I don’t think that the protests in Russia are going to achieve anything major in the nearest future. Putin is still going to win the next Presidential “elections” in Russia. Even if the elections are not falsified (which, as we all realize, is not likely), he will still win. Most people still like him (these are the folks who don’t read newspapers or blogs and only watch official pro-Putin channels on television). Besides, there is no opposition to speak of at the moment.
If we are to see any tangible results of the Russian protests, we will have to wait for a few years. It will take a while for viable opposition forces to emerge and produce their own leaders.
Still, I am a lot more enthusiastic about the Russian protests than I am about the #OWS. These are both middle-class movements. However, the peaceful Russian revolution of 2011 never pretended to be what it wasn’t. Its participants calmly explain in interviews, on their blogs and social networks that they are comfortably off, well-to-do, middle-class folks who are fed up with how their country is run. They don’t beg anybody for compassion. And they don’t regale us with stories of how they have wonderful, comfortable, debt-free lives but still “live in bated breath” because of some imaginary disasters. Most importantly, there is no swapping of tales of personal woe and misery that the #OWS protesters enjoy so much and that, more often than not, are inflated dramatically. For obvious reasons, the religious vocabulary that bothers me so much at the #OWS is also absent among Russian political agitators of the moment.
The Russian protesters say that they want to be in charge of their country’s politics. They talk about democracy, the voting system, the ways in which the currently existing parties are flawed, the way the budget is structured, the reasons why they are disappointed with Putin, the ways they evaluate the history of their country over the past 20 years. I have not read a single account, blog post, newspaper article, interview, etc. where a protester would plunge into a tale of his or her debts, employment history, educational achievements, sickness, marriages, etc. as part of his or her analysis of the political situation.
As we all know, personal is political. The way we live our lives is intimately connected to our politics. However, it would be a mistake to turn this statement around and say that political is personal. When politics becomes nothing but a bunch of personal narratives, we end up with a political reality where people elect presidents on the basis of their attractions as beer-drinking buddies, politicians’ personal lives matter a lot more than their policies, and a candidate’s success is defined by whether she can cry on cue or whether he bowls well. Only too often, the #OWS protesters approach the political arena as if it were a stage for a reality TV show, a place where personal dramas are to be aired for no other purpose than to allow an Oprahesque unburdening of emotions to occur.
Another reason why I prefer Russian protests to the #OSW is that the Russian protesters do not attempt to pretend they are proletarians when, in reality, they are middle-class folks. The vogue of brandishing fake working-class credentials is associated in Russia with the decades of the Communist regime. This is why nowadays people see nothing shameful in being financially comfortable.
The #OWS protesters, however, are tortured with middle-class guilt. This is why their “we are all in the same boat” slogans sound so hollow. I remember how my union organizer tried to convince me that he and I did not differ in any way from a truck-driver. At that time, he and I were students at one of the most prestigious grad schools in the world. We had great medical insurance, only had to teach for 50 minutes a day, and rarely woke up before noon. Unlike my union organizer, I hadn’t been born rich, so I didn’t feel any need to mask the silver spoon in my mouth by claiming I knew anything about the reality of truck-drivers.
This is, however, precisely what the #OWS does. Its middle-class participants mask their middle-class concerns behind the rhetoric of fake solidarity with the dispossessed. They self-righteously compete in producing stories of misery because they seem to believe that only misery entitles you to an opinion and to activism.
When the Russian protesters talk about their participation in the revolutionary movement, they always begin by explaining how they are entitled to be in charge of their country because of their success in running their lives, careers, companies, blogs, bank accounts, etc. The #OWS protesters, on the other hand, proudly claim failure as their chief qualification for the role of political activists.