Russia awakes: social protest 100 years after the beginning of the First Russian revolution
by Aleksandr Buzgalin and Andrey Kolganov
Aleksandr Buzgalin and Andrei Kolganov are economists and political scientists at Moscow State University who are associated with the social and political journal Alternativy.
January 2005 was a profoundly significant month for Russia in many ways, but above all as the month when our people, after a sleep of many years, demonstrated their capacity for joint actions in defence of their common social interests. As many as 300,000 people in more than fifty regions of Russia came out onto the streets over a four-week period, beginning with the symbolic date of the anniversary of "Bloody Sunday". Why did this happen? What was the objective meaning of these events? What could the left have done, or not done, to assist these mainly spontaneous initiatives of the population? What lies ahead, and what can and should be the strategy and tactics for supporters of social renewal? What lessons should we draw from the first successes and failures?
Any analysis which is made hot on the trail of events has its advantages (an emotional mood and the energy of social creativity inspire one to work) and its shortcomings ("Face to face you don't see the face, the big picture can only be seen at a distance", and direct immersion in events affects scholarly impartiality to a degree). Nevertheless, we resolved to take these first steps toward an analysis, and to make these first generalisations, since Marxists are distinguished by the way they prefer to act in a conscious, thought-out fashion. In any case, what is involved here is not subjecting citizens and their organisations to one's own speculative agendas, but the chance to understand the logic and objective meaning of events, to understand the subjective factors driving the protests, in order to help the movement exploit its opportunities as energetically as possible.
As has been widely reported, the immediate cause of the first protests, in Moscow province on January 10, was the abolition of free travel for pensioners on public transport. The real source of these events, however, lies outside the framework of 2005. The process through which the now-notorious Law No. 122 on the monetisation of benefits was drafted and prepared for adoption began a year ago, and was immediately met with an active campaign of protest. The draft law was criticised on three counts. The first of these in terms of logic (though not of importance) was the intellectual critique. Even before the law was adopted, the critically minded section of the scholarly community (in the research institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, at Moscow State University and in regional centres), left-wing intellectuals (including our "Alternatives" movement), a number of professors, independent deputies of the State Duma (O.N. Smolin, S. Yu. Glazyev, and others) and many other experts warned the community. These analyses predicted virtually all the problems that have now materialised, and a number that still await us. Among them are the following:
- the general negative effects on the most deprived layers of the population of abolishing benefits in kind (in a poor country the lack of a guaranteed minimum, provided in concrete form, leads to the degradation and dying out of the poorest section of the population, those who are unable to work or have only limited fitness for work);
- the low level of the monetary compensation, which does not satisfy even the minimal requirements that were covered by the benefits in kind, along with the delays in payment (in short, the authorities will pay less than they earlier provided in kind, while not paying it everywhere, not paying it to everyone and, when they do pay it, paying it after delays);
- the use of the monetisation of benefits as a new step along the road to the ultimate commercialisation and privatisation of everything that remains unstolen in our country (in this case, social welfare payments etc.).
In addition, we pointed out that the abolition of benefits was merely one element in the antisocial measures inspired by Law No. 122. Still to come are the commercialisation and privatisation of communal services, education, science, health care and so forth—that is, the destruction of the last remnants of social welfare provisions and, in essence, the rejection of the very notion of the "welfare state" (which is guaranteed by our constitution, the guarantor of which is the president—who initiated all the antisocial reforms).
Finally, we have argued, argue now and will continue to argue that these measures are not simply a chance outburst of "market fundamentalism" (to use the term coined by George Soros) on the part of the authorities, but are part (1) of a long-term strategy of the state (that is, above all of the president, the government and United Russia) and of capital to carry out the further commercialisation and privatisation of all spheres of social and economic life, and (2) of a general wave of global neo-liberal expansion, whose leaders are becoming a new "proto-empire" (consisting above all of the us, of the organisations such as nato, the WTO and the IMF that are fused with this super-state and of the largest transnational corporations).
The second wave of resistance to Law No. 122 has come from the Duma opposition, represented above all by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Moreover, this party and its allies have also taken a series of steps outside of parliament, conducting a series of street actions during the summer.
Unfortunately, the level of activism of this largest of opposition organisations has not corresponded to the size of its formal membership.
In our view, the most interesting formations to move into struggle against the attacks on the social rights of citizens have been new movements that have arisen during the past year. Among them is the left-wing political network, the Left Youth Front, which unites extremely diverse left-wing youth organisations, from the Trotskyist Socialist Resistance to the pro-Stalinist Communist Youth Vanguard (AKM), and including both the KPRF-linked Union of Communist Youth and the academic specialists—remote from the KPRF—of the Institute for the Study of Globalisation.
