Kagarlitsky on Russia under Yeltsin and Putin

Boris Kagarlitsky Russia under Yeltsin and Putin (Pluto Press, 2002,) £16.99

Boris Kagarlitsky never disappoints. His analyses are astute, penetrating, and remarkably readable. In Russia under Yeltsin and Putin he looks at the way in which, instead of the defeat of  authoritarian collectivism opening up new possibilities for democratic political and social change, the economy collapsed, capital fled, health care and other welfare systems descended into chaos and every indicator of prosperity and wellbeing plummeted.

What to do about all this is one of the most pressing questions of the early 21st century, not least because the unstable, parasite-ridden body of Russia presents a constant danger to global security - a real one, rather than the fantasies of cold war propaganda.

Kagarlitsky shows how Yeltsin and the bizarre oligarchs who surrounded him created this chaos, and the role of foreign capital and the IMF in establishing a capitalisme sauvage which operated under none of the constraints accreted by its western counterpart in centuries of development, adjustment and class conflict. 200% interest rates failed to prevent the collapse, in 1998, of the rouble, which ushered in hyperinflation. Presiding over this, an increasingly alcoholic Yeltsin began to lose his friends in the West as rapidly as he had, a few short years before, gained them.

Putin succeeded Yeltsin by means of a fraudulent election, but an increasingly nervous US and EU no longer cared for these niceties of democratic form. Russia could not be allowed to implode, not because of the terrible sufferings of its peoples, not even because of the investment opportunities that some kind of rational development plan might provide to western capital, but simply because it still has the Bomb.

Kagarlitsky argues for a progressive, collectivist response to all of this which would see a rebirth of a labour movement based on democratising socialist ideas and practices - something which has not been seen in Russia for a very long time.  This is clearly something we would all like to see, but Kagarlitsky bases his argument not on pious hope but on sound, hard-headed observation of what he sees happening around him, including the emergence of a more combative and intelligent unionism.