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"The ABC of the Revolution"

How to Slay a Dragon: Building a New Russia After Putin Forfatter Mikhail Khodorkovskij
Forfatter: Stephen Dalziel
Forlag: Polity, (England)
RUSSIA / Mikhail Khodorkovsky discusses Russia's future after Putin and advocates revolution, democracy and fair distribution of resources. It is about achieving a new, open and fair country that can reclaim its place in the international community...


Mikhail Khodorkovsky has had plenty of time to think about how a new, democratic, socially humane and enlightened Russia can emerge after Putin's autocracy eventually collapses.

He spent ten years in prison in Russia on false charges of tax evasion and other financial crimes. His real 'crime' was that he openly protested the loss of freedoms in Russia during Putin. It is now ten years since Putin allowed his release – as a result of this decision he was given one last chance to see his mother before she died. Khodorkovsky has lived in London since then (although he also has close ties to Switzerland, where his wife Inn and two of his children live).

The brilliant young businessman, who graduated from Moscow's prestigious Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology in the mid-1980s, no longer has a full-time job running the major Russian oil company Yukos (of which he lost control and ownership when he was imprisoned) and now spends much of his time supporting the Russian opposition movement and key figures within it. He is an ardent opponent of Russia's war against Ukraine (which he, like many in the Russian opposition, believes goes back to 2014 and the conquest of Krym).

In 2022, he finally collected his thoughts in a systematic way in a Russian-language book. The English translation (by Stephen Dalziel) – How to Slay a Dragon: Building a New Russia After Putin – is now published by Polity, a British publisher with offices in the UK and USA.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

A new Russia

How to Slay a Dragon is a somewhat unwieldy book written with few references outside of Khodorkovsky's own experiences, and it wears its intellectual mantle with a light hand. The book is a recipe for how Russia can get past Putin, shake off centuries of despotism and create a fair and democratic parliamentary democracy to replace the old corrupt presidential (or tsarist) system.

But there is nothing particularly new or radical about the book. It addresses the Russian the opposition and people who want something better for their country than war, autocracy and corruption, like the armchair philosophers Khodorkovsky occasionally criticizes in 225 pages. And he presents an action plan without defining who will implement it and how.

Khodorkovsky, still a wealthy man who made his money by seizing control of natural resources that were sold cheaply under Yeltin's 'loan-for-share' program in the early 1990s, is magnanimous when he suggests that social equalization can achieved by the income from oil, gas and other of Russia's rich natural resources being returned to the people – by paying the money directly into pension and social investment accounts for all residents. Ideas that Khodorkovsky elaborated in the text A Turn to the Left – Global Perestroika (2008), which he wrote in prison, reappears here.

Today's Russia, under Putin, allows these natural resources to fall to a small circle of people – "several hundred families" – who are close to Putin and support him, Khodorkovsky writes.

Putin "distributes the profits from the sale of raw materials – oil, gas, metals and timber – in a completely arbitrary way. He does what he wants and acts based on the interests of a narrow circle of people. In order for Russia to be able to become a state that provides for its people – as the constitution prescribes, but which does not exist in reality – it is, in my opinion, crucial that society regains control over the ground rent, i.e. over the income from the extraction and exploitation of the country's natural resources ».

Plan for reformer

In order to achieve this state and a parliamentary federal system founded on the distribution of power and regional, city-based grassroots democracy that Khodorkovsky envisions, a revolution is necessary, he emphasizes. "Revolutionary violence is necessary," he asserts. And this is where he makes common cause with other former oligarchic exiles, such as the late Boris Berezovsky, when he calls for the use of weapons against Putin's regime.

“If you see peaceful protest as a principled rejection of revolutionary violence (and this is how many naively perceive it), you are in good company with any dictator. But fighting the dictatorship would be completely impossible.”

He formulates the argument sharply, but it boils down to a call to those in Russia who are willing to take up the fight against Putin.

"[I]f the regime is prepared to open fire on its own people, a demonstrative and early rejection of the use of violence as a way of seizing power on the part of the opposition will be counterproductive. […] In reality, not only is revolutionary violence legitimate, but historically it has always and everywhere proved to be a source of new legitimacy.”

"Revolutionary violence is necessary," he asserts.

These are "hard truths", admits Khodorkovsky. “But they are the ABCs of the revolution – and they must be learned by heart. If you want to win, mind you.”

After Putin

The author is more optimistic when he gets to the heart of his argument about which direction to take Post-Putin Russia can take. This is about achieving a new, open and just country that can reclaim its place in the international community (that is, when the war in Ukraine is over, and after an appropriate period in which the lessons of the disastrous imperial ambitions have had time to to sink). Here he emphasizes that the war must end with some form of decisive peace, so that it does not remain simmering.

You are with us, if you are not against us.

Khodorkovsky spends the first half of the book outlining how Russia's disparate opposition can learn from past mistakes (he eschews a 'Bolshevik' model where you're against us if you're not with us, in favor of a model where you're with us if you are not against us), how Lenin's maxims on seizure of power can be updated for the 21st century (takeover of important control points of national information and structural infrastructure), as well as how the opposition in exile can and should cooperate with the brave souls remaining in Russia. He also looks at what to do with members of the old court – and argues, just as Lenin did, that you cannot afford to dismiss the entire civil service and the judiciary, because then you will have no one left to rule the country.

The second half of the book is devoted to a description of how to build a new one Russia, and here Khodorkovsky uses the old system of self-governing city ​​states from before Moscow's time as a model for a vision of a federal and parliamentary democracy in the 21st century that gives power to the regions via a kind of German democratic model with 'states' – large cities that have powerful popularly elected mayors and governors who balance Moscow's power.

He examines questions of economic, legal, intellectual, social and political justice and concludes that a central concept of mercy has long been missing in Russian society, and that this is crucial for a new vision for Russia.

All this is exciting material for those who dream of a new Russia after Putin, but one is always left with a nagging thought about who will actually trigger, carry out, carry and implement this revolution and these reforms. Khodorkovsky gives no answer to that.

Translated by editor from English.

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