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Thursday, February 15, 2018

The middle class shrank and subsided

Rapid changes in the Russian economy entailed changes in the structure of society. Over the past two years the middle class in Russia, according to several studies, decreased by 14 million people. But, unlike the situation five years ago, this group has completely lost interest in protest activity. The most dissatisfied part of the population now looks very different.

Data about population dynamics of the middle class are contained in the next issue of “Consumer index Ivanov,” review of consumer confidence conducted regularly by analysts of Sberbank CIB. According to their calculations, since the downturn began in the third quarter of 2014 to the present time, the proportion of citizens who identificeret themselves as middle class fell from 61 to 51 per cent of 14 million people. The main factor of “reduction in grade” was the outrunning growth of expenses in comparison with income.

“Claims that part of society is far-fetched, whimsical and does not reflect the real needs of society. Elite was never going to satisfy them seriously”

Criteria by which citizens consider themselves middle class, in comments to the “Ivanov index” does not say, however, it is clear that we are talking primarily about certain consumer standards, to maintain which requires an appropriate level of income. At the beginning of this year, the Institute of sociology published a study “the Russian middle class in terms of stability and crises” in which monthly average income in the “core” of the middle class was set at 22.6 thousand rubles, and in the “periphery to core” – 17,1 thousand rubles (as of October 2015). Assessing sociologists wounds were more pessimistic than in “Ivanov index”. Then they carried it to the middle class, 44% of Russians, but noted that for the year of the economic crisis, this proportion is almost not decreased, unlike the previous crisis of 2008-2009.

Official statistics tend to confirm the thesis of the decline in the share of the middle class. In the first eight months of this year, Rosstat recorded a decline in real incomes by 5.8% compared to the same period last year. The reduction in revenues puts pressure on the consumption of goods that do not belong to the category of Essentials. In the end, retail trade decreased by 5.7%, import (import of goods make up a significant part of the “market basket” of the middle class) by 8.6%. The drop in these indicators was observed throughout 2015, there is already a fairly long-term in nature and, therefore, a reflection of this trend on the social structure of the population is inevitable.

Zero-degree protest

Meanwhile, the decline of the middle class has not led to a new surge of protest activity among this group (if we take it for granted that the middle class was the driving force behind the “wetland” rallies in Moscow in 2011-2012). Moreover, the class rhetoric of the time like a thing of the past. Language that is actively used five years ago for the characteristics of participants of protest actions (in addition to, actually, “middle class”, was the phrase “creative class” and “angry citizens”), was released from the vocabulary of practical politics. During the recent Duma campaign, no serious political force appealed to the audience, calling her “proper name”.

The head of the center for economic research Institute of globalization and social movements Vasily Koltashov believes that the main reason for the decline in protest activity of the middle class (in the sense that was meant in the period of “wetland” rallies) – changes in life, and in consciousness of those entities who have recently been at the forefront of the protest. “In recent years, the economic system of Russia has changed a lot, followed by changing the structure of society – said Koltashov. – Many people who were employed in the service sector, were forced to find a new use. For example, reduced a large number of Bank employees I meet in Moscow former Bank employees working as taxi drivers. Suffered and advertising sector, for example, is extinct in the Moscow metro. Many went to work in the regions, leaving the local managers – there was a protective migration staff, although before the capital’s middle class is absolutely not interested in how people live in the regions. Talking about this realtors in Moscow have less to remove housing. Some members of the Metropolitan middle class were the farmers.”

If this continues the Koltashov, was destroyed many illusions – this is where the transition from being to consciousness: “in the past, these people believed that there is a liberal post-industrial perspective, and now they are in turmoil, they are not up to the protests. Faded image of a bright liberal future. It seemed to them that they have material wealth, but a lack of political freedom, and if it is greater then life will be better. Now, under the impact of the crisis, the group standing in the center of the protests in 2011-2012, is destroyed, along with fantastic world that seemed to improve, oprotestovivat in a liberal spirit. If earlier many office inmates thought that their jobs and they get natural money is not wasted, but now these places are reduced, because they were unprofitable for business.”

