Tag Archives: Russian Socialist Movement

Mattia Gallo: Interview with a Russian Comrade

The following interview with our comrade Ilya Matveev was made by Mattia Gallo and originally published in Italian as “La Russia ai tempi di Occupy.” Our thanks to her and Ilya for their permission to republish it in English here.

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What is the Russian Socialist Movement? When were you founded? Who are its members?

The Russian Socialist Movement (RSM) is the product of a merger between two far-left groups: Vpered (Forward) and Socialist Resistance. It was founded in March 2011. Both groups were heirs to the Trotskyist tradition. Vpered was affiliated with the Mandelist USFI. However, the RSM is not explicitly Trotskyist: it was modeled as a broad leftist force capable of uniting the non-sectarian far left into the nucleus of a future radical mass party. In part, it was modeled on the French Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), although obviously on a smaller scale.

Currently, we have several organizations in different Russian cities. The largest RSM groups are in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kaluga. We have a smaller presence in Novosibirsk, Samara, and other places, as well as an affiliated group in Perm. Overall, we have some two hundred to three hundred members.

The Kaluga group is probably the strongest and most coherent. There is an industrial cluster in this city, and it harbors a rare thing in Russia, an independent trade union, in this case, a local of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (the ITUA, which is also present in Petersburg and the Petersburg area). Our members in Kaluga are union organizers, autoworkers, and radical youth. The RSM have taken part in strikes and in worker self-organization in Kaluga. In Petersburg, RSM also consists of union workers and activists, but its ranks also include radical intellectuals and artists. In Moscow, the RSM is mostly made up of intellectuals, and it has become increasingly popular in radical artistic circles.

Generally, despite some internal problems, RSM is slowly becoming a rallying point for the radical left in Russia, due to its open, non-sectarian character and strong intellectual foundations. We try and play a role in the trade union movement and various social movements, to bring radical politics into these milieux, not, however in typical sectarian “entryist” fashion, but by really working with people, talking to them, getting to know them. We are also working on developing a coherent leftist theory for our situation. Obviously, our success is limited, but at least that is what we recognize as our goal.

In today’s very difficult circumstances, the RSM is very much focused on defending political prisoners in Russia. One of them, Konstantin Lebedev, is a member of our organization. Another RSM member, Filipp Dolbunov (Galtsov), is currently seeking political asylum in Ukraine. The RSM is a driving force behind the international solidarity campaign against political persecution in Russia.

Apart from that major concern, we also work with independent unions and social movements, especially against neoliberal policies in education and health care, and in the environmental and feminist movements, as well as the anti-fascist movement. We organize various cultural activities, in part through our affiliated independent publisher, the Free Marxist Press. We publish a newspaper called the Socialist, and run a web site

When and how did Occupy Moscow begin? What things happened in Moscow? What demands did its activists make, and what difficulties did they face?

On May 6, 2012, a mass opposition rally in Moscow was brutally dispersed by riot police. The police violence was unprecedented, and in a twisted Stalinist move our government afterwards started arresting people for taking part in a “riot,” thus setting the stage for a latter political show trial. Still, after the events at the rally, a minority of the marchers, around a thousand people, refused to go home and began a game of “catch me if you can” with the police on the streets of Moscow. This group of protesters moved around the city, trying to outmaneuver the police. This lasted for two or three days. Finally, the group settled in a kind of permanent camp near the monument to the Kazakh poet Abay on a small square in downtown Moscow. People kept coming, and the police didn’t disperse the camp, probably because the new protest tactics disoriented them. That is how Occupy Moscow or Occupy Abay began.

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It should be noted that some leftist activists had tried to import Occupy tactics before these events, organizing small “assemblies.” The Spanish Indignados and the American OWS were of course important and inspiring for us. However, we didn’t really believe something like that could happen in Moscow—and yet it happened.

Occupy Abay was an OWS-style camp on a small square, with a thousand to two thousand people in attendance daily, and some fifty to a hundred people staying on site in sleeping bags overnight. It was such a fresh experience of self-organization beyond traditional leftist and social scenes! Leftists, including RSM members, and anarchists were truly energized by what was happening right before their eyes. Leftist activists grouped in a European-style “info point” on the square with literature and leaflets. We organized a series of workshops for camp participants on unions, social movements, and leftist politics. The RSM began publishing a daily Occupy Abay leaflet, which quickly became a kind of official newspaper for the camp. Other self-organized activities included a kitchen and cleaning shifts. The square was so immaculately clean that the authorities had to fabricate evidence to present the camp as a nuisance to the neighborhood. However, the most important self-organized activity was the general assembly.

From the beginning, there was tension in the camp (just as in the Russian protest movement as a whole) between rank-and-file participants and self-proclaimed “leaders.” Some established opposition personalities tried to name one person “governor” of the camp, but of course the people ignored them. The left presented an alternative—participatory democracy in the form of the general assembly. The process was very difficult in the beginning, but eventually the assembly became the real voice of the camp. The climax of this self-governing process was, perhaps, an episode during the final hours of the camp’s existence, when the police ordered people to go home. Opposition leaders asked to speak to the crowd. But they had to wait their turn in a queue, just like other regular participants. When their turn came, they made their case—to comply with police orders—but the assembly rejected their proposal. In retrospect, it was the correct decision, since the police didn’t disperse the camp for another day.

The whole history of Occupy Abay/Occupy Barrikadnaya/Occupy Arbat (the last two are subsequent names for Occupy Moscow, reflecting the sites it briefly occupied after Abay was broken up) didn’t last more than several days, but it was an incredibly rich period of improvisation, self-organization, political struggle, and agitation. It injected the ideas of participatory democracy and horizontal structures into the protest movement, which had almost completely lacked such ideas before. We are still reflecting on the political and social significance of this event.

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The major difference between Occupy Moscow and OWS, the Indignados, etc., is that the Moscow camp was not leftist as a whole. It wasn’t organized around social issues; rather, it was the temporary form that the opposition movement in Russia, mostly liberal, took in Moscow in May 2012. Therefore, the participants were not only leftists, but also liberals, even people from the far right (which was rather humble and didn’t cause trouble, being in a weak political position). However, only the left in Russia practices self-organization, self-government, and participatory democracy. Therefore, the left quickly became an essential force driving the camp and its activities.

Talking about civil liberties in Russia, the Pussy Riot case and the anti-gay laws enacted in several Russian regions and now proposed in the national parliament are emblematic in the eyes of the world. You wrote an article last November, “A Police Story (What Happened to Filipp Dolbunov),” about a Russian student abducted by the police. Can you tell us what happened? What is your analysis of civil liberties in Russia?

Well, I wrote about a specific case of police repression against one activist. Currently Filipp, who is my comrade, is seeking political asylum. He is in Ukraine, but this country isn’t safe for him, as the case of another activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, shows: Leonid was kidnapped in Kyiv by Russian security forces, tortured, and brought back to Moscow.

