Staunton, January 11 – The Russian people “who 20 years ago dreamed about freedom today are choosing slavery” because they were deceived by the elites about privatization and thus no longer “believe anyone,” according to an analysis by Vladimir Pastukhov, a Russian scholar who now works at St. Antony’s College in Oxford.
Writing in “Novaya gazeta” last week, Pastukhov argues that the revolution Russians thought they were making was “betrayed” by those who used its symbols to remain in power and seize much of the country’s natural wealth. Consequently, to move forward now, privatization as it has been carried out in Russia must be reversed (www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/56123.html).
The scholar begins by comparing the impact of the Moscow demonstrations of February 1990 and those of December 2011. The first led to the transformation of the country’s political system; the second quickly died out and led sadly to “constitutional counter-reforms” by the Kremlin.
“Why were the children not able to do what their parents did?” Pastukhov asks. And he suggests that this outcome happened because “the parents betrayed that very revolution which they made. They exchanged freedom for privatization and thus chose for contemporary Russia the fate which it deserves.”
Privatization of the kind that was carried out in Russia is “the original sin of the anti-communist (liberal) revolution” there. That is because it was carried out in such a barbaric way that it destroyed Russians’ believe in “liberal values” and opened the way to new authoritarianism. Only by reversing privatization can the country move forward.
While 1917 was a genuine revolution, 1991 was only a simulacrum of such change. “Power and property in Russia after perestroika in fact remained in the hands of the very same class (or to put it more gently the very same elite) which controlled it before [those events]. The only thing that changed was the form of its political rule.”
Privatization, Pastukhov argues, was the means by which “the Soviet elite” – which consisted of the nomenklatura, senior members of the intelligentsia and the criminal authorities – “was able to convert its control from de facto to a de jure.” It had nothing to do with and was not the same as the development of private property, a market economy, or democracy.
In reality, the St. Antony’s scholar says privatization undermined all those things, and “everything that has been achieved over the last 20 years or so was achieved in Russia not thanks to privatization but despite it.” And it is now clear that privatization “was the greatest social catastrophe since the times of the Bolshevik revolution and the Civil War.”
When Vladimir Putin came to power, he took steps to “strengthen the results of privatization” despite public anger. He couldn’t undo it because he “had received power from the hands of those who were its chief beneficiaries.” But he could and did exploit the slogans of privatization’s opponents to rein in those beneficiaries.
But this was “a political compromise” that left the rentiers in control of their profits even as it made them more dependent on the state, Pastukhov says, and it mean that Putin in effect replaced “the dead end of communism” with “the dead end of privatization.”
“A first glance” might suggest that there is nothing that can be done, but “the difficulties of the task do not free [Russia] from the need to find a solution.” What is needed is re-nationalization carried out via market and competitive mechanisms so that society can “defend itself from the parasitic class” which has benefited from privatization so far.
“Putin was and remains only the chief defender and expression of the interests of this class,” Pastukhov continues. “Therefore the opposition must present to society not a program of a struggle with Putin (the Putin regime) but a strategic plan for overcoming the consequences of that economic, social, and political catastrophe … which gave birth to Putin.”
“Paradoxically,” the scholar says, “the path to democracy and the market in Russia lies through nationalization. For contemporary Russia, nationalization is not a left but a right and indeed radical liberal program.” And it must be carried out “not so much for economic but for political and ethical reasons.”
“This is a question of the preservation of the moral health of the nation,” he concludes. One should not deceive oneself that “he people who went into the Manezh Square in February 19990 really were seeking freedom and believed in it. But after several years, they privatized that freedom, converting it into a private good.”
“If the people are to again believe in freedom, it must be nationalized. Just like everything else that has been stolen” from them.