With this view agrees the Professor, HSE Paul Rodkin, noting that in political terms, the middle class was in a situation of social exclusion. In his opinion, the so-called middle class (or rather, those groups that are considered middle class or identificeret themselves as such) and is now devoid of a coherent political program, in other words, just do not know what he wants.

“Claims that part of society is far-fetched, whimsical and does not reflect the real needs of society. Elite was never going to satisfy them seriously, – says Pavel Rodkin. – The protests since the “belolentochnoe revolution” was perceived by middle class more as “game”, but playing the same game continuously is impossible. In addition, the society had a sobering effect example of Ukraine, as well as subsequent postkrymsky consolidation, in which most of the requirements of the “middle-of the creative class” looks really out of place.”

Rhetoric and reality

Given the range of opinions is enough to understand that the term “middle class”, quite standard for the Western social Sciences, requires a more precise definition taking into account the Russian realities. “The term has been used and is used in many meanings, carrying a variety of meaning, – says Nikolai Silayev, senior researcher of the Center for Caucasus and regional security MGIMO, a former editor of policy magazine “Expert” (which is the theme of the middle class has experienced significant growth). – The middle class was described as the social base of democracy, reforms, market economy, although the ideals of democracy and liberal reforms sometimes contradict each other. Some analysts called him a pillar of Vladimir Putin and “United Russia” and supported it with the data of sociological polls. Other analysts talked about the middle class as the most educated, dynamic, prosperous, intellectual part of society that because of its these properties, adheres to progressive values of liberal democracy. In this capacity, the middle class shortly before the protests on Bolotnaya began to become a “creative class” is another discussion and, as is often uncritically borrowed from American sociology the concept”.

But in the end it was the protesters, says Silaev, denied all politically motivated views about the middle class. During the rallies of the period Russian sociologist Alexander Bikbov has conducted a series of field studies, which gave a paradoxical result: no significant differences in education, income and occupation between participants in rallies on Bolotnaya square and on Poklonnaya hill, positioned himself as Patriotic and Pro-government. The participants of the same meeting could share very different political views, from libertarian to socialist.

“Mass – protests and loyal – have been ideologically structured. And certainly was not hard links: middle class protest. Rather, disintegrated the middle class itself as anything like a meaningful category. After the Swamp, the term “middle class” is hardly used to describe a certain socio-political reality, it has ceased to explain the political dynamics,” said Silayev.

The protests of the new formation

If we limit ourselves to a purely marketing defining the middle class by the level of consumption of its members, now there is some hope that the reduction in the share of this group in Russian society will stop. Despite the ongoing decline in real income and trade turnover, statistical agencies and independent analysts record the steady growth in consumer expectations. According to Rosstat, in the third quarter, the consumer confidence index of the population grew by 7 points to a level of 19%. It is far from positive zone in which he last was two years ago, but it’s not minus 30% at the beginning of this year.

The growth of consumer expectations noted in the study by Sberbank CIB, remarked: “the consumer confidence Index in the latest survey rose to minus 15% in the third quarter of 2016, as against minus 17% in the second quarter of 2016, due to rising wages, inflationary expectations and concerns related to the exchange rate, and improvement in the labour market”.

At the same time, protest activity increases in the regions. This period of the shares of truckers, and “tractor March” Kuban farmers, and the strike of miners in the Rostov region, and the action of the workers of the company “Avtovazagregat” in Togliatti, where he blocked a Federal highway demanding to pay salaries, and performances of citizens against repressive activity of security forces in Dagestan and other episodes.

“According to my colleagues-sociologists, protests became much more than before, but they became more rigid, more demanding, greatly changing people’s minds, and not in the center and in the regions”, – said Koltashov. This is the difference between the current waves of “wetland activity”: the shares of 2011-2012 has not received mass support outside Moscow – including the fact that representatives of the Metropolitan middle or creative class was absolutely still that live regions. In the end, the protest activity of the middle class, said Rodkin was compromised and now cannot be used in real social protest. Rather, it can be caused by the neoliberal reforms that the middle class usually supported ideologically. “Basically protests yet are social in nature, but when a critical mass of social protests is growing, this is politics, sums up the Koltashov. – Now it is not, but it all depends on how the situation will develop in the economy and what jobs will appear”.


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