What’s Going on in Russia? Boris Kagarlitsky’s Take of Events

by Matthew Payne on January 9, 20122 comments

Events in Russia continue to percolate but without any Arab Spring sort of real velocity.  At the moment, there’s a sort of pause following what are now known as the “December Events,” which is hardly surprising since New Years and Orthodox Christmas are major holidays.  Still, the movement is hardly waning and people are trying to make sense of things and that’s where this clip from Paul Jay at Real News comes in.  Jay is talking to the Russian activist Boris Kagarlitsky who is identified as a “sociologist” but that is just NGO-speak for someone we can’t quite place–like “analyst.”  In fact, Kagarlitsky is a member of a dying breed, the Russian intelligentsia (in the euphonious Russian, an intelligent with a hard “g”).  Hell, he literally wrote the book on the modern intelligentsia. He has been a consistent critic from a Marxist perspective of both Communist tyranny and neo-liberal globalization. Kagarlitsky has been marginalized and persecuted but never quite silenced. He is one of the most articulate social democratic critics of what was done to his country in the name of “globalization.”  I would recommend his Russian Under Yeltsin and Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy (a pitiless view of post-Soviet globalization and dictatorship) and Back in the USSR (why the new boss is just like the old boss) but he has been a prolific author and dogged publicist for the ideal that maybe, just maybe, the people ought to have a say in their own governance (and he has definitely walked the walk being roughed up by Yeltsin’s security thugs for not viewing “shock therapy” with sufficient reverence).  So, all around the sort of guy who we ought to listen to.   

I would let the reader draw her own conclusions but for me there are two major points from this discussion–one I agree with K on, the other on which I demur.  He is absolutely right that the December Events represented a civic protest, not a political one. Perhaps least of all can the political eunuchs and careerist streetwalkers of the alleged “opposition”–liberal (giggle) or otherwise–be viewed as drivers of the protests.  These were (precisely like the events in Tahrir Square and Madrid’s Puerto del Sol and, to some extent, Occupy Wall Street), leaderless protests of a people whose political humiliation had simply become too shameful.  It is one thing to be relentlessly oppressed by Putin and Yeltsin’s pseudo-democracy, it is quite another thing to have oneself subjected to the Medvedev shadow presidency farce and election totals topping 127%.  And, yes, the political elite are highly factionalized and were thrown into disarray by Putin’s little stunt.  A portion of them are surely hoping to fish in the troubled waters these protests represent. 

However, Kagarlitsky is too dismissive of Putin’s strategic role as the spider in the center of the web–he is not, a la Trotsky’s critique of Stalin, simply the representative of a dual state-corporate oligarchy that needs a figurehead.  Rather, he controls enormous patronage power and uses his control over the institutional levers of it to ensure elite coherence.  He may defer to his boyars and Politbureau, but there’s no doubt who is the Tsar or GenSec in this system is.  Just ask Mikhail Khodarkovsky.

Still, things are going to get more interesting in Russia, and Kagarlitsky’s refusal to answer in glib sound bites during this interview speaks well of perspicacity.  Winter is coming and as we all know, February is a fine month for Revolution in Russia.

2 comments

Agampreet Singh (@VehlaComrade) on January 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm. #

I think, Kagarlitsky is probably the most astute marxist commentator of the current situation in Russia and if you look at his articles in newspapers over the years, that point is hard to miss. I found his book “Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System” incredible in its analysis of Russian History.

Matthew Payne on January 16, 2012 at 8:31 pm. #

As an historian, Agampreet, I’m very fond of “Empire of the Periphery” but, as you say, his greatest contribution has been as a fearless publicist. Yeltsin considered him a dangerous enemy of the new neoliberal state and so he has proven.