Labor

Sochi’s Exploited Labor

Sochi

My new Russia Magazine column, “Sochi’s Workers: Invisible and Expendable,”

“The final stage in such a massive undertaking is always difficult,” Putin told officials in a meeting during the waning days of November. “A lot has been done, but it’s still a long way from perfection… [there is] still work to be done. We have the New Year and Christmas holidays ahead of us. I’d like to say, I think it should be clear that for you, New Year’s will come… on March 18 [the last day of the Paralympics]. For you and for everyone who is working on the Olympic venues.” With that, Vladimir Putin cancelled the Christmas and New Year’s holiday for some 95,000 people making the final push to ready the Sochi Olympics. A lot is riding on the Olympics, which begins in less than two months from now. It’s the most expensive Games to date, an estimated $46.1 billion—almost four times Putin’s initial estimate of $12 billion (Putin’s Games, a new documentary on corruption in Sochi estimates up to 50 percent of construction costs go to kickbacks), and the completion of this mega-construction project will come down to the wire. The stadium slated to host the opening and closing ceremonies isn’t finished, the pedestrian zone is half built, electricity goes in and out with a good portion of it powered by generators, pipes line the roads, signs reading “coming soon” dangle in restaurant fronts, and the drilling, stamping, and hammering are incessant.

The backdrop to all of this is a wide range of abuses. Human Rights Watch has cataloged those ranging from exploitation of laborersforced evictionsharassment of civic groups, activists and journalistsenvironmental damage, and of course, the anti-homosexual propaganda law. While the last has gotten widespread coverage, I want to draw attention to the exploitation of laborers without whom Sochi would be impossible.

There is an estimated 70,000 laborers working in construction, 16,000 are foreign labor. They work long hours and for little pay. In its detailed report on worker abuses, HRW reported that workers got typically paid $1.80 to $2.60 an hour with a monthly average salary of $455 to $605. Their pay is routinely delayed, and sometimes they’re never paid at all. One HRW respondent, Yunus, said “I have no written contract. I got paid only in February: 2,400 rubles [$77] for December. I wasn’t paid after that. I worked for 70 full days without pay. We worked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with no days off.” He quit before receiving the wages owned to him. Milorad Rancic, a migrant from Serbia, told HRW, “We got paid in pieces. For 10 days, maybe we would get $400. The rest of the month, we would get rubles, around 2,000 rubles [$63] at a time. Then, at the end of the month, when you tried to establish the balance owed, the employer would say, “Oh, we never kept track of it. We don’t have any record of it.” “Almost all employers routinely withhold wages for two months,” Semen Simonov, who works for Memorial’s Migration and Rights project, toldNovaya Gazeta. “People are used to this and don’t even bother. But there are people who’ve come to us who’ve worked in five Olympic sites and never received any money at all.” “There are 500 companies represented in the Olympic sites,” he continued. “I can’t say all of them don’t pay. But we can put together a list of those that don’t because people come to us every day and the list is growing.”

Read on . . .

Russia’s Haves and Have-Nots

poverty

This week’s Russia Magazine column, “Russia’s Widening Wealth Inequality,”

The Putin years have been financially good for many Russians. Petrodollars have trickled down to a large portion of the population. Overall, Russians are wealthier than ever before. Economic stability and prosperity are pillars of the Putinist social contract, Putin’s personal longevity as Russia’s head honcho is tied to the country’s continued economic prosperity. But Putinism is not just based on a rising tide lifting all boats. It’s rooted in the ability of Russia’s wealthy elite to get even wealthier. The concentration of Russia’s wealth into a few hands is bore out in recent statistics reported in Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2013.

The report presents some startling findings concerning Russia. The gulf between Russia’s haves and have-nots is ever widening. Despite increases in Russian household wealth from an annual $1,650 in 2000 to $11,900 today, a mere 110 billionaires own 35 percent of Russia’s $1.2 trillion in household wealth. According to the report, 93.7 percent of the population owns $10,000 or less, and dispelling the notion of a monetary middle class, a paltry 5.6 percent own between $10,000 and $100,000. Poverty fell over the last decade, but inequality rose. “Russia has the highest level of wealth inequality in the world, apart from small Caribbean nations with resident billionaires,” the report concludes. The report’s authors seem surprised by this wealth concentration. Perhaps it’s because they ascribe to the ideological notion that Russia’s transition from communism to capitalism should have produced a vibrant middle class. “At the time of transition there were hopes that Russia would convert to a high skilled, high income economy with strong social protection programs inherited from Soviet Union days. This is almost a parody of what happened in practice,” the reports states with its own parody of a tired tenet of liberal teleology.

Read on . . .

Photo: Drugoi

Russia’s Prisoners Labor for the Market

prison

This week’s Russia Magazine column, “The Gulag but Now with a Brutal Commercial Grin,”

The political and moral power of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s letter describing the living and working conditions of her prison, Penal Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia, is immeasurable. The letter immediately made her a candidate for the pantheon of Russian chroniclers of prison life—Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov and Danzig Baldaev,—and brought into view the daily existence of Russia’s lowliest outcasts. Dostoevsky wrote in the House of the Dead (1862) that “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” That maxim, unfortunately, still rings true.

