Ilya Matveev: The New Putinist Stability?


Events are unfolding in plain sight, and strange as it might seem, the flood of disinformation cannot prevent us from seeing a quite simple picture.

The subway workers’ union had long warned of the danger, and there had generally been a lot of reports in the press on the growing number of accidents in the Moscow Metro, and now there has been a new fatal accident.

The last couple of weeks, Russian media had reported constantly about how deftly the separatists had learned to use the Buk surface-to-air missile system and how many Ukrainian airplanes had been shot down. Just before news of the Malaysian airliner broke, reports had managed to surface—in “Strelkov’s dispatches,” in the media, everywhere—that the militants had shot down another Ukrainian transport plane. The plane turned out to be the civilian jetliner.

Recent articles in Vedomosti newspaper and especially leaks at make it easy to piece together the fiscal and economic situation in Russia. The country is in an “autonomous” recession, meaning one caused by internal factors. The resources for growth have been exhausted, and there is no money for Crimea or for executing Putin’s May 2012 presidential decrees. The government is preparing to respond with austerity measures: the abolition of free medical care for nonworking citizens, tax increases, and another raid on retirement savings. For now the situation is rough but not catastrophic. At the same time the overall trajectory is clear: there will be less and less money, and it will be ordinary people who pay the bills.

However, there is no one to protest: all the country’s internal contradictions, which were somehow politically articulated in 2011-2013, have been crushed by the Crimean steamroller, and the opposition is divided and marginalized. The population has closed ranks around the new Putin “geopolitics,” becoming an aggressively frightened mass. Any possibility of electoral protest has been completely blocked off: with stunning cynicism, the field has been purged in the run-up to municipal elections in Moscow and Petersburg.

We can see that the new system is closed upon itself: the geopolitical adventures are needed, ultimately, only to strengthen Putin’s personal power, to maintain his sky-high rating. The exact same role is performed by mega-events like the Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Yet the economic cost of the geopolitics and mega-events will be huge, and people themselves will foot the bill (for sanctions, for Crimea, for kickbacks). However, the imperialist ideology surrounding the events for which they are paying out of their pockets will prevent them from articulating their protest politically. It is a paradox, but a paradox that has already been observed in history. Recall, for one, Marx’s remark that Louis Bonaparte ruled in the name of the peasant masses (who supported him at elections) but against the interests of these masses.

This new period of stability might last as long as the previous one. No, it is no longer the apolitical period of stability of the noughties, but it might prove no less stable.

Ilya Matveev is an editor of OpenLeft.Ru, a member of the PS Lab research group, a lecturer in political theory at the North-West Institute of Management (Petersburg), a PhD student at the European University (Petersburg), and a member of the central council of the University Solidarity trade union.

The Non-State and Its Friends

What a jerk.

And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.

But here’s the thing. The jerk in question simply does not recognize this particular state as independent or legitimate. In fact, he thinks it’s some kind of historical misunderstanding or aberration. And remarkably he is joined in this opinion by a huge number of his fellow citizens, including many bien-pensant communists, anarchists, etc.

You would never know from the way these Trotskyists, Makhnovists, anarcho-syndicalists, antifascists, Maoists, alterglobalists, reformed Stalinists, and “engaged artists” talk and write about this non-state’s current political scene, troubles, (mis)fortunes, etc., that it has been independent of the jerk’s empire (their own empire) for almost twenty-five years. So they feel perfectly in their rights to fulminate against what they see as this non-state’s faults, stupidities, “contradictions,” and brutalities—for example, the apparently ridiculous claim, made by the non-state’s illegitimate non-prime minister the other day, that some opposition to his government’s proposed neoliberal policies is directed by the same people who had protested loudly for reunification with the jerk’s empire (“federalization”), folks allegedly linked to the empire’s security and espionage services.

(Although how could the illegitimate non-prime minister think to make such a ridiculous claim under normal circumstances, that is, if the empire hadn’t just annexed one part of his non-country and been aiding “separatists” trying to slice off another part? Would, say, David Cameron think it possible to claim publicly that Britons opposed to his own ruinous neoliberal polices were agents of the German secret services?)

While some of them might think that the jerk’s own methods of intervening in the non-state’s affairs are a bit extreme, the jerk’s fellow citizens more or less don’t have a problem with such interventions generally, because they really don’t see the non-state as a real country or its inhabitants as full-fledged adults. For the jerk’s imperial leftists, this is doubly the case, because they are still “dreaming” of worldwide “communism” breaking out everywhere, god knows how or when. Like last time round, this worldwide communism will be managed from their empire’s capital, and they will be its commissars and leading intellectual lights, of course. They certainly have the qualifications.