Still more significant has been the uniting in a single network of various social organisations representing those layers of citizens whose interests are directly affected by Law No. 122. This network includes a broad spectrum of independent trade unions (air traffic controllers, dockers, the "Defence of Labour" union and others); of organisations of invalids, Chernobyl veterans and human rights defenders; and also of women's, youth and many other organisations and movements (our movement "Alternatives" is also part of this network). This association, which eventually came to call itself the Council of Social Solidarity, has initiated a number of street actions. A June 2004 demonstration in Moscow, attended by Chernobyl veterans and invalids from many Russian cities, had a particularly broad impact.
All these actions, whether in the press, on the streets or in the Duma, nevertheless made only a small impression on Russians, and had little effect on the adoption of the law, which finally came into force at the end of last year.
But the situation that arose in January was different.
First, however, a few words about the important historical context of these events—the centenary of the First Russian Revolution of 1905-1907.
It is curious that in Moscow on January 9, literally on the eve of the first actions of civil disobedience (the blocking of the Leningrad Highway at Khimki on January 10), we had held a conference devoted to analysing the reasons for the passivity of Russians and the conditions under which their civic activism might be awakened. The date of the conference was specially chosen so as to coincide with the centenary of Bloody Sunday. On this day—according to the old style—in 1905, more than 100,000 residents of St Petersburg had gathered on the palace square to demand minimal bourgeois democratic and social reforms. The peaceful demonstration was fired on, and more than a thousand citizens—workers and members of the intelligentsia—were killed. The episode became the prologue to the First Russian Revolution.
Our first surprise was the number of participants in the discussion; the hall of the Mayakovsky Museum, with seating for 100 people, was full to overflowing. Our second surprise was the interested, open, agitated tone of the discussion, which combined analysis and emotion, sharp polemic and collective reflection. For the first time after a conference we did not head off to our homes, but set off in a column through the windswept Moscow streets to the monument on Tverskoy Boulevard to the participants in the revolutionary struggles of 1905 and 1917.
The analysis came up with a predictable but nevertheless important result: protests by workers are most probable not in conditions of decline, but when an economic upsurge coincides with an open attack on the rights of citizens, when the authorities not only oppress the population, but also insult them with openly antisocial behaviour and when the lower orders (we recall Lenin's famous theses) are no longer willing to live in the old fashion. If the opposition at this moment can summon enough strength to support the popular actions, and if its strategy and tactics are sufficiently developed to help prevent these actions from being choked in elemental discord, if the opposition is capable of diverting this elemental force from its inevitably disorganised state into the channel represented by the self-organisation of strategically regulated joint action and if this opposition makes use of the popularity and trust of the citizens and of their spontaneous forms of self-organisation, then all the preconditions are present for a successful offensive (for the other precondition for success, a crisis of those at the top, see below).
These theses are well known in the left milieu, even if some people are still unaware of them, while others do their best to "forget" them. It is, however, another question that has aroused most debate: what organisations are required for this process, and just what role should they play? Here there are three contending approaches.
The first hinges on whether there is a need for a vanguard party to head up and lead the masses. This is an old thesis, but one that is still popular. The author has more than once written about how and why, in the twenty-first century, the model of the vanguard party needs to take on a new shape—an open, working association of activists who work as "progressors" of the mass movement, but not as its vanguard. Even if we put theory to one side, the experience of Russia in recent years has shown that firstly, no such party exists and, secondly, the parties that lay claim to this role are for the most part either demagogic, with little in the way of a following, or consist of intriguers seeking to exploit the offensive by the masses in order to inflate their own popularity through the mass media.
The second approach is the traditional one of the champions of parliamentary cretinism, who reduce the entire struggle to preparing the conditions for founding a new party (a so-called "social" party) capable at the next elections of surmounting the seven per cent barrier and of winning seats in the Duma (it is not beside the point to ask: and what then? The KPRF has a considerable number of Duma seats, and the effect is virtually nothing). To this group (which was not well represented at our meeting), the mass movement is no more than a means of establishing its future parliamentary caucus.
The third approach has been upheld in the spirit of the principles and forms of the modern anti-globalist movement, with its stress on creating open operating networks of mass social organisations and movements, playing a practical part in solidarity organisation and in the holding of protest actions. The role of the left in this instance is becoming especially important. It consists both of day-to-day grassroots collaboration with this self-organisation (while not trying to replace it with "party building"), and also of providing intellectual expertise, analysis and helpful advice, along with comparisons with world experience and with our own experience, and with the lessons of history (here, it is particularly important to turn to the experience of 1905-1907, experience that could not be more timely).
