The following is a guest submission by Daniil Gorbatenko of Moscow, Russia. Danill is a member of the Libertarian Party of Russia and is commencing his studies for the Master of Business, Law and Economics degree at Aix Marseille University this fall.
The latest round of countrywide protests took place on September 15th. As usual, the protest was the most massive in Moscow where the Libertarian Party of Russia (LPR) has the largest membership. The protest was arranged in the form of a march for several kilometers ending with a rally. The protests have up until now been mostly non-ideological, defined by opposition to Putin’s regime, but lately the left-wing faction of the united opposition has been attempting to push the protests agenda more towards socialism. As part of this strategy, the left-wing protest leaders called upon protesters to prepare agitation materials that would simultaneously attack Putin’s regime and capitalism (which supposedly exists in Russia).
A not-so-small digression is in order here. Although Russia has substantially liberalized its economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reforms were a long shot from consistent liberal policy. What they produced instead of a modern capitalist economy was a crony “capitalism” system based on connections in government and organized crime. The level of government intrusion into the economy remained very high, but this sort of government intrusion is mostly different than the sort one may be accustomed to in the United States or Europe. Instead, government activities in Russia are not actually aimed at their stated purposes but instead are means for personal enrichment and maintenance in power.
However, the vast majority of the population has been inclined to perceive this so-called “oligarchic system” as an inevitable result of supposedly radically liberal economic Perestroika reforms. This coexisted with tremendous nostalgia for allegedly glorious Soviet times where everyone had a decent job or pension. Those were, of course, myths, but human memory is usually short. This set the stage for the creation of Putin’s imitational democracy, which is actually an authoritarian regime, built on good economic fortunes and mostly rhetorical pandering to those nostalgic for Soviet imperial might. In the last two or three years, however, a large subset of the population has become disenchanted with the regime, especially with its thoroughgoing corruption and dishonesty. The rigging of the December 2011 parliamentary election finally sparked mass protest.
In this environment it is quite difficult to promote libertarian ideas because people intuitively understand that they have not seen a real modern state at work and are easily convinced that what is needed for prosperity is replacement of the current regime with the European social democracy model to restrain the wild forces of capitalism.
So in the run-up to the latest march we in LPR realized that we needed to do something to let people know that Putin’s regime has nothing to do with normal capitalism. Thus came the idea of a big banner with the slogan “Against Dictatorship! For Capitalism.” This turned out to be a perfect trolling device.
During the march and the rally to follow almost everyone who caught sight of the banner felt compelled to read it. The reactions included approval, which was rare, total surprise, like “how can these two things even be on one banner?!,” and outright disgust. And we were marching icolumn nominally liberal column.
The rally was as usual quite boring because the speeches were mostly repetitions of what was said at the previous rallies. However, there was a new feature. Many speakers even from the nominally liberal camp started to put emphasis on the so-called “social” demands, for example, the demands to increase the amount of state pensions, the funding for public education, etc.
At the latest rally, LPR did not have a representative among the orators, but after the march and rally the LPR Federal Committee Chair Andrey Shalnev used the open mike opportunity to warn the protest leaders and opinion-makers against the attempts to shift the protests agenda to the left. He also said that before talking about policy reforms on which there are profound disagreements within the opposition, we must achieve first-order objectives, especially the reform of the courts that have essentially become courts-in-name-only, a pure instrument of repression and intimidation.
Looking at the future of the protests, it seems that they alone will not be enough to topple the increasingly dictatorial regime. However, it is still a positive thing that people are still willing to take to the streets in large numbers. To prevent the slide into even worse dictatorship, it is important that they continue. In the meantime, we will be trying to register LPR as a formal political party to boost our ability to influence the developments. The LPR’s registration conference is scheduled for November 4th.