Historically, the prison has served as a metaphor for Russian society writ large. The soviet gulag, argues Steven Barnes, a historian of the camps, mirrored soviet society. Soviet social structure, deprivations, strictures, and transformative impulses of daily life were replicated in the camps, albeit often in extreme form. The bare life of the soviet prisoner was revealed in the state’s naked power to exploit his or her labor. The slogan of the Soloveskii camp in the 1920s read: “A prisoner is an active participant in socialist construction.” The prime directive of the soviet prison camp, Barnes quotes, was that “every prisoner must work as appointed by the administration of the camp.”

Tolokonnikova describes a similar world where the inmate is ruled by the rhythms of the prison-industrial machine. “My whole shift works sixteen to seventeen hours a day in the sewing workshop, from seven-thirty in the morning to twelve-thirty at night. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners “voluntarily” apply to work on weekends. In fact, there is nothing “voluntary” about it. These applications are written involuntarily on the orders of the wardens and under pressure from the inmates who help enforce their will.” Today, instead of serving as a constructor of socialism, today’s Russian prisoner is an active participant in the construction of capitalist profit. Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) and private companies alike benefit from that revenue.

Read on . . .

Migrants and Corruption

migrants2

I got a gig writing for the Nation. Here’s my first article, “Corruption, Not Migrants, Is Russia’s Problem.” A few words updating the story. Yesterday the police liquidated the migrant camp at Golyanovo. The Moscow city administration announced that it will not erect any new camps. However, the Ministry Interior has a new facility to detain migrants in Severnyi outside Moscow. So far 400 foreign nationals are housed there, including the remaining 234 from Golyanovo. This campaign against migrants, therefore, continues. Here’s the opening paragraph of the Nation article:

On Saturday July 27, a group of plainclothes police arrived at the Matveev market in Moscow to arrest Magomed Magomedov, a Dagestani, for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. As the police detained Magomedov, a crowd gathered to protest. Fisticuffs ensued as one of Magomedov’s relatives attacked an officer, Anton Kudriashov. When the dust settled, Kudriashov’s attacker, Magomed Rasulov, had fled, allegedly after bribing another cop. Kurdiashov lay dazed with a cracked skull. Responding to the incident, an incensed President Putin captured Russians’ anger. “[Citizens tell] us it is impossible to continue tolerating this level of lawlessness… Policemen were standing there and watching as their colleague got beaten up. Why? Are they such cowards? Perhaps, but it’s unlikely. Most likely, their inaction is earning them money from those merchants. This is obvious and well-known to everyone.” Putin’s right to single out corruption. It’s not only at the center of the Matveev market incident but at the heart of the migration issue. The sweeps of illegal migrants are populist measures meant to divert the attention, and especially that of the Moscow electorate that will vote for mayor on September 8, from the real scourge of Russian society: corruption.

Read on . . .

Image: Gazeta.ru

Migrants and the Russian Nation

migrant1

This week’s Russia! Magazine column, “Migrants and Russia’s Split National Identity,”

When asked about migrant workers in a recent interview with Moskovskii novosti, Sergey Sobyanin stated, “Moscow is a Russian (rossiiskii) city and it should remain that way. It’s not Chinese, not Tajik and not Uzbek.” For Sobyanin, it was better for labor migrants, with their poor command of Russian and “totally different culture” to go back to “their countries.” A permanent place in Moscow was only reserved for “Russian speakers, whose culture is compatible with our traditions.” Sobyanin then followed his musings on Moscow’s cultural particularity with assertions of its multiculturalism. “Russia is a multiethnic country, a mixture of all its nationalities and traditions. Separating some out and contrasting them to other cultures is very dangerous, simply explosive, particularly for our city.”

At first glance, Sobyanin’s contradictory statements ring xenophobic and even racist. But his claim that Moscow is a Russian, yet multiethnic city can easily get lost in translation. Sobyanin specifically referred to Moscow as rossiiskii, that is, a city for the multiethnic citizens of the Russian Federation, not specifically a city for ethnic Russians (russkii). The important difference between rossiiskii and russkii gets conflated when rendered in English because both translate as Russian. Yet, Sobyanin’s civic gestures are not without ethnic slippages. Placing “Russian speakers” as consonant with “our traditions” and migrants’ “totally different culture” as their antithesis points to the primacy of Russian ethnicity (russkii) as the norm in Russia’s multiethnic community. The migrant, who has the potential to become Russian (rossiiskii) through cultural mimicry, is perpetually relegated to a state of almost the same, but not quite.

Russians’ attitudes toward the migrant reveal the inherent tension in their bifurcated national identity. On the one hand Russian is an ethnic-biological category which vis-a-vis the Central Asian and Caucasian migrant is becoming increasingly racialized. On the other hand, Russian is a civic category rooted in Imperial and Soviet efforts to unify a multiethnic and multicultural society in a common political community. The contradiction lies in that the more the ethnic is given primacy and privilege, the civic is rendered hollow. Given the fragility of Russia’s national identity, it’s no surprise that the increasing flows of migrants produce anxieties and foreboding.

