Alexei Tsvetcoff: The Myth of Moscow’s “Bourgeois Liberal” Protesters

vadim f. lurie-10 august-fuck off-2.jpg“Fuck Off, Putin!” Protesters at the August 10 fair elections rally in Moscow. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie

Alexei Tsvetcoff
Facebook
August 14, 2019

I have to say something about the extremely tenacious, contagious myth that bourgeois liberals are the only people protesting at present. They are strangers to regular folks, so the myth goes, and thus the cops, who come from the common people, take such pleasure in beating them black and blue.

The myth is not borne out by the facts. Among the most malicious “street extremists,” the people who have had criminal charges filed against them, there are an unemployed man, a construction foreman, and several students from a variety of colleges, some of which are not so posh.

There are, of course, also a couple of programmers and a manager in the group of people who have been arrested and charged, meaning it is a cross-section of the Moscow populace, with no class dominating one way or another. If you have been to the protest rallies you will have seen that members of nearly all social groups were in attendance except for oligarchs, officials of the current regime, and the cops, who are on the other side.

When you present this simple empirical evidence to proponents of the “elite protest” myth, they have one last argument, also fallacious, up their sleeves.

Okay, they say, maybe Muscovites of all stripes really have taken to the streets, but their leaders, the people who encouraged them to come out, who led them onto the streets, are definitely bourgeois liberals who are strangers to simple blokes.

There is no evidence of this, either. Among those who spoke at the rallies and somehow represent the protesters, there were people who espouse completely different political views and come from all walks of life. It would be hard to pigeonhole municipal district council member and independent candidate Sergei Tsukasov as a bourgeois and liberal, wouldn’t it? And what about Alexei Polikhovich?  I could go on but I would have to list nearly all the speakers.

To see “liberals” and “agents of the west” in this extremely diverse group of people, who share only one demand (the same rules for everyone: the universal right to nominate candidates for public office, vote for them, and run for public office themselves) you have to be willing to see the world the way the Putinist TV channels paint it.

As for the cops, they retire at a completely different age, earlier than ordinary folks. The current oligarchic regime provides them with apartments and tons of other perks. So, there is no way they could be classified as ordinary people.

They have such great fun waving their billy clubs at any and all dissenters because they have a very specific material interest. The thievish regime need only toss them scraps from its table for them to have an excuse to be really cruel to anyone who threatens the regime’s privileges.

Meaning, simply, that the cops are in on the take. They do a good job of guarding their master, who keeps them well fed. They could not care less who this master is. In this sense, it is completely pointless to reason with them, shame them, and appeal to their conscience.

Returning to the popularity of the myth that it is snobby liberals raising a ruckus on the streets nowadays, I should point that, first, although the myth is at odds with the obvious facts, it is so persistent because it is propped up by two crutches, not one. And, second, it relies on the regime’s ubiquitous propaganda. In this case, the oligarchic regime has no argument but that everyone who opposes it is an enemy of ordinary people.

So, the choir of Solovyovs, Kiselyovs, and hundreds of other agitprop yes men sing this song at a deafening volume, competing with each other in the process, because how loud they sing probably has something to do with how close they will get, in the end, to the feeding trough and, thus, with being able to be as far from the selfsame hoi polloi as they can. There is no way people like them want to get mixed up with the broad popular masses, to sink to their level. They want to keep on living the good life of propagandists with all the foreign real estate, offshore bank accounts, and other perks that working as professional fans of the Motherland entails.

But that was the second reason the myth of anti-populist liberals is so persistent. The first reason is completely different. It is the perfect excuse for the political passivity and political fear experienced by people in our atomized society with its extreme shortage of solidarity and self-respect.

The Russian man in the street says something like this to himself.

Of course, I see what has been going down. I see how the haves have divvied everything up among themselves and where things are going. Why don’t I go out and take my stand against them? Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a chicken?

But that hurts and I don’t want to think about it. I need another, more flattering argument . . . Right, that’s it.  I don’t go to protest rallies and avoid getting messed up in politics because all the people who do go out and protest are—

(He reaches for a lifesaver in the shape of his TV set’s remote control or a Kremlin-funded website.)

—all liberals and agents of the west. (Thanks for the prompt!) Employees of the US State Department and enemies of the common folk, they want to bring back the nineties. Elections are only a cover.

