Russia: The people are not silent, but what comes next?

Massive rally in Moscow in support of honest elections, February 4, 2012.

By Aleksandr Buzgalin and Andrey Kolganov, translated by Renfrey Clarke

February 16, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This article was written gradually, as events in Russia unfolded. The first version appeared after the first demonstrations in Moscow in December, on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Prospekt. The latest variant is taking shape in the hours following the rallies that took place throughout the Russian capital (and not only there) on February 4.

According to early reports, the united opposition assembled a minimum of 40,000 people and perhaps as many as 120,000 (the estimate of the organisers, and far more realistic). Another demonstration called by the marginal right-wing liberal figures Novodvorskaya and Borovoy attracted barely a hundred supporters. As usual, the right-wing nationalist Zhirinovsky brought out his obedient followers to the number of perhaps a thousand people. Far more serious was the rally by opponents of the opposition actions, the so-called anti-orange rally on Poklonnaya Hill. There, as at the opposition demonstration, somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 people took part.

More will be said later about the latter action, and about the events that led up to February 4. We shall begin by stating that as the authors expected, the main arguments set out in late December remain valid, though they need some correcting and updating.

In December we began by arguing that the dramatic and unexpected outburst of street protests in Russia, exemplified by the demonstrations on Bolotnaya Square on December 10 and on Sakharov Prospekt on December 24, marked a breach in the seemingly endless somnolence of the social atmosphere in our country. The world – and we ourselves – realised with surprise: the Russian people are not remaining silent.

The authors of these lines have argued repeatedly that we Russians will not stay quiet forever, and that we are capable of explosive action. There are plenty of historical examples, including from the recent past. We shall take some of these in reverse order. In January 2005 tens of thousands of people throughout Russia not only demonstrated, but blocked major transport routes in protest against the monetisation of welfare benefits. In the autumn of 1993 hundreds of thousands campaigned persistently against the blockade of the Supreme Soviet, taking the chance of being shot and actually coming under fire. In May and November 1992 as many as half a million people throughout the country took part in protests against “shock therapy”. In August 1991 no fewer than 100,000 people in Moscow demonstrated against the coup by the so-called State Committee on the Emergency Situation.

Who is not speaking out?

So far, there cannot be any precise answer to this question. The sociological research carried out among participants in the rallies by the Levada Centre and VTsIOM is not completely representative, so we shall combine their “official” results with our own observations and those of our colleagues. Broader surveys of public opinion show that between 6 and 16 per cent of the population support various radical demands of the opposition, such as the removal of the Putin-Medvedev tandem from power. The number of people who question the honesty of the elections is rather higher. In any case, more than half of the population definitely do not support the slogans of the liberal oppositionists. It can also be noted that the protest is concentrated in the largest cities, and especially in Moscow. But what sort of people are the protesters?

It is obvious to almost everyone that most of the people who assembled on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Prospekt were not political activists (you would not find more than a few thousand of these in Moscow), but “ordinary” citizens – people who are not used to taking part in politics, and whose dignity as citizens has been trampled upon for decades, though in a particularly crass and cynical fashion in the past few months.

In most cases, the participants in the Moscow demonstrations in December were young or middle-aged, and reasonably prosperous; they were not driven onto the squares and avenues by hunger and cold, but by an unwillingness to be puppets, manipulated in vulgar fashion by the authorities. The “upper middle class”, intellectual glitterati and “fat cats” were very weakly represented (however, on the speakers’ platforms it would have been difficult to push your way between them – but more on this later). Much the same was true of the people who attended the demonstrations, both opposition and “anti-orange”, on February 4 – they recalled the stream of Moscow residents who flood into the metro at peak hour. True, they were not “average” Russians; living standards in Moscow are from three to four times higher than in the rest of Russia, so these people were not the deprived and downtrodden. But neither were they those who are growing rich from the Putin model of society. The most active layer, young or middle-aged, consisted of people who are not poor and who are divided into those who think the most important thing is “not to rock the boat” (the “anti-orange” demonstrators) and those who consider that the boat of the Putin regime has rotted through, and has to be exchanged for a more reliable vessel. Meanwhile there is no consensus among the opposition, and cannot be, on the question of what this new craft should be like. The opposition is a left-right bloc.

