That Mr Putin is a ghastly man by any standards. When not punching bears or switching off Belarus, he's throwing away the good bits of the Soviet legacy and hanging on to the rotten ones.
So Stalinism and screwing up the Middle East are ok again, but the cosy violence of your local yokel bobby is not. Instead the Russians have to put up with armour-plated sacks of steroids with guns that work and a licence to park their giant motorbikes in the crack of your arse.
Most shameful of all is Putin's decision to close the drunk tanks. The вытрезвитель (sobering-up station) predates the Revolution, but the Bolsheviks gave it the lacquer of pseudo-science, priggishness and theft that helped it endure to this day.
The Soviets scorned the sentimental, bourgeois practice of encouraging doctors to shelter alcoholics and their families until they were fit to return to serfdom. Instead they handed over the drunk tanks to the the police and let them:
- hose down random drunks, not necessarily with water,
- steal their remaining shoe,
- show them a graph correlating the impact of drinking "Natasha" perfume on the output of self-combusting television sets,
- kick them in the danglers; and
- dump them in a snow drift
This may sound reactionary, but in fact it displays Scientific Socialism at its most exquisite. Capitalists require a professional police force to repress the workers and their annoying middle-class representatives, while feudal rulers intimidated, entertained and sometimes fed the cowled masses with spectacular public punishments.
A Socialist society, requires no such agencies of doom. The Soviet police simply brought members of the drinking classes together and allowed them to exchange teeth, fluids and experimental impregnation techniques in the seclusion of a basement urinal until their anti-people manifestations were spent.
The police then put the given parasite's actions in their socio-economic context, provided "look-no-hands" washing facilities and returned him to society. Seizing items of the visitor's clothing provided him with a tantalising glimpse of the Victory of Communism, when money is abolished and goods and services are simply exchanged.
The two-kopeck fee was a reminder that this dazzling future when, to quote Engels, "state interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself" (Anti-Dühring), had not yet arrived.
The kick in the nuts was free.
President Gorbachev, like all busy little reformers, had no time to sit back with a glass of horseradish vodka and a crackling pipeful of perique to peruse the lessons of history. That's why he thought Prohibition would sort out the problems of alcoholism, falling output and commodity fetishism, just like it didn't in America.
The result was tumbling mortality rates as the man in the stalling trolleybus took to drinking flight fuel, the total collapse of the economy as everyone spent all their time making, procuring and drinking red-eye, and the rise of the Russian Mafia. Oh, and the Soviet Union shrank from super-power status to the back of Gorbachev's limo, which had had its hub caps stolen and fashioned into rather fetching earrings by the eternally drunk President Yeltsin. Cheers!
Putin is so busy that he can't even be bothered to learn from Gorbachev's mistakes, which is why his new big idea is to shut down the drunk tanks and shunt their clients off to the Accident & Emergency ward of the nearest hospital.
Perhaps he's trying to return to the medical as opposed to dialectical approach to sobriety pioneered in Tsarist Russia. If so then he, above all, should know what happened to the Romanovs. Another country that adopts this approach is Britain, whose record on public drunkeness is admired only by dead Vikings.
From a strictly Marxist point of view, there may be some benefits to this. Even if you have never been to Russia, you should be able to conduct the following thought experiment:
- Imagine a British hospital that was last equipped and cleaned in 1964
- Imagine it staffed by angry, underpaid medics
- Imagine it full of know-all hypochondriac grannies.
Now imagine this happy scene flooded with bellowing men in piss-stained brown flares, waving pickled gherkins about their bandaged heads, and draw your own conclusions about Mr Putin's chances of completing his third presidential term.
I never made it to a Soviet drunk tank, despite the best efforts of friends and colleagues, but a couple of my fellow students in Voronezh were once called upon to bail out "Major" Farid Bouaouni, an Algerian Situationist shepherd who looked like Major Easy.
He had refused to pay his bill at the Hotel Brno, prompting a visit from the police. They were minded to let him go with the standard clout and shake-down, but he insisted that he only wanted to "converse with socialists". So off to the tank with him.
Readers dismayed at Russia's abandoning its worthy Soviet heritage need not despair, for there is always Ukraine. With their Neapolitan attitude to public service and legal mildew, Ukrainians continue to bask in the Soviet glories of nepotism, unregulated shed building and policing as a form of improvisatory street theatre.
"Jail?! D'you think we're going to feed this git for five years? Don't worry ma'am, we'll just take him to those woods, macerate him thoroughly with the help of these excellent new Polish truncheons, point what's left towards Obukhiv District and tell him never to come back again. All in a day's work. A couple of chillis? Why, thank you - they'll come in handy if his attention drifts! Mornin' all!"British stag parties must have tired of using the Baltic States as lavabos by now, so drunk-tank tourism is one of the many income funnels that Ukraine may yet drain. Russia misses the boat once again. But then Putin reserves the right to sink it any time he chooses.