The situation with civil liberties in Russia is outrageous and rapidly becoming more and more catastrophic. More than twenty people are awaiting trial for taking part in the May 6 “riot” (i.e., the brutal attack on a legal, sanctioned rally by riot police). Most of them are in jail. Hundreds of detectives are working day and night to conjure a case out of nothing. One of the arrested confessed and was sent to prison for four and half years. On January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.

The police have merged the May 6 “riot” case with the Sergei Udaltsov case. Udaltsov is one of the few public opposition leaders from the left. He has been charged with “organizing the unrest” on ”evidence” presented to the entire country during a special broadcast on Russian state-controlled TV. Udaltsov and two other people, one of them, Konstantin Lebedev, an RSM member, are now accused of being the “organizers” of the “riot” that took place on May 6. There is an endless chain of fabricated evidence and trumped-up charges that is directed against the Russian opposition, but mainly the left.

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I was on Bolotnaya: arrest me!

Another group that suffers disproportionately from state repression are anti-fascists. Some of them have been sentenced to prison, while others have been arrested and awaiting trial for months on end.

Please read our appeal for solidarity to learn the details about the recent crackdown in Russia. The RSM and other left groups are in desperate need of solidarity, so any actions of support are most welcome.

Another article of yours, “The ‘Welfare’ State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This,” talks about the situation of the “welfare state,” a term that in Italian and Russian translates to the “social state.” What is your analysis in this article? What are the social and economic problems in your country?

My basic point in this article is that Russia is not a welfare state, despite the fact that it’s called a “social state” in the Constitution. It lacks a minimum wage (which is set below official subsistence level, i.e., this minimum wage is not enough to avoid dying from starvation). Strikes are almost completely prohibited. The situation with housing, education, health care, childcare, science, and cultural institutions is scandalous, and it’s getting worse day by day.

Even though we now have more than 130 dollar billionaires and one of the world’s largest money reserves, teachers and university professors in some Russian regions are paid the equivalent of 150-250 euros a month, just like doctors and other public employees. Wealth inequality, according to some sources, is the greatest in the world.

Oil and gas-driven growth has not brought prosperity or a meaningful economic future to Russia. It is a country ruled by a parasitic, uncontrollable elite. And their answer to all problems is more neoliberalism, more deregulation. They are currently implementing neoliberal reforms in education, health care, and science and culture, just like in Europe. For example, schoolteachers are forced to compete for wage bonuses, just as schools are forced to compete for pupils. This deliberate introduction of market logic in fields completely alien to it, such as education, health care, and culture, is a basic sign of neoliberalism. And the result is European-style “budget cuts” in a situation where there’s nothing to cut to begin with. The social, scientific, and cultural institutions of the Soviet state are in shambles, and now they are being terrorized yet again by this new neoliberal assault.

What are the problems of universities in Russia? Is the education system under attack by neoliberal policies undertaken by the Putin government? What are the main changes and differences between the education systems in USSR and Russia today?

University teachers have been underpaid for decades in Russia. Average wages are 200-500 euros per month even for those who have degrees. In general, the share of educational spending in the federal budget is very low both in absolute and relative terms. Education amounts to about 4.5 percent of Russian GDP, lower than the OECD average—despite the fact that it needs to be rebuilt, not just maintained.

Another problem is university bureaucracy. The institutions of collegial self-government and university autonomy do not function. Both professors and students are subjugated to the will of the administration.

Some problems, such as the lack of autonomy, are inherited from the USSR; some are new.

For example, the authorities have embarked on a program of university reform. It is basically a neoliberal policy, which identifies “ineffective” institutions of higher learning and closes them or merges them with others. Students, professors, and society as a whole have no say in this.

Still, there are some encouraging signs. The atmosphere in Russia has changed since the protests began in 2011. It is not such an apathetic, depoliticized society as before. And university staff are becoming angry, too: when the education minister blamed them, in an interview, for their incompetence (which, he said, explained their low salaries), more than a thousand professors signed a letter of protest. A new independent university teachers’ union is being created. Just a few days ago, an activist at Moscow State University, Mikhail Lobanov, successfully avoided being fired after a strong campaign of solidarity on his behalf. This might be a small success, but it inspires hope: students are becoming more aware of their potential, and professors are, too. There is an incredible amount of work to be done, but it is much easier now to believe in our eventual success.

Photos taken from the Facebook pages European Revolution, OccupyAbay, and Elena Rostunova without permission but with much gratitude.

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Filed under activism, critical thought, interviews, leftist movements, political repression, protests, Russian society, trade unions, urban movements (right to the city)

Putin’s War on the Left (International Solidarity Appeal)

socialistworker.org

Putin’s ongoing war on the left
February 25, 2013

Last May, before the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for yet another term as Russia’s president, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Moscow in protest against the fraudulent election that gave Putin another victory two months before. Police descended on the peaceful demonstration and attacked protests, arresting 400 people.

Since then, Putin’s dictatorial regime has used the May 6 demonstration as a bogeyman to accuse various left-wing leaders of wanting to foment violence — when those truly bent on violence were his own security forces. In this statement, left-wing organizations in Russia — the Russian Socialist Movement, the Left Front and the Russian Anarchists — appeal for international solidarity against the government’s violence and repression.

Demonstrators in the streets of Moscow on May 6 (Sergey Kukota)

Demonstrators in the streets of Moscow on May 6 (Sergey Kukota)

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TWO MONTHS ago, we, representatives of the Russian left, asked for your solidarity in the face of the coming wave of political repressions in Russia.

Alas, today, this call is even more urgent than before. It is no longer an exaggeration to compare the political trials taking place right now to the prosecution of Russian populists in the late 19th century. The number of possible convictions resulting from the so-called “riots” of May 6, 2012 has steadily climbed over 20, and the majority of the detainees have already spent many months in jail awaiting trial.

Their names are Vladimir Akimenkov, Oleg Arkhipenkov, Andrei Barabanov, Fyodor Bakhov, Yaroslav Belousov, Alexandra Dukhanina, Stepan Zimin, Ilya Gushchin, Nikolai Kavkazsky, Alexander Kamensky, Leonid Kovyazin, Mikhail Kosenko, Sergei Krivov, Konstantin Lebedev, Maxim Luzyanin, Denis Lutskevich, Alexei Polikhovich, Leonid Razvozzhayev, and Artem Savelov.

The aim of the prosecution is self-evident: to break the will for political struggle of those unhappy with the current political regime and to systematically demolish the existing political opposition, a significant portion of which is situated on the political left.

