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Russian anarcho-syndicalists assess the anti-Putin protests

Note. The following statement appeared on May 18, 2012 on the website of the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists—the Russian section of the International Workers’ Association (KRAS-MAT). 

Camp of the “Radical” Opposition: First Conclusions

Now that the authorities have broken up the protest camp of the radical anti-Putin opposition at Chistye Prudy (Pure Ponds) in Moscow, the time has come to sum up the first provisional results of the new wave of political protests in Russia. The opposition intends to continue the protests, but it is now quite possible to draw certain conclusions and extract lessons of some sort.

First of all, it is quite obvious that the overwhelming majority of the population have observed the latest round in the struggle for political power with complete indifference. Some by habit will complain about the passivity and servility of Russian citizens, but this time such indifference was an absolutely healthy reaction of the working people: it is no business of theirs who will make up the ruling bourgeois grouping, considering that no change in social policy is at stake. As always, of course, it was possible to find both paid or volunteer supporters of “order” and a rag-tag crowd of politicians with grudges, glamorous personalities (who, by the way, were only yesterday on Putin’s side), “brains of the nation” and marginal toughs, but on neither side even in the enormous capital could they be counted in the advertized “millions.” The demonstrations of the authorities and the opposition were attended at most by a few tens of thousands. In the provinces they are of interest to hardly anyone; there only hundreds or at most a very few thousand cared about the political standoff. The majority of people have quite different problems: low wages, rising prices, less access to education and healthcare, lack of money to pay for residential and municipal services, and so on.

Second point. However painful it may be for some leftists to recognize it, the protests have taken place under the complete ideological hegemony of liberal supporters of capitalism and the free market. Anarchists, anti-fascists and “communists” of all hues and shades may try as they like to raise social themes and slogans, but this has no effect on the general course and chief demands of the movement. The mood of the bulk of the opposition’s supporters in the capital can be judged from the results of the presidential elections (however they may have been juggled): although in the country as a whole the largest number of opposition votes went to the national-Stalinist Zyuganov, in Moscow he was overtaken by the multibillionaire oligarch Prokhorov, who openly called for revision of the Labor Code, abolition of restrictions on working hours and overtime pay, and further liberalization of dismissals. When on May 6 opposition protestors clashed with the police the wave brought the “leftists” to the fore, as they did not fail joyfully to announce. However, this did nothing to enhance their influence on events. The head of the protest camp at Chistye Prudy was Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the ultra-liberal and pro-capitalist movement Solidarity. The anarchists tried to foist their “camp regulations” on him—this did not change the situation. Despite attempts by the “leftists” to discuss social issues, the protestors’ demands remained the same: cancellation of Putin’s inauguration, his resignation from the post of president, and the conduct of new “honest” elections (that is, elections whose results would suit the opposition). In this situation, the leftists perform the task of providing the bourgeois liberals with the appearance of mass support. And the liberals understand very well that the “marginals” whom they so despise are now working for them. For as one of the liberals at the protest camp put it, “politics is about who is better at using whom.”

Third point. Although the protestors called themselves “Occupy Abai” and referred to a decision-taking assembly, the Russian movement is quite different in character from the May 15 movement in Spain or Occupy Wall Street. For example, the observer Andrew Rivkin writes in The Guardian: “If you look at the demands of Occupy Abai, you realize that from here New York is like another galaxy.” The movement in the United States fights against the greed of the corporations and condemns the consequences of capitalist policy. The Russian protestors put forward purely political demands to replace the individuals in power. Some “leftists” also understand this. In answer to the question “What do you think, is what was done at Chistye Prudy similar in content to the movement of the indignados (indignant ones) in Spain or Occupy Wall Street in the United States?” one of the participants (a member of the group “Autonomous Action”) admitted: “It seems to me, it is certainly similar in form, but not in content. It is a self-managing movement with a horizontal structure and without leaders, with all decisions taken at a general assembly. But the demands of this movement are quite abstract and reformist. The indignados and Occupy Wall Street are more social—there people protest against the social policy of the authorities, against the hegemony of the banks, against the established socioeconomic system. Here, by contrast, when I asked which slogan they regard as the quintessence of what is going on, the majority of people immediately replied: “Russia without Putin.” Thus, in its essence this movement in Russia has no grounds or right to regard itself as part of the worldwide Occupy movement.

Fourth point. A characteristic feature of the current protests is the willingness of the “leftists” to accept participation in a single movement together with neo-fascists. The causes of this turn of events, which surprised many people accustomed to the long tradition of confrontation between ultra-rightists and anti-fascists, are to be sought both in the growing popularity of national-patriotic and “new right” ideas among “leftists” and in banal politicking—that is, elementary lack of principle. The neo-fascists (“Russian nationalists”) actively joined the very first anti-Putin protests immediately after the parliamentary elections of December 2011, and remain an invariable, inseparable and indisputable part of the opposition conglomerate. It should be acknowledged that some leftists at first objected quite loudly to cooperation with the neo-fascists, fearing among other things that the anti-Putin protests would be discredited (see, for instance, the declaration made on the issue by the “January 19 Committee”). But because these objections were not supported by their liberal and “general civic” allies in the movement, the “leftists” were forced to bow to the inevitable. When at the beginning of the year the bloc of the radical opposition formally organized itself as a “civic movement,” its newly formed leading body or “civic council” was constituted as a coalition with the following quotas: 10 seats for the liberals, 10 for the ultra-right, 10 for the left, and 30 for various “civic” groups and initiatives (including a number of neo-fascist character). Unfortunately, some groups calling themselves anarchist or including anarchists are also represented: they have 2 of the 10 seats in the “left fraction.” In addition, anarchists participate in at least 4 of the “civic” groups: “Food Not Bombs,” the Moscow Assembly, the January 19 Committee, and the Guardians of the Rainbow.

Judging by media reports, neo-fascists also took part in the clashes that occurred during the opposition demonstration of May 6 in Moscow. Moreover, as the reports emphasized, no conflicts were observed between them and the “anti-fascist leftists.” As at the time of the winter protests, everyone was astonished to see them marching quite peacefully together in the same demonstrations, although in separate columns and under different slogans. Neo-fascists actively participated in the camp at Chistye Prudy. One of the fascist leaders, Alexander Belov, called on the Russian nationalists to go there, because “it is an excellent place for propaganda, for honing our skills.” During the first few days there were about 20 neo-fascists at the camp, then their number grew. They recruited supporters everywhere, “used donations to buy food and distributed it to participants without charge.” What is more, they were entrusted with the task of guarding the Occupy Abai camp—that is, they assumed strong-arm policing functions! Nazis “guarding” the camp of the May 15 movement [in Spain] or Occupy Wall Street? It is hard even to imagine a more shameful tragicomedy.

Some “leftists” justified their cooperation with the neo-fascists with excuses like: “But what can we do?” I do not know which is more important here—political helplessness or hypocrisy. They could at least have made a fuss, demanded the departure of the ultra-rightists, and threatened to leave themselves—“It’s either them or us.” Apparently nothing of the sort took place. It is not surprising that some people who in June 2011 took part in the first assemblies of indignados in Moscow this time categorically refused to participate in the current “assemblies.”

I conclude that the current anti-Putin movement is just as reactionary and bourgeois in its orientation and content as the Putin regime. Real anarchists and leftists (even if today they are in the minority) do not want to choose the lesser of these evils.

V.G.

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