Staunton, April 27 – Given everything that has occurred in Russia over the past five years, few have noticed what can only be described as “a quiet revolution”: the percentage of Russians who say they don’t need to rely on the state has increased from 34 to 44 percent, with an ever rising share indicating that they say private property as the basis of this independence.
That remarkable development has been described by Mikhail Gorshckov, director of the Moscow Institute of Sociology, and one of his colleagues Natalya Sedova in a recent article (isras.ru/index.php?page_id=2624&jn=socis&jn=socis&jid=5862) and now is the focus of an article on the Tolkovatel portal (ttolk.ru/?p=26710).
The Gorshkov-Sedova article, “’Self-Sufficient’ Russians and Their Priorities,” appeared as the lead article in “Sotsiogicheskiye issledovaniya.” It has not attracted the attention it deserves but may not do so thanks to the Tolkovatel detailed summary and discussion of its contents.
The two sociologists define self-sufficiency as the assessment by individuals that they can “successfully exist and provide for themselves counting only on their own resources and not turning to the state for aid.” And they says that such Russians are now “not on the social periphery or a marginal group” but one of growing importance.
Indeed, Gorshkov and Sedova says that by 2019-2020, if current trends continue, the share of Russians viewing themselves as self-sufficient relative to the state will outnumber those who view themselves and their fate as linked inextricably to the government, a major change in Russian values from the Soviet and tsarist pasts.
Already, the sociologists argue, there has taken place what they call “’a quiet social revolution’ in which ‘self-sufficient’ Russians from a clear minority have been transformed into a group whose place has become comparable with that of the earlier dominating group, ‘the dependents.’”
Obviously, the two groups are different: The self-sufficient tend to be younger, while the dependent are dominant among the oldest cohorts who rely on pensions from the state. The self-sufficient also tend to be found among engineers, students, and those with higher educations, while those who say they are dependent are found in state enterprises and the government itself.
Given the economic shocks Russians have experienced since 2008, the two Moscow sociologists continue, many Russians have had to work off the book in various ways; and that has made them more rather than less confident that they can take care of themselves, even as it has angered them about the failure of the government to address their needs.
Gorshkov and Sedova say that today “half of working Russians are now outside of the functioning of labor, pension and social legislation, and the situation in this sector under the influence of the latest crisis has gotten significantly worse” especially for workers who cannot find alternative work as easily as those with more education.
Contrary to what many might expect, there has been a significant growth in the sense of self-sufficiency among rural residents, from 30 percent in 2011 to 42 percent in 2015. As a result, the sociologists say, those who feel they can live without depending on the state is almost as high – 42 percent in rural areas – as it is in the very largest cities – 44 percent.
Also of interest the two say is that the highest levels of feelings of self-sufficiency are found not among residents of the two capitals but among those who live in small cities with from 100,000 to one million. There the share of those who feel self-sufficient relative to the state is 50 percent or even more.
According to the sociologists, the sense of self-sufficiency is greatest among those who use social networks, suggesting in their view that talk in such forums reinforces the sense of independence.
As Tolkovatel summarizes the views of Gorshkov and Sedova, this new sense of self-sufficiency and even “independence from the state” are “worldviews, closely connected with individual life strategies. People do not simply declare their self-sufficiency,” the portal says; they act to achieve it.
Of those who say they feel self-sufficient, nearly two-thirds say that “freedom is something whose absence means that human life loses its meaning,” a view that challenges the increasingly authoritarian and even totalitarian nature of Putin’s Russia.
But perhaps the most dramatic finding of the sociologists given the current gloominess about the prospects for change in Russia today is that 78 percent of those who identify as self-sufficient relative to the state say, again in the words of Tolkovatel, that “freedom can have a firm foundation” only if there is private property.