Lair Of A Squirrel Red

With all due respect, it’s not Putin’s Russia. by korakious
December 15, 2007, 12:07 am
Filed under: AWL watch, Russia | Tags: ,

I am surprised, somewhat, that our vibrant blogosphere did not pick up the news of Putin finally breaking his silence over the question of his succession as Tsar President of Russia. You see, for years we’ve had analyst upon analyst coming up with elaborate, almost phantastical, scenarios about how Putin would outflank the constitution and remain in the Kremlin, working his way towards absolute power and reintroducing (lol) totalitarianism in Russia. The most popular of those was that Putin would amend the constitution to allow him to stand again; myself, I quite liked a more amusing variation of this, according to which Putin would finally go through with the decade old plan of a Russo-Belorussian union, and become president under a new constitution. Then, when this became increasingly unlikely as the end of the term approached, the established wisdom was that Putin would manage to transfer authority from the presidency to to the prime minister’s office and go for that. Another scenario was that Putin would put up a powerless yesman for the presidency and run again after four years, as he is constitutionally allowed to. Zubkov who was made PM earlier this year was a perfect candidate for this job. Almost 70 year old, a former security officer who knows how to follow orders and virtually unknown before he became head of the cabinet by the grace of Vladimir Vladimirovich.

And then…. Well then Putin (and his inner circle presumably) decided to nominate Dmitry Medvedev, deputy PM, head of the state monopoly giant Gazprom, supervisor of many a government programme, member of Putin’s St Petersburg circle and without any background in the security services. Medvedev is also only 42 and will thus not be out of the political landscape any time soon. Granted, he is a Putinist, whatever that means and his personal relationship with the Judo President is very close, but he does have his own experience in handling state affairs. There is no doubt that he will provide continuity with the Putin administration, in fact he has said so himself and his invitation to Putin to become PM under his presidency pretty much confirms it. The question is, what is so strange, or alarming about this? Why does RFE/RL see this as a confirmation of Putin’s conviction to stay in power forever? Why the talk of princes, heirs and regents? Of course, you will correctly think that this is because RFE/RL is a US imperialism mouthpiece, but the terms of coverage/debate are more or less similar in all western media outlets.

The answer lies in the rather perverted prism through which Russian politics is viewed by the west. “Putin’s Russia” has become a rather common description of a situation that is far more complex than the Putin-the-puppetmaster paradigm. It is of course impossible to ignore Putin’s personal weight when analysing Russian politics. Putin is perhaps the sole legitimating element of the regime. His popularity, at the end of his mandate, is touching 80% while in the “democratic” West, leaders at the end of their term are about as popular as emokids are amongst metalheads. At the same time, the percentage of Russians who appreciate the political “right to choose” barely reaches double digits while more than half think that elections are little more than a show. This is hardly surprising given the fact that the reintroduction of capitalism in Russia – of which the neo-Kautskyite AWL was and is very supportive – resulted in the greatest AIDS epidemic outside of Africa, more orphans than WWII, a fall in life expectancy only seen in war zones and some 3/4 of Russians falling under the poverty line.

It was addressing and to an extent remedying these problems that has gained Putin his immense popularity and has made him indispensable to the regime. It is for the same reason that the mouthpieces of Western imperialism speak of a rollback of democracy in “Putin’s Russia”. Is Russia authoritarian? Certainly. The presidency has far-reaching executive powers, its decrees are almost impossible to overturn, impeachment is nearly impossible and it can dissolve the Duma should it thrice reject the appointed PM. But has Russia become any more authoritarian under Putin? Not really. If anything, the centralisation of power Putin has undertaken has if anything made politics more institutional, concentrating under an elected office, rather than letting policy be decided through informal deal brokering at all levels of the state. There has been much ado about the fact that regional governors are no longer elected but appointed by the presidency, but given that we are talking about elections that often returned majority “against all candidates” votes and despite that, ended up propelling corrupt bureaucrats to power who would run the regions as their private fiefdoms, embezzling state funds and casually threatening to secede, this is hardly lamentable. If one wishes to find the institutional roots of authoritarianism in Russia, it is to Yeltsin that they should look. It is he who established the hegemonic power of the presidency and notwithstanding the silencing of charlatan opposition leaders like Gasparov, Putin has not resorted to fraud and selling off of state assets to win an election, nor has he ordered tanks to shell the legislature.

There is nothing really enigmatic or unprecedented about Putin’s rule. He is a quintessential Bonapartist leader (like his predecessor), an individual holding exceptional authority mediating a fragile historical situation, maintaining a fragile balance between the fragmented ruling class and the dormant but gradually awakening proletariat. The reason the intellectual vanguard of Western imperialism – liberals – can’t deal with it is because Putin’s (contrary to Yeltsin’s) successful handling of numerous and very dangerous contradictions of Russia, has allowed Russian capitalism to increasingly assert its imperialist interests. It is the emergence of a new competitor on the international arena that the West is so hyped up about, not the “reemergence” of authoritarianism in Russia.