The Investigative Committee — a structure accountable only to President Putin — has constructed the case as a wide-ranging conspiracy, stretching from rank-and-file street protesters to established politicians. Thus, on January 10, 2013, the Committee merged two trials: the May 6th “riots” (with 19 detainees, two people under instructions not to leave, and 10 hiding outside of Russia) and the “organizing of unrest” with which our comrades Konstantin Lebedev, Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov have been charged.

THE LIST of detainees continues to grow. On February 7, 24-year-old Ilya Gushchin was arrested and accused of using violence against a policeman during the May 6th “riots.” A little earlier, on January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.

On February 9, Sergei Udaltsov’s status changed from instructions not to leave to house arrest. This means that his channels of communication with the outside world have been cut off, and that even the tiniest infraction will land him in jail.

In addition, the prosecution and the judges, guided by the Kremlin, keep on placing pressure on the detainees, further risking their health and lives.

Thus, for example, the eyesight of 25-year-old Vladimir Akimenkov has continued to worsen since his arrest on June 10, 2012. Akimenkov, a Left Front activist, suffers from congenital impaired eyesight, which has deteriorated in prison conditions and may soon turn into a permanent loss of vision. Akimenkov’s lawyer, human rights activists and over 3,000 petitioners have asked the authorities to release him. However, the prosecution and the courts have remained firm and extended Akimenkov’s arrest until May 6, 2013.

Another of the accused, 37-year-old Mikhail Kosenko, has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since his military service. Instead of granting him access to medication or releasing him, the court is preparing to send him to “forced treatment” in a prison hospital.

Leonid Razvozzhayev, 40, a coordinator of the Left Front, was abducted from Ukrainian soil by unknown parties and delivered to Moscow. After the abduction, a confession appears to have been extorted from Razvozzhayev under threat of torture and harm to his family. Once in prison, he renounced his “confessions,” but his words are still being actively used against others. Currently, Razvozzhayev has been transferred to the Siberian city of Irkutsk, where his freedom to communicate with relatives and lawyers is severely limited.

The trial will most likely begin in earnest in March. The prosecutor will claim the existence of a massive anti-state conspiracy in which the accused will be said to have played various roles. We have little doubt that this trial will be biased and unjust. Unless fought against, its probable outcome will be the broken lives of dozens of people (the charges carry imprisonment up to eight years), conspiratorial hysterics in the state-run media, and a carte blanche for new repression.

Your solidarity now is crucial for us. On the eve of this shameful trial, from February 28 to March 3 we ask you to stage protests in front of any consulates of the Russian Federation in your countries, to disseminate information about the political trials and to urge your government and relevant NGOs to act. Please send reports on solidarity action and any other information or questions to RussiaSolidarity@gmail.com.

The Russian Socialist Movement
The Left Front
Russian Anarchists

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Filed under leftist movements, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

Nineteen, in Kyiv, and in Danger: An Interview with Filipp Dolbunov

publicpost.ru

February 23, 2013

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
— Yegor Letov, “We’re Getting Stronger”

Until recently, the habit that young left-wing activists have of dreaming up conspiratorial nicknames for themselves seemed mere child’s play, a tribute to a red romanticism long out of fashion. I spoke with Filipp Dolbunov, better known as Filipp Galtsov and whom I’m used to calling just plain Filippok, the day before the latest pogrom-like police search took place in his Moscow apartment. He is nineteen years old, in Kyiv, and in danger. The Russian government wants to put him in jail. He is a revolutionary.

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Filipp Dolbunov

 

— First of all, I wanted to ask whether you’re safe.

No, I’m not safe now. I’m experiencing unhealthy attention from the Russian and Ukrainian security services. In particular, as I’ve learned, I’ve secretly been put on the wanted list in Russia. My parents are visited once a week by the police, people from Center “E”, and perhaps the FSB. In Ukraine, I am being followed by the SBU.

I also don’t feel safe because the UNHCR does not respond to my requests for asylum.

— Are you afraid you could be deported?

Yes, that possibility exists. After Leonid Razvozzhayev’s abduction in Kyiv and considering that the Ukraine’s statistics for deporting refugees are high, it’s quite possible. And knowing what close friends the SBU are with the FSB and Center “E”, I would raise the likelihood of this several times.

— You say you’re being followed. What does that look like?

On February 6, for example, I was followed from the building of the Ukraine Migration Service right to the place where I’m staying. Three men bearing a strong resemblance to police investigators followed me at a distance of forty meters. They periodically stopped and pretended to talk. In the subway, they got into the car next to mine and glared at me the whole way. They got out at the same station as I did and took the same street as I did. Only when we were approaching the house did I shake them. I saw one of them running after me, but I managed to escape. Kyiv police officers are now periodically staked out near the house.

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“Honor the UN convention on the rights of refugees”

— Why do you think the security services are so interested in you?

I think the security services are now paying special attention to people with leftist views. If a person defends his position not only in theory but also in practice, this interest often leads to something unhealthy from their point of view. The economic situation in Russia is now rather dodgy. The government is cutting spending on education, health care and other social needs. Unlike the liberals, who are enthusiastic only about “Russia without Putin,” the left speak loudly about these problems. The authorities are most afraid of a societal explosion. Hence the persecution, crackdowns, and intimidation on the part of the security services.

— What did you personally do to annoy them?

Lately I’ve been active in social movements, for example, the defense of the Khimki and Tsagovsky forests, support for workers’ dormitory residents [facing eviction] in Moscow, and the movement for fair elections. I have also been involved in some unsanctioned protest actions, but of course I didn’t do what they’re charging me with.

— What was your real role in the events of May 6, and what are you accused of doing?

As the lawyers and civil rights advocates tell me, I might be facing the charge of “organizing a riot.” The investigation is seriously basing itself on Leonid Razvozzhayev’s confession of guilt [whose authenticity has been disputed, first of all by Razvozzhayev himself], where I was identified as someone who allegedly led a column of anarchists. In fact, that day I marched in the column of the Russian Socialist Movement, of which I’m a member. I used no violence against police officers, all the more so because there was no “rioting” on Bolotnaya Square.

— You were a witness in the case of another person charged in the Bolotnaya Square case, Stepan Zimin? Have you been pressured in this connection?

Yes, I volunteered to be a witness in Stepan’s case. On October 25, I was abducted from my home by several Center “E” officers, who tried to force me into testifying against Konstantin Lebedev, Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov [during an interrogation] at the Investigative Committee. My apartment was searched. The same day I was released, with them telling me my procedural status was not clear. That is, it was difficult to understand whether I was a witness or a suspect. A week later, I finally received a [legal, written] summons from Investigator Marukyan. In my testimony, I said that Stepan had not thrown stones, had not used violence against police officers, and had not taken part in any rioting. During the questioning, Markuyan threatened to send me to the army if I didn’t, to borrow his expression, “stop talking nonsense.”

