Chris Miller is an Assistant Professor of international history in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He’s the author of The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR. His new book is Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia published by the University of North Carolina Press.
Listen to my interview with Chris Miller on Perestroika and the Chinese Model.
The Flying Lizards, “Money,” 1979.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
I thought Mark Ames said something quite interesting today. He concluded his addition to the Medvedfest, “Dmitry Medvedev & The Banker’s Murder” with,
If this sordid story reveals anything, it’s that the only way to grasp the current power-transfer is through Russian eyes. Trying to understand Medvedev and his significance through the liberal/Stalinist prism explains nothing; Dmitry Medvedev is neither liberal nor neo-Stalinist, but rather, Russian, the sort of Russian who was groomed in the chaotic and savage transition from perestroika through Putin’s stabilization.
I think Ames’ emphatic statement that “Dmitry Medvedev is neither liberal nor neo-Stalinist” but rather, a “Russian, the sort of Russian who was groomed in the chaotic and savage transition from perestroika through Putin’s stabilization” deserves some thought.
Russia is not a “this” or “that.” It’s never been the first, and the second, the venerable “neo-Stalin,” is just analytically lazy. First, this Russia is capitalist (albeit, protectionist.). Second, Russia has a history. We know many of you are suffering from “Cold War syndrome” and long for a more manageable (or is it imaginable?) enemy than the “Islamists.” But get over it.
What and who is this princely traumatized, “morally complex” Russian “groomed in the chaotic and savage” times of the smuta of the late 1980s and 1990s? That’s a great question worth pondering.
For some reason I thought of Nicholas I. Not that I think Putin is some neo-Niki. It’s more that Russia imperial past (a past that spans 1200 years) is often left out of the “What is Russia?” grab bag. Also, for some reason I think he and Putin possibly share a lot of qualities.
So I grabbed W. Bruce Lincoln’s Nicholas I: Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russians off my bookshelf to give him a revisit. I found Lincoln’s opening paragraph something to think about in regard to Ames’ words.
Perhaps no ruler left more of an impression upon nineteenth-century Russia than did the Emperor Nicholas I, for the origins of nearly every major change or event during the last century of Romanov rule can be traced to his reign. Certainly was an imposing figure. Many Russians admired, even venerated him; others saw him as the personification of oppression. But none who lived during his thirty-year reign cold remain indifferent to the force of his personality and the system which he developed.
He continues on second page,
Nicholas’s reign was a good time for many Russians, and some looked back upon it with a sense of longing even nostalgia. It was, after all, the last time in Imperial Russia’s history when things were certain and predictable. Russia stood at the pinnacle of her power during those years, and Russian society was plagued by few of the self-doubts that would begin to tear the old order apart in the half century after Nicholas’s death. As the Baroness Fredericks, who had lived at Nicholas’s Court as a child, wrote in the 1880s, when looking back upon his reign after some three decades of social turmoil . . . “during the lifetime of Nikolai Pavlovich, Russia had a great and noble stature . . .[and] he heaped still greater glory upon her. Everyone and everything bowed down before him and before Russia!”
Lincoln’s book should prove to be an interesting read as Russia shuts down for the holidays.Post Views: 755
By Sean — 10 years ago
As American automakers prepare to lobby the US government for their share of the $700 billion rescue corporate redistribution fund, GM, who is heading the effort, opened a new $300 million factory in Russia “to compensate for slumping sales in western Europe and North America.” Carl-Peter Forster, the head of GM in Europe, predicts that the plant, which will employ 981 people, may increase to 1,700 next year. Such predictions come as autoworkers in the US wonder what will happen to their jobs and pensions if America’s Big Three aren’t deemed to big to save. Once again the transfer of labor from one country to another should be a reminder of the real face of globalization: to drive down wages and increase corporate profits.
Russia looks to be a perfect place. It has a skilled labor force and a weak union movement. It is not only that, in the words of Forster and that “Russia emerged [as a market] long ago.” It is also that international capital can get away with things that it can’t as easily in the United States and Western Europe, i.e. violently attack and threaten union and other social activists activists. I wonder is this is what Medvedev had in mind when he ordered police to be ready to quell any signs of social unrest connected with the economic crisis.
