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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.

Stalinist Patrimonialism

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practicing stalinismMy review, “Russian politics has always been patrimonial,” for Russia Direct of J. Arch Getty’s new book Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition:

What is striking about J. Arch Getty’s excellent new book, Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition, is how little Stalin is in it. Sure, he’s there, but he mostly stands above the fray acting as an arbiter over rival Bolshevik clans that all curry his favor. Indeed, Stalin’s personal presence isn’t felt until the last third of the book, when Getty investigates how the dictator sought to wrangle the competing clans the Stalinist system begat.

In many ways, however, Practicing Stalinism is a misnomer. While Getty’s focus is on the 1920s and 1930s, the text isn’t about Stalinism as much it is about the tenacity of what the preeminent historian Edward Keenan has called “Muscovite political folkways.”

Despite their efforts to create a modern rule-bound depersonalized state, the Bolsheviks were victims of the deep structures of Russian culture as much as they were its destroyers. Using the early Soviet period as a case study, Getty argues that from the first tsars to the commissars to Putin, Russian politics has always been patrimonial.

As Getty’s former graduate student (full disclosure), I’ve been hearing about Stalinism as patrimonial politics for a while now. Though he isn’t the first to suggest this, he is the only one to date to devote a sustained study of clans in the early Soviet period. I’ve always remained skeptical, though. I view the approach of extending Muscovy’s politics into the modern period and treating the state as merely a shell containing a network of personal relations as reductionist.

As Getty states in his introduction, we are all followers of Max Weber in that we buy into the idea of a reified state.  I suffer from the same affliction and find the Weberian syndrome difficult to shake. Ultimately, Getty’s text alleviates my fears of reductionism as he inserts a sufficient number of caveats. In the end, his references to Muscovy are illustrative rather than attempts at similitude.

Read on . . .