The biggest surprise for me (and my biggest miscalculation) has been the number of people supporting Putin.
I had expected something else after two years of idiotic measures against the pandemic (measures that caused the deaths of more than a million people), after the [economic] crisis and the pension reforms.
This support cannot be explained solely in terms of propaganda. The regime’s propaganda is eclectic: it doesn’t supply people with a holistic worldview or logical arguments. It supplies them with mind-numbing slogans. The Russian Federation still has a fairly educated population, with a relatively broad outlook inherited from the Soviet education system. Over the years, I have learned from my own experience as an activist how difficult it is to convince such people using slogans alone.
In all the conversations [about the war] that I have had with people, it was they who initiated the conversations, vigorously advanced their positions, and went on the attack. This is completely atypical. Usually, it’s the other way around.
In all cases, the conversations boiled down to “we don’t know the whole picture” and “there must be good reasons,” segueing to “we don’t decide anything” and “it’s all completely pointless anyway.” A friend said that mothers refusing to look for their sons killed in combat have been saying, “There is no point, [the authorities] won’t give us anything.” A colleague at work ended our conversation [about the war] by saying, “Over in Khabarovsk they protested in defense of [Sergei] Furgal for three months and what of it? It’s completely useless.”
Now I have the feeling that people are very alarmed. They expect the worst and manifest the “social instinct” typical of post-Soviet society — siding with the strongman and rallying round “our guys” whoever they are.
That is, it is not propaganda that encourages them to support [the war], but “instinct.” Propaganda, on the other hand, only satisfies the demand for an explanation after the fact, the need for an indulgence and an analgesic.
Probably we should have expected something like this because the Russian Federation has been living in “counter-terrorist operation” mode for twenty years with berserk cops and crazed lawmakers. Nevertheless, I expected something different.
I don’t see any positive prospects yet. To do something, you need an organization, resources, intelligence, bases of support, media, and experience in underground work, finally. None of this exists. We are now in circumstances resembling those faced by the White Rose — only the authorities are not killing us yet, they can only send us to prison for ten years. And we don’t have the slightest preparation for working in such conditions.
The worse the situation in the country, the more people will consolidate. No introspection or arguments will break through the barrier generated by fear, guilt, and the imperial complex. Partisans [guerrillas] must have the support of the populace, but we don’t have it. One-off heroic actions would simply send crowds armed with pitchforks and torches to the houses where the heroes’ relatives live.
On the other hand, there are admirable examples of protesters mobilizing. They have also been consolidating and learning self-organization and mutual support. (Their leaders have all been jailed.) Theirs is not a left-wing mobilization, nor is likely to become one.
The left had a mobilization two years ago and we wasted it on another round of party-building projects.
These reflections were posted friends-only on social media by an experienced and extraordinarily thoughtful Russian grassroots activist whose day job as a tradesperson brings them into contact with Russians from all walks of life on a daily basis. They have kindly permitted me to translate their remarks and publish them here. Translated by the Russian Reader