I am no fool. I would never go anywhere with these people and demand anything. I am smart and discerning, and now I have an alibi for when I look at myself in the mirror. And since I want to stay this way forever, I am going write the treasured mantra on the inside of my door: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Vadim F. Lurie. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. You are probably wondering why a pro-common people myth-buster such as Mr. Tsvetcoff would resort, in the end, to trotting out the sock puppet of the Russian “man in the street” (obyvatel’) who, allegedly, believes everything he sees on Kremlin-controlled Russian TV. This is because, whether liberal, leftist (like Mr. Tsvetcoff), nationalist or none of the above, almost no one in the country’s self-styled opposition has figured out that you oppose a terrifying, destructive, criminal regime like the Putin regime with superior political organization, not with a sense of your own moral and intellectual superiority.

Since the Russian opposition is inordinately fond of protest rallies and marches, you would think it would pull out all the stops to get as many people to them as possible and, thus, scare the hell out of the regime. But if there is anything the Russian opposition hates more than the Putin regime, it is grassroots political organizing, meaning knocking on doors, stopping strangers on the street, buttonholing friends, neighbors, and workmates, and persuading them to do something most of them will not want to do at first: protest publicly against the regime. As nearly no one does the dirty work of getting people to rallies, almost no one goes to them.

Rather than blame themselves for their unwillingness to mobilize people and thus organize a movement that could, eventually, be capable of confronting the regime and perhaps defeating it, the opposition is fond of blaming the unwashed masses and “men in the street” for their passivity and timidity. When opposition liberals play this blame game, they usually target public sector employees, the lumpenproletariat, and residents of Russia’s far-flung hinterlands, who, allegedly, constitute Putin’s electoral base.

I would have thought opposition leftists would know better than to make what amounts to the same argument, but I was wrong. // TRR

Taxi

Elena Rykovtseva
Facebook
March 19, 2018

I was riding tonight in a taxi driven by someone with a surprising name: Nasimjon. I was watching Solovyov’s show on my telephone. His guests were voicing the warmest feelings of devotion to the winner of the race.
“He got so many votes not because he had the administrative resource behind him, but because people love and respect him,” said Andrei Maximov, presenter of the program Duty Officer for the Country.
My [sic] Nasimjon was silently listening to this splendor with me. At some point, moved by the emotions of the people speaking, he voiced his own.
“I was so scared today.”
“What was wrong?”
“I typed the question, ‘How much did Putin get in Moscow?’ into Yandex. The answer I got was eleven percent for him, and seventy-three percent for Grudinin. I was frightened.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Because the situation in the world is such that where would be without Putin? Look what’s going on around us: England and America again. Who else can deal with them?”
“Why do we need to deal with America?”
“They dream of ripping us to shreds. They kill everybody. They occupy everybody and kill them.”
“Who have they killed?”
“Iraq, Afghanistan. They organized the coup in Ukraine.”
“Did you hear that on TV?”
“No, my passengers told me. Plus, the Americans think everyone else is stupid.”
“Who told you that?”
“My Armenian friend. He’s lived in America for twenty years. He says that in the textbooks over there it’s written that Americans are smart, and everyone else is stupid. But Putin has made everyone fear us.”
“That’s a good thing?”
“It is.”
“Maybe it would be better if we were respected and liked?”
“It doesn’t work that way with the Americans. We have to make them fear us.”
“So, how did this thing with Putin end? You believed the figures were real?”
“Yes, I did, and that’s why I got scared. But then I turned on Business FM Radio, and it turned out it was the other way around, that Putin had seventy-three percent, and Grudinin, eleven percent. So now everything here is going to be fine.”
“What’s going to be fine?”
“Putin’s friends have already had their fill of stealing. If new guys had come to power, it would have started all over again.”
Ugh.

The author is a presenter on Radio Svoboda, the Russian-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo of the cast of Taxi courtesy of Asian Image

P.S. “What the taxi driver told me” has long been a common genre in Russian social media, especially the Russophone segment of Facebook. In most such stories, whether true or fabricated, the taxi driver is a stand-in for (debased) popular wisdom, for the Russian folk (russkii narod), meaning “ordinary,” “rank-and-file” Russians, whom the Russian liberal intelligentsia have historically imagined as a benighted, homogeneous mass.

The twist in this particular variation on the yarn is that the taxi driver’s name, Nasimjon, indicates he is clearly not ethnically Russian, meaning he hales from the Caucasus or Central Asia, or he was born in Moscow, but his parents moved there from one or other of these regions.

