The birth of liberalism from the contradictions of democratic development in the works of S. Mareev

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №12 - 2020

Author: Mareeva Elena, Moscow International Higher Business School MIRBIS (Institute), Russia

More than 20 years ago V.I. Tolstykh organized the first large conference dedicated to the personality and legacy of E.V. Ilyenkov. The conference itself, as well as the book published as a result, was called “The Drama of Soviet Philosophy. Evald Vassilyevich Ilyenkov”. It was there that Sergei Mareev first spoke on the topic “On liberalism and democracy” [9]. He kept returning to the same topic over the recent years, defending the position formulated in the years of perestroika [6, 7, 8, 10]. Something was clarified and deepened in the light of what was happening, new vivid images and more precise formulations appeared, but the position itself remained fundamentally the same - in theoretical and moral terms. And this consistency in Mareev's position is noted today by many, as they say, post factum. Those, who in the 80s. recognized the theoretical significance of Marxism, in the 90s. suddenly realized the absolute superiority of Russian religious philosophy. And today, the same people suddenly come to realize the merits of Soviet philosophy.

Against this background, Mareev appeared as a dogmatist, and in the eyes of his “progressive-minded” colleagues, he looked almost a reactionary. Moreover, in the years of the most fierce perestroika demagogy, he deliberately repeated the interpretation of this issue by V.I. Lenin [4] and Mikhail. Lifshitz [5], whom the liberal intelligentsia of the times of stagnation considered a dogmatist for criticizing modernist art.

But from the very beginning Sergei Mareev opposed the abstract phrase about the unconditional merits of democracy not with formulas, but with the reconstruction of the logic of history itself, where the discrepancy between democracy and liberalism reveals itself. Where, as it would seem, everything was clear, he saw a problem posed and exacerbated by the very course of history. The bibliography of his works shows the way he moved in the 90s. from the analysis of Marx’s methodology, to which his candidate and doctoral dissertations are devoted, to its historical and philosophical foundations, and on the other hand, to problems that have a connection with the topic of the day. In this sense, his analysis of the nature of liberalism shows the advantages of the methodology of specific historicism.

From the philistine point of view, however, liberalism and democracy are one and the same. And if we approach the problem specifically from historical point of view, then liberalism is a special form of democracy that corresponds to the bourgeois era based on a market economy. That is why all of the mentioned works of Mareev discuss that the forms of democracy differ a lot. The polis democracy of the ancient Greeks, for whom it is the main manifestation of the “Greek miracle”, is one thing. The democratic structure of the Russian rural community is another thing. As for liberalism, it is a historically specific form of democracy in economic life, politics and ideology, based on the inviolability of private property. That is why, in characterizing liberalism, Sergei Mareev combines it with bourgeois individualism. Liberal freedoms are the freedoms of citizens of a state governed by the rule of law, where the primacy of individual interest is unconditional, and the state is a “night watchman” that protects the freedoms of citizens and guarantees their compromise.

Not only democracy in general, but also liberalism has its own forms and history. In the very beginning, when the bourgeoisie as the “third estate” stood at the head of people and rallied them in the struggle against the privileges of the aristocrats of blood, the liberal-democratic movement was most powerfully represented by the popular pathos, expressed by the slogans of the Great French Revolution about Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood of all people. The great bourgeois democrats of that era considered self-evident not only the freedom of everyone, but also the equality of all. Sergei Mareev repeats the words of the father of American democracy Thomas Jefferson about the self-evidence of the fact that all people are created equal and endowed by the Creator with the inalienable rights to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. The English, American and French revolutions, according to Mareev, fulfilled these demands. But of the three slogans of the French Revolution - Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood - “Equality was the most difficult to achieve in practice” [10, p. 43]. As to the divergence in the understanding of the ideals of freedom and equality, Sergei Mareev points to such a situation among the ideologists of the French Enlightenment. We are talking about the antagonism of Voltaire and Rousseau, who as early as in the eighteenth century.  Expressed the split of a single general democratic movement into liberalism and radical, even plebeian democracy expressed [8, p. 29].

The outstanding educator Voltaire was opposed to despotism and the church, about which he wrote his “Écrasez l’infâme!” (“Crush The Infamy!”). But he despised the poor. “I am especially outraged,” Rousseau wrote, “with the contempt with which Voltaire speaks against the poor at every opportunity” [1, p. 90]. The attitude towards the simple grassroots people, who, as a rule, are poor, undeveloped and uneducated, and the polarization between the poor and the rich, the educated and the uneducated in the 19th century will grow, becoming a litmus test for defining a liberal who already puts freedom above equality and agrees to sacrifice equality all for the sake of preserving freedoms for the educated and progressive minority. He once again emphasizes that at the dawn of the bourgeois-democratic movement there was neither this choice, nor the very confrontation between the liberal and plebeian-democratic trends in bourgeois society. Although Gracchus Babeuf and his followers, Babouvists, already participated in the Great French Revolution, offering to equalize everyone, not only politically and financially, but also in abilities and talents.

