This is not to suggest that Putin and his ilk are anymore sincere in their populism. The bodies and minds of the lumpen have always been the object of elite class power struggles; the only difference between Putin and his liberal opponents is that Putin is more successful in playing the populist card. Nemtsov just can’t shake his “reformist” baggage, making his paeans to demokratiia, no matter how sincere, always ring (and smell) like dermokratiia, or shitocracy.
In fact, the analysis in Putin – The Results reminds me of American liberal rants which use the destitution of the poor as a platform from which to cast demons and moral indignity on Bush. Like their American counterparts who see Bush as the all-encompassing Evil, Nemtsov and Milov’s story is based in a similar reduction of all Russia’s ills to one man: Putin. The reason for Russia’s widespread corruption? Putin. Russia’s poor health and demographic crisis? Putin. The potholes in Russia’s roads? Putin. Putin. Putin. Putin. It all sounds strangely Oedipal when you think of it. Nemtsov and Milov must slay the Father (Putin) in order to lay with the Mother (the middle class or Russia writ large).
So Oedipal in fact that Nemtsov and Milov’s Putin obsession makes me wonder if they actually swallow the Kremlin’s own bullshit about itself, albeit in an inverted form. The bullshit being that Putin is a National Leader, an omnipotent force, the Russian alpha and omega, whose touch can turn shit into gold and vice versa. Because if Nemtsov and Milov can hold Putin responsible for all of Russia’s ills, then surely they think he has the power to heal them. How else do you explain a statement like “Under Putin, authoritarianism triumphed without any modernization.” The implication here is that since Putin possesses the former, he certainly can accomplish the latter. All he has to do is point his bony little finger and watch his sycophants run in hysterical circles, eagerly fulfilling his every whim.
Yet, anyone who knows anything about Russia, recognizes all too well that Putin’s “vertical power” is a myth. The Kremlin is riddled with infighting. The security organs are rife with graft, theft, and gangsterism. The bureaucracy remains an immovable force. Provincial Russia is littered with fiefdoms run by local notables. Just because Putin uses authoritarian measures doesn’t mean he has control nor does it signify their effectiveness. Usually it indicates just the opposite.
At some level you have to feel sorry for ol’ VVP. He’s just as much a victim of the system as he is its axis (once Medvedev gets his sea legs he’ll find out the same thing). He has no omnipotent power; in fact the power he does posses is on virtual loan from the political elites that prop him up. Who’s the master and who is the puppet is always contingent and conditional. What Nemtsov and Milov ultimately miss is that the problem isn’t just Putin and his immediate circle; it’s the class of power elites with their entrenched capillary system of patron-client networks that is the bigger issue.
It is this reality that makes Nemtsov and Milov’s cries for democratization, while commendable, feel so hollow. True, Russians need and deserve many of the things they advocate. But calls for the “the rule of law, freedom of speech, and the genuine right to elect and be elected” are pretty obvious to the point of being trite. Once again, the nagging question is: What is to be done? How will Russians realize these? Will it take a mass political movement or political party? A revolution? Or simply voting for Nemtsov and Milov and their liberal idea? On these questions Putin – the Results is silent. It is this silence that makes Viktor Tsoi’s lyrics, “we will move forward,” evoke bewilderment rather than hope. For, the question is not about the need or even the desire to move forward. The question is “How?”