I have spent half the day wandering around Orenburg on various errands. At a crossing, I saw a yellow PAZ bus, marked “Children” and with a flashing light. I thought, wow, how they take care of their children’s safety. But I didn’t look inside. But now I have just seen a column of three yellow “Children” buses with flashing lights — and it wasn’t children inside them, but soldiers.
Sometimes it seems that United Russia has reached the limits of cynicism and nothing they do can surprise you. But their functionaries hand a crippled soldier a package of buckwheat and a bottle of sunflower oil, shove the party logo in his hand, and proudly post the photo. And it becomes clear that United Russia’s cynicism is a bottomless pit.
“Give birth to meat!” Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Activatica
In Petersburg, Feminists Bring Meat Disguised as Infants to Draft Board Activatica
February 23, 2019
Feminists in Petersburg have carried out an anti-war protest. They brought bundles meant to look like suckling babies to the Military Commissariat for Leningrad Region. The bundles were tied with St. George’s Ribbons and khaki-colored ribbons. The bundles were filled with ground meat.
“Feminists brought infants to the military commissariat, although there was raw meat in the bundles instead. ‘Women are forced to bear meat that the state enjoys eating. Today we say no to the coercion of women. We say no to violence against men who don’t want to serve in the army. We say no to war,'” wrote photographer David Frenkel on Twitter, apparently communicating the message of the women who organized the protest.
Later, the well-known feminist activist Leda Garina published a post about the protest containing a slightly modified (updated) communique from the feminists.
“Women are called upon to have children even as the right to abortions is threatened. But what happens to our children? They serve as cannon food for Russian militarism. They are turned into corpses in the senseless wars Russia has unleashed. Woman are forced to bear the meat that the state enjoys eating. Today we say no to coercion against women. We say no to violence against men who don’t want to serve in the army. We say no to war.”
Garina also noted the protest had been carried out by “unknown feminists.”
Yesterday, February 23, Fatherland Defenders Day was celebrated in Russia. Women are expected to congratulate men for “defending the Fatherland,” although they have done nothing of the sort for nearly seventy-five years. In Soviet times, the holiday was celebrated as Red Army Day. Translated by the Russian Reader
A LGBT pride event was scheduled today, but the authorities refused to permit it, and it was decided we should limit ourselves to solo pickets on Palace Square. The protest was scheduled for 12:34 p.m. It looks pretty (1,2,3,4), but the time is horribly early for me.
Alexei and I wound up on the same bus. We were running a bit late.
On Palace Square, we saw crowds of patriotically minded Petersburgers. Many had dressed in camouflage and adorned themselves with St. George’s Ribbons. It transpirted that today was a party for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their owners.
Palace Square was completely cordoned off and chockablock with cops.
I got held up, and when I got to the square, Alexei Sergeyev had already been detained. Then Alek Naza (Alexei Nazarov) was detained: he had no placard, only a rainbow flag. Before that 28 more people had been detained. That is a total of 30 people detained for trying to hold solo pickets [which, according to Russian law, can be held without permission and without notifying authorities in advance]. There are minors among them. Some have been taken to the 74th Police Precinct (in particular, Alexander Khmelyov), while a third group is still being held in a paddy wagon, as far as I know.
Information from witnesses: “Six of the people detained on Palace Square were dropped off at the 69th Police Precinct at 30/3 Marshal Zhukov Avenue, including Yuri Gavrikov, Alexei Sergeyev, and Tanya (Era) Sichkaryova. One of the detainees is an underaged girl. We have refused to be fingerprinted and photographed.”
I was taking pictures with Yelena Grigorieva’s camera. I don’t have those photos yet. I’m using ones that have already been published on group pages and the social media pages of the protesters.
Translated by the Russian Reader
UPDATE. Please do not credit the accounts of this incident published by Gay Star News, Gay Tourism, and True Media. I sent the following letter to them a few minutes ago.
Your websites published a very sketchy summary of a post I published on my blog The Russian Reader earlier this evening.
