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[Ukrainian Statehood in the Twentieth Century: Historical and Political Analysis. Kyiv: Political Thought, 1996. pp. 367-380.]

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Post-Soviet Forms of Social Changes


In order to better understand the sociopolitical changes in Ukraine in the first half of the 1990s, it is worth looking deeper into such transistorical social forms as guild and fratry.

That the human being had radically changed in the years of Soviet power was known back in the so-called days of "stagnation." Not so many years later, with the onset of "perestroika," he began to change beyond recognition. In the mirror of what social configurations can one discern his contemporary visage? It became common practice to assert that this image is highly blurred because postcommunist society itself seems to be scattered and unstructured. It only seems so because we still describe the masses in the categories of "class," "stratum," "occupation," etc., without noticing that this category-setting network is far from covering the reallife human individual in his relationship with the social whole. To be fully aware of the fact that modern society is actually well-structured, one should enlarge the scale of observation. In order to describe postcommunist societal transformations we will employ the concepts of "guild" and "fratry" as universal ideal types of structural organization of society. This requires us to think about the processes of further exchange, interrelationships of individuals and groups on a "microphysical" (Michel Foucault) level, that is, in Foucault's terms, the "microphysics of power" and the speci-/368/ficity of "micropolitics." It concerns, above all, the in-depth social medium which brings about business cooperation of people and thus sets conditions for their mobility, realizes their vital interests, and claims for social success.

1. Homo Corporaticus

Any social institution as a means of maintaining social relationships is an order, a set of rules and norms, which have to be effected by a group of selected people. In order to inscribe something on this institutional matrix, a group must consequently distribute among its members the benefits and places in the hierarchy offered by the institution. In its turn, in order to bring the subjective interests of members of an institutional group into close correspondence with the interests of the institution as a whole, the group must organize and act within the framework of institutional rules and norms and create a micropolitical environment. Such an environment may be extremely harsh (e.g., an environment formed by unlawful practices in the army). It may not be created to a reasonable extent by its own agents alone, but it is always in existence. No social practice, no social exchange can be carried out without concomitant micropolicies.

What are these micropolitical environments? No individual involved in a practical activity is free of his professional environment. His reward and place in the hierarchy depend on how correctly he behaves toward his superiors, subordinates, colleagues, business partners, etc. This behavior also determines the work climate in which the individual finds himself and the degree of his personal freedom or dependence. The nature of relationships in a professional circle is very diverse: orders, mutual obligations, patronage, rivalry, solidarity, etc. Implementing these tactics in communicative action is the everyday life of a micropolicy. Its strategy, however, is different, namely, to set a pattern of relations with the institution in question best for a given human collective. /369/

A stable active group with a micropolitical relationship may be called corporation. This word conveys vividly the plasticity of interactions described here.. On the microphysical level, a socium is a complex set of interacting corporativistic units. Society as a totality of groups and institutions is primarily the process and result of the interaction of hundreds of thousands of corporations.

Merely by being involved in a corporate relationship, an individual comes to the intersection of the domination/subordination lines and the lines of socioeconomlc construction. Here power-seeking impulses, technologies, ideological ensembles, and ethnocultural customs unite and create centers of power around which all possible discursive practices pivot. A corporation is merely an arrangement of individuals around these centers, a method to capillarize the relations of domination. A person inhabits a family, a certain ethnocultural environment; he may be a member of a religious microcommunity and subject to a political regime, always acting in the framework of ownership and power. But he only lives in his own corporation. Here the individual, influenced by the mechanics of micropolitics, is really drawn into power relations. It is, here that he is introduced to the notions of culture in general and ethic culture in particular. Being in the hearth of power, he accepts (or rejects) one or another ensemble of social values adapted to specific needs by the corporative experience of his professional environment. In this case micropolicies open the channels of social mobility for individuals and groups.

A corporation is not the only possible microphysical form of power distribution among people. Nevertheless, man remains corporative par excellence. Another question is: what type of corporation is dominant under a given social system and, in particular, in the surrounding postcommunist world? /370/

2. The Soviet Guild

We live in the ruins of the Soviet institutional system and are moving toward a corporative order which is anything but communist. Homo sovieticus becomes extinct in "inconvenient" social conditions. It would be virtually impossible to reproduce him or to revive the social order to which he was accustomed (and which had been created for him).1 To understand the metamorphoses of corporative relationships in our society in the postcommunist period, one has to briefly describe the main features of communist professional cooperation. The latter have the character of a guild.

