Loyalty card

Even the most-travelled, open-minded Russians are singing Putin's tune, writes Artemy Troitsky, the

Until recently, the Russian population could be divided into two political mindsets: the oppo sitionists, both communist and liberal, and the silent majority. These are the tens of millions of conformists who vote obediently for the party they are supposed to vote for, but who ultimately don't give a damn.

Now, from its inner depths, the silent majority has vomited forth a new generation of noisy "ultra-conformists", fanatical Putinoids. It's a new phenomenon, yet to be studied, but at first glance they look like a mixture of teenybopper "Putin Youth" (those kids who belong to groups such as the T-shirt-wearing, rigid-right-arm-stretching Nashi) with disciplined army/police/ security guys, small-time apparatchiks and middle-aged women of unknown origin (presumably with a sexual crush on the president). The core of this movement may come from the state, but it is hard to deny that there's a substantial grass-roots-level element to it as well.

Putin's sustained popularity in Russia is still a mystery to me. It certainly has nothing to do with his achievements. Leave aside his shameful performance during national emergencies (the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000, the shoot-out at the Nord-Ost theatre in 2002 and, of course, the Beslan school massacre in 2004). Putin has also delivered almost none of his long-term promises. Crime, poverty and inflation remain as high as ever. Corruption has reached unprecedented heights. Terrorist attacks continue, while the economy is entirely and dangerously dependent on the export of natural resources. To this, one can add the catastrophically declining image of Russia in the rest of the world - something our president can be especially proud of, as he seems to follow religiously one of the most rotten pearls of Russian wisdom, a proverb that says: "If they fear you, they respect you."

Guus and George

So there must be a voodoo element to the way Putin survives and thrives. I would put him in the same league as the notoriously lucky Guus Hiddink, the Dutchman who is coach to the Russian national football squad. Thanks to incredible twists of fate, notably England's ignominious defeat by Croatia on 21 November, Hiddink has managed to squeeze his lousy team into the Euro 2008 finals. Putin's Steve McClaren is, undoubtedly, one George W Bush, who puts the Russian leader's mediocracy into the shade with his own flamboyant cretinism. One need only look at the war in Iraq, which triggered the past few years' huge rises in global oil and gas prices. The rest you know.

These oil zillions pour into Russian hands in such quantities that even the tiny orgy of kleptocrats running the country can make it feel relatively prosperous. Putin's luck also lies in there being no strong opposition movement. There are no convincing figures able to project an alternative vision. There is no moral authority challenging the status quo. All the leading cultural/humanitarian figures and opinion-formers either praise the boss or keep their mouths shut. His administration has done a good job of sorting the mass media.

Let me give one small example, so that you can understand better what kind of country we now live in. Recently on a TV talk show there was a gentle discussion between Viktor Yerofeyev, a well-known novelist and liberal columnist, and Nikita Mikhalkov, a well-known film-maker and professional brown-noser. Mikhalkov expressed his love and passion for Putin and the urge to glorify him in his works, in a manner probably not seen since Stalin's day. Yerofeyev tried, in a mild-mannered way, to calm the ultra-loyal film director down, suggesting that idolising the president might be a little over the top, and even tasteless. Putin might be a good guy, but he too has got problems, and we live in a modern democratic country, etc.

Yerofeyev sounded somewhat more convincing than Mikhalkov. Then, a week later, the same Yerofeyev was invited to another talk show - this time on the all-powerful Channel 1. Suddenly he was saying something completely different. He confessed his admiration for Putin, his loyalty to his political line and his general happiness about living in Putin's Russia. It wasn't formally staged as an act of repentance for the incorrect things he had said, but it didn't need to be. Knowing Yerofeyev - an ever-independent, western-orientated, ex-samizdat writer - as I do, I must admit I was impressed.

This article first appeared in the 03 December 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s fragile future

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times