There was another aspect of the opposition demonstrations that should not be ignored, if we want to be self-critical. Many of the people who came to Bolotnaya Square and particularly to Sakharov Prospekt were there for no better reason than because it was fashionable (such people were somewhat fewer on February 4, when the temperature was minus 20). Protest, for participants of this ilk, was a case of dipping their beaks and then pulling back after gaining, at minimal risk, a sense of their own importance and civic dignity. Above all, the experience was cool. Such people, though, were a minority. Most of those present genuinely valued their dignity as citizens, and wanted to defend it.

It should not be forgotten that demonstrations took place throughout Russia, though only in Moscow were as many as 100,000 people gathered in one place. In the provinces, though, even 1000 people can be a formidable gathering. There, the composition of the crowds was different: most of those who attended were increasingly ill-paid (or simply poor) employees of state bodies, manual workers and students. The slogans they embraced were noticeably more radical.

In Moscow as well, there were other protests besides those on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Prospekt. Leaders of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) assembled more than 5000 people on Manezh Square next to the Kremlin, while near Moscow State University on Sparrow Hills more than 1000 gathered to hear Sergey Kurginyan.

These meetings were far smaller, but there is no point in pretending they did not occur. They differed in character from the main demonstrations, and behind them stood people who are not simply prepared to take a weekend stroll to a fashionable talkfest, but who are ready for action. To a lesser degree this is true of the KPRF, though this party also has a parliamentary presence, and it was particularly the case with the young people who protested along with Kurginyan. The latter has become especially popular following a six-month series of television debates on the contradictions of Soviet history, as well as speeches criticising the Bolotnaya and Sakharov actions – criticisms, moreover, that are by no means trifling (these lines, written at the end of December, were confirmed emphatically by the massive size of the “anti-orange” demonstration in February). Also present at the lesser demonstrations were nationalists, sporting fanatics and so forth, people prepared to take part in action of a different type.

What did they all want?

What are the people not silent about?

At its simplest, the answer is clear to everyone: about a diverse range of grievances. But the truth, unlike positivist assertions, is always concrete, and hence complex and contradictory. We make no claim to know the facts conclusively, but will put forward a number of arguments as a basis for discussion.

In the first place, most of the people who took part in the opposition demonstrations did not have, and still do not have, any particular political and ideological predilections. Various points of potential crystallisation – support for liberal democracy, the left, nationalism and great-power chauvinism – are obvious, but actual crystallisation has not yet begun. For almost everyone, a number of demands which emerged clearly during the protests have an “abstract-general” significance (to use the language of philosophy), and deserve to be raised no matter what:

  • The demand for an honest and transparent political system, free of political manipulation and lies.
  • A weariness with “tandemocracy”; there is a universal cynicism concerning the game in which Putin is substituted for Medvedev and Medvedev for Putin. On Sakharov Prospekt there were numerous placards calling for the replacement of both.
  • A lack of confidence in the existing political system as a whole. Though not yet fully distinct, this hovered quite noticeably above the squares of Moscow on both of the Saturdays in question.

Secondly, and despite the lack of clarity of most of the demonstrators (especially those who came onto the streets in regional areas, or who took part in alternative rallies) concerning their positions, social problems were an extremely important factor. Even in relatively prosperous Moscow and for people who are reasonably well paid, rising prices and the commercialisation of education and health care are significant problems. In all the conversations held by our comrades with participants in the demonstrations the call for improved social welfare brought a lively response.

For all the diversity and diffuseness of the demonstrators’ views, we consider that if their leaders had put forward even moderate social demands the overwhelming majority of those present would have said “Yes!” to a radical increase in spending on education, health care and other social provisions; to raising the minimum wage and pensions to the real subsistence level; to expanding the rights of workers and the role of trade unions; to solving the country’s acute environmental problems; and to a partial redistribution of wealth to the advantage of citizens, at the expense not only of corrupt officials but also (please note!) of oligarchs and the middle bourgeoisie.

As authors, we can make this assertion because the demands involved are not arbitrary inventions. They have been canvassed by Russian public organisations and social movements, and are to be found in the programs of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and of A Just Russia (in honest elections, these parties would together receive no fewer than half the votes).