In ancient times, the Italian urban commune gave an example of political self-organization of the free citizens based on professional cooperation. As in those distant times of city-states, under Soviet communism the corporative (micropolitical) liaisons of the groups of people who in fact did not have at their disposal the means of production gradually became the basis (nerve plexus) of the whole social life to a much higher degree.

The communist guild consisted of a corporation of hirelings whose access to societal goods depended on their proximity to the centralized distributors of material values and services. This was achieved, above all, by virtue of one's position in the institutional hierarchy. An advantageous position in the distribution structure allowed an individual (and his corporate environment) to redistribute values secondarily (i.e., outside a given societal institution). To make one's career in Soviet society meant to obtain broader access to a secondary corporative redistribution of various benefits and resources rather than to get promoted and increase one's own welfare. In this connection the main idea of micropolicies under communism was always the struggle for a key to the doors of distribution, regardless of whether it was a question of cut-price holiday accommodations or granting /371/ an enterprise something outside the official framework. Therefore, official life, rules, and legal norms were pushed into the background in the minds of its agents. Talent, professional qualities, and skills played a secondary role as compared to a micropolitical power, knowledge of how "to get along with people" and pursue "one's own interests" in any situation. This led to the distortion of the whole system of social mobility. Society, in essence, lost control over the process by which it evaluated the work efficiency and ethical norms of people at various levels of the social hierarchy. A regime took shape in which social success was determined first of all by interpersonal corporative alliances.

Throughout Soviet history the communist institutions did their best to fight the economically destructive elements of the corporativistic microphysics of power, but without success. Neither the system of control and economic incentives, nor severe ideological manipulation, gave stable results. The corporatist structure reacted to new institutional policies, adapted to them, and continued to live by its own rules. As time went on, consumer values became dominant in corporative life at all social levels. Party structures were given the task of overseeing how work collectives fulfilled their functional responsibilities. Yet, these very structures in the final analysis became the main source of secondary redistribution.

From this point of view, the sociopolitical practices of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic are a classical example of the development of the Soviet guild structure. Ukraine observed a distinct tendency toward corporative separatism, which was testified to by the activities of Petro Shelest, the author of the book Ukraino Nasha Radianska (Ukraine, Our Soviet Land), which appeared in the early 1970s. The publication, in fact, affirmed the ideal of the republic's nomenklatura to control access to retail establishments closed to those not members of the nomenklatura. It cost the author his position as CPU First Secretary, which represented the victory of guild over society, of the domi-/372/nant corporation, the Central, Committee of the CPSU, over a provincial corporation. But ever further, the Soviet guild in Ukraine continued to exist under the influence of contradictions between the centrifugal interest and the rules of the Communist party nomenklatura corporation. Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, one of the last Communist Party leaders in Ukraine, said of the regional corporative stronghold that "in Ukraine we have a very strong Party organization," and this became a vivid symbol of that ambivalence.

In the history of the Soviet guild, the period in question may be seen as a milestone and signifies in its own way the crisis of the CPSU nomenklatura corporation.

In the Stalinist period the state tried to make people work by means of repression, which caused a fit of social aggression on a gigantic scale thus bringing the whole system of official institutions to the verge of collapse. The authorities continuously applied ideological pressure to which corporations responded with ideological sabotage, turning aggressive discourses into formal rituals of loyalty to the communist institutions. As late as the 1970s the faith in communist ideals was already identified with naivete and even mental deficiency.

By the 1980s this modus vivendi at last coincided with the discourse of power. Society went internally out of control despite the lack of any significant social protest. Perestroika began at the very moment when the fourth "selected" generation of homo sovieticus, who ensured survival of corporations through their complete mastery of the rituals of loyalty, came to the fore. Foucault had the pithy thought that plebs as a social institution do not exist, but society, its social groups, and individuals themselves possess a plebeian dark side, i.e., an energy of resistance, attempts to evade their official duties. "This plebeianism places itself not in the field of power relationships but rather on the edge of it and is itself the reverse and ricochet of wielding power; this means that any governmental action provokes resistance. By the same token this motivates further expansion of the /373/ sphere of domination."2 In the last decade of the USSR's existence plebeianism moved from the sociopolitical shadows closer to the kilns of power, gradually paralyzing the nerve centers of the social organism and giving birth in the long run to a new style of corporative interaction.

