Proletarians and Bourgeois in Russian Capitalism

We post the English translation of an updated version of the article “Proletarians and bourgeois in Russian capitalism”, which appeared in issue 52 of Marxist Pages, because of its relevance to our position on the war in Ukraine.

Even if “the main enemy is at home”, in the sense that our internationalism would be empty if we did not denounce and as far as possible fight the war policy of OUR imperialist bourgeoisie and its state (and its military alliances, essentially NATO), the principle that “the enemy of my (main) enemy is my friend” cannot hold, nor does the criterion (followed by those who dare not deny the capitalist characteristics of the pro-Russian “camp”) of the “lesser evil”. These criteria apply to those whose reference point are (capitalist) STATES, and who see international politics as positioning themselves between them, bringing to this (bourgeois, social-imperialist or ‘red-brown’ as you like) policy their eventual influence in society, and/or aiming to shift the axis of Italy’s NATIONAL foreign policy in the direction of the now-opposed camp. This is not the view of those who, like us, have social classes as their reference point, and are aligned WITH THE PROLETARIAT, THE WORKING CLASS AGAINST THE CAPITALISTS and their states, and their wars, against capitalism as a system, and whose goal is a different society, a society without classes, without exploitation and wars.

From this point of view, the Russian state is a capitalist state, just as those of the powers that oppose Russia are capitalist. For us they are all enemies, and our task is to build the ‘proletarian camp’, among the exploited throughout the world and particularly in the countries involved in the war. Even in Russia and Ukraine there are groups, however small and with ideological paths different than our, of young people and workers who take this point of view, and this encourages us in our action (see e.g. and

The article we are publishing provides concrete elements to support our position on the war, as defined in the Rome conference on 16 October and implemented in the anti-war assembly in Milan on 11 June (see ).

US President Biden justifies the commitment of tens of billions of dollars to arm Ukraine as a defence of democracy against autocracy. A strange ‘sacrifice’ of resources for such a noble cause by the same power that has supported and continues to support dictators around the world (from Pinochet to the Saudi royals, although now Bin Salman, sensing the multipolar wind, is turning his back on him …).

We do not believe that the US and its NATO allies are at war with Russia for what differentiates them as political systems, but for what unites them as social systems: capitalism. It is in the nature of capitalism, especially when highly concentrated and matured in an imperialist direction, to fight for ‘markets’ and raw materials, where ‘market’ also means the market of labour, the only commodity whose purchase generates more value than its cost.

For more than a century, the United States of America has been the model of ‘pure’ and wild capitalism, the kingdom of ‘freedom’ … to exploit the needs of others in order to enrich oneself – a model to which European countries are also converging more and more with the precariousness of labour and the dismantling of the ‘welfare state’, resulting in an increasing divide between the ever richer and the ever poorer.

How does Russia, whose government is challenging the Western powers in Ukraine, look socially? More than 30 years after the collapse of the USSR, the common perception remains that it is a somewhat different society and not so wildly capitalist.  However, an analysis conducted mainly on the official Russian sources shows a society divided into the same classes of exploiters and exploited, with inequalities no less pronounced than in western capitalist countries.

In the current war between NATO imperialism and Russian imperialism in Ukraine, there is no ‘lesser evil’ to choose from, but the same ‘worse evil’ on both sides, to be fought with the union of the proletarians of all countries.

The 2020 Statistical Yearbook of Russia[1] – from which data that follow are taken when no other source is specified – gives a population of 146.3 million, with a natural decline of over 300,000 (more deaths than births) in one year. Thirty years ago there were one million more inhabitants. Here too, as in Italy, the fertility rate even though risen from just over 1 child per woman in 2000 to around 1.5, is determining a continuous demographic decline, which immigration only partially fills. This is partly the effect of a highly urbanised society (three quarters of the population live in cities, compared to less than 1 in 5 in 1917; more than half live in centres with more than 100,000 inhabitants), where part of the population does not have sufficient income to start a family and raise children, partly as a result of the dismantling of most welfare. Its largest European metropolises, however, are growing thanks to internal migration from Siberia, the Far East and the Volga region, which are thus becoming even more depopulated. The urban-countryside divide is in fact wide, with the incidence of poverty in the countryside more than three times higher than in the cities.