These demands figured much more prominently at the opposition rally on February 4 than in December, and this was no accident. Shortly before, on January 28, members of the non-KPRF left in Moscow had held a Forum of Left Forces, involving members of practically all socialist and communist organisations that are not part of the KPRF and also a number of activist social movements (on this forum, and on meetings of the left during January, more will be said later).

At the same time, it must be stressed that socially accented demands are unacceptable in principle to the people who heavily dominated the speakers’ platforms on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Prospekt, though in February the monopolisation by the right and centre was not so complete.

The cynicism of most of the leaders

The leading figures on the platforms at the Moscow rallies represented a variety of backgrounds and views. But the main roles were reserved for people among the organisers who, while not exercising political power, had money and access to the mass media.

The media deserve special mention. While most journalists in Russia are prepared to work on a whatever-you-say-goes basis so long as they get paid, there are still a few people shaping public opinion in our country who have kept a certain fidelity to the traditional liberal values. There are also rather more journalists who have held, and retain, a definite right-wing liberal position and who are delighted when they can express it openly. It does not follow from this that they are ready to provide equal opportunities for the opposition to put its views, but they are prepared to fight honestly and seriously to defend their own freedom of speech. Such journalists and media outlets (Ekho Moskvy, Novaya Gazeta, various bloggers and so forth) did a great deal to ensure that the turnout to the demonstrations would be large, and that right-wing liberal oppositionists would be among the speakers. In this, they campaigned with complete sincerity for their own futures.

The individuals who were most noticeable on the speakers’ platforms, and who received most of the media coverage, were nevertheless of a different stripe. Familiar to the public, these people are known mostly for their wheeling and dealing. Boris Nemtsov, a deputy prime minister under Yeltsin, was forced from office along with others responsible for the 1998 default. In the autumn of 1993, while governor of Nizhny Novgorod province, Nemtsov called on Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to deal ruthlessly with the defenders of the Supreme Soviet, Russia’s first democratically elected parliament: “Crush them, crush them, Viktor Stepanovich”, he is reported to have implored. “There’s no time to lose. Annihilate them!”[1]

As deputy prime minister and finance minister under Putin, Aleksey Kudrin delivered every possible spending cutback (and some impossible ones) in the areas of education and health care, while keeping silent about democracy until he was sacked. A somewhat distinct figure among the speakers was Aleksey Navalny; relatively unknown earlier, Navalny in the months leading up to the protests campaigned actively around positions of right-wing liberalism in the economy and of radical nationalism, verging on authoritarianism, in politics. Also among the speakers were such infinitely cynical show business and popular culture figures as Kseniya Sobchak, for whom the demonstrations were a chance to practise PR and an excuse to campaign for the ability to make money out of culture, free from any restrictions.

Also on the platforms were sincere democrats. In the depths of their souls these people perhaps guessed that they would, if the present leaders were to triumph, once again find themselves dumped by their former comrades-in-arms, just as in the later Yeltsin period. But these democrats could not resist the temptation to step onto a platform, even if in so questionable a fashion and with the help of such less-than-perfect leaders, and to dream for a little, before a rally of 100,000 people, of a real democracy in Russia.

It cannot be said that the citizens who attended the demonstrations implicitly trusted the people on the platforms. For the most part, the speeches drew a response only from active groups of sympathisers, except when one or another of the speakers loudly and clearly addressed the topics on everyone’s mind – the often-repeated calls for honest government and for replacing the “tandemocracy”.

Russia’s citizens have finished up in a tragic situation. The people who came to the rallies are denied any real choice; there is no political force in Russia capable of adequately expressing the interests of the majority, and of helping this majority, through independent action, to turn these interests into reality. The various political players, whether on the platforms at large Moscow demonstrations or in the Duma opposition, all try to seize the leadership of the movement. Meanwhile, the right-wing “democrats” evoke even less trust than the left-wing Stalinists.

