Left perspectives on the protests in Russia and Navalny – Liza Smirnova

Liza Smirnova is a journalist and left-wing activist

In the events of January we have seen a new type of street protest in Russia. Now it is not only the Muscovite middle class, as in the previous wave of mobilization from 2011-2013. This new wave of protests has covered the provinces as well. Actions proceeded even in those cities which were previously considered bulwarks of loyalty and stability. It is not only Navalny’s partisans who have gone out into the streets. Rather, it is representatives of various social groups unhappy most of all with the seven-year-long fall of incomes, the growth of inequality, the rising prices, the onerous conditions attached to bank loans, and so forth. Those who just yesterday were ready to vote for Putin today count themselves among the dissatisfied. Still, to this point, the protests have succeeded at mobilizing only a minority.

The overwhelming majority is still at home, most likely not trusting the monopoly the liberal opposition still has over protest discourse.
The participation of leftist forces in the coalition council of the opposition may broaden and radicalize the protesters’ demands. That could in turn lead the doubters to mobilize. Yet, for the time being, this possibility is only the phantom potential of this actual coalition. The January protests have not yet become a broadly democratic movement. Their public narrative has been more or less completely concentrated around the figure of a single person.

But today street protests are becoming a new form of political struggle in Russia. People who cannot get political representation by voting in their electoral districts are trying to speak out on their feet. But what are they speaking out for? To them, Navalny represents the same liberal model, just with different individuals in the administration and the presidential circle. In this situation, leftists must become an alternative kernel of a new protest campaign. But for that, it is imperative that they propose a new image of the future, one that breaks with the current system, one that will answer the questions of the majority of the discontent all over Russia. It is possible that then there will be, not just hundreds of thousands, but actually millions going out into the streets, dedicated to changing the situation in the country in their own interests.