Staunton, June 24 – Vladimir Putin has lost the younger generation, and ever more of them expect protests and are ready to participate in them. But the larger stratum of workers will join them only for targeted protests about very specific issues, and these are unlikely to grow into a mass political action, Aleksey Levinson says.
The head of the Levada Center’s analytic department says that Russians are more inclined to say they expect protests and would participate in them than at any time in the last 18 months. Putin still has his base among older, less educated, and rural Russians; but he has lost his “immunity” to protest (reforum.io/2020/06/24/pochemu-dazhe-uspeshnyj-protest-ne-dobetsya-svoego/).
The first big question, Levinson continues, is whether the working class will join the students as happened in Paris in 1968. That is “possible,” he argues, but almost exclusively when the issue is a local one rather than an all-Russian matter. The Kremlin may view these as political but they are less threatening to it than many assume.
“History shows that targeted protests in 99 percent of all cases remain targeted and local;” they do not grow into a massive country-wide action. And the sociologist says that might not be a bad thing because the powers that be know only how to be repressive – and in response to a mass protest, they might use force, with the nightmare of bloodshed following.
Many Russians see the current situation as keeping that possibility low, and that goes a long way to explain why they will vote for rather than against the constitutional amendments which promise to keep things as they are rather than think about going into the streets to protest against the changes.
Russians are angry about the pandemic and about the government’s failure to come to their aid, but right now, there are no individuals or organizations capable of mobilizing them. “We don’t want Putin but then whom do we want? Navalny isn’t serious;” and there is as yet no one else.
Another reason why anger and the willingness to protest are unlikely to lead to major demonstrations is that with rare exceptions, such mass protests haven’t been successful – or worse, after they take place, the government adopts even more repressive laws rather than make the concessions the protesters wanted.
At the same time, the analyst continues, participation in meetings changes people. Those who came to the White House in October 1993 were ordinary people but they saw around them and, in many cases, became heroes. Those who take part in future demonstrations will experience many of the same things, seeing in other Russians leaders and partners.
Levinson says he was among them and saw “a different side of reality, one that revealed that around us are golden people full of nobility and courage. Personalities like those we encounter in books.” And that experience taught something else as well: the people did not have any specific democratic program. They simply wanted to organize themselves without outside interference.
Since that time, many who were there have sought to realize this “program” and display the capacity for self-organization that Russian thinkers like Kropotkin and Bakunin were sure were part of Russian life and that can strengthen the horizontal ties that exist among Russians. The internet shows this is still true, the sociologist says.
That means, he concludes, that “everything is possible but perhaps not just as we now imagine it.”