It is no accident (more will be said later about the reasons for this) that the right wingers who had a majority on the speakers’ platforms do not inspire trust with their support for democracy, since we know from experience that they will happily surrender democracy if it stops them turning their millions into billions, and their billions into tens and hundreds of billions. We are not talking roubles here, but dollars – or euros, if the euro does not collapse. The people concerned have acted this way more than once, not only in Russia, and we therefore know they will do so again if, having grabbed hold of power, they run up against the democratically expressed demand of the majority that they introduce a progressive income tax, strengthen trade unions and compel business to operate within a framework of social responsibility (at least on the level of the Scandinavian countries). Today’s right-wing “democrats” will immediately use their strength to crush any and all democratic institutions lest these start putting the social demands of the majority into effect. We stress once again: that is exactly what they did in 1993.

Most of those who took part in the large Moscow demonstrations do not show any particular trust in the left-wing parliamentary opposition either. It is not simply an absurdity for the leaders of the KPRF to extol democracy while at the same time displaying open nostalgia for Stalin. This rejoicing over democracy is also absurd, meriting no confidence whatever, for the reason that these leaders show a complete inability to take any decisive action against the authorities. Just as dubious is the recent history of A Just Russia, which in the last Duma supported Putin on all key questions, while its leader Mironov was able to keep his job as president of the Senate.

And now, to the “mystery” of how the interests of the mass of demonstrators diverge from those of the elites at the big rallies.

The leaders and the masses: rightists, leftists, nationalists ...

To be strictly accurate, most of the demonstrators in Moscow in December and February were not supporters of the left. The majority, however, would no doubt have felt a vague sympathy for a socially oriented democracy; in a European setting they would have been viewed as adhering, in rather ill-defined fashion, to social democracy and forces further leftward. By contrast, the “elites” occupying the speakers’ platforms held very definite views, even if these were eclectic and internally inconsistent. Among the speakers, those from the left were the exception, though as we noted, there were more of them in February than there had been in December.

It was no accident that the right wingers had finished up on top. They had benefited from real opportunities within the official apparatus, were friendly with important figures within the mass media, had ties to big money and were able to hire professionals by the dozen to promote their interests through the networks. Behind them stood very considerable resources supplied by the US State Department and similar bodies (provided exclusively to the right, this was not the main assistance which the West furnished in the struggle for democracy, but it was far from inconsequential). But it was something else, quite distinct from all this that proved crucial: the fact that the right wingers were willing and able to struggle for their interests. The stakes for them in this game were huge. Just what were the elites fighting for?

“Honest elections” are desirable, of course, but this slogan is good only for bringing down an existing dishonest and corrupt regime and winning power for oneself. What will Nemtsov, Kudrin and co. do once they have achieved this? Exactly the same as they did when they wielded power years ago. More freedom for business, lower taxes on the rich and a fresh re-division of property for the benefit of the people who will take control of the Kremlin offices. And possibly, more freedom in the television industry for programs in the Sobchak mould.

If there is a need to be more specific, it is not hard to spell out the suggestion which has been in the wind for some time: the task of the right-wing “leaders” is to win a few concessions from the authorities in order finally to gain positions in parliament (or even better, in the armchairs of the ministries and presidential administration). The corrections to the electoral system proposed by Medvedev play into the hands of these people. It will be easy to register a dwarf party, then build it up with the help of money (which only the right wing have); in the single-mandate electoral districts, the winners are usually those who have most money to spend on bribes. Meanwhile, a compromise with Putin and Medvedev is always possible. This is no longer just a speculation, but considerably more; it was not without purpose that at the last demonstration Putin’s close friend Kudrin offered his services as an intermediary for setting up talks between the protest “leaders” and the authorities.

The question in this case is not even whether the “leaders” want this; they cannot want anything else. They are compelled to betray the goals of democratic struggle; such is their essential interest, and they will consistently defend it. The real problem is different.

The problem is that the people who have come to the demonstrations on the squares of Moscow wanting honestly to feel like citizens have finished up as the “lower classes”.

As the “lower classes”, they are first drawn in, then hoodwinked. They are drawn in by the fact that for the moment, most of the slogans voiced by the speakers are ones which for the majority of the people present are genuinely urgent − demands for an honest, transparent, democratic political system. They are hoodwinked, since tomorrow these slogans are likely to be exchanged for access to the feed-trough, or used for political intrigues.