Valentin Urusov Freed!

tfvhgjhsansfGood news from Russia is a rarity. But today is one of the those rare days. After four and a half years in prison on fabricated charges, the labor activist Valentin Urusov has been released. His release comes ten days after a Khangalssk district court decision. According to Andrei Demidov, the deputy director of Collective Action, Urusov plans to continue his work as a labor and human rights organizer.

Congratulations to Urusov, his family, and all those who tirelessly agitated for his freedom!

A Worker’s Struggle

Valentin Urusov

Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter


This translation is originally published on N+1 Magazine

In August 2012, the magazine Russian Reporter published a long, detailed article on Valentin Urusov, a diamond miner and trade union activist from Yakutia who was sentenced to six years in prison for drug possession in 2008. I hadn’t heard of Urusov before. Few in and outside Russia have. Despite efforts over the last four years to increase international pressure to have him freed, Urusov’s plight and that of Russian political prisoners like him get overshadowed by more capitalist friendly names like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the late Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in Russian police custody in 2009, or the more sensational and repackageable Pussy Riot. It’s safe to say we won’t be hearing about the US Congress sponsoring a “Urusov Law,” nor will any of his tormentors find themselves on a US State Department persona non grata list.

Many regard Urusov’s conviction, based on what they allege is planted evidence, as a prime example of the frequent collusion between Russian capital (in this case, the state-owned diamond mining giant Alrosa) and state security organs to stamp out grassroots labor activism. This activism is in any case severely handicapped by national trade union umbrella organizations like the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), a holdover from the Soviet era when trade unions were in fact an arm of the state, and its member organizations, such as Profalmaz, the company-approved local labor union that Urusov and his comrades attempted to bypass by creating their own union.  As Valery Sobol, a local Communist Party leader, says at the end of the article, “In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”

This is why Andrei Veselov’s profile of Urusov is so important. It complements the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) recent effort to get Valentin Urusov released. (In a similar vein, the Russian Confederation of Labour, the Russian LabourStart group, and the IUF, with backing from Industriall Global Union, have just nominated Urusov for the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights.) But beyond the particulars of Urusov’s case, it illuminates what Russian labor activists struggling to establish independent trade unions endure in Putin’s Russia.

Follow Free Valentin Urusov! on Facebook for updates. For news in English on left social movements and struggles in Russia read the blog Chtodelat News.

-Sean Guillory & Chtodelat

 


A Worker’s Struggle

How an attempt to create a real labor union lands you in a penal colony

By Andrei Veselov
Russian Reporter
No. 33 (262) • August 23, 2012
Originally published in Russian by Russian Reporter.

“When they drove off the road into the taiga, I hear, ‘Take out the plastic sheet so nothing gets splattered.’ That, as they say, is when I bid farewell to life, calmed down and resigned myself. I lay on the floor of the car and waited. Hands cuffed behind my back. They pulled me out, put me on my knees and fired three shots over my head. But they didn’t kill me.”

The senior officer for education at the colony listens attentively to my conversation with Valentin Urusov, a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 3 in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and former leader of the independent labor union local in the town of Udachny. After the interview, the officer comes up to me and says, “You know, maybe he is really innocent. But if five percent are wrongly convicted in America, what can you expect from us?”

“What a terrific job!”

The idea that a full-fledged rather than puppet labor union could emerge in Udachny occurred to Valentin, a rank-and-file employee at Almazenergoremont, a subsidiary of the local mining and processing plant, after the scandalous “affair of the sandblasters.” Urusov himself is a local man, although he was born in Karachay-Cherkessia: he has lived in Yakutia since he was two years old and worked here since he was sixteen, mostly at facilities run by the state-owned diamond mining company Alrosa. There are few other options here.

Udachny is a town fourteen kilometers from the Arctic Circle, and one of the three main sites, along with Mirny and Aikhal, where diamonds are mined. Among the workers involved in the mining process are the so-called abrasive blasters or, more simply, sandblasters, whose job is to work solid surfaces with an abrasive, high-pressure stream of air pumped through a hose. It is not a job that is good for the health of the worker, to say the least: pulmonary silicosis is the occupational illness. Neither a safety helmet nor a hazmat suit, like cosmonauts wear, helps.

In 2007, a team of these sandblasters demanded overtime pay, which at that time went chronically unpaid. The workers filed a lawsuit and even managed to win their case: the Labor Code was clearly on their side.

“A special commission arrived in Udachny to arbitrate the dispute directly,” explains Andrei Polyakov, an Alrosa spokesman. “The company agreed with the validity of the claims, an agreement settling all grievances was signed, and compensation was paid out. The managers who were in direct dereliction of their duties were punished.”

This happened, it is true, but later. The main scandal occurred when the dispute was still being settled: the semi-official labor union at Alrosa, Profalmaz, negotiated not on the side of the workers, but on behalf of . . . management. This provoked astonishment and outrage in Udachny.

So, on the one hand, Profalmaz’s authority was undermined. On the other, the feeling arose that one’s labor rights could be protected-moreover, in a civilized manner, through the courts and arbitration, the European way, so to speak.

