Open House

“Graduate Student Azat Miftakhov Is Being Tortured by the FSB!” Protest at Moscow State University’s Open House Day
Agniya Galdanova
Republic
October 15, 2019

Activists from the MSU Pressure Group and Indefinite Protest protested during a speech by Rector Viktor Sadovnichy at Moscow State University’s open house day on October 13.

“Why are you silent? MSU graduate student Azat Miftakhov is being tortured by the FSB! And Rector Sadovnichy is silent!” shouted Olga Misik, a journalism student at MSU better known as the “constitution girl.”

Miftakhov, a 25-year-old mechanics and mathematics graduate student at MSU, was detained on February 1, 2019, in Balashikha. He is suspected of making a homemade bomb and attempting to set fire to a United Russia party office. Miftakhov has repeatedly complained of torture while in police custody.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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School Daze

olimpiada_po_himii(21)Moscow schoolchildren were smart enough to win the All-Russian Chemistry Olympiad in 2017, but the Moscow police department thinks they are not smart enough to know and speak their own minds when it comes to politics. Photo courtesy of Mos.ru, the official website of the Moscow mayor’s office

Policewoman Tells Moscow Schoolchildren “You Are Kaput” and Threatens Criminal Charges If They Attend Protest Rallies
Mediazona
September 6, 2019

​On condition of anonymity, a pupil at a school in Moscow has told Mediazona that today, during a lesson, a woman in a police uniform who identified herself as an inspector for minors came to his class. She threatened the schoolchildren with criminal charges if they attended protest rallies and said they would be unable to go to university.

Our source recorded the policewoman’s monologue on his telephone.

“As you know, protest rallies have been going on here in Moscow. People who attend them face administrative charges for this and then criminal charges. When people say they just happened to be in the same place, it makes no impression on me. I just put them on the watch list, and they get visits not only from beat cops but also from detectives,” she says at the beginning of her speech.

The policewoman then says she plans to put children on the watch list without bothering to figure out what happened.

“I do not care whether you there or not there, whether you went to a rally or were on a ‘stroll,’ whether you were just going to the toilet or not. I am going to put you on the watch list and that is that: you are kaput,” she says.

On a second recording, made in a parallel class at the same school, the policewoman goes into more detail about the dangers of being placed on the watch list of the police’s commission for the affairs of minors.

“When you are put on the watch list you can forget about your future and your plans for the future because you will not be able to get into any university. I am not talking about not being able to buy cigarettes or [inaudible] on a park bench. This is really serious. [. . .] I think your parents could also have a rough time at work. And basically, it is no fun being on the watch list, something everyone finds out later. Because we alert everyone that their employee’s child has been put on the watch list for this reason and that,” she says.

The school’s deputy headmaster then addresses the pupils.

“The main thing you have to understand is that the people who try to get you involved in this are just manipulating you. They could not care less about your civic stance. You are just numbers to them. They count you up and say that a hundred people, a thousand people came out for the rally. During the war, people like this were called ‘cannon fodder,'” he says.

“Remember that every so-called stroll in quotation marks—because, unfortunately, all children say they were strolling there—can bounce back on you in the sense that your entire educational trajectory and all your plans can be ruined very bitterly. We just worked together to try and save a pupil in the eleventh form after this situation because he was planning to go to a higher education institution connected with the law enforcement authorities. A lawyer was hired to defend him and he managed to get the charges dropped because the kid really had participated in so many academic competitions that it played a decisive role. But I would not wish what he went through on anyone. So don’t do it. Be smart and realize that the money they [inaudible] will later turn into tears of blood shed by your parents in the form of heavy fines,” he says.

According to our anonymous source, the preventive talks took place in the ninth and tenth forms at his school. He speculated they had probably taken place in other forms, too.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Me Talk Pretty One Day

67392734_2292618164188215_3196602514246783151_nPopular Russian blogger Dr. Philipp Kuzmenko might style himself the Russian “Doctor Phil,” but the title of his new book admirably owes nothing to modern English. Image courtesy of Feedler

The wholesale destruction of the Russian language at the hands of intellectuals and hipsters trying to look more worldly than they really are is not distressing only because what they do to their mother tongue looks and sounds awful and needless, but also because they pilfer the most threadbare, unattractive bits of modern English to gussy up their own perfectly pedestrian thoughts, e.g.,

В школьников по-прежнему запихивают объем информации, а сегодня надо учить компетенциям, трекам, по которым ребенок сможет добывать знания сам.