So what is it makes these people the “lower classes”? They are the “lower classes” – and here lies the chief tragedy of our country – so long as they remain incapable of organising themselves and of decisively manifesting their will, pursuing their diverse but in essence shared interests.

This brings us to the task of the moment: to help the demonstrators on the squares to create, through their own actions, certain minimum institutions of popular democracy. Precisely and solely to help them do this. This will be more through words than actions, since as citizens they can and must perform this mighty deed themselves, even while receiving a little assistance from Russia’s democratic left.

What about the left?

It cannot be said that the left-wing opposition has been idle, though it should be pointed out that in recent times neither the leaders of the KPRF nor those of A Just Russia have been conspicuous for their activism. This state of affairs, we fear, may continue.

Meanwhile, the extra-parliamentary left has managed to mobilise itself relatively quickly. Even before the demonstrations, its members (the authors, as supporters of socialism who do not belong to any organisation represented in parliament, include themselves here) had begun serious work. This activity was of very diverse kinds. What now seem rather small meetings and pickets (involving at most a few hundred people) by the Left Front coalition and its allies in Russia met with harsh responses from the police. The leaders of these actions were arrested and severely mistreated. Sergey Udaltsov spent a good deal of time in detention and repeatedly went on hunger strike, on some occasions refusing to drink, in protest at the illegal arrests.

After the first large Moscow demonstrations in December, members of the extra-parliamentary left, mainly from the Left Front but also KPRF activists thrown out of the party’s Moscow organisation, along with the Russian Communist Workers Party and members of other left groups, organised a number of demonstrations of which one on January 9 was especially notable. This action was held on the anniversary of the 1905 Bloody Sunday massacre of demonstrating workers, and addressed the need for solidarity with workers in Kazakhstan. At this protest, amid the traditional left speeches about the injustice and anti-social nature of the social systems that have arisen in the former Soviet Union, two very important positions were stressed: international solidarity with our comrades involved in struggle in a country so close to us Russians as Kazakhstan; and the iron necessity of solving social problems through resolving the questions of the development of democracy. At the “big” demonstrations, the main stress was on the need for unity in the struggle for democracy, and for leftists in the former Soviet Union, the idea of “march separately, but strike together” was still a novelty as applied to centrists and “neutrals”. But it is being emphasised more and more often by people engaged in real struggle.

Another significant event for the Russian left has been the earlier-mentioned Forum of Left Forces, which took place in Moscow on January 28 and which brought together more than 400 members of almost 50 different left groups and networks. Though not especially large in terms of the numbers involved, the forum represented an important step toward coordinating the actions of the left within the context of a broad, clearly growing activism by Russian citizens. The event did not pass off without naive or provocative attempts by some leaders to regroup under their influence, and to turn into a base for a united left party, the extremely heterogeneous mass of Trotskyists and Stalinists, anarchists and social democrats who had come together, but who obviously could not be integrated into a unified political organisation.

We shall return to questions of the tactical and strategic tasks of the left. But next, we should note a serious dispute that has flared up within the opposition movement. One part of the movement, alarmed by the “troubles”, is calling with increasing force for taking up defensive positions along the lines of “Putin is bad, but not as bad as the right-wing liberals” who would lead Russia to a new edition of Yeltsinism, only this time as farce.

There is no disputing that the argument that things might become even worse than at present has weight. Under Putin, spending in Russia is increasing on the army and police. Constant discussions take place on the need to restore Russia’s status as a “great power”, the USSR’s great-power (but not socialist) attributes are repeatedly praised, Stalin is once again exalted, and so forth. The West is indignant at this, and pro-Western liberals such as Novodvorskaya likewise. Meanwhile, nationalist supporters of the “strong state” (including such figures from the so-called “reds” as Sergey Kurginyan and Sergey Chernyakhovsky) rejoice at it.

What are left internationalists to do?

