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The Power Vertical

Podcast: The Left's Autumn Of Opportunity

Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks at an antigovernment protest in Moscow on June 12.
Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks at an antigovernment protest in Moscow on June 12.
A new season of protests kicks off on September 15 with mass rallies planned for Moscow and other cities.

But in addition to the opposition's longstanding demands for early elections and a more competitive and pluralistic political system, a new element will be added to the protest mix in what promises to be a very hot autumn -- social issues.

In the coming months, the Russian authorities are due to implement a series of reforms of the country's creaking social welfare infrastructure, including its pension and health-care system. Utilities prices are expected to rise.

Additionally, Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization earlier this summer has sparked increasing anxiety among labor unions and rank-and-file workers.

The prevailing protest mood and the addition of social issues to the equation appears to present an opportunity for Russia's left wing political forces -- if they can seize it.

In this week's edition of the Power Vertical podcast, I discuss the state of the Russian left with my regular co-host Kirill Kobrin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian Service.


Power Vertical Podcast - 14 September, 2012
Power Vertical Podcast - 14 September, 2012i
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Tags: Russian opposition,Power Vertical podcast,Russian left,Sergei Udaltsov

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Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Victoria
September 17, 2012 00:09
That's a pretty good shot of Udaltsov; he still looks fairly energized and engaged. He began to look a little drawn later, when he was still bizarrely talking up there while nobody remained except the cleaners sweeping the area. Eventually the police took pity on him and arrested him, which was of course what he wanted all along, even if it did cost him a solo monologue that blew anything ever seen on Saturday Night Live into the weeds.

Then again, talking to himself probably is not a new experience for Udaltsov. I sincerely hope the liberals have something better than this to nurture Russia's "gathering political storm".
In Response

by: Sergio Meira from: The Netherlands
September 18, 2012 21:49
I also don't think that Udaltsov et alii have any hope of actually starting a national dialogue in Russia. And that is a pity. If there is a country in the world that surely needs an honest look at its past and present, it's Russia.

But indeed -- Udaltsov is not going to get this to happen (and I'm not even sure he wants it).

But it seems to me that you feel happy about that -- as if you thought Udaltsov's failure to become meaningful is good, rather than bad, for Russia. Do you think so? If so, why? Do you think the path Russia is currently following is OK?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
September 19, 2012 19:24
By "an honest look at its past and present", you seem to be suggesting "a look at its past and present which will result in Russian conclusions which reflect the current western narrative", which would be that Yeltsin was the last hope for reform, the last chance for Russia to pull out of its power dive, which it has resumed under Putin. And we are in agreement that that is not going to happen. I also agree its unlikely Udaltsov wants that - he is much closer to Pussy Riot than to Prokhorov; an anarchist with anarchistic views as well as an intolerant nationalist. Although Navalny is neither, I suspect he and Udaltsov would agree Russia should stop subsidizing the Caucasus, and cut them loose. Whereupon they would become the next Syria in terms of outside-inspired revolution and riot.

Udaltsov's failure to become meaningful is pathos only for him. Whether or not it is good for Russia is moot, as Udaltsov broadcasting Udaltsov's current message - civil disobedience will gain you what you want, somehow, magically, if only you refuse to obey - would not resonate in any modern society.

Yes, I do think the path Russia is currently following is OK. It's not perfect, of course, and there are many areas which could use improvement, but on the whole the nation has recovered very well from nearly sliding off the edge under Yeltsin The Great Reformer. The western press loves to sneer that all Putin has done is restore momentum to the economy, and that he would never have achieved even that without high oil prices. Be that as it may, Europe currently finds itself in a desperate situation in which every pressing social concern has been subordinated to the economy, and if massive reserves of oil were discovered in any of those countries they would weep with happiness, rather than gasp that oil is a curse that only fools rely on to grow their economies, and please take it away. As well, Russian industry is a great deal more diversified than western news lets on.

If you have time, here's a link to a panel conference held at Columbia University recently, featuring Stephen Cohen. If you are not familiar with Stephen Cohen (and pardon me if you are), he is of Lithuanian descent and has been the Professor of Russian Studies at New York University since 1998.

This is a fairly long clip, more than an hour, but if you have the time to watch it, it is extremely enlightening. You will see two diametrically opposed views between Stephen Cohen and Sasha Gesin, writer and columnist for Novaya Gazeta. The latter holds that Novaya Gazeta is "the most important newspaper in Russia" although it has a circulation of only about 130,000 copies, because it espouses liberal views and as far as Mr. Gesin is concerned, these are the only views that matter. He likewise is of the opinion that the views of foreigners are of paramount importance to Russians, that they are "the heart of the Russian soul", which is about as misinformed a worldview as it is possible to have although it largely reflects what the western media likes to hear.

Professor Cohen's portion of the discussion consists of the - in his view - deplorable state of western journalism on the subject of Russia. He blames the Clinton administration, which aired the view (of Yeltsin), this is the guy who represents the direction we want Russia to go.

by: Ben
September 17, 2012 16:28
Russia is leaning left as always as the anti-West force and culture.
Democratic opposition hides it`s pro-capitalist views as the unpopular.The main oligarch Chodorcovsky sympathizes the Lefts!
RFE with it`s Aspen`s Marxist roots do the same.But Russian leftism has the distinct Stalinist extreme right features.Future tears of the repentance?

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or