Aleksandr Buzgalin and Andrey Kolganov
January 2005 was a profoundly significant month for Russia in many ways, but above all as the month when our people, after a sleep of many years, demonstrated their capacity for joint actions in defense of their common social interests. As many as 300,000 people in more than fifty regions of Russia came out onto the streets over a four-week period, beginning with the symbolic date of the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”. Why did this happen?
What was the objective meaning of these events? What could the left have done, or not done, to assist these mainly spontaneous initiatives of the population? What lies ahead, and what can and should be the strategy and tactics for supporters of social renewal? What lessons should we draw from the first successes and failures?
Any analysis which is made hot on the trail of events has its advantages (an emotional mood and the energy of social creativity inspire one to work) and its shortcomings (`Face to face you don’t see the face, the big picture can only be seen at a distance,’ and direct immersion in events affects scholarly impartiality to a degree). Nevertheless, I resolved to take these first steps toward an analysis, and to make these first generalizations, since Marxists are distinguished by the way they prefer to act in a conscious, thought-out fashion. In any case, what is involved here is not subjecting citizens and their organizations to one’s own speculative agendas, but the chance to understand the logic and objective meaning of events, to understand the subjective factors driving the protests, in order to help the movement exploit its opportunities as energetically as possible.
As has been widely reported, the immediate cause of the first protests, in Moscow Province on 10 January, was the abolition of free travel for pensioners on public transport. The real source of these events, however, lies outside the framework of the year 2005. The process through which the now-notorious Law no. 122 was drafted and prepared for adoption began a year ago, and was immediately met with an active campaign of protest from the opposition. The draft law was criticized on three counts. The first of these in terms of logic (though not of importance) was the intellectual critique.
Even before the law was adopted, the critical-minded section of the scholarly community (in the research institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, at Moscow State University, and in regional centers); left-wing intellectuals (including our “Alternatives” movement); a number of professors; independent deputies of the State Duma (O.N. Smolin, S. Yu. Glazyev, and others); and many other experts warned the community. These analyses predicted virtually all the problems that have now materialized, and a number that still await us. Among them are the following: the general negative effects on the most deprived layers of the
population of abolishing benefits in kind (in a poor country the lack of a guaranteed minimum, provided in concrete form, leads to the degradation and dying out of the poorest section of the population, those who are unable to work or have only limited fitness for work);
the low level of the monetary compensation, which does not satisfy even the minimal requirements that were covered by the benefits in kind, along with the delays in payment (in short, the authorities will pay less than they earlier provided in kind, while not paying it everywhere, not paying it to everyone, and when they do pay it, paying it after delays); the use of the monetisation of benefits as a new step along the road to the ultimate commercialization and privatization of everything that remains unstolen in our country (in this case, social welfare payments etc.).
In addition, we pointed out that the abolition of benefits was merely one
element in the antisocial measures inspired by Law no. 122. Still to come
are the commercialisation and privatisation of communal services, education,
science, health care and so forth — that is, the destruction of the last remnants
of social welfare provisions, and in essence, the rejection of the very notion
of the “welfare state” (which is guaranteed by our constitution, the guarantor
of which is the president, who initiated all the antisocial reforms).
Finally, we have argued, argue now, and will continue to argue that these measures are not simply a chance outburst of `market fundamentalism’ (to use the term coined by George Soros) on the part of the authorities, but are part (1) of a long-term strategy of the state (that is, above all of the president, the government and United Russia) and of capital to carry out the further commercialization and privatization of all spheres of social and economic life, and (2) of a general wave of global neoliberal expansion, whose leaders are becoming a new `”protoempire” (consisting above all of the US, of the organizations such as NATO, the WTO and the IMF that are fused with this super-state, and of the largest transnational corporations). The second wave of resistance to Law no. 122 has come from the Duma opposition, represented above all by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Moreover, this party and its allies have also taken a series of steps outside of parliament, conducting a series of street actions during the summer. Unfortunately, the level of activism of this largest of opposition organizations has not corresponded to the size of its formal membership.
In my view, the most interesting formations to move into struggle against the attacks on the social rights of citizens have been new movements that have arisen during the past year. Among them is the left-wing political network, the Left Youth Front, which unites extremely diverse left-wing youth organizations, from the Trotskyist `Socialist Resistance’ to the pro-Stalinist Communist Youth Vanguard (with the resounding and significant acronym AKM), and including both the KPRF-linked Union of Communist Youth and the academic specialists — remote from the KPRF — of the Institute for the Study of Globalization.
Still more significant has been the uniting in a single network of various
social organizations representing those layers of citizens whose interests
are directly affected by Law no. 122. This network includes a broad spectrum
of independent trade unions (air traffic controllers, dockers, the “Defence
of Labour” union, and others; of organizations of invalids, Chernobyl veterans,
and human rights defenders; and also of women’s, youth and many other organisations
and movements (our movement “Alternatives” is also part of this network).
This association, which eventually came to call itself the Council of Social
Solidarity, has initiated a number of street actions. A
June 2004 demonstration in Moscow, attended by Chernobyl veterans and invalids from many Russian cities, had a particularly broad impact.
All these actions, whether in the press, on the streets or in the Duma, nevertheless made only a small impression on Russians, and had little effect on the adoption of the law, which finally came into force at the end of last year. But the situation that arose in January was different. First, however, a few words about the important historical context of these events the centenary of the first Russian Revolution of 1905-1907.