In the first place, they need to understand precisely that the politics of the past decade has not involved strengthening the power of the state in the interests of the people and against the oligarchs, but strengthening the unity of the oligarchs and the authorities against the people. The jailing of the oligarch Khodorkovsky is a confirmation of this, not a negation, since he was not imprisoned for being an oligarch (there are more of these every year, and dollar billionaires alone now number more than 100). Nor was he jailed for opposing the authorities, since he did not do anything really special. His “offence” was to set out seriously to show, in word and deed, that unless the problem of poverty and blatant social inequality was solved Russia could not develop further. He urged that everything be shared, the money of the oligarchs and the power of the bureaucrats. He was not, of course, any kind of Robin Hood – at most, a mild version of Ehrhard. But for Putin and co. even that was too much. The West has made a martyr of Khodorkovsky, but they could also make a martyr of the radical red Udaltsov if it suited them. Then, they might well go on to support the killing of thousands of people like Udaltsov, just as the Western establishment cynically supported the murder of thousands of defenders of the Russian Supreme Soviet in 1993.

Putin has pursued, and will pursue, economic policies more right wing than those now in place in the US. Even more right wing and anti-popular than those of Ronald Reagan. In Russia, the share of spending going to education and health has fallen, and is continuing to fall. Social differentiation has grown, and will grow further; it long ago outstripped that in the US. Meanwhile, all the discussions on innovation and reindustrialisation have been and remain propaganda, with only a few insignificant examples to back them up.

Second, Putin and the right-wing opposition politicians represent a single team. It was Putin who protected, and protects, Kudrin and Chubais. It was Putin who introduced the extreme right-wing billionaire Prokhorov to the political arena. Both as president and as prime minister, Putin has supported the right-wing liberal economy minister Nabiullina and the simply reactionary right-wing education minister Fursenko. It is Putin who, for all his anti-Western rhetoric, has not taken any serious steps to create an alternative to the global hegemony of transnational capital. He cannot act in this way, and has no desire to, since all his power is merely a small outgrowth of this hegemony.

Third, the members of the left must not decide prematurely, and without a struggle, that they need to reconcile themselves to having lost, while seeking to frighten Russians with the thought that only a right-wing leader can succeed Putin. We are convinced that with correctly chosen strategies and tactics the members of the extra-parliamentary left, relatively few in number but active and astute, can bring about positive shifts if they combine their efforts with those of the KPRF and A Just Russia, irresolute but numerous and well represented in the Duma.

Favouring this outcome are the sentiments of a majority of Russians, including of those who have been turning out for the opposition demonstrations. Also needed will be a marked intensification of the activism of the left. Unimpressive left-wing demonstrations will, in fact, serve merely as a pawn in the struggle between various elite clans. Powerful demonstrations throughout Russia, putting forward serious social demands and supported by the actions of the parliamentary opposition, can force the Russian authorities to compromise both in the field of political rights and freedoms, and in that of social reforms.

What is to be done?

We posed this question in the first version of this article, and unfortunately, the answers have not gone out of date. We wrote then that to put this question in Russia is almost as amusing as contending with fools and bad roads. Nevertheless ...

In the first place, slogans pertaining to honest, democratic, transparent politics can and must be formulated and put forward, but it is now time to make clear, to ourselves and our comrades and in the most deliberate fashion, that this is not enough. It has to be explained that people who are formally honest, in the sense of not breaching established laws, might include Pinochet, and the head of the GULAG, and oligarchs growing fat in an impoverished country, and parliamentarians who “honestly”, without taking bribes, vote to cut spending on education and health. Moreover, if we restrict ourselves exclusively to putting forward the slogan of honest elections, the right-wing cynics will simply use this to advance their interests.

More important is to ensure that these slogans are advanced not by various political chiefs or even by parties that supposedly speak in the name of the masses, but by citizens themselves, acting in their own names.

Second, and to this end, there is a need for various forms of self-organisation that allow us to formulate, publicise and defend our own interests and the corresponding slogans. We already know how this can be done. It is not by any means essential to have money and a base in the apparatus, or to have prominent figures on side. The internet and the network principles of (self-) organisation that played a huge role in ensuring that the demonstrations would be large provide us with the tools required. Lessons in how to go about it, and practical experience of the technologies, are offered by the Occupy Wall Street actions and many other international initiatives. One of the ways in which such mass network structures can be established is through a network of committees of electors – an idea that has resounded both at the demonstrations and in the networks. Much of the work of these committees could be performed on the internet. Other forms of organisation, not necessarily involving committees, might be sought as well.