Life expectancy at birth, a synthetic indicator of ‘material wellbeing’, had reached 69 years in 1990, to fall to 65 in 2000, following the economic collapse and the spread of unemployment and poverty. It has risen to 73.3 years in 2019 (4 years less than in the USA, 9 less than in Italy). But for men, life expectancy is 68, ten years less than for women. The gap between men and women is among the highest in the world, and more than double than in Italy, a fact partly related to the widespread and historical male alcoholism.

High proletarianisation, low wage share

There are around 72 million employed people (women 35 million, almost on a par with men), of whom 67 million, or 93%, are employees, and only 5% are self-employed, 1.5% entrepreneurs. A level of proletarianisation among the highest in the world, with a very thin layer of middle strata and petty bourgeoisie (in Italy they are 3 to 4 times as many). However, only 45.7% of the national income goes to employees (a share down 4 points since 2010, when it was 49.6%, according to official statistics), a figure that includes transfers received through the welfare state (health and various benefits). The remaining 54.3% goes in large part to the one million capitalists, and mainly to the biggest among them, the so-called ‘oligarchs’, who thank Putin’s policies, which have allowed them to increase profits at the expense of wages.

This first raw data tells us a lot about the Russian social structure, which is based on the exploitation of wage labour as much as, and even more, if possible, than European and North American societies. The ILO[2] data on the share of GDP that goes to ‘labour’, and which also include (debatable) estimates of the remuneration of self-employed labour, gives France, Germany and Italy between 60% and 63%, the USA and the UK at 57-58%, and Russia at 52%. In any case, in Russia the share of the product going to capital is higher than in western capitalist countries, indicating a higher rate of exploitation and lower bargaining power of workers. It should be noted that ‘informal’ work, i.e. the informal economy (tax and social security contribution evasion) is estimated at 17% of the total, up sharply from 12% in 2010 (for a comparison, in Italy informal or ‘black’ work is estimated at 12%, 3 million people). Putinism has also favoured these social processes, not unlike what happened in Italy and Germany in the same years with the liberalisation of the labour market.

Collapse of industry, growth in Services

Where do the 72 million people employed in Russia work? Since the disintegration of the USSR in 1991-92 and the economic liberalisation initiated during the Gorbachev years, the area has suffered the violent impact of the world market, which has put a large part of the industrial apparatus out of business. Industrial workers fell from 1 in 3 to 1 in 7 employed (from 34% to 14%), with millions laid off as a result of closures and restructuring. The downsizing of industry is a phenomenon that affects all metropolises, but in Russia it has been particularly dramatic. At the same time, the weight of services has grown enormously, rising to 41 million (58% of the total). In addition, there are workers in construction (6.4 million), transport (5.4 million) and electricity, gas and water networks (2.3 million). Less than 4.8 million workers remain in agriculture, 6.7%, a share that has more than halved since 1991, when agricultural workers accounted for 14% of the total. Here too, Russia is lagging behind the trend of other capitalist metropolises by a generation or two. The industrialisation of agriculture, which had failed under state capitalism, is being carried out by big private capital, with the use of a small number of wage workers, making Russia one of the world’s leading agricultural exporters. Among the largest agricultural groups (in order of size of land owned): Igor Khudokormov’s Prodimex and Agrokultura: 790,000 ha, 15,000 employees, 2016 sales for $755 million (cereals, soybeans), with profits of $15.1 million; Viktor and Alexander Linnik’s Miratorg, 676,000 ha, 30,000 employees, $1.927 billion in sales (livestock, feed, agribusiness including distribution), $337.3 million profits in 2016; Vadim Moshkovich’s Rusagro (registered office: Cyprus), 675. 000 ha, 14,000 employees, 2016 sales $1.356bn (sugar, pigs, cereals, oleaginous/oil) with $95m in profits; Alexander Tkachev’s Agrocomplex, 644,000 ha, 24,000 employees, $722. 9m sales with 48m profits (pulses, cereals, beets, oilseeds); Volgo-Don Agroinvest of Sergei and Alexei Kukura, 452,000 ha, 2,400 employees, $97.2m sales, $10.6m profits.[3]

There are also just over a million people working in the mining sector (from coal to metals to oil and gas), 1.6 per cent of workers, whose activities nevertheless generate a higher operating result (gross profit) than the entire manufacturing industry where almost 10 million people work. It is the high rents (especially in the oil and gas sector) that on the one hand generates high corporate overprofits (some crumbs of which go to pay wages twice as high as in industry) and on the other hand is the main source of funding for the Russian state. Even the real estate sector, with less than two million employees, generated an operating surplus in 2019 equal to that of trade, which employs 13.5 million: in this sector, too, we have high real estate rents and surpluses from speculative activities – as throughout the capitalist world.

