Putin’s regime is subject to its own contradictions



This prosperous period of the 2000s generated what is essentially the new middle class: urban professionals, white collar workers, employed in the private sector. It was the product of several years of strong economic growth, and these white-collar workers were concentrated in major cities, notably Moscow and St. Petersburg. They became an important social force, but at the same time the state raised the salaries of public sector workers such as teachers and doctors, and they formed a kind of parallel middle class made up of public employees.

They were in fact two different groups of people because, for example, in terms of willingness to demonstrate, the regime’s public sector workers were less ready to take to the streets than the private sector professionals and white collar workers. What we noticed when we analyzed the interviews with participants in these rallies in Bolotnaya Square in 2011-2012 was that some people identified with the intelligentsia – a social group that crystallized in the soviet era. But other people identified more with the middle class, calling themselves entrepreneurs, business people, and so on. At the same time, these two groups of people tended to converge: the new middle classes wanted to participate in the protests led by the educated and cultured intelligentsia, while the intelligentsia was drawn to the protests of people who were materially successful and who also wanted political freedom.

What we concluded by noticing this is that the Bolotnaya protests themselves became a place of class formation. Class formation occurred not only in the “economy” or in “society”, but in the protests themselves, especially in terms of class consciousness. The middle class in Russia was not only the product of economic dynamics; it was also the product of the protests themselves, because that is where the middle class began to identify as such.

Yet at the same time, the composition of protests and demands has changed somewhat over the past decade. When Navalny became the central figure, he steered the movement in a more populist direction, attracting more workers and rural people.

In particular, after Navalny released his video investigation of Dmitry Medvedev in 2017, we saw a much more working-class wave of protests, more open to populist slogans – not just about political freedom, but a direct confrontation with the corrupt and greedy. the ruling class. It was the result of Navalny’s populist strategy.

This latest wave of protests, brutally suppressed by the regime in January 2021, was also widely dispersed regionally. In some provincial towns of Russia, these were the biggest demonstrations in their history. This too was the product of Navalny’s strategy to open regional branches of his organization, which became active in local politics.

In conclusion, the movement became more populist, more inclusive, and made more social demands. When Navalny ran for president in 2018, he was barred from participating, but at the same time he advanced some social slogans about raising the minimum wage and attacking the oligarchs. In general, economic inequality became the central theme of his campaign, and it resonated with broad sections of Russian society. This is one of the reasons the movement has grown.

Of course, Navalny is not a left-wing politician. He is a populist and democratic politician, in the sense that he respects liberal democracy and wants to build it in Russia. But because he is not truly a left-wing politician, this turn of rhetoric he gave was contradictory.


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