Russia: Waiting for the Wheel of History to Turn
Every section in this article will begin with “Those who in deed, not in word,” because we live in a country of total lies, much like the world described by Orwell in his novel 1984, in which truth is a lie and peace is war. Because “our” president, in his own words, had no intention of raising the retirement age, but in fact he just did. Because with his words, he claims that he pays “COVID-19” money to medical workers, but in practice, they have to wring the money out of their bosses. Because in his words, he claims that he promised to solve the problem of money not being paid to the workers who were building the Vostochny space launch site, but in reality, on the new Hotline TV program (where Putin speaks for hours answering pre-made questions from a loyal “audience”), police detained the worker who had raised this question and put him in a temporary detention center for few days so that he would not say anything. Because in his words, Putin is fighting for peace, but in practice, he has started a war, which he forbids us to call a war.
The author of this text has devoted years to fighting for the interests of the workers and against fascism—in fact, not in words only—and therefore, unlike Putin, he can be trusted.
Who Is the Junta Here?
Those who in deed, and not just in words, are trying to defend the rights and interests of working people know very well that under Putin’s authoritarian regime this is nearly impossible. Why is that? Because any endeavor on the part of society, in this case wage workers, is immediately subject to repression. The state is criminally persecuting the most active elements in our society, and thus preventing us from ever becoming a force that could have an impact on the situation in the country. The state acts from two directions: on the one hand, it is engaged in outrageous persecution of labor activists, while on the other hand, it shapes the laws to fit this outrage.
How does it work? Here is an example. Back in 2008, Valentin Urusov, a worker at the diamond mine in the Yakut town of Udachny, decided to organize a trade union and fight for his rights together with other workers. But just like in the old fairy tale, the local narcotics police chief and his detectives took him out into the woods, shot a firearm right over his head, and planted drugs on him. In the end, Valentin went to prison for four years (he received a six-year sentence, but was released on parole after four years), and the union was never organized.
If we move from the lawlessness of cops to their legislation, it is worth noting one depressing thing: with the adoption of the new Labor Code, it became impossible to hold a strike in Russia legally. That is why strikes disappeared from the official statistics after the adoption of this code. This does not mean that they have disappeared, but that they have become “illegal” from the point of view of the Putin government. By the way, when Hubert, president of the German trade union IG Metall [Industrial Union of Metalworkers], asked Putin about attempts on the lives and health of MPRA activists [MPRA, the Interregional Trade Union, is one of the boldest remaining labor unions in Russia], he told Hubert that the MPRA is “not a trade union, but an extremist organization.” That probably sums up the Russian president’s attitude to the labor movement. Although I suppose that over time, in his mind, extremists turn into terrorists.
So—we can’t legally hold rallies and strikes, because all this requires permission from officials. If people don’t have the ability to collectively defend their rights and interests, they won’t learn how to do it, and if they don’t learn how to do it, then a labor movement is out of the question. In the damned and cursed West, workers will seize factories, fight with the police, and stop neoliberal reforms, but here they will keep their mouths shut. The Ukrainian government, just like the Russian one, serves the interests of the rich, but it has one very important distinction—it does not have the means to suppress civil society that the Russian government has. There, various oligarchic groups replace one another and thus are deprived of the opportunity to establish themselves permanently and crush anything that gets in their way. And more importantly, if any of these groups burrows in and is unwilling to listen to the people, the Ukrainians tear it down, as they did in the Maidan. Unfortunately, this does not mean that society takes power into its own hands, but it does mean that it retains for itself the ability to resist.
In the end, we come to the question posed in the title of this section. Who, in fact, is the evil “junta” that does not allow ordinary people to make a move? The answer to this question is obvious to every sane person. The Ukrainian government is now handing out weapons to anyone who wants to fight the invaders. If it is a “junta” that offers only the bayonets of the nationalists and terror against its own people, why is it not afraid that the people will go over to the side of the enemy and overthrow it? Because the real junta is not to be found in Ukraine. Can you imagine Putin starting to hand out weapons to the people? He’s afraid even of a plastic cup [a reference to Putin’s infamous germaphobia]. It is in Russia that the security services have unlimited power and use it to enrich themselves and suppress dissidents. An armed people is the worst nightmare of Putin and his generals and oligarchs. The distribution of arms to the people in Ukraine has caused tremendous dismay among Russian officials and the media.