Well the use of violence is exactly what happened to Alexei Etmanov, the chair of the union at the Ford-Vsevolozhsk plant on 8 November. According to Chto delat,
[Etmanov] parked his car in a lot and headed for his house. On Heroes Street three men jumped in his path and without uttering a word attacked Alexei. They were armed with knuckledusters.
During the tussle, Alexei managed to pull a stun gun from his pocket and get off a shot. The cloak-and-dagger types beat a hot retreat.
The next day his deputy Vladimir Lesik got a phone call warning that the attack wouldn’t be the last. The assailants kept their word. Etmanov was attacked again by an unknown man wielding a metal pipe on 13 November. Etmanov escape again by firing rubber bullets at the assailant.
This of course is neither the first or the last attack on Russian union activists. As Chto delat reminds us,
Over the past two years such attacks have happened more than once: labor activists have been savagely beaten in Kaliningrad, Togliatti, and Taganrog. Each time the targets were union activists who challenged the complete sway of their employers and thus all employers who recognize no one’s rights other than their own sovereign right to dictate the work conditions and the lives of “their” workers.
Each time the reprisals followed a heightening of conflict at the respective factories. Despite the fact that police investigators have still not managed to solve any of these crimes, there can hardly be any doubt as to the names of the people who really commissioned them since it is much too obvious whose interests were threatened.
The recent attacks on Etmanov have been followed by several other attacks on Russian social activists. On 13 November, Sergei Fedotov, the leader of Deceived Land Shareholders, was attacked in the village of Mikhalevo. Two young men beat Fedotov with baseball bats as he exited his car. That same day, Mikhail Beketov, a editor-in-chief for Khimkinskaya pravda was beaten half to death. Beketov has been an outspoken opponent of efforts to prevent the clearing of the Khimki Forest. Finally, since three is the magic number, French sociologist and activist Carine Clement was assaulted in Moscow after she participated in a round table discussion at Bilingua Club. According to her, two men ran up to her and stabbed her with a syringe containing an unknown substance. This was the third attack on Clement this month. She was beaten and mugged two weeks ago near her Moscow home. The second occurred on 12 November when she was verbally assaulted and spat upon by an unknown assailant. Clement is the director of the Institute of Collective Action in Moscow which fights for housing and labor rights.
Is this part of a growing trend? Merely the sign of the times?
Recently, criminal attacks against the leaders of trade union and social movements have clearly increased. Among the latest such incidents, we should note the attacks against Carine Clément, a member of the working group and a leader of the Union of Coordinating Councils; Alexei Etmanov, leader of the labor union at Ford-Vsevolozhsk; Mikhail Beketov, leader of the movement to defend the Khimki Forest; and Sergei Fedotov, leader of the deceived land shareholders of the Moscow Region. In addition, a great many activists fighting the infill construction that is happening in all our cities have been attacked. There have been murders, in particular, of antifascist activists.
This is not a random phenomenon, but a clear trend: active citizens who try to restore justice and defend their legal rights are more and more often subjected to brute force. With no other arguments at its disposal, the opposite resorts to criminal methods. While it is clear that in each situation it is a different group of people who commissions these crimes, the overall tendency demonstrates that excellent conditions for the further escalation of this brutal method of “social dialogue” have been created in Russia today. These conditions include lawlessness, the lack of criminal liability for violations of the law by state officials or members of the ruling elite, universal corruption, and the hypercentralization of authority in the absence of any form of control from below. Many cases of “political” attacks on activists have still not been investigated, and the guilty parties not be found, which gives the assailants a sense of impunity and thus provokes further crimes.
We say, Enough!
We demand a maximally thorough and swift investigation of all assaults against all social activists, the transfer of these cases into a separate category, and the creation of a special investigative group within the Ministry of the Interior. We also demand that the public be kept informed about the course of these investigations.
