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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

Let the Games Begin!

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The date is set. Putin signed a decree designating 1 December election day to the State Duma. The vote opens up all 450 seats for election.

Russia’s Duma is based on proportional representation. For parties to gain seats they must get at least 7 percent in the polls–a slightly higher threshold than the previous 5 percent.

There are fifteen parties listed as eligible, but according to polls, only United Russia, Just Russia, the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party will win enough votes to gain seats.

Opinion polls are predicting nothing short of a United Russia landslide. According to a prognosis released by VTsIOM, United Russia is figured to gain 47.7%, the Communists 14.9%, Just Russia 11.7%, and LDPR 8.8%. The other eligible parties–SPS, Yabloko, the Agrarian Party, and the Patriots of Russia are all predicted to fall short of the 7 percent needed.

Once again, polls signal a further collapse of liberalism. If SPS and Yabloko do end up missing the electoral mark, they will have to make some tough decisions about their political future. Would it be better to continue to grind it out alone, or try to affect politics by joining a party that can actually get some power. As always reconciling pragmatism with ideology will prove to be a real bitch.

But not everything will be as smooth as silk for the political favorite. While a landslide for United Russia is expected, if the VTsIOM numbers are close, the proportional breakdown of the State Duma will require its deputies to form a coalition. United Russia’s representation is expected to drop to 257 seats from the 303 they now hold. They need at least 300 seats to pass a bill unilaterally. If that is the case, it won’t be any surprise as to where that coalition will come from. The Kremlin manufactured “opposition” party, Just Russia, will certainly step in to fulfill its assigned role. Polls show that Just Russia is already whittling away at the Communists’ strength.

But when it comes to a war chest, the Communists are in the money. Kommersant reports that tallies for the second quarter report that the Communist Party increased its funds from 46.9 million to 96 million rubles.

But while the Communists hold the blue ribbon for largest proportional increase, probably the most politically important increase in funds is on the part of Just Russia. The party broke the 100 million mark in collections, 106.6 million rubles. A jump from a previous tally of 69.9 million rubles. A lot of that is going to propaganda. Their expenses for getting the word out rose from 4.8 million to 18 million rubles. No surprise there. It is after all a major election cycle. And it seems that all the spending might payoff with a small taste of power.

United Russia is a cash juggernaut by Russian political standards. For the second quarter, United Russia collected 349.9 million rubles, up from 303 million in the first quarter. It too is increasing its expenses. Its spending rose from 275 million to 293.4 million rubles.

What does all this mean? Well the obvious conclusion is like elsewhere money equals power. Given the amount of cash United Russia is raking in, it is no surprise that they will come out on top. Still, one must wonder about the Communist surge. They doubled their receipts. The question is whether this spending capital will translate into any political capital at the polls.