High wage differentials

How high are Russian wages? According to the ILO[4] the average hourly wage in 2017 was 222 roubles, or about EUR 6.85[5] , compared to EUR 16 per hour worked (including payment of 13th, 14th month pay, holidays and leave) in Italy and almost EUR 20 in Germany. Women’s hourly wages are 75 per cent of men’s, a gender gap significantly higher than in Europe and the United States. There are also strong sectoral and territorial differences. The average monthly wage is 26,000 roubles in textiles, 28.000 in tourism and catering, 32.000 roubles in agriculture, 37.000 in education, 44.000 in manufacturing, 51.000 in transport, 82.000 in petrochemicals, 104.000 in finance and insurance, 135.000 in oil and gas extraction. A cross-sectoral range of 1 to 5 and more, more pronounced than in the other metropolises, linked as it is everywhere to the organic composition of capital (capital invested per employee) in the various branches, and partly due, for oil and gas, to the fact that extraction takes place largely in remote regions with an inhospitable climate, where no one would go to live without a strong incentive, and to the availability of surpluses: it is a ‘working aristocracy’ of confined people. The low level of wages stands out in the largely female education sector, with lower salaries than in the manufacturing industry.

Regional differences in incomes and wages, which partly intersect with sectoral differences, are also strong. The average gross salary in Moscow is 94,000 roubles, twice as high as the Russian Federation average (47,000, or about 1,300 euro/month, including social security contributions and taxes), but in the province of Ivanovo (which, like Moscow, is part of the Central District) it is only 27,000 roubles. The huge territorial extension and great distances weaken integration between the different regions (which in the winter months are often isolated from one another). Even stronger are the territorial imbalances in per capita income, given the different employment rates and demographic structures. Poorer regions have one third or less of Moscow’s income, half of the Volga and Caucasus republics and regions, with several regions below 20,000 roubles.

The population below the subsistence minimum (12.3% nationwide, 7.3% in Moscow and 6.5% in St. Petersburg) rises to 34% in the republic of Tuva and 30% in Ingushetia. The poverty rate exceeds 20% in several other regions of the North Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Chechen republics), the South (Kalmykia), the Volga (Mari), Siberia and the Far East (Altay, Tuva, Khakassia, Buryatia, trans-Baikal territory and the Jewish Autonomous Region (bordering China along the Amur, where, however, there are just over 1% Jews left). These sharp disparities are not only regional, but also ethnic, with minorities at a disadvantage compared to the Russian population. The disparities are even more stark with regard to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which became independent and are the main source of immigration to Russia (see box).

The regional imbalances are combined with the city-rural imbalance: the 25% of the population living in small towns sees a poverty rate of around 23%, more than three times that of urban areas. Only 40% of rural dwellings have hot water and a bath or shower.

The price of cannon fodder

It is mainly from these poor regions that the soldiers sent to the massacre in Ukraine are recruited. Similarly in Italy, most policemen, carabinieri and career soldiers come from the South, where the per capita income is about half that of the North. When the war was started, the Russian military’s pay was raised to 160,000 roubles, $2,700 at the current exchange rate, to which a decree by Putin in early November 2022 added a one-off 195,000 roubles ($3,200) for those serving in Ukraine. The soldier’s pay is thus 3.5 times Russia’s average salary and over 6 times that of the poorest regions. Similarly, the Italian government paid an incentive to risk one’s skin to (professional) soldiers sent to Iraq in 2003 (about 4,000 euro a month, equal to over 5,600 euro today). Even in the United States, the military ‘career’ is followed more than proportionally by young men from poor families, particularly black ones (except among the Marines), but the pay of the private soldier on a mission without seniority is comparable to a worker’s salary, not a multiple of it. The incentive here is above all the possibility of graduating without paying the very high costs of university, with the hope of climbing the social ladder, or the prospect of a military career. Even the Ukrainian army, in order to attract volunteers, has raised the military pay to 100,000 hryvnia, or about USD 2,500 per month. Risking one’s skin to get out of poverty…

