Onwards to the past. Ilya Shablinsky on the arrest of Sergei Udaltsov and the return to stagnation-era socialism  

16 January 2024

by Ilya Shablinsky

Source: Spektr.press

The VIII Congress of the Socialist United Party of Germany, 1971. From left to right: Willy Stof, Leonid Brezhnev, Erich Honecker. Photo: Peter Koard / Wikimedia

Sergei Udaltsov is back in prison. It’s not as if he incurred some special wrath from the prosecutor’s office by offending the leader or any of his assistants, or the “special military operation.” I think they put him in prison just to be on the safe side. On December 21, 2023 (the anniversary of Stalin’s birth) Udaltsov went to Red Square and tried to unfurl a Left Front flag at Stalin’s tomb. He was detained by the police almost immediately.

He was a prominent figure on the left — a man who had served more than four years in prison (allegedly for preparing “mass riots”), he was an organizer, an orator, and so on. But there was — and will not be — any particular reaction to his removal from politics, simply because there is no longer any “left” in Russia. There’s just a community that regularly expresses resentment over the privatization that took place 30 years ago, the obvious stratification of society regarding property, and the impoverishment of its lower stratum. However, this community is prepared to forget all their woes for the time being in the name of supporting a dictator and military aggression against Ukraine. Yes, above all, for the war.

In a recent interview, Udaltsov spoke about a “new socialist project” as a goal. He clarified: “That’s what we’re working towards, not a humiliated Yeltsin-style Russia, with all kinds of debauchery, sodomy, libertarianism,” and so on.

Recognize the rhetoric of the federal propaganda outlets? Udaltsov didn’t lean that way before. But now he is, apparently in an attempt to keep up with a trend. It didn’t help.

As for the “new socialist project”… An integral part of this “project,” if one can call it that, is Stalin — a tyrant who died 70 years ago and was branded even by his close associates as an executioner. Incidentally, what concerned these associates most was ruling out a return to Stalinist practices.

The Russian left today wants the opposite. All the documents of the Russian Communist Party mention Stalin about as much as they mention Lenin. As we know, both of these men went down in history as key figures because they exterminated people or sent them to camps, or they deprived entire groups of citizens of their rights: nobles, priests, entrepreneurs, wealthy peasants, not so wealthy peasants, “enemies of the people,” “rootless cosmopolitans”… Stalinism also involved inculcating citizens with the image of a fortress country where literally all neighbors along the border were enemies. But the key enemies, as we know, ended up being our country’s key allies during World War II.

This is the attitude that is in highest demand in the Russian left. Because, it turns out, it wasn’t Russia that attacked Ukraine — no, quite the contrary. It was the entire “Western world,” the longstanding enemies, that attacked Russia. On the official website of the KPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] you can find “a list of ideas, the realization of which would allow Russia to successfully complete the tasks of demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine and counteract Western aggression, in as little time as possible.”

Udaltsov followed the trend here, too: he promptly disowned his former political companions, with whom 15 years ago he had held protests attended by thousands: “I do not want to be listed alongside them, because to me they are national traitors. Both Navalny and Yashin — they betrayed their homeland”.

It’s clear that the Left Front coordinator was on a different path than the traitors. But, just as an aside, that didn’t work out this time, either.

Here are the reasons for the current war, according to Udaltsov (no, Putin has nothing to do with it): “This whole capitalist model that was imposed on us in 1991, it has led to friendly nations destroying themselves.”

Yes, in recent months Udaltsov and the KPRF have been using arguments literally extracted from Leninist dogmas formulated over a hundred years ago, based on the realities of the First World War and the needs of the Bolsheviks. These dogmas still nourish the current Communist Party to this day. In its mouth today they sound like the exclamations of some wild sect, but the current government, which is also a sect, is happy with this.

In one thing Udaltsov deviated from the general line. For some reason, he could not quite be satisfied with the “referendums” held in September 2022 on the Ukrainian territories seized during the first months of the war. He spoke of the desirability of new referendums in the post-war period – and under international supervision. The fact is that he has quite often accused Russian election commissions of fraud and falsification – and, by and large, with good reason. Perhaps this prevented him from repeating the usual lies about the expression of the people’s will in the occupied lands after the Solovyevs and Skabeevs. I have the impression that this is what the Kremlin did not like.  