Namely, you characterized the source of my post, Yevgenia Litvinova, as a “LGBTI activist.” She is no such thing. She is a well-known opposition journalist and pro-democracy (anti-Putin) activist, whose organization, Democratic Russia, feels it important to show solidarity with the LGBTI movement in Petersburg.
Please correct or delete this baseless speculation on your part or I’ll expose your bad journalistic practices on social media and my blog.
My blog is a copyleft website, but no one has the right to rip what I translate and write out of context—a context I know well because I’ve lived in Petersburg for 25 years—and fit it into a fake context that makes more sense to your readers, who, apparently, cannot imagine a non-LGBTI person would or could show solidarity with the LGBTI movement.
When my charge Abubakar and I emerged from the courtyard of our building earlier today for our afternoon constitutional, we were abruptly confronted by a moving van, almost blocking the exit to the street. The van, which was quite filthy, had two “patriotic” (nationalist) bumper stickers tattooed on its back bumper.
“Thank you that we don’t know what war is like!” You can say what you like about the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park, but the Great Fatherland War was definitely not the “war to end all wars” almost anywhere, much less the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia, which happily intervened militarily in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan after the war, as well as enthusiastically engaging in lesser Cold War shenanigans all over the globe with and without its sparring partner the US. Since its convenient self-collapse, it has twice reduced Chechnya to rubble, occupied Crimea, set Donbass on fire, and razed East Aleppo to the ground. So much for not knowing what war is like. The experience has merely been severely localized to keep the ruling and chattering classes of Moscow and Petersburg from knowing what it’s like.
“Our armor is strong and our tanks are swift!” This particular (modern) tank is emblazoned with the St. George’s Ribbon that has become a de rigueur accessory for “patriots” (nationalists) on holidays such as Victory Day (May 9). Some particular fervent patriots (nationalists) manage to wear the ribbon all year round, like an amulet against the evil eye.
Here we see the historical semantic switch that is always flicked by Russian nationalists, played out, in this case, on a single, dust-encrusted moving van bumper. Since the Soviet Union made the “ultimate sacrifice” in the Second World War, it now gets a free pass in all present and future conflicts, which are somehow, usually vaguely, provoked by the “raw deal” the Soviet Union and, especially, ethnic Russians supposedly got in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Cold War.
The second bumper sticker should thus be seen as a serious “humorous” threat to invade Europe in the very near future. The really funny thing is it is addressed to a purely domestic, i.e., Russian audience. Perpetually “collapsing” Europe, brought to its knees, allegedly, by Muslim fundamentalists, gays, and political correctness (in the Russian popular imagination), and thus deserving of invasion (salvation) by Putinist Russia, literally cannot see this message, ostensibly addressed to it, not to other Russians, who have it drilled into their heads on a hourly basis, unless they avoid the Russian state media altogether, which many of them have done to keep their heads from exploding.
An acquaintance came home today to find a once blank or otherwise adorned firewall, as depicted above, painted over with an alarming, menacing war scene. There was a brief period between the collapse of the Soviet Union and Putin 2.0 or Putin 3.0, when the city’s numerous, achingly beautiful firewalls were freed of portraits of Politburo members and exemplary socialist laborers and allowed to be themselves, which was something like the visual equivalent of one hand clapping. But when money and politics poured back into the city in the noughties, the firewalls were an easy means for district council officials to show residents and city hall they were engaged in “improvements” and not just pocketing the budget money entrusted to them. (They were doing that, too, whatever else they were pretending to do.) Hiring a crew of hacks to paint the firewall in an otherwise dreary courtyard and arranging a few benches or a little garden or playground below the mural was just the ticket.
Those days of mostly harmless kitsch are now long past. Firewalls should now say something big and important, if the city is going to bother to put up the hard cash to paint them, and that message has to be aggressive and “patriotic.” As one commentator wrote, upon seeing the image of the Soviet warplanes, above, the impression they make is that Russia must start a war immediately.