So strictly speaking it is quaint, wrongheaded and retrograde (“fascist,” even) to want your own country, independent of the empire. And god forbid that your non-state, like most of the other states (or are they non-states, too?) in the vicinity (and most of the rest of the world), should have oligarchs and fat-cat capitalists, corrupt and stupid politicians, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalists and real-life neo-Nazis itching to get into political office and beating up nearby undesirables in the meantime, neoliberal economic policies and austerity programs, clericalism and xenophobia, an atmosphere of intellectual benightedness among the general populace, confusion, dismay and sycophancy within the cultural and intellectual elites, and self-destructive economic pacts with dicey transnational neoliberal blocs. If you have any of these things in any quantities whatsoever in the place you quaintly call your country, then theoretically, dialectically and morally, you are liable to intervention of one sort or the other by the empire and/or its leftist allies, especially if your non-state borders on the empire, and you and/or some of your neighbors speak the same language as the jerk and his fellow citizens.

To put it more bluntly, it is inconceivable to them that anyone who speaks the same language as they do would want to live anywhere else other than “worldwide communism” (i.e., in their empire).

This may explain the signal fact, which really should trouble or at least puzzle leftists and progressives in other parts of the world, that the empire’s leftists—otherwise so eager to draw attention to themselves, to hold forth on the dreadful “postcolonial” condition they have been plunged into by the combined (external) forces of anti-communism, neoliberalism and insensitive foreign Marxists, to beat their chests about the political prisoners from among their ranks and their need for international solidarity right now, to demand asylum for political refugees (or their imitators) from their empire, and to show off their impeccable intellectual and ideological pedigrees at conferences and progressive art shows from London to Sydney—have been incapable or (more likely) unwilling to organize a vigorous anti-war movement, neither now, during the current conflict with the inglorious non-state on the empire’s borders, nor a bit earlier, when it proved dialectically and imperially necessary to crack down on some other non-states in the empire’s southern marches.

By “vigorous” I don’t mean that unless millions of people appear on the streets of the empire’s major cities tomorrow or the day after tomorrow waving “Hands off the non-state!” placards, there will be nothing to write home about. “Vigorous” means, at a minimum, that the empire’s leftists and progressives banish from their romantic hearts the notion that the current wildly lawless, rampantly corrupt, socially destructive, obscurantist mess that their empire has become can be suddenly dialectically aufhebunged, for no particular reason at all, and with a minimum of effort on their parts, into its synthetic better, transmogrified into a Wallersteinian “anti-hegemonic” force for global grassroots good.

That is a needlessly fancy way of saying that the empire’s leftists and progressives have to start fighting their own corner rather than either outright shilling for the empire under the banner of an alleged ongoing “proletarian revolution” in the eastern provinces of the neighboring non-state (the minority case) or (the majority case) pretending to themselves that “internationalism” means being utterly self-absorbed, self-important, Benjamin- and Bakunin-quoting punk stars on the international and national lecture, conference and art circuits, hovering high above the overall hugger-mugger like photogenic angels of history (with all of this glamor-pussing appearing almost instantly on their Facebook pages).

If you are incapable or unwilling to band together with your non-Benjamin or Bakunin-reading neighbors or workmates to strike your workplace, show real, practical solidarity with persecuted minorities (from migrants to gays), defend beleaguered civil society groups doing important, good work you would never want to do yourself (many of these groups have now been branded “foreign agents” and dismantled by the jerk’s minions for their efforts while society seethed with hatred at the non-state’s cheekiness) or protect a forest or an eighteenth-century listed market hall from destruction, then maybe you really have nothing to say to anyone, at home or abroad, about “communism.”

Of course there are some leftists, progressives, and just plain people in the empire who do these things and to whom nothing I have said applies. But right now they are outnumbered and overwhelmed not only by their rank-and-file fellow citizens, seemingly bewitched by the jerk’s hyperactive propaganda machine, but also and more importantly by their own ideological comrades, who do not seem to realize what a demoralizing effect their furious public intellectual activity, Internet editorializing, and so-called research and artistic engagement have on the movement (if one actually exists, which at this point is doubtful) and the prospects for democratic socialism in the country where they actually live.