“I just found it interesting. I’m a generally curious person, and that is probably why I’m in prison,” jokes Valentin. “I went online and came across Sotsprof, a trade union association that is an alternative to the FNPR (the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia). I wrote an email to its leader, who was then Sergei Khramov. He replied by sending me documents on how to create a new union.”

“But why a new one?” I ask. “Was it really impossible to make things work within the existing union?”

“All organizations belonging to Mikhail Shmakov’s FNPR, including Profalmaz, are not labor unions but appendages of personnel departments. All they do is allocate vacation vouchers. They will never oppose management.”

“Was the only problem overtime and the fact it wasn’t being paid then?”

“Of course not. There were a lot of problems! And then, you understand, this is very difficult work: you have to work night and day, and on holidays, and take someone else’s shift, whatever management says. But you get paid for an eight-hour day. And then there are the working conditions and safety. In the department where I worked, the equipment should have been scrapped twenty years ago, at best. There are a lot of accidents as a result. The ones that were made public were like a speck in a big heap of sand. I got a big piece of flesh taken out of my hand, and that was nothing. Of course, it’s hard to hush up fatal incidents. But fractures and injuries are different. There are thousands of them and nobody cares. It was a shame that the company was so wealthy, that it built five-star hotels and all kinds of business centers, but scrimped on us.”

In Moscow I met with Sergei Khramov, to whom Valentin had sent the email and who had instructed him on creating a union local.

“Add to this the aggressive water in the gully where they mine diamonds.” Khramov hands me a complaint from Udachny miners addressed to Vladimir Putin. “It’s nearly acid and it penetrates their rubber suits. Here they write, ‘We don’t know what it is we are breathing when the ventilation equipment is lubricated with used oil.’ Or there’s this one: ‘Cold, unheated air is pumped into the mine, even in winter.’ And it’s minus forty-fifty in winter there. What a terrific job!”

The Udachnaya pipe, controlled by diamond mining giant Alrosa, where Valentin Urusov worked. Next to it, the town of Udachny.

Mir diamond mine in Siberia. The town of Mirny is adjacent.

How to frighten a republic’s leadership

It was right at this time, in August 2008, that the so-called Siberian Social Forum was held in Irkutsk. “Free” trade unions were among the forum’s founders. Urusov’s new acquaintances invited him there, too. In fact, it was a small event, attended by no more than two hundred people, but it made a strong impression on Valentin.

“Renowned Civil rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who was later murdered in Moscow, lectured on legal issues. He was a very competent, energetic, lively man-it’s a shame what happened to him. He talked about how to act in this or that situation so as not to set oneself up and achieve your goals at the same time. And then the call came. Problems with pay had begun at the second motor depot, and the guys had decided to organize a strike.”

Events unfolded rapidly. In a small suburban home outside of Udachny, Urusov met with motor depot drivers and mechanics in an almost conspiratorial atmosphere and began persuading them to join the union. Armed with new knowledge, Urusov tried to prove to his comrades that if a strike began they would immediately be fired for trumped-up excuses, and there would be no one left to work on getting them reinstated. During the second “conspiratorial” meeting, sixty-two people joined Urusov’s union local.

There were two options as to how to proceed. First, a classic strike. But the Udachny miners had no experience with strikes, and therefore they could easily have been fired for “absenteeism.” And even if they had managed to get fired workers reinstated, they would have lost the initiative, and the remaining workers would have been demoralized. The second option was a hunger strike. Everyone goes to work; there is no downtime and, therefore, nothing for management to complain about. But demands are loudly declared and, basically, a scandal erupts. They chose the second option.

“At first, management demonstratively paid no attention to us. Then they see we aren’t going to back down. That is when they began dropping by,” Urusov laughs. “People came from the police, from plant security, from the company itself, trying to talk us out of it. In exchange for setting up a conciliation commission, we suspended the hunger strike.”

However, the commission was unable to achieve a compromise. Management made no concessions.

“We decided to hold an open union meeting right on the town’s central square. It wasn’t a protest rally, and by law we weren’t required to notify anyone. On the first day, all the motor depot workers came, plus another two hundred people. The director of the plant came and tried to say something. But he couldn’t answer a single question and left. And right there on the square, people began joining the union. By the end of the day something like three hundred people had joined. We decided to repeat the meeting. The second time, more than eight hundred people gathered. There was no rioting and no laws were broken. We didn’t even have a loudspeaker. By evening, I remember it even now, 1,012 people had joined the union.”

We have to remember that Udachny is a very small town with a population of slightly over ten thousand, and such developments outright scared both the local authorities and certain people in high places. The situation was headed towards a citywide strike and a potential stoppage of diamond mining in the Udachnaya kimberlite pipe-the largest in the world, by the way.

“We have enormous enterprises in our country. Often they monopolize their regions, and so a strike or simply a large industrial action could freeze an entire industry,” explains Alexander Zakharin, Urusov’s friend and colleague, and chair of the Sotsprof local in Surgut. “And if you organize such an action, you risk running into a brutal response. From the owners and from the authorities. But it happens that milder measures don’t work. Then you need to choose: take a risk or keep your mouth shut.”