It is curious that in Moscow on 9 January, literally on the eve of the first
actions of civil disobedience (the blocking of the Leningrad Highway at
Khimki on 10 January) we had held a conference devoted to analyzing the
reasons for the passivity of Russians and the conditions under which their
civic activism might be awakened. The date of the conference was specially
chosen so as to coincide with the centenary of “Bloody Sunday”. On this day
(according to the old style) in 1905, more than 100,000 residents of St
Petersburg had gathered on the Palace Square to demand minimal bourgeois
democratic and social reforms. The peaceful demonstration was fired on, and
more than a thousand citizens (workers and members of the intelligentsia)
were killed. The episode became the prologue to the First Russian
Our first surprise was the number of participants in the discussion; the
hall of the Mayakovsky Museum, with seating for 100 people, was full to
overflowing. Our second surprise was the interested, open, agitated tone of
the discussion, which combined analysis and emotion, sharp polemic and
collective reflection. For the first time after a conference we did not head
off to our homes, but set off in a column through the windswept Moscow
streets to the monument to the participants in the revolutionary struggles
of 1905 and 1917 on Tverskoy Boulevard.
The analysis came up with a predictable but nevertheless important result:
protests by workers are most probable not in conditions of decline, but when
an economic upsurge coincides with an open attack on the rights of citizens;
when the authorities not only oppress the population, but also insult them
with openly antisocial behavior, and when the lower orders (we recall
Lenin’s famous theses) are no longer willing to live in the old fashion. If
the opposition at this moment can summon enough strength to support the
popular actions, and if its strategy and tactics are sufficiently developed
to help prevent these actions from being choked in elemental discord; if the
opposition is capable of diverting this elemental force from its inevitably
disorganized state into the channel represented by the self-organization of
strategically regulated joint action; and if this opposition makes use of
the popularity and trust of the citizens and of their spontaneous forms of
self-organization, then all the preconditions are present for a successful
offensive (for the other precondition for success, a crisis of those at the
top, see below).
These theses are well known in the left milieu, even if some people are
still unaware of them, while others do their best to “forget” them. It is,
however, another question that has aroused most debate: what organizations
are required for this process, and just what role should they play? Here
there are three contending approaches.
The first hinges on whether there is a need for a vanguard party to head up
and lead the masses. This is an old thesis, but one that is still popular.
The author has more than once written about how and why, in the twenty-first
century, the model of the vanguard party needs to take on a new shape — an
open, working association of activists who work as “progressors” of the mass
movement, but not as its vanguard. Even if we put theory to one side, the
experience of Russia in recent years has shown that firstly, no such party
exists, and that secondly, the parties that lay claim to this role are for
the most part either demagogic in character, with little in the way of a
following, or consist of intriguers seeking to exploit the offensive by the
masses in order to inflate their own popularity through the mass media.
The second approach is the traditional one of the champions of parliamentary
cretinism, who reduce the entire struggle to preparing the conditions for
founding a new party (a so-called “social” party) capable at the next
elections of surmounting the 7 per cent barrier and of winning seats in the
Duma (it is not beside the point to ask: and what then? The KPRF has a
considerable number of Duma seats, and the effect is virtually nothing). To
this group (which was not well represented at our meeting), the mass
movement is no more than a means of establishing its future parliamentary
The third approach has been upheld in the spirit of the principles and forms
of the modern antiglobalist movement, with its stress on the creating of
open operating networks of mass social organizations and movements, playing
a practical part in solidarity organization and in the holding of protest
actions. The role of the left in this instance is becoming especially
important. It consists both of day-to-day grass-roots collaboration with
this self-organization (while not trying to replace it with
”party-building”), and also of providing intellectual expertise, analysis
and helpful advice, along with comparisons with world experience and with
our own experience, and with the lessons of history (here, it is
particularly important to turn to the experience of 1905-1907, experience
that could not be more timely).
In my view the first real protest actions, which began literally the next
day, confirm the correctness of the supporters of the third line. But more
on this later.
Now, briefly, about the relevance of historical experience. The conference
saw the adoption of an appeal, distributed the same day on the internet, in
which it was specifically stressed that the Russian demands of a hundred
years ago are still current, and that it is essential to join in struggling
for them. This document, which contains long quotes from an appeal of a
century ago, seems to me to be thoroughly symbolic, and I will therefore
reproduce it in full.
In two weeks time it will be exactly a hundred years since the day when
citizens of Russia came onto the streets to appeal to the autocratic
authorities, demanding a minimum of civil rights and the solving of social
problems. The authorities met them with bullets, sabers and whips. Thousands
were killed or wounded. The ninth of January 1905 thus became Bloody Sunday,
the beginning of the First Russian Revolution.
Now, on 9 January 2005, we are forced to state that many of the demands of a
hundred years ago remain unmet. Just read these extracts from an appeal
written a century ago:
`We, workers and residents of the city of St Petersburg of various social
strata, our wives, children and helpless old parents, came to you, sir, to
seek the truth and to be defended. We have become impoverished, we are
oppressed and burdened with toil beyond our endurance. We are railed at, we
are not recognized as human, we are treated as slaves who have to bear their
bitter fate and keep silent. We have reached the limit of our patience. For
us, the terrible moment has come when death is better than a continuation of
Continuing their demands, the citizens insisted above all on a constituent
assembly, as a first step toward bringing the authorities under the control
of the people, and holding honest elections:
Let everyone be equal and free in their electoral rights and to this end,
let the elections for the Constituent Assembly take place under conditions
of universal, secret and equal voting.
This is our main demand; everything is founded on it. But one measure
alone cannot heal our wounds. Other things too are indispensable:
1. Measures to end the ignorance and lack of rights of the Russian people.
- The immediate freeing and return of all who have suffered for their
political and religious convictions, for strikes and peasant uprisings.