Mareev considered the attitude to ordinary people, the base of the social classes to be the main criterion of democracy. In the perestroika times, when the former “proletarians” suddenly discovered their “aristocratic origins”, he reminded that he himself was from the lower classes and did not tolerate a contemptuous and even condescending attitude towards simple and uneducated people. Sergei Mareev negatively regarded the modern cult of tolerance, expressed in the fight against sexism, homophobia, etc., as a manifestation of such liberalism. A liberal, as it was noticed back in the 19th century, is a fluff, in words, tirelessly fighting for freedom and equality. But the situation changes when it comes to sacrificing personal or group interests in favor of a humiliated part of society. Mareev liked to refer to M.E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, whose “cultured person” would not make a choice: “either eat some stellate sturgeon with horseradish, or dream about the constitution”. A characteristic of liberals is a penchant for a democratic phrase, which conceals the real interests of the wealthy and educated minority. But just as eloquently as the authors of Vekhi (Landmarks) did after the suppression of the 1905 revolution, they will justify violence directed against the social base, against the majority.

Turning to the expression of this confrontation in philosophy, Mareev noted that the liberals, unlike democrat Jefferson, are now driving inequality into human nature, just not to compromise their interests. Mareev considered the position of one of the authors of Vekhi N.A. Berdyaev, who at one time renounced Marxism. Berdyaev has a typically liberal position of opposing freedom to equality. “Freedom and equality are incompatible,” Berdyaev writes. “Freedom is, first of all, the right to inequality” [2, p. 127]. Between freedom and equality, he argues, “there is no harmony, but irreconcilable antagonism” [2, p. 126]. At the same time, Mareev did not hide his respect for Lenin, openly spoke about the class approach, which determined his attitude to our Soviet past. And this attitude was again not as simple or dogmatic as it might seem to someone.

In recent years, Sergei Mareev has viewed the history of the 20th century through the prism of the escalated conflict between liberalism and “his other” liberalism - radical grassroots democracy. If the former sacrificed equality for freedom, the latter sacrificed freedom for the sake of equality. It is in this context that totalitarian societies of the 20th century are born, where the lower majority subjugates the dominant minority.

Violence on both sides was a natural manifestation of the level of social development, and the twentieth century only technically and economically provided the conditions for massive repression. Nevertheless, in assessing the moral side of the issue, Sergei Mareev relied on the traditions of Russian revolutionary-democratic thought. If Russian liberals considered it possible in relation to the lower classes, to show, at best, mercy (despising the weak and the poor, Mareev writes, the liberals agree to create only charity houses for them), then the Russian revolutionary democrats N.V. Belinsky, N.G. Chernyshevsky, A.I. Herzen considered the open struggle of the lower classes for equality of political and material opportunities to be morally justified, which, in fact, led in the end to the victory of the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution.

It is not the one who himself was in the position of the weak, poor and humiliated that can morally justify violence from the weak, not the strong, for the sake of liberation, and not oppression. The one who is also capable of it is a person who has absorbed the classical culture that carries the ideals of humanism and justice. In any case, Sergei Mareev considered the protest of the oppressed, even through violence, in its own way moral and just under the circumstances suggested by history.

Mareev considered it a great simplification to characterize Soviet society as totalitarian. He could not stand the identification of Stalinism and Hitlerism. But the history of the twentieth century has confirmed that the extremes of liberalism and radical grassroots democracy are not dialectically removed in socialist democracy in the form in which it was implemented in the USSR. Like Ilyenkov, he did not idealize Soviet society, but like Ilyenkov, he did not idealize what was opposed to it in the West. Mareev agreed with Ilyenkov that if justice in Western democracy is guaranteed by formal law, then justice in our Soviet society, so much the more with time, was also replaced by formalism and bureaucracy, hiding the personal and group interests of those in power.

In his articles, already after the “crushing” reforms of the 90s, Mareev shows that Soviet socialism was indeed doomed, since, as Ilyenkov wrote in a letter to Zhdanov in 1968, the Soviet society did not succeed in making the most important transition from formal to real socialization of labor and property. Private property was replaced by common private property, and that is why it was so easy during the reforms of Yeltsin and Gaidar to turn everything back. According to Mareev, history provesthat it is difficult to take away the property of private individuals, but it is quite easy to privatize common property in the person of the state [11, pp. 276-277]. Thus, if in Soviet society the equality of all, albeit in poverty, was achieved by limiting liberal freedoms by the force of the socialist state, then as a result, in the 90s. we experienced how the free market destroys equality in favor of the freedom of some to enrich themselves and develop their abilities under the tutelage of an already liberal state.