Or, as in a series of five murals painted on different walls in five Russian cities on the occasion of Putin’s birthday in October 2014, “monumental propaganda” is made to short circuit all of Russian/Soviet history, especially the country’s triumphs, to the current regime and its ruler for life.
Memory (P = Pamiat’), one of a series of graffiti-like murals produced by the pro-Kremlin youth group Set (“Network”) to celebrate the president’s birthday in October 2014. This mural was painted on the firewall of an apartment block on the Obvodny Canal in Petersburg. Fortunately, it has since been painted over. Photograph by the Russian Reader
Thankfully, there are times when the public meta-historical messages are either unreadable or deeply ambiguous, as in this advertisement and accompanying promotion for the Uberesque taxi company Taksovichkof. (In the interests of full disclosure, I use their services very occasionally.)
“A first!” claims the ad. “A taxi tour of 1917 Petrograd”!
It transpires the route includes St. Isaac’s Cathedral; the barracks of the Volyhnia Regiment, who decisively came down on the side of the Provisional Government during the February 1917 Revolution; the Smolny Institute, where the Bolsheviks were temporarily headquartered in October 1917; the Finland Station; the nearby Crosses Prison, where many revolutionaries of all stripes, not just the Bolsheviks, did hard time; the revolutionary battleship Aurora, which fired the shot heard round the world, returned to its moorings recently after extensive repairs; the mansion of ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska (currently, the Museum of Political History), where Lenin read out his so-called April Theses (“The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution”) after returning from exile in Switzerland; the Peter and Paul Fortress, which housed many political prisoners and revolutionaries during the tsarist period; and, finally, the Winter Palace, stormed by a unit of Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries on October 25, 1917, as a means of asserting the hard left’s symbolic victory in the second revolution.
Unfortunately, knowing a little bit about the political views of the local TV celebrity and historian who recorded the tour’s audio guide, I can anticipate the tenor of the tour will be fairly counterrevolutionary and reactionary (i.e., “liberal”). But it’s better than declaring war on Finland again, I guess. TRR
P.S. The taxi tour costs 1,500 rubles (approx. 22 euros at current exchange rates). It lasts at least an hour and a half depending on traffic conditions, which are usually brutal from morning to night in downtown Petersburg. You can go on the tour from five in the morning (ideal, I would think) to twelve midnight (when the downtown is crawling with merrymakers).
Victoria Lomasko, We Won, 2015. Pen and ink on A4 colored paper
Victory Day 2015 was celebrated in Russian with great fanfare. Nearly all the veterans and witnesses of the war are dead, and now people who had nothing to do with it can privatize “the Victory.”
People from all the Soviet republics fought on the front lines or worked in the rear on behalf of the soldiers at the front, but now the victory has become the victory of ethnic Russians alone. Atheists fought for their communist homeland, but now they are dubbed “agents of Russian Orthodox civilization,” and Patriarch Kirill says a “divine miracle” played the decisive role in the victory. Soviet soldiers bore red flags emblazoned with hammers and sickles as they scrapped their way toward victory over fascism, but now Soviet symbols have been replaced by orange-and-black striped ribbons that originated in the tsarist era.
To be eligible to celebrate “the Victory” you have tie to St. George’s Ribbons to your clothing, your backpacks, your rearview mirrors, and your car antennae, adorn yourself with crucifixes, oppose Ukrainian independence, and be a flagrant homophobe.
This has been the route to public renown taken by the Night Wolves bike gang leader nicknamed The Surgeon, a Putin favorite who organized the To Berlin! “patriotic” motorcycle rally, and had the full support of Russian state media in this dubious and potentially offensive endeavor.
To find yourself labeled an “enemy” and a “Nazi,” however, it suffices to point openly to the way history has been distorted and to remind people that war is primarily an act of mass slaughter. This was the route taken by the Oleg Basov and Pyotr Voys, the artist and the curator who organized an exhibition entitled We Won, which police and the FSB shut down on May 8, a day after it had opened for a private viewing, and one day before Victory Day, May 9.
