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By Sean — 11 years ago
The fact that Moscow is expensive city is well known. For the second consecutive year, the Cost of Living Survey, which is conducted by the Mercer Human Resource Consulting has ranked Russia’s capital as the most expensive city in the world. Expensive it is. For western expatriates. But what of the millions of Russians who live there? How much does it take to survive the mean Moscow streets?
Figures released by the Moscow City government say that a minimum of 6,500 rubles ($266) a month is necessary to live in Moscow. A tripartite Moscow commission placed their minimum a bit higher at 8,000 rubles ($327). But as Nezamisimaya gazeta points out, most experts note that this government “minimum” is based on the the government idea of the rock bottom necessary for a person to live. That means a person who is “not dying from hunger, lice free, and doesn’t go naked or barefoot.” In addition to this the Russian government includes a “minimum subsistence basket” of foodstuff and services. “What goes into this basket?” NG asks.
The minimum set of services includes working utilities and 18 square meters of living space. The minimum set of “non-food” goods are clothes, shoes, linen, furniture, housewares, the necessities of life, hygiene and medicine. It is necessary to have nine pairs of underwear over 2.4 years, seven pairs of hosiery over a year, and six pairs of shoes over 3.2 years.
For a comparison, in Great Britain a mobile phone, an mp3 player, a digital radio, and a DVD recorder and a host of other digital products are added to the subsistence basket.
Those are two very different notions of minimum subsistence. It’s no wonder that many accuse the West of decadence.
The Russian calculation of minimum subsistence is nothing to praise. There is nothing noble in poverty. Nor is there anything pretty in inflation, a problem that has been hitting Russia for almost a year now. Between 2004 to the final quarter of 2007, the cost of living for employed Muscovites rose from 4265 rubles ($173) to 6563 rubles ($267). For lowest on the economic ladder, the elderly and children, the cost of living went up in the same period 2531 ($103) to 3983 rubles ($161) and 3377 ($137) to 4934 rubles ($200) respectively. Moreover, estimates from 2006 put 1.3 million Muscovites living at the lowest income level out of a population of 10.5 million. This number has dropped in the last three years by 160,000 people. This trend is being reproduced across the country. From the beginning of 2005 to the last quarter of 2007, the number of people living in poverty has dropped from 24.5 percent to 15.8 percent. And people still wonder why Putin, and now Medvedev by association, is so popular.
It may be expensive for Russians to live in Moscow but it seems that they are making the money to do so. The median income for Muscovites as of October 2007 is 23,873 rubles a month. From that they spend an average of 67 percent (15,995) of their income of foodstuffs. That’s over twice what the government says is necessary to live at minimum subsistence. Still most Muscovites seem live somewhat cautiously. The average amount of their monthly salary they devote to savings and buying foreign currency is 8.8 percent (2100 rubles) and 8.4 percent (2005) rubles.
By Sean — 9 years ago
In Russia, the time of great campaigns has returned. In Soviet times, we broke new ground and planted corn. Then we fought against drunkenness and concerned ourselves with economic acceleration. We were not always successful, but certainly in the real world. Today’s Russia proclaims the slogan of modernization. But so far this modernization is only in cyberspace.
By Sean — 3 years ago
I was on Brian Whitmore’s Power Vertical podcast this week. In thinking over some of my comments, I realized that I was basically giving the Russian elite advice on how to be a functioning bourgeoisie. The bourgeois class project in Russia has been a historical failure. Russia’s third bourgeois is currently too busy with its head buried in the trough or is too paranoid to see the reality before it.
You can listen to my appearance on the Power Vertical here:
It’s so pathetic that me, a Marxist, has to tell it how to be a functioning bourgeoisie.
But I feel that I must. Because let’s face it, the Russian elite sucks as a ruling class.
Here’s my open letter to the Russian elite.
Dear Russian elite,
I understand you’ve historically had a rough go. Your forefathers have been decimated three times in the last 100 years. It’s difficult to reconstruct yourself as a class over and over again. But you must.
There are many types of bourgeoisies. You don’t have to be like America’s or Europe’s. You should take some lessons from them, but you can be your own Russian bourgeoisie. Find the right fit for you.
Now, I don’t think you’re currently teetering on the precipice. But the next few years will pose challenges. You have economic crisis, parliamentary elections, and a presidential election. Elections are supposed to be legitimizing rituals but as Putin’s tenure has dragged on, they’ve increasingly become periods of potential instability.