To contain the protests of the families mourning their fallen sons and husbands in Ukraine, at the start of the war Russia announced a compensation of 7.4 million roubles, an amount that at the current exchange rate is less than 100,000 euros, but in terms of purchasing power could be worth as much as twice that. The figure cut to 5 million roubles in January 2023. War invalids receive 3 million roubles in compensation. According to some sources[6], however, the state does not compensate the families of soldiers considered ‘missing’, which is why many corpses are left behind, while there is additional compensation, of varying amounts, from the regions/republics of the Russian Federation. The compensation paid by Ukraine to the families of soldiers who died in the war amounts to 15 million hryvnia, which at the current exchange rate would be equal to 375 thousand Euros. This is the price of patriotism, which inflation as a result of the huge deficit is quickly bringing down, but which can prevent the grief of the families from turning into anti-patriotic anger.

On both sides of the Ukrainian front hundreds of thousands of proletarians are being sent to slaughter to decide which capitalists will have the ‘right’ to exploit the Ukrainian proletarians: whether the Ukrainian oligarchs allied to the western capitalists, or the Russian oligarchs (behind whom Chinese capital is looming). This is the class character also of this war; were it well understood by Russian and Ukrainian proletarians, it should lead them to fraternisation and to turning their weapons against their respective rulers.

Russia’s territorial and sectoral disparities highlighted above have their roots in the division into classes and their stratification. According to national accounting statistics, the richest 20% of the population (capitalists, professionals and managers) have a 47% share of the national income, the poorest 20% have a 5.3% share. The median income of the richest 20 per cent is 15.4 times that of the median of the bottom 20 per cent! In the US this ratio is estimated to be 13.5 times in 2021[7] . Russia’s social inequality is no less than the jarring inequality in the United States or Italy.

More in-depth analyses indicate even sharper social inequality.

Fig. 1 – Income share of the richest 10%: Russia, USA and France

Source: Filip Novokmet Thomas Piketty Gabriel Zucman, FROM SOVIETS TO OLIGARCHS: INEQUALITY AND PROPERTY IN RUSSIA, 1905-2016.

In this comparison of estimates using similar methods, the richest 10% have about 45% of total income, the same as in the US. The introduction of the 13% flat tax on income in 2001 (one of Putin’s first ‘reforms’) allowed Russian capitalists to pay the same tax rates as workers. Putin’s flat tax is also the model for the Italian right.

According to official Russian statistics, in 2019, 18.1 million people, or 12.3%, had an income below the subsistence minimum, indicated as 10,890 roubles (€336 in purchasing power parity), a considerable number although much reduced compared to the 42% reached in 2000 following the collapse of the economy. Among these poor people, many are pensioners, as the average pension level is 29% of the average salary. Unemployment benefits are very low, between about EUR 30 and EUR 100.

The poorest 10 per cent of the Russian population lives on a monthly income of less than 10,000 roubles (EUR 308), and the second poorest 10 per cent do not make it to EUR 432; the poorest 50 per cent stay below 27,000 roubles, or EUR 833, while the richest 4 per cent have more than 100,000 roubles, or EUR 3086.  If we turn to the several dozen oligarchs, their incomes are measured in billions of roubles – as in the West. According to the aforementioned 2017 study by Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman, from which we have taken the graphs in this article, in the 25 years following the collapse of the USSR (between 1989 and 2016), after the dramatic fall in the first five years the GDP per adult inhabitant in Russia has increased by 41%, and the AVERAGE income has come somewhat closer to that of Germany-France-Great Britain, rising from 60-65% to 70-75% in terms of purchasing power (in the same period, Italy has lost ground to other European countries). However, this growth in the AVERAGE hides a sharp increase in inequality that has resulted in a worsening for half of the population: the richest 10% have seen their incomes rise by 171%, the median 40% by 15%, while the bottom 50% have seen their average income FALL by 20%! Apart from the villas and yachts of the Russian (and Ukrainian, Putin and Zelensky included) oligarchs in Tuscany and Sardinia, the chronicles of the terrible earthquake in Turkey revealed that in Adana (on the Mediterranean) the cost of housing had risen sharply to the point of being prohibitive for Turkish workers, following massive purchases of second homes by the Russian bourgeoisie.