The art community did not discuss what happened, because what happened was too frightening for them to discuss.
* * * * *
Here is a translation of the statement the organizers of We Won posted on the exhibition’s Facebook page on May 7, 2015.
The country is celebrating a great victory.
The St. George’s Ribbon, portraits of Stalin, the red flag, and the word fascist are vigorously being replicated again nowadays, becoming a part of everyday life.
But we should clarify the situation. The St. George’s Ribbon is orange and black. It was awarded for military valor, and during the Second World War itself it was a decoration awarded in Vlasov’s Army, which fought on the side of the German Wehrmacht.
As a symbol of victory in the Great Patriotic War [the Soviet name for the Second World War], it was suggested by RIA Novosti news agency in 2006, and the government supported this proposal. The St. George’s Ribbon is now tied to backpacks, dogs, and Mercedes-Benz cars. It has become something commonplace, as if the rank of general or medals for heroism were handed out to everyone.
When heroism becomes a cult, and its symbols are reproduced en masse, its meaning is emasculated. The St. George’s Ribbon is today an identifying mark of the pro-Putin regime fans of Russian TV Channel One.
We won! Let’s take a look back at what this meant.
When counting the numbers of the dead, the margin of error amounts to millions of people.
The beheading of the Red Army’s command on the eve of the war, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and the shameful Winter War, which undermined the army’s authority, were only a prelude.
The illusion that the Soviet Union had unlimited human resources led to terrifying losses: seven Soviet soldiers for every German soldier.
In the postwar years, the military-industrial complex accounted for two thirds of the Soviet Union’s GDP.
These years also witnessed total poverty and devastation, a deformed civil society, an epidemic of fatherless children, concealment of the disabled from the general public, widespread reprisals against war veterans who had been in Europe during the war, and Stalinism’s postwar apogee. The list could go on.
The victory was seen as a justification of the Stalinist terror. Declaring ourselves victors blocks our chances to humanize and evolve our society today as well.
Cultural trauma and post-traumatic amnesia distort our identities. This is expressed in the brain drain of talented people to other countries, widespread alcoholism and drug addiction, and the monstrous lives led by the elderly and the disabled.
We won, and today the outcome of this discourse is a restoration of totalitarianism with an admixture of Orthodox fundamentalism.
Our exhibition does not question the heroism of the people, that is, the men and women who stood in muddy trenches and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
But we question the chimera of the great imperial past, which today is manufactured as the one and only indisputable core of Russian identity.
The Second World War was a monstrous bloodletting by the nations of Europe. A day of mourning is not an occasion for congratulation.
Remembrance Poppies versus St. George’s Ribbons
Special to The Russian Reader
May 8, 2015
Petersburg police detained two activists and a photojournalist near Park Pobedy metro station on May 8 as pro-Kremlin provocateurs attempted to prevent Democratic Petersburg activists from handing out buttons and leaflets dealing with the end of the Second World War in Europe.
The Democratic Petersburg coalition, which opposes Russia’s current Second World War victory symbol, the St. George’s Ribbon, claiming it is “distinctly militarist,” passed out buttons featuring the red remembrance poppy, a European symbol for war victims, and leaflets explaining its meaning.
In 2014, Ukraine had rejected the St. George’s Ribbon, used by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and Russian officialdom, choosing the remembrance poppy instead.
The buttons the activists handed out were emblazoned with the red poppy and the phrase “1939–1945 Never Again,” in Russian and Ukrainian, while the leaflets, which quoted John McCrae’s famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” described the symbol’s history and meaning.
Buttons reading “1939–1945, Never Again” in Russian and Ukrainian
“We believe the St. George’s Ribbon, which has a distinctly militarist message, should also give way in Russia to the red poppy, the universal symbol commemorating those who perished in the most terrible war.”