3. The Post-Soviet Fratry

Perestroika, in essence, thus included within itself a destructive force which shook the very foundations of communist society, i.e., its guild-like order. As soon as the old foundation of existence of corporations was touched, communism found itself in its death throes. Within its institutions a new type of corporate interaction began to form, specifically expressing the cardinal changes which perestroika society was undergoing on a basic level, where the modes of redistribution and use of social benefits were brought into correspondence with the principles of cooperation among individuals. This new ethos of corporation was formed as a counterweight to the Soviet guild-based plebeianism of the last decade. Today this has in fact become dominant and molds a deep social order, making possible, in the final analysis, the existence of the postcommunist state as such, in spite, total nihilism, a shameful criminal revolution, and economic crisis.

This form of corporation dates back to such an archaic social structure as fratry.

"Fratry" is a special genus of professional alliance whose members always orient their activity toward a single longterm objective appropriating from a position of strength the fruits of other people's labor. This type of alliance is customarily associated with archaic paramilitary communities which predated the establishment of the Roman republic. "Fratries" may emerge at any point of a socium, provided that access to material values is sufficiently simple and relatively risk-free. Their essence is that they are forms of parasitism on social relations. From a "fratry's" perspective, /374/ an institution is only an instrument to restructure social linkages for more effective exploitation by the parasite. The internal organization of a "fratry" tends to establish the closest possible "bodily" contact (and verbal unity) of its members ("fraternity"). This includes an austere mechanism to initiate and identify a member in the power hierarchy, strict (sometimes ritualized) subordination; it implies "transparency" of the individual for the environment and the existence of a protoideology (collective myth to rationalize away the mode of organization and manner of activity). A "fratry" has a militant, aggressive nature and its activities always entail a certain risk. But, by imposing on its members a rigid set of mutual obligations, the "fratry" simultaneously defends them (this is not to be confused with the guild's equal protection of all members) and finally separates them from other corporative (and even whole social) groups and from obligations to the latter. At its most mature, a "fratry" constitutes within the structure of society a hermetic asocial niche where official laws do not function. A special ethical climate is created which is radically different from enunciated public morals; the social and professional status of an individual (acquired in temporal world) loses all real significance.

This characterization, of course, has the nature of an ideal type. Together with this, the notion of "mafia" as a designation for this phenomenon has penetrated the consciousness of society. Precisely for this reason "mafia" comes to simultaneously mean both in-groups at the summit of state power and abstract criminal clans. Meanwhile, the whole societal body is today literally infiltrated, permeated, and infested with "mafias," and "mafias" are not concentrated only in the privileged, special spaces of public activity. The fratry in a postcommunist epoch both in rigid mature forms and in an unclear initial shape always dominates and becomes indispensable for human survival.

A considerable role is played here by the ongoing mass pauperization of society in Ukraine. Despite the legislative /375/ and normative activities of various state structures and outbursts of verbosity, especially on the part of many political parties, the people's impoverishment becomes here a natural companion and stimulant of anomie.

The stratification of the present Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine in a situation of the absolute social unstructured quality of society and, hence, impossibility of a full-fledged representative democracy, testify to the domination of fratry in the process of organizing group interests.

The ethos of fratry is deeply rooted in ancient times. Jose Ortega-y-Gasset saw in it a "sportive" embryo of statehood as such.3 The "fratry" always exists, even on the margins of society under both capitalism and communism. This "remnant" usually catches its second wind where people are forcibly united in such corporations as the army on the basis of legal coercion and the penitentiary system or where patriarchal traditions remain vigorous. The "fratry" also casts its shadow on the actions of political elites.4 The "fratry" is a primary "barbaric" type of concentrating human beings around the kilns of power; it arises not on the basis of cooperation in production and exchange and not on the basis of market relationships but on the basis of a forced alienation of values from the producer or merchant. Only when a society begins to assume structure on the basis of democratic legislation, "fratry" moves into the shadow of politics and is force to the margins of economic life.

We ultimately connect the rapid rise of the new "fratry" ethos to at least three lethal processes going on in the body of communist society and continuing to exert a powerful influence on the life of the postcommunist world. They are 1) the institutional strengthening of the personal interests of the Soviet bureaucracy, 2) privatization (latent and official appropriation) of the "socialist property of the whole people" by groups of the population, and 3) a fundamental change in the character of social mobility.

