Down here, simplicity is better than theft or at least equal to it in terms of occurrence. The cream and the dregs of society go to bed and wake up, thinking about “ordinary people.” This customary but essentially unclear expression can be heard pronounced hundreds of times in the air, in the corridors of power and congress halls, and at public rallies. Who are these simple, guileless, and unpretentious people who get so much love from the sophisticated, distinguished, honored, and well-known? Why do we not come across the same kind of people when we travel over the country, while the official rhetoric is devoted to them only: “ordinary” people want this but don’t want that, “ordinary” people need a supermarket rather than a central election commission, etc.?
Pastoral images of the lower estates emerged in the era of sentimentalism which was forcefully expressed in the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Nikolai Karamzin. They vested the poor with the charm of naturalness, believing that they were incalculably more moral than the rich. Before that, slaves, plebeians, beggars, indigent tramps, and low-income laborers had aroused no other exalted feelings than compassion. Everything changed with the arrival of such a social characteristic as “commoner.” Here are the lines from Pierre Jean Beranger’s well-known poem “Le Villain” (The Plebeian):
“I noble? No, sirs, I confess.
No – none, for me,
of knightly race
The patent did
on vellum trace;
To love my country’s all
I’m of a breed that’s low
Yes, low, sirs, very low!”
By tonality, this sounds like an anthem. Europe’s 18th-century public life was permeated with spiritualization of the lower classes. Stories were written about new Eloises, Mariannes, and young Werthers; pictures were painted of women on hayfields and men in coal mines. The plight of the poor was a fashionable theme of high-society salons and an object to which the “best intellects” were applied. But the Old World’s social image changed in the 19th century. Cabinetmakers and watchmakers, tailors, and shoemakers acquired a high-society clientele. Peasants became farmers and bakers, winegrowers and cheese-makers turned into factory owners. This could not be said about Russia, where poor Lisas and Mashas and beautiful Tatianas continued to maintain the status quo, while Russian classics’ every novel made a pejoratively pitiful mention of commoners. Europe and Russia took a different attitude to the lower classes from then on. In the West, the underprivileged who were engaged in manual labor climbed up the social ladder and formed the middle class. In the East, they still remained at the full disposal of blue bloods. The nobles might have been both kind and wicked, while the commoners remained superb in general and unremarkable in particular. The country of slaves and lords was not interested in low-bred people. The state only wished the common people to be its mainstay. The much-praised masses were only allowed to obey the whims of the elites, defend the fatherland, and work. The organization of communes and trade unions as well as enrichment up to the level of personal independence was looked down upon.
The October Revolution, which abolished estate-based divisions in the Russian Empire, preserved commoners as a class of workers and peasants and confirmed their state-forming status. Since 1917, the countries that are still in the Russian orbit of influence have been doing everything on behalf of such people. They condemn Trotskyite dogs and mod boys, die in battles for harvest and the fatherland, do not want to integrate into the surrounding world, and fully entrust low-born “good leaders” to manage the state. Kindhearted simpletons, the artless children of nature, typical as Khrushchev-era-built tenements, and primitive social mechanisms are suitable for a despotic government. They are content with the minimum, do not poke their nose into what they don’t belong to, support and approve of all that they are told to do, and wish no changes. This kind of electorate should be flattered and addressed to as bearers of people’s knowledge and wisdom.
There are two films with almost the same title. The Soviet one, Ordinary People, is a saga on the wartime courage and heroism of ordinary men and women. The English-American-Italian movie, Simple Men, is an irony over the money-grabbing, adventurism, and greed of similar unremarkable characters. It is a Freud-style difference in the interpretation of human figures. While the Soviet establishment encouraged the simple tastes, uniformity, and artlessness of the masses, the Western one condemned this.
The self-limited lower social stratum – “pleb” in the Western interpretation – sounds the same in all languages. Plebeians used to be formally free citizens who did not exercise, however, their civil rights in Ancient Rome – now they are the shamefully “simple” people in many countries. It is difficult to imagine a European parliamentarian who appeals to the opinion of the plebs, especially in state-formation matters. But in the countries that make use of Soviet dogmatism, this is a common behavior. This is not only a habit to pronounce archaisms, such as “comrades,” “work collectives,” and “workplace exploits.” The point is not in words. Those who rule the country view its social setup the way Jean Jacques Rousseau’s and Karl Marx’s contemporaries did: the rich and the poor, people of intellectual and manual labor, peasants and city dwellers. Our state management is not burdened with theories of social stratification or postindustrial society. We still use not only a worn-out infrastructure, but also the outdated ideas of the 19th-century social policies. Everybody wants to please the abstract characters who are satisfied with one overcoat for seven years and other benefits on the list of an average allowance, but nobody cares about the everyday requirements of various strata and groups of the population. The reason perhaps is that the current elite have come out of the same coat of ingenuousness which the lower classes still wear. The former meat-cutters, collective farm chairmen, shop-floor Party and Komsomol activists have made their way up without changing their views, education, and habits. They have overcome poverty and humiliation, so why can’t the others do so? What theories? It’s all simple in simple people.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov recently complained about the film industry in http://urainform.com/ru/tags/facebook: they make too many movies about violence and crime, as if the whole country consists of criminals and policemen, rather than about ordinary people. Mr. Azarov is right: like in Hollywood, ordinary people stay off the screen in this country.