Nashi Perestroika

So everyone is declaring Nashi’s death. According to Kommersant and other Russian media, Nashi plans on shutting down 45 of its 50 branches. All that will remain are chapters in Tula, Ivanovo, Vladimir, Voronezh, and Yaroslavl. The consensus reasoning is that Nashi has outlived its purpose. Russia is no longer threatened by “colored revolution,” which Nashi was created to battle, and some feel the pro-Kremlin group has gotten of control. Perhaps even downright embarrassing to its Kremlin sponsors. Nashi’s persistent protests against Estonia over the Bronze Soldier have gone beyond containment. The last straw appears to have been when the EU began denying Schengen visas to Nashisty. In an act of defiance, organization protests in front of the European Commission in Moscow and some of its member decided to illegally enter the EU anyway. Both acts resulted in arrests.

Moreover, present political conditions make Nashi a further liability. As one unnamed Kremlin source told Kommersant, “The Nashi movement’s services certainly won’t be required in this election. In the new political configuration, with the current results being what they are, there’s no need for a cheering throng.” And its an expensive “cheering throng” at that. Nevertheless, if Nashi is indeed eventually folding, it still has enough money for another Lake Seliger camp. In late 2007, it received a $10 million grant from the government to fund its fourth annual powwow.

According to Gazeta, one theory on Nashi’s ultimate fate suggests that it will be dissolved and then reconstituted into smaller branches that focus on military recruitment. This is based on documents obtained by Kommersant that recommend modernizing the Russian Defense Sports-Technical Organization (ROSTO) by establishing networks between the armed forces and a youth group called DOSAAF-Defense.

Whatever Nashi’s future, it appears to be one where it is demobilized. Just read what Vasili Yakemenko told Kommersant, “People have grown accustomed to large public events. But most youth movements, including Nashi, should now pay more attention to effective projects – for example, they could work with problem teenagers or gifted young people, and promote patriotic education.” Nashi reiterated as much on its website. It called Kommersant‘s article nothing but “rumors and lies” and “sensationalism,” noting that Nashi’s activities are more than just mass protests. Their day to day activities focus on giving its members a higher education and sending the cream of its crop to study. It also has three of its members in the Duma. Moreover, while Nashi may be consolidating organizationally, it plans on recruiting 50,000 more members. In a press conference today, Nikita Borovikov, Nashi’s new federal commissar, told reporters that the group’s immediate future will concentrate on its “10=5” campaign, which seeks to make Russia the 5th largest economy in the world in 10 years.

I think that people are sounding Nashi’s death knell to quickly. Declaring Nashi’s death is based on a complete misunderstanding of state sponsored youth organizations. Yakemenko’s right. People are too accustomed to Nashi’s flash and mass. No youth organization or movement can maintain that level of activism for long. It takes too much energy and too many resources with little long term return. Plus as we’ve seen, having Nashi run the streets is an open invitation for “excesses,” as they used to say in Soviet times. Such is the dialectic of youth mobilization. You can turn the switch on, but at some point the reins of control begin to slip from your grasp. Plus, a lot of youths have joined Nashi because of the opportunities it provides. Folding up the operation now and reneging on those promises will only piss off a lot of youth.

A better understanding of what might be going on with Nashi might be culled from the history of the Komsomol. In its early days, the Komsomol was also expanded and contracted as politics demanded. During the Civil War, the organization ballooned from 22,100 members in October 1919 to 400,000 in October 1920. That is some rapid growth. Then in February and March 1921, as Bolshevik victory in the Civil War was all but assured, the Komsomol’s ranks were purged in an all-Russian “reregistration.” In June 1921, Komsomol membership fell to 250,000. Weak cells and those that simply existed on paper were folded up. A lot of fat was trimmed. Moreover, the Komsomol changed ideological course. No longer did it mobilize its members. Instead following Lenin’s speech at the 3rd Komsomol Congress in 1920, it urged its members to “learn, learn, learn.” Civil War militancy was out and the members that held on to it were denounced as immature, and even psychologically unstable idiots.

When the Party pushed forward with industrialization, collectivization, and cultural revolution in 1928, the Komsomol was mobilized again. Its membership went from 1,960,000 in May 1928 to 2,897,000 in June 1930. Komsomol youth were mobilized to storm the “economic front” and the “cultural front.” They formed brigades of “cultural soldiers” to battle against “illiteracy, dirt, and drunkenness” throughout the country. Komsomol youth were the spearhead in collectivization and flooded the ranks of the 25,000ers. “Excesses” of course ensued, and the Komsomol leadership looked reign its rank and file in. When the smoke cleared from Stalin’s tripartite revolution in 1933, the Komsomol was purged again. Between 1933 and 1935, it is estimated that the League kicked out 500,000 members. This was part of the resolution “On the reconstruction of the VLKSM” passed at the 17th Party Congress in 1934. This move tried to reinstitute “iron discipline,” which really meant a return to centralization and an end to mobilization, back into its fervent ranks.

There is no reason to think that Nashi isn’t doing something similar. The Duma elections were the culmination of a long period of activism. Now that the political situation looks different, its time to fold up the tents, put away the flags and signs, and ditch the gimmicks. Plus I would guess that many of the organizations Nashi is folding up merely exist on paper or don’t have enough members to sustain them anyway. Some of Nashi’s flash will surely remain. It has to have something to give its rank and file injections of enthusiasm. Overall, in political and institutional terms, Nashi’s reorganization and consolidation makes political sense.