- An immediate guarantee of the freedom and inviolability of the individual,
freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of
conscience in religious matters.
- Universal and compulsory popular education at state expense.
- The accountability of ministers before the people, and guarantees of the
rule of law.
- Equality before the law for everyone without exception.
- The separation of church and state.
II. Measures to end the impoverishment of the people.
- Abolition of indirect taxes, and their replacement with a direct
progressive income tax.
- An end to the war, as desired by the people.
III. Measures against the oppression of labour by capital.
- Immediate freedom to organise trade unions and unions of producers and
- An eight-hour working day, with penalty rates for overtime.
- Immediate freedom for labour to struggle against capital.
- Acceptable pay rates immediately.
- Immediate and unconditional participation by representatives of the
working classes in preparing a draft law on state insurance for workers.
The demands for freedom of speech and for access to the mass media still
remain current. We still lack a parliament with effective powers, and honest
elections. We are still working ten and twelve-hour days. Reasonable wages
remain a dream for most workers and rank-and-file members of the
intelligentsia. Workers still lack genuine rights to participate in managing
production and to exercise oversight over businesses.
The present-day Russian authorities:
- Have abolished the progressive income tax;
- Have forced through the Duma a Labour Code that restores the labour
relations of a century ago, including a lack of rights for workers, and
omnipotence for business and the bureaucracy;
- Have introduced an antisocial package of laws that replace social benefits
with miniscule financial compensation;
- Are preparing the privatisation and commercialisation of education, in
order to deprive us of the remnants of universal access to knowledge┘.
It is not hard to continue this list of measures, that are returning us to
the conditions of a century ago.
Now, on the ninth of January 2005, as we take part in a peaceful procession
through the streets of Moscow, we call on all citizens of Russia not to
believe in the “kindly tsar”, and to actively defend their civil and social
rights through solidarity and joint actions, a program of which we are
putting forward for discussion at the Russian social forum in April 2005.
A brief chronology of the protest actions of early 2005 is contained in a
whole series of internet publications, and in particular, in the text by
Andrey Podrezov published on the site www.alternativy.ru, and which is
appended here. Anticipating our analysis, we shall note some of the most
important empirically observed features of these actions.
In the first place, these were acts of civil disobedience (above all, the
blocking of transport arteries).
Secondly (and this is very important!) they encompassed practically every
region of Russia. Extending for thousands of kilometers from north to south,
and for more than ten thousand kilometers from west to east, they became
genuine mass civil protest actions. Although each individual demonstration
or action numbered from a few hundred to ten thousand participants, in sum
they represented an all-Russian resistance movement.
Thirdly, these protests became an all-national phenomenon. This was not
only because as many as 300,000 people took part in them (for Russia, with
150 million people, this is not so many). The actions had an enormous social
resonance. Enjoying the support of the overwhelming majority of the
population, they frightened the authorities both at the center and at the
local level, and hence received broad coverage in the mass media; this, in
turn, dramatically strengthened their impact. In this connection, I should
not fail to note the telling debates on one of the central television
channels between the well-known Russian poet Dementyev (supporting the
protests) and Zhirinovsky (who, naturally, opposed them). Here, several
aspects are immediately noteworthy. The unpoliticised poet spoke out in
support of the social demands of the citizens; the debates went live to air
on one of the central channels; more than 100,000 people phoned the studio;
and finally, more than three-quarters of them supported Dementyev, defending
the protest actions and calling for the repeal of Law no. 122.
Significantly, analogous positions were also expressed by well-known
intellectuals, including many prominent Russian economists such as
Academician D.S. Lvov, Professor D.E. Sorokin, and Professor V.V. Kulikov.
Fourthly, these actions were spontaneous and initiated from below, but all
the opposition social forces quickly came to support them. And here, almost
for the first time in the past ten years in our country, something very
important happened: numerous regional networks of the most diverse social
and political organizations arose (and all-Russian networks are in the
process of arising). The organizations involved have at times differed
fundamentally in their ideological and political positions, but they are
acting together to carry out specific tasks. The activists, in their
overwhelming majority doing genuine work, quickly joined forced to implement
the model suggested by life itself — of open, flexible, coordinated
structures, carrying out the functions of the collaborative
self-organization of citizens. Although, as always, the leaders who have
emerged include people intent on erecting new political superstructures,
life itself has quickly destroyed any artificial formations, leaving only
the genuinely functioning coordinating networks and teams.
The conflicts and contradictions between the various branches of the
opposition have not disappeared during this process; they have made their
effects felt constantly, seriously impeding practical action. But these are
the realities of political life, which cannot be avoided, although these
problems can and must be minimized.
These are some of the features , noted by many analysts, of these events -
events which at the moment of writing are still going forward.
What are the reasons for such unusual social and political shifts in our
These reasons are not straightforward, since the economic and social rights
of our country’s citizens are being violated constantly, I would even say
systematically. There was the runaway inflation of the early 1990s, which
wiped out savings and cut the real incomes of most citizens almost in half.
Unemployment, the failure to pay wages, the default of 1998 — the list of
social catastrophes is almost endless. Even in the last few years, the
adoption of the new Labor Code has been a harsh anti-social act on the part
of the authorities. It cannot be said that these problems have all failed to
arouse protests. There have been protests, but at least since 1993 these
actions have almost all been relatively small, mounted by opposition
political organizations. The main exception has been the `Stop the Labor
Code campaign, conducted mainly by the independent trade unions, but this
campaign was nowhere near as large or radical as the actions of the present
We might surmise that `the cup of patience has overflowed, and there would
be real grounds for such a conclusion. But this, in my view, is still not
the main thing. In the course of this winter several important factors have
come together, the combining of which has led both to the spontaneous
actions, and to the consolidation of the opposition for joint struggle.