In our view the first real protest actions, which began literally the next day, confirm the correctness of the supporters of the third line. But more on this later.
Now, briefly, about the relevance of historical experience. The conference adopted an appeal, distributed the same day on the internet, in which it was specifically stressed that the Russian demands of 100 years ago are still current, and that it is essential to join in struggling for them. This document, which contains long quotes from an appeal of a century ago, seems to us to be thoroughly symbolic, and we will therefore reproduce it in full.
In two weeks' time it will be exactly 100 years since the day when citizens of Russia came onto the streets to appeal to the autocratic authorities, demanding a minimum of civil rights and the solving of social problems. The authorities met them with bullets, sabres and whips. Thousands were killed or wounded. January 9, 1905, thus became Bloody Sunday, the beginning of the First Russian Revolution. Now, on January 9, 2005, we are forced to state that many of the demands of a hundred years ago remain unmet. Just read these extracts from an appeal written a century ago:
We, workers and residents of the city of St Petersburg of various social strata, our wives, children and helpless old parents, come to you, sir, to seek the truth and to be defended. We have become impoverished, we are oppressed and burdened with toil beyond our endurance. We are railed at, we are not recognised as human, we are treated as slaves who have to bear their bitter fate and keep silent. We have reached the limit of our patience. For us, the terrible moment has come when death is better than a continuation of unbearable torments.
Continuing their demands, the citizens insisted above all on a constituent assembly, as a first step toward bringing the authorities under the control of the people, and holding honest elections:
Let everyone be equal and free in their electoral rights-and to this end, let the elections for the Constituent Assembly take place under conditions of universal, secret and equal voting.
This is our main demand; everything is founded on it. But one measure alone cannot heal our wounds. Other things too are indispensable:
I. Measures to end the ignorance and lack of rights of the Russian people.
- The immediate freeing and return of all who have suffered for their political and religious convictions, for strikes and peasant uprisings.
- An immediate guarantee of the freedom and inviolability of the individual, freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience in religious matters.
- Universal and compulsory popular education at state expense.
- The accountability of ministers before the people, and guarantees of the rule of law.
- Equality before the law for everyone without exception.
- The separation of church and state.
II. Measures to end the impoverishment of the people.
- Abolition of indirect taxes, and their replacement with a direct progressive income tax.
- An end to the war, as desired by the people.
III. Measures against the oppression of labour by capital.
- Immediate freedom to organise trade unions and unions of producers and consumers.
- An eight-hour working day, with penalty rates for overtime.
- Immediate freedom for labour to struggle against capital.
- Acceptable pay rates immediately.
- Immediate and unconditional participation by representatives of the working classes in preparing a draft law on state insurance for workers.
The demands for freedom of speech and for access to the mass media still remain current. We still lack a parliament with effective powers, and honest elections. We are still working ten and twelve-hour days. Reasonable wages remain a dream for most workers and rank-and-file members of the intelligentsia. Workers still lack genuine rights to participate in managing production and to exercise oversight over businesses.
The present-day Russian authorities:
- have abolished the progressive income tax;
- have forced through the Duma a labour code that restores the labour relations of a century ago, including a lack of rights for workers, and omnipotence for business and the bureaucracy;
- have introduced an antisocial package of laws that replace social benefits with minuscule financial compensation;
- are preparing the privatisation and commercialisation of education, in order to deprive us of the remnants of universal access to knowledge .
It is not hard to continue this list of measures, which are returning us to the conditions of a century ago. Now, on January 9, 2005, as we take part in a peaceful procession through the streets of Moscow, we call on all citizens of Russia not to believe in the "kindly tsar", and actively to defend their civil and social rights through solidarity and joint actions, a program of which we are putting forward for discussion at the Russian social forum in April 2005.
A brief chronology of the protest actions of early 2005 is contained in a whole series of internet publications, and in particular, in the text by Andrey Podrezov published on the site www.alternativy.ru, which is appended here. Anticipating our analysis, we shall note some of the most important empirically observed features of these actions.
In the first place, these were acts of civil disobedience (above all, the blocking of transport arteries).
Secondly (and this is very important), they encompassed practically every region of Russia. Extending for thousands of kilometres from north to south, and for more than ten thousand kilometres from west to east, they became genuine mass civil protest actions. Although each individual demonstration or action numbered from a few hundred to 10,000 participants, in sum they represented an all-Russian resistance movement.
