It seems that many of Russia’s opposition parties can now breath a sigh of relief. Today, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the Moscow Regional Court’s banning of the National Bolshevik Party. If you remember, the Natsbols were outlawed in June for violating Russia’s political party law. The Natsbols originally filed as a political party, but was ruled to be a social organization. They offered to drop “Party” from their name to no avail. The overturning of the ban is already being hailed as some sort of victory for Russian democracy. As a editorial on Gazeta.ru stated, “By reversing the ruling of a lower court to ban the National Bolshevik Party, the Supreme Court restored the rights not only of Eduard Limonov’s supporters, but of contemporary Russian politics as a whole.”
While I support the overturning of the ban, I am continually fascinated by all the attention the Natsbols get in the Russian media and how, it seems, Russian democracy is connected to their fate. They are a small, albeit radical group whose tactics have garnered a lot of attention. But it could be easy to simply write them off as a insignificant group of disaffected youths who’ve found meaning in Edward Limonov’s cult celebrity. But things don’t work that way here and the Russian government has a tendency to undermine itself. The ban is just one example. The show trial of the 39 Natsbol “Decembristy” is another. The trial has gotten a lot of sympathy from otherwise apathetic Russians. The State’s heavy hand has not played well with the public, many of who see the Natsbols as symbolizing the frustration of many youths. It’s the frustration that many see as the problem, not the youths themselves. Putin Administration’s persistence against these kids has in many ways created the Natsbols as much as Limonov did. Putin has played right into Limonov’s hands.
The Natsbols, however, do represent a brewing battle for Russia’s youth. As I’ve written in other reports, there is an effort by pro-government groups like Nashi to assert themselves as the representatives of youths. If Nashi is one option for political youth, the Natsbols represent another. Yet, the scope of the Natsbol’s influence is difficult to measure. Some say there are only a few thousand members; the Natsbols themselves claim that they have up to 17,500 activists with the average age of 20. The real numbers are probably closer to a few thousand, maybe even hundreds. Despite the low or high membership numbers, the Natsbols as a political aesthetic goes beyond organization. In many ways, their radicalism and tactics makes them the most attractive group to disaffected youths. They have reached the zenith of cool.
The Natsbols also represents more. According to the editorial from Gazeta.ru, their presence in a country that has a history of political radicalism is a further sign of the weakness of Russian democracy:
“The NBP work for themselves, and for everyone else. Had there been a real opposition party in Russia that represented the opinion of those that don’t agree with the current regime, the NBP could have remained a small radical sect, as it was at the end of the 1990’s. But as it is, anti-Putin groups can consider themselves to be anything they want “parties, movements, interest clubs” but not real political forces. The popularity of the NBP and the sympathy it has from those people who would otherwise find the words “National Bolshevik” disgusting proves that there is something obviously unhealthy about the current state of Russian politics.
Once again the National Bolshevik Party is catapulted to heights that even itself doesn’t profess, but I’m sure, would not refuse. The editorial continues, the party in power, United Russia, is a “bureaucratic” party which is bent maintaining the status-quo. Further, since Russia’s democratic institutions are merely “plaster casts,” that is they merely fake real ones, the Natsbols’ mocking of power and politics fits well in a system that already parodies itself. In a way, the Natsbols have become the real opposition because the “fake” one is not only without ideology, it is without will. And this difference of will, according to this editorial, is what gives the Natsbols real political meaning: “And that’s because the NBP is the only party that not only talks, but does something too. As best as it can, of course. “
That “best it can” has been more than many “real” (or is it “fake”?) Russian politicians have done to become an effective opposition. The Natsbols radical profile and antics have filled a vacuum of sorts by doing what Limonov created them for: to scream a big fuck you to power.
It seems that the battle for the streets slated for the 2008 Russian Presidential elections is gearing up. According to Ekho Moskvy, as reported by Mosnews.com, Alexander Averin, a National Bolshevik spokesman, claims that six of its members were beaten by 30 members of Nashi with baseball bats and empty beer bottles. How does Averin know that they were Nashi? They were “trendily dressed young men.” Averin believes that the attack was associated with the overturning of the ban on Natsbols.
Perhaps there is something to Boris Kargalitsky’s recent opinion on how the political activities of Russia’s youths are attracting more attention. And this attention has everything to do with the upcoming elections:
“Politicians’ recent interest in Russia’s youth is inversely related to their interest in elections. The opposition has split into two groups: those who are willing to go to the polls and have already made their peace with defeat, and those who are ready to take to the streets and address disputed issues there. But the liberal elite that is fed up with President Vladimir Putin is not about to go and take a blow from a police truncheon themselves. Only the radical youth — whether they are on the far left or right is unimportant — will be hitting the streets in protest. No matter who wins the battle for political power in Russia, they will not be sharing it with these young people anyway.
Those in the Kremlin understand this all perfectly well, and they formed Nashi according to this very principle. When a bunch of policemen beat up some kid protesting on the street, the regime has done something wrong. But when two gangs of young radicals brawl in the street, it’s a minor riot. The authorities have no choice but to step in and reestablish order.”
Pieces on the chessboard of Russian politics. Kargalitsky is right when he says that it is unlikely that in exchange for their defense of the “nation”, Nashi will be given the country. He concludes, “The grown-ups who run the country have no intention of giving anything to anyone. They have kids of their own, after all, who would never stoop to fighting in the street.”
Despite decades of class consciousness being shoved down the throat of Russia’s population, real class consciousness only embodies the minds of the ruling class. The millions that live to scrape by are once again abiding by the historical fact that nationalism always trumps class interest. Or one should more accurately state, for the ruling classes nationalism and class interest reinforce each other without contradiction. For everyone else, nationalism contradicts class interest. The blade of the former smites the latter.
One only needs to do a class analysis of Nashi and the Natsbols to see polarization in process. There is no doubt that Nashi’s ranks are filled with middle class youths who aspire to play a role in Russia’s bourgeois future. The Natsbols, on the other hand, appeal to the “disaffected youth” a code word for Russia’s new working class–little education, no prospects, and therefore no future. Time will tell if this symbolic battle between youths will become a real one. It looks like Nashi has their bats and bottles ready. Do the Natsbols? Will they soon trade in their eggs and mayonnaise for the weapons of their enemies?