Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A New Russian Revolution has Begun in the Streets of Moscow, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – The protest in Moscow from a superficial perspective “do not appear to have any particular change to go down in history” as something special, Vladimir Pastukhov says. They weren’t especially large, and they weren’t suppressed in blood. But “appearances are deceptive,” and the protest marks a fundamental change in relations between people and power.

            The London-based Russian analyst argues that the country is now at the beginning of a constitutional crisis, whose resolution will directly and immediately lead Russia to a revolution,” not necessarily tomorrow but at some point in the future because the conflict has become a zero-sum game (

                Pastukhov suggests that his conclusions are driven by Richard Pipes’ argument in his History of the Russian Revolution that the events of 1905 and 1917 began not on Bloody Sunday in January 1905 but in the student uprisings in Petersburg in February 1899.  Although these were suppressed, they showed that both people and power saw that one or the other had to win.

            Pipes suggests that at that time “as often happens with revolutionaries, in this initial moment there was a large share of accident and the occasion for the protests was trivial.”  Pastukhov argues that the same thing is true of the latest Moscow protests and thus they must be seen as the start of a new revolution.

            As in February 1899 so now in July 2019 what matters is “the changed nature of the protests,” from being simply clashes between the police and demonstrators and being about the emergence “in the most open and uncompromised form” of a struggle over a constitutional principle between the powers that be and the Russian people.

                That principle is whether elections will be the source of legitimacy of the government.  While the Putin regime has gutted the meaning of elections over the last 20 years, it has not openly done away with the meaning. And now it has moved to destroy the form as well. As a result, “the era of ‘sovereign democracy’ in Russia ended” in the streets of Moscow.

            “It is one thing,” Pastukhov says, “when officials at the Kremlin’s direction falsify documents and quite another when … the entire constitutional system in general and the election system in particular is organized in such a way that all the players, except those in power, will always be deceived.”

            And what this means is this, the analyst says. “The real trigger of the July protests became not the particular case, the falsification by specific people of specific documents but the constitutional dead end which gave rise to this particular case” and the fact that the population now recognizes what is going on.

            “Step by step,” he says, the Putin regime has constructed “a system which excludes any unsanctioned political participation. And namely this has become the main indeed the only constitutional principle” for that regime. As a result, today, “not a single principle or norm of the Constitution still works.”

            But while the powers that be have been moving in that direction, the Russian people have been moving in quite another. “People have begun to want what the powers that be cannot under any circumstances give them: a share of control over the situation.” And the divergence of these paths has now come to the breaking point.

            The fight now is a matter of principle and it is “a zero-sum game, in which there cannot be any compromise.” The Moscow city council elections are the trigger for this clash but they are not the cause. And “from this moment on, both sides will unceasingly view the other” as a threat to themselves.

            That doesn’t mean that the new revolution any more than the one that began in 1899 will proceed in a direct line to its conclusion. It will ebb and flow, there may be concessions and failures on both sides. But when Putin came up from his ride on a submarine, he returned to a different country, one in the midst of a revolution rather than the stability he likes to talk about.

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