Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Intelligentsia and Creative Class. (New Russian).

The term ‘creative class’ as applied to Russia means intelligentsia. And little more.

This post is simply to vent my irritation with the phrase ‘creative class’ (креативный класс) as applied to describe the educated, mobile, urban, high-earning, mostly liberal-minded and certainly independent-thinking professional Russians who formed the core of the opposition to the ruling ‘Putin.03’ group since September 2012, when the Putin-Medvedev ‘castling’ (рокировка) was announced

Since then the opposition has developed from spontaneous street protests bordering on riots to a more or less organised civic movement comprising several distinct groupings, including the traditional left (Udaltsov), anti-corruption fighters (Navalny), Russian nationalists, traditional anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, and a respectable but not represented in the Duma social-democratic/liberal party Yabloko (Yavlinsky, Mitrokhin) together with a number of other radical groups, including Solidarity movement (Солидарность, Garry Kasparov) and Parnas (Party of People’s Liberty - Партия народной свободы, Nemtsov). 

A number of more established and less radical political figures have either joined or supported opposition groups, notably the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov (himself a presidential candidate), the long-serving former finance minister Alexei Kudrin and the former Duma deputy and KGB colonel Gennady Gudkov

The governing establishment desperately sought to find catchy terms to discredit the opposition in the run-up to the elections of the President and the Duma. Somewhere inside the Kremlin think-tubs a range of terms was developed and circulated. Prominent among them were the 'Orangists' (оранжисты, referring to the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine), the 'non-system opposition' (несистемная or внесистемная оппозиция, referring to non-system, i.e. officially unrepresented opposition) and, the sneakiest of them all, ‘the creative class’. 

The implication of the term is that its members are too high-earning, too ‘well-fed’ (зажравшиеся), too urban, too West-orientated to understand and appreciate the enormous work that the Putin government has done to ‘raise Russia from her knees’ since the beginning of the 21st Century. And with this to drive a wedge between the protesting citizens of Moscow, Petersburg and other major cities and the less politically savvy and certainly poorer people of the rest of the country.

Whether it works or not, remains to be seen. What is striking is how similar the idea is to the treatment of intelligentsia under the Soviet regime. It had been defined as a ‘social stratum’ devoid of its own class consciousness, and as such not to be trusted. Intelligentsia was recognised as one of the three important social groups in the Soviet society, but it came third after after the working class and the ‘collectivised peasantry’ (колхозное крестьянство.) In fact, in agenda-setting Central Committee slogans, issued by the party twice a year, for May Day and for the October Revolution anniversary, the working class was described as ‘heroic’, the kolkhoz peasantry as ‘glorious’, but the intelligentsia only had the attributive epithet of ‘Soviet people’s’. (see an example here, slogans 10, 11 and 12.) 

One can argue with Richard Florida’s  idea of the creative class as the new driving force of the post-industrial world is right or wrong. It is difficult, though, to argue that ‘creative class’ is hardly different from the old and respected Russian notion of ‘intelligentsia’. We may have to take the moral steadfastness out. And the inherent liberal-mindedness too. But we can’t take out Florida’s own key distinctive feature of the creative class as the group of professional people who are more interested in ‘horizontal’ mobility, i.e. in the pursuit of satisfying work, rather than ‘vertical’ mobility, i.e. the advancement in administrative or managerial positions with a corresponding rise in remuneration.  

At any rate it is fascinating to see that over the past year some Russians have swallowed the self-identification of being one of ‘creative class’ without actually challenging the concept. The old self-identification of ‘intelligentsia’ having been denigrated and belittled in both ideological and economical ways under the Soviet regime for so long, it comes as little surprise.

Still others have seen through the risks of accepting the new definition. The Moscow News (“Московские новости”) newspaper runs a language column called Word and Anti-Word (“Слово и антислово”), where prominent personalities are asked to give their observations on the modern language. One recent interviewee was Marat Guelman (Марат Гельман, wiki), a modern art gallery owner and festival organiser. (Note another new Russian word: галерист - gallerist.)

Asked if there were any recent words or phrases that he thought of as alien to him, Guelman said
'I don’t use the words ‘creative class’. I think it’s a bit poshlo (vulgar). The phrase makes you feel as though people are just uncomfortable with saying ‘intellectual’ or ‘intellighent’. Among my friends there was only one, Edik Boyakov*, who had used the phrase ‘creative class’ without irony. And then only once — he said it and then understood how incongruous it was.'

Русская версия этой заметки здесь.

*Edouard Boyakov, Russian theatre and cinema producer and director. 

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