Those who fight against fascism in deed, not in words, know very well that anti-fascists are imprisoned in Russia, and that “our” government uses the ultra-right to suppress social protests. The story of the Khimki Forest is the most vivid illustration of this situation, when the authorities hired fascists from the Moscow hooligan group Gladiators to break up the camp of the Khimki Forest defenders. Anti-fascists responded by smashing up the Khimki municipal building. In response, without long deliberation, the authorities launched a manhunt for anti-fascists, and jailed two of them—Alexei Gaskarov and Makim Solopov—for three months. But this is still a mild crackdown. Anti-fascist Alexey Sutuga had to serve three years for a fight with the ultra-right in the Moscow café “Sbarro.”
Another good example. There was a time when the “Sorok Sorokov” movement was famous for attacking activists who opposed the building of [Russian] Orthodox temples in city parks. What consequences did they face for this? None. Russian authorities like the terror in the name of the glory of God. And here we come to another significant point. Like the fascists of the past, the Russian authorities are forcing traditionalism and paleo-conservatism on society. Orthodox culture lessons in schools. A ban on sex education. The withdrawal of “beatings” from the criminal code, the article under which domestic abusers were most often prosecuted. This is just a small part of what this government has done. In fact, through schools, television, and every other channel available to them, the government is instilling a religious and anti-scientific way of thinking. And then they are surprised when people do not want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. You can just dive into an ice-hole and cross yourself. “We are Russians—God is with us.” And this God knows the postmodern ways—because he does not notice the stripper pole in Putin’s Gelendzhik palace. But who knows—maybe there were poles in huts in Medieval Russia too? God only knows.
But all cultural specifics aside. In short, the government in Russia professes an ideology of imperial nationalism. The central point of this ideology is that everything should be decided in the center, not locally. In the saying “Moscow is not Russia,” it is very hard to see what is a joke about it. But I would estimate that the slogan “Gazprom is Russia’s wealth” is 100% joke. In the language of this utterly deceitful regime’s PR efforts, all of “Siberia’s Power” is going overseas. Siberia is left with deforested lands, smog-black skies, cancer, and ruined nature. “Russia’s Wealth” couldn’t even bring gas to the Krasnoyarsk region. All gas pipelines go in different directions away from Krasnoyarsk, mostly to the west and a little to the east. And the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant, because of which the “black sky” regime was declared there, is the fault of the “damned Americans.”
The government in Russia bans the Indigenous organizations of the peoples who populate it. Putin’s regime declared extremist the Bashkir organization “Bashkort,” which protected the Kushtau Shihan, a natural monument, from industrial development. But an even more egregious example can be cited. For example, after the Ingush protested against the change in the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya, several members of the Council of Teips of the Ingush People were imprisoned, and the organization itself was shut down. Instead of snapping at his Chechen protégé, Putin gave in to his desires. How that might turn out in the Caucasus in the future is not hard to guess. But who cares? After us, the deluge.
Thanks to all this, even the worst Ukrainian nationalists can say with a clear conscience: “And these people forbid us to pick our nose!”
Colonizers of the 21st Century—Fuck You!
Anyone who is trying to make life in his country better, not in words but in deeds, knows that this cannot be done by means of a war with the neighbors. But “our” former “communists,” Chekists, thugs, and their children have become 21st-century colonizers. They can’t get enough of their territories to harass and experiment on the people who inhabit them. They want new territories. First, they snatched away Crimea and created fake republics in eastern Ukraine, where those who do not agree with the will of the Kremlin and its appointees or just get caught in the heat of the moment will be held as a prisoner in the basement at best. But even this was not enough for them. They wanted all of Ukraine. And as a result, “Russian warship, fuck you” became the international slogan.
It pains me to write this—because I know that in our tradition there is not only oppression of other peoples and licking of the master’s boot, but also resistance. From the Novgorod Veche [an early model for assembly-based decision-making] through Stepan Razin to the Narodniks there derives a popular tradition of struggle against authoritarianism, which could be also described as anti-state patriotism. Thousands of heroes laid down their heads so that you and I would not remain in history as the “Gendarmes of Europe” [a longstanding expression describing Russia as a repressive force in Europe, once associated with Tsar Nicholas I] but could become an example for others.