The parliamentary opposition could do a great deal here. Its direct obligation now is not to take part in corridor discussions with the “leaders” of the big Moscow demonstrations. Instead, the deputies from the KPRF and A Just Russia need to engage in open dialogue, in constant meetings and debates, with the “rank and file” organisers of mass actions in Moscow and other Russian cities.

Third, there is a fundamental need for open public discussion on where and how far citizens aim to take the process of establishing a transparent, honest, democratic political system, and what inbuilt safeguards this system should include against the danger that the “leaders” and political intriguers will betray their originally declared goals.

The diversity of the interests involved must not be concealed. We can and should follow the old slogan, “March separately, strike together!” Democratic leftists and right-wing liberals, social democrats and Stalinists cannot and should not pretend to be a “united front”. That would be a great lie, particularly out of place in the context of a movement for honesty. The first steps along the correct road here have already been taken. A demarcation is occurring, but for the present – and this is gratifying – has not paralysed the collaborative nature of the protest. So far, the slogan “March separately, strike together!” has not lost its significance.

The primary interest that we have in common – in political democracy – can and should be used to make sure that grassroots democratic structures (committees of electors and their networks, and perhaps other forms as well) which express the varied interests of diverse layers of citizens are able to find democratic paths of agreement, ensuring the victory of the majority while retaining guarantees of minority rights.

We note parenthetically that if our “democratic” mass media really wanted democracy, and not victory for the political right, they would have to organise just such open, public discussions on future goals and means of struggle, involving a range of public figures and experts including members of the left. That would be a test of their democratism.

In this way, a reorganising of parties and political structures might begin, leading to the formation, from below, of new political forces that would genuinely express the interests of Russia’s various social layers.

These, however, are matters for the future. The present need is for active work within the networks to promote serious discussion of positive programs. There is no need to be afraid of spelling out differences; this is a guarantee of the democratic nature of the debates and struggles between different social forces. Attempts to hide real problems, and to prevent contradictions from surfacing, will make us once again the victims of political manipulation. In tough but measured fashion, we need to discuss where we agree and where we disagree – right wingers and centrists, socialists and Communists, nationalists and internationalists. At least within the networks we need to formulate not a program, but multiple programs for new social and political networks (and later, parties) that will adequately reflect our different interests, and that will openly, explicitly and democratically defend them and put them into effect.

Literally everyone can do this, on the internet, in social networks, in offices, workshops, kitchens, lecture theatres and school classrooms.

P.S. If I don’t, who will?

As we know, it is much easier to utter appeals and slogans than to perform the drudging labour of organisation, at the computer monitor or on the streets. But unless we want new “vanguards” to take decisions on our behalf, all of us – citizens of Russia – have to learn how to take part in the unpaid work of day-to-day political organising, at least to some extent. This will not be altruism but self-defence; otherwise, the little we are left with will once again be taken from us and divided up. It will be the same Nemtsovs and Kudrins (we recall the experience of the 1990s) who once again carry out the expropriation.

If we – that is, those of us who at heart are neither Putins, Nemtsovs or Zyuganovs – do not stir ourselves and rise to the challenge of independent activity, the head of steam built up at the great Moscow rallies, and at the regional demonstrations that were almost as important though smaller, will at best blow off through the whistle. At worst, it will be used to bring about a re-division of power to the advantage not even of the Nemtsovs, but of the Kudrins.

The Russian winter of 2011-2012 poses a challenge to us: not to allow the protests by aggrieved citizens to degenerate into a new show of “perestroika” that cannot be anything other than farce.


[1] From a speech by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (Sovetskaya Kalmykiya, October 9, 1993).

Submitted by Anna (not verified) on Thu, 03/01/2012 - 12:16


I think that people should not be silent about their concerns especially when their leaders are elected by them ad should work in their favour. However, the "demand for an honest and transparent political system, free of political manipulation and lies" is quite hard to obtain when the image of the political system is already corrupted by years of manipulation and countless lies. Interesting article! I will recommend it to my friends.