It’s testament to the feeblemindedness of the bourgeoisie that they would even conceive of a situation where capitalism was successfully reintroduced in Russia without turning to bite its collective arse. On our part, lefties of all stripes have more to fear by the resonance of Putin’s policies with the Russian working class, rather than by any supposed scheme of his to become dictator for life.


11 Comments so far
Leave a comment

You deserve a hall of applause!
Is it your article? Is it your theory? It’s incredible!
You got it 99.9 percent correctly! Just one small correction which might be interesting for you- we never actually had more than one leader, it didn’t start with Yeltsin:) It was always like that. Historically. Just with one correction, during the revolution there were two parties, but Lenin demolished the others quite quickly.
Thanks for the great understanding!
Bravo one more time!

Comment by zalexandra

Well thank you very much zalexandra. Whereabouts in Russia are you from?

As to your correction, I believe you are broadly correct, but at any rate, I am referring to contemporary Russia, or the Russian federation as a political entity, rather than Russia as a culture. I do not believe that Russia’s present-day political situation is the product of Russian culture (in fact I think this is a Western racist notion – Russians don’t have democracy because Russian culture is not democratic; the same way Africa suffers from war and famine because Africans are barbaric! It seems the West is never to blame for anything). But I think you are right, all Russian political entities have historically been led by a powerful leader, with the exception of the Novgorod Republic, the Provisional Government and the Soviet Government until the murder of Kirov, after which Stalin became totally unchallengable (is that even a word?)

Comment by korakious

Not too sure about liberals being the intellectual vanguard of Western imperialism – I don’t think they deserve that level of (self-)importance. Apart from anything else, taking it seriously would tend to turn the battle against liberal intellectuals into the great intellectual struggle of our time

In something I was reading the other day, Ken Knabb a warns against radical self-importance – “I think it’s usually more important to go in the other direction, to demystify yourselves and the intimidating images people have of radical underground heavies, rather than building them up.” Wise words mate.

Comment by Phil

When I was thinking of “why” I actually found roots in exactly the culture. But I trust the professionalism I hear behind your words so I won’t insist, well at least not now.
As for me I’m from the north of Moscow.
I would be happy to know where you are from as you are the first and only person I’ve read recently who writes in English but still sounds healthy.

Comment by zalexandra

Phil, I don’t quite understand your objection. At least in my experience with studying Russian politics, all discussion uses profoundly liberal discourse, with “democracy”, “freedom”, “human rights”, “ngos”, “civil society”, economic progress measured according to “economic freedom” and such bollocks being the concepts around which every article is centred, which in my view is just a particular expression of the general humanitarian imperialist ideology of the West.

Zalexandra, I am originally from Athens, Greece but I now reside in Edinburgh, Scotland. Thanks for your good words.

Comment by korakious

Ημουν στο Εδιμβούργο. Ειναι πολυ όμορφος:). Ημουν στην Αθηνα επίσης και στο Σαντορινι. Μου αρεσει πολυ:) Ευχαριστω ακομα για την κατανοηση τησ χωρασ μου!
My greek is a very beginner level so far but I still wanted to thank you in our language.

Comment by zalexandra

sorry, our=your:)

Comment by zalexandra

Maybe it’s just the phrasing. To me, ‘liberals’ are identifiable people, & calling them any sort of vanguard of Western imperialism implies that those people are terrifically important, & by extension that anything we do to counter them is terrifically important.

I’m afraid that would be fooling ourselves; I suspect Western imperialism would get on just fine without Oliver Kamm. And Polly Toynbee.

Comment by Phil

Ah then you are misinterpreting me Phil. Certainly, liberals as individuals are not all that important, but the fact remains that the ideological discourse of imperialism is now liberal, as in opposed to the imperial grandeur and white man’s burden notions that used to be prevalent in the 20th century.


Большое спасибо! Я очень люблю Россию но я ещё не был в Москве.

Comment by korakious

Ugh, just to add, Time has awarded Putin their ‘Person of the Year’ award. Wonder if that’ll come and bite them in the ass, just as the award they gave Hitler in 1938.

Comment by a very public sociologist

korakious, για σασ!
Ευχαριστω για την ρωσικα γλωσσα!
I won’t be able to put my amazement in any language!
just BRAVO:)
Если Вам понадобится какая-либо помощь когда Вы будете в Москве или понадобятся какие-либо книги или материалы из России- дайте знать, я буду рада помочь

Comment by zalexandra

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