Schoolchildren are, as before, crammed with a volume of information, but today it is necessary to teach competencies, tracks with which the child will be able to obtain knowledge himself.

This is not the most egregious example I could find (it popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a few minutes ago), but it nicely shows the kind of wild register switching that happens when people talk and write like this.

There are at least three registers in the sentence quoted above: colloquial Russian (“crammed,” “schoolchildren”), bureaucratese (“as before,” “volume,” “information,” “obtain”), and avoidable, undigested Anglicisms (“competencies,” “tracks”).

Topping this progressivist cake is the cherry of Russian’s inbuilt sexism, if we can call it that, which means that a “child” is always a “he,” not a “she” or “it” or “they.”

Sometimes, the outcome of this permanent mental confusion is almost worthy of the greatest Russian literary register switcher of all time, Andrei Platonov. But he was making a very big tragicomic point, unlike his tin-eared descendants, who are unconsciously turning his uncanny nightmares into linguistic norms.

Why should this bother me, a non-native Russian speaker? Because I work as a translator. Much of the stuff I translate, nearly all of it written by highly educated, extraordinarily well-read Russians, resembles the hodgepodge quoted above, although it is usually even more unintentionally funny, chockablock with so many half-baked, misunderstood Anglicisms that I could think the authors were pulling my leg.

In fact, they are deadly serious.

To spare my readers the same sense that the writers are having a laugh at their expense, I have to translate their hipster worldliness signaling into what they might have said had they been real English speakers with no penchant for tiresome jargon and bureaucratese.

Does this mean I translate their “I’m so clever I’m also thinking in English as I write this” Russian into idiomatic Russian before translating it into real English?

Of course not. But in this case, I could venture such a translation, just for fun.

Мы все еще запихиваем в школьников большие куски информации, но сегодня мы должны учить их умениям, способам, с помощью которых они могли бы учиться сами.

It’s hardly perfect, but at least I used twenty-four Russian words—and one foreign borrowing, naturalized ages ago—to say what a native Russian speaker wanted but failed to say.

Tellingly, Yandex Translate had no trouble translating my hasty rewrite into perfectly decent English.

We still cram large chunks of information into schoolchildren, but today we have to teach them skills, ways in which they could learn for themselves. // TRR

New Russian Drama: An Anthology

drama

Maksim Hanukai
Facebook
August 13, 2019

I am very excited to announce the publication of New Russian Drama: An Anthology. The volume features 10 plays (or “texts”) by contemporary playwrights writing in Russian. It is framed by an Introduction by myself and Susanna Weygandt and what I think will be a somewhat controversial Foreword by the eminent Richard Schechner.

Enormous thanks to everyone who contributed to this project: Susanna Weygandt, Ania Aizman, Thomas Campbell, Kira Rose, Sasha Dugdale, Christine Dunbar, Christian Winting, Richard Schechner and, last but not least, the playwrights! Also major thanks to Boris Wolfson, Julie Curtis, Duska Radosavljevic, and Christian Parker for their very generous blurbs.

I include the Table of Contents and a link to the official book site. According to Columbia University Press, customers in the United States, Canada, and most of Latin America, the Caribbean, and East Asia can receive a 30% discount off the price of the book by using the promo code CUP30 on the CUP website. Customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, Middle East, South Asia, and South Africa should contact CUP’s distributor John Wiley & Sons to order the book and for information regarding price and shipping cost. Of course, the anthology is also available from other booksellers on- and offline.

Please help spread the news and consider teaching or staging these wonderful plays in your courses and theaters (or vice versa)!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Foreword, by Richard Schechner
Introduction by Maksim Hanukai and Susanna Weygandt
A Chronology of New Russian Drama
1. Plasticine, by Vassily Sigarev
2. Playing the Victim, by the Presnyakov Brothers
3. September.doc, by Elena Gremina and Mikhail Ugarov
4. The Brothers Ch., by Elena Gremina
5. The Blue Machinist, by Mikhail Durnenkov
6. The Locked Door, by Pavel Pryazhko
7. The Soldier, by Pavel Pryazhko
8. Summer Wasps Sting in November, Too, by Ivan Vyrypaev
9. Somnambulism, by Yaroslava Pulinovich
10. Project SWAN, by Andrey Rodionov and Ekaterina Troepolskaya
Notes
About the Authors

