Staunton, Mar. 3 – Given that both the systemic and non-systemic opposition parties have been gelded, the first by cooptation and the second by repression, Grigory Golosov says, many believe that the independent Russian media both that remaining inside Russia and that produced abroad can pay a political role like Lenin’s Iskra did more than a century ago.
But that is to misunderstand why the Bolshevik newspaper was important and why Russian media in the age of the internet can’t aspire to the same impact, the political scientist at St. Petersburg’s European University continues. For Lenin, Iskra was important not so much as a conveyor of ideas but as a way to organize a party (holod.media/2023/03/01/media-oppozicyia/).
The task of smuggling the Bolshevik paper into the Russian Empire from abroad and then spreading it among key groups of the population was an enormous task and required that Lenin and his comrades develop a network of distributors that in fact served as the nucleus of the party. When the time came, he had a party but others didn’t.
But Russian opposition newspapers today do not face similar challenges. They can put their stories online and those in Russia with access to the net can take them down. Those behind these media outlets don’t have to create a distribution network and thus aren’t engaged in constructing a party that will eventually be in a position to act.
Because that is the case, Golosov says, “the media cannot fill the jobs of politicians, whose only task in the current situation is to create and support an organized presence of the democratic opposition in Russia. That task is extremely complicated and,” he laments, “almost unfulfillable.”
“Analogies with tsarist Russia don’t work here,” he continues. “The repressive apparatus of the autocracy was simply child’s play in comparison with the one which today is in the hand of the Russian authorities” who not only have the apparatus they need but also decades of Soviet experience of using it against opponents.
According to Golosov, “the main goal of the Soviet repressive machine was not the suppression of individual dissidence but the total elimination of any organized opposition activity.” That has remained true in Putin’s time and his repressive machine has gradually moved from the most obvious targets to others he has decided oppose him in any way.
Perhaps as many as ten million Russians are really opposed to the Putin regime, about the same number as before he expanded his invasion of Ukraine a year ago; but “without the organized presence” of parties, even such a base of potential support “will not be converted into activity which could lead to a political transformation.”
Unfortunately, Golosov concedes, he has no recipe for changing this situation in Russia today.