Can Russia be Modernized?

2012-02-21-inosemtzev-2Vladislav Inozemtsev in Eurozine:

The debate on modernisation taking place in contemporary Russia at times puzzles western researchers, accustomed to a strict understanding of the term. Indeed, they may also consider Russia to be a country in which problems related to traditional industrialisation were resolved decades ago. Yet the issue of modernisation is very real and, in this short article, I will attempt to analyse it and ask whether it can be resolved in the immediately foreseeable future.

What does modernisation mean for contemporary Russia?

In my view, modernisation can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, it is understood as a purely economic and technological process, with the aim of achieving competitiveness at the global level. On the other hand, modernisation can refer to a development of social and political institutions that brings a given society closer to the ideal model represented by developed western democracies. The suggestiveness of the term can lead to inconsistencies in its use and it can be tempting to speak of modernisation, in the primary sense of the word, as industrialisation and, in a secondary sense, as liberalisation. It seems to me that this approach is mistaken: first, because in today's world economic modernisation cannot be reduced to industrialisation alone and, second, because a consolidation of institutions is not always a foundation for liberalism. For example, the contemporary Russian economy is far more “liberal” than the quasi-socialist economies of Europe. In this way we risk getting bogged down in the usual arguments about terminology that fail to lead to any real increase in knowledge.

I prefer to talk about modernisation as, essentially, an economic process that leads to a modern, self-regulating economy capable of stable self-development. At the same time, the building up of an economy requires a serious, consolidated effort from both society and the state, directed at dismantling previous economic structures, opening up the country to the outside world and re-orientating social consciousness from traditional values and ideals drawn from the past, towards the future. In this particular context, I would say that the criterion for the success of modernisation is the absence of any need for new modernisations.