— Why did you decide to leave Russia right at this moment?

They had begun pressuring my relatives — my mother, grandmother, and grandfather. During the October 25 search, the eshniki [Center “E” officers] threatened that if my relatives continued to interfere with their “work,” they would be sent to the Investigative Committee for questioning. I left because too many facts had piled up that pointed to the possibility of my being arrested. From November to early January, people from Center “E” and the FSB came to my house once a week: they would ask where I was and threaten and intimidate my relatives. And recently, on February 12, they dragged my grandmother, who is seventy years old, in for questioning.

— How did you become a leftist? What influenced you?

I once was at a Grazhdanskaya Oborona concert, where I met really interesting people who were wearing hammer and sickle or anarchy patches. Then I gradually started reading, following the news, and looking at what was happening around me, and I realized that it was not even the country that had to be changed, but the whole world, the [entire] system of economic, human and spiritual relations.

— What’s your favorite Yegor Letov song?

Well, I have two favorites: “Sing, Revolution” and “We’re Getting Stronger.”

— You are applying for refugee status? How are things going?

At the moment I’m looking to be resettled in a third country, because I absolutely don’t feel safe here. Things are going badly, because the UNHCR does not react to reports of persecution on the part of the Ukrainian authorities. I don’t know how to explain this. The head of the local UNHCR office has said in the press that Ukraine is not a safe country for refugees. But considering the circumstances that I and other political refugees from Russia find ourselves in, I cannot understand why they can’t provide us with additional protection.

Besides me, Other Russia activist Alexei Devyatkin, journalist Jenny Kurpen, and Solidarity activist Mikhail Maglov are in Ukraine [applying for political asylum]. You can help us in this situation, first of all, by drawing attention to the problem of Russian refugees, especially at the international level.

— What would you wish or advise your comrades in Russia? Both those who are free and those already in prison.

I would like to wish my comrades success in the struggle. I wish a speedy release for the prisoners. You guys are such a big help. I really miss you and hope to see you soon.

— Probably somewhere in Switzerland.

No, in Russia.

Interview prepared by Ivan Ovsyannikov

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International Days of Solidarity against Political Repression in Russia

A Call for International Days of Solidarity against Political Repression in Russia, November 29—December 2, 2012

An appeal from Russian leftists to their comrades in the struggle

Today we, members of Russian leftist organizations, appeal to our comrades all over the world for solidarity. This appeal and your response to it are vital to us. We are now facing not just another instance of innocent people sentenced by the punitive Russian “justice” system or another human life wrecked by the state. The authorities have launched a crackdown without precedent in Russia’s recent history, a campaign whose goal is to extinguish the left as an organized political force. The recent arrests, threats, beatings, aggressive media attacks and moves towards declaring leftist groups illegal all point to a new general strategy on the part of the authorities, a strategy much crueler and much less predictable than what we have seen in recent years.

The massive protest movement that began in December 2011 radically changed the atmosphere of political and social passivity established during the Putin years. Tens of thousands of young and middle-aged people, office workers and state employees, took to the streets and demanded change. On December 10 and 24, 2011, and, later, on February 4, 2012, Moscow, Petersburg and other major Russian cities were the sites of massive rallies, demonstrating that a significant part of society had undergone a new level of politicization. The “managed democracy” model crafted by the ruling elite over many years went bankrupt in a matter of days. Political trickery stopped working when confronted by real grassroots politics. The movement, whose demands were initially limited to “honest elections,” quickly grew into a protest against the entire political system.

After the elections of March 4, 2012, during which Vladimir Putin, using a combination of massive administrative pressure on voters, massive vote rigging and mendacious populist rhetoric, secured another term for himself, many thought that the potential for protest mobilization had been exhausted. The naïve hopes of the thousands of opposition volunteers who served as election observers in order to put an end to voter fraud, were crushed.

The next demonstration, in whose success few believed, was scheduled for downtown Moscow on May 6, 2012, the day before Putin’s inauguration. On this day, however, despite the skeptical predictions, more than 60,000 people showed up for an opposition march and rally. When the march approached the square where the rally was to take place, the police organized a massive provocation, blocking the marchers’ path to the square. All those who attempted to circumvent the police cordon were subjected to beatings and arrests. The unprecedented police violence produced resistance on the part of some protesters, who resisted arrests and refused to leave the square until everyone had been freed. The confrontation on May 6 lasted several hours. In the end, around 650 people were arrested, some of them spending the night in jail.

The next day, Putin’s motorcade traveled to his inauguration through an empty Moscow. Along with the protesters, the police had cleared the city center of all pedestrians. The new protest movement had demonstrated its power and a new degree of radicalization. The events of May 6 gave rise to the Russian Occupy movement, which brought thousands of young people to the center of Moscow and held its ground until the end of May. Leftist groups, who until then had been peripheral to the protest movement’s established liberal spokespeople, were progressively playing a larger role.

Those events were a signal to the authorities: the movement had gone beyond the permissible, the elections were over, and it was time to show their teeth. Almost immediately, a criminal investigation was launched into the “riot,” and on May 27, the first arrest took place. 18-year-old anarchist Alexandra Dukhanina was accused of involvement in rioting and engaging in violence against police officers. The arrests continued over the next few days. The accused included both seasoned political activists (mainly leftists) and ordinary people for whom the May 6 demonstrations were their first experience of street politics.

Nineteen people have so far been accused of involvement in those “disturbances.” Twelve of them are now being held in pre-trial detention facilities. Here are some of their stories:

⁃ Vladimir Akimenkov, 25, communist and Left Front activist. Arrested on June 10, 2012, he will be in pre-trial detention until March 6, 2013. Akimenkov was born with poor eyesight, which has deteriorated even further while he has been in jail. His most recent examination showed he has 10% vision in one eye, and 20% in the other. This, however, was not a sufficient grounds for the court to substitute house arrest for detention. At Akimenkov’s last court hearing, the judge cynically commented that only total blindness would make him reconsider his decision.

⁃ Mikhail Kosenko, 36, no political affiliation, arrested on June 8. Kosenko, who suffers from psychological disorders, also asked that he be placed under house arrest rather in pre-trial detention. However, the court has declared him a “danger to society” and plans to force him to undergo psychiatric treatment.

⁃ Stepan Zimin, 20, anarchist and anti-fascist, arrested on June 8 and placed in pre-trial detention until March 6, 2013, after which date his arrest can be extended. Zimin supports his single mother, yet once again the court did not consider this sufficient grounds to release him on his own recognizance.

⁃ Nikolai Kavkazsky, 26, socialist, human rights activist and LGBT activist. Detained on July 25.

Investigators have no clear evidence proving the guilt of any of these detainees. Nevertheless, they remain in jail and new suspects steadily join their ranks. Thus, the latest suspect in the May 6 case, 51-year-old liberal activist and scholar Sergei Krivov, was arrested quite recently, on October 18. There is every indication he will not be the last.