Thirdly, these protests became an all-national phenomenon. This was not only because as many as 300,000 people took part in them (for Russia, with 150 million people, this is not so many). The actions had an enormous social resonance. Enjoying the support of the overwhelming majority of the population, they frightened the authorities both at the centre and at the local level, and hence received broad coverage in the mass media; this, in turn, dramatically strengthened their impact. In this connection, we should not fail to note the telling debates on one of the central television channels between the well-known Russian poet Dementyev (supporting the protests) and Vladimir Zhirinovsky [head of the Liberal Democratic Party] (who, naturally, opposed them). Here, several aspects are immediately noteworthy. The unpoliticised poet spoke out in support of the social demands of the citizens; the debates went live to air on one of the central channels; more than 100,000 people phoned the studio; and finally, more than three-quarters of them supported Dementyev, defending the protest actions and calling for the repeal of Law No. 122. Significantly, analogous positions were also expressed by well-known intellectuals, including many prominent Russian economists such as Academician D.S. Lvov, Professor D.E. Sorokin and Professor V.V. Kulikov.
Fourthly, these actions were spontaneous and initiated from below, but all the opposition social forces quickly came to support them. And here, almost for the first time in the past ten years in our country, something very important happened: numerous regional networks of the most diverse social and political organisations arose (and all-Russian networks are in the process of arising). The organisations involved have at times differed fundamentally in their ideological and political positions, but they are acting together to carry out specific tasks. The activists, in their overwhelming majority doing genuine work, quickly joined forces to implement the model suggested by life itself—of open, flexible, coordinated structures, carrying out the functions of the collaborative self-organisation of citizens. Although, as always, the leaders who have emerged include people intent on erecting new political superstructures, life itself has quickly destroyed any artificial formations, leaving only the genuinely functioning coordinating networks and teams.
The conflicts and contradictions between the various branches of the opposition have not disappeared during this process; they have made their effects felt constantly, seriously impeding practical action. But these are the realities of political life, which cannot be avoided, although these problems can and must be minimised. These are some of the features, noted by many analysts, of these events—events which at the moment of writing are still going forward.
What are the reasons for such unusual social and political shifts?
These reasons are not straightforward, since the economic and social rights of our country's citizens are being violated constantly, we would even say systematically. There was the runaway inflation of the early 1990s, which wiped out savings and cut the real incomes of most citizens almost in half. Unemployment, the failure to pay wages, the default of 1998—the list of social catastrophes is almost endless. Even in the last few years, the adoption of the new labour code has been a harsh anti-social act on the part of the authorities. It cannot be said that these problems have all failed to arouse protests. There have been protests, but at least since 1993 these actions have almost all been relatively small, mounted by opposition political organisations. The main exception has been the "stop the labour code" campaign, conducted mainly by the independent trade unions, but this campaign was nowhere near as large or radical as the actions of the present time. We might surmise that "the cup of patience has overflowed", and there would be real grounds for such a conclusion. But this, in our view, is still not the main thing. In the course of this winter several important factors have come together, the combining of which has led both to the spontaneous actions and to the consolidation of the opposition for joint struggle.
We shall begin with something that is well known to leftists, and which we mentioned earlier. That is the fact that opposition social forces tend to move into action at times when the economy is growing, and when there are also attacks on the social and economic rights of citizens. As a precondition for the rise of protest, this situation is no less important than the overflowing of the "cup of patience".
Just as important too is the fact that by the beginning of 2005 people had already lost faith in the opposition (of all varieties) and in the possibility of gaining anything through parliament or by appealing to the administration at any level. The majority of citizens no longer had any confidence in the political parties, in the Duma, or in the regional and federal executive authorities. Initially, it was as if the president were put in brackets, as an individual somehow not implicated in Law No. 122, but in the course of the demonstrations people soon began raising the slogan for the president to resign as well. Spontaneously and subconsciously, people were ready for civil disobedience. All that was needed was some flagrant, harsh, cynical act that signified: the authorities are against you, citizens. This signal was provided by the abolition of free public transport for elderly people, a move they encountered on the first day after the Christmas-New Year holidays.
Of crucial importance was the fact that by this time new, active structures of social and political opposition had begun to take shape. These included the organisations of left-wing youth, whether part of the Left Youth Front or outside it, and also the organisations of invalids and Chernobyl veterans, the independent trade unions, and so forth. These bodies were coordinating their activity through the sos, the recently formed organising committee for the Russian Social Forum and so on. Meanwhile the "old" opposition political organisations such as the KPRF were already, as the saying has it, "at a broken trough". The earlier forms and methods of passive parliamentary action had exhausted themselves; the KPRF and most of its allies were in crisis, and a section of the activists and leaders of the Communists were ripe for inclusion in extraparliamentary struggles.