I shall begin with something that is well known to leftists, and which I
have mentioned earlier. That is the fact that opposition social forces tend
to move into action at times when the economy is growing, and when there are
also attacks on the social and economic rights of citizens. As a
precondition for the rise of protest, this situation is no less important
than the overflowing of the “cup of patience”.
Just as important too is the fact that by the beginning of 2005 people had
already lost faith in the opposition (of all varieties), and in the
possibility of gaining anything through parliament or by appealing to the
administration at any level. The majority of citizens no longer had any
confidence in the political parties, in the Duma, or in the regional and
federal executive authorities. Initially, it was as if the president were
put in brackets, as an individual somehow not implicated in Law no. 122, but
in the course of the demonstrations people soon began raising the slogan for
the president to resign as well. Spontaneously and subconsciously, people
were ready for civil disobedience. All that was needed was some flagrant,
harsh, cynical act that signified: the authorities are against you,
citizens. This signal was provided by the abolition of free public transport
for elderly people, a move they encountered on the first day after the
Christmas-New Year holidays.
Of crucial importance was the fact that by this time new, active structures
of social and political opposition had begun to take shape. These included
the organizations of left-wing youth, whether part of the Left Youth Front
or outside it, and also the organizations of invalids and Chernobyl
veterans, the independent trade unions, and so forth. These bodies were
coordinating their activity through the SOS, the recently formed organizing
committee for the Russian Social Forum, and so on. Meanwhile the “old”
opposition political organizations such as the KPRF were already, as the
saying has it, “at a broken trough”. The earlier forms and methods of
passive parliamentary action had exhausted themselves; the KPRF and most of
its allies were in crisis, and a section of the activists and leaders of the
communists were ripe for inclusion in extraparliamentary struggles.
Finally, another positive factor was the confusion, typical in such
situations, displayed by the authorities. The actions of the protesters were
meeting with support from public opinion; meanwhile, the demonstrations were
receiving relatively wide coverage in the press. The result was that the
first protest actions served as examples for actions in other regions. In St
Petersburg, for example, pensioners followed the lead provided by the
residents of suburban Moscow, blocking Nevsky Prospect and Sadovaya Street.
The authorities lacked the decisiveness to consistently uphold what was
clearly an ill-thought-out model for imposing the law, and more importantly,
could not ensure unity of action between the federal and regional
administrations. In some cases the latter accommodated the aggrieved
citizens fairly readily, making a series of concessions, but often the local
authorities dealt savagely with the activists, including elderly people.
It was this combination of factors, diverse in origin but reinforcing one
another, which in my view formed the cause of the active protests in Russia
during January and February 2005.
It is, of course, still too early to speak of definitive lessons of the
campaign of civil disobedience, which is still continuing. Only a few rough
initial sketches are possible. Nevertheless, these have their value. Without
pretending to draw any final conclusions, I would like to note the following
In the first place, the conclusions which the author drew on the basis of
the events on Independence Square in Ukraine have been borne out. With all
due reservations, it can be stated that in the post-Soviet space, mass
protest actions by citizens, acts of civil disobedience, are a reality.
Secondly, in Russia, unlike the situation in Ukraine, there have never been
any oligarchs or Western patrons behind these actions. The protests
originated from below, and have proceeded on the basis of real civil
initiatives, with parties and social organizations merely assisting this
process to the extent of their abilities. Consequently, the citizens of our
countries are capable of independent actions and of popular initiatives.
Moreover, after beginning with narrowly economic demands, these actions have
quickly taken on a political thrust. The resignation of the president and
government, the dissolution of the Duma - these are typical of the demands
being put forward at demonstrations. The spontaneous politicization has gone
even further than the activists in the social and political bodies imagined
Thirdly, these actions have shown the possibility of new forms of social
and political self-organization, the need for these new forms, and their
If we look at the experience of Leningrad, which is especially significant
here, we find that the most active social force helping to organize the
protests was not any of the parties but the Committee of United Action, a
network coordinating structure that included various social and political
organizations. This body also helped conduct the process of negotiating with
the authorities, and provided informational support and so on to the
initially spontaneous protests. Activists in this committee were at the
center of the struggle, taking on the main weight of the organizing work;
accordingly, the repression by the authorities was concentrated on them.
Showing its openness and capacity for dialogue with other organizations
which earlier had not been part of it, this network became the basis for the
civil disobedience network that appeared in St Petersburg.
5. It is Not Only About the Law on the Monetisation of Benefits
The protest actions, although they have had a direct cause in the notorious
Law no. 122 on the monetisation of benefits, have not by any means been
provoked solely by this legislation. They are associated with years of
accumulating social tension. Our Russian authorities have dispensed both
causes and occasions for the growth of this tension with an exceedingly
Only recently three desperate invalid miners spent several days picketing
the organization Sotsugol, which is responsible for providing miners with
social support. They were backed by more than 2500 other invalid pensioners
from the coal sector who for more than two years have not received free coal
to heat their homes (if paid for, this coal would cost more than six months
of their pensions). They had only recently managed to force the payment of
their delayed pensions and benefits, after twice blocking the access roads
to the mine.
