Most widespread attitude is skepticism and distrust
Based on that material, I would assume that after eight months of caricatural propaganda, a drop in living standards, coercive mobilization, tens of thousands of victims, an obvious mess in the organization and supply of the army, the most widespread attitude toward the war among working classes is cold skepticism and distrust. Opting for ironic distance from and criticism of the powerful – typical of the working class – they don’t want to have anything to do with a war that was imposed on them at their expense. Some volunteered for the army, going for the money the government promised – before the draft. However, considering the huge number of people living in poverty, we should rather wonder why so few took the opportunity to feed their families and repay their loans.
There might be less much public resistance than we would wish, but the key explanation of that is neither authoritarianism, nor servile obedience, since, as my above-cited research has shown, social criticism and rebellious thoughts have been widespread among the Russian working classes in the second half of the 2010s. The one big obstacle for active resistance and open rebellion is the strong disbelief that they have the strength to fight an oligarchic and militarized regime.
I’m not saying that no Russian is nationalistic or imperialistic, or that no Russian has committed war crimes; rather, based on my above-mentioned research, I argue that this is not the majority (I rely here not only on my assumptions based on my previous research, but also on some data collected by Elena Koneva’s team and published on ExtremeScan
and Alexei Miniailo’s team and published on Chronicles
) and that spreading such a stereotyped picture of the Russian people is not helpful at all if we want to stop the war and help people in Russia to resist. On the contrary, to spur an anti-war movement, it has to be made obvious to the masses that most of the population doesn’t support Putin’s war, that condemning the war isn’t condemning the people, meaning that you can be against the war while being together with the people and for the people.
Nationalist- and imperialist-minded people are most often found on the fringes of the Russian intellectual and cultural space and are now invading the TV screens, feeding state propaganda. They are much more likely to be wealthy or key beneficiaries of the oppressive neoliberal economic system.
People from below generally don’t share nationalist views – they know from their everyday experience what the Kremlin patriotic discourse really is about: “working for kopeks in the name of a state-manipulated sort of patriotism” that takes people for nothing, as one of my interviewées
, a female cook from St Petersburg told me a few years before the war. Russian people have never been foolish puppets. They recovered from the shock of the profound and radical socioeconomic transformations of the 1990s. They criticized their government, including Putin. They denounced enormous social inequalities and the oligarchic nature of the regime. They took to the streets to protest on many occasions, mostly over limited or local social issues, but sometimes over wider political issues as well.