[Marxism] Review: Russia Without Putin

Ken Hiebert knhiebert at shaw.ca
Sat Dec 29 18:00:21 MST 2018

From The New Internationalist

Peter Whittaker 
Russia Without Putin by Tony Wood (Verso, ISBN 9781788731249)

It was only after I had been reading Tony Wood’s analysis of money and power in post-Soviet Russia for some time that I realized that what I had taken for an abstract cover design was in fact an extremely soft-focus picture of Vladimir Putin. Herein lies the difficulty of the task Wood has set himself. In attempting to write about Putin’s Russia without foregrounding the man himself, he is cutting across the grain of received wisdom that the individual personifies the country to a remarkable degree, both domestically and on the international stage. Indeed, the blurb to the book undermines its own title, stating baldly: ‘It is impossible to think of Russia today without considering Vladimir Putin.’

Bravely battling his own marketing department, Wood advances a thesis that Putinism is less a return to Soviet authoritarianism and more a continuation of the free-market policies pursued by Boris Yeltsin and his neo-con advisers in the 1990s. In this argument, the reining in of the oligarchs post-Yeltsin brought the system of larceny back ‘in house’, replacing untrammelled kleptocracy with state-owned casino capitalism, the better to manage it for the benefit of the elite.

Tony Wood has not really given us the promised portrait of Russia without Putin and there is little detail here on what a post-Putin landscape might look like. He has, however, provided valuable insights into how the Russia that emerged from the fragmentation of the Soviet Union morphed into its present state, before Putin and under Putin. After Putin is a story yet to be written.

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