Staunton, January 20 – Aleksey Navalny’s call for mass demonstrations to protest his detention raises the question of whether Russia’s middle class, already angry about that, will be able to link up with the anger of the Russian people more generally about a variety of issues and thus challenge the regime, Abbas Gallyamov says.
“The issue of the relationship between the protest attitudes of the middle class and ‘the lower orders’ is one of the most complicated and important in political science,” the former Putin speechwriter and commentator argues (vtimes.io/2021/01/20/razbudyat-li-razgnevannie-gorozhane-glubinnii-narod-a2600).
Sometimes these groups link up and sometimes they operate independently because “the presence of a dissatisfied middle class does not necessarily mean that the entire rest of the people is dissatisfied.” The first has its own reasons for anger, and the second its, and this difference may preclude an alliance.
The former tends to focus on systemic questions while the latter usually is animated by very specific complaints. It is thus completely understandable that the middle class should be on Navalny’s side and will heed his call, but the issue is “more complicated” when it comes to the majority of the population.
Navalny’s team is using the issue of corruption, specifically evidence of Putin’s “palaces,” to try to link the two groups together. When times are good, this strategy is unlikely to work because the masses tend to view the privileges of the elites as beyond question; but when times are bad, as now, that is an open question. In them, Navalny’s strategy may work.
But “in order to organize a full-blown revolution and replace authoritarianism with normal democracy, the middle class must have at least minimal support from other groups of the population.” That means, Gallyamov says, that the real issue now is whether the middle class has or can gain this support.
Up to now, the powers that be have been able to count on the support or at least the passivity of most of the population and kept the middle class isolated and thus powerless, he continues. But that may be changing as conditions in the country deteriorate and ever more people connect the dots, seeing their problems as products of systemic ones.
There is another possible revolutionary dynamic, of course. “In principle, ‘the lower ordres’ can come out into the street without any participation of the middle class. They can turn out to be much more active than even professional revolutionaries.” That happened in 1905, Lenin and other Bolsheviks noted; and it is not impossible it could happen again.
In such cases, “the masses really can organize protest independently.” But their problems start when they need to decide what to do then. That is often a problem, and authoritarian regimes can usually save themselves by using repression because there is no controlling center to direct these oppositionists.
.According to Gallyamov, the middle class can play that role; and “the Russia of 2021 is a society where the arguments of ‘the angry urban residents’ are ever more actively beginning to penetrate into the consciousness of ‘the deep people.’” This process is only beginning, but the fact that it is occurring at all is something that must disturb the powers that be.