Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Chelyabinsk Workers Hope Bringing Back Serfdom will Improve Their Position


Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 13 – A group of union workers in Chelyabinsk have launched an appeal to officially restore serfdom in Russia. They say that in fact serfdom exists but that its official restoration will give them benefits that they do not now enjoy and lead factory owners to treat them better than they are doing now.

            According to the workers, serfdom imposed certain obligations on “the masters” which the owners of factories do not feel; and if Russia restored serfdom, the workers could expect to benefit by the rules the latter would then have to operate under (echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/2517803-echo/).

            The petition reflects less an expression of any real desire for a return to the Russian social-economic system of 150 years ago than a cry of despair about what conditions there are like now. It is available online at change.org/p/за-легализацию-крепостного-права?recruiter=1008347591. So far, however, fewer than 200 people have signed it.

Serious Prison Reform Could Boost the Russian Economy, Gallyamov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 13 – If conditions in Russian prisons were significantly improved, Abbas Gallyamov says, such a development could lead to an improvement in the investment climate because businessmen, risk takers by their nature, would not be constrained as many are now by the fear that they could be confined in horrific conditions.

            Instead, if conditions in Russian prisons were better, the former Putin speechwriter and current Moscow commentator says, business people would see the risk of landing in them as less threatening and would be prepared to take more risks, something that could lead to an improvement in the Russian economy (echo.msk.ru/blog/gallyamov_a/2518007-echo/).

                Today, Russian prisons are so awful that businessmen feel an “existential” dread of landing in them, “but now imagine what would be the case if the businessman was certain that whatever happened, he would have hot water, a normal toilet, a good library, daily walks, and that no one would torture or denigrate him, neither fellow prisoners nor the guards.”

            The Kremlin can’t do much about how the police, the FSB or the investigation committee do their jobs, but it can easily impose order on the federal penal system. It might not be able to change things everywhere over night; but it could do so in prisons to which businessmen in Moscow might be sent.

            To bring the Russian prison system up to world standards could easily become “the main national project, if you will, the only one that would help enliven the economy of the country,” Gallyamov says. To that end, he suggests, the Kremlin should name Gref or Kudrin to head the federal penal system and make that system directly subordinate to the president.

            In that event, the Moscow commentator argues, Russian businessmen would change the calculations they make, take more risks, and reap more benefits for themselves and the country --even if some of them still were to end up behind bars.

Danger Point for Russian Regime: No One Likely to Overthrow It, but No One will Come to Its Defense, Volkov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 13 – The fundamental weakness of the current regime in Russia is that as long as “’everything is in order,’ no one will overthrow it,” but “in the event of the slightest mistake’” especially during any weakening or succession, “no one will come to its defense,” Russian historian Sergey Volkov argues.

            In a LiveJournal commentary that has been reposted by Novyye izvestiya (salery.livejournal.com/173942.html and newizv.ru/article/general/12-10-2019/sergey-volkov-slabost-rezhima-v-tom-chto-u-nego-net-mehanizma-preemstvennosti), he says that those who talk about the weaknesses of the Putin regime often miss this important nuance.

            Many of those opposed to the Putin regime now are suggesting that it is “very rickety,” the Moscow historian says. “But what does that in fact mean? Clearly not what they have in mind.”  A personalist dictatorship is stable as long as everything is all right with the person on top, while regimes based on a party or professional corporation can continue after his demise. 

            “Regimes based on the army or real religious-political structures exist for decades even if leaders change,” Volkov continues. “They can die only as a result of strong external pressure or the decay of the foundation on which they operate.”(lo

            “In this sense,” he says, “the Russian Federation regime is a quite rare phenomenon: it arose quite accidently only because in the country there were no political forces or competitors” to block it from doing so.  It doesn’t exist because it is supported by 80 percent of the population. That figure, for a dictatorship, is meaningless, the historian says.

            According to Volkov, “the abstract ‘support of the population does not have any significant if it is not expressed in the existence of corresponding (loyalist) mass political organizations. Eighty percent may completely approve it, but a few dozens or hundreds of thousands of organized opposition elements in the capital are sufficient to overthrow it.”

            Indeed, he points out, “the majority of ‘revolutions’” which occur seldom have more than five percent of the population either among their supporters or opponents.

            The big question “confronting any regime is who will defend it” should that be necessary. Those can be “only either the force structures if they are interested in the regime as real corporations … or a real political organization,” and not a simulacrum like United Russia is in the Putin era.

            At the present time, Volkov continues, “the force structures of the Russian Federation are not corporations in this sense.” Interior ministry forces may work for bureaucratic interests “but not ideological and political” ones. The FSB lacks these corporate characteristics entirely. And the Armed Forces in the Russian tradition have never been “a self-conscious political force.”

            At the very least, one can conclude that “not one of them in any case will independently come to the defense of the regime.” As long as the tsar is in place, they will obey him; but if he weakens or leaves the scene, a struggle will emerge to determine who will give orders and whom these institutions will obey and defend.

            If at the time of succession, one in which no one is sure of the outcome, there are multiple centers of political power, there is a danger that the defenders of the regime will be divided as well, with some supporting one individual or group and others supporting alternatives, the historian argues.

            In that event and because regimes like Putin’s do not have a succession mechanism, “no one will come to the defense” of the new leaders if they make “the slightest mistake.”  That is the result of “the political desert” that the current Kremlin leader has created by eliminating all those who could oppose him.

            In the process, Volkov says, he has also eliminated all those who might otherwise come to the defense of himself at a time of weakness or of others who will succeed him.