Victims of the bulldogs under that carpet

In Maxim Kantor’s opinion, the 39 deaths in the Moscow metro bombings on 29 March are victims of that fight between bulldogs under the carpet, as Churchill described Russian politics. The victims are always the poor, never the bulldogs. And guess who gains by the tragedy?
Maxim Kantor
31 March 2010

People are hostages to power in the country of our birth.

Churchill once compared Russian politics to bulldogs fighting under a carpet: you’ve got no idea what’s going on under there, but every now and then a corpse gets hurled out.

That’s not quite how it is:  it’s not the ones under the carpet that get killed. We learned how to pension those ones off.  It’s other people that get killed, people whose death means nothing more than another political row to those under the carpet.

Kantor, Prisonners of the past

The metro bombings were designed to kill not just lots of people, but poor people – the rich and powerful don’t travel by metro at 8 in the morning. Russian politics really do take place under a carpet and it’s that carpet that separates the life of the people from that of power. Under that carpet everything is comfortable and interesting: while the power struggles unfold in luxurious villas along the Rublevka highway, at ski resorts, presentations and summits, the corpses are being thrown out of tower blocks and metro carriages, out of that poor life which the government is duty bound to protect.

That’s what characterises that fight under the carpet: whoever wins, they keep on chucking the corpses out of the tower block opposite.

Since the sole aim of Russian politics isn’t social welfare or equality but absolute power, people's lives have always been a means to an end. In order to get power in Russia it’s always been possible to use ‘human material’ – to sell, humiliate or kill it. That's how it was before the Revolution, under serfdom: we know this because Russian writers wrote so much about it. That's how it was after the Revolution, under Stalin: we have the evidence of the «open trials» of the poisoners, of the public enthusiasm and the camps.  And that's how it still is now – the government, while calling itself democratic, manipulates opinions and events, in the name of that same irrefutable old argument – death.

Today it's not «Trotskyites», «Japanese spies» or «enemies of the people» that are to blame for the deaths of our fellow citizens – it's the terrorists.  Terrorism has become the tool for manipulating consciousness, just as «class struggle» was 70 years ago. 

But it’s worth noting that if today's explosions are indeed revenge for the death of the Chechen militant Astemirov the elimination of this bandit was extremely timely.  And those whose calculation it was to exact revenge for the Chechen’s death made no mistake.  The terrorists happened along just when the government needed the next dose of shock therapy.  Just as people had started saying that they'd had enough of this regime, that they were not going to put up with it any longer, along comes the irrefutable proof that in fact the regime is not tough enough.  Just when our half-dead intelligentsia has been infused with a new sense of civic engagement, it gets this sharp reminder of what the real score is.

One probably shouldn't generalise, maybe it's just a coincidence, one that's become all too  common, but things tend to happen like this: feverish financial activity, rumours of a redistribution of power, the intelligentsia is summoned to a forum….then mass slaughter.

War has been going on in Russia for years.  It has become a convenient political resource from which to quarry arguments which can be used to control people. That’s how the world has used Afghanistan – as a useful place to wage war on from time to time.

Chechnya has turned out to be invaluable for the social engineers in this respect. Wahhabis, jihad – all that.  But what is remarkable about Islamic terrorism is that the terrorists aren’t the only ones who benefit from explosions in the metro. When it comes down to it, the terrorists themselves are no more than a symptom of the state of society. They’re like bacteria in an organism – not completely independent, but evidence of inflammation.  Society is sick, so we get terrorism – but no one has any plans to treat this sickness. Why should they, if the sickness is so convenient?

There is this theory that the explosions 10 years ago were perpetrated in order to change the popular mood in a way that would help the presidential elections. It's uncorroborated. It’s impossible to know for sure, but that doesn't really matter. What is important is that these things are all connected. There’s a reason why the little bits in a big mosaic are there, side by side– together they make up the big picture.

This conjunction of events (the financial crisis, unequal power balance, active opposition, explosions and terrorist acts) conforms to a pattern. You can deduce the existence of one of the components from the presence of another. If the opposition has become more active, expect terrorist acts; explosions in the metro are an indication of an unequal power balance. Just as the doctor deduces the presence of disease from the patient's rash.