The democracy of Ilyenkov and Mareev was not plebeian, like that of J.-J. Rousseau. But in both of them there was not even a hint of what is called “lordship”. And this showed the enormous advantage of the Soviet education. Unlike Rousseau, both were well aware of the opportunities for the development of each individual’s personality that the world classical culture opens up. And therefore, they did not identify the true resolution of the contradictions of democratic development with real socialism of the 20th century, but associated it with communism in its Marxian understanding, where the free development of everyone should become a condition for the free development of everyone. Communism thus turns out to be a solution not only of and not so much of economic and political problems, but overcoming, on their basis of the existing alienation of each individual person from the spiritual wealth created by humanity. The path to communism is the creation of equal starting conditions for everyone in the development of the wealth of world culture, alienated from the majority today. “At the same time, the “wealth that is meant here”, writes Ilyenkov, “is not a set of “things” (material values) that are in formal possession, but the wealth of those active abilities that are “reified” in these things, “objectified”, and under the conditions of private property – ‘alienated’” [3, p. 163].

It is not a return to natural life, as in Rousseau, but high culture that should transform the common people and resolve the contradictions of liberal democracy. It is the desire to help the lower classes rise to the heights of culture, and not to replace it with mass ersatz, Mareev saw and appreciated it back in the Soviet society. “Study, study and study” was not just a slogan, but the real goal of the majority of the Soviet people, to which those who studied in evening schools, workers’ schools, correspondence departments of universities, technical colleges, etc. aspired. Therefore, he never agreed with those who saw back then and see now only a plebeian protest against the achievements of culture, embodied in Bulgakov’s Shvonder in Soviet socialism.

We had both in where we lived. Shvonder was a reality. So was the writer Mikhail Bulgakov himself, his persecutors, and his admirers. But the essence of specific historical analysis is in the study of the objective contradictions of the era, which overcomes the extremes of expression under the guise of a theory of liberal ideology itself or an anti-liberal protest. Theoretical analysis excludes ideology, but does not exclude the author’s moral position. This is what makes Mareev’s merit.


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2. Berdyaev N.A. (1991). Filosofiya neravenstva: Pisma k nedrugam po sotsialnoi filosofii [Philosophy of Inequality: Letters to Enemies on Social Philosophy] in Berdyaev, N.A., Frank, S.L. Russkoe zarubexhye. Iz istorii sotsialnoi I pravovoi mysli. [Russian Diaspora. From the history of social and legal thought]. L.: Lenizdat, 1991, pp. 7-242.

3. Ilyenkov, E.V. (1991). Marks I zapadnyi mir. [Marx and the Western World] in Philosophy and Culture. M .: Politizdat, pp. 156-169.

4. Lenin, V.I. (1968). Liberalism I demokratiya. [Liberalism and Democracy] in “Full collection of works”. V. 21. M .: Publishing house of political literature, pp.237-236.

5. Lifshits, Mikh. (2007). Liberalism I demokratiya. Filosofskie pamflety. [Liberalism and Democracy. Philosophical Pamphlets]. M .: Iskusstvo - XXI vek, 336 p.

6. Mareev, S.N. (2015). Demokratizm pedagogiki Ilyenkova. [Democracy of E. Ilyenkov’s pedagogy]. Proceedings of the XVII International Scientific Conference “Ilyenkov Readings”. SSU, pp. 11-22.

7. Mareev, S.N. (2014). Liberalism I demokratiya o ravenstve I spravedlivosti. [Liberalism and Democracy about Equality and Justice] in Alternativy, No. 4. pp. 48-61.

8. Mareev, S.N. (2017). Liberalism I demokratiya, ili pochemu Ilyenkov ne liberal. [Liberalism and Democracy, or Why Ilyenkov is Not a Liberal] in “Ilyenkov and the problem of man in a revolutionary era. Proceedings of the XIX International Scientific Conference “Ilyenkov Readings”. April 20-21. Moscow: SSU Publishing House, pp. 28-33.

9. Mareev, S.N.(1997). O liberalizme I demokratii. [On liberalism and democracy] in “Drama of Soviet philosophy. Evald Vassilyevich Ilyenkov. (The dialogue book). IF RAN, pp. 79-85.

10. Mareev, S.N. (2018). O liberalizme I demokratii v russkoi literature I obshchestvennoi mysli. [On liberalism and democracy in Russian literature and social thought] in “KAFU Vestnik”, Issue 4: Political and legal problems of education and society. - Ust-Kamenogorsk, pp. 38-49.

11. Mareev, S.N. (2008). Sotsializm: Teoriya I praktika. [Socialism: Theory and practice] in Evald Vasilyevich Ilyenkov. M .: ROSSPEN, pp. 268-287.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №12 - 2020

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