So why do we once again choose this master’s boot and the service of psychopaths on the throne? If we want to be proud of the really good things in our history, how do we still choose to live under the oprichnina [the mass repression and execution of the boyars] of Ivan the Terrible, under Nikolai Palkin, or under Stalin? The Russian government helped dictator Lukashenko crush the resistance of the Belarusian people and keep him on the throne, and now it wants to bring our brothers and sisters in Ukraine to their knees. Do we want the people living side by side with us to perceive us as occupiers, do we want to be hated and despised?
I don’t, and that’s why I’m proud—not of Putin—but of the fact that even this international slogan “Russian warship, go fuck yourself” was uttered in Russian, which, for the record, is supposedly banned in Ukraine. So all is not yet lost for us.
How Do We Recover Our Lost Society?
Those who care about their people—in deeds, not in words—do not want them to perish in senseless wars. But the Putin regime has made sure that the only social lifeline for ordinary guys in Russia is service in the army and other law enforcement agencies. The story of one of the Russian military prisoners shows very well how these guys end up in Putin’s Wehrmacht. Nationalists brace yourselves—because the story is very international, but to nationalists’ delight, very much in the spirit of “skrepy.” [“Skrepy” is a word from one of Vladimir Putin’s speeches about the “uniqueness” of the Russian nation; the literal meaning is something like “big paper clips”—something that connects, that binds people together.]
On February 24, Rafiq Rakhmankulov, a Russian soldier, was captured by the Ukrainian military. His mother is Natalia Deineka, a resident of Saratov Oblast. He is her middle son. Besides him, she has five more children, i.e., six in total. Three of hers and three of her husband’s. Her husband works as a construction worker, he builds bridges and works on a rotational schedule. She goes with him on the rotation, but she works elsewhere—in a warehouse at a sports store. This is a complicated proletarian family that does not fit into the worldview of either the right-wing or the left-wing. Rafiq has a partner, Liliya, and in order to provide for his future family, he switched to contract military service after he was drafted and served his one year in the army. He was interested in the pay in the army and the possibility of getting a place to live. Apparently, he did not want to rotate on shifts and pay the mortgage for 20-30 years, but the alternative was selling his soul to the devil… I mean, to Putin. That’s actually the whole story.
I have no desire to justify such Rafiqs, and of course, in order to learn that “you don’t pry into other people’s monasteries” [a Russian saying about not imposing your own way of doing things on others], these guys need a good beating, but I understand that there are many such Rafiqs, Ivanovs, and other guys in Russia, and something must be done about it. Putin doesn’t care about their lives—he needs the Ivans and Rafiqs to serve him faithfully and bravely lay down their lives in his military adventures, or to employ batons to beat other Ivans and Rafiqs who are a little luckier and have realized that this is no way to live.
And this is really no way to live. The only decently paid job should not be in the law enforcement agencies. You cannot allow people to have their own homes only as debt bondage to bankers for 20-30 years. Is it worth it for Rafiq to rot in the fields of Ukraine? Is it worth it for Lilia to create a family with a man who, for the sake of his own happiness, is willing to trample on the happiness of others? Rafik and Lilia are closer to me than Putin, Medvedev, Grefs, Rotenbergs, Timchenks, Prigozhins [the names of well-known Russian oligarchs], and other powerful Russians of all nationalities, so I wish Sashko and Tonya from Ukraine [these are common Ukrainian names, standing in as metonyms for ordinary Ukrainians as a whole] victory in the hope that together with Rafiq and Lilia, that is, with the Russian working class, we will finally start fighting not against imaginary Ukrainian Banderites (i.e., followers of Stepan Bandera, Nazi collaborator and Ukrainian national hero), but against those who have turned us into their slaves. Otherwise, no “communism” or “anti-fascism” will help us.
PS—By the way, Sashko and Tonya will also, when Russia gives up, start fighting the Akhmetovs, Kolomoiskys, Poroshenkos, and the like [the names of Ukrainian oligarchs]. We can only help them if we deal with our own. In the meantime, they can teach us a thing or two, not us them.