Left perspectives on the protests in Russia and Navalny – Kirill Medvedev

Kirill Medvedev, activist of the Russian Socialist Movement, musician from the Arkady Kots Band, editor of Zanovo-media

With his return, Navalny has taken an important step towards a new understanding of politics in Russia and a new round of politicization.  Previously, there had been a fairly clear “division of labor” in protest: activists take risks motivated by a certain idealistic civic impulse while politicians pursue their own, often purely selfish, interests. Navalny has drawn this line, showing that politics can and should be valiant and technological at the same time. Importantly, in the new videos, he continues to develop the image of Putin not as a politician, but as a corrupt functionary who, having gained enormous power through shady arrangements, continues to act in the same old manner of a rogue post-Soviet official with ties to the FSB.

But the more convincingly Navalny works with the theme of corruption and the ostentatious consumption of top officials, the more the limits of this rhetoric are exposed in a country like Russia, exhausted by inequality and permeated by class contradictions. Now the situation looks like this: Navalny is showing us the palaces of the rulers, playing with the fire of class resentment, while at the same time (together with his comrades-in-arms) promising businesses complete freedom in the Beautiful Russia of the Future. They say that the problem is not the palaces and gigantic fortunes per se, but where they come from. But of course, with the further development of this populist line, it will no longer be easy to separate the corrupt “friends of Putin” from those whom Navalny calls “honest businessmen,” but whose fortunes are just as huge, and similarly generated by illegal schemes from the 1990s and 2000s and, of course, by over-exploitation of workers. All of this opens up great opportunities for leftist politics, which, with an equally skillful combination of valor and rationality, could produce a far more powerful wave of discontent and a far more coherent program of change than Navalny’s eclectic populism.