While many on the left held up the Soviet Union as a beacon of progress right to the bitter end, it ultimately became clear that the “socialist fatherland” had nothing to do with genuine workers democracy or representation. After the monstrous bureaucracy that was the utterly Stalinised Communist Party finally lost its hold on government, Russia temporarily become a melting pot of conflicting political ideas. The trade unions, who had long suffered under the former regime, appeared to enter into an unheard of period of militancy and self confidence, while the long subjugated “republics” along Russia border finally found their desire of independence satisfied with the formation of sovereign states.
However, amidst the social chaos the spectre of bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption was quick to manifest itself once again. While the trade union movement floundered and stagnated, former state leaders busied themselves with the task of transforming their old political privileges into the propertied rights of the idle “entrepreneur”. As the old order of division and privilege fell, only to be replaced by a imitation of a western economic practice, the hope of a new Russia was replaced by the hope to be able to pay the rent, to be able to hold down a job and to be able to survive against what had become little more than a free market feeding frenzy. After all the idealistic hopes of Glasnost and Perestroika, it eventually became clear that there would be no bright dawn for Russia, only the bitter reality of modern capitalism.
The Right on the rise
When initial and deeply felt aspirations are dashed, it is inevitable that there will be some kind of backlash. Dissatisfaction since the fall of the Union and with the alleged corruption of the current Putin administration has led to the revival of old nationalist ideals, and along with them racial and ethnic division. As Russia struggles with a declining population (figures show the overall level having dropped by half a million in 2005) the current regime has been more open to the idea of wide scale immigration in order to curtail a possible manpower shortage. This in turn has been used as an opportunity by the new Russian right to use newly arriving immigrants as a scapegoat for all national problems, thus cynically exploiting the deep seated alienation of the average citizen.
The focal point for this new spree of reaction is an organisation claiming the title of the “Movement against Illegal Immigration” (DPNI). Created on July 10th 2002, this self styled movement has roots in the semi fascist nationalist current known as “Pamyat”. Pamyat, which can be translated to mean “memory”, originated in the 1970s as an ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic formation, although in the course of its existence it endured multiple splits, with each new split claim to embody the spirit of the original Pamyat grouping. This collection of right wing sects held to a common belief that Zionist and Masonic influences were responsible for all the misfortunes of the Russian nation, which somehow included the 1905 and 1917 revolutions.
In a broadly similar vein to the Black Hundreds – the common name used by communists in the run up to the February and October revolutions to describe the pro-Tsarist groups who sought to smash the workers movement with street violence and intimidation – Pamyat held to a autocratic monarchist position, along with emphasizing certain institutions which were seen to be integral to Russian historical culture, such as the Orthodox Church. Utilizing such dated slogans as “God! Tsar! Nation!” Pamyat in its varying forms argued for the restoration of the monarchy, something which in the Soviet era would normally prove deeply inflammatory.
However, unlike so many other political groups, Pamyat was exceptional in the fact that it did not enjoy the hostile attentions of the Soviet government, which has led some to the belief that Pamyat may have been founded with the aid of the KGB in order to discredit the wider nationalist movement.
Where as the original Pamyat organization has ceased to exist, organizations bearing its name, along with those borrowing heavily from its ideology, are now making something of a splash on the political scene. DPNI’s leader, Aleksandr Belov, is a former member of one of the Pamyat groups, and has wasted no time in denouncing President Putin’s immigration policies, citing hysterical fears of foreign influence and bluntly stating that “We have about 10 million illegal immigrants and most of them
On the street, such strong words have been translated into violence, with gangs of racists frequently engaging in scuffles with those of allegedly non-Russian descent. Indeed, hate crimes have been on the rise, with records showing thirty one racially motivated murders in 2005 alone. In a more glaring example, a DPNI march in the town of Kondopoga escalated into widespread fighting between Russians and Chechens, resulting in a general exodus of the local Chechen community. More recently, ultra nationalists have attempted to stage widespread demonstrations across Russia, in the process trying to use the November 4th “Day of National Unity” to march in central Moscow, proudly shouting “Russia for the Russians” and often bearing the icons of Russian Christian Orthodoxy – alongside other, more inflammatory symbols that bear a disturbing resemblance to the swastika.
However, the marking of November 4th has clearly proved inflammatory – its existence as a national holiday being solely down to the fact that the current administration wishes to replace the November anniversary of the October Revolution, citing the 4th as an historical benchmark since it coincides with the expulsion of a Polish army from Moscow in 1612. Unfortunately, it has become a focal point for the ultranationalists to put forward their demands for the expulsion of ethnic minorities, with any aspirations of “unity” clearly becoming tarnished as a result. Last year’s November 4th saw nationalists in Moscow trapped in a square by riot police and unable to proceed through the city, where as in St Petersburg trouble erupted between competing marches of nationalists and anti-fascists, with the police rushing to contain the violence with widespread arrests.
A political dead end
The radical right always finds ample space to expand where there is a general feeling of political stagnation and desperation. The nation wide feelings of unfulfilled hope and frustrating apathy has only served to reinforce the already deep rooted alienation caused by the poverty, unemployment, and insecurity of large swathes of the working population. Since the 90s the promise of a new Russia has been eclipsed by the old ethnic divisions that characterized the chauvinism of the former Russian Empire, with a recent nationwide survey showing that up to half of the population held to views of ethnic intolerance. The general weakness of the labor movement, which is only just beginning to shake itself off from a long period of defeat and inactivity, is also a contributing factor to the ascendancy of the extreme right, with the alleged divisions between races drawing more attention than the genuine unity between labor.
Ultimately, this has allowed the far right something of a free hand in its efforts to scapegoat whoever and whatever may seem out of synch with a romanticized past of a white, god fearing nation united under the benevolent rule of Tsarist autocracy. In light of this, organizations like the DPNI will singularly fail to provide concrete answers to national problems. Only a general revival of the social optimism and spontaneity that was so widespread in the late 1980s and early 90s can provide the antidote to the spread of racist far right ideas, and hopefully breathe new life into this long suffering nation.