After a long hiatus, I’ve started writing for Russia! Magazine again. Here’s my re-debut article, “Ukraine’s New Neoliberal Necromancer,” on the Ukrainian Finance Ministry’s hiring of Arthur Laffer as an adviser on tax reform. Here’s a snippet:
As converts to the neoliberal faith, Ukraine’s government is ever eager for spiritual advice. While the debt standoff in Greece provided opportunity to declare its slavish devotion to austerity, and the recent Yalta European Strategy conference offered “faithful reflection” on “reform,” none of this can substitute getting personal spiritual council from the father of supply-side economics, Arthur Laffer.
In mid-September, in a barely noticed move, Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance named Laffer as an advisor on tax policy. According to the Ministry’s press release, this esteemed economic confidant of Reagan and Thatcher will help Ukraine create a tax system “which should contribute to the increase of investments, economic growth and employment as well as improve the quality of public services for business and thus provide a powerful stimulus for the sustainable economic growth of our country.” This statement’s vapid syntax should not go elided in a world where the “menace of unreality” dislodges materiality. Yet again, despite its utter bankruptcy as policy and principle, the neoliberal incantation that the interests of the “job creators” are the interest of all remains potent voodoo. That the Ukrainian government is now soliciting one of neoliberalism’s most influential necromancers is yet another indication where the Revolution of Dignity is really going.
You Might also like
By Sean — 1 year ago
By Sean — 9 years ago
Protests flared around the world last week in response to the global economic crisis. Last Thursday, a one day general strike of 2.5 million people brought France to a standstill. Wildcat strikes hit Britain as workers at two nuclear power plants protested the use of foreign workers. An action of a few hundred Black Bloc anarchists in Geneva turned violent when police blocked them from entering the city’s center. Protesters responded with bottles, the police returned with clubs and tear gas, arresting 60. A column of Greek farmers consisting of 300 tractors, trucks, and other vehicles protesting the drop in commodity prices were met by riot police. One farmer tried to ram a police van as protesters chucked potatoes, tomatoes, and rocks at the cops. Clashes between farmers and police continued into this week as more of the farmers pour into the port of Piraeus. Protests in Iceland brought an interim Left-Green coalition to power which promises to implement measures to quell protests. Latvia saw a protest of 10,000 people turn into a riot against their government’s dealing with the economic crisis. Many of neoliberal miracles of the last decade–Estonia, Lativa, Ireland, Ukraine, and Iceland have hit the economic wall. Experts say that Ireland is the worst hit in the Eurozone. There a job is lost “every five minutes.”
Indeed protest is in the air. More importantly economics stands at the center. As the Guardian described last Thursday:
It’s a snapshot of a single day – yesterday – in a Europe sinking into the bleakest of times. But while the outlook may be dark in the big wealthy democracies of western Europe, it is in the young, poor, vulnerable states of central and eastern Europe that the trauma of crash, slump and meltdown looks graver.
Exactly 20 years ago, in serial revolutionary rejoicing, they ditched communism to put their faith in a capitalism now in crisis and by which they feel betrayed. The result has been the biggest protests across the former communist bloc since the days of people power.
Europe’s time of troubles is gathering depth and scale. Governments are trembling. Revolt is in the air.
And not just in Europe. There is an estimated 20 million Chinese migrant workers who’ve suddenly become unemployed, adding to the estimated 10 million jobs lost in December when manufactures shut their doors. The high levels of migrant unemployment are feared to make an already tenuous situation in the countryside worse. About 50 to 60 percent of rural families’ incomes come from remittances sent from migrant factory workers. Chinese officials are already contemplating a “softer line” to protesters by urging Party officials to address people face to face. And then there is the shoe throwing copycat in London who failed to plant his rubber sole on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s grill. Some experts are seriously wondering if China is on the brink of an enormous social explosion, if not revolution.