If the arrests of almost twenty ordinary protesters were intended to inspire fear in the protest movement, then the hunt for the “organizers of mass disturbances” is meant to strike at its acknowledged leaders. According to the investigation, the so-called riot was the result of a conspiracy, and all the arrestees had been given special assignments. This shows that we are dealing not only with a series of arrests, but with preparations for a large-scale political trial against the opposition.

On October 5, NTV, one of Russia’s major television channels, aired an “investigative documentary” that leveled fantastical charges against the opposition and in particular, against the most famous member of the left, Sergei Udaltsov. This Goebbelsian propaganda mash-up informed viewers of Udaltsov’s alleged ties with foreign intelligence, and the activities of the Left Front that he heads were declared a plot by foreign enemies of the state. By way of decisive proof, the broadcast included a recording of an alleged meeting involving Sergei Udaltsov, Left Front activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, Russian Socialist Movement member Konstantin Lebedev, and Givi Targamadze, one of the closest advisors to the president of Georgia. In particular, the conversation includes talk of money delivered by the Georgians for “destabilizing” Russia.

Despite the fact that the faces in the recording are practically indiscernible and the sound has clearly been edited and added separately to the video, within a mere two days the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office (the state law enforcement agency playing the lead role in organizing the current crackdown) used it to launch a criminal case. On October 17, Konstantin Lebedev was arrested and Sergei Udaltsov released after interrogation, having signed a pledge not to travel beyond the Moscow city limits. On October 19, a third suspect in the new case, Left Front activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, attempted to apply for refugee status in the Kyiv offices of the UNHCR. As soon as he stepped outside the building, persons unknown violently forced him into a vehicle and illegally transported him across the Ukrainian border onto Russian territory. At an undisclosed location in Russia he was subjected to torture and threats (including regarding the safety of his family) and forced to sign a “voluntary confession.” In this statement, Razvozzhayev confessed to ties with foreign intelligence and to preparations for an armed insurgency, in which Konstantin Lebedev and Sergei Udaltsov were also involved. Razvozzhayev was then taken to Moscow and jailed as as an accused suspect. Razvozzhayev has subsequently asserted in meetings with human rights activists that he disavows this testimony, which was obtained under duress. However, police investigators have every intention of using it. We know of the existence of “Razvozzhayev’s list,” a list beaten out of him by torture: it contains the names of people who will soon also become targets of persecution.

The scope of the crackdown is steadily growing. The Investigative Committee recently announced an inquiry into Sergei Udaltsov’s organization, the Left Front, which may well result in its being banned as an “extremist” organization. Pressure against the anti-fascist movement is likewise building. Well-known anti-fascist activists Alexey Sutuga, Alexey Olesinov, Igor Kharchenko, Irina Lipskaya and Alen Volikov have been detained on fabricated charges and are being held in police custody in Moscow. Socialist and anti-fascist Filipp Dolbunov has been interrogated and threatened on several occasions.

It is hardly accidental that most victims of this unprecedented wave of repression are involved in the leftist movement. On the eve of the introduction of austerity measures, curtailment of labor rights and pension reforms in Russia, the Putin-Medvedev administration is most afraid of an alliance between the existing democratic movement and possible social protest. Today’s wave of repressions is the most important test for Russia’s new protest movement: either we hold strong or a new period of mass apathy and fear awaits us. It is precisely for this reason, faced with unprecedented political pressure, that the solidarity of our comrades in Europe and the entire world is so crucial.

We appeal to you to organize Days of Solidarity against Political Repression from November 29 to December 2 outside the Russian Federation embassy or any other Russian government misson in your countries, demanding the immediate release of those who have been illegally arrested and termination of the shameful criminal cases and preparations for new “Moscow trials” based on torture and fabrications. We also ask that you use the specific names and details we have provided in this appeal in your own protests and demands. This is crucial for every person now behind bars.

Please send your reports on solidarity actions and any other information or questions to the following email address: solidarityaction2012@gmail.com

Solidarity is our only weapon! United, we will never be defeated!

Russian Socialist Movement, Autonomous Action, Left Front

*Editor’s Note. Originally published in Russian here, and in English here. The original English translation has been edited slightly to make it more readable and accurate.

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A Police Story (What Happened to Filipp Dolbunov)

(Originally published in Russian at: http://russ.ru/Mirovaya-povestka/Sluchaj-iz-policejskoj-zhizni)

A Police Story
Ilya Matveev

Filipp Dolbunov is nineteen and a student in the cultural studies department at the State Academic University for the Humanities (GAUGN) in Moscow.

Filipp is an anti-fascist, a friend of mine, and a comrade in the Russian Socialist Movement. He is a smart, brave and responsible young man. Filipp was involved in defending the Khimki and Tsagovsky forests, and he has worked with us in the Russian Socialist Movement on many protest actions. He went to organizing committee meetings, and handed out leaflets and newspapers—the usual activist routine.

During the afternoon of October 25, police detectives broke into Filipp’s home. Threatening him and accompanied by his parents’ shouts, they dragged him outside to a car. This story had begun earlier, however.

Filipp is friends with Stepan Zimin, an anarchist and anti-fascist arrested in connection with the May 6 Bolotnaya Square “riot” case. When Filipp found out that Zimin had been arrested, he contacted lawyer Vasily Kushnir. It transpired that there was not a single defense witness in the entire case (which now involves nearly twenty official suspects, including Zimin; twelve of the suspects are currently in police custody.)

Kirov resident Alexei Orlov had been willing to testify on Zimin’s behalf, but local police pressured him into refusing. Filipp then decided to testify himself, because he had been on Bolotnaya Square on May 6 in the thick of the “riot” (i.e., a police assault on protesters taking part in a officially authorized march and rally) and saw that Zimin had not committed any illegal acts.

Filipp and his lawyer waited for a summons from the Investigative Committee for two weeks, but the summons never did come.

On October 25, Kushnir filed a second motion to have Filipp summoned as a witness. On the same day—perhaps this was a coincidence, perhaps not—police came to his home and took him to the Investigative Committee without allowing him to call his lawyer.

The policemen threatened Filipp the entire way. They stopped the car near a forest (Filipp lives in the inner-ring Moscow suburb of Balashikha) and told him everything now depended on how he talked with them. If he refused to talk, they could have their conversation in the woods. “Get out and smoke your last cigarette,” he was told.

A detective with a camera got out of a second car, and the men began asking Filipp questions. He refused to answer. A policeman turned his head. “Look at the camera, bitch!” he told Filipp.

Filipp was again forced into the car. Outside the Investigative Committee building, he was met by investigator Timofei Grachov, who said to him, “You don’t want to be a prison bitch? Then you need to make friends with me.”