Activists said Victory Day should be commemorated on May 8, because Russia was part of Europe, rather than on May 9, in keeping with Soviet tradition. According to them, what Russians have usually called the Great Patriotic War was in fact part of the Second World War and was launched in 1939 by both Germany and the Soviet Union, rather than in 1941, when Germany suddenly attacked its formal nominal ally the Soviet Union.
The pro-Kremlin provocateurs, mostly young people, who were apparently led by two older men, were already waiting outside the metro station, sporting St. George’s Ribbons, when the Democratic Petersburg activists arrived to hand out leaflets. The provocateurs approached them and started an argument, justifying Joseph Stalin and promoting what they saw as the Kremlin’s current interpretation of the war’s history. Some of the provocateurs took photos and videos as the argument proceeded. However, when asked, one of the young provocateurs said he was “just passing by,” denying he had come deliberately with the others to harass the Democratic Petersburg activists.
Pro-Kremlin provocateurs harass democratic activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev
Within minutes, police had arrived at the scene, led by a colonel, the head of Precinct No. 33, whose beat includes the Park Pobedy station. The colonel argued with the activists before detaining 76-year-old activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev and, seconds later, our correspondent, who had attempt to photograph Andreyev’s arrest.
While the two detainees were held in the police room inside the metro station, police detained Anton Kalinyak, an activist who had been wearing a large red poppy on his lapel, allegedly for “using coarse language in public.” According to Democratic Petersburg, one of the provocateurs filed a false complaint with the police against Kalinyak, while the police officers at the scene corroborated his accusations.
Andreyev detained by police
The detainees were taken to Precinct No. 33, where they were charged, correspondingly, with “smoking in a public place” and “using profane language in a public place.” After about two hours in custody, Kalinyak was fined 500 rubles (around $10) on the spot, while the formal written charges against the other two detainees will be sent to their respective local police precincts. They face small fines of between 500 and 1,500 rubles.
There is one point on which there is striking agreement among liberals, Putinists, and the “populist” segment of the Russian left. This is the idea that the majority of the Russian population adheres to leftist values, as opposed to the narrow strata of the middle class and intelligentsia in the big cities.
This simplified representation of societal processes, typical of both semi-official and opposition propaganda, is based on a juxtaposition of the so-called creative class with the notional workers of the Uralvagonzavod tank and railway car manufacturing plant, supposed wearers of quilted jackets with alleged hipsters. Discussion of such complicated topics as the Bolotnaya Square protests, Maidan, and Anti-Maidan revolves around this juxtaposition. The various ideological camps differ only in terms of where their likes and dislikes are directed.
Leaving aside left-nationalist figures like Sergei Kurginyan and Eduard Limonov, the most prominent proponent of the “populist” trend within the leftist movement is Boris Kagarlitsky. The whole thrust of his current affairs writing is to exalt the silent majority (the working people), who are organically hostile to the parasitic petty bourgeoisie that, allegedly, constituted the core of the anti-government protests in Russia in 2011–2012, and in Ukraine in 2013–2014.
Ukraine in the Mirror of Russian “Populism”
In an editorial published on the web site Rabkor.ru, entitled “Anti-Maidan and the Future of Protests,” Kagarlitsky (or his alter ego: unfortunately, the article has no byline) describes the events in Ukraine as follows: “Nothing testifies to the class character of the confrontation that has unfolded in Ukraine like the two crowds that gathered on April 7 in Kharkov. At one end of the square, the well-dressed, well-groomed and prosperous middle class, the intelligentsia, and students stood under yellow-and-blue Ukrainian national flags. Across the square from them had gathered poorly and badly dressed people, workers and youth from the city’s outskirts, bearing red banners, Russian tricolors, and St. George’s Ribbons.” According to Kagarlitsky, this is nothing more or less than a vision of the future of Russia, where only the “state apparatus despised by liberal intellectuals defends them from direct confrontation with those same masses they dub ‘white trash.’”