Fig. 2 – Distribution of income in Russia, 1905-2015

Downsizing of state capitalism

Privatisation has downsized the presence of state capital: in 1992 it employed 69% of the workforce, in 2000 47% and in 2019 39% (mainly in the military and other strategic sectors). Contrary to the vulgate of ‘real socialism’, a.k.a. state capitalism, state ownership of an enterprise does not change its social character as a capitalist enterprise, which purchases wage labour in order to profit from its labour activity, appropriating the product of labour and the surplus value realised from its sale. Labour and capital are opposed, regardless of the private or state character of ownership.

Of course, state/municipal enterprises can be conditioned by political factors, but the Italian experience of the big state-capital corporations IRI, ENI, ENEL, EFIM, FS, and the 80% public shareholding of the banks until the early 1990s resulted in the cutting of hundreds of thousands jobs, and in the case of IRI and EFIM in the dismemberment and privatisation of the conglomerates. These experiences show how even under state capital the workers’ condition remained one of subalternity and exploitation, even if until the 1980s bank and ENEL employees could be defined as ‘wage aristocracy’ – with salaries even double those of workers performing the same functions in the private sector – due to the monopoly conditions in which the companies found themselves (the workers aristocracy is a phenomenon already observed by Friedrich Engels in Great Britain in the second half of the 19th century, and by Lenin in the early 1900s as a basis for the corruption of the most organised sectors of the working class and their trade unions). Today, most of those privileges have disappeared, not so much because of the shift to the private sector, but because of the break-up of monopoly conditions (even if ENI, operating as a private company, retains the oil rent, with crumbs falling into the pockets of the most qualified employees, and managers).

This is also true in Russia, with the already mentioned strong sectoral differences in wages in favour of sectors with rents and of the financial sector. The high level of wages in Moscow suggests that salaries in central public administration bodies are particularly high to ensure loyalty to the system.

Of course, the collapse of the USSR marked not only the break-up of the Union, but also the end of the system that was described as ‘socialist’, but which in our view was in reality a form of state capitalism, whereby privatisation and marketisation led to a rupture in the relationship between ‘individual capitals’, between corporations, which got rid of state control, and could directly dispose of all the profits they made (once they paid the 13% flat tax introduced by Putin, one of the lowest rates in the world), while there was continuity in the wage-labour/capital relationship, in the subordination of the former to the latter.

The backwardness of October Russia (and the upheaval of the war) did not allow the leap to communism, which means abolition of wage labour and money, abolition of capital as an entity opposed to labour power, and directly social production, not mediated by money.

The state assumed ownership of most of the means of production, but the workers remained wage workers, forced to sell their labour power to state capital. In the first years after the revolution the Russian state was kept in check by the revolutionary party, which intended to use it to promote the proletarian revolution in Europe and the world, to achieve the abolition of wage slavery. But once the revolutionary wave in Germany and Italy was over, with the Stalinist counter-revolution – which massacred most of the protagonists of October – the Soviet state became the state of Capital, which centralised the surplus value extracted from the workers in the Central Bank, to ‘guide’ accumulation not according to market forces, but according to a ‘plan’ that put defence (the production of weapons) in first place, and proletarian consumption in last place. This is not the place here to trace a history of the USSR’s five-year plans and participation in the Second Imperialist World War, first as an ally of Germany for the partition of Poland (and the incorporation of the Baltic states), then as an ally of the USA and Great Britain against the German invaders, as well as of the subsequent forty years of the ‘cold war’, which ended with the implosion of the USSR. Today’s data indicate that after 70 years of state capitalism and 30 more years of (partly) ‘market’ capitalism, territorial, ethnic and, above all, social imbalances have remained (just as they have remained in the USA and Italy), the latter amplified by the shift to private ownership of the means of production.

It should be noted that the dissolution of the USSR, with the transition from statist centralism to the market (already initiated in the late 1980s by Gorbachev with Perestroika) and the process of privatisation took place without social upheaval, without the need for a counterrevolution or mass resistance from the workers: wage workers they were, wage workers they have remained; only the legal form of the owner has changed: state/municipal capital before, partly private now. The counter-revolution, with the ousting of the working class from state power, had taken place in the late 1920s and 1930s with the annihilation of the protagonists of the October Revolution in the Stalin purges.  