Even with this “politically correct” update, the genre remains problematic. It is more a symptom of the liberal intelligentsia’s failure to account for its own role in generating and maintaining the successive tyrannies that have plagued Russia since the nineteenth century, when the intelligentsia per se could be said to have been born as a kind of social subclass or metaclass, than it is a window onto the world of the “common people.”

To put it less murkily, if you stop talking to “taxi drivers” and listen to what actual Russians of all shapes, sizes, colors, and classes have to say and find out how they have either adapted to the Putinist tyranny or resisted it, you are as likely to discover resistance and clear thinking among supposed members of the Russian folk, among the people whom liberal Russians contemptuously refer to as “philistines” (obyvateli), as you would among the self-identified liberal intelligentsia.

Over the last several years, this website has featured many such inspiring stories of grassroots, working-class and lower middle-class resistance to the current Russian despotism, including the saga of the country’s fiercely militant independent truckers and the tale of the so-called partisans of Suna, a group of pensioners in Karelia who camped out in their beloved local old-growth forest to protect it, its environment, and their own humble livelihoods from local officials and developers, who wanted to build a road through it and turn part of it into a sand quarry.

Of course, there have also been many tales of similarly fierce, thoughtful resistance by Russians who by virtue of their educations and professions could be classified as intelligentsia. It is just that the vast majority of such intelligenstia militants are too clear sighted to sink to the vulgar sociology and flagrant mythologeme that would blame uneducated, poor, downtrodden, disempowered, and mostly invisible Russians for the country’s problems and Putin’s long-lived and wholly engineered “popularity.” TRR

Common People

Patriarch Kirill Sees Russia’s Future in Unity of Common People and Elites
Vera Kholmogorova
RBC
November 1, 2017

Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, outlined his vision of Russia’s future. According to the patriarch,  it consists in the complementarity and unity of the elites and common people. 

Patriarch Kirill. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin/TASS

The unity of the common people and elites is the future of Russia, argues, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. He discussed this during a meeting of the World Russian People’s Council, reports our correspondent.

“Russia is now looking for a vision of the future. I think the vision of the future is a vision of the common people and a vision of the elite achieving complementarity. The elites and common people should be indivisible, a single principle and single whole,” he said.

The patriarch stressed, however, it was “impossible to artificially appoint an elite.” According to him, it had to be educated,” just as the common people had to be educated.

“If we do not educate our own common people, others will develop them,” warned the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Kirill also said Russia had “acquired immunity to all forms of political radicalism” in the one hundred years that had passed since the events [sic] of 1917.

“Russia has enough strength to remain an island of stability. Our society is now consolidated. The tragic civic split [that existed in 1917] does not exist,” he stressed.

According to the patriarch, “we can rejoice in unification and reconciliation” and “be an example and support for all those who want to survive the current global crisis.”

“The common people are not naturally inclined to revolution,” he argued.

The 21st World Russian People’s Council was held on November 1 in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. The event’s stated topic was “Russia in the 21st Century: Historical Experience and Prospects for Development.” It was attended by Patriarch Kirill, clergymen, MPs, and public figures.

 

 

Should You Sue for Wages?
Russians Don’t Believe They Should Fight for Their Labor Rights: How Wrong They Are
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
November 1, 2017

Economic turmoil has not only made Russian workers uncertain of the future but also indifferent to violations of their labor rights, e.g., wage arrears, increases in the length of the work day, and the absence of holidays. Workers rarely file complaints with courts and oversight bodies, fearing not only a negative reaction from management but also closure of their companies due to inspections by the state. However, in some cases, appealing to the courts for help is a quite effective means of defense.

According to a survey conducted in June 2017 among 1,600 workers over the age of eighteen in thirty-five Russian regions by the Center for Social and Political Monitoring at RANEPA’s Institute of Social Sciences, violations of labor rights are not uncommon. In practice, nearly half of the workers surveyed (42%) had encountered them. The most common violations were wage arrears (24.1%), changes in work schedules (22.5%), and failure to provide paid leave or refusal to pay it (13.1%).

Meanwhile, the apathy of workers who encounter violations has increased. The percentage of those who did not seek redress for violation of their rights has increased from 49.7% of those polled in 2006 to 54.4% of those polled in 2016–2017. Workers have lost faith in nearly all means of rectifying situations. The percentage of those who complained to management had dropped from 41% to 36.7%; to a trade union, from 8% to 5.1%; to the courts, from 7.4% to 4.1%; and to the civil authorities, from 6.7% to 2.9%.