The fact that the venerable sociologist has been forced to resort to such demagogic methods as assessing the class makeup of protesters by reversing the proverb “It’s not the gay coat that makes the gentleman” indicates the conjectural nature of his scheme. (I wonder how much time Kagarlitsky spent poring over photos from Donetsk with a magnifying glass.) When discussing the social aspect of Maidan, most analysts have noted the dramatic changes that occurred as the protests were radicalized. “At the Euromaidan that existed before November 30–December 1,” notes political analyst Vasily Stoyakin, “it was Kyivans who dominated, and in many ways the ‘face’ of Maidan was made up by young people and the intelligentsia, albeit with a slight admixture of political activists. Many students, people with higher educations, and creative people attended it. […] After November 30, when the clashes began, […] a lot of blue-collar workers without higher educations arrived, in large part from the western regions.”
According to Vadim Karasev, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, as quoted in late January, “[T]he backbone of Euromaidan is men between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five, ‘angry young men,’ often unemployed. […] In my opinion, it would be mistaken to call Maidan a lower-class protest, just as it would be to call it a middle-class protest. It is a Maidan of all disaffected people who are able to get to Kyiv.” According to a study carried out in mid-December 2013 by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, every fifth activist at Maidan was a resident of Lviv, around a third had arrived from Ukraine’s central regions, every tenth activist was from the Kyiv region, and around twenty percent were from the country’s southeast.
Sixty-one (two thirds!) of the protesters killed at Maidan were from villages and small towns in Central and Western Ukraine. As political analyst Rinat Pateyev and Nikolai Protsenko, deputy editor of Ekspert Iug magazine, noted, “Among the victims, we see a large number of villagers, including young subproletarians. […] On the other hand, occupations favored by the intelligentsia are fairly well represented [in the list of the slain]: there is a programmer, a journalist, an artist, several school teachers and university lecturers, several theater people, as well as a number of students.” By “subproletarians” Pateyev and Protsenko primarily have in mind seasonal workers “who live on the money they earn abroad.” Isn’t this all fairly remote from the portrait of the “well-dressed, well-groomed and prosperous middle class” painted by Rabkor.ru’s leader writer? We should speak, rather, of the classical picture observed during revolutionary periods, when peaceful protests by students and the intelligentsia escalate into uprisings of the working class’s most disadvantaged members (who for some reason were not prevented from fighting by either liberals or hipsters).
As evidence of Anti-Maidan’s class character, Rabkor.ru’s editorialist adduces no other arguments except to point out the “short text of the declaration of the Donetsk Republic,” which “contains language about collective ownership, equality, and the public interest.” However, many observers have also noted the growth of anti-government and anti-oligarchic sentiments at Maidan. Journalist and leftist activist Igor Dmitriev quotes a manifesto issued by Maidan Self-Defense Force activists: “The new government of Ukraine, which came into office on Maidan’s shoulders, pretends it does not exist. We were not fighting for seats for Tymoshenko, Kolomoisky, Parubiy, Avakov, and their ilk. We fought so that all the country’s citizens would be its masters—each of us, not a few dozen ‘representatives.’ Maidan does not believe it has achieved the goal for which our brothers perished.”
Maidan and Anti-Maidan, which have a similar social makeup, employ the same methods, and suffer from identical nationalist diseases, look like twin brothers who have been divided and turned against each other by feuding elite clans and the intellectuals who serve them. There is absolutely no reason to force the facts, cramming them into a preconceived scheme drawn up on the basis of completely different events that have occurred in another country.
Is Russian Society Leftist?
But let’s return to Russia and see whether the “populist” scheme works here. Can we speak of a “leftist majority” that deliberately ignores protests by the petty bourgeoisie, who are protected from popular wrath by the authorities?
This belief is common within a certain section of the left, but there is no evidence at all to support this view. Poor Kagarlitsky is constantly forced to appeal to absences. For example, commenting on the outcome of the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, he declared a “victory” for the “boycott party” (that is, people who did not vote in the election), which by default is considered proof the electorate is leftist. It logically follows from this that the absence, say, of mass protests against fee-for-services medicine must testify to the triumph of neoliberal ideas within the broad masses of working people.