So it’s time to use this opportunity to get your shit together.
Your problem is a simple one, but indulge me, and let me put it in Marxian terms. You are a class in itself, but not for itself. That is, you exist as a sociological category but you don’t collectively pursue your class interests. Sure, you do this individually but that leads to inter-class cannibalism. You’re a lawless creature without inter-class rules. This is why you always need an arbiter to keep you from killing yourselves. Becoming a class for itself means coming up with collective rules of the game: fight amongst yourselves but don’t destroy, expropriate but do it legally, rule but mostly through consent.
So, you need to make a decision and there’s no time is like the present. The question is simple: Are you going to ever become a proper capitalist ruling class?
If so, then you first need to learn to govern. Not rule. Govern. Governing requires a few things at this historical moment.
1. Rebuild your institutions.
You had them in the past—the zemstvo, real courts that settled real disputes, competitive Dumas (think about it, the Fourth Duma (1912) was far more competitive than Putin’s today. It had 15 Bolshevik representatives. Bolsheviks! And ten political parties. Real ones.), the soviet, the Party, and many, many social and cultural organizations.
Today’s Russia is not totally de-institionalized. It’s just that institutions merely act as fiefdoms for ravenous elites. You just can’t help yourself from eating them up or hollowing them out.
Do you want to have your cake and eat it to? You need to start the Atkins diet. You can still feast very well. You just can’t eat everything.
2. Nationalize the Navalny Experiment
You have Duma elections coming up. Face reality. You’re really not as popular are you think you are. Your provincial elites know this. But the Kremlin and its puppies in the Duma still think they can manage popularity by crude propaganda, stuffing the box or, worse, letting uncle Bastrykin talk to the guests again. You need to take a political hit. All you’ve done is pass idiotic laws just to let the media know you exist. What was the 6th State Duma’s great legislative achievement? How did it represent its constituents?
You don’t have to continue like this. Just look to Navalny as your savior.
Navalny’s 2013 mayoral campaign was a class success. You had a more or less free election. You let an opposition candidate run and allow him to get 27 percent of the vote. The election helped pull the opposition’s plug, not that Navalny and the urban “creative class” pose any real class threat. They just want to be part of the club. And you should let them in (see item #5). But in all you let him run and you’re still securely in power.
My advice here is simple: nationalize the Navalny experiment.
3. America is out to get you but not in the way you think.
The United States would love to see the Putinists go. But the United States does not have wondrous powers. Yes, it plays all sorts of dirty tricks and interferes in other people’s countries. It does love to bomb. It has a lot of power but its ruling class has forgotten how to effectively use it. It’s slowly decaying because it’s bourgeoisie gave up governing. But besides military power, its influence is rather circumscribed. But for some reason you keep eating its bullshit up. Stop acting like you’re a besieged fortress. You just aren’t.
4. Putin can’t keep driving you.
It’s time to learn to drive yourselves. Ruchnoi kontrol’ is not governing. It’s a substitute for governing.
5. If there is any lesson you should take from the American and European bourgeoisie it is how to build hegemony.
Let an autonomous civil society exist. Don’t see it as a threat but as another transmission belt for strengthening your hegemony. Gramsci described civil society as a system of “fortresses and earthworks” that propped up the state when it was in crisis.
6. Cut a deal amongst yourselves.
Stop using corruption and anti-corruption as an inter-class disciplinary mechanism. Come to some collective class agreement that if you stop stealing, you’ll actually make more money in the long run. And get this. Governance can help you! This is called the Rule of Law. And guess what? You get to write the laws! For the time being, you just need to accept a lower annual rate of return. If anyone steals, you bust them. You don’t have to be perfect. Property is theft after all. But keep corruption at politically acceptable levels. And if you still want to be corrupt, then follow the American example: legalize it.
7. Start thinking about life after Putin.
Botox doesn’t prolong life. Come to an arrangement where Putin will gracefully retire and receive all the benefits of being an elder statesman. He’ll go down in history as one of Russia’s greatest leaders. Put forward a class compromise candidate and establish rules of succession. You almost had it with Medvedev, but you let Papa come back.
8. Put your trust in Kudrin.
Alexei Leonidovich is the perfect shepherd for your journey in becoming a class for itself. He gets it. You just have to listen to him.
These eight points are my advice to you. I could elaborate on each of them more, but I assume you get the point. You don’t have to be successful all at once. Take some time. Just resist your inner Stalinist urges.