In defence of society: an open platform

This manifesto was penned by a group of Russian activists and intellectuals about the current political situation in Russia, and what must be done to change it.

19 July 2016

"Forward into the dark past" Participants of Novosibirsk's Monstration march with nonsense slogans. (c) Alexander Kryazhev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.

This manifesto was originally published in Russian on Colta.ruYou can find the list of signatories here

The ruling elite has made full use of the apathy and fragmentation of our society. The state media bursts with loyalist propaganda, presenting all protests as the result of manipulation by foreign enemies, while its main opposition is dominated by right-wing liberals: apologists of the free market and privatization. A position that would connect the left with democratic agendas is virtually never expressed. We believe that the only alternative to poverty, barbarism and the disintegration of society is an alliance for the development of common political positions and programs for collective action.

Today in Russia everyone is talking about the crisis. However, its causes are much deeper than the foreign policy of the government, corruption and pressure from the west. The causes can be found in the exhaustion of the post-Soviet capitalist model established in the 1990s. This is the foundation on which the current regime has grown. In this model, the privatisation of Soviet property has been inextricably linked with the privatisation of political power. Economic violence was an inevitable consequence of the turn towards authoritarian presidential power that began in 1993. Defined by nationwide de-industrialisation and the predatory exploitation of natural resources in the interests of the elite, the Putin regime is simply a natural evolution of Yeltsin’s. The irony of this situation is that Russia, with its vast natural resources, is fully capable of generating sufficient revenue from the export of raw materials to strengthen its collective economic and social wellbeing. Instead, the Russian government has introduced a domestic policy of austerity, similar to what EU has forced on Greece.

Degradation — political, intellectual, and social — has become the essence of this system. The result is not only the fragmentation of society, but also its helplessness in the face of repression, religious obscurantism and, most importantly, the continuous attack on social rights. 

In the early 2000s, the authorities opted for "de-politicisation", proclaiming stability to be the main objective. The conflict in Ukraine and the active complicity of Russian authorities have contributed to the simulation of a new patriotic consensus. But this is based on a dishonest and unsustainable ideology. The declared unity of the people is false. Official propaganda pursues a strategy of constant distraction as developments in foreign policy have become the justification for anti-social policies and the suppression of basic civil liberties. 

The "anti-crisis" plan of the government is effectively identical to the prescriptions of the so-called austerity policies that have been implemented in Greece, Spain and Italy since the late 2000s. These policies have led to increasing impoverishment and unemployment in these countries. The government’s plan includes financial support of big banks and corporations, permanent extraction of funds from the population through an increase in direct and indirect taxes, the raising of retirement age, cuts in social programs, and the increasing privatization of the public sector. 

In Russia, such measures are combined with the sharp devaluation of the ruble, the government's refusal of salary and pension indexation, in addition to corruption and the embezzlement of the national budget. But if the European elites expropriate their wealth from the population in the name of economic growth, the Russian government does not even offer this pretense. It has no clear plans or prospects and lives only for the moment. Instead of a long-term strategy, it has resorted to filling the holes in the budget by implementing massive cuts to education and health care. Next on the agenda is an increase in retirement age.

The government is pursuing two short-term goals: first, it seeks to satisfy the elite’s appetite for profit, developed during more fortunate times, and so the state continues to bail out corporations and large banks using public funds. Second, it tries to avoid a social catastrophe by controlling the growth of unemployment and by demagogically demanding that the regional authorities "avoid reducing the income of the population." This policy only postpones inevitable catastrophe. Meanwhile, the elite have begun searching for scapegoats, including some from within their own ranks. The "anti-crisis" mode of the current regime in no way represents an alternative to the sovereignty of the ruling class; the change of some officials and even the head of state does not alter its basic hostility to the interests of the majority.

Unlike European countries in which austerity policies are actively resisted by unions and mass social movements, most of Russia’s citizens remain as passive victims. Nevertheless, at the end of last year, new protest groups, committed to the defense of their interests, started to appear. Most of these actions, such as a national protest by truckers, rallies against paid parking or work-to-rule strike of doctors in some regions, are directed against some of the most obvious aspects of the authorities’ anti-social policy, which directly threatens jobs and living standards. 

We believe that the new civic nation in Russia may appear only as a result of the common struggle of these movements and trade unions, rather than by political engineering or insane nationalist projects of any stripe.

Most pernicious, unacceptable and socially racist is the division of the population into the "civilised people" and Homo Sovieticus. Reanimating the lines of confrontation from 1991 and 1993 plays into the hands of the government and can only result in future conflicts. Instead, we need a program of civil consensus based on a common social and democratic agenda. At stake here is the economic interest of the majority, which is inseparable from political and civic liberties.