Finally, another positive factor was the confusion, typical in such situations, displayed by the authorities. The actions of the protesters were meeting with support from public opinion. Meanwhile, the demonstrations were receiving relatively wide coverage in the press. The result was that the first protest actions served as examples for actions in other regions. In St Petersburg, for example, pensioners followed the lead provided by the residents of suburban Moscow, blocking Nevsky Prospekt and Sadovaya Street. The authorities lacked the decisiveness to uphold consistently what was clearly an ill-thought-out model for imposing the law and, more importantly, could not ensure unity of action between the federal and regional administrations. In some cases, the latter accommodated the aggrieved citizens fairly readily, making a series of concessions, but often the local authorities dealt savagely with the activists, including elderly people.
It was this combination of factors, diverse in origin but reinforcing one another, which in our view formed the cause of the active protests in Russia during January and February 2005.
It is, of course, still too early to speak of definitive lessons of the campaign of civil disobedience, which is continuing. Only a few rough initial sketches are possible. Nevertheless, these have their value. Without pretending to draw any final conclusions, we would like to note the following important aspects.
In the first place, the conclusions drawn on the basis of the events on Independence Square in Ukraine have been borne out [see article by Aleksandr Buzgalin in Links No. 27]. With all due reservations, it can be stated that in the post-Soviet space, mass protest actions by citizens, acts of civil disobedience, are a reality.
Secondly, in Russia, unlike the situation in Ukraine, there have never been any oligarchs or Western patrons behind the actions. The protests originated from below and have proceeded on the basis of real civil initiatives, with parties and social organisations merely assisting this process to the extent of their abilities. Consequently, the citizens of our countries are capable of independent actions and of popular initiatives. Moreover, after beginning with narrowly economic demands, these actions have quickly taken on a political thrust. The resignation of the president and government, the dissolution of the Duma-these are typical of the demands being put forward at demonstrations. The spontaneous politicisation has gone even further than the activists in the social and political bodies imagined or proposed.
Thirdly, these actions have shown the possibility of new forms of social and political self-organisation, the need for these new forms and their potential.
If we look at the experience of Leningrad, which is especially significant here, we find that the most active social force helping to organise the protests was not any of the parties but the Committee of United Action, a network coordinating structure that included various social and political organisations. This body also helped conduct the process of negotiating with the authorities, and provided informational support and so on to the initially spontaneous protests. Activists in this committee were at the centre of the struggle, taking on the main weight of the organising work; accordingly, the repression by the authorities was concentrated on them. Showing its openness and capacity for dialogue with other organisations which earlier had not been part of it, this network became the basis for the civil disobedience network that appeared in St Petersburg.
The protest actions, although they had a direct cause in the notorious Law No. 122 on the monetisation of benefits, were not by any means provoked solely by this legislation. They are associated with years of accumulating social tension. Our Russian authorities have dispensed both causes and occasions for the growth of this tension with an exceedingly generous hand.
Only recently three desperate invalid miners spent several days picketing the organisation Sotsugol, which is responsible for providing miners with social support. They were backed by more than 2500 other invalid pensioners from the coal sector who for more than two years have not received free coal to heat their homes (if paid for, this coal would cost more than six months of their pensions). They had only recently managed to force the payment of their delayed pensions and benefits, after twice blocking the access roads to the mine.
Unfortunately, the delays in providing coal for domestic needs, in paying wages and in making social benefit payments to invalid miners in Rostov province are by no means an isolated instance. In recent years such problems have appeared constantly, arising from almost any cause, from heating shut-downs in winter to the mass cutting off of social benefits. In all of these cases, the state authorities try to avoid addressing the problems of providing social welfare to the vulnerable sections of the population—that is, meeting the obligations laid on them by the constitution and by federal laws.
Cases in which the authorities simply sabotage the carrying out of the laws they themselves have adopted, and refuse to force private entrepreneurs to obey these laws, have become typical. Not even through court suits is it possible to win the restitution of one's rights, since refined legal chicanery is used to thwart the requirements of the law. In addition, people engaged in struggle for their legal rights are themselves subject to prosecution! Even if the courts recognise the legality of popular demands, court decisions are often ignored in the most unpardonable fashion, proving just how valuable the law really is in the eyes of the Russian state.
People are being confronted with glaring evidence that it is practically impossible for them to force the restoration of their violated rights through legal methods. You might, after a lengthy ordeal, get a court to acknowledge that you are in the right. But the decisions of the court will not be put into effect. What is a citizen to do then? Initiate a new cycle of legal processes, suing the authorities for failing to implement a court decision? And how long will all this last? Until the life of the invalid pensioner, who without desiring it has been turned by state authorities into a perpetual litigant, draws to a close?