Unfortunately, the delays in providing coal for domestic needs, in paying
wages, and in making social benefit payments to invalid miners in Rostov
Province are by no means an isolated instance. In recent years such problems
have appeared constantly, arising from almost any cause, from heating
shut-downs in winter to the mass cutting off of social benefits. In all of
these cases, the state authorities try to avoid addressing the problems of
providing social welfare to the vulnerable sections of the population - that
is, meeting the obligations laid on them by the constitution and by federal
Cases in which the authorities simply sabotage the carrying out of the laws
they have themselves adopted, and refuse to force private entrepreneurs to
obey these laws, have become typical. Not even through court suits is it
possible to win the restitution of one’s rights, since refined legal
chicanery is used to thwart the requirements of the law. In addition, people
engaged in struggle for their legal rights are themselves subject to
prosecution in the courts! Even if the courts recognize the legality of
popular demands, court decisions are often ignored in the most unpardonable
fashion, proving just how valuable the law really is in the eyes of the
People are being confronted with glaring evidence that it is practically
impossible for them to force the restoration of their violated rights
through legal methods. You might, after a lengthy ordeal, get a court to
acknowledge that you are in the right. But the decisions of the court will
not be put into effect. What is a citizen to do then? Initiate a new cycle
of legal processes, suing the authorities for failing to implement a court
decision? And how long will all this last? Until the life of the invalid
pensioner, who without desiring it has been turned by the state authorities
into a perpetual litigant, draws to a close?
The recent wave of protests by pensioners against Law no. 122 on the
monetisation of benefits was provoked by this very contempt for the legal
rights of citizens. After all, benefits in kind were granted to many
categories of citizens because their money incomes did not guarantee, and do
not now guarantee, the satisfaction of their urgent vital needs (for
example, for medicines, transport, heating, and so forth). These benefits
have been replaced with money payments which for most of the people
involved, do not provide full compensation for what they have lost.
Protest actions were occurring when this law was still at the drafting
stage. The authorities, however, set out to force the law through as rapidly
as possible, in order to present people with an accomplished fact. No
account was taken even of the people who had no quarrel with the content of
the law, but who merely pointed out that no proper consideration had been
given to practical measures for implementing it.
So what has the result been? When this disgraceful law went into force at
the beginning of the year, its implementation was thwarted. People were
literally forced out into protest actions. It was only when these protests
took on an all-Russian scope that the authorities, to the accompaniment of
verbiage about “behind-the-scenes” forces inciting pensioners to attend
demonstrations and block highways, began taking measures to put the law into
All this makes it glaringly plain that the authorities do not serve the
interests of the majority of the population, and that they only start paying
a certain attention to people’s real needs when they are confronted with
mass acts of civil disobedience.
When it becomes necessary to defend the interests of moneybags-entrepreneurs
against the anger of workers, the authorities immediately find all the
resources needed, even an excess of them. Without paying the least attention
to the law, they launch court prosecutions against people taking part in
struggles for their rights, as well as unleashing the police, the OMON riot
squads, and even special detachments for putting down prison uprisings, as
happened during the notorious events in the Vyborg Paper Factory. People who are
supposed to defend the law fired on unarmed workers who were not breaking
the law, since the situation surrounding the production combine was not yet
the subject of a judicial ruling.
For long years our authorities were under illusions about the long-suffering
nature of Russian citizens, and to this day they continue to put their hopes
in this patience, testing the people’s endurance. Having made insignificant
concessions under the pressure of the pensioners, the authorities are
continuing their experiments, with an offensive against the rights of the
majority. Next in line are equally antisocial reforms in the areas of
communal services, education, and health care. But if the authorities have
decided not to take into account the risk of increasing social tensions,
they have to be ready to accept all the consequences that flow from this
policy. If the people are denied all other possibilities for defending their
interests except direct resistance to the authorities, such resistance will
sooner or later become a reality - and no longer just on a local scale, or
in response to local causes.
The protest actions now taking place throughout the country are some of the
largest to have occurred during the administration of Vladimir Putin. These
protests are not only remarkable for their scale. For the first time, the
protest movement has encompassed more than 70 regions of Russia, with
protests occurring in more than 120 populated centers. Typically, parties
and movements from the most diverse ends of the political spectrum have
joined in supporting the protest actions, from nationalists to parties of
liberal orientation. In St Petersburg, for example, members of the KPRF, the
Russian Communist Workers Party, the Social Democrats, various communist
youth organizations, and young people from the Yabloko party have joined
with intellectuals from the Alternatives movement, soldiers▓ mothers,
members of the independent trade unions, and many others. For the first
time, the regional and local authorities have made a few concessions to the
people. Finally, along with economic demands (as well as the restoring of
benefits, these have included raising pensions and wages, and abandoning the
Fursenko education reforms), the protests have also been marked by demands
for the resignation of the legislative and executive authorities. For the
first time since 2000, we have witnessed mass demands for the resignation of
Despite the fact that the consequences of adopting Law no. 122 were obvious
from the moment when the draft law was presented to the Duma, massive
protest actions did not follow in 2004, even though demonstrations of
thousands of people took place in Moscow and a number of other cities during
the summer. But when former recipients felt the full effects of the
abolition of their benefits in the first days of January, they moved into
A demonstration at which the monetisation of benefits featured as one of
the main issues took place on 9 January in Solnechnogorsk, near Moscow. This
action was organized by the local branches of the Communist Party of the
Russian Federation and the Russian Communist Workers Party, by communist
youth organizations, and other bodies. According to the organizers, about
1500 people took part, in a city with a population of about 60,000. A
similar demonstration took place on the same day in the Moscow suburb of
However, people began to speak of a protest movement only after an action
on 10 January in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, when pensioners blocked
the Leningrad Highway for several hours. This protest was a real shock, and
became the main domestic political news of the day. The governor of Moscow
Province, Boris Gromov, threatened to bring criminal charges against the
participants in the demonstration. It is significant that one of the demands
of the demonstrators on 10 January had been for Khimki to be transferred
from the jurisdiction of Moscow Province to that of the city of Moscow.
