[Marxism] Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsy
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 21 06:40:59 MST 2013
Mikhail Khodorkovsky 'exhausted but happy to be free' after Putin's pardon
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operation amid rumours and misinformation
Like most people on the left, I regarded the fight between Mikhail
Khodorkovsy, the president of Yukos Oil and the richest man in Russia,
and Vladimir Putin as a pissing contest between two skunks.
Although the documentary titled “Khodorkovsky” that opened on Friday at
the Film Forum is not intended to persuade anybody that the oligarch had
any redeeming social value, it does make a pretty convincing case that
he was victimized mostly because he stood up to Putin. When Putin told
him to stay out of politics, Khodorkovsky did not back down. For his
efforts, he was sent to prison for six years for widely regarded as
trumped up charges on tax evasion and just recently had another six
years tacked on.
Khodorkovsky’s father was Jewish, his mother was not. He was a member of
the Communist Party youth group when the USSR was still intact and
learned how to make money hustling in its ranks by acting as a kind of
social director. Using his Komsomol connections, Khodorkovsky set up the
bank Menatep when Gorbachev was still in charge.
The money he made running Menatep allowed him to bid successfully for
the state-owned oil company that would become Yukos. Unlike other
oligarchs, he shunned the lavish lifestyle and had no use for gangster
entourages that became endemic in the early years of the post-Soviet Union.
The documentary was directed by Cyril Tuschi, a German who adopts a
somewhat detached and bemused attitude throughout the film suitable for
his ambivalence toward Khodorkovsky. It is not clear to me that Tuschi
had much interest in the broader questions of post-Communist society,
the contradictions of capitalism, or anything else that matters to my
usual readers. He seems to be motivated to tell an interesting story
about a rather dubious figure and does a reasonably good job.
Mentioned only fleetingly in the film was Khodorkovsky’s attempts in
2003 to form partnerships with Western oil companies, something that
Putin regarded as inimical to Russian interests. At the time, some
leftists gave critical support to Putin as a kind of “anti-imperialist”.
While not using this term, Vladimir Popov did make the case in the
March-April 2007 New Left Review for Putin as a kind of imperfect
defender of Russian interests in acting against the oligarchs.
I appreciated Tony Wood’s response to Popov’s article that appeared in a
The reassertion of state control over strategic companies and sectors
has been seen as a sign of stealth nationalization—the state using its
administrative powers to crush Khodorkovsky’s Yukos and, more recently,
even muscle aside multinational companies such as Shell. Western
establishment analysts have diagnosed these developments as a case of
‘resource nationalism’, likening Putin’s actions to those of Chávez or
Morales, while the latest leitmotif of Russian political discourse has
been the idea of ‘sovereign democracy’—essentially referring to Russia’s
ability and determination to pursue an independent course, no longer
reliant on loans or approbation from the West.
Neither of these concepts is an adequate measure of the orientation and
outlook of Russia’s contemporary elite. As noted above, the Putin
administration has not actively redistributed oil wealth to those
dispossessed by the ‘reforms’ of the 1990s; indeed, its tax regime seeks
precisely to benefit the wealthy still further, while the monetization
of benefits and increased charges for utilities penalize the poor.
Though the poverty rate is declining and wages rising, any significant
drop in oil prices will likely reverse these trends, which will once
again have the most severe impact on the lowest income strata. The
decision to spend the oil windfall on euros and dollars, meanwhile, is
ostensibly motivated by a desire to keep inflation in check; but in a
context of continued infrastructural dysfunction, such prudence is a
form of deferred suicide, starving the nation of the public goods that
would secure its survival in the longer term.
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