November 01, 1997

Russia's Elusive Middle Class

In a recent meeting with young entrepreneurs in Nizhny Novgorod, President Yeltsin praised Russia’s middle class as the “pillar of the economy.” This pronouncement is hardly a revelation. Through the ages, a strong middle class has always been seen as a bulwark against revolution. What was interesting was that President Yeltsin perceived there to be a Russian middle class at all. Most observers feel Russia has not had a middle class since the Bolshevik Revolution and its Thermidor swept all citizens into the common mold of proletariat. So, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of that revolution, Russian Life sent Associate Editor Anna Hoare in search of Russia’s middle class.  She has come back with a very interesting portrait. Photographs by Sergei Kaptilkin.


In the media, much is made of the Russian elite. And even more is made of the poor – pensioners, schoolteachers and coal miners who live below the poverty line and have not been paid wages for months. Jokes abound about members of the crass “New Russian” elite outdoing each other to buy the same fur, Mercedes or Armani suit for a higher price. On the other end of the spectrum, a couple of years ago, the US fast food chain Arby’s ran a tongue-in-cheek TV commercial claiming that one of their roast-beef sandwiches costs the equivalent of a month’s salary in Russia.

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