Feb 5, 2021 • 5M

Episode #6 Preview: Navalny, the Kremlin, and the curse of neoliberalism

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Appears in this episode

Yasha Levine
Evgenia Kovda
A podcast by Evgenia Kovda and Yasha Levine.
Separated at birth — a young Navalny and a young Yeltsin.

Alexei Navalny — returned from the novichok-dead — is back in Russia, back in jail, and back in the news. Protests have been taking place in cities all across the country with people calling for his release, and it’s pretty clear that the poisoning and the new jail term have only increased Navalny’s cult political status. He’s become an almost mythical figure now, beating death itself in order to save Russia from Vladimir Putin and to lead the Russian people to freedom.

It makes sense that people are getting caught up in the recent life and death drama of the Navalny story. I mean, how can you not. But Evgenia and I talk about something a bit deeper — something’s that’s usually left unsaid in both Russian and western media circles.

What are Navalny politics? And what are the politics of the movement he now leads? Besides being broadly against corruption and opposing Putin’s soft-authoritarian grip on power, what do they actually believe in?

One important point we make is that there is no substantive ideological and political differences between the politics of Putin’s neoliberal clan of oligarchs, bureaucrats, and security goons and those of Navalny’s liberal opposition — an opposition that wants to replace Putin’s rule with itself. Aside form maybe some cultural and clique differences, they’re both various flavors of neoliberalism, or what in the Russian context, you’d call “liberalism.” Evgenia and I have been yelled at online by both Americans and Russians for pointing this out, but it’s true.

One dead giveaway that Navalny’s a neoliberal: he is not against the criminal privatization of the Soviet Union’s industries and resources that happened under Boris Yeltsin — a process that not only created Russia’s corrupt oligarchical political system but also put Putin into power. As surprising as it may seem for all his talk about corruption, Navalny is not against oligarchs as a class. He praises “good” oligarchs — especially western oligarchs — like he does with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in his viral Putin’s Place doc. From what we can tell, Navalny is only against bad Russian oligarchs — Putin’s oligarchs — because they made money through corruption.

To Navalny, what makes Putin’s oligarchs bad is that they’re not like Bill Gates, one of the richest people on the planet who has his own “Gates Palace” rivaling Putin’s.

Another point we make is that Navalny’s cultural and political positions — not just just his deep neoliberalism, but his nationalism and his racism against people from Central Asia and the Caucuses and the antisemitic and homophobic outbursts he was prone to when he wasn’t as famous as he is now — are inline with the Russian mainstream. They are also very much in line with the politics of his most important base of support: Russia’s entrepreneurial and professional class — starting with the petite bourgeoise and reaching all the way into the lower levels of the oligarchy. In short, he’s very much a man of his time and place.

Anyway, take a listen…

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—Yasha Levine

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