritarian type is simply unrealistic.

Crisis stimulates dialogue in and of itself. The search for means of escape from it demands new ideas, new leaders, new norms, new symbols. Here only a joint search for new points of reference can work—both sides are searching for a path to defuse the dangerous confrontation. In independent circles there remain ever fewer of the "irreconcilables," who think simplistically in the prism of a conflict between "totalitarianism" and "democracy." Even power structures change. In Poland and in Hungary, the opposition has been able to move organically from an informal level to one of legal political work. The presence of an organized partner is a serious factor. Those in power in these countries embarked upon negotiations with the repre­sentatives of the opposition as equals about the creation of a new "social agreement," a kind of an anti-crisis pact. The old thesis of "collective responsibility" is finally acquiring realistic content.

In Search of a Path: Values and Norms

We too must seek a path towards our own agreement. On this compli­cated and lengthy road we will have to master new methods of overcom­ing crisis phenomena in various spheres of social life. The strategic line remains the same: the de-ideologizarion and de-monopolization of poli­tics and social life; the separation of the party from the state; the active development of a civil society and its separation from the stare in its present form.

First of all, the sphere of politics has to be transformed. From a realm of ideocratic manipulations it must be transformed into an arena in which the self-consciousness of diverse groups can form and where their political will can be articulated. Then, it must become a field for the expression of diverse interests through the free exchange of informa­tion and ideas. Finally, politics will be able to help reach a consensus and its support by political means.

We will have to curtail the hypertrophy of the political system in relationship to all of society: the de-politicization of the administration will liberate society from governmental voluntarianism. Enhanced au­tonomy of economic and social processes, of the spheres of culture and of social movements will result in a diversity of means for political maneuver.

The monopoly power of the apparatus should be transformed into the power of the people by recreating the system of representation based on self-government on the local level. The state must establish the rule of law. The primary task of the transformation is the development of civic culture, the eradication of the impractical and distorted rules of behavior by returning to the concept of critical rationalism. Democratic political culture will become the real guarantee of the governability of society. It has to include the tolerance of dissent, the readiness for compromise and co-operation, and the renunciation of violence, na­tional discrimination, and the monopoly of truth.

Pluralism in its broad sense may become a vehicle of these changes. A multitude of equally legitimate ownership forms; new techniques of business and entrepreneurship; diverse forms of self-government on all levels; coexistence and competition of ideas, concepts, convictions, and methods of political action; various legal forms for the representation of interests and corporations; legalization of non-violent political struggle among various socio-political organizations—this is what should fill the category of pluralism. This is freedom of choice—of choice from among the embryonic forms of a normal life which already exist. This life does not need to be constructed, it must simply be permitted—and all that is useful must be allowed to emerge from beneath the press of prohibition. All these values must lie at the foundation of our constitu­tional process.

The Constitution of the Rule of Law: The Text of a Social Contract?

The earlier paternalistic concepts, which placed reform in the hands of a limited circle of enlightened absolutists of the regime and its appara­tus, are changing. We have to think through the pace and sequence of the constitutional process and the mechanism for a peaceful transition. Until the present time, the old system has not possessed such technolo­gies. The primary issue on the democratic path to political perestroika is that of the elimination of the monopoly of power and the creation of guarantees to keep absolutism out of politics. It is impossible to emerge from a crisis with the very same power structure with which we landed in it. It would be possible to waste a great deal of energy and means shoring up the existing institutions, which constitute the basis of the governmental order established in the 1977 Constitution of the USSR.

The logical culmination of a systematic transition to a new govern­mental and social order should be the enactment of a new Fundamental Law. The Constitution crowns the transitional period, fixing in its articles a guarantee of the preservation and development of the institu­tions of the rule of law.

Let us note the fundamental condition for its acceptance: our country's return to the open world should be accompanied by a restora­tion of a civil peace within itself. The responsibility for this rests both with the regime in power and the society.

The history of constitutional law demonstrates that worthy and stable documents have already emerged in politically strained situations (in the USA, and, not long ago, in Spain). A good Constitution could become the instrument and document of national harmony, leading to the strengthening of a civil peace. The acceptance of a balanced Consti­tution could become the moment of breakthrough in relations between the state and the individual, between the regime in power and social movements. For the first time the independent forces of civil society will acquire a legal status in our country, and the spirit of mutual hatred and civil war between the power bloc and society would vanish into the past.

It is intolerable for the new Fundamental Law to be presented as yet another courtesy of the governing structure, as the exclusive initiative of the "motor of revolutionary changes." Such a presentation would be a most serious political error. No political group whatsoever should be allowed to usurp the development of the Constitution, in an effort to make it an instrument for the defense of its own interests. This would place the subsequent realization of the constitutional norms themselves in question.