At Alrosa itself, the union’s activities in Udachny are seen primarily as an attempt at self-promotion.

“A media effect-promoting awareness of Sotsprof and the number of times it got mentioned in the press-was probably the main objective for some of its executives,” argues company spokesman Polyakov.

As during the dispute in 2007, Profalmaz adopted a peculiar position in the new confrontation. Its leader, Il Tumen (Sakha Republic State Assembly) deputy Pavel Tretyakov, not only failed to help the workers, but also asked the republic’s leaders to reason with the “rebels.” Profalmaz’s executive committee sent an appeal to the President of Yakutia, Vyacheslav Shtyrov, and FNPR head Mikhail Shmakov asking them to prevent “incitement of a conflict.”

Tretyakov later, in a similar vein, told Vasily Gabyshev, the Mirny town prosecutor, “It’s surprising that law enforcement authorities didn’t respond to attempts by various persons to artificially incite conflicts, to calls for illegal hunger strikes and labor strikes.”

The Yakutia presidential administration composed a panicked memo on the basis of Tretyakov’s appeals. The President instructed law enforcement agencies to figure out what was happening. (Russian Reporter has all these documents in its possession.) What exactly Shtyrov wanted from the security services is still unclear, but the local office of the FSKN (the Federal Drug Control Service) reacted to the situation, let’s say, in an extremely original way.

Udachny-Aikhal-Mirny

“Then what happened? Then the third of September came. I was leaving my place. I heard a car door open. I instinctively turned around.  It was a simple UAZ[-452], a “Pill” [i.e., a van] with tinted windows. Out came three guys in leather jackets and jeans with shaved heads. I didn’t know them. I immediately knew something was wrong and ran. They caught up to me and knocked me down.”

“Did they show you any identification?”

“Absolutely nothing. They restrained me and brought me to the van. First they handcuffed me with my hands in front. Later, in the van, they tried to cuff me with my hands behind my back. I clasped my hands and held on. They pulled and pulled, broke my finger, and finally handcuffed my hands behind my back. They threw me to the floor and one of them sat on top of me. We drove for a long time.”

It subsequently emerged that Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, the head of drug control in the Mirny District, had personally led this “operation.” In order to apprehend Urusov, he and his subordinates had driven six hundred kilometers to Udachny: his “Hunter” [i.e., jeep] was waiting for the “Pill” on the outskirts of the town. In court, Rudov claimed to have had “operational information” that Urusov was involved in selling drugs.

“We asked the court to confirm or refute Rudov’s testimony, and requested written confirmation that the ‘operational information’ had been registered in the police operational ledger,” says Urusov’s attorney Yevgeny Chernousov, a former police colonel who specializes in narcotics cases. “We didn’t demand that this information itself or its source be revealed. We just wanted to confirm that the information had existed. The court did not fulfill our request. There is thus no evidence of its existence. In light of this, Rudov’s unwarranted trip to Udachny and back seems more than suspicious.”

Valentin says that Rudov was on the phone with a certain Alexei Yurevich or Yuri Alexeyevich the whole time, reporting to him that they had “taken” Urusov and wanting to know what to do next. After one of these conversations, the van pulled off into the taiga. There the narcotics officers spread out plastic sheeting and fired a few shots over Urusov’s head, recounts Urusov.

“They were shooting the whole time,” says Valentin. “They shot at birds, and at trees. Apparently, they wanted to frighten me. We had already driven far from town, and basically they could have done whatever they wanted with me.”

At a fork in the Udachny-Aikhal-Mirny road, the car of Grigory Pustovetov, head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant, drove up to Rudov’s group “entirely by accident.” Only then did the police decide to search Urusov for drugs. Pustovetov and his driver acted as official witnesses. The search was a complete success: sixty-six grams of hashish oil were found in the union activist’s pocket.

“A number of questions arise,” says an outraged Chernousov. “First, when the arrest happens in one place, but the official search with witnesses happens dozens of kilometers away, it’s a clear sign that the drugs could have been planted. Second, if the head of one of a company’s security units serves as a witness when an employee in a labor dispute with that company is being searched, it also gives rise to the most unpleasant thoughts.”

Urusov himself claims the hashish was planted on him in the car after the fake execution. He says that hash oil was specially applied to his hands so that traces of the drug would later be detected when his hands were swabbed.

“When we were organizing the miners’ union in Neryungri (a major industrial center in Yakutia), I was reminded of this story,” says Valery Sobol, first secretary of the Neryungri Communist Party City Committee. “I won’t name the names of the persons involved because I live there. Employees of the so-called organs [i.e., the security services] invited me to a pub. We hung out there for a while. Then at another place, and then another. I myself didn’t drink, but they drank a lot. And, as if it was an afterthought, though they had summoned me there to deliver just this message, one of them says, ‘You remember that thing with Urusov? You also better not be naughty. If anything happens, we’ll plant a gun on you or whatever.’ And then he laughed. Like it was a joke.”

