Primitive accumulation in Moscow

Wednesday, December 11, 1991

By Sally Low

MOSCOW —As ordinary Muscovites prepare for a winter of shortages and soaring prices, the city's "democratic" administrators, led by Mayor Gavriil Popov, are busy positioning themselves to prosper under new free market conditions.

"There is a state of conflict between legislative and executive government in this city, and the consequences are catastrophic", says Vladimir Kondratov, Moscow City Soviet deputy and Socialist Party member. "Nothing is being decided, nobody knows what regulations apply. Those which the Soviet established in the past, and which have legal force, are ignored by the mayor."

There is a feeling that the city is descending into lawlessness and anarchy. Kondratov says that the administration operates in a "very precise and deliberate fashion — in its own interests".

In effect, Moscow's 9 million citizens are governed by a criminal "mafia" composed of large sections of the corrupt bureaucracy, many of whom date back to the time of Brezhnev, in alliance with leading figures from the former opposition "Democratic Russia" movement who, once in power, have accommodated to the old forces and the new conditions.

Soon after the August coup attempt, Boris Yeltsin abolished most of the Moscow Soviet — the only body that had been able to expose and control some of the mayor's and the mafia's excesses.

Previously, when it was discovered that the city's general catering enterprise, which was in charge of all restaurants and dining rooms, had been renamed "Service" and handed gratis to its former director, the soviet was able to force the resignation of one of the officials responsible. Now, having lost control over appointments and budgets, it is powerless to stop abuses such as the continued allocation of city funds, under the name of credits, to this new private enterprise, which is to operate tax free for five years.

In Kondratov's view, Popov may have simply found himself a prisoner of the already existing bureaucracy. But whatever his original motives, the story of the city's Institute for Property Development indicates his present eagerness to be part of the game.

Set up under his orders, the institute was commissioned to carry out all technical work and surveys on all city-owned properties. It was allocated a three-storey building in the centre of town.

Now, after various machinations, it has become a private enterprise with six registered owners, one of whom is Popov. It retains the original powers invested in it by the city government and still occupies the extremely valuable building.

Gagarin Square is the site of a particularly outrageous development deal teed up by the institute and signed by Popov. A 60-hectare site covering the square and the nearby park, where three Moscow princes once had their private estates, was leased for 99 years to a joint e for $10 a year. The French firm has the right to put up whatever buildings it chooses. The deal was exposed on TV, but the ensuing scandal was hushed up and the rent raised to $10 per hectare per year, $600.

Although the administration does its best — through unannounced, unminuted meetings, secret deals and inaccessible regulations — to keep the soviet and the public in the dark, enough of its scandalous behaviour has been discovered, says Kondratov, to make most Muscovites fully aware of the real nature of the "democrats" they elected to office.

Yet, with the media afraid they will be sacked or that their newspapers will lose their supplies of paper at state prices, there is no authority or force capable of challenging this old/new network of corrupt bureaucrats who, as in other regions, are using the organs of political power to carry out their own, 1990s style, very primitive accumulation of capital.
[Vladimir Kondratov was interviewed in Moscow for Green Left Weekly by Renfrey Clark, Sally Low and Peter Annear.]

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