Boris I. KRASNOV
TODAY'S UNDERSTANDING OF CIVIL SOCIETY, INTERACTION WITH THE STATE
Debate as to the sum and substance of civil society has been going on for a long time now. Ascending to the political and juridical thought of ancient times, the idea of civil society demonstrates permanent movement, change and development. All celebrated philosophers and sociologists have always touched upon this pressing issue some way or other. The question regarding the interrelationship between civil society and the state is rather difficult to answer.
Montesquieu wrote about civil society as a society of antagonism between people towards one another, thereby turning into the state - a body of violence to prevent enmity between citizens. Unlike Thomas Hobbes, Montesquieu does not identify civil society with the state differentiating between civil and political laws. Rousseau views civil society as its transformation into the state, with republican government being a sine qua non, through a social contract. Its government can be overthrown any time at the request of civil society.
According to Hegel, civil society and the state being independent, they form an identity. Civil society and a family are inalienable as regards the existence of the state. At the same time, he does not deny contradiction between civil society and the state.
Present-day followers dealing with the problems of civil society amply employ the theoretical legacy of the celebrated philosophers while trying to avoid the extremity of their views and adapt their position to the realia of today. However, theoretical researches conducted by the scientists of the past continue to be used as a methodological basis for the civil society theory.
For example, Aristotle has voiced the idea that it is property owners who must form the basis of civil society. The majority of celebrated philosophers considered 'comprehensive' democracy (including self-government) as one of the main features of civil society. They viewed fair laws as the main form of relationship between the state and civil society. Of special interest are Marx's ideas on the identity of civil society and the state. There can be three variants of this kind of identity:
1) civil society and the state as two hostile armies;
2) civil society and the state as two friendly armies;
3) as a result of confrontation one of the armies emerges victorious and dissolves the other army.
Modern Russian history has seen all three such alternatives: the third variant is Stalin's dictatorship when civil society was dissolved and hardly managed to survive; the second variant is something we are striving for; while today's situation as regards relationships between the state and civil society is very close to the first alternative.
At present, it becomes all too obvious that the progress of mankind has always depended on the combination of the political and non-political in it. A true civil society is a community boasting optimal relationships between all spheres of social life, i.e. a community where interrelationship and interaction between the economic, political, social and religious spheres ensure progress of human society and its advance towards higher forms of social organisation.
At present, the optimal (to ensure progress) combination of the political and non-political in society has not been attained so far. The non-political sphere is rather independent and requires further research and analysis. Let us suggest the following definition of civil society.
Civil society is a non-political form of human community directly dependent upon and closely linked with political power, though immune from direct interference of the latter by appropriate norms and laws.
The original idea underlying the civil society concept suggests the transformation of collectivity organised in accordance with the law of nature regarding coexistence of people in society and the development of man descended from the world of enmity and uncontrolled freedom into a citizen of this society. Civilised and humanised, this kind of society becomes capable of shaping the personality of a new-type citizen who, in his turn, creates a new civil society. The force that creates and ties these two phenomena (collective and individuum) is the power of the state, which has undergone a transformation into a new modern-type power.
Thus, civil society is shaped by the collective, individuum and state.
The development of civil society is a civilised process. In the course of this process, both citizens and civil relationships between the members of society, as well as society proper as a collective form of citizenship, the state and relations between the state, individuum and society are civilised. A required condition for this sort of development is equilibrium, equal development and mutual equality as regards rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all the three components of civil society, namely those of man, society and the state, individual character of personality and collective life and coexistence of people organised into society. The prevalence of one of the three components leads to the disintegration of civil society.
Civil society promotes free development of associations, mass movements, parties and other social groups with different views, beliefs and principles. It seeks decentralisation of the state by vesting some of its powers in self-government bodies, ensures cooperation between the majority and minority by coordinating their positions through negotiations and avoiding open conflicts.
Machinery for cooperation between civil society and the state
The development of civil society both as a human value, and the value of the whole of human civilisation is not over yet. It concerns the notion of civil society and its definition, its separation and isolation from the political and state spheres, as well as its functions, parameters and characteristics. We can state that the process is all the more incomplete as regards the harmonisation of relations between civil society and the state. From the theoretical point of view, of top priority is the kind of relationship ensuring close and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two spheres. In practice, however, we often witness interference in the civil sphere on the part of the political sphere. History of practically all modern countries has seen examples of intolerable interference of political power in civil society affairs. This sort of interference usually takes place under a specious pretext - for example to streamline relations between some elements of civil society or other.
In this country today, the elements of civil society have come to enjoy more sovereignty and civil rights. Underway is the privatisation of the means of production. However, the above processes are often delayed and sometimes interrupted through direct political interference. In sum, the way towards agreement between political power and civil society is blocked by confrontation.