Perestroika began, was carried out, and brought to victorious end not by the enemies of the USSR, not by dissi-/376/dents, but by the common Soviet people whose consumerist consciousness warped by double standards regarded the national wealth (including not only material resources but also symbolic capital) as kind of an open-sesame, only without the magic word. It seemed that incantations about the spirit of free competition, market relationships, and private property would automatically open before the people horizons of a bright consumerist future.

Perestroika did not and could not end up in a New Economic Policy (NEP) which the communist state could end at an auspicious moment,5 there was and could be no escape from perestroika: in a few years (a radical difference from the 1920s) communism was deprived of its main and essentially only protector, the guild-based functionary whose own life within a materialized Utopia convinced him in the uselessness for him of communist ideology.

Demonstrations of capitalist wealth, attacks on Stalinism, and the creation of formal conditions for a multilevel economy failed to call forth any mass labor enthusiasm. The economy as a system responded to the incantations of the free market and to government opportunism with deepening disorganization. The populace took to speculative capitalism after it became aware that wage/salary raises in fact meant cuts in living standards. The main thing however, is that the very agents of institutional practices (government, economic, and Party functionaries) were mature enough to use the archaic social form of fratry on the basis of their previous social and economic experience. NEP as a social phenomenon came to naught largely because the most mobile part of the empire's population remained indifferent to it. And, conversely, in the late 1980s the mobile part of society concentrated under the old regime near the centers of power and consumer resources applied every effort to destroy the Soviet institutional machine and exploit emerging sinecures for personal ends.

The chinovnik (including those of the Party) was secularized with amazing rapidity, and this seemed one of the /377/ reasons for a "miraculous" destruction of the seemingly unshakable edifice of the CPSU. Having lost the capacity to create a system of institutional rules and norms as well as to supervise corporative practice on all levels of Soviet society, the institution of the Party outlived its usefulness. The communist state came crashing down in a thunder of purely communist-sounding demands for social justice. The collapse of totalitarianism gave the inhabitant of the USSR the freedom not to participate in spontaneous mass organizations, be it in politics, economy, or culture. He already (and for a long time) regarded the guild-based foundations of communism merely as a tiresome ritual, and now that all forms of social creativity seemed accessible, he channeled his efforts in only one direction: adopting the essentially negative rhetoric of "acceleration" as merely one more rite of loyalty, he began by word and deed to demolish what had hitherto at least slightly restrained the appetites of both the functionaries and criminal spontaneity, what had kept corporative practice under a measure of control and made social processes generally manageable; in fact, he demolished the institutional order of the Soviet state. It was only natural that the objectives of in-groups of functionaries disinterested in any control over their actions fully corresponded to the prevailing mood of the population. The Soviet Union died in a spasm of social envy. This was probably the only time when the interests of a plebeianized guild and an ever-strengthening fratry paradoxically coincided.

The global collapse of institutions, which had completely lost their regulative functions during perestroika, became the scourge of postcommunist society despite fits of law-making and bureaucratic tradition (recall Gorbachev's acute verbosity). The very language of law ceased to express and structure the ensemble of available social practices and degenerated into a mere jargon of power. This tendency to assert the ethos of fratry still remains all too obvious.

Communism died before the social models of modern capitalist society had formed. The ideology of reforms was /378/ thus deprived, as it were, of any real-life social basis. Behind the civil facade both the codes of practical ethics6 and patterns of social identification and corporative relationship which otherwise impart positive sense to the institutions of Western democracy and economy, cease to function and lose all positive sense. And the naïvé conviction that law-making and norm-setting will at the end of the day make the masses of people live in a "civilized" manner is in fact utterly groundless. The great difficulties of postcommunist society are rooted in the fact that the destruction of guild-type structures, their devaluation in the eyes of all mobile individuals developed from mass disgust with institutional practice as such. And the more a society is infatuated by ideas of a cherny peredel (an apocalyptic, total redistribution from "haves" to "have-nots"), the more the archaic "fratry," riding a wave of mass plebianism, fills the pores of the societal skin and fills the cavities of the social body.

From this it does not follow that times of "anarchy" and "lawlessness" are in the offing. The paradox lies in the fact that the forge of guild power has vanished into thin air; in fact, it is essentially due to the "criminal revolution" and "special" parasitic interest pursued by "fratry" bands that the postcommunist elite has continued to reproduce a mythology of "functioning" societal institutions (structures, laws, etc.) and transform it in an imaginary "democratic capitalist" direction on all levels of the social edifice. It was entrepreneurial activity that governed the dynamics of fratry relationships from the very start of the Gorbachev reforms.