The recent wave of protests by pensioners against Law No. 122 was provoked by this very contempt for the legal rights of citizens. After all, benefits in kind were granted to many categories of citizens because their money incomes did not guarantee, and do not now guarantee, the satisfaction of their urgent vital needs (for example, for medicines, transport, heating and so forth). These benefits have been replaced with money payments which, for most of the people involved, do not provide full compensation for what they have lost. Protest actions were occurring when this law was still at the drafting stage. The authorities, however, set out to force the law through as rapidly as possible, in order to present people with an accomplished fact. No account was taken even of the people who had no quarrel with the content of the law, but who merely pointed out that no proper consideration had been given to practical measures for implementing it. So what has the result been? When this disgraceful law went into force at the beginning of the year, its implementation was thwarted. People were literally forced out into protest actions. It was only when these protests took on an all-Russian scope that the authorities, to the accompaniment of verbiage about "behind- the-scenes" forces inciting pensioners to attend demonstrations and block highways, began taking measures to put the law into effect.
All this makes it glaringly plain that the authorities do not serve the interests of the majority of the population, and that they only start paying a certain attention to people's real needs when they are confronted with mass acts of civil disobedience.
When it becomes necessary to defend the interests of moneybags- entrepreneurs against the anger of workers, the authorities immediately find all the resources needed, even an excess of them. Without paying the least attention to the law, they launch court prosecutions against people taking part in struggles for their rights, as well as unleashing the police, the OMON riot squads, and even special detachments for putting down prison uprisings, as happened during the notorious events in the Vyborg TSBK. People who are supposed to defend the law fired on unarmed workers who were not breaking the law, since the situation surrounding the production combine was not yet the subject of a judicial ruling.
For long years our authorities were under illusions about the long-suffering nature of Russian citizens, and to this day they continue to put their hopes in this patience, testing the people's endurance. Having made insignificant concessions under the pressure of the pensioners, the authorities are continuing their experiments, with an offensive against the rights of the majority. Next in line are equally antisocial reforms in the areas of communal services, education and health care. But if the authorities have decided not to take into account the risk of increasing social tensions, they have to be ready to accept all the consequences that flow from this policy. If the people are denied all other possibilities for defending their interests except direct resistance to the authorities, such resistance will sooner or later become a reality—and no longer just on a local scale, or in response to local causes.
The protest actions now taking place throughout the country are some of the largest to have occurred during the administration of Vladimir Putin. These protests are not only remarkable for their scale. For the first time, the protest movement has encompassed more than seventy regions of Russia, with protests occurring in more than 120 populated centres. Typically, parties and movements from the most diverse ends of the political spectrum have joined in supporting the protest actions, from nationalists to parties of liberal orientation. In St Petersburg, for example, members of the KPRF, the Russian Communist Workers Party, the Social Democrats, various communist youth organisations and young people from the Yabloko party have joined with intellectuals from the Alternatives movement, soldiers' mothers, members of the independent trade unions and many others. For the first time, the regional and local authorities have made a few concessions to the people. Finally, along with economic demands (as well as the restoring of benefits, these have included raising pensions and wages and abandoning the Fursenko education reforms), the protests have also been marked by demands for the resignation of the legislative and executive authorities. For the first time since 2000, we have witnessed mass demands for the resignation of the president.
Despite the fact that the consequences of adopting Law No. 122 were obvious from the moment when the draft law was presented to the Duma, massive protest actions did not follow in 2004, even though demonstrations of thousands of people took place in Moscow and a number of other cities during the summer. But when former recipients felt the full effects of the abolition of their benefits in the first days of January, they moved into decisive action.
A demonstration at which the monetisation of benefits featured as one of the main issues took place on January 9 in Solnechnogorsk, near Moscow. This action was organised by the local branches of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Russian Communist Workers Party, communist youth organisations and other bodies. According to the organisers, about 1500 people took part, in a city with a population of about 60,000. A similar demonstration took place on the same day in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi.
However, people began to speak of a protest movement only after an action on January 10 in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, at which pensioners blocked the Leningrad Highway for several hours. This protest was a real shock, and became the main domestic political news of the day. The governor of Moscow province, Boris Gromov, threatened to bring criminal charges against the participants in the demonstration. It is significant that one of the demands of the demonstrators had been for Khimki to be transferred from the jurisdiction of Moscow province to that of the city of Moscow. After the demonstration, reports appeared in the press to the effect that an agreement had been reached between the city and provincial governments on the retention of transport benefits in Moscow for residents of the province. As well as in Khimki, mass demonstrations took place on January 10 in Almetyevsk, a city in Tatarstan of more than 100,000 people, in Stary Oskop in Belgorod province, in Ufa and in a number of other urban centres.