After the demonstration, reports appeared in the press to the effect that an
agreement had been reached between the city and provincial governments on
the retention of transport benefits in Moscow for residents of the province.
As well as in Khimki, mass demonstrations took place on 10 January in
Almetyevsk, a city in Tatarstan with more than 100,000 people, in Stary
Oskop in Belgorod Province, in Ufa, and in a number of other urban centres.
Literally within a few days, the protest movement took on a broad scope. St
Petersburg became one of its main centres.On 14 January a demonstration took
place at the Smolny. At 2 pm, Moskovsky Prospekt was blocked near the Park
Pobedy metro station. Then a meeting took place on the corner of Sadovaya
Street and Nevsky Prospekt, with traffic blocked off at this crowded hub of
urban transport. On 15 January another demonstration was held at the same
place, with Nevsky Prospekt again blocked. Protest actions were held on 14
and 15 January in several places simultaneously. The result of the protests
was that Governor Valentin Matviyenko agreed to meet with representatives of
the demonstrators on 17 January. That day, another unsanctioned
demonstration took place. The first sanctioned demonstration in St
Petersburg took place only on 25 January. Further protest actions were held
on 26 and 29 January. The authorities responded in contradictory fashion. On
the one hand, they arrested activists and subjected them to humiliating
treatment; ailing pensioners were among those who suffered in this way. On
the other hand, the authorities sought the possibility of compromise, while
refusing to take any serious steps to meet the protesters’ demands.
On 12 and 15 January actions were held in Penza, while on 15 January
demonstrations took place in numerous cities in Moscow Province, including
Krasnogorsk and Balashikha. Another protest occurred in Khimki; although the
television broadcast false reports that this demonstration would not take
place, around 4000 people took part.
In Tyumen on 17 January more than 200 pensioners gathered in front of the
city administration building. On the same day, President Putin addressed a
meeting of the government, laying the blame for the situation in the country
on a few members of his cabinet, who in his view had failed to ensure that
Law no. 122 was implemented in the required fashion.
On 18 January a demonstration took place in Perm, with the demonstrators
trying for some time to take the acting governor hostage. Criminal charges
were brought against several of the participants. The protest was repeated
next day, with the road leading to the bridge over the River Kama being
blocked. Also on 19 January, a protest was held in Vorkuta, with
demonstrations against the abolition of benefits also held between 17 and 19
January in other urban centers of the Komi Republic.
On 19 January demonstrations took place in Kazan, where Tatarstan Street
was blocked; in Samara, where the Moscow Highway was closed off; and in
Khabarovsk, while the action in Perm continued. The largest demonstration
was held in Togliatti, where according to several accounts as many as 5000
people took part. Mass protest actions also occurred on January 19 and 21 in
On 20 January a daily picket was continuing in St Petersburg at the
Gostiny Dvor. Protests were also continuing in Samara. In Biysk, in the
Altay Region, actions that began on 20 January continued on the 21st. In
Orekhovo-Zuyevo in Moscow Province, more than 4000 people attended a
demonstration. In Tula, around 5000 people took part in protest actions
organised by the KPRF, the Russian Union of Pensioners, the Homeland party,
and supporters of Sergey Glazyev. In Novosibirsk, demonstrators closed off
the city’s main thoroughfare, Krasny Prospekt.
On 21 January residents of Arkhangelsk came out in a demonstration. Protest
actions also took place in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, in Leningrad Province
(Slantsy and Priozersk), and in Irkutsk Province (Angarsk and
Usole-Sibirskoe). In Barnaul approximately 10,000 people attended a protest
meeting, and Leninsky Prospekt was blocked.
On 22 January protest actions swept through numerous Russian cities. The
most noteworthy, however, was an action in Moscow, on the square in front of
the Belarus Station. About 5000 people gathered for the demonstration,
organized by the KPRF, Working Russia, and several other organizations.
After the meeting a group of members of the communist youth organizations
the AKM and SKM tried to make their way to the presidential administration,
but were stopped by the OMON riot police. During this clash eight activists
of the AKM and SKM were arrested, including AKM (KPSS) leader Udaltsov. The
prisoners were released following a picket outside the militia station where
they were being held. On the same day, a parallel action was held in Moscow
by the National Bolshevik Party.
On 23 January, the next demonstration against the abolition of benefits
went ahead in Kazan. A protest in another Tatarstan city, Naberezhnye
Chelny, was even larger. In Murmansk, the participants in an action
organised by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the
Pensioners Party demonstrated outside the Kirov Palace of Culture, and then
in front of the city administration. According to the Interior Ministry in
the Western District of Krasnodar, between 300 and 500 people demonstrated
on the same day in the Kuban capital. As reported by the news agency
KPRF-News, a protest action also took place in the city of Dmitrov in Moscow
Province. Overall, the protests in the Moscow region were so numerous that a
list of these actions would fill several pages. At the Dmitrov action, the
demonstrators unanimously demanded that the president resign.
On 25 January, according to the news agency REGNUM, more than a thousand
people took part in an action in Vladimir. A protest action also took place
the same day in Kovrov, one of the regional centres of Vladimir Province.
