“…or systems into ruins hurl’d…”
Though it has been some time since new Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev, was sworn into office, I am only now glancing over some of the pictures of the pomp and circumstance with which the event was staged. I must confess to seeing some bitter ironies in certain elements of the proceedings, which are pictured on the right.
I have read Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution and its evocation of the period in Russia during World War One and immediately prior to the revolutions of 1917. It is a profound work which rails against the corruption and autocracy of the government, the connivance of the established church and the utter hypocrisy of the ‘pro-democracy’ liberal party. How fitting that, sixteen years after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, the Russian state should find itself almost back where it started all those many years ago.
The guards in Tsarist-era uniform bearing the trappings of power along with the Constitution, kissing an icon held by two Orthodox priests and all of it in the palatial surroundings of the Kremlin Palace and Assumption Cathedral. The only way things could possibly get more symbolic would be if they decided to stage all these events in Tsar Nicholas’ Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Yet even then, the completeness of Capital’s victory would reveal itself by the very fact that the Tsar was not present!
Modern Russia even has its own Black Hundreds and a new Komsomol besides. The worst of both worlds. Though absolute poverty is declining (down to 15% from 30%), wealth disparity is widening. Of course laissez faire economists would tell us that this is a function of the system and that we shouldn’t mind it since ultimately their rational investments will allow for a more efficient allocation of resources and risk. The rest of us know that however small the figure in absolute poverty reaches, it never zeroes.
While the Khodorkovskys, Berezovskys and the Abramovichs wax wealthy from their ill-gotten gains, Russia’s GDP only managed to reach 1990 levels in 2006. The state represses freedoms of expression and its police force openly discriminates against homosexuals, up to and including physically attacking Gay Pride marchers.
Meanwhile the corporations most synonymous with de-industrialization in the west move into to capitalize upon workers who they can pay 3 Euros per hour, such as General Motors. In order to increase wages, hunger strikes aren’t uncommon, but unemployment and under-employment are rife. The bureaucratic class of the Soviet Union has fully realised its earlier ambitions of marketisation of the economy and has made the transition to become a senior part of Russian capitalism.
Of the gains of the October Revolution, perhaps only free education and free health care remain, enshrined by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, but one wonders for how long each of these will remain independent of the ‘free’ market? Or perhaps their pride of place in the new Great Russian nationalism, sustained by the vast mineral resources of the country, is the ultimate mockery of an ideal which compelled a people to take government into their own hands for however short a time.