Sergey Udaltsov’s release & prospects of Russian left: Interview with communist leader Darya Mitina

“The attitude of the authorities to Udaltsov and Navalny clearly shows who is socially close to them”

August 8: The release of Left Front coordinator Sergey Udaltsov permits us, on the one hand, to expect the strengthening of the left in Russia, and may change the relations between the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and other Red activists. On the other hand, Sergey Udaltsov will be a headache not only for the authorities but also for Alexei Navalny, who after the marsh protests [named for the area of Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square, where protests were centered in 2011-2012] remained at large, and worked for the title of “leader of the street opposition.” So there is a reallocation on the opposition field as a whole.

Left Front coordinator Sergey Udaltsov
The Secretary of the Central Committee of the United Communist Party (OKP) and former member of the Left Front Council Darya Mitina shared her opinion about what to expect from Sergey Udaltsov now, in an interview with
United Communist Party Secretary Darya Mitina
Question: Do you think that Sergey Udaltsov’s release will be a political event?

Darya Mitina: This will, of course, be a political event, because he is actually the only person who was forced to answer for what happened in 2011-2012. Life has shown that, despite the fact that all sectors of society and representatives of all political movements participated in the protests, only representatives of the left were punished.

It’s no secret that most of the prisoners of Bolotnaya were spokespeople of the left. The main ones were Udaltsov and [Leonid] Razvozzhaev, who were declared “organizers,” without any grounds. Organizers of what, exactly? The authorities declared the events social disturbances, in spite of the fact that it was a brutal, unlawful beating of protesters by OMON [riot police], at an event agreed to by the authorities, and Udaltsov was the one who tried to avoid any misunderstanding. If the regime was sensitive to things, then in Udaltsov it would see a man who did not incite, did not call for disorders, but on the contrary, called for calm, for a sit-down strike. At the trial we were shown wonders — Udaltsov was accused at the same time of calling for an attack on the police and of organizing a sit-down strike. We said to the judges – you are accusing him of mutually exclusive things.

Q: Nevertheless, he was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.

DM: The wording of the verdict turned out to be absolutely absurd, and it was based on speculation. We can say that people were convicted for nothing, and the social essence of the regime swam to the surface in this court. It turned out that the protest leaders who were socially close to the government did not suffer any punishment.

As for Udaltsov’s freedom, this will be an event not only for those who support the left and for Sergei himself. I think this is going to be a headache for some of his former fellow travelers and companions, and, of course, a headache for the authorities. It is clear that ideological people, who are not stopped by repression, are inconvenient for the authorities. The fact that he (Udaltsov) will be under a special regime for a year or two doesn’t spare anyone. Moreover, of all the political leaders under restriction, he is the youngest. Of all the newsworthy politicians who define the political character of Russia, he is also the youngest.

Q: Will “the one political leader of the opposition,” as Alexei Navalny is now called, share his position with Udaltsov? Will there be some struggle for leadership in the protests between them?

DM: I do not consider Navalny a leader, I consider him an inflated bubble. The term “share” here is irrelevant. They have nothing to share, they are hopelessly far apart and nothing unites them. Nothing united them in 2011. They happened to be together by accident when all the protesters from different sectors of society came out on the street. During the entire period of the protests, the so-called “one” leader appeared on the square ​​three times! From December 2011 to May 2012 the struggle was going on around the clock. This minority shareholder appeared only at three major rallies. He came to them solely for the purpose of showing off in front of the cameras, and was there for only a few hours. I do not think that he participated at all — Alexei Anatolyevich was not visible at pickets, nor when people were detained by the police, nor when they were subject to abuse by the right-wing.

Kasparov could be seen, for all his absurdity, Nemtsov was visible, and Navalny was not there. Navalny advanced to the foreground when the rest of the protesters were removed. It is very convenient — to wait for everyone to be removed, and, behold, you grow like a cancer. In court, when Sergei and Leonid had already been tried, to be fair, I saw him.

Sergey Udaltsov and Alexei Navalny
Q: And yet, Navalny is accused of shifting his rhetoric to the left agenda?

DM: Where is he moving left? Recently, there was a debate with the white monarchist Strelkov. White monarchist Igor Strelkov in all respects was to the left, and his rhetoric tended to the principles of social justice more than Navalny. Curiously, it was white monarchist Strelkov who began to teach the not very literate minority shareholder the basics of Marxism.

It was evident that in spite of two university degrees (or however many he’s got), Navalny has a very superficial understanding of the laws that govern society. This applies not only to Marxism, but to any sphere of public knowledge. There’s no shift to the left, there’s only an eclectic mix of liberal and nationalist principles.

The only firm position that can be seen in Navalny is pragmatic calculation. If today’s trend is liberal, he will be a liberal; if nationalistic sentiments prevail — he will become a nationalist. The left idea is the most alien to him from the whole set. It’s easy to imagine him with the liberals, with the nationalists it is more difficult, though still possible, but in the left milieu, he is an absolutely alien element.

Navalny-Strelkov debate

Q: And how do you think the government treats the patriotic opposition? The case of Sokolov and Mukhin, who will soon be sentenced, does it show us that this is the most punishable path?