The interrogation began. For starters Grachov jabbed Filipp in the face twice with his fist and cuffed him on the nape of his neck. “Don’t look at me like I’m shit or you’ll end up shit yourself,” Grachov said. Then he relaxed.

One of the detectives in the room threatened he would call his acquaintance the warden of Butyrka prison and arrange for Filipp to be put in a cell with hardened criminals.

Filipp was asked what he had been doing on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, whether he knew Konstantin Lebedev, Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov, whether he had been involved in the protest movement for a long time, and what he thought about the NTV documentary film “Anatomy of a Protest 2.” Filipp answered none of these questions, invoking Article 51 of the Russian Federation Constitution (“No one shall be obliged to give evidence against himself or herself, his or her spouse or close relatives”) and pointing out that he had not been allowed to call an attorney.

A statement was then placed before Filipp indicating that he had refused to answer police investigators’ questions under Article 51 of the Constitution (Filipp added, in writing, that he had not been provided with an attorney) and an off-the-record interrogation began.

Aside from endless foul language and threats, Grachov came up with a new means of getting at Filipp—he said he would bring Filipp’s mother to the Investigative Committee and she would tearfully implore him to testify. The local beat cop told Filipp over the phone that his mother was on her way, but in the event she did not arrive.

After the interrogation (which lasted a total of five hours), Filipp spent another hour and a half sitting in a locked office. He was then handcuffed and taken outside. At the entrance, he saw civil rights lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky and managed to tell him to spread the word on the Net that he had been detained in the May 6 Bolotnaya Square case. Soon, all of us—my friends and I—began to receive bits of information about what was going on.

Filipp was taken back home, where police would conduct a search. Although he was handcuffed, there was a book in his coat pocket, Gramsci’s “Art and Politics,” and he read the whole drive home.

When they arrived at his home, the search began. The police could not avoid dirty tricks here, either: the detectives intimidated Filipp’s grandfather, a war veteran, and took his mother to another room and told her that her son was an “extremist.”

Police found a copy of The Communist Manifesto in Filipp’s apartment. They were about to confiscate it, but then they realized that it was probably not a banned work. Just to make sure, a detective checked the Federal List of Extremist Materials on a laptop and discovered that it was not, indeed, prohibited.

In the end, police seized the system unit of Filipp’s computer, five SIM cards and that book he was reading, “Art and Politics.” Police drew up an inventory of the seized items and, as they were leaving, they gave Filipp a written witness summons for that very same day!

Filipp is, apparently, now an official witness in the Udaltsov-Lebedev-Razvozzhayev case. In keeping with the petition he filed, he might still be summoned to the Investigative Committee. And yet he was not arrested on October 25. For other people, however, the horror continues.

It continues for Vladimir Akimenkov, who has nearly gone blind while in police custody. A court recently extended his arrest until March 2013, because only total blindness could serve as a mitigating circumstance in continuing to detain him.

It continues for Leonid Razvozzhayev, who was abducted and tortured into making a confession.

It continues for the other prisoners in the Bolotnaya Square case. It continues for Konstantin Lebedev.

Why I have written in such detail about what happened to Filipp? Because I want as many people as possible to know what is going on. Please help me spread this information. After all, someone might still be suffering from the illusion that only dangerous members of the “underground” are imprisoned and tried, only people who know what they are getting into, so to speak. But no, the crackdown affects ordinary activists—students, artists, scholars, etc.—that is, people you know. It is like in Ilya Kabakov’s well-known installation Toilet: the nastiness is right where you live, right next to your kitchen table, and it won’t do to pretend that all is well. Follow reports on the Net, help spread this information, go to solidarity rallies for political prisoners, and write them letters.

In conclusion, I would like to repeat the last two phrases from our statement on the arrest of Konstantin Lebedev.

Those who today feel they act with impunity will answer for everything they have done. We will not forget any of their villainous acts and we will not forgive them.

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Violent Homophobia as State Policy in Russia

Group of Masked Men Attacks Gay Club
By Ezekiel Pfeifer
The Moscow Times
15 October 2012

Police started an inquiry Friday to identify a group of men who wreaked havoc in a Moscow gay club — attacking clubgoers, overturning tables and throwing bottles — which left four people hospitalized and others injured.

Police began to receive phone calls around 9:30 p.m. Thursday night from people saying a group of aggressive young men had entered the club 7FreeDays, located in a basement on Milyutinsky Pereulok in central Moscow, and started a fight, an unspecified police official told Interfax.

The club, which on its website describes itself as the “first gay- and lesbian-friendly bar in Russia,” was holding an event in honor of international Coming Out Day. Police arrived at the club after the agitators had fled the scene.

Police plan to study videos from nearby surveillance cameras, RIA-Novosti reported, but the attackers might be hard to identify because, for privacy reasons, there were no cameras inside the club.

Four people were hospitalized, the news agency said.

Unspecified police officials told Lifenews.ru that the attackers were dressed in dark clothes and surgical masks and that many of them had shaved heads.

A man in the club at the time of the attack told the online tabloid that acid was thrown on him. Other witnesses told the NTV television channel that a group of about 20 attackers struck clubgoers repeatedly over the course of five to six minutes, turned over tables and threw bottles, then fled.

“First I thought it was part of the show. … A bit later we realized it was not a show, but an attack,” witness Pavel Samburov told the channel.

The injured included a woman who was rushed to a hospital with a punctured eye after her glasses were smashed to pieces, NTV reported.

The attackers held the bartender at gunpoint, forced her face down on the floor, and started smashing the bar, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Friday. About 70 people were at the party that evening, the statement said. It called on Russian authorities to investigate the attack.

Earlier last week, the People’s Council, a nationalist Orthodox group, called for the closure of all gay clubs in Moscow as part of an effort to prohibit the “promotion of homosexuality.”

The People’s Council said Moscow lawmakers should follow the example set by their counterparts in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities, where the “promotion of homosexuality to minors” had already been banned.

Moscow has about a dozen gay or nominally gay-friendly bars and clubs, according to various Internet listings. No one has claimed responsibility for the Thursday attack.

Gay rights leader Nikolai Alexeyev said in a commentary piece on Gayrussia.eu that he thought the attack took place because the perpetrators felt they would not be punished.

“The main reason for what happened is the feeling of complete impunity of the people who commit such crimes, which must be considered hate crimes — in this case, hate crimes against those who love others,” Alexeyev wrote.

_____

anticapitalist.ru

Let’s Stand Up to State-Sponsored Xenophobia!
A Statement by the Russian Socialist Movement

On October 11 in Moscow, a group of twenty armed thugs attacked the club 7FreeDays, where an event celebrating LGBT Coming Out Day was underway. After breaking into the club, the thugs assaulted partygoers before escaping the scene of the crime completely unimpeded.