We demand that the assailants be punished according to law whatever high-ranking patrons might support them.
We declare that we will not be intimidated by the method of violence and terror. We will continue our struggle for the social rights of our country’s citizens.
We appeal to the state authorities, who position themselves as the guarantee of “public order,” to make sure that “public order” is not violated by government officials. As it is, all we observe now is the arrests of old women and young activists at various assemblies, demonstrations or strikes, while we hear very little about arrests of corrupt state officials or unscrupulous employers. Down with this politics of double standards!
We declare that, given the situation, we consider it our right to use methods of self-defense and that we will use all possible means to assist and protect our comrades.Post Views: 1,021
By Sean — 10 years ago
Russian unemployment is growing fast, especially in Moscow. Mikhail Nagaitsev, the chairman of the Moscow Federation of Labor Unions, reported on Ekho Moskvy that during the holiday period the number of people registering for unemployment doubled. Now there are about 290,000 unemployed in Moscow compared to 56,500 a year ago. Some statisticians are saying that unemployment is perhaps higher that the official 6.6 percent. According to a survey conduced by FOM, only one percent of Russians register as unemployed when the lose their job making the overall figure probably closer to 7.5 percent. If correct, that would put the number of unemployed in Russia at 6 million out of 76 million people of working age. Experts believe that social unrest tends to occur when unemployed surpasses the 10 percent mark. With officials admitting that joblessness in Russia might increase by 2.1 to 2.2 million people in 2009, that 10 percent mark is inching closer and closer. Couple this with another FOM survey which finds that every fifth Russian not only expects an increase in labor strikes, but are also willing to participate in them and the situation is looking more ominous.
Unemployed, disgruntled Russians might not need to worry too much longer. Walmart has made some serious steps for entering the Russian market. It’s cheap goods, enormous stores, and abundant service jobs will certain ally the frustrations of any downtrodden public. But as anyone from small town America knows that box store on the hill is a temple of false gods. Walmart is cancer to small businesses, acid to the idyllic downtown Main Street, and a snake oil cure for disparity. Walmart may have branded itself as that blue vested, smiley faced cornucopia of consumerism, but its real face is a low wage and viciously anti-union substitute for the loss of well paid jobs. I urge Russians to beware.
But Walmart’s penetration into the Russian sales and labor market is still a while off. In the meantime something is needed to get a grip on any future public disorder. Perhaps this is why a few Duma members have gotten together and proposed a new law titled “On the participation of citizens in the defense of social order.” Bad economic times tend to mean not only an increased possibility of social protest, but also a guaranteed rise in street crime. Like their Soviet predecessors, the militias will mostly concentrate their energies on preventing everyday, low level criminal activity. They will certainly have their hands full. In the last year, Russia has seen an 10-15 percent increase in street crime. This includes 1.7 million acts of minor hooliganism, 2 million incidences of public drinking, and about 4 million detentions for public drunkenness.
The lawmakers hope to stem the tide of these growing instances of public disorder by adding to the already existing 214,000 militiamen among the 363,000 law enforcement personnel. The law gives citizens three ways to help maintain social order. A person can assist or collaborate with police organs. He could also suggest proposals to the police on issues of maintaining social order. Or interested citizens could form their own “independent groups in their place of residence” which will give them the right to use physical force and armed defense if necessary. There’s just one problem: Where is the money going to come from?
Perhaps an even more important concern is how these militias will ultimately be used. As Valerii Vorchchev, a member of the expert council on the Commission of Human Rights of the Russian Federation, told Kommersant, the economic crisis raises the possibility that these militias with be used “together with OMON to disperse protests just like as in Soviet times when they along with the police cut the pants and heads of stilyagi.” The only thing is that in times of economic unrest, those good militiamen might not be all that eager to help the cops bust up a mob of justifiably angry citizens. Especially when their ranks will most likely consist of bowling ball shaped babas more concerned with repelling local teenage punks whose real crime is luring their granddaughters to evenings of hard drink and quick sex.Post Views: 1,314