Taylor E Dark spent a year teaching at a Russian university where he found a student generation politically apathetic but entrepreneurially vigorous. They even miss classes to go on business tripsby Taylor E Dark / July 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
The National Interest
5th January 1996
A century ago, the youth of Russia were notorious for their radicalism. By the end of the 19th century, their most extreme representatives had pioneered strategies of political terrorism against the Tsarist state; led an ill-fated “crusade to the people”; and embraced versions of Marxism that demanded the total reconstruction of society. In the Bolshevik revolution, this student generation came to power under the leadership of Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky, and Stalin-all former student activists who had been expelled from college or otherwise punished for their radicalism.
As Russia navigates its current time of troubles, the identity of its youth, especially the elite in higher education, takes on greater importance than at any time since 1917. If the political attitudes and behaviour of today’s young people prefigure the political complexion of Russia in the first decades of the next century, we should take a great interest in knowing whether they are likely to form the vanguard of nationalist extremism or a bulwark of liberal democracy. My guess-based on recent experience living and teaching in Russia-is that the current generation will promote democracy, not through conscious political action, but rather through their own economic activities, which will establish a solid foundation for an autonomous Russian bourgeoisie-the great missing link in the evolution of political pluralism in Russia.
During the 1994-95 academic year, I taught at Kuban State University in Krasnodar, Russia, a city of about 1m in the northern Caucasus, 400 miles from Chechnya. Although my students were unusual in that they spoke English, they were in most other respects not unrepresentative of Russian students in general, or even of the larger population of young people.
My contact with these students left me with conflicting feelings about Russia’s future. On the one hand, the cogency with which they evaluated their own and their country’s predicament was little short of brilliant. Yet their profound sense of fatalism, and their corresponding unwillingness to take political action or to consider politics as anything other than a realm of self-interested corruption, was dismaying. To the extent that they were convinced of the desirability of liberal democracy, they believed that Russia’s transition to such a system would take centuries; the immediate future will be dominated by bad habits learnt over centuries in order to deal with Tsarist oppression and Bolshevik tyranny: keep your head down, grab what you can when…