_____________________________________

New Russian Drama took shape at the turn of the new millennium—a time of turbulent social change in Russia and the former Soviet republics. Emerging from small playwriting festivals, provincial theaters, and converted basements, it evolved into a major artistic movement that startled audiences with hypernaturalistic portrayals of sex and violence, daring use of non-normative language, and thrilling experiments with genre and form. The movement’s commitment to investigating contemporary reality helped revitalize Russian theater. It also provoked confrontations with traditionalists in society and places of power, making theater once again Russia’s most politicized art form.

This anthology offers an introduction to New Russian Drama through plays that illustrate the versatility and global relevance of this exciting movement. Many of them address pressing social issues, such as ethnic tensions and political disillusionment; others engage with Russia’s rich cultural legacy by reimagining traditional genres and canons. Among them are a family drama about Anton Chekhov, a modern production play in which factory workers compose haiku, and a satirical verse play about the treatment of migrant workers, as well a documentary play about a terrorist school siege and a post-dramatic “text” that is only two sentences long. Both politically and aesthetically uncompromising, they chart new paths for performance in the twenty-first century. Acquainting English-language readers with these vital works, New Russian Drama challenges us to reflect on the status and mission of the theater.

Source: Columbia University Press

Steven Salaita: The Inhumanity of Academic Freedom

team-22

“The Inhumanity of Academic Freedom,” a lecture Steven Salaita gave the day before yesterday at the University of Cape Town, is so powerful and echoes so many of the depressing things I have gone through as an agitator and (former) academic in the past several years that I would like to quote it here in full, but I’ll limit myself to quoting a single passage. Please read the lecture from beginning to end: it’s more than worth it. Salaita is a rare truthteller in a fallen world that fancies itself chockablock with truthtellers but which is actually pullulating with hasbaristas of various stripes. Thanks to George Ciccariello-Maher for the heads-up. Thanks to the Imatra IPV Reds Finnish baseball club for the image. (If you think it has nothing to do with the lecture, it means you haven’t read the whole thing.) // TRR

_____________________________________

In the end, we have to apply value judgments (mediated by lawless forces) to balance speech rights with public safety. In societies like the USA and South Africa, steeped in the afterlives of colonization, this task is remarkably difficult. We know that racism is bad, but global economic systems are invested in its survival. We know that anti-Zionism isn’t racism, that, in fact, it is the just position.  Yet no agreement exists about what comprises appropriate speech, in large part because maintaining a community is at odds with corporate dominion. As a result, there’s no way to prioritize a set of beliefs without accusations of hypocrisy (or without actual hypocrisy). The easy answer is to protect speech equally and let a marketplace of ideas sort the winners and losers. 

There’s a catch, though. Value judgments don’t arise in a vacuum and discourses don’t exist in a free market. Structural forces, often unseen, always beneficial to the elite, determine which ideas are serious and which in turn get a hearing. If we conceptualize speech as a market-driven phenomenon, then we necessarily relinquish concern for the vulnerable. We’re left with competing narratives in a system designed to favor the needs of capital. It’s a highly lopsided competition. Those who humor the ruling class will always enjoy a strong advantage, which aspiring pundits and prospective academics are happy to exploit. Corporate and state-run media don’t exist to ratify disinterest, but to reproduce status quos. 

The political left is already restricted, on and beyond campus. The same notions of respectability or common sense that guide discussion of academic freedom also limit the imagination to the mechanical defense of abstractions. Sure, academic freedom is meant to protect insurgent politics, and often does, but the milieu in which it operates has plenty of ways to neutralize or quash insurgency.  

I focus on radical ideas because Palestine, one of my interests and the source of my persecution, belongs to the set of issues considered dangerous by polite society, at least in North America and much of Europe (and, for that matter, the Arab World). Others include Black liberation, Indigenous nationalism, open borders, decolonization, trans-inclusivity, labor militancy, communism, radical ecology, and anti-imperialism. Certain forms of speech reliably cause people trouble: condemning the police, questioning patriotism, disparaging whiteness, promoting economic redistribution, impeaching the military—anything, really, that conceptualizes racism or inequality as a systemic problem rather than an individual failing. More than anything, denouncing Israeli aggression has a long record of provoking recrimination. Anti-Zionism has always existed in dialogue with revolutionary politics around the globe, including the long struggle against Apartheid. 