Then there is Russia. Russia joined the chorus of global protest as thousands rallied in several cities last weekend. Actions targeted the economic crisis, the government, car taxes and the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastatia Baburnova. Important issues for sure. Still these protests appeared no more stage managed than past ones. Many of the usual protagonists were center stage–Other Russia, National Bolsheviks, anarchists and others from the Russian “Opposition.” OMON played its usual part as dastardly antagonist, though one should recognize that this time its iron fist wore a velvet glove. The dance between OMON and dissenters went according to the usual script. The only additions were the unknown assailants who attacked a group of marchers in Moscow. Each side appeared to get what it wanted. OMON (i.e. the state) showed its ability to keep order. Other Russia affirmed its self-importance and secured its foreign press coverage. As one commentator said about the Moscow action: There were “more journalists than participants.”
Perhaps most interesting was Russia’s real political opposition joined the protests’ ranks. The Communist Party attracted large crowds in the provinces. In the Far East, the communists wedded the unpopular car tax with challenges to the “government of oligarchs'” promises to “make life better by 2020”. Maybe this is the first sign that the KPRF might actually become an opposition in content rather than only in form.
Popular discontent is growing in Russia. No one argues against this. Recent polls indicate a increasing drop in Medvedev’s and Putin’s popularity. The former is hovering around a 51 percent approval rating, while the latter commands a 65 percent majority. A Levada Center survey found that people are increasingly questioning whether the government has a plan to deal with the crisis. “Twenty-eight percent of respondents said their biggest grievance was that leaders “can’t deal with the economic problems in the country,” and 17 percent faulted the Kremlin for not having a “well-considered plan of action,” reported the NY Times.
Growing public discontent also fuels speculations that there is widening rift within the Kremlin elite, particularly between the President and Prime Minister. Is the supposed rift a sign of healthy and needed disagreement at the top? The beginning of the son moving to bury the father? Or is this simply wishful thinking fueled by general social uncertainty? If there is any rift at the top, I don’t think veiled criticism uttered by Medvedev against Putin will be the telltale sign. If any fissures emerge, they will begin just below the tandem as Russia’s political boyars use the situation to rally around one or the other to better jostle against their rivals.
Despite the growth in Russians’ public frustration with the authorities, one shouldn’t jump the gun and put their hopes before reality. Granted the police are concerned, particularly about the potential rise of “extremist” youth on the left and the right. But to call last weekend’s protests “rare” or a sign of the Kremlin’s rule looking “shakier” are more rooted in fantasy. The problem is not that protests are rare. One might say there are too many that are too often ineffective.
The reality is that while last week’s protests should be situated within the larger trend of global discontent, they nevertheless show the longstanding poverty of Russia’s self-proclaimed political Other. National Bolsheviks, Red Vanguard Youth, and Other Russia political celebrities will find little public support with slogans and flares. Clashes with provocateurs and skirmishes with neo-Nazis may give the taste of a Wiemar flavor, but it occupies a fringe on Russia’s political palate. The truth of the matter is that Russia’s wannabe revolutionaries are either incapable or unwilling to do any real organizing that weds politics and people’s lives. Instead, ephemeral calls for democracy and rights stand in for real political action.
Perhaps this points to poverty of liberalism itself. And here Russia isn’t alone. Opposition movements have completely purged the hunger for state power from their gut. A general strike of 2 million French a century ago would have brought the state down. If not, it would have certainly lasted for more than one day. Revolutionaries of yore wouldn’t have bothered calling for the resignation of politicians. They would have demanded the destruction of the state itself. Russia’s revolutionaries too, except for the hapless liberals, would have spent more of their energies burrowing within the working masses than wasting them on spectacles.
But what makes the Russian opposition so pathetic is that it rejects its own history. Revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th century–whether they were populist, socialist, or anarchist–faced more difficult challenges than the oppositional diletantes of today. They had no websites or youtubes to organzie and propagate with. The Tsarist regime was far more repressive. Funding was more scarce and cadres were smaller and even more vehemently fractuous. Yet, they were far more organized, purposeful, and diligent. And more importantly they endeavored to connect with people’s everyday lives.