Present-day public opinion increasingly comes to believe that one of the growing trends as regards social progress is the development of human society as a single whole free of enmity and confrontation between its components. In this connexion, one may say that the convergence theory is currently enjoying a renaissance. The present situation confirms the above trend, which certainly has a positive effect on the development of civil society and its relations with political power.
Civil society being a human value, it is all too natural to assume that it inherits all features inherent in mankind. At the same time, civil society often develops and has to exist and build its relations with political power in different environments. As a result, civil society inevitably features some peculiar characteristics depending both on some historical stages of development and the current stage of social development of a given country. Civil society is also influenced by the country's customs and traditions, prevailing forms of political power and government, etc.
In our view, when speaking about universal features of civil society one must be aware of the fact that they may vary from country to country (or region).
What are the main features of civil society? First and foremost, it is supposed to have free owners of the means of production. On the face of it, it sounds trivial enough: there can be no society without owners of the means of production and their freedom can be not but guaranteed.
However, there are not two owners alike. The first question that matters is what one owns as well as what one's rights are as to this property. Secondly, the above feature of civil society is solely wrapped around the word 'free' whose clear understanding requires in-depth analysis:
* Who or what is the owner free from?
* What is the owner really free to do?
* How free is the owner?
Answers to these questions make it possible to arrive at an understanding as to the nature of relationships between the association of owners objectively existing in the non-political sphere (they are manufacturers) and political power.
So, what must the owner be free from in order to become a subject of civil society? The answer offered by the philosophers of the past was clear-cut enough - free from dictatorial rule, from interference in the production process on the part of the state and political power. Besides most complicated relations between the owner and non-owner, with the latter being a participant in the production process, the owner of the means of production has always been involved in a 'war of attrition' (with varying degrees of success) with the state in order to prevent or at least limit the influence of the political sphere on economy. It would be in the best interest of society and for the sake of its steady progressive development if this kind of confrontation ended in a draw, with the economic and political spheres being equally able to influence each other. The XX century has graphically illustrated that excessive freedom granted to the owner of the means of production leads to anarchy, arbitrariness in economy and crises like those we witnessed in 1929-33 and in the mid-1970s. The dominance of the political sphere, however, leads to even graver crises like World War I and II. That is the reason why industrialised capitalist countries are so careful about keeping the economic and political spheres in equilibrium.
As to our country, there is a peculiar situation here. The scientist A. Migranyan describes it in the following way: "With the economic, social and cultural spheres being underdeveloped, the transition to a new system begins with respective changes in the superstructure and the new state turns out to be practically the only force tasked with radical reforms and the restructuring of the old economic system, social and cultural life of society. As a result, there is an inversion of the state's and civil society's functions. Society - namely civil society - turns out to be unable to independently formulate and raise questions requiring immediate and undivided attention, while the state is called upon to perform both its own functions and those of civil society. Thus, the state, as it were, 'absorbs' society." (3) As regards the owner-state link we are dealing with, this kind of 'absorption' here is absolute and all-embracing. Indeed, the private/individual owner of the means of production was exterminated, while private collective ownership - in the form of cooperative socialism, which is quite natural to Russia (rural commune) - has never really taken root. Joint state/capitalist ownership, most expedient for the transition period according to V. Lenin, failed too.
What remained for Russia to do? The means of production were totally expropriated by the state. The political leadership believed that the assumption of power and expropriation of the means of production would automatically turn all people into joint social owners. But is that possible? In the course of time, it has become evident that the answer is negative.
However, the means of production must have an owner. It is the state that came to own them - solely and exclusively, which excluded any form of joint ownership. The state was believed to belong to the nation. One could gather that property was public, too. In actual fact, however, the state's monopolistic ownership of the means of production resulted in the extermination of the private (individual or collective) owner. Being extremely underdeveloped in itself, Russian civil society was deprived of its economic basis.
In shaping civil society in Russia, the main problem to tackle lies in establishing the institution of private - both collective and individual - owners of the means of production as fast as possible. Well-organised and developed, it is this institution drawing on the positive experience of other countries and progressive traditions of its own that will become capable of achieving what the leading industrialised nations achieved long ago - namely the parity with political power. This can be viewed as a first step to overcome the current crisis.
Another feature I would like to dwell on in greater detail pertains to democracy, i.e. how developed and diversified this phenomenon is in a given society. Obvious enough, this feature is far from being something original. It is all the more so, if it is our understanding that civil society is a democratic society as opposed to absolute power or dictatorship of a person or a social group (class).
On the other hand, original here is the analysis of notions used to characterise the feature. Let us start with the notion of 'democracy'.
First and foremost, it is necessary to leave behind the traditional view of democracy as a required attribute of the political sphere alone. This view is all too evident when
Russia over the economic and other spheres. No doubt, this determines the way the subject of power is introduced in the definition of democracy. Sometimes, people are recognised as the source of power. Otherwise, people are viewed "in the capacity of the source of power". In other instances, the source of power is not mentioned at all. One may guess that in this case the source of power will imply "the forms of the people's sovereignty set by the laws of freedom and equality". In all the above types, the priority of the political sphere over all other fields of social life is evident enough.