The unwillingness of employees to protect their rights reflects the idleness of most Russian trade unions, but it does seem to make sense to appeal to the courts, at least in the case of nonpayment of wages.

According to the Supreme Court’s ajudication department, the number of such complaints has been constantly increasing. In 2007, there were 350,242 such complaints; in 2013, 459,016 complaints; and in the first six months of 2017, 243,861 complaints. Moreover, in the absolute majority of complaints (95.7–97.5%) the courts have found for the plaintiff. The situation is the other way around when it comes to suits against unlawful dismissals. In 2007, the courts ruled for plaintiffs in 10,525 of 17,934 lawsuits or 58.7% of all cases. In 2013, plaintiffs won 7,124 of 14,953 lawsuits or 47.6% of all such cases. In the first six months of 2017, the courts ruled in favor of plaintiffs in 1,748 of 4,316 lawsuits or 40.5% of all cases.

The results of the survey reflect the growing apathy of Russians in crisis conditions and fear of losing their jobs, explains Andrei Pokida, director of the Center for Social and Political Monitoring and co-author of the study. Some workers fear a negative reaction if they hang dirty laundry out to dry. If they do complain, they complain only to management. Other workers fear a complaint filed with state agencies could lead to an inspection, resulting in the closure of the company for violations. The reluctance to defend their rights is also caused by a lack of legal literacy among many workers and low incomes. Not all of them are capable of putting together the paperwork for a lawsuit, the services of lawyers are expensive, and many workers simply believe violations are the norm, explains Pyotr Bizyukov from the Center for Social and Labor Rights.

Translated by the Russian Reader. The emphasis in the first article is mine.

Nous sommes tous la cinquième colonne

They Got Out of Their Tractors
Why the so-called common people are increasingly joining the ranks of the so-called fifth column
Gazeta.ru
August 29, 2016

A fifth column of tractors? Photo courtesy of @melnichenko_va/Twitter

The arrest of the people involved in the tractor convoy, as well as new protest rallies in Togliatti after Nikolai Merkushin, governor of Samara Region announced wage arrears would “never” be paid off, are vivid examples of the top brass’s new style of communicating with people. After flirting only four or five years ago with the common people, as opposed to the creacles from the so-called fifth column, the authorities have, in the midst of a crisis, been less and less likely to pretend they care about the needs of rank-and-file Russians. Moreover, any reminders of problems at the bottom provokes irritation and an increasingly repressive reaction at the top.

Previously, top officials, especially in the run-up to elections, preferred to mollify discontent at the local level by promising people something, and from year to year, the president would even personally solve people’s specific problems, both during his televised town hall meetings (during which, for example, he dealt with problems ranging from the water supply in a Stavropol village to the payment of wages to workers at a fish factory on Shikotan) and during personal visits, as was the case in Pikalyovo, where chemical plant workers also blocked a federal highway. Nowadays, on the contrary, the authorities have seemingly stopped pretending that helping the common people is a priority for them.

It is telling that the alleged charging of the tractor convoy’s leader with extremism and the Samara governor’s disdainful interaction with ordinary workers (who responded by blocking a federal highway on Monday) has nothing to do with political opposition.

The people have made no political demands in these cases. Moreover, the main players in these stories almost certainly belong to the hypothetical loyal majority.

The people who took part in the tractor convoy against forcible land seizures even adopted the name Polite Farmers, apparently by analogy with the patriotic meme “polite people,” which gained popularity in Russia after the annexation of Crimea.

In 2011–2012, the authorities used approximately the same people to intimidate street protesters sporting political slogans. That was when the whole country heard of Uralvagonzavod, a tank manufacturer whose workers promised to travel to Moscow to teach the creacles a lesson. Subsequently, the company’s head engineer, Igor Kholmanskih, was unexpectedly appointed presidential envoy to the Urals Federal Distrtict.

Back then, the cultivation of a political standoff between working people from the provinces and slackers, “State Department agents,” and self-indulgent intellectuals from the capitals seemed pivotal, but in the aftermath of Crimea and a protracted crisis, it has almost been nullified.

The people are still important for generating good ratings [via wildly dubious opinion polls — TRR], but it would seem that even rhetorically they have ceased to be an object of unconditional concern on the part of the government.

