The Economist published a story last week illustrating an important fact about today’s Russian society. As a joke, a restaurant called themselves the Anti-Soviet because of its location opposite a hotel called the Soviet. Local authorities ordered the restaurant change its name. Spreading anti-Soviet feelings, the restaurant was told by the local state, is not acceptable in Russia.
This is only one example of such state intervention. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB member, has repeatedly engaged in acts that embrace the old Soviet Union ideology. He has called the USSR’s fall “the greatest geo-political catastrophe,” has re-entered pro Stalin teachings into school curricula, and has created a statue in honour of the cruel dictator in a Moscow Metro station.
Putin and his administration increasingly use methods associated with the Communist Party of Soviet Union and the Soviet regime. They have rigged elections, and have arrested and harassed lawyers, journalists, activists, trade unionists, and anybody who is in opposition to those currently in power. They’ve appointed hand puppet President Dmitry Medvedev, who everybody knows carries no real weight without Putin’s approval.
The traditions of the CPSU are not carried by its legal successor, the Communist Party of Russian Federation, but by Putin’s party, United Russia. The genealogy of United Russia goes right back to the same CPSU and the Soviet elite. They had enjoyed their privileges for years, while letting the Soviet economy sink in its inability to compete on a world scale. But they weren’t content with that; they wanted to plunder the assets of the Russian people. That is to say, they wanted capitalism.
These poster boys only wanted western-style democracy when it was accompanied by capitalism because it would let them sell national property, knock-down prices, and become rich overnight. They didn’t really want democracy at all.
It is natural that Putin stands for a lot of what Soviet bureaucracy stood for, while at the same protecting the private economy and never talking about going back to the nationalized economy of the USSR. After all, what would be better than a capitalist regime where bureaucrats can make themselves wealthy by selling national assets, accompanied by all the repressive measures needed to silence the society? Market without democracy—that is what they stand for.
It is true that Putin is popular among the people. Tired of the miserable life they had to live, especially in the first years after the fall, people turned to a strongman who wouldn’t talk about boring politics and would single-handedly rule the country. A man of common sense, who is “one of them.” Putin has been very successful in promoting this picture of himself.
But who are the real opponents of these authoritarian measures? Who has fought against them, and who can actually put them to an end?
The right, the liberal critics, and the champions of western liberals have no base in Russian society. Their two per cent of the vote in the last election might be lower than what it actually was (due to rigging by the government), but the real result couldn’t have been much better. They have failed to win any support in Russia, which is why they’re easily repressed.
It’s an historical irony, then, that the only real opposition to the Putin regime comes from the Communist Party of Russian Federation. Workers, trade unionists, youths and left radicals are coming to the ranks of the CPRF in recent years, and it has managed to be by far the second biggest party in country.
Russia’s political development is still far from a finished process. The people who are tired of Putin’s rule remain apathetic and avoid politics, or focus on NGO-style operations and human rights activism, which doesn’t extend into the realm of political power. But the CPRF has shown that it can attract protest movements, and maybe under better leadership, be a voice of opposition.
The subsequent history of Russia will depend on the degree to which the CPRF, or any other party, could lead a mass opposition to the country’s elite authoritarian rule, and demand the political power.