Protests also continued in the Komi Republic. This time, it was residents of
Syktyvkar who were demonstrating. In neighbouring Kirov Province, a
demonstration was held for the first time. As reported by REGNUM, the number
of demonstrators in Kirov exceeded 3500. Actions were repeated in Vladimir
and Perm. In St Petersburg, as noted earlier, the first meeting to be
sanctioned by the authorities took place on this day. Residents of
Arkhangelsk Province and Tomsk came out against the reforms. In Nizhny
Novgorod, according to REGNUM, more than 4000 people came out onto the
streets. In Kurgan, as reported by the executive committee of the regional
trade union Zashchita-Kurgan, more than 300 former benefit recipients
gathered to protest against the abolition of the benefits despite a deep
On 26 January residents of Yekaterinburg took part in a protest action.
Demonstrations also occurred in Smolensk and Rostov Veliky. As on 23
January, the action in Rostov was initiated by the Union of Soviet Officers.
In Voronezh, demonstrators blocked a roadway in the area of Lenin Square. In
Kaliningrad, local students held a protest action. Another demonstration in
defence of social welfare took place in Yakutsk. A road bridge across the
Volga was blocked by participants in a protest action in the city of Kimry
in Tver Province. According to the local media, more than 3000 people took
part in the action. Numerous demonstrations took place in the Stavropol
Territory; the local authorities not only failed to obstruct the protests,
but according to unconfirmed reports, were among the initiators.
On 27 January a demonstration took place in Stavropol itself. Protests were
again held in Perm, Penza, Samara, Vologda, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Vladimir and a
number of other cities. In Moscow, more than 500 people demonstrated next to
the Lenin Museum. The organisers of this action were the Homeland party and
the Union of Youth for the Homeland. In Arkhangelsk, a picket took place as
planned. In Omsk, three demonstrations were held simultaneously, and two
roads were blocked. According to the news agency Den, some 350 people
demonstrated in the regional centre of Mozhga in the Udmurt Republic.
In Kaliningrad on 28 January, as well as a sanctioned protest, an
unsanctioned demonstration was held with more than 200 pensioners taking
part. Alongside a demonstration in Pskov, a meeting of pensioners and
veterans took place. Demonstrators in Arkhangelsk gave the authorities
twelve days in which to satisfy their demands, or else the protests would be
renewed. Protest actions also went ahead in Tomsk, Bratsk, Kaliningrad,
Astrakhan, Kirov, Penza and Kotlas.
On 29 January protest actions were held in St Peteresburg, Moscow, Veliky
Novgorod, Astrakhan, Saransk, Bryansk, Ulan-Ude and in many other cities of
Although the protest movement is only beginning to flare up, certain
conclusions can already be drawn.
First, the authorities did not expect to encounter such resistance from
citizens, and have behaved in a contradictory and inconsistent manner. While
the actions of protesters in some regions (such as Kaliningrad, Perm, St
Petersburg and Moscow) have been met by the authorities with a stern rebuff,
in many other regions the local and regional authorities have shown
solidarity with the demands of the demonstrators. Dialogue has taken place
between participants in the protest actions and governors, as for example in
Stavropol. In a number of regions, the authorities have made concessions to
the population. Hence in Novosibirsk Province, a public transport ticket
will cost 90 rubles instead of 360. In Penza, the implementation of Law no.
122 has been postponed. The situation is similar in many other regions. In
Udmurtiya, although many of the pensioners’ demands remain unsatisfied, the
cost of public transport tickets will be made up out of the regional budget.
In some regions, the lack of such concessions has moved the population to
demand that local authorities resign. In Ufa, for example, a demonstration
adopted the demand for M. Rakhimov to resign by 26 February. Finally, a
meeting of the government of the Russian Federation on Thursday resolved to
increase the basic pension for a worker by 240 rubles from 1 March 2005.
From 1 March the basic pension, now 660 rubles, will rise to 900 rubles. All
this indicates that the mass protest actions have had an effect.
Secondly, even though in some regions there has been conflict between
parties and movements (thus in Pskov conflict has occurred between
anarchists and a number of veterans’ organisations taking national-patriotic
positions), in Russia as a whole representatives of various parties have
either acted jointly, or have not entered into conflict with one another.
Quite different political and social organisations, from anarchists and
liberal defenders of human rights to representatives of the patriotic bloc
and radical communist bodies, have taken up the demand for the reversing of
the reforms to the system of benefits.
clear that concessions by the authorities will solve Thirdly, virtually all
the demonstrators have voiced the slogans for the resignation of the
president and government, and for early elections to the State Duma. It has
become clear that concessions on the part of the authorities will resolve
nothing so long as the main problem remains unresolved - that is, the
problem represented by authorities who pursue inadequate socio-economic
policies (and not these alone).
Such is the first effort at a chronology of the protest actions that have
been sweeping across Russia since the beginning of January. The main events,
however, still lie ahead.
Appendix prepared by A. Podrezov
(This text was prepared on the basis of internet materials available on 30
Translated by Renfrey Clarke.
P.S. Appendix can be updated before publication.
Main event we had in Winter was “The day of common actions” (February 12), when more then 250 000 Russians participated in different meetings and demonstrations in all main cities of Russia.
Also, in April 16-17 was be the 1st Social Russian Forum and bellow you can see brief information about this event.
(the first brief notes about the Russian social forum and the Forum “Education for everybody”)
The first Russian social forum (RSF) and the Forum “Education for everybody” (REF) took place on April 16-17, 2005 in Moscow. More than 800 people (600-650 participants and guests of the social forum and 300-350 of the educational one: the results of the registration have not been summarized yet, some comrades participated in both forums) from over 60 cities of Russia and our comrades from France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Greece, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Byelorussia, Moldavia etc. took part in the plenaries, workshops, seminars and round tables. The Social forum was conducted by 108 organizations (trade unions, ecological, feminist, youth, handicapped etc.), the Forum “Education for everybody” was prepared by more than 20 organizations.