“What Is This, the Gestapo?” University Student Yegor Zhukov Charged with Rioting in Moscow

Higher School of Economics Student Yegor Zhukov Arrested in Riot Investigation
Andrei Karev
Novaya Gazeta
August 2, 2019

Moscow’s Presna District Court has remanded in custody yet another person charged in the riot investigation launched after the July 27 protest rally in Moscow: 21-year-old Yegor Zhukov, a candidate for the Moscow City Duma, video blogger, and student at the Higher School of Economics.

content_______2Yegor Zhukov in court. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Judge Alexander Avdotyina granted a motion made by the case investigator and remanded Zhukov in custody until September 27.

The hearing began with a motion from Zhukov’s defense lawyer, Daniil Berman. He asked the court to call a recess and give his client a bottle of water.

“He has not had a drop of water since two in the morning and has not slept since yesterday,” Berman claimed.

The judge, however, refused to uphold the motion, explaining that giving Zhukov a bottle of water was against the rules.

“What is this, the Gestapo?” Zhukov’s outraged mother wondered aloud.

Her son has been charged with involvement in rioting, punishable under Article 212.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Zhukov has completely denied his guilt and refused to give testimony to investigators. According to the case investigator, if Zhukov were at large, he could hinder the investigation, present a flight risk, and pressure witnesses.

He argued that Zhukov’s guilt was borne out by evidence gathered during the investigation.

“Zhukov could destroy evidence in the case and communicate information learned during the investigation to other suspects,” explained the investigator from the Russian Investigative Committee.

The prosecutor seconded the investigator’s arguments.

Zhukov asked the court to impose pretrial restrictions that did not involve imprisoning him.

content_______3Yegor Zhukov in court. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Berman argued there were no grounds for remanding Zhukov in custody. There had been no criminal wrongdoing on Zhukov’s part, and investigators had not presented any specific evidence. Berman motioned the court not to impose pretrial restrictions that would involve isolating his client from society, asking it instead to place Zhukov under house arrest or release him on bail or on his own recognizance.

“There have been lies at each stage of the criminal investigation. It seems as if the case file has been hastily thrown together: it is a collection of commonplaces. What are the charges? What exactly did my client do? The case investigators should at least pretend to be upholding the law. It is outrageous they asked the court to uphold this motion. Why should a student and Muscovite be remanded in custody?” Berman exclaimed.

He added that Zhukov’s parents were willing to post one million rubles [$15,320] in bail.

Earlier, it transpired Valeria Kasamara, vice-rector at the Higher School of Economics and candidate for the Moscow City Duma in Borough No. 45, had agreed to stand surety for Zhukov.

“I request Yegor Zhukov not be remanded in custody. He is my student. He has always been distinguished by his curiosity and high academic performance. I know him personally and can vouch for his good character,” reads the document, posted on Telegram by Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group.

Higher School of Economics students, alumni, and faculty have published an open letter demanding the university’s administrators officially voice their support for Zhukov. According to the letter’s authors, the HSE administration should personally make official statements supporting Zhukov, stand surety for him in court, and appeal to all public authorities to explain the grounds for the criminal charges against him.

“The charges against Yegor are charges against the entire university and each member of the university community. The university teaches us to think critically, speak freely, and ask questions. The Higher School of Economics does not have the moral right to turn its back when a member of its community faces three to eight years in prison for speaking freely and asking the right questions,” it says in the letter.

The Investigative Committee has consolidated separate charges of rioting (punishable under Article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code) and violence against police officers (punishable under Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code) into a single criminal investigation of the “unauthorized” protest rally in Moscow on July 27. According to Chikov, 84 investigators have been assigned to the case.

Earlier on Friday, the court remanded Alexei Minyaylo, Samariddin Radzhabov, Ivan Podkopayev, and Kirill Zhukov in custody. Yevgeny Kovalenko had already been remanded in custody as part of the same investigation.

Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergei Vilkov: Everything You Thought You Knew About the Russian Working Class Was Wrong

kalashnikov workersWorkers of the Kalashnikov plant in Izhevsk, Russia, on September, 20, 2016. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov (Getty Images). Courtesy of Fortune

The Heroes of the Day: What We Know about the Russian Working Class
How the Proletariat Stopped Fearing TV and Came to Dislike It
Sergei Vilkov
News.ru
April 30, 2019

It has been a tradition on the eve of May Day to recall the working class, which in Russia has seemingly been usurped by televised images of the “patriots” and regular blokes who work at the Uralvagonzavod plant in Nizhny Tagil.

Actually, Russia’s workers are a genuine black hole to sociologists. No one had seriously researched their circumstances, sentiments, and views for thirty years.

The first tentative attempts to research today’s Russian industrial laborers have produced a portrait that many had not expected. It transpires that today’s proletarians, at least, the most politically and civically dynamic among them, almost never watch television. They have a sober take on politics. They are immune to state propaganda. They have a relatively relaxed attitude toward migrant workers.

They regard themselves as outside observers in the debates between the regime and the opposition, not finding their own interests reflected in them. They are more likely to feel trampled upon by plant management than by a new law passed in the State Duma.

It is the factory where they fight their battles, which are usually invisible to official statisticians. Most important, according to researchers, they have more in common with early twentieth century social democrats than with current parties who try and speak on behalf of workers. However, the new research leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. News.ru took a look at it.

They Got What They Fought For
According to official data, 26 million people in Russia or over 36% of the able-boded population are employed in industry, transport, agriculture, fishing, and several similar sectors. These figures do not include, for example, the large numbers of people employed in commerce and services. Overall, however, sociologists estimate that workers make up 40% of Russia’s population. They identify them as the largest group in society.

These people dwell on the dark side of Russia’s moon, as it were. It would be hard to say when someone last tried to examine them through an academic lens. However, understanding the nature of Russian society and its largest segments is, perhaps, the most ambitious humanities research project in the country today.

In government reports, Russia’s workers are imagined as a passive, homogeneous milieu that positively exudes tranquility. In 2017, Rosstat, the state statistics service, recorded only one strike, while in the preceding years their official number oscillated between two and five strikes annually.

By comparison, in 2005, according to official data, there were 2,600 strikes in Russia. And yet the following year, Rosstat claimed the number of strikes had decreased by a factor of 325. Since then, according to official statistics, it has remained consistently scanty, despite the economic crises of 2008 and 2014.

However, the Center for Social and Labor Rights, which has monitored the situation on its own, claims there were an average of 240 labor protests between 2008 and 2014. In 2016, when the political opposition was quiet, there were twice as many labor protests, while in the first six months of 2018, the last period for which it has data, the center recorded 122 strikes and acts of civil disobedience. Nearly half of these incidents led to workers downing tools.

Since 2014, a year dominated by an apparent “patriotic” consensus in politics, the number of strikes has increased abruptly due to an upsurge of resistance in provincial cities, including district seats. The largest number of walkouts and protests occurred in industry, especially the machine building and metalworking sectors, which have accounted for 28% of the overall number of strikes. The transport sector has accounted for the same percentage of strikes and protests, despite the fact they have mainly been carried out by employees of private transport companies based in the cities. The construction industry has accounted for 19% of strikes and protests during the period.

The main cause of protests and strikes remains unpaid back wages, which accounted for 60% of incidents. Demands to raise pay were factors in 19–20% of incidents.

The Center for Social and Labor Rights noticed a curious thing. In 2018, the number of spontaneous, unorganized protests by workers rose abruptly by 22%. Trade unions were involved in a mere 17% of all strikes and protests. The experts claim this was partly due to the fact that the Russian hinterlands, where there have been no real trade unions for the last one hundred years, have taken the lead in labor activism, along with sectors dominated by precarious employment.

Shop Floor Intellectuals
Someone has been organizing these strikes and protests, however. It is evident there is a core of energetic progressive activists among Russia’s workers.

On April 22, Alexander Zhelenin gave a lecture at a round table held in the offices of Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Zhelenin is a well-known expert on workplace conflicts, and part of his talk dealt with a research study on the Russian proletariat. In July and September 2018, he and his fellow researchers did a small-scale qualitative sociological research study in Kaluga and Omsk that focused on the self-identification and sociopolitical views of workers.

