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.