Literally within a few days, the protest movement took on a broad scope. St Petersburg became one of its main centres. On January 14 a demonstration took place at the Smolny. At 2 pm, Moskovsky Prospekt was blocked near the Park Pobedy metro station. Then a meeting took place on the corner of Sadovaya Street and Nevsky Prospekt, blocking traffic at this crowded hub of urban transport. On January 15 another demonstration was held at the same place, Nevsky Prospekt again being blocked. Protest actions were held on January 14 and 15 in several places simultaneously. The result of the protests was that Governor Valentin Matviyenko agreed to meet with representatives of the demonstrators on January 17. That day, another unsanctioned demonstration took place. The first sanctioned demonstration in St Petersburg took place only on January 25. Further protest actions were held on January 26 and 29. The authorities responded in contradictory fashion. On the one hand, they arrested activists and subjected them to humiliating treatment; ailing pensioners were among those who suffered in this way. On the other hand, the authorities sought the possibility of compromise, while refusing to take any serious steps to meet the protesters' demands. On January 12 and 15 actions were held in Penza, while on January 15 demonstrations took place in numerous cities in Moscow province, including Krasnogorsk and Balashikha. Another protest occurred in Khimki; although the television broadcast false reports that this demonstration would not take place, around 4000 people took part.
In Tyumen on January 17 more than 200 pensioners gathered in front of the city administration building. On the same day, President Putin addressed a meeting of the government, laying the blame for the situation in the country on a few members of his cabinet, who in his view had failed to ensure that Law No. 122 was implemented in the required fashion.
On January 18 a demonstration took place in Perm, the demonstrators trying for some time to take the acting governor hostage. Criminal charges were brought against several of the participants. The protest was repeated the next day, blocking the road leading to the bridge over the River Kama. Also on January 19, a protest was held in Vorkuta, demonstrations against the abolition of benefits also being held between January 17 and 19 in other urban centres of the Komi Republic.
On January 19 demonstrations took place in Kazan, where Tatarstan Street was blocked, in Samara, where the Moscow Highway was closed, and in Khabarovsk, while the action in Perm continued. The largest demonstration was held in Togliatti, where, according to several accounts, as many as 5000 people took part. Mass protest actions also occurred on January 19 and 21 in Izhevsk.
On January 20 a daily picket was continuing in St Petersburg at the Gostiny Dvor. Protests were also continuing in Samara. In Biysk, in the Altay region, actions that began on January 20 continued on the 21st. In Orekhovo-Zuyevo in Moscow province, more than 4000 people attended a demonstration. In Tula, around 5000 people took part in protest actions organised by the KPRF, the Russian Union of Pensioners, the Homeland Party and supporters of Sergey Glazyev. In Novosibirsk, demonstrators closed off the city's main thoroughfare, Krasny Prospekt.
On January 21 residents of Arkhangelsk came out in a demonstration. Protest actions also took place in Petropavlovsk- Kamchatsky, in Leningrad province (Slantsy and Priozersk) and in Irkutsk province (Angarsk and Usole-Sibirskoe). In Barnaul approximately 10,000 people attended a protest meeting, and Leninsky Prospekt was blocked.
On January 22 protest actions swept through numerous Russian cities. The most noteworthy, however, was an action in Moscow, on the square in front of the Belarus Station. About 5000 people gathered for the demonstration, organised by the KPRF, Working Russia and several other organisations. After the meeting a group of members of the communist youth organisations AKM and SKM tried to make their way to the presidential administration, but were stopped by the omon riot police. During this clash, eight activists of the AKM and skm were arrested, including AKM (KPSS [Communist Party of the Soviet Union) leader Udaltsov. The prisoners were released following a picket outside the militia station where they were being held. On the same day, a parallel action was held in Moscow by the National Bolshevik Party.
On January 23, the next demonstration against the abolition of benefits went ahead in Kazan. A protest in another Tatarstan city, Naberezhnye Chelny, was even larger. In Murmansk, the participants in an action organised by the KPRF and the Pensioners Party demonstrated outside the Kirov Palace of Culture and then in front of the city administration. According to the Interior Ministry in the western district of Krasnodar, between 300 and 500 people demonstrated on the same day in the Kuban capital. As reported by the news agency KPRF-News, a protest action also took place in the city of Dmitrov in Moscow province. Overall, the protests in the Moscow region were so numerous that a list of these actions would fill several pages. At the Dmitrov action, the demonstrators unanimously demanded that the president resign.