In the process of privatisation, the apparently democratic and participative distribution of shares to employees was widely used; however given the collapse of the purchasing power of wages, workers had to sell their shares back to would-be oligarchs who, thanks to political connections, obtained the credit needed to rake in the shares and become ‘masters’, even with a special mechanism of ‘loans (to indebted state and local authorities) against shares’ that allowed the rise of many ‘oligarchs’.

“Bourgeois and proletarians”: back to the abc of Marx’s Manifesto, and to the necessity of revolution that unites Russian workers with those of Europe, America, China…

The Russian working class expressed major struggles in the 1990s, (from miners to teachers) in defence of wages decimated by hyperinflation (prices soared almost 5000-fold between 1990 and 1996). Over the last 20 years, the economic stabilisation and rising real wages, together with increased repression of all forms of opposition, have led to a reduction in strikes. With the ‘special operation’, aka invasion of Ukraine, there is more at stake for the Russian proletariat than wage levels.. At stake, as in 1914-1917, is the choice between becoming cannon fodder for Russian imperialism and its oligarchs, in the name of that same ‘Great Mother Russia’ that Putin would like to restore, and class independence, proletarian internationalism, opposition to the war and fraternisation with the Ukrainian proletarians – acting as in 1917…

Some Characteristics of Russian Imperialism

We have defined the ongoing war in Ukraine as an inter-imperialist war, i.e. between two imperialist blocs, the US-led NATO and Russia (with lukewarm Chinese support). Not everyone on the left, even among those who have sided with Ukraine and are calling on western imperialist countries to send more arms, call Russia an imperialist country. Some, referring like a dogma to Lenin’s ‘five features’ of imperialism, argue that Russia does not possess all of them, and therefore cannot be defined an imperialist country, and among them there are those who argue that it is a ‘semi-colony’ of imperialism, identified with the USA (in the same way Italy has also been defined as a ‘semi-colony’: Italian imperialism thus became a potential … anti-imperialist force).

Among the missing features for qualifying Russia as imperialist the fact is mentioned that it mainly exports raw materials (agricultural, oil and gas) and imports machinery, and that it has a low capital export. It is quite curious that Lenin did not hesitate to call the 1916 Russia ‘imperialist’, when it was extremely more backward industrially and financially (it depended on French and British finance), while today the same Lenin is used to deny the imperialist character of Putin’s Russia… For others, the discriminating factor is the role of the state in the economy, i.e. the still strong presence of state capital in Russia. According to the latter, Russia, though capitalist, has historically inherited the role of ‘public enemy number one of the imperialist world’, along with China, as statism allows both to ‘resist imperialism’ and become ‘a thorn in [its] foot’[1]. The problem would then be Putin and his entourage, who unleashed a senseless war, but the Russian system in itself would objectively have a somewhat progressive character because ‘anti-imperialist’.

About Russian state capitalism, see above. We can add that even in Italy the advanced, strategic heights of Italian imperialism are still state capitalist (since the time of fascism): ENI, Italy’s leading industrial group, with a large international presence on all continents and great influence on Italian foreign policy, has the state (the Treasury, through the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti) as its controlling shareholder; ENEL, Italy’s second largest non-financial group, also with a strong international presence, is also controlled by the Treasury; the same applies to Ferrovie dello Stato-Trenitalia, but also to Italy’s largest arms manufacturer, Leonardo. Only in the financial field (Generali, Banca Intesa, Unicredit) does private shareholding now prevail. The largest private industrial group, FIAT, with Stellantis is incorporated into a French-driven corporation with a strong US component, so that its political influence on Italy is mediated by its multinational character (even though the Agnelli family’s Exor, Stellantis’s largest shareholder, controls among others La Stampa, Repubblica, Secolo XIX) . We can therefore say that the industrial engines of Italian imperialism, those that most push the government towards economic, political and military projection abroad, are still state-capital groups: but the Italian state is not a ‘thorn in the foot’ to imperialism, but an imperialist predator, albeit of medium rank, in the world arena, a factor in war in the past as in the present. Not unlike Russian state capital and state.