Sure, in today’s Russia statues of Lenin are not knocked down so often, and Kremlin mouthpieces eagerly borrow motifs from Soviet mythology. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is still the largest opposition party (but is it leftist?), and many people see the Soviet Union as the touchstone of state and economic power. But are all these things indicators of leftism in the sense the editorialist, who considers himself a Marxist, understands it?
To get closer to answering this question, we need to ask other questions, for example, about the prevalence of self-organization and collective action in the workplace. The statistics on labor disputes in Russia, regularly published by the Center for Social and Labor Rights, are not impressive. Even less impressive are the statistics for strikes. Independent trade union organizations are negligible in terms of their numbers and their resilience, and the rare instances of successful trade union growth are more common at enterprises owned by transnational corporations, where industrial relations approximate western standards. Activists in such trade unions as the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (which rejects the paternalist ideology of the country’s traditional trade union associations) are forced to resort to translated textbooks on organizing and the know-how of foreign colleagues, not to native grassroots collectivism or the remnants of the Soviet mentality.
The above applies to all other forms of voluntary associations, which currently encompass a scant number of Russians. Whereas Russian Populists of the late nineteenth century could appeal to the peasant commune and to the cooperative trade and craft associations (artels) and fellow-countrymen networks (zemliachestva) that were common among the people, the “populists” of the early twenty-first century attempt to claim that a society united by nothing except state power and the nuclear family adheres to leftist values.
The standard explanation for the failure of the Bolotnaya Square protests is that they did not feature “social demands,” meaning slogans dealing with support for the poor, availability of public services, lower prices and utility rates, and increased pensions and salaries. But such demands are part of the standard fare offered by nearly all Russian political parties and politicians, from United Russia to Prokhorov and Navalny. These demands sounded at Bolotnaya Square as well. Successfully employed by the authorities and mainstream opposition parties, this social rhetoric has, however, absolutely no effect on the masses when voiced by radical leftists, strange as it might seem. We are constantly faced with a paradox: opinion polls show that the public is permanently concerned about poverty, economic equality, unemployment, high prices, and so on, but we do not see either significant protests or the growing influence of leftist forces and trade unions. Apparently, the explanation for this phenomenon is that a significant part of the population pins its hopes not on strategies of solidarity and collective action, but on the support of strong, fatherly state power. The Kremlin links implementation of its “obligations to society” with manifestations of loyalty: this is the essence of its policy of stability.
Leftists in a Right-Wing Society
Finally, should we consider ordinary people’s nostalgic memories of the Soviet Union during the stagnation period a manifestation of “leftism,” and rejection of western lifestyles and indifference to democratic freedoms indicators of an anti-bourgeois worldview? According to the twisted logic of the “populists,” who have declared most democratic demands irrelevant to the class struggle and therefore not worthy of attention, that is the way it is. Instead of accepting the obvious fact that proletarians need more democracy and more radical democracy than the middle class, and that protests by students and the intelligentsia can pave the way to revolt by the lower classes, theorists like Kagarlitsky try to paint ordinary conservatism red.
They tacitly or openly postulate that workers can somehow acquire class consciousness under a reactionary regime without breaking with its paternalist ideology and without supporting the fight for those basic political rights that workers in the west won at the cost of a long and bloody struggle.
It is time to recognize that we live in a society far more rightist than any of the Western European countries and even the United States. What European and American right-wing radicals can imagine only in their wildest fantasies has been realized in post-Soviet Russia in an unprecedentedly brief span of time and with extraordinary completeness. The Soviet legacy (or, rather, the reactionary aspects of the Soviet social model) proved not to be an antidote to bourgeois-mindedness, but rather an extremely favorable breeding ground for a strange capitalist society that is simultaneously atomized and anti-individualist, cynical and easily manipulated, traditionalist and bereft of genuine roots. And we leftists must learn to be revolutionaries in this society, rather than its willing or unwitting apologists.
Ivan Ovsyannikov, Russian Socialist Movement April 20, 2014