The new year came to Russia along
with the mass protests uncomparably stronger than anything
we have seen since very 1993. An immediate reason was
a Summer Duma decision about what had been called "monetarization
of privileges" (or "benefits") - i.e.
conversion of privileges concerning free medicine, transport
etc. into money. According to the former Soviet order,
many social groups did have certain kinds of privileges,
but here they were mostly those of pensioners - i.e.
of an extremely disregarded and disadapted group of
a society. The trick about the privileges was that they
got monetarized (a word everyone had learnt since these
months), converted into money in such a way which was
quite close to cancelling them; for an example, a free
medicine was equalized to approximately 1.000 rubles
(28 EUR) monthly. When the law was passing, there were
already some protests, but not that much. While it was
only a paper, people waited. But at January, 1 they
started to demand payment from old people in the public
transport, and the rage grew. Moreover: in a small unnoticeable
line of the bill it was added that these are local authorities
who are responsible for the payments, what meant full
devastation: local authorities are ever off money, with
quite few exceptions (like Moscow). In reality that
all meant: first, cancelling of privileges for all country;
second, saving some rest of privilieges for Moscow,
the richest and the most explosive city, thus deepening
the gap between capital and province. The humiliation
was even harder because quite many of pensioners are
World War II veterans who live last years of their life.
But from the other side, these pensioners are more socially
involved and engaged, because they keep a socially constructive
spirit of socialism (whatever to think about it), and
that was proven many times by their participation in
the Red opposition.
These two qualities gave an explosive synthesis. At
January, 11 the crowd of old people in the far Moscow
suburbs started a blockade of a highway leading to capital.
Militsia felt unsure to offend them too aggressively,
and the triggered reaction started. More and more cities,
towns and villages joined a maraphon. If you open http://www.skaji.net
(means "Say no!") you will see a map of Russia
with flags marking multiple points of monetarization
protests. Marginals from other social classes, some
students, some professors, some protesters-by-profession
started to happen there too. The solidarity appeared
in the air, especially after some protesters showed
up with orange flags. (For many of us, the Ukrainian
revolution was considered a sign of people revolting
against the power whatever it is, and especially against
an omnipresent Kremlin.) This is how pensioners and
veterans showed a path to the rest of a society: the
most remarkable for me was an internet image of an old
woman holding the banner: "Putin is an enemy worse
Lets look at that from a more theoretical point of
view. As Manuel Castells notes, under the informational
paradigm the structure of a society tends to individualization:
individual labour contracts, individual working schedule
etc. This is one of decisive conditions for the phenomenon
of a precarity, when an individual, the employee finds
him(her)self unmighty before the all-powerful market
forces, the employers. Solidarity is not in agenda,
for everything is "your own business". As
an arena of a dash capitalism invasion, Russia had experienced
that phenomenon maybe twice harder than Western countries.
Atomization grows, enforcening alienation. There're
no clear class stratifications, no group interests expressed,
no stability, only an uncertainty - both on personal
and social level. Boris Kagarlitsky had once noted that
in the beginning of 90s all the post-Soviet population
was changing its formerly firm status for an uncertain
one: many factories were paying their employees goods
instead of money, forcing them to sell them and thus
to become one day worker, the next day seller, etc.
In one place they were giving coffins. Together with
an invasion of a consumption society, this had created
a disbalance in minds. While the luckiest white collars
in capitals have found jobs and agreed to live under
capitalism, millions of folks in Russia and former republics
just silenced, because they had no explanation to what's
happening. And now just pensioners, who had at least
common age and Soviet past as grounds of solidarity,
plus a serious risk of being left to die without anything,
stood up and triggered a wave of protest. Government
renounced, gave many excuses and established some really
complicated and weird model of compensating the monetarized
privilieges from federal budget.
The next step is to be taken. The next target group
is students. Under the consolidated Cops & Militaries
attack, an another predatory measure had been taken
at 2004: a cancellation of army service delays. The
logic of militaries is, those students who study in
the Universities do it with an only aim: to avoid military
service. Army has critical lack of youngsters ready
to serve. Noone wants to go to Tchetchnya or to experience
cruelties of army orders - with regular news about deaths,
sadisms of the older soldiers towards the younger ones
etc. The military officials say, last years they get
no more than 14% of a needed quantity in a call for
service, and the youngsters avoid it by entering Universities.
So they decided to cancel all exit options and bring
students to arms.
Students are not that unified as pensioners. Actually,
noone knows what is today Russian "youth".