Of course today’s Russia is not a great, but a medium-ranking economic power (in terms of GDP at the current exchange rate it is ninth, between Canada and Italy, after Great Britain and France, while in the calculation at purchasing power parity it is sixth, between Germany and Indonesia, ahead of Great Britain and France), but it plays in the league of imperialist powers. True, it mainly exports raw materials, oil and gas, but it appropriates in full, through its oil majors and the state, the oil rent, i.e. the surplus value produced by proletarians around the world (the hydrocarbons sector with 1.6% of the labour force produces 20% of the Russian GDP: about 18% consists in rent). And it is also the world’s second-largest arms exporter, with a first-class aerospace industry, and has what is considered the world’s second-largest army, with the largest nuclear arsenal, as well as being among the biggest exporters of nuclear power stations. Not exactly the characteristics of the semi-colony forced into an unequal exchange.

The two aspects: specialisation in arms production and the space industry, weakness in machine production (a quarter of Italy’s) and therefore dependence on imports of foreign means of production are correlated, the result of decades of planning in which the bulk of surplus value has been reinvested in the military and space industry, to the detriment of consumer goods and machine production itself. Russia does not appear to be a strong exporter of capital (about 400 billion dollars invested at the end of 2021, according to UNCTAD, less than Italy and about a quarter of France, Great Britain and Switzerland; data probably underestimated because a large part of the capital exports of its capitalists take place in an ‘unofficial’ manner, through offshore companies and tax havens (Cyprus in first place, where Russian subjects have reportedly invested as much as 190 billion in 2020, and which turns out to have the same amount of foreign investments as Russia). However, International Monetary Fund statistics show an active Russian position of USD 483 billion in foreign investments, even though foreign direct investments in Russia at the end of 2021 (USD 610 billion) exceeded Russian direct investments abroad (USD 487 billion). With sanctions and disinvestment by multinationals in Russia, it is to be expected that these accounts have changed significantly during 2022. In any case, there is no one-way dependence.

Lastly, Russia’s military presence abroad, with military bases in Armenia, Belarus, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgia), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Transnistria (Moldova), Syria, and a significant troop presence in Libya, Mali, Central African Republic, and presence of ‘advisors’ in Vietnam, Eritrea, Madagascar, Venezuela and base-sharing agreements with Egypt, Sudan. A military projection that certainly does not stand comparison with the American superpower, but is superior to that of the other imperialisms, perhaps on a par with Great Britain and France, and which adds a more recent penetration in Africa to the former USSR “near abroad”. A presence, the latter, aimed at vying for influence with the old colonial powers including France and Italy, and to get its hands on mineral resources such as uranium and bauxite, as well as hydrocarbons, and certainly not to support national independence struggles against neo-colonialism. China, which has many more tools for economic penetration (financing and building infrastructure, factories, as well as consumer goods) can see Russian military penetration as opening up territories to its own penetration, against resistance from European (neo)colonial powers.

Roberto Luzzi


Distribution of national income before taxes and transfers, excluding pensions and unemployment benefits, among equally divided adults (income of married couples divided by two). Adjusted estimates combine survey, tax, wealth and national accounts data.

P10 represents the income level that divides the poorest 10% of the population from the remaining 90%; between 1989 and 2016 this income halved; P50 represents the income that divides the poorest 50% from the richest 50%. Over the period 1989-2016 it has remained stationary; P99 is the income level above which the richest 1% of the population is placed: over the period it has increased by 150%, while the income threshold of the richest 0.1% has increased by a factor of 4.

Distribution of income before taxes and transfers (excluding pensions and unemployment benefits); income of couples divided by two.