A total of twenty-three people were interviewed. The small sample was offset by a thorough probing, through in-depth interviews, of the respondents’ attitudes and views, which are never revealed by run-of-the-mill public opinion polls. The workers interviewed by the sociologists were somehow connected to independent trade unions, which had, apparently, supported the research study. However, in the main, the interviewees were not politically engaged: only one of them was a member of a political organization.

We should also not forget it is usually the most energetic people who agree to be interviewed for ordinary official public opinion polls, which affects their outcomes.

In Kaluga, the respondents worked in the food industry and the new auto assembly plants, while in Omsk, they were employed at old Soviet military-industrial complex plants. They ranged in age from twenty to fifty, and included women and men. They were quite well-paid technicians who were proud of their contributions to society. On the other hand, they had a constant sense of their status as subordinates. They tended to strongly associate themselves with their workplaces. Family “labor dynasties” were a possible factor in their outlooks.

Most of the workers interviewed at the auto plants had been abroad one or more times, and this partly had to do with Volkswagen’s work exchange programs. One of the things they had learned on these trips was independent trade unions were ordinary, valuable organizations.

On the contrary, a foreign-travel passport was a rarity among the workers of the old defense plants, and yet both groups of workers tended to spend their holidays on the Black Sea coast. Some respondents in Omsk said they had never seen the sea or had seen it in early childhood.

Mortgages were the main financial obstacles to holidays away from home. Financially, the skilled workers felt they were members of the so-called middle class. In terms of standards of living in their regions, however, they noticed the gap between the more affluent segment of the populace and themselves. Thus, they had a keen sense of the difference in life chances for their children and the children of rich families, talking about it with great indignation.

Pavel Kudyukin, ex-minister of labor and employment and a lecturer in public administration at the Higher School of Economics, commented on the growing social segregation in Russia.

“It comes to the fore when talk turns to children’s futures. It is an aspect that will become more acute, because we are moving from segregation to social apartheid. I think it will facilitate [grassroots] civic activism,” he said.

The authors of the report did not hide their amazement at the fact that the respondents were quite well-educated, intelligent people. Nearly a third of them had a higher education or an uncompleted university degree. Many of them pointed out it was ordinary to find university-educated workers on the shop floor.

Tellingly, a man from Kaluga, identified as Anatoly, who did not finish his university degree, and whose outward appearance (a bespectacled intellectual), cultivated manner of speaking, and hobbies (music and organizing non-profit music festivals) gave the researchers the impression he was a local intellectual, although he said he had been employed as a skilled laborer for over eleven years. Like some other respondents, Anatoly noted he had become a laborer because life had worked out that way and he had to earn money. Industry was the only place where it was possible to earn a more or less decent wage, the study noted.

They Have Their Own Values
And yet 74% of of the respondents unambiguously identified themselves as workers, stressing their difference from other groups in society and their direct involvement in production. The remaining 26% preferred to call themselves “employees” and supported the notion of so-called social partnerships with management. However, despite their decent standard of life, it followed from the interviews that the workers believed they occupied one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. This had to do with their palpably subordinate positions at work and the lack of prestige in their occupations. This circumstance was painfully apparent in the tension between blue-collar and white-collar workers at one plant, a tension exacerbated by the arrogance of the latter towards the former.

The workers were very annoyed by the fact that, as Sergei, a grinder who was involved in the Omsk focus group, said, “In terms of wages and education, the blue-collar workers often outperform the office workers, but the latter still treat them as inferiors.”

In Omsk, for example, the wages of workers fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 rubles a month, but workers at some defense plants could earn up to 70,000 or 80,000 rubles a month. However, according to the same interviewee, the well-paid jobs were “inherited.”

Besides, he said, to earn such a wage, one virtually had to live at the factory, working twelve hours a day and enjoying only one day off a week, something not all workers would do. Meanwhile, office workers at the same plant could earn only 20,000 rubles a month, but they treated the workers “as if they were above [them],” said Sergei.

“A really interesting thing is the split in self-identification as workers and members of the middle class,” said Kudyukin. “It clearly manifests the pressure exerted in society by hegemonic views. It is like what Marx wrote: ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.’ Since the notion of the middle class is constantly in the air, people give no thought to the fact that it’s a sociological fiction. People realize they are workers. They work on an assembly line or operate a machine. Yet in terms of income they identify themselves as middle class in the sense that they are neither rich nor poor. Maybe this has to do with the notion that the middle class is formally defined by income.”

