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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.

Clan Illogic

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Jeffrey Tayler takes up clanology in his article “The Master and Medvedev” in hopes to map the innards of Kremlin Inc (hat tip to James at Robert Amsterdam for pointing to it). Tayler argues that Putin’s anointing of Medvedev as President, who in turn returned the favor by making his patron PM, was a great victory for Putin’s efforts to keep the siloviki at bay. If Putin left power completely, Tayler’s logic goes, he would open season to possible investigations and prosecutions for corruption. Putting Medvedev in power ensured him immunity and more importantly, Tayler adds, “Putin has outsmarted—and possibly imperiled—all those in Sechin’s clan.” But alone Medvedev is too keep to fight the sharks himself, so he needs Putin to have his back ready to pluck one with a harpoon.

All of this sounds plausible and I applaud Tayler for not rehashing the usual Putin as tsar, blah, blah, blah. Some have pointed out that Medvedev was a coup against the siloviki. I’m not entirely convinced.

Tayler writes:

Prevailing over Sechin’s group was Medvedev’s “liberal” clan, which includes Viktor Cherkesov, chief of the Federal Drug Control Service; Viktor Zolotov, in charge of presidential security; the oligarch Roman Abramovich; and members of the “Family,” Yeltsin’s old clique.

Except Medvedev has no clan or at least not one with these people (Abramovich a clan member? That playboy? Please child!) If Medvedev did have his own clan, he wouldn’t need Putin. Medvedev’s clan, again if he had one, would probably come from his Leningrad law school people. As of yet, none of these people have risen up the ladder. They all have the same jobs they did before.

Another problem with Medevev’s faux clan is that Viktor Cherkesov is no longer the chief of the Federal Drug Control Service. Cherkesov was booted from that post. So was FSB head Patrushev (a Sechin clan member.) And if there really was a victory over the siloviki, then why did Patrushev get promoted to head Medevdev’s Security Council and Cherkesov demoted to buying guns? Not to mention, Sechin is still a Deputy Prime Minister? Oh, I know why. Because it wasn’t.

In fact, the government under Medvedev still looks like the one under Putin. A few seats have shuffled but the Board of Directors are basically the same.

And this brings me to another issue. There are Kremlin clans. No doubt. There are factions behind them walls. They snip at each other. They intrigue and plot. There seems to be “liberal” faction, as in economic liberals, not political ones, and a conservative faction. But Putin is not a target or really a member of neither. He is the force that keeps these people from going at each others throats, assuming that this is even probable.

I happen to think that Cherkesov statement in Kommersant when the Siloviki War broke into the press is important to remember. He said, “There can be no winners in this war, there is too much at stake.” Indeed. For everyone. There is a reason why these clan wars are keep behind closed doors. It’s better that the public not know about these things. Just think of it like an updated “democratic centralism.” You can argue, but business stays in the family.

By all indications, the Kremlin Mandarins are a mutually benefiting team. Individual members or even groups have their own interests and bailiwicks of power to protect. But protection must be done according to the rules.

Plus talk about danger of Putin being prosecuted for any corruption is simply poppycock. Or wishful thinking. No one in the Kremlin elite wants to make that kind of precedent. Cause if you kick one card out, the whole house could fall.

Oh, and one other thing. Note to Tayler: Putin didn’t emasculate state structures by appointing people loyal to him. There were no state structures to emasculate. The Russian state has always been weak and more reliant on personalities. Every Russian leader knows this which is why they appoint their minions, and have been doing it since Kievan Rus.

Or as N. I. Ezhov said in 1933, “The Party leads by appointing people. Power is not power if it cannot appoint people. Strength consists in the fact that we first of all keep the appointment of people and the nomenklatura system in our hands–this is the political expression of party leadership in its organizational form.”

He might as well have said this today.