Asian Immigrants
It is estimated that there are around 6 million immigrants in Russia[1], the vast majority from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, with a considerable seasonal fluctuation, while immigration from China, Vietnam, North Korea and Serbia has decreased. Until 2014 there were also between 1.5 and 2.6 million Ukrainians, later largely flown to the EU, but more than 2.7 millions Ukrainians entered Russia since the war broke out. In addition to this immigration from outside, there is an internal migration of about 4 million, facilitated by the switch to national health coverage (from provincial), while ‘foreign’ immigrants have to pay for healthcare.
Immigration, as in Italy, covers a growing labour deficit due to the constant demographic decline (by the mid-2020s, around 10 million workforce will be lost compared to 2007), and the humblest and heaviest jobs: from caregivers (almost all of them informally employed) to construction (with around 50% informal work), guards and transport, regular, but with longer hours than the Russians. In 2010, patenty was introduced as a tax on foreign domestic workers, presumed to be moonlighting, initially amounting to 1,100-1,200 roubles per month (2.4 million were issued in 2014). Later patenty was made compulsory for all foreigners hired by companies, and in Moscow it amounted to 4,500 roubles (about $70) per month. To this was added an entry tax of 16-18 thousand roubles.
The widespread practice of not registering housing rentals often makes regularisation difficult, the availability of accommodation being a prerequisite. There is a severe regulation of immigration: at the second offence, even an administrative one (such as running a red light), the immigrant can no longer re-enter Russia. As one can imagine, this constitutes a source of enrichment and corruption for those with power over immigrants. Seventy per cent of fines for immigration irregularities are paid to police officers in black. There are no precise rules for obtaining a long-term residence permit (with the imaginable arbitrariness of decisions). In its absence, the maximum period of legal stay in Russia is one year. Many actually stay illegally, but often have to accept slave-like conditions. The discrepancy in the official data on the number of immigrants (for 2019, 4.9 million according to the Russian Statistical Service, and 32.6 million according to the Security Services) reveals a large number of illegal immigrants who, lacking legal protections, are exposed to super-exploitation by profiteers and businesses. Capitalism looks alike workldwide. In 2005, an amnesty in 9 regions brought out only 7,000 irregular immigrants.
Between January and September 2021, 2 million Tajiks entered Russia, 1.6 million of whom were job-seekers, accounting for a quarter of the entire Tajik labour force. Tajik emigrants’ remittances in 2019 amounted to $2.6bn, equivalent to 28% of Tajikistan’s GDP and 3 times its exports. From Uzbekistan, 3.3 million people migrated to Russia in the same period, but out of a much larger population. These figures indicate the very strong dependence of these republics on emigration to Russia, and their role as suppliers of seasonal labour to Russia. If we consider that for 70 years it was a USSR republic, we realise the huge imbalances that ‘real socialism’ did not heal compared to the tsarist ‘prison of peoples’. According to the International Labour Office, the average wage in Tajikistan is $13 per month, compared to the $200 its emigrants earn in Russia.
According to a 2004 ILO survey, less than 1 in 4 immigrants had a work permit, less than 1 in 5 had a written employment contract and 3 in 4 received their wages in the black, in cash. Moreover:
62% were forced to work unpaid overtime, 44% complained about excessive work rates/loads, 39% about delays in the payment of wages, 38% were forced to perform non-agreed work, 22% were forced to perform sexual services, 21% were subjected to forms of violence, 20% to travel restrictions, and more than 20% had their passports withdrawn by the boss. Only 37% said they were free to leave the employer.
These are conditions that reveal a society highly corrupted by capitalism, with its outgrowths of mafias and labour traffickers, where the Great Russian imperial racism, flogged by Lenin but never subdued under Stalin and successors, and reinvigorated under Putin, creates an ideological and psychological, as well as legal and political, environment functional to the unrestrained exploitation and humiliation of millions of immigrants – as in the fields of Southern Italy, but also in workshops and restaurants in Northern Italy, as in the racist monarchies of the Gulf. Racism and xenophobia are widespread in Russia, fomented by the nationalist and imperialist ideologies promoted by the Putin entourage, even among public officials, often linked to criminality.

[1] The Russian Statistical Yearbooks only report yearly arrivals and departures, not the immigrant population living in Russia. Their estimates vary according to the source. This is particularly true for the politically sensitive numbers of Ukrainian immigrants many of which have double citizenship.

[1] Les révolutionnaires face à la guerre en Ukraine, Lutte de Classe 225, July-August 2022 (monthly edited by Lutte Ouvrière)

[1]; now also available in the 2021 edition:

[2] International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency.



[5] Calculated in purchasing power parity, with a ratio of 32.4 roubles per 1 euro in 2017

[6] E.g.: «Новая газета Европа» изучила почти 10 тысяч постов в ВК о пропавших российских военных В среднем солдаты пропадают через 60 дней после отправки на фронт. Некоторых ищут месяцами — Meduza;

[7] The ratio of the income of the 90th percentile to the 10th percentile in the US drops to 8.9 after taxes, and to 6.1 when calculated on an equivalent basis (taking into account the number of household members).

Leave a Reply