“Russia is a quite highly stratified country, and it is constantly becoming more stratified,” explained Gregory Yudin, a professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “It’s not a matter of income gaps, but of what these people say: the sense of symbolic superiority in cases where there is no income gap. When this sense takes root at a particular factory, what happens is quite predictable. In this sense, Marx was more or less right.”

Speaking about their place in production, the workers voiced the opinion their plants could run without managers, but without them the shop floors would grind to a halt. However, they sensed the arrogant attitude towards manual labor that had emerged in other parts of society. They realized that, from this perspective, their status was not considered prestigious at all. The factory laborers responded by opposing the values of their milieu to “other” values, saying that nowadays the chic thing to do was to steal and mooch, to make lots of money for doing nothing.

“I think this is an ordinary means of compensation, a psychological defense mechanism. We are considered impoverished in some way, whereas in fact we are the salt of the earth, and everything would grind to a halt without us. Their sentiments are quite justified. Despite the importance of managerial work, if you got rid of the management staff, the shop floor would function all the same. But if the workers suddenly disappeared, the plant would shut down,” said Kudyukin.

The research study showed the respondents perceived Russian politics as an established system that ignored their interests. This applied not only to the government but also to the opposition. Nearly half of the respondents consciously refrained from voting. By comparison, during the last presidential election, in March 2018, the Central Electoral Commission reported that 32.5% of registered voters did not vote.

Some of the respondents voted for the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), A Just Russia, and LDPR [Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party], although they noted these parties were entangled in establishment and supported workers’ interests more in words than in actual deeds. They were not a serious opposition.

What they had to say on the matter was telling.

“I have little trust in politicos and parties. I have more faith in the people here, the people with whom I work, the people I know. Here, at the local level, there are decent people among the members of different [political] movements. But the leadership is usually a bloody shambles,” said Sergei, 35, a grinder at the Aggregate Plant in Omsk.

“There are currently no parties that would defend workers’ interests. We need to create such a party,” said Sergei, who works at the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga.

Volodya, who also works at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was likewise certain such parties did not exist.

“All of them are against us [workers]. They represent business and big money, even the CPRF and A Just Russia. Those parties just use the ‘movements’ to score political points. They have great jobs. United Russia try and pass bad laws. They have the majority in the Duma, so [the three other parties represented there] can pretend to oppose them, since the bad laws will be passed all the same,” he said.

He quoted Mark Twain.

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

The federal government was a source of considerable irritation to the workers, especially in connection with the pension reform.

Roman, a 45-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was the only respondent in either city who said he had always voted for Putin and United Russia, but since the pension reform had passed, he was severely disenchanted and was more inclined to vote for the CPRF.

Vladislav, a 28-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, had a confession to make despite the fact he had never voted.

“I was never opposed to Putin. But I did not believe to the last that he would say yes to this cannibalistic reform,” he said.

“Their statements jibe with what we see in other studies,” said Yudin. “People are depoliticized, yes. They distrust the system profoundly. This distrust grew even deeper last year. It’s a typical Russian scenario, and I am not entirely certain it has something specifically to do with workers. It typifies many segments of the populace. People who espouse this worldview serve as the base for different populist projects.”

Researchers describe their views as a contradictory mix of spontaneous anarchism and paternalistic expectations from the state. They would like to see the state solving society’s problems and intervening in the economy to raise wages, create jobs, and distribute incomes more fairly.

Igor, a worker from Omsk, had a typical view of the matter.

“The government should definitely solve these issues if workers have hired them to serve the people. When are they going to handle all of this if they work six and seven days a week? They just don’t have the time to deal with their own improvement [sic],” he said.

However, their political beliefs were more leftist and democratic than conservative and reactionary, even when it came to ethnic, religious and gender issues.

“The workers with whom we spoke, irrespective of whether they believed in God, wanted to lived in a secular state, while hoping the Russian Orthodox Church would be behave more modestly when it came to secular issues and would be less politicized. The views of workers on gender roles, the place of women in families, society, and the state were generally quite democratic. In terms of their worldviews, the workers had more in common with classic leftists than with a good number of current leftist parties and movements in Russia,” write the study’s authors.