Several months ago, Sobol nearly won the election for the head of the Neryungri District. He came in second by only a small margin. And if a potential district head can be threatened almost openly, then the kidnapping of a simple working stiff like Urusov, who has no political backing at all, does not seem farfetched.

Sobol and I sat in the kitchen of Sergei Yurkov, an engineer, businessman, and leader of an organization called the Russian Community of Yakutia. He met Urusov in a pre-trial detention facility. I ask him how he had ended up there.

“My story is simple. Transneft were building a pipeline here. They didn’t want to pay normal wages to the locals. So when the locals balked, they brought in rural Chinese willing to work for peanuts and live in barracks. When we organized a rally and put up flyers saying this wasn’t how things were done, I was arrested under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for ‘incitement of interethnic hatred.’ What does ‘incitement’ have to do with it? I was sentenced to two years in prison.”

Drugs via the Special Courier Service?

It must be said that the theme of drugs, with which they decided to shut Urusov up, did not arise by accident. Drug use is a local scourge. And this makes sense. There are few other ways to have fun in small towns and villages in the North. That is why on the surface Urusov’s prosecution under a drug statute was meant to have appeared more or less plausible.

“It’s a big problem here, as is drinking,” says Maxim Mestnikov, a Sotsprof spokesman in Yakutia. “When Friday comes, hang onto your head: there is a deluge of knife wounds and head injuries.”

But Urusov, in fact, never had the reputation of a mischievous drug addict. In his youth, at the beginning of the 2000s, he and a few friends created an organization called Youth for an Athletic Movement-North, whose activists patrolled the city monitoring places where drugs were sold. Eventually, the mayor of Udachny even suggested that they create a branch of City Without Drugs on the line of Yevgeny Roizman’s controversial anti-drugs organization.

The relationship between certain local Alrosa subcontractors and drug dealers, however, may require a separate investigation. Russian Reporter has in its possession an official memo written by Sergei Denisov, predecessor of Grigory Pustovetov (the man who acted as a witness during the police search of Urusov) as head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant.

The memo is addressed to Yuri Ionov, former vice-president for security at Alrosa, and it deals with the overall crime situation in the area. Among many others, the memo contains the following passage: “It is impossible to ignore the fact that a drug trafficking network has developed in the village. According to operational information from the Mirny office of the FSB, the delivery of drugs is carried out by the Federal Special Courier Service, with which Alrosa has a contractual relationship for the transportation of diamonds.” Moreover, the memo shows that confidential and friendly relations exist between certain high-ranking Alrosa executives, law enforcement officers, and outright criminals.

“I’ll say this: the criminal world is generally in first place here,” Sotsprof’s Mestnikov says with conviction. “In this respect it is still the nineties here. Something needs to be done so you go to them and they handle it. And this could also have happened with Valentin. Perhaps it was better that they sicked the cops on him and not the wise guys.”

After he presented the memo to Ionov, Denisov was forced to resign and move to Novosibirsk.

“No decision was taken on my report. Ionov showed me the door and said he didn’t need any unnecessary problems. As for Urusov, I can say that it’s a pure frame-up,” Denisov says.

In May 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Rudov was sentenced to three years probation for fraud and abuse of authority. According to Urusov’s other lawyer Inga Reitenbakh, “He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles from Alrosa for the purchase of an apartment in Mirny.” The investigators and Rudov himself categorically denied any connection between this case and the Urusov case. Nevertheless, the funds were allocated to Rudov shortly after Urusov’s arrest. According to Russian Reporter’s source, Rudov now works as a procurements specialist in the repair and construction office at the Mirny mining and processing plant.

“He shoots before he thinks”

Urusov was also unlucky in that he had set about creating a Sotsprof local in Udachny exactly when the union’s leadership had entered the complex process of building relations with the Kremlin.

“Beginning in 2007, people from the Russian Presidential Administration began to pressure us very actively,” says Sergei Khramov. “We were strongly recommended to name Sergei Vostretsov from the United Russia party as our new leader. I had good reason to believe that if we didn’t, we would simply be destroyed. And I figured, the heck with him, let Vostretsov be leader and do public relations, while I, as Sotsprof’s general labor inspector, will do the day-to-day work.”

The first outcome of this “castling” move was that the formerly oppositional Sotsprof supported Dmitry Medvedev in the 2008 presidential elections.

“And when they began pressuring Valentin, Vostretsov told me not to make any unnecessary noise, because he would fix everything anyway. I knew that the Vostretsov family-his younger brother was the youngest FSB colonel in the country-was very close to General Alexander Mikhailov, the then-director of the Federal Drug Control Service. I thought that Valentin’s case would be decided with a single phone call.”

For the sake of fairness, we should note that complicated events were underway at the Federal Drug Control Service at the time. Viktor Ivanov had replaced Viktor Cherkesov, who had famously publicized the existence of a war within the security services in an article entitled “We Can’t Let Warriors Turn into Traders”. In October, General Mikhailov left the FSKN as well. There was simply no one left to make that “single phone call.”

Subsequently, Vostretsov pushed Khramov out of Sotsprof altogether, and the organization became completely loyal to the Kremlin.

