Current debates about Russia need to bear in mind H. Arendt’s appraisal of the politics of imperial projects : “Empire abroad entails tyranny at home”. The Russian intervention in Syria in all its barbarism would just be impossible were Russian “civil society” strong and dynamic. The emerging workers movement in the 1990s has been crushed by capitalist restoration during that decade. Political oppositionists among intellectuals, newspapers, artists and students have gradually been exhausted through timely repression or chronic harassment. NGOs are directly under Kremlin’s fire.
Some environmental groups remain active, such as the campaign around the Khimki forest, but we have today to recognize that Putin has succeeded in neutralising the cycle of democratic and social struggles that emerged in the middle of the 1980s with perestroika continued with the fall of communism to reach its climax in the opening of the 1990s.
The failure of subaltern movements to create a democratic public space within Russia is also a reminder of the destructive dynamic that the Western powers have applied to Russia through the different “reforms” to set up a liberal-capitalist economy from the ruins of the Soviet Union. The democratic hope of the mass demonstrations in 1989, the vibrant involvement within political debate about democratic reforms in the Russian Federation at the beginning of the nineties, or the emerging new free press made of newspapers, magazines and all sorts of pamphlets in the years 1985-1993: this democratic wave from below that has emerged with perestroika seems to have been crushed by the brutality of capitalist restoration in the second half of the 1990s.
Tchetchnya and its horrors, the limitless “war on terror” and the development of nationalist hysteria have in the meantime, somewhere between the middle of the nineties and the present decade, transformed profoundly Russian society into a passive and demoralized body politic. As we look to the Syrian conflict from Western Europe today, no Russian voice is heard protesting to the crimes commited by the Kremlin on the Syrian soil. If there is a lesson among others that we should draw of this mess is the need to build some new International, broad and loose, much closer to the World Social Forums than Lenin’s Communist International, but with a much more political character like, say, the First International, as to link ourselves with movements, organisations and individuals in Russia who are fighting and protesting against “empire abroad” and “tyranny at home”. Given Russia’s reactionary role, this should be on our agenda.