DM: Yes, on August 10 the verdict will be announced. The initiative group for the referendum “For Responsible Power” (IGPR “ZOV”) is difficult to attribute to this or that ideological direction — it unites people of different views, but it must be understood that they are being tried for voicing general democratic demands. They spoke about the need for responsibility and accountability by the authorities, put forward demands for the implementation of those articles of the Constitution that say that a referendum is possible in Russia, and could be organized by the citizens themselves. These general democratic demands are legal in any country, and the fact is that we have such an article in the Constitution, but there has never been a precedent, and there are a number of further acts that complicate this procedure in every way, making it practically impossible, a whole bunch of violations of the law. There is, among other things, an article in the Ugolovnom Codex — the obstruction of the people’s will.

Theoretically, those officials who obstruct the organization of such referendums fall under this article, but it is probably unnecessary to remind anyone that none of them were prosecuted under judicial order, nor were they denounced. Members of the IGPR “ZOV” draw our attention to this and say that the initiative groups of citizens who tried to register for the referendum not only encountered obstacles, but they will also receive criminal sentences, although some other characters should receive them.

Referendum advocates on trial
Q: By the way, most recently, the Presidential Administration itself proposed holding referendums in the regions on issues of concern to citizens.

DM: It can propose anything, but so far there has been no movement in this direction even on neutral topics. In Moscow, they invented decorative, imitation opinion polls, such as: to mow grass or not to mow; but there’s no hint of a referendum on any meaningful problem! At the federal level, there’s nothing, there’s no precedent. Those who tried to put forward the initiative to hold a referendum, one way or another, were all oppositionists, left or right. Remember the Nemtsov initiative; many years ago he tried to initiate a referendum on the question of contract military service. He collected a million signatures — yet there was no referendum, the initiative was put into the toilet. And a number of activists from the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers received administrative fines. The same fate has overtaken all attempts at the organization of referendums from the KPRF’s side. The authorities make it clear that this article of the Constitution (along with many others) is not going to be implemented.

Q: The reorganization of the left, the reform of the KPRF, the unification of the system “Reds” with other activists — can this be expected with the release of Udaltsov?

DM: Regrouping the left wing has long been vital and has become an urgent need. The KPRF, which calls itself a left party, has long ceased to be so, only capitalizing on its name, but it does not meet the challenges of the time and the demands of society. In fact, it has merged with the party in power, turned into one of its divisions. Zyuganov’s communists are completely entwined with the system and ready to “show principled politics” only when they are sure that their voice is not out of acceptable bounds.

Yes, there are some deputies who occupy a principled position, but these are exceptions that do not affect anything: the current KPRF is the left leg of the party in power, something Yeltsin dreamed of when he formed a bipartisan system. From one flank, then there was the NDR [Our Home is Russia party, formed in 1995 by Boris Yeltsin], and the Ivan Rybkin Bloc claimed the left wing role. The latter did not work, the left wing did not take off, but now this dream has come true — Vanya Rybkin became the KPRF.

KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov
There is a left wing of the party in power in parliament, and there is a right wing. It should be noted that on some key issues for the authorities, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation never votes in solidarity against it, or some of the deputies are removed, or they only vote against when they understand that the 42 votes of KPRF deputies will not affect anything.

The KPRF is hopelessly far from the people, from the masses in the street, from labor collectives, from trade unions. Reorganization is necessary, and I think Sergei’s release will spur this process. All the previous designs I recall, there was the Forum of Left Forces, there were all kinds of umbrella structures of the left, though educational and enlightening in nature, were not capable of creating unity and centralized direct action. It is still unclear what will happen to the structures in which Sergei was involved – the Left Front movement, which was demolished and is de facto nonexistent, and the Joint Action Committee.

During the time of Udaltsov’s imprisonment, new left parties and movements emerged — for example, the United Communist Party — but for the most part the left wing is in a deplorable condition – it does not represent a serious force, does not pose a serious threat to the authorities, and this is wrong.

Russia is a left-wing country, 90 percent of Russian citizens spontaneously, often without realizing it, profess leftist ideas, and they have no adequate representation either in parliament or on the street. This situation is abnormal, and it cannot last long.

Q: Is it possible that now the government will be loyal to the projects and activities of Udaltsov?

DM: Alas, it’s hard to believe. Quite the contrary, the authorities will watch the movements of Udaltsov and his supporters and as much as possible hamper their legal activity. Nevertheless, there is a public demand, and it’s not going away — the authorities will be forced to move or change its policies, which I have little faith in. If the left protest movement becomes massive, the authorities will be forced to seek some way of communicating with citizens.

Q: And how do you think the government treats the patriotic opposition? Is there a place for Udaltsov?

DM: The authorities are crushing any attempts to attack its monopoly, chasing anyone who is not subservient, who are actually trying to force the authorities to observe the written laws. The patriotic opposition, and Udaltsov, and Mukhin, and all of us are part of it, we never separated ourselves from it, we are all Soviet patriots. And I, speaking in court on in the case of Mukhin, Sokolov, Parfyonov and Barabash, said that our goals and aspirations almost coincide.

Q: Would you say a situation is possible in which Udaltsov will be indulged as they are now indulging Navalny? Say, if they decided not to seriously repress the opposition, then they will leave the left alone, not just the liberal wing?

DM: No, of course. He was never coddled, and the fact that he (Udaltsov) has been locked up for 4.5 years, whereas Navalny, having two criminal verdicts, walks the streets without any restrictions, clearly shows who is socially close to the authorities, and who is not.


Translated by Greg Butterfield

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