Thursday, August 6, 2015

Putin’s Nomenklatura is a ‘Real New Class,’ Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 6 – Milovan Djilas and Mikhail Voslensky popularized the terms “new class” and “nomenklatura” as the Soviet system assumed final shape after World War II, but Vitaly Portnikov argues that “the real super-new class” is Vladimir Putin’s nomenklatura because its members own property which is something their predecessors did not.

            In a commentary, the Ukrainian commentator argues that this combination of power and ownership of property means that what Putin has created is a genuinely new class, while the Soviet-era pattern in which access to goods depended on office alone did not (

            The way in which access to goods and political position was linked in Soviet time, he points out as did both Djilas and Voslensky explained why officials sought to hold on to office for so long, a pattern that resulted in the aging gerontocracies of Brezhnev’s Soviet Union and most of the countries of communist Eastern Europe.

            And many assumed, Portnikov says, that “in the event of the collapse of socialism, the nomenklaturas would not exist for a day because an important condition of their functioning was the absence of private property. When [that] appeared,” he says, officials would not have to cling to power in order to have wealth incomparable to anything their Soviet predecessors did.

            But the Putin “super-new class” or nomenklatura, he continues, have clung to power despite that. The reason is not far to seek: “they did not earn these billions and millions. They took them. They gave them to themselves because they were a part of the nomenklatura which exploited the collapse of socialism.”

            “A surprising mutation took place,” he says, one in which the Soviet-era nomenklatura finally became a “genuine” new class precisely because it gained control of property.  This class is immeasurably better off relative to the population than was the Soviet elite compared to the Soviet people.

            If one needs to be convinced of this, Portnikov says, “it is sufficient to compare the photographs of any holiday with Brezhnev and those of the marriage of Peskov … Brezhnev didn’t even have any idea about what Monaco was, but Putin hunts together with the prince of this remarkable state.”

            Meanwhile, ordinary Russian citizens “have remained in the very same status of slaves without rights, the status they were in after the Bolshevik putsch. Yes, they were allowed to privatize small things … to buy old foreign cars and to travel to Antalya instead of Sochi or Yalta” but nothing more.

            A quarter of a century after the collapse of the USSR, Portnikov says, “most of its population remains just the same impoverished servants of the real ‘masters of the country’ without prospects for the future. Social lifts don’t work now just as they didn’t work then.” And infrastructure is better only for the chosen but not for those who haven’t been.

            “But the most important thing is this,” he continues. “The citizens of Russia did not have any influence on the state in Soviet times and they do not have any now. And they won’t have any” as long as those in power “see in this absence the best guarantee for the preservation of their wealth and their privileged position.”

            “As long as Russians are slaves for their greedy rulers and not citizens of their own country,” those who have stolen the patrimony of the country and now hold power are convinced that “nothing threatens them … not crises, not unmaskings and not the judgments of the courts,” he argues.

            The question then is how are Russians to become citizens? The answer, Portnikov says, is that “under existing conditions, there is no way, when there are no real elections, no competition, no free press, and no sense of danger among those who rule the country.”  As long as that condition continues, “evolution is impossible.”

            “In essence,” he says, “the ‘super-new class’ has become ‘the super-old one, that same imperial aristocracy which even at the beginning of the 20th century could not understand the necessity of real changes and believed it was possible to employ war in place of reforms” and to rely on patriotism to keep the population in line.

            And so “the circle closes,” he writes, “and again [Russia] is approaching ’17. Only this is already 2017” and not 1917. “But again as in the years before that revolution, the rich and powerful are convinced everything is fine, that the slaves are in a state of patriotic delight, the ratings of the ruler have achieved cosmic heights,” and that there is no real opposition.

            Consequently, the question is not as many imagine whether Russia will be able to move forward this time around without a revolution. It is “exclusively” whether it will have one that will stop in February or whether “the country which has lost its bearings will again slide toward October,” with all the tragedies that would engender.

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