“The authorities are trying to respond but are running out of time. There is a danger of a revolution because in the conditions of a political desert there are no parties or politicians to channel this colossal social energy into a constructive solution”.
Nicolai Petrov, Moscow Carnegie Institute, December 2011 – Comment on the popular reaction to the official results of the Duma election.
“Revolution” is no idle word in Russia. Mr. Petrov, for his part, has worked at the highest levels of Russian government and media since the final years of the Soviet Union. Having lived through every upheaval the country has seen in the last two decades he knows what is going on.
His comments do not address an isolated case. In an interview published in France at the end of December, Ms. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, similarly upbraided European political leaders for their inability to address the Euro crisis with any degree of effectiveness.
Other examples abound: failure to deal with corruption in India’ Parliament; debt ceiling fiasco in the United States; uprisings in the Middle East. Everywhere governments are sinking, and in some places already underwater.
Popular grievances are similar across the board: oppression, corruption, economic decay, lack of opportunity for young and old alike. This is global phenomenon, leading to a worldwide popular uprising. 2012 appears as a hinge year, when much of the near future will be decided. Elections are due this year in Egypt, Mexico, France, Russia and the United States. A change of leadership is due in China. Nowhere can calm and stability be now taken for granted.
The world is coming to grips with the consequences of economic and financial globalization, into which governments and economic leaders rushed headlong, lured by rosy promises of ever-increasing prosperity and peace. Instead they got:
- A massive inflation of the financial sector, itself increasingly addicted to speculative ventures and systemic instability
- Wholesale transfers of industries, resources and know-how to states most willing to “game the system” through mercantilist practices. Left behind is an economic desert.
- Rising income disparity between the super-rich elites and the economically sinking populace, with a growing void where the middle class once was.
- Entrenched corruption grounded in the merging, at the top, of political and economic interests.
The widening gulf between the elites and the general population has been compounded by technology, which in many cases has eliminated the “routine” jobs that traditionally provided the ladder to economic success. Up to the recent past the holders of such jobs were the perennial anchor of stability and of national service.
In the two decades since the fall of the USSR we have gone from “peace in our time” to a world in permanent crisis.
Can anything be done?
The solution does not rest with more international institutions and even greater “global integration”. It is precisely these institutions that have failed to foresee and prevent the crisis.
Nor is the answer to be found in the now sterile opposition between right and left, capitalism and socialism. The current situation already embodies the worst features of both: a bloated state with growing inequality; inefficiency with naked greed; stifling regulation and speculative license; oppressive security below with unlimited power at the top. Neither the state nor the market will save the day.
As Mr. Petrov points out, the “colossal social energy” of the budding insurrection must be channeled into constructive solutions. Utopian schemes will not do.
The only way goes through the institutions on which national life is founded; which are embedded, so to speak, in the people’s DNA. Each population knows what these are, and rediscovers them in times of trouble.
In the United States this communal bedrock is our ability, in times of great need, to lay aside individualism and join together, with full freedom of will, to defend and promote the national interest. At such times there is no conflict between government and citizens, but both become a single entity:
We, the people…
We have achieved this unity several times in our history. It is time to do it again.