Staunton, March 15 – Many commentators are suggesting that Vladimir Putin can regain the support and legitimation he once had by staging another “short victorious war” against a neighboring country. But while that worked in the case of the Crimean Anschluss, it is unlikely to work a second time, Abbas Gallyamov says.
Instead, the former Putin speechwriter and current Moscow political analyst says, the Kremlin leader needs such a war against a domestic enemy, in this case business, on the model of what Sergey Zubatov proposed and in part conducted at the end of the imperial period by setting up police-controlled unions (echo.msk.ru/blog/gallyamov_a/2805480-echo/).
For most Russians today, Gallyamov argues, “problem number one” is poverty and constantly growing inequality in salaries and wealth. To be sure, the regime is more responsible for that than business; but that reality is no constraint.
For something like what Zubatov called for, a shift in the ruler’s alliance from one based on ties to business to one with workers, to work, he continues, the Putin regime would simply have to “declare a crusade against ‘social injustice,’ introduce progressive taxation, and reprivatize several large companies.” That would be sufficient.
The Zubatovshchina, as Zubatov’s efforts to ally the throne with unions came to be known, was designed to “distract the workers form political activity by involving them in the struggle for their economic rights.” Where Zubatov was allowed to proceed, Russian workers focused on those, they turned away from Lenin’s party and others as well.
The same thing could become true today for as the Zubatovshchina shows, “uniting with the people against ‘the bourgeoisie,’ the powers that be are completely capable of blocking the growth of protest attitudes.”
According to Gallyamov, “President Vladimir Putin’s main image problem is that he doesn’t defense the people but reflects the interests of the oligarchic stratum.” A Zubatov-like war against business would allow him “if not to solve this problem completely, then at least to minimize it.”
Putin’s effort to blame everything on the work of American “agents” hasn’t been successful; but a campaign to blame businessmen in Russia for the travails of workers would be far easier to gain support in the population. It would hurt the economy perhaps, but it would help Putin for two or three years, that is, get him through the 2024 election.
To work and not destabilize completely his base in the elite, Putin would have to divide business between “bad” business that must be fought and “good” business that must be supported. That should not prove too difficult a task if the Kremlin leader were to decide to follow Zubatov’s program.
There is no individual or institution in Moscow that could stop Putin if he adopted such a course; and for those who say such a campaign is unthinkable, it is worthwhile that in 2013, they would have argued that seizing Crimea was impossible. The latter happened, and that is a good reason with Putin at least never to say never.