The attack on 7FreeDays cannot be regarded as an isolated incident. Law enforcement authorities are always well informed about such groups of pogromists and their plans, so in this particular case we are dealing, if not with a deliberate provocation on the part of the police, then with their connivance. This attack has taken place amidst calls by United Russia deputies in the Moscow City Duma to adopt a law, similar to one already adopted in Petersburg, banning the “promotion of homosexuality” in Moscow, and proposals by Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, that LGBT people should be banned from working in schools. Previously, when officials commented bans on marches and rallies defending LGBT rights, they argued that there was simply nothing for activists to defend, citing the presence of special LGBT nightclubs in the major cities. Now, however, their rhetoric has become tougher: we are confronted with calls and plans to actually reduce the labor rights of LGBT people, along with attacks on the places where they were permitted to openly express their personal feelings without the risk of encountering violent homophobia.

It is no accident that this flare-up of state-sponsored xenophobia is taking place amidst a new phase in the attack on the social rights of Russian citizens and the veritable abandonment by the authorities of their campaign promises. When governments want to take something away from their citizens, they begin vigorously supporting chauvinism and xenophobia. First, chauvinistic sentiments are artificially provoked in society by means of propaganda, and then the authorities pretend they are merely making concessions to the popular mood, thus concealing their own dirty deeds. Today, these deeds include cuts to the network of state educational institutions, the destruction of the system of free medical care, and increases in utility rates at a tempo that outpaces increases to state-sector wages and pensions.

Thus, opposing state-sponsored xenophobia and preventing growing popular discontent with the socio-economic situation from once again being channeled by the authorities into xenophobia and chauvinism is a task not only for LGBT activists.

The Russian Socialist Movement demands:

• a prompt investigation into the attack on 7FreeDays
• the repeal of all laws adopted recently in various regions of Russia that in one way or another limit the rights of LGBT people
• the resignation of all MPs and officials who have sponsored such legislative initiatives

We call on friendly leftist organizations, as well as all organizations and public figures who claim to belong to the opposition, to support our demands.

October 14, 2012
Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)

_____

Almost as if on cue, a “grassroots organization” with the grimly and comically appropriate name of Reaction held a rally outside Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral in Petersburg on Sunday against what it dubbed the “homo dictatorship.” The homely appearance of the “Reactionaries” supports the RSD’s argument that, as it pursues homophobia and other forms of xenophobia as semi-official policy, the Russian state pretends to be caving into purely popular sentiment.

 Stop, Gay Dictatorship! Today They Confiscated Dmitry Deneiko’s Cross, Tomorrow They’ll Arrest You!
[Deneiko is a nationalist arrested on suspicion of participating in a group assault on LGBT activists after an opposition rally in Petersburg on June 12.]

 

“God is the universe’s head homophobe.” Holy Martyr Daniil Sysoev

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Ilya Matveev, “The ‘Welfare’ State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This”

Originally published in Russian at: http://russ.ru/Mirovaya-povestka/Social-nee-nekuda

The “Welfare” State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This
Ilya Matveev

The 1993 Constitution boldly declares the Russian Federation a welfare state. [1] This definition is not found in every modern constitution. You will not find it in the basic laws of Poland (1997), Finland (1999) or Switzerland (1999). Among the developed countries, it seems, only Germany, France and Spain have the constitutional status of welfare states. [2]

In Russia, however, this proud moniker has always played a special role, and during the Putin period it has been even more significant. For the past decade, official propaganda has been built around “social commitments,” which the government, allegedly, fulfills and exceeds. (Moreover, it is assumed that social progress should compensate for the lack of civil rights, about which pesky humans rights activists at home and observers abroad constantly remind the regime.)

Powerful organizations and tens of thousands of “welfare” specialists stand watch over the Russian welfare state. If you counted the numbers of people on staff at the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), its member unions and think thanks, the Russian Trilateral Commission, and other institutions and organizations engaged in the business of “social dialogue” and “decent living standards,” you would end up with several tens of thousands of people. It is possible that Russia has only one competitor in the world in terms of its elaborate “welfare” bureaucracy—China.

The system of trade unions we inherited from the Soviet Union is still remarkably integrated into all levels of government. Thus, for example, there are eight trade union representatives in the current State Duma, and MP Andrei Isayev, who sits on the executive council of the ruling United Russia party, serves as a deputy chairman of the FNPR on a voluntary basis.

The “welfare” bureaucracy is provided a permanent stage on which it habitually does battle with notional “internal enemies”—the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Institute of Contemporary Development (a Medvedev-affiliated think thank) and its Strategy 2020 plan, other neoliberal think tanks, and employer lobbying organizations. In this noisy fight (which never, however, exceeds certain bounds), the “welfare” bloc often wins, because Putin frequently comes down on its side. The relations among the FNPR (the main mobilizing force in Putin’s Popular Front), the welfare wing of United Russia, and Putin resemble a veritable “symphony of powers.” It would seem that the welfare state in Russia has a bright future ahead of it.

What is really going on?

It is clear that reality on the ground has little to do with existing laws and even less to do with the solemn declarations of the authorities and the union bosses. And yet in this text I would like to focus on the legislative provisions that make up the legal architecture of our welfare state, as guaranteed by the Constitution and Putin’s programmatic articles.

The Minimum Wage

In Russia, there is no minimum wage as such. The statutory minimum wage—whose acronym in Russian is “MROT” (minimal’nyi razmer oplaty truda)—is currently 4,600 rubles a month [approx. 114 euros], which is 67% of the legal monthly subsistence minimum, now set at 6,800 rubles [approx. 169 euros].

A situation where the state-guaranteed minimum wage is below the subsistence minimum is an economic absurdity. The government declares, in effect, that this wage must not be less than a certain amount, but even by its own calculations no one can live on this amount of money. Then what, exactly, does this amount represent? Where does it comes from and what do we need it for?

Certain issues, of course, are raised by the amount of the subsistence minimum (which in any case is higher than that of the MROT). It is calculated based on the value of the “consumer goods basket,” whose particular charms (one overgarment should last a person eight years, fifty rubles a month on entertainment, etc.) are well known.

As a result of some complex shuffling, the cost of the consumer goods basket will be increased by 4.2% in 2013 to a whopping 6,016 rubles a month [approx. 150 euros]. It is clear that this figure, the subsistence minimum and the MROT have no basis in reality and cannot serve either as regulatory instruments or indices of poverty.

And yet a minimum wage is guaranteed by the Constitution (Article 7), just like the status of the “welfare” state itself. In fact, this clause of our Constitution is implemented to the same extent as the entire 1936 “Stalin” Constitution.