We propose a union of everyone who shares our view of this situation and all who are convinced of the need to implement the following basic steps:

• A stop to austerity policies. We demand an end to the cuts in social spending, tax increases and introduction of new taxes, as well as ensuring effective functioning of the social programs to be paid for by cuts to the income of big business and senior officials. 

• An annual indexation of salaries, pensions, stipends and allowances at the current rate of inflation through a legally established, unified procedure of mandatory indexation of wages at all commercial as well as non-profit organizations.

• Implementation of a progressive income tax. Reasonable unemployment benefits, the revision of the method for calculating the minimum subsistence level and a corresponding increase in the minimum wage. An adoption of a minimum hourly wage law. Tax holidays and affordable loans for small businesses. Expansion of the list of taxable luxury goods.

• A three-year freeze on loan payments that exceed 10% of monthly income. A ban on collection agencies: any penalties shall be governed and conducted by public authorities following court decisions. Limitation of the maximum rate for loans of microfinance organizations.

• The nationalization of basic industries. Large state-owned companies must be managed on the basis of a democratically organized system of planning in the interest of the public. 

• The moratorium on the privatization of all socially important industries: health, education and culture. Cancellation of the so-called “new remuneration system,” which allows manipulation of workers’ salaries by the management. Public sector organizations must be required to pay the base sum of at least 80% of the total salary. 

• Labor law reform: a guaranteed right to form trade unions and strike. Limitation of the so-called “trade secrets,” access of trade union representatives to bookkeeping and institutional financial records. Provision for workers’ collectives to control the administration of the company. Guaranteed labor rights for all workers in the Russian Federation, regardless of nationality.

• Optimization of the police and bureaucratic apparatus. Reduction of government spending at the executive level for the benefit of ordinary workers. The introduction of criminal liability for illegal enrichment of government officials.

• Reduction of spending on military and law enforcement agency budgets in favor of education, health and culture.

• The universal right to free pre-school, primary, secondary and higher education.

• The universal right to free qualified medical care and essential medication, regardless of age, social status and other factors. 

• The universal right to pension benefits that exceed the minimum cost of living in the region of residence, totaling at least 50% of the final salary.

• State support for science, art and culture, ensuring the widest possible public access to these areas and free of censorship and other restrictions.

• Unconditional compliance to stricter environmental standards, including absolute adherence to the maximum permissible concentrations of harmful substances. Increased penalties for the misappropriation and transfer of funds reserved for the development of clean technologies, energy-saving and environmentally friendly housing construction. A moratorium on deforestation without fully compensatory reforestation.

• Transparency in foreign policy. An end to "secret diplomacy" and to the unconstitutional, "hybrid" presence of Russian troops on the territory of other states. Official recognition of all combat deaths among the Russian military. 

• A guarantee of the secular character of the state. Abolition of all discriminatory laws based on "morality" and "traditional values," which are determined not by society, but by clerics from all religions. Elimination of the concept of "traditional faiths" from legal code. Completely secularize the character of school education. 

• Free elections at all levels of government for any party other than those inciting ethnic or religious hatred. A notification procedure for the registration of parties. An expansion of the list of topics allowed for submission to a referendum, and a simplification of its procedure. 

• Decentralization of authority, an expansion of the budgetary powers of local self-government and the establishment of mechanisms of public control over the use of land resources. Gradual redistribution of state revenue at the regional and local levels. 

• Emancipation of the judicial system from the executive branch’s control. The strict compliance of legislation with the constitution. Repeal of the prohibitive laws passed by the 6th Duma (2011-2016). 

• Full enforcement of the freedom of expression. Termination of any government pressure on the media, freedom of expression for journalists in all media outlets, regardless the identity of its founder, as well as their organizational and legal structure and ownership. The state is obliged not to interfere in editorial work and to guarantee the protection of journalists from harassment. The prohibition of extrajudicial blocking of electronic resources.

• Guaranteed right to freedom of assembly, meetings and demonstrations. 

• Limitation of presidential power, the transfer of powers to the parliament and strengthening of the role of representative bodies on all government levels. Formation of a government accountable to parliament, on the basis of a parliamentary majority.

Our platform is open for signatures. Only the public can speak in its own defense. We hope that this document will be the first step towards dialogue and a basis for further research into new forms of action.

This translation was reposted from e-flux. You can find more information in Russian here and here. The official website is here

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