Opposition Rising in Russia: first-hand report and analysis
By Richard Greeman at May 19, 2012
The following front-line dispatch was received from Marxist historian and longtime activist Alexei Gusev :
“[Moscow, May 13] Recent events in Moscow clearly show that the pro-democracy social movement is far from being "exhausted": on the contrary, it is on the
rise. On May 6, a day before Putin's "presidential inauguration", at
least 100 000 people took part in the "Popular march" protesting
against taking office by a person who rigged the elections, and
against the system of authoritarianism and corruption in general.Contrary to all pessimistic predictions, it was probably the most numerous demonstration in Moscow from the beginning of protests in December 2011!
And this time it was met by the government with brutal force:
thousands of "internal troops" and riot policemen blocked the
demonstration and then attacked it (it seems after his "victory" at
presidential elections Putin has changed his tactic and ordered to use
violence to frighten people). Many people were brutally beaten, more
than 600 arrested - but the government controlled media reported, of
course, that police was attacked by the oppositionists (the official
"Rossiiskaya Gazeta" specially mentioned that among them were "gays
and a Negro from USA").
The next day thousands of people wearing white ribbons (symbol of
protest) were again on Moscow streets. In order to let Putin's
motorcade enter the Kremlin police had to block city center, and the
motorcade went through absolutely empty streets (precisely like Hitler
in occupied Paris in 1940). But in spite of presence of riot policemen
with their vehicles everythere, there were mass spontaneous
demonstrations with people shouting "Russia without Putin!", "Putin is
a theif!" and "Russia will be free!" And again police attacked and
beaten protesters, arresting about 500 of them (I also was among them
and spent several hours in police station-house).
Though on 8-9 May number of demonstrators reduced, a permanent camp of
protesters was organized on one of Moscow central boulevards with
several hundreds people (mostly youth) staying there - like in "Occupy
Wall Street". (Today it was said that police got an order to destroy
it soon.) Tomorrow, on Sunday (May 13) , there will be new mass
demonstration led by three dozens of Russian writers and poets who decided to
express their protests against police brutality in previous days. We will go!
So, the revolutionnary process is developing; it can be prolonged, but
the crisis of the ruling regime is irreversible.”
A followup to Alexei Gusev’s encouraging report was sent by his partner, Julia Guseva (translator, longtime activist and organizer of the Victor Serge Library in Moscow):
“Sunday’s march came off without police intervention. Seventeen thousand people took part – and this practically without any organized preparation! The protest encampment, dispersed by the Riot-Control Police, moved to another location in Moscow and is still functioning.”
Gusev’s optimism has at once thrilled Western readers sympathetic to Russia and provoked their scepticism, given the vast disparity of forces between an entrenched semi-police-state and a somewhat incohate mass linked mainly via the Internet. A movement moreover concentrated in the twin capitals, Moscow and Petersburg. ‘The Return of the Russian Revolution’ -- the optimistic title of Alexei Gusev’s analysis of the regime’s crisis during the first wave of demonstrations in February 2012 (published on his Z-Spacer) – seemed a trifle premature.
For my part, after twenty years of association with Alexei and Julia (who participated actively in the Russian Revolution of 1989) I can only testify that I have rarely met two more practical, sober, realistic activists in the movement. Indeed, as late as last November’s Praxis International Conference in Moscow, both of them were restrained about my enthousiasm for the Arab Spring, Spanish indignados and U.S. Occupiers, not to mention pessimistic about my claims that interactive Internet technology could facilitate similar movements in Russia at any moment. The Gusevs are deeply rooted in the Russian left oppositional tradition (Julia as an anarcho-syndicalist, Alexei as a Marxist) with nearly thirty years experience of practical organizing under a semi-totalitarian regime. Moreover, they are Russians, they see the regime’s weakness from the inside and feel it in their bones.
Nonetheless, reading these new reports from Moscow I again felt torn between joy and scepticism that the Putin regime, so heavily armed, so oil-rich, so newly ‘re-elected,’ could be so feeble. Until I looked at this morning’s news and came across the following two items datelined Moscow. The first, on Al-Jazeera English, reports that cash-rich Russian investors apparently feel the same way about the future of the Putin regime as the Gusevs, and they are massively sending their money abroad. The rouble equivalent of 43B$ has left the country since January, while the rouble declined 6% against the dollar and the Stock Exchange declined by 20%. The report notes that it is rich Russians afraid of political instability, not foreign investors, who are sending their money to safe havens out of Russia.
The second report, from the NY Times, recounts a truly bafoonish attempt by Putin to give himself a populist image by choosing as his very first appointee as President “Igor R. Kholmanskikh, 42, a tank-factory worker from the Urals who is famous for one thing: offering to travel to Moscow with a gang of assembly-line workers to chase antigovernment protesters off the streets.” Who advised Putin to present himself as a grotesque amalgam Uncle Joe Stalin (who raised hand-picked worker heroes like Stakhanov to political heights) and of Tricky Dicky Nixon (who famously egged on pro-war brigades of ‘hard hats’ to beat up peaceniks).
Reading the Times’ hilarious account, I could only wonder: are Putin (or his image-makers) so clueless as to imagine that the Russian people, after all they have lived through and with their bitter sense of irony, would fall for this obvious propaganda trick? And then I recalled the final sentence of Alexei Gusev’s ‘Return of the Russian Revolution’ -- “Such feeble ploys only indicate the febrile agitation that precedes death, the senile fear of the ineluctable end.”
The flight of Russian capital and the desperate ploys of the regime are both objective indications of its inner weakness. The democratic Revolution of the 1990’s, like that of 1905 shook up the bureaucratic state-capitalist regime, but did not succeed in overthrowing it. Like the vast Czarist bureaucracy after 1906, the ruling post-Stalinist nomenklaturasurvived (while getting rich privatizing the workers’ collective property) through bogus reforms, toothless parliaments called Dumas, and police repression. In 1917, the Czarist regime collapsed faced with the crisis of the First World War. Will the Putin regime, dependant on Euro-denominated oil-revenues, suvive the coming European economic crisis?
As Gusev concluded in February 2012, “despite the explicitly pre-revolutionary situation in Russia, the victory of the democratic revolution in the near future is not in the least assured. The death-throes of the bonapartist regime could last a certain amount of time. But the revolution is ripening, it is inevitable ; it is only a question of time, sooner or later it will break out.”
Gusev writes in the ‘scientific’ style of Plekhanov’s Marxism, with its historical inevitability, a concept that offends my sense of both the dialectical and the Quantic nature of physical and social reality. But if you translate Gusev’s ‘inevitable’ as ‘increasingly probable,’ there is ample room for Russian democrats and admirers of Russia and her revolutions to be jubilent.
New York, May 19, 2012