By comparison, in France, our partner in the “welfare” states group, the minimum wage is about 1,400 euros per month (9.2 euros per hour for a thirty-five-hour work week). In the United States, a country where entire institutions are busy trying to prove that the minimum wage is economically and socially counterproductive, there is nevertheless a minimum wage, which is set at 7.25 USD per hour (or about $1,300 a month) at the federal level. Individual states have the right to set their own minimum wage, but it cannot be lower than the federal minimum.

Interestingly, the Health and Social Development Ministry estimates the cost of raising the MROT to the level of the subsistence minimum at 55 billion rubles [approx. 1.368 billion euros], while the Ministry of Finance says this would cost 60 billion rubles [approx. 1.492 billion euros]. Nearly 300 billion rubles [approx. 7.46 billion euros] were spent on the notorious APEC summit in Vladivostok, but spending six times less than that amount to increase the MROT does not figure in the government’s plans. In 2013, the MROT will be set at 5,200 rubles [approx. 129 euros]—that is, it will still be lower than the subsistence minimum. And, as the Finance Ministry proudly notes, this figure will be achieved without additional budget expenditures.

By pursuing this policy, the authorities not only demonstrate that a situation where the minimum wage is below the threshold for physical survival is, in their opinion, all right. They also stubbornly refuse to implement their own laws, namely, the Labor Code, which contains a clause stating that the MROT may not be lower than the subsistence minimum.

It is also significant that the debate about the minimum wage in Russia is focused on the level of absolute poverty and physical survival (although the MROT, despite Isayev’s endless chatter, has not reached even this level over the past ten years), whereas in Europe the focus is on achieving a “living wage,” not a “subsistence wage.” A living wage is meant to provide a relatively decent standard of living, not merely ward off death by starvation. However, when it comes to the APEC Summit and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, the Russian “welfare” state has no intention of protecting its working citizens even from death by starvation. [3]

Strikes

In Russia, strikes are banned for all intents and purposes. Despite a partial change in the law in 2011, the rules on strikes and labor disputes virtually eliminate the possibility of legal protests by workers.

For some categories of workers—railroad workers and air traffic controllers—strikes are prohibited directly. For all other categories of workers, the ban is not direct, but no less effective for all that.

Protest strikes against government economic and social policy, solidarity strikes, and strikes to demand union recognition are illegal in Russia. Despite the fact that they are all mentioned in the seminal 87th Convention of the International Labour Organization, “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise,” which was ratified by Russia, it is prohibited to carry out such strikes in Russia. The government has ignored related ILO recommendations.

Russian workers can strike only as part of a collective bargaining dispute (this is even enshrined in Article 37 of the Constitution). However, the procedure for collective bargaining disputes is so complicated that the courts can always find and do find collective bargaining units guilty of various violations. Employees must notify the employer of their intention to strike five to seven days in advance (until 2011, this period was ten days). During this time, the employer has the right to appeal to the courts, which can rule the announced strike—that is, a strike that has not yet begun—illegal.

The impact of these extremely repressive rules is as follows. In 2008, according to official data from Rosstat, there were four strikes in Russia; in 2009, one; in 2010, none; and in 2011, two. Independent analysts, such as those at the Center for Social and Labor Rights, register hundreds of labor disputes annually, some of which involve work stoppages, but the vast majority of these occur within the legal gray zone. Under current law, it is almost impossible to carry out a full-fledged strike, and the collective bargaining procedure is so complex that, according to the Center, “nine out of ten [labor] protests take place in ways not stipulated by labor laws, while only one in ten adopt legal forms.” [4]

Conclusion

A state-guaranteed minimum wage and the freedom to engage in labor disputes, including strikes, are the foundations of the welfare state. In Russia, these social rights are not implemented in practice, nor are they even fully guaranteed by law. Since Putin has come to power, the FNPR and the government’s “welfare” bloc have neither increased the MROT to the minimum subsistence level nor simplified the procedure for collective bargaining disputes and strikes, which was made extremely complicated, in fact, by the new Labor Code adopted in 2001. Workers in Russia are deprived both of a minimum guaranteed income and effective means for raising wages to acceptable levels. This makes our country more of an anti-welfare state than a welfare state.

In fact, none of the things enumerated in Article 7 of the Russian Federation Constitution—“labor and the health of the people”; “guaranteed minimum wages and salaries”; “state support […] to the family, maternity, paternity and childhood, to disabled persons and the elderly”; a “system of social services, […] state pensions, allowances and other social security guarantees”—are fully provided, even by the letter of the law, despite the massive bureaucracy employed only in solving these problems.

That is why the slogan “For the welfare state!” chanted at rallies held by a broad coalition of Russian leftist groups, independent trade unions, social movements, educators and students on October 7, the World Day for Decent Work (typically, the FNPR limited its marking of the occasion to conferences and round tables), was an offensive rather than defensive tactic. By and large, there has never been a welfare state in Russia, and this is our difference from Europe. The twentieth-century Russian state was socialist, and over the past twenty years it has been a post-socialist state, not a welfare state. Building a genuine welfare state is our primary task, and it can only be achieved by a broad and sustained mobilization of workers organized into trade unions and social movements.

Ilya Matveev is a postgraduate student in political theory at Moscow State University and an activist with the Russian Socialist Movement.

Notes

1. The exact term in Russian is a “social” (sotsial’noe) state: “The Russian Federation is a social State whose policy is aimed at creating conditions for a worthy life and a free development of man.”

2. V.E. Chirkin, “Konstitutsiia i sotsial’noe gosudarstvo,” Konstitutsionnyi vestnik, 1 (19) (2008).

3. According to official statistics, around 13% of the Russian population—approximately 18 million people—live below the poverty line. But this calculation is based, yet again, on the official subsistence minimum, unlike in the EU countries, where the poverty line is defined as 60% of median disposal household income. In Russia, the average monthly salary is 27,000 rubles [approx. 670 euros]. 60% of that figure is around 16,000 rubles: around forty to fifty percent of the Russian people have a monthly income of less than this amount. Thus, if the poverty line in Russia were calculated according to EU standards, half its population would be deemed impoverished. In addition, according to the FNPR’s statistics, around one to two million Russians have an over-the-table wage that is less than the MROT, that is, less than 4,600 rubles a month. And this despite the fact that, by law, employers are supposed to be fined by the authorities for paying their employees less than the minimum wage.

4. For more details, see Elena Gerasimova, “Zakonodatel’stvo Rossii o kollektivnykh trudovykh sporakh i zabastovkakh: problemy i napravleniia sovershenstvovaniia,” Trudovoe pravo v Rossii i za rubezhom, 1 (2012). According to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, there were 262 labor disputes in 2011 in Russia; 91 of them involved work stoppages—that is, they were essentially strikes. These statistics were compiled from reports in the mass media, but since many such conflicts are not reported by the press, their actual numbers are probably much higher.

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