Today everyone’s saying that there are changes in the wind and listing the ailments that need treating. This wasn't happening yesterday, though the situation was the same: the KGB in power, the gulf between rich and poor, state monopolies, corruption, kickbacks, demographic catastrophe, collapse of education and science – all this was there a year ago, two years ago. But it’s today that they’ve started talking about change. The talk of change is happening today. It’s been a long time coming.

When Putin carried out his virtuoso manoeuvring, everyone admired the elegance with which he hung on to power. It couldn't be faulted, they said – it left the government rock solid, impregnable. No one was alarmed by the fact that the president could dismiss the prime minister with a stroke of a pen: their relationship was complicit, dependent. But now we've had explosions. This means that there’s something wrong with the balance of power. Everyone’s been saying it’s time for a change. Calling for civic engagement. But, excuse me, nothing’s changed since last year. Or has it?  If everyone in the house is a thief and the landlord puts 3 roubles on the table, is it likely that no one will take them?  Our toy president Medvedev really could retire his prime minister, the overlord of the state, at a stroke of the pen. Can he really resist such a temptation? The ongoing financial crisis and the corresponding redistribution of property and spheres of influence call for a shake-up in society; the political parties need a new legitimacy – it’s the same process as 10 years ago. After successful collectivisation comes the victors' congress. Then the decree confirming its «vertiginious success». The new collectivisation has been completed and its achievements have to be reinforced. In the past few months the author of these lines has been approached several times to take part in a campaign aimed at boosting Medvedev and discrediting Putin. What for, I would ask? I would point out that nothing will change - the rich will not start sharing their fortune with the poor, after all.  Perhaps, I would suggest, we might get trade unions? The answer I got was «What've trade unions got to do with it?  For us it’s a matter of civic conscience.»


Kantor Triumph of Philistines

What’s so revealing is the way the intelligentsia has risen from the grave. It looked as if they'd disappeared – after all, no one reads books any more. But what do you know? The trumpet has sounded and once again everyone’s talking about civic conscience. It’s amazing– what does our society need a conscience for? A manager doesn’t need one, as he’s just serving the interests of the corporation. And our state has no objectives other than the prosperity of the corporations. But you can’t have political change without civic rhetoric, so the defunct Russian intelligentsia has been roused and summoned to demonstrations. Freedom of speech! What have you got to say, my dear intelligentsia?  You said it all twenty years ago and haven't managed to come up with anything new.  After they’d said it all twenty years ago, the intelligentsia proceeded to use their best efforts to put the KGB man on the throne. Now they’ve been fed the line that they’re not happy. That something’s missing. What that something is we'll soon find out.

The killings in the metro and the ongoing redistribution of power are a logical consequence of the way the crisis has been playing out. Once again the intelligentsia will be given the job of explaining to the people why it is right that some shrewd operators have got rich while it’s a crime for other people to do so. Once again, the intelligentsia will finger the right person – if Putin's political life is over, the successful lieutenant colonel will be handed over to be torn limb from limb. It happened to Shuisky, to Godunov and it’s bound to happen again.  The intelligentsia hasn't been capable of independent thought for a long time.  It has become press secretary to the rich bourgeoisie and its reactions are as true an index as the Dow Jones. 

If there are corpses in the metro, then something important has happened under the carpet. It will be impossible to work out in whose interests the killings are – you can't see through the carpet. Possibly the Islamic terrorists, but not only them. There are plenty of interested parties who stand to benefit. The Prime Minister – certainly, can now demonstrate that the country needs a firm hand. The President – the successful confrontation will show the bandits that he too is big and can cope with the rubbish he inherited from the Prime Minister.  Also those rich cats who expect benefits from a change in government and other rich cats desirous of compromising those who want a change of government. And so it goes on:  there's lots of room under the carpet and many interested parties.

Something is going to happen tomorrow; society is bound to change. If you look very carefully at the people sitting in the front row:  you might just see bits of carpet stuck to their sleeves.


Maxim Kantor is a painter, novelist and playwright. His latest novel V tu storonu (In that direction), which explores the parallel between the financial crisis and a malignant tumour, will be published in Russia shortly.

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