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Lenin, Putin and The Occupy Wall Street Movement

7 May

In January 2012 as the world was debating the international “Occupy” movement, conservative pundit and New Republic contributing editor James Kirchick began his diatribe against the movement in the journal World Affairs with the following comparison:

Viewing the Occupy Wall Street movement from post-Communist Europe, I can’t stop thinking of October 1917.  This date, when the Bolsheviks seized power from the Russian Provisional Government and set in place a Communist dictatorship that would last for more than seven decades…

While Kirchick’s article is riddled with cherry-picked negative incidents- a similar method that the left used for Tea Party critiques- his first and most urgent comparison is with the Bolsheviks.  Thus, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, a term that seems obsolete still carries it’s past baggage for some people. Furthermore, framing reactions to the current economic recession through the lens of capitalism versus communism is not just a right-wing scare tactic, but actually began almost immediately in the former home of Bolshevism, the Russian Federation.

In fact, Pravda (yes it still exists) and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) were quick to illustrate the comparisons with the Bolshevik Revolution during the first few months of the economic crisis.  On 22 January 2009, the front page of Pravda featured an article titled “On the Crisis.”  Sure enough, right under the headline Lenin leads the October Revolution in his proletarian workers’ cap.  The text simply states that unemployed workers in Putin’s Russian (unemployment has reach nearly 20% in some areas) are ripe for communist revolution and calls on all concerned to attend a communist rally that was held on January 31 in Moscow.  Further down the page, a picture of pre-revolutionary Russian workers stands side by side with an image of currently unemployed Muscovites to underline the point.  In addition, the newspaper includes a flyer for the demonstration that prominently displays the clenched fists of workers.

While this comparison is fascinating to historians of Bolshevism, communism and the Soviet Union, the actual threat of a communist revolution in Putin’s Russia does not seem serious.  Communist party candidates in Russia do usually receive between 15 to 25 percent of the vote in parliamentary and presidential elections, but their constituency consists largely of older Russians who were left destitute by the free market shock therapy and privatization of the 1990’s.  Ironically for both Pravda and Kirchick, Occupy Wall Street’s Russian incarnation did not hail a new Bolshevik Revolution, but rapidly turned into an anti-Putin movement. Drawing on the examples of both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street ,  Occupy Moscow and related groups continue to protest the undeniable political corruption and constriction of civil society under Putin.  Furthermore, these protests have not been met with condemnation, but considerable admiration from both the left and right in the West who all dread Putin’s return to the Russian presidency.

Further Reading:

Black, Phil. “Putin Returns as Russia’s President Amid Protests.” CNN, 7 May 2012.  Online at: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/07/world/europe/russia-putin/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Kirchick, James. “Over There: The Occupiers, Seen from Europe.” World Affairs (January/Febuarary 2012), pp., 69-76.

Korsunskaya, Darya.  “Occupy Moscow? Street Protests Over Vladimir Putin Presidency.” The Christian Science Monitor, 7 December 2011.  Online at: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Latest-News-Wires/2011/1207/Occupy-Moscow-Street-protests-over-Vladimir-Putin-presidency

Pravda. Moscow: Communist Party of the Russian Federation, 22 January 2009.

Parfitt, Tom. “Occupy Moscow threat by protesters over Vladimir Putin’s ‘rigged vote’ in presidential election.” The Telegraph, London, 3 March 2012. Online at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/9121373/Occupy-Moscow-threat-by-protesters-over-Vladimir-Putins-rigged-vote-in-presidential-election.html