In December 2008, the Mirny District Court sentenced Valentin Urusov to six years in prison for drug possession. Vostretsov tried to fight it, but more from behind the scenes: he met with officials from the Yakutia administration and officials of the security services, and even, allegedly, raised the issue of Urusov with Medvedev. It was no use.

Khramov, in contrast, acted publicly. It was he who got the famous lawyer Chernousov to take the case. Chernousov convinced the Yakutia Supreme Court to overturn the verdict (on procedural grounds: the judge had not retired to chambers while considering a motion to dismiss), after which the case was retried.

“I had absolutely no illusions,” Valentin smiles. “After the Supreme Court decision, many people thought I would be exonerated.  I was certain of the opposite, that now I would be ‘shut down’ for sure. This was evident from the faces of those in the courtroom at the second trial. After the first hearing, I gathered my belongings, put on the track suit I’d been wearing while traveling between pre-trial detention facilities and prisons, and from then on I went to hearings in this outfit.”

In Udachny, there is a small newspaper with the humorous name of Gorodok [“The Burg”], edited by a local journalist named Alla Demidova. After Urusov was released, she published a short article. Immediately, the very same day, she got a call from Maxim Dobarkin, one of the police investigators who had participated in Urusov’s “arrest.”

“Dobarkin called me at home,” says Demidova. “Drunk. He told me how many bullets he would put in me, said that ‘he shoots before he thinks,’ that he knows where I live, and that he would ‘get’ me ‘whether in Udachny or in Sochi.’”

“What did you do?”

“I filed a complaint with the FSB.”

“Did they respond?”

“They responded by sending me a one-line answer: ‘There is no threat.’”

Dobarkin, however, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and together with Rudov took command of the Federal Drug Control Service’s interdistrict department in Mirny.

Another Yakutia journalist, Aitalina Nikiforova, was also threatened for covering Urusov’s case.

“I reported on every hearing during the trial from the courtroom. Rudov called me over during one of the hearings and said word for word, ‘Your oldest daughter is fifteen. It would be interesting to see how you’ll defend Urusov after some old drug dealers drug her up and pass her around.’ This definitely sounded like a threat. At the time I was working as editor-in-chief at the only independent newspaper in Mirny, Moya gazeta. The only printing plant in town refused to print us. Local Federal Drug Control Service agents began coming to my house, allegedly because of anonymous tips that I also used and dealt drugs. Some of the agents were insolent and rude; others were ashamed, because the last visits took place when I was six to seven months pregnant with my third child.”

After that Nikiforova decided it would be safer to leave her hometown and move to Yakutsk.

In June 2009, the Mirny District Court delivered a new verdict in the Urusov case that completely upheld the previous verdict, but in September the Yakutia Supreme Court lightened Urusov’s prison sentence by one year. The Sotsprof local in Udachny had been crushed. The second motor depot has been completely shut down. The company has had no more problems with the workforce in this town.

“Valentin, whom do you tend to blame for what happened to you?” I finally asked.

“Alrosa is a state-run company. It is owned by the government, by the state, so . . . you understand.”


“Our government is fascist,” Yurkov, the leader of the Russian Community of Yakutia, suddenly declares, and it sounds quite equivocal.

Sobol, the man who missed becoming head of the Neryungri District by a heartbeat, turns and stops smoking next to the window.

“We have to be precise with our terms: neither Nazi nor nationalist, but precisely fascist as it is understood in Mussolini’s theory of the corporate state, as Franco, Salazar and even Pinochet understood it. In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”

Translated by Sean Guillory and Chtodelat News. This piece was originally published by the Russian Reporter.

Lead Photo by Alexei Maishev for the Russian Reporter.

Hungry for Back Pay

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.”

Notes of an Uzbek Migrant Worker

Anyone interested in migrant labor and ethnic/race relations in Russia, should check out “Diary of an Uzbek Gastarbeiter” on Opendemocracy.net.  It’s a harrowing story of an Uzbek migrant named Shukhrat Berdyev, 48, experience as a migrant laborer in Russia over a ten year period.  Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Berdyev had a bright future ahead of him.  He had a stable family life and was a student at the Tashkent Pedagogical institute and Communist Party member. All that ended in 1991, and Berdyev, who first visited Russia in 1980 as a tourist, returned as a day laborer.  I’ll only reproduce a few entries here, but the whole thing is worth a read to get an understanding of what Russia’s gastarbeiters must go through to eek out a living.


25-26 August 1998

At midday the director of the market, an Uzbek, told me to come and see him. He’d noticed that I was a good carpenter, and made me an offer to go to the Leningrad Oblast to build a house with a team of three people. He had to help a friend. The job would pay well, he promised, and the working conditions would be decent. I agreed on the spot. Never again did I want to see that filthy, stinking market,where we were all treated like slaves. We were paid pennies, and we sweated blood from morning till night in unspeakably dirty conditions.