Thus, the current understanding of democracy as a form of political organisation where the system of state bodies to a certain extent provides for the participation of the populace in government is based on the wrong methodological premise. It suggests that all social problems can only be solved politically, authoritatively and administratively. Besides, such notions as the people, the populace, working people, etc. acting as the subject of power sound rather vague.
In our opinion, in order to surmount this traditional and methodologically wrong approach to democracy, one must further elaborate on the notion of democracy and offer clear-cut definitions as regards the subjects of power directly involved in the 'operation' of democracy.
Today, one must consider democracy not so much a sort of society's political structure as a major means of organising, streamlining and regulating relations between all elements of the social structure, mainly, as regards their economic and social interests. There seems to be nothing out of the ordinary about this approach: economic interests have always formulated policy, while the political sphere has always served the economic interests of those who express them. Society has been developing, climbing the ladder of social progress and improving. At the same time, mankind's progress takes a heavy toll of human life as a result of colonialism, regional and world wars, artificially triggered famine, epidemics and unemployment and other 'charms' of civilisation. The main reason why progress inevitably takes its toll has nothing to do with the primacy of the political sphere over the economic sphere and vice versa. The main reason lies in the priority of one element or a small group of elements over the rest of components. It is on the basis of this premise that progressive public opinion has put forward a thesis as to the class nature of any democracy.
The idea of the state as a weapon of class violence prompted many a generation of Marx's followers to strictly abide by at least two long-standing, if wrong, stereotypes.
a) as to the almightiness of the state as an institute of violent creation of any new society;
b) as to identity in principle between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois dictatorship.
The theoretical conclusion, which used to determine the policy pursued by the Bolsheviks for many years that followed, is like this: the dictatorship of the proletariat makes the existence of any element of bourgeois democracy unnecessary. And this was actually put into practice.
So, what happened? In establishing a new sort of state and by assigning it a greater role to play in the life of society, we quite forgot about an urgent need for democratisation, a need to protect the interests of other classes along with those of the revolutionary class, a need to build civil society, etc. We did not even notice that absolutely different processes were running in other nations across the globe - processes aimed at building civil society as a powerful counterbalance to the state that forces the latter to protect and advance the interests of all strata.
There is another thing worth mentioning when speaking about democracy as one of the features of civil society. At any level, democracy suggests the presence, on the one hand, of those who guide and, on the other hand, of those who are guided. The latter are representatives of the non-political sphere, namely owners in the field of production. The former are professional politicians acting on a permanent basis. The development level of civil society directly depends on the interrelation between these inalienable elements of democracy. One may assume that civil society has been created if there is at least equality between the guiding ones and the guided ones. Ideally, for civil society to reach a higher development level, there must be dominance (though not absolute) of those who are guided over the professionally trained guiding ones. It is this kind of dominance that allows existing civil society, according to K. Marx, to free itself from ubiquitous and omnipresent military, bureaucratic, religious and judicial fetters. (5)
Regarding free owners of the means of production and diversified democracy as one of the features of civil society, one cannot but dwell on the question pertaining to the machinery ensuring cooperation between civil society and the political structures. What ties must exist between them in order to form a long-standing and capable entity? In our opinion, it is law that can be used as the afore-mentioned machinery to unite the political and non-political spheres of society.
With this in mind, the rule of law must be regarded as the most capable and conspicuous feature of civil society.
As regards relationships between the political and non-political spheres in this country, the truth is that both in the past 70 years and beyond, there used to exist absolute dominance of the political sphere over other social fields. This idea has long become inherent in our social thinking. It has become a sort of social ideology presenting the state as a top-priority interest and trying to find scientific grounds for the priority of the interests of the state over those of the citizen, for the primacy of social and economic rights over civil rights, for making the citizen subordinate to the state, for identifying society and the state, etc.
Once put into practice, this way of thinking led to the absolute primacy of the state over all other fields of social life. Civil society was worst affected when the state could regulate at will relations between the guiding ones and the guided ones. There can be no equality within a state-run democracy. It is the enormous class of bureaucrats that is most interested in the primacy of the state. They realise that their role will immediately diminish as soon as citizens are able to independently take decisions about their private matters. This is the very reason why the bureaucratic command system does its best to ensure dominance of professional politicos - of those who guide over those who are guided.
However, change is inevitable. In the course of sweeping reform, we began moving towards civil society. The first steps towards establishing the rule of law graphically illustrate the trend. (6) Further and more drastic steps will help the guided ones achieve full equality with the guiding ones.
About the author
Boris I. KRASNOV, professor, Ph.D.