1991, Leningrad. The private office of the deputy mayor of the city. A reporter for the city's television channel interviews a young official from Anatoly Sobchak's team. In the frame — a man with a childish face in a white shirt. Behind him, you can see window blinds, a television, a table lamp, a telephone, open folders with papers. A typical Soviet office environment. But something does not add up. From behind the scenes, the voice of the journalist says that yesterday, he could still see a bust of Lenin in this office, but today it had disappeared somewhere. What had happened?
Big business, it seems, is that segment of the Russian elite which has lost most of all in the last year. Russian oligarchs have transformed from yesterday’s welcome guests in London, Monaco or Nice into personae non-grata. Their accounts are emptying, the list of Forbes billionaires is shrinking, and maintaining their usual standard of living is no longer sustainable. However, the ‘revolt of the oligarchs’ expected by many did not happen. We will try to understand how realistic such expectations were, why big business remains an organic part of the Russian political regime without requesting democratisation, and what has changed in its position within the system over the last year.
We live in historic times. Historians have long noted that in some periods time seems to thicken, and social contradictions which had previously unfolded gradually are now aggravated and can no longer find room for further coexistence. Current leaders might assure the masses that they are in control of the situation, but if the system goes haywire, this very attempt at mistimed control only worsens the conditions. Gigantic underlying processes are grinding at the superstructural mechanisms, and rulers do not realise the moment that in the long run will make them ex-rulers.
"September" met with mathematician and Russian left-wing politician Mikhail Lobanov to discuss his foreign agent status and his dismissal from the university. We also discussed the potential approaches to anti-war political organizing in Russia and beyond, and learned about Mikhail's plans for the "long-term political mission trip" he embarked on a month ago.
Quite a lot of Russians, including President Vladimir Putin, even though outspoken opponents of the ideas of socialism, nevertheless regard the collapse of the Soviet Union as a personal tragedy. For them, it represented national humiliation for Russia and a chain of major territorial losses. They see in the Soviet project a kind of continuation of, in Putin’s own words, “the thousand-year Russian statehood.” But how did it happen that the revolution that destroyed the Russian Empire, aka the “Prison-house of Nations”, gave rise to a project, certain features of which evoke feelings of nostalgia and revanchism among highly reactionary Russian chauvinists? We publish an excerpt from Marxist historian Vadim Rogovin's book “Stalin's neo-NEP”, in which he describes the transition from the revolutionary deconstruction of the imperial legacy in the early Soviet years to its partial revival in the 1930s. Perhaps it was precisely these changes in the Soviet state that led many to consider it the “same Russia under a different name” and, after its collapse, encouraged the elites of already capitalist Russia to unleash a war to “gather together Russian lands”.
September met with a municipal deputy of Moscow’s Zyuzino district and an author of For Democracy: Local Politics Against Depoliticization, Alexandr Zamyatin to discuss the reasons to take part in local elections in times of war, depoliticization in Russian and Western societies, and how to overcome it, VyDvizhenie — a support platform for independent candidates Zamyatin founded together with Mikhail Lobanov, — and on the recent transformations of Russian political regime.
Alexander Korchagin, a student activist, spoke to activists from several universities and told us about the current state of student anti-war activism in Russia.
A recent post about Kyrgyzstan on Instagram by the popular Russian blogger Ilya Varlamov brought a wave of accusations of imperialism upon him. In this critique, the emphasis was on the boorish way the blogger expressed these statements, while the ideological form of Varlamov’s argument, the concept of a ‘service country’ went almost unnoticed. Let us puzzle out what is wrong with this concept and why it gives rise to such ridiculous statements.
It appears that in recent days Russia has been labeled ‘neoliberal’ with increasing frequency. At the very least, this is surprising for the country, where the degree of the state’s involvement in the economy is as significant as it is in Russia and where the president publicly criticizes “neoliberalism.” Is it fair to discuss Russian neoliberalism? In our new text, we attempt to explore why the mainstream approach to the Russian political dynamics is often remote from reality (as, for instance, in the case of the view that the current President subjected “the oligarchs” to his own interests and deprived them of ability to influence politics), whereas the theoretical framework of neoliberalism can explain much about today’s Russia.