That night, I got on to a train with my fellow countrymen from Shakhrisabz, Safar and Khaklod. In the morning we were met in Petersburg by a guy called Oleg. He drove us to the oblast, to a village called Yesinos. They were building a large country house there, and they needed more labour. The owner, Viktor Petrovich, a cultured man with glasses and a beard, met us with a smile: he fed us, let us rest and found a place for us to live in the brick house where the other workers lived. Wherever he went, Petrovich was accompanied by well-built young men, silent and gloomy, who followed all his orders. The owner of the house was clearly someone.

He laid out the conditions straight away: we would work five days a week, with two days off, we would be fed at the company’s expense, be paid in dollars, and were categorically not allowed to leave the territory of the building site. We agreed happily, because after the market atTyoply Stan, Yesinos seemed like a sanatorium.

23 June 2002. Moscow Oblast.

Kazan Station. There’s half an hour left before the Moscow-Tashkent train leaves. My hands are still shaking, and my left eye is twitching. I realize that I was born again three days ago. If it hadn’t been for the old man from the house next door, we’d all have died. The entire brigade would have burned to death. How many times did I tell the guys not to talk to strangers, especially not drink alcohol with them? They didn’t listen and paid dearly for it.

But everything began so well! For the first two months we worked on the construction site of a residential building and we were paid on time. Ten days before leaving for Tashkent, I got a good order through a foreman I know. Each one of us could have earned $500 a week. We had to dig a kilometre-long trench for laying gas pipes in the Moscow Oblast. We worked like moles, from morning till late at night, to get the job done on time. The pipeline passed through the gardens of rich people’s houses.

There we were, progressing metre by metre, when this strange Russian guy with drinks and snacks began coming to the site. He introduced himself as a local resident and gave the workers beer. After a week, he’d gained our trust and knew everything about us, our names, where we were from, when we would finish the job etc. I didn’t notice what was going on, because during this time I was supervising work on a different site. And my fellow Uzbeks let their guard down, they started boasting and told this guy the most important thing – when and how much they would be paid for this job.

When I saw this Russian for the first time, I liked him too, at first. He was very open and friendly, and offered work. But then I started asking myself, why’s he coming here every day, giving the guys beer? I didn’t come up with an answer.

It all became clear the day before we left this village. We packed up our things in the barn where we lived and ate. At midnight this guy appeared on the threshold with a pistol in his hand. H epointed the gun at us and ordered us to give him all the money. We were all terrified, but nobody moved. Then he put the silencer on the pistol and started shooting at the lamps, screaming: “I’ll shoot the lot of you!” It got dark.  We realized that he would kill us, and no one around would hear the shots or our cries. Our house was on the outskirts of the village, right by the forest. We silently laid out the money, and he took several thousand dollars, closed the door from the outside and blocked it with a spade. We thought that he had gone away, but we smelt petrol and heard him running around the barn with a petrol can. Then everything burst into flames, and we realized that the barn was on fire. The guys screamed and kicked at the door, but it didn’t budge. The window in the barn was very small, and no one could crawl out through it.

We thought it was all over for us. That we were goingto be burned up like matches. But unexpectedly, we were lucky. An old man from a distant house happened to notice the fire. He ran to help us and opened the door. We rushed out and a minute later the barn was burning like a torch. The fire brigade, the police and the ambulance appeared, two of the guys were taken to hospital as they’d almost suffocated from the smoke, and the rest of us were taken away for questioning. In the morning the police let us go, promising that they would find this criminal. None of us believed them. We gathered together our last money and bought a ticket for the Moscow-Tashkent train. I swore I’d never go to Russia again.

2 August 2006. Moscow. Northern district. “Aeroport”region.

Today we finished work early.  By midday all the caretakers had shut themselves in their hostel. On “Paratroopers’ Day” none of us go outside in the afternoon. It’s a dangerous day, and not just for “Asians” and “Caucasians”, but even for Russians. A drunken paratrooper is more terrifying than a skinhead.He’s got more energy, less brains and no fear of the police. Something always happens.Some of our fellow countrymen will be unlucky today – they’ll get their eye poked out or be whacked in the head. We don’t go outside on 21 April, Hitler’s birthday, either.

There are hardly any skinheads around Aeroport, but although Misha, the head of the caretakers, hates us Uzbeks, he advised us not to leave the dormitory. On days like these we sit in front of the TV and see who’s been attacked by skinheads.

I live in a small room with five other people, with three bunk beds, a wash basin and a table. In the corridor there’s a shower, kitchen and toilet. We’ve even got hot water. The Uzbeks who work on construction sites and live in wagons envy us. “It’s a real hotel you’ve got here,” they joke when they come to visit.

Our work isn’t difficult either. We get up at 5 a.m., clean the pavements and yards and trim the trees. The women clean the doorways and windows. The shift ends at lunchtime. At 2 p.m. we go to roll-call at the municipal services office and do odd jobs around the territory.

Enterprising people get other work on the side. They take away rubbish, get rid of building materials when places are being done up, or go and dig gardens at dachas on the weekends. We earn about $400-500 a month. No one carries large amounts of money, as the cops may take it away from you. We sometimes give something to the drunken students from the automobile technical college next door so they’ll leave us alone.

The Poverty of Russia’s Protests

Image Source: BBC

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.

Scroll to top