The liberal rhetoric supplementary to entrepreneurship presents the Entrepreneur himself as an innovator, the locomotive of universal prosperity and technological progress. This overlooks completely the fact that a society which places the figure of the entrepreneur at the crossroads of any socioeconomic and political practice and has not set itself the task to prepare an appropriate institutional and corporative groundwork reaps the wind of a speculative capitalist boom. The crash in which such booms inevitably end /379/ brings no relief because then the crisis of "innovation" will merely generate social uncertainty. And so on ad infinitum.

However, for those who enter the world of commerce, the fratry becomes the only possible form of business cooperation. To demonstrate, suffice it to trace how the state apparatus has been transforming the new "economic mode" into a gigantic machine for the appropriation of national wealth and, in particular, latent privatization of the nation's immovable property. While Homo Sovieticus shuddered with hatred for the communist nomenklatura, the USSR's mobile citizens created a brotherhood, forgetting forever who had been a Party functionary, currency speculator, possessed privilege, and who had totally disassociated himself from all prospects connected with socialism.

Ukrainians also witnessed Comsomol and Communist Party functionaries turning into bankers, engineers into customs officers, scholars and scientists into shuttle traders, and "those who misappropriate of socialist property" into shadow economy bosses, respectable wheelers-dealers and official national economic advisors.

Thus, the entrepreneurial "fratry" does not suffer at all from, for example, the "building-up of an independent Ukrainian state." On the contrary, it derives from it a real benefit: profits are redistributed between those who derive them on the market and those who regulate the latter's activity. "Fratry" becomes a stable and system-creating social form, which in essence suppresses the necessity for other ways of social self-organization. "Fratry" steps forward as the main entrepreneurial "innovation" in the organization of society in the postcommunist period.

* * *

We have witnessed a tectonic shift in the bowels of the system of the microphysics of power, in other words, in the power-knowledge complex which had ensured the unity and stability of the social totality through decades of totalitarianism. And it is too early to forecast the consequences of /380/ this shift. The Soviet people were relieved of the communist "straitjacket" in ways completely different from those envisaged by postcommunist liberal "therapists."

No wonder that the culture of the pre-industrial era in its micropolitical manifestations makes itself felt on occasion in the postcommunist period in perfect harmony with Potemkin-village democracy in the guise of fashionable economic jargon, discussion of reform, precipitous contraction in industry, education, and the unemployment of the communist "Guild" (which was destroyed not at all to ensure industrial prosperity, scientific progress, civil peace, equality, and fraternity). The powerful "Fratry" and the sickly "Guild," the latter gradually becoming a mass refuge and homeless shelter for losers, coexist and oppose each other. The split between them is no longer at the level of ideological, class, group, property, or ethnic rivalries. It originates in the depths of the human condition, acquiring the basic nature of a "friend-foe" dichotomy.

The "business" elite of the postcommunist world does not identify itself as "bourgeoisie." And understandably so. If the "bourgeois" Enlightenment was marked by the fact that, in addition to the power vertical of lords living off serfs, artisans and merchants created then an effective horizontal of social exchange, the "twilight" of communism was marked by the chimerical nomenklatura businesses and ubiquitous asociality... The post-Soviet fratry has won out over the communist guild, and this immeasurably complicates the forming of democratic institutions in the near future.

1 See, specifically: A. Zinoviev, Kommunizm kak Realnost' (1980; in Russian).

2 See: A. Gluckmann, Les maotres penseurs, (Paris, 1977), p.321.

3 J. Ortega-y-Gasset, "The Sporting Origin of the State," Filosofskaya i Sotsiologicheskaya Mysl', (Kiev, 1990), No. 6, pp. 38-48 (Russian translation).

4 See, specifically: O.Bily, V.Burlachuk, "We, Philologists", Suchasnist', 1992, No.7, pp. 73-81 (in Ukrainian).

5 The true plans of the Gorbachev team are even now difficult for us to realize. However, behind torrents of official rhetoric (about "civil peace," "class partnership") as well as their actions on the whole one can see a certain general scheme. "Vouchers" for the Komsomol leaders to commercial structures, attempts to create an analog of "people's enterprises after Goering", etc. testify to efforts to transform communism into a "corporativist state."

6 For various types of collectivism and corporation, see: R. Sainsaulieu, L'identite au travail: Les effets culturels de I'organisation (Paris, 1988); A.A.Zinoviev, Zapad. Fenomen Zapadnizma (Moscow, 1995; in Russian).

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