For the rapidly growing self-consciousness of society, it is important that the Constitution be created by society itself, by means of its authorized representatives. Created and accepted by a new, truly legiti­mate power. And this is one of the serious arguments in favor of sum­moning a Constituent Assembly, relying on the trust of the electors.

The development and acceptance of a new Fundamental Law should be a collective process, proceeding with the involvement of diverse political forces. The Constitution could be called ready, mature, if a consensus forms around its future text. From total social control of society by the state we will move into a social contract—between society and the stare.

Fundamentals of Constitution

1) What is a Constitution? Variants: a) a "frame," presenting the most general legal norms—that is, a blanket law; b) a fundamental law, containing ideological directives and programmatic elements as well; c) a legal document in the strict juridical sense, the foundation for all of the state's legislation.

It seems that the best founded understanding of the Constitution is that of a juridical document which provides legal guarantees for state and social life, and for the realization of fixed rights and liberties. The text should include precisely formulated substantive principles and norms, on the basis of which it is possible to draw conclusions about the constitutionality of any action. The Constitution must be indepen­dent of all political goals, regardless of whose they are. It must contain a de-ideologized text, with the exception only of its preamble, which should reflect the history of our statehood, the circumstances of its development. It would be logical to reject squabbles over Marxist- Leninist teaching and the dogmas of scientific communism. A legal document ought not to express ideas which serve as the foundation for the goals of specific political forces.

2) The next question: must the word "socialism" be mentioned in the text of the Fundamental Law? Evidently, the constitution of a democratic legal society ought not to point to one or another social formation. A declaration of the nature of the social order is not a task of the Constitution; this is a question of ideological and parliamentary struggle. It is equally illegitimate to make use of phrases such as "socialist democracy," "democratic socialism," or other attributive con­structions because they lack legal definition.

The Constitution of democratic socialism will by no means become socialist from frequent use of the word "socialism," but only from the extent to which it manages to present fundamental values, which the majority of society understands and accepts as true and worthy of respect and fulfillment; and from the extent to which it manages to guarantee for its citizens equality of opportunity and equality before the


3) What should be the form of the state—a union, federation, economic community, confederation, and so forth? I share the point of view of A. D. Sakharov, and the Baltic national fronts, who propose a confederation. All national-territorial formations will be granted equal rights; a maximal degree of independence; and sovereignty minimally restricted by the requirements of joint defense, foreign policy, trans­port, and communication. On this basis sovereign republics could conclude a new agreement to create a confederation. In the agreement the sovereignty of the republics would be specified, as would the rights delegated by them to the confederation.

4) What should be the constitutional definition of the form of state government? Will this be a republic, a democratic republic, a national republic, a Soviet republic? It is possible, that this will need to be brought to an all-national referendum (referendums in the republics). In view of the possible diversity of forms of government in the make-up of the confederation, it seems logical to choose the definition of a "republic," that is, a confederation of republics.

5) The concept of the new Fundamental Law. It must be examined in its principles, goals, and statutes. What is most important is a free, democratic, legal state (rule of law); the priority of ethnic, republican, and national sovereignty over the state; and that society (i.e., a self-organized people) be the source and bearer of all power.

The concept must be focused on the citizen—a free-acting, sover­eign, conscious, and independent individual. The state is not a "bene­factor," but a mechanism for serving the citizen; the individual is the subject, the bearer of fundamental civic and political liberties. The Constitution should contain a system of guarantees, protecting the citizen from aggression by the state. Its goal is to facilitate the realiza­tion of values accepted by society. This presupposes the creation of a Constitution not for a state, but for a society. A constitutional state recognizes and guarantees the rights and liberties of the citizen, pro­vides for the separation of powers, creates a system to defend the statutes of the Constitution, and provides for the enactment of the Fundamental Law by society itself.

6) A new Constitution must contain institutional and organizational guarantees forbidding a return to a monolithic structure of power, making social pluralism irreversible. A Constitution is a stabilizing document, and simultaneously open to the further perfection of society. In this manner, its very character should testify to an orientation to­wards the achievement of national harmony, political stability, eco­nomic growth, and freedom for the individual. The contractual parries will fix all the conditions of the agreement, and if the regime violates these conditions, then society will have the right to change both the agreement and the regime itself.

The wise words placed as the epigraph of this work were written— and subsequently acred upon—more than two centuries ago. Their actuality for us today is more than evident. This country is at a turning point: they have not fulfilled their promises, we no longer believe them and can no longer live as before. The country's fate can only be decided by means of a new agreement. Persistence in accomplishing the transition to a new order is a guarantee that we will manage to avoid a social explosion and subsequent establishment of a semi-military dictatorship.


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