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December 11, 2003 by AK

Pro-Western III

Not that Russians, skeptics as a rule, expect deputies to take care of their constituents’ interests, but voters hope that their representatives will serve them by staying true to the party line as it existed on election day. I began by asking, tacitly, whether the “pro-Western” label was appropriate for the losing parties. I’m afraid not; most people who share values that can be fairly, though loosely called Western did not vote for them. Surely it is convenient to call a party by the values it proclaims its devotion to — convenient but not always fair.

Besides, why don’t other parties, e.g. Communists and nationalists, deserve being called Western? Nationalism is a peculiarly Western phenomenon. I have read, much to my surprise, that many small business owners in the provinces voted for Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democrats. But a century ago, shopkeepers — French, German, Russian — were always the most chauvinistic, the most belligerently nationalistic group, always at the forefront of a good pogrom. Europe is past that stage; Russia is re-entering from the cold. Perhaps.

So who’s going to speak for the shopkeeper and the office slave, to say nothing of the industrial worker? Russia is a century away from the elaborate lobbying practices in the US Congress, where both parties contribute in many ways to protecting the rights and interests of various constituencies. In old Continental Europe and pre-1917 Russia, however, it was leftist, socialist parties that championed democratic rights and freedoms for the general populace the most visibly and consistently. These days, when the Communist party appears to be the only genuine opposition party in the Duma, will it be able to restructure itself to promote the interests of — let’s say the working class? So far, the Communists have been demanding the impossible, e.g., large-scale nationalization; will they get down to doing what is doable, turning into social democrats? The Duma has discussed a number of bills that are bound to directly impact the lives of the non-rich: the labor code, the mandatory car insurance law, the pension reform bill, giving Communist deputies a chance to announce where exactly they stand. I’m afraid they missed it. The way the party is structured, it’s more likely it will disintegrate rather than transform itself into a positive force.

Another possible route for a socialist party would be to align itself with trade unions. If you’re allergic to the word “organized labor”, please accept the caveat that we’re not talking US 2003 here; we’re talking Germany 1903 or 1923, or Brazil 1953. At that stage, unions were a reasonable way for workers to counter the enormous bargaining power of oligarchic corporations. Besides, any grassroot movement is good for Russian society. For all I know, unions exist in Russia, but are so invisible that I have doubts about their livelihood.


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