Russia under Putin


Russia under Putin





20 years of stability and consolidation


Russian president Vladimir Putin has completed 20 years in power this January. He is one of the longest serving leaders of modern Russia. He has shaped the Russian society and state in the lines of his political ideas and practical needs. He has restored the Russian pride which was lost and badly damaged after the collapse of Soviet Union.

For some Putin is an autocratic authoritarian leader who failed to develop democracy in Russia. For many he is saviour of Russia who rebuilds the Russia as a great power. He is loved at home by many Russians but he is hated in the most western capitals for defying the western hegemony. He rebuilds the demoralised Russian military.

 He used the high prices of oil and gas to deliver public services and to increase the wages in his first two tenures as president. Russia became a powerful economy under his rule. He is not a western style democratic leader who tolerates his opposition. He crushed every effort of the opposition forces to mobilise and consolidate their support. He tolerate very little dissent and opposition. But at the same time- he is not a blood thirsty brutal dictator. He allows certain degree of political space and rights.     
The western powers were hopeful that the restoration of capitalism and establishment of liberal democracy under a feeble and weak leadership like Boris Yeltsin will make Russia their junior partner. This enthusiasm of western powers did not last long. The emergence of Putin as Russian leader changed things quickly. He was a liberal but not a weak leader. He refused to bow down and energized the Russian economy. He becomes one of the most influential leader of modern Russia.

Very few leaders and kings in Russian history influenced the Russian society. The 20th century Russia saw the rise of Lenin- Stalin and then Putin. Three of them shaped the Russian society according to their ideas and vision. Lenin was the founder of Soviet Union and he led the workers revolution in Russia. Stalin played fundamental role to consolidate the power in Soviet Union. He oversaw the transformation of poor Russia into a world super power.

Vladimir Putin took over a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people 20 years ago. He consolidated and stabilised the capitalist restoration in Russia. He reconstructed a powerful capitalist state in Russia. He became interim president 20 years ago when President Yeltsin announced his sudden resignation. The young and energetic Putin was not a popular leader at that time. He belonged to the former KGB and served as head of the security service under President Boris Yeltsin.

He rises to power with the help of liberal faction of Russian ruling class. Berezovsky and his liberal supporters developed a plan to transfer power to a “strong” liberal. Berezovsky, however, made a mistake: he did not read Putin’s dissertation the year before.

 Putin really turned out to be a liberal, but not like Chile’s military dictator General Pinochet - rather like Chung Doo-Hwan [former South Korean army general who served as President from 1980 to 1988]. This was not an accident. Putin, like other FSB officers, saw how fragile property relations were in Russia, so he understood that he could play a more important role than that of puppet with Berezovsky holding the strings.

The consolidation of the state under Putin had completely different consequences than the oligarchs expected. Those who did not agree to accept the new rules of the game, either completely withdrawing from politics or following Putin's diktats in every detail, were defeated and their property was confiscated. The most famous example is Khodorkovsky and his Yukos, but many other oligarchs suffered the same fate.

He increased the role of state in the running of the economy. He attacked the oligarchs who tried to resists his policies. He re-nationalized the oil and gas companies.
Corporations primarily associated with hydrocarbon production were mostly returned to state control. State corporations and joint-stock companies with the participation of state capital (a controlling stake known as a “golden share”) operate in market conditions. This is formally done in the interests of shareholders, but in fact it is in the interests of top management, whose appointment is in the hands of the state, not minority shareholders.

Putin can be safely called a Bonapartist ruler. Bonapartism arises in a situation where the ruling class loses control over the state and becomes dependent on it.

The concept of bourgeois Bonapartism was introduced by Marx in his 18th Brumaire to describe the political regime of the Second Empire in France, when officials and governors were appointed by the emperor, but official candidates behind the emperor and other candidates participated in parliamentary elections. The ruling capitalist class retained property, but in defending its interests was forced to fully rely on the emperor.

The reason for the establishment of the Bonapartist regime was the inability of the bourgeoisie to maintain control of the proletariat (and thereby guarantee the inviolability of private property) after the victory of the 1848 revolution and the collapse of the limited bourgeois democracy of the Second Republic.

 The bourgeoisie silently agreed with the restriction on freedom of agitation- assembly and clubs, only insofar as they understood that this was the only way to prevent the transfer of power into the hands of the proletariat in Paris and Lyon, where it constituted the majority of the population.

Having committed himself to preserving the existing class society, Louis Bonaparte combined political repression against the communists with the legalisation of trade unions (in the second half of his reign) and recognition of the right to strike for workers for the first time in the modern era. Trying to appear as a strong politician, the emperor pursued an active foreign policy, the crown jewel of which was a “small victorious war” with Prussia, which led to the defeat of the French army and the Paris Commune.

Putin did the same in Russia in last 20 years. Putin is not a fascist. The working class has not yet raised the issue of power, and Putin can still rely on the machinery of the bourgeois.

We saw how big business leaned on Putin, reasoning that after the crisis he would find himself in conditions of complete political isolation and surrounded by the embittered masses. By shifting the attention of the masses to Chechnya, Putin stabilised the political situation, and then a fall in real wages and the availability of investment in production led to economic growth. This was also helped by the higher price of oil. However, this period of growth was interrupted by the global economic crisis, which hit the Russian economy as well.

Putin knew what his fellow citizens craved. “Russians have had no sense of stability for the past 10 years," he told state television ahead of March 2000 presidential elections. “We hope to return this feeling.”

Over the next eight years, aided by rocketing prices for oil — Russia’s main export — Putin set about doing just that. By May 2008, toward the end of his second term in office, salaries were not only being paid on time, but they were higher than ever. The streets of major cities began to fill with advertisements for easy loans, and people long accustomed to frugality suddenly found they could afford foreign holidays, new cars and plasma-screen TVs.

Although political freedoms were being curtailed, independent media strangled, and money that should have been used to build up vital infrastructure simply siphoned out of the country, many Russians stayed silent. After all, it seemed churlish to complain about such things when you could spend two weeks a year at a Turkish Black Sea resort and then come back to your new home entertainment center.

Putin’s hold over Russian politics throughout the 2000s was absolute. But as his second term of office hit the midway point, he had to make perhaps the most important decision of his presidency. The Russian constitution stated clearly that no president could serve more than two “consecutive” terms. But Putin had no plans to surrender power. He becomes Prime Minister for one term to come back to his original position as president.
                                                       Khalid Bhatti   

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