But Russia’s liberals of today, let alone many of Europe’s former “socialists,” makeshift anarchists, unionists, and environmentalists, decry this past because of its association with Communism. Well, like it or not, the communists won and they did so not by calling for resignations, democratic elections, human rights, or freedom of speech. Their position was encapsulated in two words that today’s opposition are too incompetent to imagine or too timid to utter: state power.Post Views: 66
By Sean — 9 years ago
Unemployment in Russia has hit an estimated 6.4 million or 8.5, the Moscow Times reported on Friday. More dismissals are expected in April and government officials fear that joblessness might hit levels of the 1990s. Unemployment in that turbulent decade was around 9.2 million.
In addition to layoffs, MT also noted that wage arrears rose for a second month. Vedomosti reports that Russian workers are owed 8 billion rubles in back wages, 16.1 percent higher than January. This is the national average. Wage arrears are even higher in some provinces, particularly in Siberia. In Omsk, for example, back wages climbed to 7.5 million rubles or 26.5 percent. Other regions are following this trend. As Regnum reports,
For comparison, the amount of wage arrears on 1 March in Novosibirsk stood at 230.5 million rubles, in Krasnoyarsk more than 700 million rubles, in Altai 178.4 million, in Irkutsk 184 million, in Kuzbass 183 million. On the whole, back wages grew in eight of the twelve regions in Siberia. A reduction of arrears were only registered in four regions. The highest increase was in Omsk (more than a quarter) then in Tuva (20.1%), Tomsk (11.9%) and in Altai 10,5%).
Some workers are tired of waiting. And for good reason. Sixteen workers at the Ural Mountains Steel Mill held a brief hunger strike until management agreed on paying some of their back wages. The action was small but effective. And though the strikers insisted that their action was not about fomenting “class warfare,” given statement from the plant’s director, Sergei Khomyanin, class conflict appears inevitable outcome of the current conditions. “They should be put in prison and go on hunger strike there,” he said. “Hunger strikes by their very nature are extremist.”
But as the Moscow Times explains:
The hunger strikers say they have been scrupulous about sticking to the law. They kept working and checked the Criminal Code to make sure they were doing nothing illegal. There have been no other outward signs of protest.
Negrebetskikh, a rolling mill operator, said he felt something had to be done. He lives with his wife and two children in a 44-square-meter apartment near the factory, where chimneys pump brown and gray smoke into the mountain air. In September, he was making up to 18,000 rubles per month before tax. Now, he is earning 5,900.
“The 5,000 rubles my wife makes working in a shop means the kids don’t go hungry,” he said.
After tax, their joint income is about 8,000 rubles. After 2,000 rubles in fixed utility bills and a 3,000 ruble monthly payment on a $1,000 fridge, they have 3,000 rubles left.
Treats like trips to the movie theater or candy for his children are unaffordable. “Sausage is now a luxury,” Negrebetskikh said. “It doesn’t matter to me if I go on hunger strike, I’m hungry anyway.”
For five days last week, Negrebetskikh slept on inflatable mattresses on the floor of the musty Union Hall at the plant with 15 other hunger strikers, sustaining himself on juice, tea and cigarettes. They hope more workers will join in, but support is patchy. Even the workers’ union has distanced itself from the strike.
Some night-shift workers voiced their support as they left the factory on a freezing morning this week. Others were apathetic or angry that the strike might make a bad situation worse.
“In my mill, they are frightened like hares,” said Pyotr, 33, who withheld his last name because he had “three kids to feed.”
“What can we do? Just sit and wait for better times!” he said, his hand shaking as he lit a cigarette. “If you strike, they’ll kick you out the gate. There’s nothing for you there.”Post Views: 45