How the Russian Left Survived in a Post-Soviet World
After the demise of the USSR on December 26, 1991, the Russian left had to find its place in a society transformed beyond recognition. In the face of huge challenges, its activists have led important struggles against the system established by Yeltsin and Putin.
Russian protestors in central Moscow carry portraits of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, gunned down by neo-Nazis, and a placard that reads “fascists kill, the authorities cover it up,” on January 19, 2020. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Against the background of the rapid impoverishment of the majority, social degradation, and an incredible increase in crime, the rhetoric of ‘popular Stalinism’ was able to become the basis for a broad opposition movement.
A limited set of opposition parties could collect the votes of disgruntled citizens in elections and voice their discontent from a parliamentary platform, but they had no real opportunity to influence political decision-making.
The Communist Party remained Russia’s largest mass party: by the end of the 1990s, its membership reached half a million, and almost half of the country’s regions were governed by democratically elected ‘red governors.’
From Yeltsin to Putin
The Putin majority was an alliance of big business, which wanted firm guarantees for property acquired in the 1990s and continued market reforms, and millions of employees who were tired of constant salary delays and social instability.
The new social and political situation of the early 2000s became a challenge for the Russian left, which needed to be met with a programmatic and organizational renewal.
Recovery, Resistance, Revival
A key factor in the changes in the Russian left movement was the emergence of a new generation of activists whose world outlook and political culture were already shaped by post-Soviet realities.
The mass mobilizations of 2011 caught almost all the existing extra-parliamentary political forces by surprise.
During 2012–13, dozens of people were arrested on charges of violence against the police and of organizing mass riots, a significant section of whom were representatives of left-wing groups.
By 2017, the ongoing economic downturn, political disenfranchisement, rising poverty, and the glaring social inequality of Putin’s Russia had led to the rise of discontent and the politicization of a new generation.
The erosion of the Putin majority became even more pronounced in 2020, when the Russian government provided little support to the population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2021-12-26 | News | English | JacobinMag