Another question: are today’s Communists and other “leftists” interested, apart from geopolitics, in anything that should be the main interest of a party that fights for social justice and defence of the weak? To a very small extent. We can find in the documents of the KPRF and its regional branches references to participation by party activists in the few pickets and rallies against landfills and rising prices. Let’s give credit to the activists. But they, as well as these pickets, are negligible in number – in almost all cases the regional authorities find a reason to refuse to allow the protests to go ahead. And the KPRF leadership is mostly interested in something else. The war, taking part in agitation for the war, demonstrative actions in support of the front – this is much more important for their survival. 

Here is what is at the centre of their attention: “The KPRF is launching a direct and targeted dispatch of a large convoy of specially prepared vehicles to the assault military units of the combat zone of the Special Military Operation”. Or: “Along with equipment, the party is once again sending a large volume of humanitarian supplies of food, medicines, medical supplies, and clothing to the front line of the battle for the Russian world.” All this is also from the official website of the KPRF.

The fact that the war and huge military expenditures are the main reason for the inflation that has affected the food market does not seem to interest the current “leftists” at all. But they are very concerned about the excessive pliability and softness of Putin and his people. Here’s more from the KPRF website: “The Russian leadership continues to demonstrate hesitation, actually expecting to reach a compromise with the West. This is due to the lack of systemic measures to destroy Ukrainian neo-fascism.”

The current ideology of the KPRF and its complement, the Left Front, can perhaps be classified as National Bolshevism. An ideology developed during the Stalinist era, which means not only the elimination (or extermination) of all political opponents, but also aggressive behaviour in foreign policy – the desire to grab pieces of territory from neighbours. In essence, this is a kind of nationalism with nothing left of communism. Would it be possible, however, to specify what kind of nationalism we are talking about – imperial or ethnic? Perhaps both, depending on the circumstances.

Of course, Russia is a big country, and there are other leftists, but they are few and far between and their situation is not to be envied. The fate of Boris Kagarlitsky, a left-wing intellectual and publicist who tried to resemble the European left and at the same time flirt with the bandits from the “DNR” and “LNR” is indicative and unenviable. He, too, displeased the current authorities, as, indeed, he displeased the KPRF partisans with Duma mandates. That’s why he went to prison. It is good that he was released. He found influential patrons.

The KPRF’s participation in the 2024 presidential election is perhaps the most amusing part of their planned activities. KPRF candidate Nikolai Kharitonov (“a Siberian, a serious energetic politician, an officer, a sportsman”, as the party describes him) has already managed to promise that he will in no way “speak out of turn” and criticise Putin, the head of state: “He [Putin] is responsible for his cycle of work. Why would I criticise him? I, first of all, am not the kind of person to criticise colleagues. Each person is responsible for his own work.”

Powerfully said. Well done indeed.

In the party’s statement devoted to Kharitonov’s nomination, there are words that reflect the essence of his programme and are fully in line with the methodologies daily perfected by the federal TV channels: “The war in Ukraine against fascism and the aggressive Russophobia of the global West has opened people’s eyes, strengthening the unity of patriotic forces and drawing a line in society between those who are on our side and those against us.”

Yes, to some extent this war has indeed allowed us to get to know some people better and to better understand the political spectrum that exists. We no longer have a “left wing.” There is a collection of nationalist groups expressing varying degrees of aggression and rancour.  

As for the “socialist project” mentioned by Udaltsov, on closer examination it turns out to be a set of clichés present not only in Stalinist times, but also in the “stagnation” of the Brezhnev era. It is impossible to find anything new, bright and creative here. They want to impose a miserable and drab past onto our future. This aspiration can be seen in the current statements of the KPRF. The current Communists are extremely conservative. In fact, this is all we have left of the “left” idea: conservatism and nationalism.

And here’s another thing. I personally lived half my life in the socialism they are all so fascinated by. I know what I’m talking about, and I know what kind of life it was. Udaltsov, on the other hand, doesn’t. Sometimes it’s not a matter of difference of opinion, it’s just life experience.

Translated by Nina dePalma and Simon Cosgrove

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