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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.

Historical Transfiguration

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Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the Russian liberal opposition.  Not only do they seem to be out of touch with the sentiments of the population, or seem to offer any alternative to Putinism, they also appear prone to something I call historical transfiguration.

Take for example, what “parallels” Grigory Yavlinsky of Yabloko, Leonid Gozman of SPS, and Garry Kasparov of Other Russia see between the Russia of 1917 and Russia of 2007.  Yavlinsky said that some of those parallels are “the dominance of corruption   and  bureaucracy,  the  absence  of  inner  mechanisms  for modernization,  the  absence  of economic and political competition, the absence  of a mechanism for the government’s renewal, and the absence of the chance to form a responsible and efficient opposition.”  Gozman thinks that like in 1917, today’s rulers have an “absolute feeling of stability, and the tsar also  had  it.  In addition, the opposition is being ousted toward  revolution, and the tsar did not want to discuss anything as well.  He  had  his  own  truth,  and this was quite enough for him.”   And never to be outdone, Kasparov claims that the “analogies with 1916-1917 are quite explicit.” “The Objective tensions are rising in society,” he explained, “and this is exactly what serves as  the  main  engine of revolutionary processes.  For instance,  a  gap  between  the  rich  and  the poor has reached an unimaginable size.”

I don’t know what history books these three are reading. Because they leave out one crucial factor: World War I.  The war was the number one issue in 1917.  All of the instabilities that the above three speak of were exacerbated by it.  Russia’s failure at the front is what made the difference between revolution and protest.  The Revolution would have gone nowhere without soldiers willingly, and often happily, turning their guns on their officers.   Take for example these Okhrana reports from 26 February 1917:

“In the vicinity of the Church of Christ the Saviour, the 4th company met a mounted patrol of 10 policemen; the soldiers abused the policemen, calling them “pharaohs,” and firing several volleys at them, killing one police man and one horse, and wounding one policeman and one horse.  Then the soldiers returned to the barracks, where they staged a mutiny.  Colonel Eksten came to put it down and was wounded by one of the soldiers; his hand was cut off.”

That same day, Okhrana agents also reported:

“As the military unites did not oppose the crowds, and in certain cases even took measures tending to paralyze the initiative of police officials, as for two days the mobs wandered unhindered about the streets, and as the revolutionary circles advanced slogans: “Down with the war” and “Down with the Government”–the people became convinced that the revolution had started, that success was on the side of the mobs, that the Government was powerless to suppress the movement because the military units were on the side of the latter, that a decisive victory was in sight because in the very near future the military units would opening join the revolutionary forces.”

It was actions like these, not just in Petrograd, but also at the front which made the Russia Revolution, as one scholar argued, essentially a mass soldiers’ revolt.

Moreover, it is no secret that the key to the Bolshevik’s taking power in November 1917 stemmed from the fact that they controlled almost the entire Petrograd garrison and had solid support among soldiers at the front.  This why 66.9% of soldiers at the Western front cast their Constituent Assembly votes for the Bolsheviks.

Russian oppositionists might remember these historical facts before they try to draw “parallels” between Russian in 1917 and Russia now.  After all, believing in their own  analysis of 1917 might end them up on the wrong side of the gun.