Is it teenage ravers or hip-hoppers, the first Russian
generation grown up on MTV? Are they blinded with technological
rush, media brainwashing, capitalist hysteria? Or not?
That is the question. But for sure, if there're sources
of social consciousness between the youth, they have
to be found in the Universities. During the Spring 2004
action against road militsia, when drivers were raising
a white kerchief on their cars as a sign of protest,
the cars of that kind could hardly be noticed between
the others throughout Moscow, but in the parkings of
a Moscow State University there was majority of such
cars. Students have to express themselves, they have
to stand for their interests at least to show that they
are a certain group of people, not an atomized quantity
of elements lacking identification.
That concerns all other classes as well. On the one
hand, we have an uncertain state of many atomized individuals;
on the other hand, we have multiple dangers coming from
the power and targeting everyone. The uncertainty brought
to us in the 1990s has to be overcame, people and groups
have to find their identities. The capitalism is interested
only in contunuing this situation where the most predatory
ones can prolong their predatory practices and stay
unseen, therefore it has no other way but to hide the
true order of things. And the true order of things is
frightening. There seemed to be quite many myths about
the "logic of capitalism", for an example
the one that the cheap labour force exploitation (like
the children labour) was possible only in an early stage
of capitalism, in a so-called "primary capital
accumulation" phase. But look - now in a post-industrial
society we again see sweatshops, child and women labor,
guarantess diminishing, oppression growing. And the
fact that it all takes place far from Europe doesn't
make it lighter, on the opposite, this all comes back
to Europe as precarity.
The elimination of social rights and working guarantees,
the cancellation of all former people defense mechanisms
is an agenda of a Russian "precarity". Taxes
grow. Apartments, water and gas payments grow too. It
might be curious, that even one writing activist from
Tomsk recently decided to implant the word into Russian
soil and suggested to call the poor working conditions
in Russia "prekarnost'". "Precarnost'"
in Russia concerns labour but it also concerns everything
else, the very basic conditions of life. The main slogan
of a first Russian Social Forum coming (April 16-17)
is "No - to cancellation of social guarantees!",
although all other key topics such as war, privatization,
mass-media etc. are also present. Under it socialists
and anarchists, trotskyists and ecologists, human rights
defenders and working unions are gathering.
For the older people, protests come parallel to nostalgia
about the good old secure Soviet. Of course, as uncertain
is today's capitalist society, the same certain was
the former Soviet society. I would say, it was too certain.
As is known, Soviets was a state of social guarantees
and welfare. Even in the memories of my generation who
saw the very rest of it, it was firm like an ancient
Egypt. All classes were stratified, everything was made
clear; for the late Soviet dissidents, this offered
a good opportunity for a so-called "internal immigration":
having a primitive handy work and a regular salary,
you could live without much problems and think about
Once in the Moscow magazine "CompuTerra"
a trialogue between Graham Seaman, Richard Barbrook
and the editor Leonid Levkovich was published (therefore
it's a text existing in Russian exclusively). The Information
era prominent theorists trace origins of XXth century
utopias and say, that Russians lived worse but they
had better future: communism in 20 years! So the Western
politicians had to explain their citizens that they
have good future too, and that's why the CIA ordered
Daniel Bell to invent his post-industrialist utopia.
Russians had social programs and guaranteed income -
so the Western politicians also had to proclaim the
"welfare state". As soon as the Soviet Union
ruined, there was no more need to proclaim this, and
the Capitalism-the-wild came back.
As for Russia, there had never been any delusions that
capitalism will bring any social guarantees. Some pro-democratic
illusions did take place, that's true, but not pro-capitast.
Liberal ideology (and especially the mostly beloved
by our liberals Friedrich von Hayek) never promised
social care or guarantees but advocated capitalist Effectiveness
instead. In the times of perestroika Russia was in a
deep depression about its former economy ineffectiveness,
its technological lag, its socialist unmanagement, multiple
disfunctionalities, excessive wastes of energy etc.
The Union was stable, but not effective. That's why
Gorbachev's principle number 3 (after "glasnost"
and "perestroika") was "uskorenie",
i.e. speeding up. That's also why the post-Soviet reformists
started asking grants from IMF justifying it by rhetorics
that they will teach us how to run the economy effectively.
But the people never expected any social or humanitarian
benefits from capitalism and never had any delusions
about its predatory nature. From the very beginning
of privatization, from the very first bankruptcies and
robberies they knew, capitalism is precarious.