This preliminary statistics shows the uncommonness of these events for Russia that recently seemed to be fallen asleep forever.
However, the variety of people and organizations at RSF and REF is not accidental.
Firstly, the Forums were preceded by regional meetings. Last year there was the Social forum of South Russia in Voronezh (about 100 participants, 15 organizations, 10 cities of Russia’s South), Forum of the social initiatives in Moscow (approximately 150 participants, more than 20 organizations). For two years the Siberian social forum has been taking place in Barnaul and Novosibirsk (more than 100 participants, 15-20 organizations, over 10 regions). Early in this year there was the Public hearing on the problems of the available for everybody education development and so on.
But the birth of the real social initiatives in our society at this period was even more significant. This process became especially evident during the mass protest actions in January-February 2005, when over 200 thousands of Russians demanded stopping of the anti-social activity of the authorities.
So the Forums have their prehistory.
The mass character (of course, regarding Russian potential) of the RSF and the REF is also non-accidental. However, the scale is not the only point. The general atmosphere of the Forums – joyful, creative atmosphere of the dialogue, solidarity, disputes and real collaboration – is of greater importance. The mood of the Forums was set by their opening where we refused the wordy speeches of the leaders and the greetings of the “very important persons”. The Forum was opened by young comrades – L. Ozhogina and A. Demidov – those who were among the dozens of “workers-organizers”. It was followed by two brain attacks – “What are the concrete possible results of the RSF” and “How to assert our social, economic and civil rights”, conducted by A. Buzgalin and B. Kagarlitsky. One of the most romantic revolutionary songs of the 20-th century “Grenada” concluded the opening. All the participants sang it standing, without taking a breath. (By the way, “International” was sung at the closure of the RSF with no less enthusiasm and, in contrast to the former party congresses/ñòàðûõ ïàðòèéíûõ ñúåçäîâ, without phonogram.)
All the important persons participated in the Forums and their opening with equal reason. Deputies O. Smolin and O. Shein took part in the brain attack on equal terms. (Moreover, Oleg Smolin played the piano, providing the brief musical “comments” to the most brilliant theses of the brain attack participants.) The other deputy, one of the “Rodina” leaders, S. Glaziev stood in a queue for the microphone and received (as all those who wished) 30 seconds for a remark.
This principle of the Forum was applied to the organization of the conferences, workshops, seminars and round tables: any organization could claim and carry out its type of activity. And quite all the proposals of the organizational committee about the fusion of the similar activities were met with understanding. That enabled to conduct workshops and seminars on trade unionism, anti-war issues, self-organization, nature of alterglobalizm and some other with a large number of participants with an open dialogue between many co-organizers that represented various, disputant, but listening to each other speakers. The spectrum of issues was very broad, that is indicated at least by the programs of the Forums: their workshops included such groups of problems, as the provision of available for all education, the protection of the social and economic rights, the problems of alterglobalist movement in Russia, youth problems, the relations between the political and social struggle, counteraction to the wars, chauvinism and nationalism, the human rights, culture and mass media etc.
The open dialogue between the representatives of different ideological and political movements was also very unusual for our country. Anarchists and communists, trotskists and social democrats, leave alone sincere liberal centrists, carried on a dialogue how to act jointly in order to protect civil, social and economic rights of the Russians, how to set up self-organization from below, what campaign to wage and how and so on, rather than whose ideology is true.
The stylistic picture of the Forums was no less uncommon: anarchizing boys and girls in black dresses and respectable professors with ties, workers from the remote parts of Russia and refined students from Moscow… It is impossible to enumerate all of them. But interested and open faces were common. We were different at the Forums, but we went to meet each other, with disputes and conflicts, but with evident intention to find a solution regarding at least the first steps of collaboration and concrete affairs.
Of course, the Forums had plenty of problems and disadvantages. Among them was the cheap and extremely Spartan hostel, financial troubles (financing was minimal and only from the social organizations – neither state nor business helped us), some organizational slips… It was not always easy to find the common language between the “old” social organizations and the “new” movements that differ so much... But it was our first step!
As regards the main positive results of the Forums, it is necessary to mention, first of all, a serious discussion of the most burning problems in the form of an open dialogue. The very fact of this dialogue on a national (and taking into account guests – international) scale is a relevant achievement for our so different and hard fragmented opposition.
The second outcome is the new acquaintances, contacts and setting up of the horizontal coordination networks.
Thirdly, the creation of environment, in which the future multifarious alterglobalist movement can arise in Russia, was initiated. It should become a real constructive new opposition that will be democratic, social and international.
And, finally, the most important result is the dozens of concrete campaigns and actions, projects and measures to build horizontal solidarity in regions on a national scale. They were presented at the final plenaries by dozens of workshops moderators and initiators of the concrete projects. It is impossible to enumerate all of them. As an example, I would like to mention the initiation and the proposals submission concerning the first steps of the movement “Education for everybody” and the idea to use the name ‘Soviet’ for different coordination networks.  This name occurred from below 100 years after the First Russian revolution. It occurred to the activists that oppose the federal law ¹ 122 in different regions of Russia.
More thorough reports and concrete information about plans and initiatives will appear on Internet sites of the Forums and organizations (www.soc-forum.ru. and www.alternativy.ru) This text was just the first brief notes of one of the Forums’ organizers and participants. Serious analysis and, what is even more important, serious work are ahead.
Member of the RSF and the REF organizational committees,
Coordinator of the Russian movement “Alternatives”
Translation of I.Levina
 This idea stems from the very nature of our projects: in Russian the first meaning of the word ‘soviet’ is ‘advice’.