Nowadays, the authorities regard the requests and especially the demands of the so-called common people nearly as harshly as they once treated the Bolotnaya Square protests.

The government does not have the money to placate the common people, so people have to be forced to love the leadership unselfishly, in the name of stability and the supreme interests of the state. Since politics has finally defeated the economy in Russia, instead of getting down to brass tacks and solving problems with employment and wage arrears, the regime generously feeds people stories about war with the West. During a war, it quite unpatriotic to demand payment of back wages or ask for pension increase. Only internal enemies would behave this way.

“We are not slaves!” Coal Miners on Hunger Strike in Gukovo. Published on August 25, 2016, by Novaya Gazeta. Miners in Gukovo have refused a “handout” from the governor of Rostov Region and continued their hunger strike over unpaid wages. Video by Elena Kostyuchenko. Edited by Gleb Limansky.

 

So the coal miners in Rostov, who have continued their hunger strike under the slogan “We are not slaves,” have suddenly proven to be enemies, along with the farmers of Krasnodar, who wanted to tell the president about forcible land seizures, and the activists defending Torfyanka Park in Moscow, who were detained in the early hours of Monday morning for, allegedly, attempting to break Orthodox crosses, and the people defending the capital’s Dubki Park, slated for redevelopment despite the opinion of local residents, and the people who protested against the extortionate Plato system for calculating the mileage tolls paid by truckers, and just about anyone who is unhappy with something and plans to make the authorities aware of their dissatisfaction.

Grassroots initiatives, especially if they involve protests against the actions or inaction of the authorities, are not only unwelcome now, but are regarded as downright dangerous, almost as actions against the state. This hypothesis is borne out by the silence of the parliamentary opposition parties. In the midst of an election campaign, they have not even attempted to channel popular discontent in certain regions and make it work to their advantage at the ballot box.

The distinction between the so-called fifth column and the other four has blurred.

Nowadays, the fifth column can be a woman who asks a governor about back wages. Someone who defends a city park. Farmers. Coal miners. Even the workers of Uralvagonzavod, which in recent years has been on the verge of bankruptcy. The contracts the state had been throwing the company’s way have not helped, apparently.

If the authorities, especially local authorities simply afraid to show federal authorities they are incapable of coping with problems, continue to operate only through a policy of intimidation, they might soon be the fifth column themselves, if only because, sooner or later, they will find themselves in the minority.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sean Guillory for the heads-up

________

A surprisingly frank and dead-on editorial from Gazeta.ru, who usually have not struck me as wild-eyed radicals, about how the Russian authorities have increasingly come to behave as if nearly the entire Russian population, including the so-called common people, is a gigantic fifth column arrayed against them.

The reason they have sunk into this black pit of reaction is that the current regime is simply incapable of solving the country’s numerous political, social, and economic crises, because it has directly or indirectly generated nearly all of them, including the utter lawlessness in Krasnodar Territory that was finally too much for a group of farmers who climbed into their tractors and set out for Moscow several days ago. But because even allegedly simple farmers can become a fifth column as soon as they draw attention to their sorry plight and the role of the authorities in it, they got only as far the neighboring Rostov Region on their tractors before the police shut them down.

This editorial is also valuable for its catalogue of similar conflicts, most of which you probably have never heard of because they are not well covered or covered at all by the western press and only marginally better by Russian print and online media. Russian mainstream TV outlets mainly avoid them altogether, as do most of the opposition parties currently contending for seats in the Russian State Duma and regional legislatures, as the editorialists point out.

So the hunger-striking miners in Gukov and their wives are left to their own devices when dealing with their creepy regional governor, no doubt a KGB vet, who all but accuses them of acting on behalf of the CIA, although they just want to get paid for their hard, thankless work.

The only grain of salt one should chew while reading this editorial is the fact that these local grassroots campaigns have been going in rather large numbers across Russia throughout Putin’s 17-year reign. And in many cases the altogether uncommon common people who fought these battles were fifth-columnized (through beatings, murders, and jail time) as badly as the current grassroots campaigners mentioned by the editorialists. During the fat years of the noughties, however, times were much better economically in the Russian capitals for a lot of people than they had been just a few years earlier, so they preferred not to notice too hard what was going on in their midst, much less some part of their country they would never dream of visiting even.

The Putinist state has been waging a cold civil war against the people of Russia for seventeen years whether the media has noticed it or not. But a lot of the common people have noticed. TRR