[Marxism] A Home for Every Russian: How Putin Delivers

Thomas Campbell avvakum at gmail.com
Thu Apr 30 13:35:00 MDT 2015

The first thing you should know about the so-called housing boom is that it
has largely been made possible by incredibly cheap, disempowered labor from
Central Asia. Labor that has often verged on slave labor. Totally
non-union, dirt cheap, if you don't like the conditions, non-Slavic laborer
(my euphemism: this isn't the local "term of art"), fuck off, because we'll
find another ten "blacks" (a term of extreme abuse in Russian) to take your
place. And the local police and migration service are taking a cut from the
cutthroat developers and taking caring of things if the Tajiks or Uzbeks
get uppity. Like deporting them back to Central Asia lickety-split. And the
neo-Nazis and skinheads were also, until recently (maybe they're still
doing it) coming in to bust heads and slice a few hundred or thousand
throats just in case someone missed the point.

All this stuff has been documented and heavily reported, mind you, but not
on fly-by-night Putinist sites like New Cold War and Russian Insider that
sprung up only yesterday.

The second thing you should know about the so-called housing boom is that
what it has been fueled by dollar- or euro-denominated loans that people
are now unable to pay back because the economy has flatlined. Or financed
by co-op buy-in schemes that went south when the ruthless developers split
with the money, and the co-op members were left holding empty bags and
staring at unbuilt or partly built apartment blocks. There have be tons of
such sad stories over the past ten years (again, heavily documented in the
Russian and even the western media), and the authorities have usually been
very reluctant to help these people get their money back or their
apartments built.

The third thing you should know about about the so-called housing boom is
that, especially in the big cities like Moscow and Petersburg, is that it
has been realized at great (at times, devastating) expense to the existing
built environment, whether in the older (pre-Revolutionary) districts of
cities, which should be heritage listed (especially in Petersburg, ALL of
whose central districts and large parts of its suburbs are a UNESCO
Heritage Site), as well in the post-war Soviet new estates, which the
Soviet planners had the wisdom to equip with lots of green space, parks,
leafy courtyards, and lots of other great amenities (like schools and
kindergartens!), etc.

All this "empty space" has been been a favorite target of the utterly
ruthless developers in their quest to squeeze more real estate into less
and less space. If you'd been really interested in what was going in Russia
(and Ukraine, by the way) over the past ten years, you would know that one
of the big social movement to emerge was the movement against reckless and
infill construction both in the inner cities and the new estates. In fact,
you can probably say lots of bad things about Sergei Udaltsov (now doing
jail time for "planning a riot" on May 6, 2012) and his Left Front, but
there are probably tons of ordinary Muscovites who were glad to have them
in neighborhood when they were fighting off the ruthless developers trying
to destroy their nice, superiorly planned Soviet or pre-Soviet neighborhood.

This allegation about the superior quality of the new housing versus the
bad old Soviet apartment blocks is also quite hilarious. A friend of mine
lives next to a tower of such "elite" flats in southern Petersburg. She
told me there had been a rash of burglaries in this building because the
walls were built so thin the crooks could literally punch their way through
them from one flat to the next, and grab whatever loot they liked. And this
was in, I repeat, an "elite" block of flats. ("Elite" is the buzzword among
the cutthroat developers.)

In my own experience, substandard architectural and infrastructural quality
has been the rule in the "housing boom", because the point has been to
throw up as many square meters as possible, as if Russia were still the old
Soviet Union, where high figures like this were touted every years a signs
of the progress toward communism -- but that made sense back then, because
those figures represented real people moving from crowded communal flats
and barracks into individuals flats with plumbing and all the mod cons.

Now, on the contrary, the point has been to do everything as cheaply as
possible in terms of labor inputs and environmental impacts, while
front-loading as much of the profit in the preliminary financing stages
(which is also when the high-percentage bribes and cutbacks get passed
around to compliant and interested officials), which often means that
buildings just don't get built at all, because the developers and
financiers "go bust" (ha-ha: that money landed somewhere offshore) before
they get built.

Finally, when is an out-of-control "housing boom" a sign of good social or
economic policy or a "social state"? Remember that lots of this housing,
when it does get built (and lots does get built), is not built for anyone
to live in, but as investment vehicles for richer Russians with cash on
their hands and no good way to launder it. Or, at best, as rental
properties, thus sending the rents sky high in Moscow long ago, and going
that way in Petersburg for a long time as well, because the owners want to
milk the rental market for as much as it can bear.

There is a lot more (several books could and should be written) on the
subject, but it won't be written by Russian Insider and New Cold War, whose
only mission is to whitewash an utterly miserable regime that is getting
more miserable by the second.

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