On 25 January, according to the news agency regnum, more than a thousand people took part in an action in Vladimir. A protest action also took place the same day in Kovrov, one of the regional centres of Vladimir province. Protests also continued in the Komi Republic. This time, it was residents of Syktyvkar who were demonstrating. In neighbouring Kirov province, a demonstration was held for the first time. As reported by regnum, the number of demonstrators in Kirov exceeded 3500. Actions were repeated in Vladimir and Perm. In St Petersburg, as noted earlier, the first meeting to be sanctioned by the authorities took place on this day. Residents of Arkhangelsk province and Tomsk came out against the reforms. In Nizhny Novgorod, according to regnum, more than 4000 people came out onto the streets. In Kurgan, as reported by the executive committee of the regional trade union Zashchita- Kurgan, more than 300 former benefit recipients gathered despite a deep frost to protest against the abolition of the benefits.
On January 26 residents of Yekaterinburg took part in a protest action. Demonstrations also occurred in Smolensk and Rostov Veliky. On January 23, an action in Rostov was initiated by the Union of Soviet Officers. In Voronezh, demonstrators blocked a roadway in the area of Lenin Square. In Kaliningrad, local students held a protest action. Another demonstration in defence of social welfare took place in Yakutsk. A road bridge across the Volga was blocked by participants in a protest in the city of Kimry in Tver province. According to the local media, more than 3000 people took part in the action. Numerous demonstrations took place in the Stavropol territory; the local authorities not only failed to obstruct the protests but, according to unconfirmed reports, were among the initiators.
On January 27 a demonstration took place in Stavropol itself. Protests were again held in Perm, Penza, Samara, Vologda, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Vladimir and a number of other cities. In Moscow, more than 500 people demonstrated next to the Lenin Museum. The organisers of this action were the Homeland Party and the Union of Youth for the Homeland. In Arkhangelsk, a picket took place as planned. In Omsk, three demonstrations were held simultaneously, and two roads were blocked. According to the news agency Den, some 350 people demonstrated in the regional centre of Mozhga in the Udmurt Republic.
In Kaliningrad on January 28, as well as a sanctioned protest, an unsanctioned demonstration was held, with more than 200 pensioners taking part. Alongside a demonstration in Pskov, a meeting of pensioners and veterans took place. Demonstrators in Arkhangelsk gave the authorities twelve days in which to satisfy their demands, or the protests would be renewed. Protest actions also went ahead in Tomsk, Bratsk, Kaliningrad, Astrakhan, Kirov, Penza and Kotlas.
On January 29 protest actions were held in St Petersburg, Moscow, Veliky Novgorod, Astrakhan, Saransk, Bryansk, Ulan-Ude and many other cities.
Although the protest movement is only beginning to flare up, certain conclusions can already be drawn. First, the authorities did not expect to encounter such resistance from citizens, and have behaved in a contradictory and inconsistent manner. While the actions of protesters in some regions (such as Kaliningrad, Perm, St Petersburg and Moscow) have been met by the authorities with a stern rebuff, in many other regions the local and regional authorities have shown solidarity with the demands of the demonstrators. Dialogue has taken place between participants in the protests and governors, as for example in Stavropol. In a number of regions, the authorities have made concessions to the population. Hence in Novosibirsk province, a public transport ticket will cost ninety roubles instead of 360. In Penza, the implementation of Law No. 122 has been postponed. The situation is similar in many other regions. In Udmurtiya, although many of the pensioners' demands remain unsatisfied, the cost of public transport tickets will be made up out of the regional budget. In some regions, the lack of such concessions has moved the population to demand that local authorities resign. In Ufa, for example, a demonstration adopted the demand for M. Rakhimov to resign by February 26. Finally, a meeting of the government of the Russian Federation on Thursday [February 24] resolved to increase the basic pension for a worker by 240 roubles from March 1, 2005.
From March 1 the basic pension, now 660 roubles, will rise to 900 roubles. All this indicates that the mass protest actions have had an effect.
Secondly, even though in some regions there has been conflict between parties and movements (thus in Pskov conflict occurred between anarchists and a number of veterans' organisations taking national-patriotic positions), in Russia as a whole representatives of various parties have either acted jointly, or have not entered into conflict with one another. Quite different political and social organisations, from anarchists and liberal defenders of human rights to representatives of the patriotic bloc and radical communist bodies, have taken up the demand for the reversing of the reforms to the system of benefits.
Thirdly, virtually all the demonstrators have voiced slogans for the resignation of the president and government, and for early elections to the State Duma. It has become clear that concessions on the part of the authorities will resolve nothing so long as the main problem remains unresolved—that is, the problem represented by authorities who pursue inadequate socio-economic policies (and not these alone). Such is the first effort at a chronology of the protest actions that have been sweeping across Russia since the beginning of January. The main events, however, still lie ahead.
(This text was prepared on the basis of internet materials available on January 30, 2005.)