Cool Heads
The researchers claim the workers they surveyed were clearly not victims of government propaganda. Their attitude towards Russia’s involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria was generally very restrained, if not sharply negative. Many of them argued that Russia’s foreign policy, as defined by the country’s leadership, had nothing to with their interests and was even capable of harming them. They also had a skeptical attitude to the promotion of great-power patriotism, seeing it as a means of distracting working people from real problems. But while they openly voiced their attitudes to foreign policy, the workers were cautious about discussing it, emphasizing a lack of information on the subject.

Many of them said society was not told everything.

To the surprise of the sociologists, most of the interviewees (78%) identified the internet as their main source of information, despite the fact they were asked about this part of their lives in a way that mentioned television and newspapers first, while the internet was among the information sources listed last.

By comparison, in March 2018, Levada Center published a poll claiming 85% of Russians got most of their information by watching television; moreover, 72% of respondents preferred watching state-controlled Channel One. On the contrary, only five of the workers (22% of the focus group) watched news and political programs on television. They regarded what they saw on television quite skeptically, trying to detect the influence of certain third-party interests.

They had a rather low opinion of the state of the nation.

“Lately, I’ve been ashamed of my people,” said Roman, a worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga.

Another worker, Vladimir, countered Roman.

“To stop feeling ashamed of your nation, just don’t identify yourself with it. Russia, the people, and the nation are illusions that have been pounded into our heads. There is just the earth and the people who live on it. The people who lived before us dreamed up border: here is Russia, there is Ukraine, here is America. In fact, we are all people. If you look at things from this standpoint, everything falls into place. For example, I don’t acknowledge the existence of national Olympic squads. My world is the people I know. When they say, “Our guys are playing football,” I think of “our guys” as my neighbors, workmates, family members, and the clerks at the shop. I could not care less what is going on in Syria and Donbas,” said Vladimir.

The researchers got rather unexpected and ambivalent results when they asked the workers about their attitudes towards migrant workers. In July 2018, Levada Center reported that 67% of Russians regarded them negatively. It is such sentiments that currently fuel nationalism and xenophobia. Among the workers in the survey, however, the intensity of these sentiments was considerably lower.

The different focus groups were split in their opinions of migrant laborers.

“Why hide it? I have a positive attitude toward them, because they are former brothers [within the Soviet Union]. We have the same troubles as they do. They get paid under the table, and so do we. And sometimes they are not paid at all,” said Mikhail, a 55-year-old freight handler.

“I tend to believe we need to create jobs for our own people first, and only then can we create jobs for migrants. As a worker, I consider them competitors, but as a human being I have no problems with them. On the other hand, how do we employ Russians if no Russians want to work as janitors?” said Svyatoslav, a truck driver at the Volkswagen plant.

Ultimately, 45% of the respondents took anti-migrant worker stances. In Omsk, the breakdown between migrantophobes and internationalists was six to four. In Kaluga, on the other hand, where the focus groups and in-depth interviews were dominated by workers from modern, foreign-owned production facilities, there were seven internationalists, as opposed to three migrantophobes.

The study’s authors argue the discrepancies are due to the different types of industry in the two cities, contrasting the workers from the old Soviet defense plants with the employees of foreign companies. However, we would be remiss not to note the relatively low level of nationalism in all the groups surveyed.

“In our view, this is because the workers have closer and more frequent contacts with migrant workers, and thus have more personal experience with them, something that always shatters stereotypes. It is yet another testimony to the fact that the dominant media coverage in Russia has less impact on the views of workers,” argue the study’s authors.

As for attitudes towards religion, twelve of the twenty-three respondents identified themselves as believers, while eleven identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Two of the respondents regarded themselves as deeply religious Russian Orthodox believers. However, all the respondents said they wanted to live in a secular country in which the Russian Orthodox Church should have a smaller role in secular issues and politics.

The views of the workers on gender relations and the place of women at home and in society were quite democratic. According to the researchers, nearly all the men agreed women had the right to pursue any career or calling. They would not stop their own wives from getting involving in public life and politics or pursuing a career.

However, they regarded female politicians in the State Duma quite skeptically, since they did not see them as politicians who hailed from the grassroots. The respondents named German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as positive examples of women involved in politics.

At the same time, both of the experts we interviewed, Pavel Kudyukin and Gregory Yudin, agreed the research study had serious methodological flaws. Besides, it gave its readers no sense of the particular life experiences that had prompted the workers to embrace particular outlooks.

Thanks to Alexander Zamyatin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader