A young American student asked my friend, a Russian language teacher, “Why do they show on the news that a German married a dog?”
Another friend’s coworker told her about a recent outing with former university classmates. One of them, a woman, had told him that Russia was the last bastion of Christianity in the world; according to her, the rest of the world was drowning in vice. When he objected to this assertion, the woman replied, “What, aren’t you a patriot?” Later in the evening, after the champagne and cognac were flowing freely and the woman was in her cups, she confessed to him that, in fact, she “loved” Europe.
Austerity Russian Style
November 19, 2014 OpenLeft.ru
Despite attempts to confuse and misinform the public, protests in the social sector will continue to grow.
“Only the rich will survive”
Reforms of the social sector in post-Soviet Russia have always had a very important feature: their course has been completely confusing and opaque, and everything connected to the reforms, even their strategic goals (!), has been shrouded in mystery. This is partly a consequence of the extreme fragmentation of the Russian state apparatus, unable to implement a completely coherent reform strategy, but in many ways it is a quite deliberate policy: a policy of disinformation.
The Russian authorities are confident that painful reforms are not necessary to explain, let alone announce, sometimes. One can always give journalists the shake, because who are they anyway? As for the public, it suffices to blame them for not understanding the grand design, for confusing reform and optimization, optimization and modernization, modernization and business as usual. This “spy” policy towards reform leaves wide room for maneuvering. It is always possible to note the level of public indignation and pull back a bit (while making the obligatory remark, “That was the way it was intended!”).
This has been borne out by research. For example, Linda J. Cook, author of Postcommunist Welfare States, has written that when carrying out reforms, both the parliament and the government have relied on a strategy of delays, deliberate obfuscation, and denial of responsibility.
At moments of crisis, chaos and uncertainty in the social sector only grow. Yet now, in my opinion, an absolutely unique situation has taken shape.
First of all, the social sector in Russia has been moved into an austerity regime. This must be noted. Funding will be cut, along with the quantity (and quality) of public services in education, health, and other areas. But how has this austerity been organized?
Paradoxically, it was launched not by a technocratic decision hatched in the bowels of the government, but by Putin’s populist decree on increasing the salaries of state employees. Disinformation has reached its peak: cuts are made to the social sector via a decree that at first glance has nothing to do with it. However, it does, as it turns out. The mechanism is simple. Given insufficient federal subsidies for executing the decree, the regions can carry it out only one way: by cutting some workers while increasing the workload (along with the salaries) of other workers. Of course, the decree does not function in isolation: for example, in health care it is combined with measures to move to “single-channel” financing, meaning that salaries have to be increased, but the only available money is from the health insurance fund. Together, the decree and single-channel financing form a lethal package, leading to indiscriminate layoffs and the closure of health care facilities.
Such is the strange state into which the social sector has been immersed. No less strange is the political spectacle being played out around this issue, a spectacle that reprises in caricatured form the conflict between Party activists and bourgeois specialists in the 1920s. When government and regional “specialists” warn about the impossibility of fulfilling the “order of the Party” (Putin’s May 2012 decrees), “activists” from the All-Russia People’s Front reply, No objections! If you mess up, it’s the firing squad for you! Putin weighs in wisely: the decrees must be carried out, but taking mistakes into account, and without excesses at the local level.
However, the banal fact is that from the outset the federal funds allocated for implementing the decree were not nearly enough, and subsidies will be cut even more in 2015. In such circumstances, implementing the decree on salary increases, in fact, automatically translates into layoffs, increased workloads, and the closure of public facilities.
At the same time, according to Kommersant, “[I]n general, suspension of the decrees may not have to be announced: technically, the government and the administration do not have to do this.”
It is a kingdom of crooked mirrors. “Salary increases” mean layoffs and increased workloads. These increases/layoffs can be stopped at any moment, but what that depends on is unclear. “Activists” are fighting “specialists.” Putin remains calm.
But will society remain calm? The juggling act with Putin’s decrees has not gone unnoticed by independent trade unions representing state employees, including Action, Teacher, and University Solidarity. University Solidarity has already announced protests against cuts to subsidies for increasing the salaries of university lecturers in 2015. The layoffs cannot be hidden, even if they are presented as “increases.”
The rally against the dismantling of the Moscow health care system, on November 2, was the largest social protest since 2005. The protests will continue to grow. In this situation, in my opinion, it is important to point to the clear link between cuts to the social sector and Putin’s policies. The “activists” are no less to blame than the “specialists,” but the main culprit is Putin, who, after all, signed these very decrees. The only way to stop the degradation of the social sector and prevent permanent crisis in the Russian economy, which actually has lasted since 2008, is broad political change.
Who Is Behind the Trotskyist Conspiracy?
November 21, 2014 OpenLeft.ru
Speaking at a meeting of his All-Russia People’s Front a couple days ago, Vladimir Putin said, “Trotsky had this [saying]: the movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing. We need an ultimate aim.” Eduard Bernstein’s proposition, misquoted and attributed for some reason to Leon Trotsky, is probably the Russian president’s most common rhetorical standby. He has repeated it for many years to audiences of journalists and functionaries while discussing social policy, construction delays at Olympics sites or the dissatisfaction of the so-called creative class. “Democracy is not anarchism and not Trotskyism,” Putin warned almost two years ago.
Putin’s anti-Trotskyist invectives do not depend on the context nor are they influenced by his audience, and much less are they veiled threats to the small political groups in Russia today who claim to be heirs of the Fourth International. Putin’s Trotskyism is of a different kind. Its causes are found not in the present but in the past, buried deep in the political unconscious of the last generation of the Soviet nomenklatura.
The strange myth of the Trotskyist conspiracy, which emerged decades ago, in another age and a different country, has experienced a rebirth throughout Putin’s rule. Sensing, apparently, the president’s personal weakness for “Trotskyism,” obliging media and corrupted experts have turned this Trotskyism into an integral part of the grand propaganda style. Until he died, the indefatigable “Trotskyist” Boris Berezovsky spun his nasty web from London. Until he turned into a conservative patriot, the incendiary “Trotskyist” Eduard Limonov seduced young people with extremism. Camouflaged “Trotskyists” from the Bush and, later, the Obama administrations have continued to sow war and color revolutions. Unmasking “Trotskyists” has become such an important ritual that for good luck, as it were, the famous Dmitry Kiselyov decided to launch a new media resource by invoking it. So what is the history of this conspiracy? And what do Trotskyists have to do with it?
Conspiracy theories are always conservative by nature. They do not offer an alternative assessment of events but, constantly tardy, chase behind them, inscribing them after the fact into their own pessimistic reading of history. Thus, in his Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1797), the Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel, a pioneer of modern conspiracy theory, situated the French Revolution, which had already taken place, in the catastrophic finale of a grand conspiracy of the Knights Templar against the Church and the Capetian dynasty. Masonic conspiracy theories became truly powerful in the late nineteenth century, when the peak of the Masons’ power had already passed. Finally, the idea of a Jewish conspiracy acquired its final shape in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, fabricated by the tsarist secret police at the turn of the twentieth century, when the power of Jewish finance capital had already been undermined by the rising power of industrial capital. Conspiracy theories have always drawn energy from this distorted link with reality, because the fewer conspirators one could observe in the real world, the more boldly one could endow them with incredible magical powers in the imaginary world.
In keeping with the reactive, belated nature of conspiracy theories, the myth of the Trotskyist conspiracy emerged in the Soviet Union when the Left Opposition, Trotsky’s actual supporters, had long ago been destroyed. Unlike, however, the conspiracies of the past, generated by secret agents and mad men of letters, the foundations of the Trotskyist conspiracy were tidily laid by NKVD investigators. The distorting mirror logic of the Great Terror dictated that, although the “Trotskyists” skillfully concealed themselves, and any person could prove to be one, the conspiracy must necessarily be exposed. An unwritten law of Stalinist socialism was that the truth will out, and this, of course, deprived the conspiracy theory of its telltale aura of mystery.
After Stalin’s death, when the Purges were a thing of the past, and Soviet society had begun to become inhibited and conservative, the conspiracy myth took on more familiar features. The stagnation period, with its general apathy, distrust, and societal depression, was an ideal breeding ground for the conspiracy theory. No one had seen any live Trotskyists long ago, and it was seemingly silly to denounce them, but everyone was well informed about the dangers of Trotskyism.
During meaningless classes on “Party history,” millions of Soviet university students learned about the enemies of socialism, the Trotskyists, who had been vanquished long ago in a showdown. Millions of copies of anti-Trotskyist books were published; by the 1970s, this literature had become a distinct genre with its own canon. Its distinguishing feature was a free-form Trotskyism completely emancipated from any connection with actual, historical Trotskyism.
In fact, the Trotskyism of Soviet propaganda was structurelessness incarnate, a misunderstanding. It was “lifeless schema, sophistry and metaphysics, unprincipled eclecticism, […] crude subjectivism, exaggerated individualism and voluntarism.” Unlike the classic monsters of conspiracy theory, the Masons and the Elders of Zion, the Trotskyists did not run the world. They were failed conspirators: they were always exposed, unless, through their own haste and impulsiveness, they managed to expose themselves. In keeping with Stalinist socialist realism, their inept evil deeds caused seizures of Homeric laughter among the people and the Party. And yet, recovering from each shameful defeat, they kept on trying. The Trotskyists had no clear plan for establishing global domination, but without a clear purpose, they were dangerous in their passionate desire to instill chaos in places where harmony, predictability, and order reigned.
In their work, these Trotskyists were guided by the crazed “theory of permanent revolution” (which had nothing in common, substantially, with Trotsky’s theory except the name). Its essence is that the revolution should not have any geographical or time constraints. It has no aims, no end, and no meaning. It raises questions where all questions have long been solved. It instills doubt where all doubts have been resolved long ago. A normal person would never be able to understand anything about this theory except one thing: it was invented to ruin his life.
Mikhail Basmanov, author of the cult book In the Train of Reaction: Trotskyism from the 1930s to the 1970s, quoted above, noted, “Unlike many other political movements that had the opportunity to confirm their ideological and political doctrines through the practice of state-building, Trotskyism has not put forward a positive program of action in any country in all the years of its existence.” It is so destructive, that “with its cosmopolitanism, carried to the point of absurdity, which excludes the possibility of developing national programs, Trotskyism undermines the stances even of its own ‘parties’ in certain countries. […] Trotskyism is entangled in the nets of its own theories.”
It is important that the idea of the Trotskyist conspiracy against practical reason, reality, and stability was never popular in late-Soviet society: it did not grow, like the “blood libel,” from the dark superstitions of the mob. It remained a nightmare for only one segment, the ruling bureaucracy, which transmitted the myth of the senseless and merciless “permanent revolution” to future generations in Party training courses and KGB schools.
The Soviet theory of the Trotskyist conspiracy reflected the subconscious fear of ungovernability on the part of the governing class. Devoid of any personalities, the legend of Trotskyism was something like the “black swan” of “actually existing socialism.”
This, by the way, is its fundamental difference from the version of the Trotskyist conspiracy popular among some American conservatives. In America, it is merely one of many varieties of the “minority conspiracy,” a small group of people who have, allegedly, seized power and are implementing their anti-Christian, globalist ideas from the top down. The fact that the anti-Trotskyist conspiracy theory of the so-called paleoconservatives has become popular in recent years among Kremlin experts and political scientists only goes to show that the old Soviet “Trotskyist conspiracy” has suffered a deficit in terms of its reproduction.
When he confuses Bernstein and Bronstein, Vladimir Putin, however, is not unfaithful to the Soviet anti-Trotskyist legend. Yes, “the goal is nothing, the movement is everything.” The chaos generated by the movement is inevitable, as inevitable as time itself. It moves inexorably toward “permanent revolution,” which cannot be completed and with which one cannot negotiate.
In a recent interview, former Kremlin spinmeister Gleb Pavlovsky, while skillfully avoiding the issue of “Trotskyism,” nevertheless had this to say about Putin:
“He has frightened himself. Where should he go next? What next? This is a terrible problem in politics, the problem of the second step. He stepped beyond what he was ready for and got lost: where to go now? […] The gap between [the annexation of] Crimea and subsequent actions is quite noticeable. It is obvious that everything afterwards was an improvisation or reaction to other people’s actions. People who are afraid of the future forbid themselves from thinking about which path to choose. When you have not set achievable goals, you begin to oscillate between two poles: either you do nothing or you get sucked into a colossal conflict.”
The worst thing is that the specter of Trotskyism, as has happened with many other specters in history, is quite capable of materializing. The post-Soviet system has entered a period of crisis, in which the ruling elite has fewer and fewer chances to manage processes “manually.” For the Trotskyist nightmare of the elites to become a reality, there is no need for live Trotskyists. The need for them arises only when hitherto silent and long-suffering forces come to their senses and raise the question of their own aims. But that is a different story.
Ilya Budraitskis is a historian, researcher, and writer.
Ilya Orlov The Field of Mars: Revolution, Mourning, and Memory
We are on the Field of Mars in Petersburg, at the Monument to the Fighters of the Revolution. That is the official name. The question immediately arises: to the fighters of which revolution? This is not specified in the official name. The epitaphs, penned by the first Soviet minister of education Anatoly Lunacharsky in 1919, are more lyrical than informative, referring to previous revolutions and historical figures, including the Jacobins and the Paris Communards. Only this humble gravestone refers to the primordial event: here lie the victims of the February Revolution of 1917.
I doubt whether anyone pays attention to this gravestone. If you ask passersby what this place is, they are likely to reply that it is some memorial to the victims of some revolution. This is not surprising. Historically, the October Revolution eclipsed the February Revolution. This eclipse happened in Soviet times, and it was reflected in Soviet historiography. And there have been so many other historical events subsequently that now society has almost no memory of this revolution and its victims. In the 1990s, students from the nearby Institute of Culture grilled sausages over the eternal flame at the center of the monument. I have heard such stories firsthand. Perhaps this was a spontaneous denial of Soviet monumentalism and Soviet ideology. But the paradox is that this monument, which was more a revolutionary than a Soviet monument, was created by the revolution. Not to glorify state ideology, but on the contrary, to memorialize those who fought against the state’s tyranny. In this sense, the Field of Mars is a “place of memory, overgrown with grass,” despite this imposing granite monument.
But the shape of the memorial dates to March 1917. Here we see four L-shaped stelae: they were built a year later, in 1918. The L-shape is not accidental. Under the stelae are four L-shaped mass graves containing 184 victims of street fighting between protesters and police in February 1917. The rest of the burial ground—the quadrangular space formed by the stelae—was established soon afterwards, but during a completely different period, after the October Revolution of 1917. Here lie a number of combatants in the Civil War, mostly Bolsheviks, and most of their names are known. Our task today is to recall the original tenor of this memorial site, the tenor of February and March 1917.
The February Revolution was the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917 (although some historians consider them parts of a single revolutionary process). After spontaneous bread riots, mass strikes and demonstrations in Petrograd (then the capital of the Russian Empire), soldiers from the city’s garrison sided with the protesters. The revolution resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. The Provisional Government came to power, its members, mostly liberals and conservatives, drawn from the State Duma (the former monarchy’s parliament). At the same time, local socialists formed an alternative authority, the Petrograd Soviet, which ruled alongside the Provisional Government. There were thus two centers of power, both with problems of legitimacy. It was a very unstable situation, which Lenin defined as a diarchy (dvoevlastie).
The new authorities decreed political freedom, ended capital punishment, released political prisoners, and abolished ethnic and religious discrimination. The result was total euphoria. But such important issues as Russia’s involvement in the First World War, social and economic problems, and labor issues remained on the agenda. Also, the question of the country’s future political constitution was unclear. The new authorities were not ready to answer these questions and deferred their consideration until the future Constituent Assembly met. In 1917, the idea of the Constituent Assembly, a “future master” that would be able to solve all problems, was a sort of fetish. It was, in fact, convened in 1918, but was soon dissolved by the Bolsheviks.
So the beginning of March 1917 was a time of economic crisis and instability, a hard situation at the front, universal euphoria over revolutionary liberation, total uncertainty about the future, and potential social fissure. This is the context in which the Petrograd Soviet raised the question of organizing a gigantic nationwide political manifestation—a solemn funeral for the victims of the revolution.
The February Revolution was not bloodless. How many people were killed or wounded? The exact number of dead and wounded has never been precisely determined. According to early Soviet historiography, the total number of casualties did not exceed one and a half thousand. Of these, no more than two hundred people were killed. In later historiography, the numbers increased. But this information is also unreliable, because not all the victims were recorded.
There is also uncertainty over the number of people buried in the mass graves on the Field of Mars. Sometimes, the figures vary even within the same newspaper article. But the maximum number found in the historical sources is 184.
The nationwide funeral of the victims of the revolution or, as it was called, the “great funeral,” was planned by the Petrograd Soviet soon after the victory of the revolution. According to their plan, it was to be a grandiose funeral demonstration, meant to unite all the forces of the revolution, a “parade and review of all the revolutionary forces.” Preparations for the ceremony took more than three weeks. The plans were finally implemented on March 23, 1917.
Contemporaries described the events of that day as completely unprecedented. From morning till late night, endless columns of demonstrators relentlessly marched from different quarters of the city to the Field of Mars, carrying red coffins containing the bodies of the victims of the revolution. One after the other, the funeral processions arrived at the Field of Mars. It was a kind of political demonstration where various political, social, ethnic, professional groups and identities were broadly represented. There were columns of workers from different factories, military units, columns from educational institutions, columns made up of workers from various professions and trades, columns from leftist parties (for example, the Social Democrats and the Socialist Revolutionaries), columns representing different ethnic groups, and columns from ethnic leftist parties, for example, the Jewish Bund and the Armenian Dashnaktsutyun party. There were also columns from grassroots organizations, civic committees, and other groups of citizens, including, even, a column of blind people. In a certain sense, it was a symbolic repetition of the revolution itself.
According to official figures, 800,000 people attended the funeral manifestation. According to unofficial tallies, up to two million people attended. Given that the city’s population was around 2.5 million at the time, we can assume the majority of the capital’s inhabitants were involved in the ceremony as participants or spectators.
There is still no historiography specially devoted to this event. The event, however, is well documented: all the newspapers published reports about it, and many photographs were taken. It is curious that photographs of the ceremony are still used as primarily visual matter for books and articles about the February Revolution, even if the funeral is not actually mentioned in them. This is quite understandable: the photographs depict a huge mass of demonstrators, as if this were the revolution itself.
The newspaper reports about the funeral are highly emotional. Sometimes, they even slip from prose into poetry. The rhetoric of “brotherhood” or “revolutionary brotherhood” is quite common in these reports: the victims of the revolution are often referred to as “our dead brothers.” At the same time, these articles have a euphoric tone: they often talk about the coming revival of the country, or about a great celebration of freedom.
Historians have repeatedly noted the anthropological connection between mourning, celebration, and revolution. Specifically, French historian Mona Ozouf talks about this in her book Festivals and the French Revolution. There are other numerous historical examples of this phenomenon, including the Ukrainian Maidan of 2014. Mourning and funeral processions provoke sublime feelings and mobilize people.
It is quite important to note one thing about this funeral. It was fundamentally a civil ceremony. There were no icons, no crosses, and no priests. Numerous requests from clergy to participate in the ceremony were rejected by the Soviet. For the first time in Russian history, a funeral of this scale was conducted without the Church’s participation. This civil ceremony was not just secular, however. It followed the cultural tradition of the revolutionary underground, the tradition of so-called red funerals. This tradition started after Bloody Sunday, the massacre of unarmed demonstrators that sparked the Revolution of 1905. Then, workers had begun to bury their comrades in red coffins, without the ministrations of priests. And more importantly, they turned funerals into political rallies. In defiance of the autocracy and the despotism of capitalism, they seemed to identify the sacred—death—as one of their allies. At the Field of Mars in 1917, this tradition attained official national status for the first time.
The ceremony of this huge demonstration was elaborately planned over several weeks. From the very beginning, it was clear the number of participants would be enormous. (As I have mentioned, it was as many as two million people in the end.) The organizers were afraid there could be a crush or stampede in the crowd. Therefore, they drew up instructions, layouts, route charts, and written rules that explained how the columns of the demonstrators should be self-organized, where and when they should start, how they should move, and which way they should go during the ceremony. These instructions were published before the funeral in newspapers.
The instructions were based on the idea of self-organization by district. Assembly points were located at the hospitals in the city’s six districts where the bodies of the victims of the revolution lay. There was a parallel between this scheme and the structure of the Soviet itself: both were democratic structures based on the representation of districts and small groups. The departure time of the district processions was scheduled in such a way that they arrived at the Field of Mars one after another, and only from the direction of Sadovaya Street.
The main idea of the ceremony’s planners was that the funeral procession would not stop in the square even for a minute. When a column reached the burial site, the demonstrators handed the coffins to workers who directly carried out the burials. The very next moment, the column would continue to move toward the exit, which was located on the opposite side of the field, near Trinity Bridge. This was done to prevent the crowd from being crushed.
Each time a coffin was lowered into a grave, a gun was fired at the Peter and Paul Fortress, on the opposite bank of the Neva River. To coordinate the movement of the columns, telephone wires were laid between the observation points.
The procession moved without stopping through the Field of Mars, and this also excluded the possibility of holding a rally. Therein lay the uniqueness of this mass commemoration: there were no public speeches during the entire ceremony, only funeral music, revolutionary songs, and lots of red flags.
Now I would like to draw your attention again to the structure of the burial ground—the four L-shaped mass graves at the corners of this large square. The funeral procession passed through the space between the graves. Alongside and above the graves, temporary wooden platforms (stages) were erected for the ceremony’s organizers and the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet. There were special hatches on the platforms for lowering the coffins into the ground.
I should emphasize that it was impossible to make a speech or address an audience there, because the procession passed through the square without stopping. So the politicians just stood silently over the graves.
This combination of burial ground and site of political power is also remarkable. In this structure, the political approaches the sacral. The sublime feeling caused by the funeral seemed to reinforce the politics. The sacral became a support for political power. This convergence of politics and mourning was continued in Soviet times, of course, in the structure of the Lenin Mausoleum, with its tribune above the tomb.
What made this large-scale ceremony possible? And why did the Petrograd Soviet devote so much attention, time, and effort to organizing this manifestation in March 1917, when they had a variety of other pressing problems on their agenda?
It was clear what society needed: the victory of the revolution had been unexpected, and such dizzying change is always traumatic. The time was as it were “broken,” and the transition to the new life requires a ritual pattern. The funeral of the victims of the revolution may have played the role of such a therapeutic ritual. It was a kind of funeral of the ancien régime, a funeral of monarchy and despotism. It was thus no wonder it actually turned into joyous celebration of freedom, as witnesses of the event described it. They often dubbed it a “funeral celebration.”
The Soviet’s task was to mobilize society. The idea of organizing a symbolic repetition of the revolution was probably an attempt to overcome chaos and make the situation more transparent. In fact, the speakers in the Soviet clearly declared their intention to arrange a “parade of revolutionary forces,” which obviously meant making these forces visible, represented in the form of a manifestation on the square.
But the more important reason, as might be expected, was the problem of the basis for the new political authorities. Both the Provisional Government and the first roster of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet suffered from a lack of legitimacy: both were self-proclaimed revolutionary centers of power. Professional politicians had formed both. The Provisional Government had been formed by co-opting liberal and conservative members of the former State Duma. The Petrograd Soviet was made up of leftist Duma deputies and former underground leftist activists, although the Petrograd Soviet was in a somewhat better position, because its deputies had been elected. But its legitimacy had not been realized, either, because the Executive Committee had actually decided to relinquish its power, transferring most of it to the Provisional Government.
Thus, given a lack of solid ground in the present, the new authorities were forced to postpone solving the problem of legitimacy until the future, shifting it onto the shoulders of the Constituent Assembly (which was like putting it off until doomsday) or seeking support in symbolic actions and, in Leon Trotsky’s words, the “strong emotions and memories of the masses.” In fact, they tried to have it both ways. Of course, the traditional mode of sacralizing power (that is, the “divine right” of the monarch) had become impossible, so the most appropriate source of the sacral that remained was mourning—veneration of the fallen freedom fighters, the rhetoric of “sacrifice,” and so on.
Why was the Field of Mars chosen as the burial site? The funeral was preceded by a long discussion, lasting around three weeks, that took place at meetings of the Petrograd Soviet, as well as among the general public. The initial decision was to bury the victims of the revolution on Palace Square, directly in front of the Winter Palace, and for this purpose to pull down the Alexander Column. Palace Square and the Winter Palace were the very heart of the former empire, symbols of the monarchy. Palace Square was also where Bloody Sunday had taken place in 1905. To erect a memorial to the victims of the revolution in this place would have been a strong symbolic gesture, indicating the end of the ancien régime. Initially, the Petrograd Soviet voted the decision unanimously. In a revolutionary society, it was a decision that met with wholehearted support.
The next twist in the plot is almost like out of a detective novel.
Suddenly, members of the bourgeois artistic elite entered the picture. The key figures were art critic and artist Alexander Benois and the architects and artists of the World of Art group with which he was associated. This was a very influential conservative artistic movement that advocated neoclassicism and poeticized “old” Petersburg. Their objective was to maintain their influence in the realm of culture under the new government. They also wanted to establish and lead a new “Ministry of Fine Arts.” And since the architectural ensemble of Palace Square was for them the epitome of high art, they made an effort to change the Petrograd Soviet’s decision.
Through complicated intrigues, connections in the bourgeois Provisional Government, and cynical use of revolutionary rhetoric, they were able to convince the Petrograd Soviet to change their minds. Their ruse was cynical and sophisticated. They urgently drew up and submitted to the Soviet an architectural plan under which a palace to house the future Constituent Assembly would be built on the Field of Mars; hence, supposedly, the memorial to the victims of the revolution should be sited near this new building as well. They also promised the palace would be decorated with statues, “including, perhaps, statues of the current leaders of the revolution.” As a result, the Petrograd Soviet agreed to change the burial site from Palace Square to the Field of Mars.
Architect Lev Rudnev built the monument in 1918–1919. The author of the poetic epitaphs on the monument, as I have mentioned, was Anatoly Lunacharsky.
NOT VICTIMS, BUT HEROES lie beneath this tomb NOT GRIEF, BUT ENVY your fate engenders in the hearts of all grateful descendants in the terrible red days you lived gloriously and died beautifully
THE RANKS OF THE MIGHTY departed from life in the name of life’s flourishing THE HEROES OF UPRISINGS of different ages the crowds of Jacobins THE FIGHTERS OF ‘48 the crowds of Communards are now joined by the sons of Petersburg
In the early Soviet period, the Field of Mars served as a pantheon where Bolsheviks killed during the Civil War were buried. This was before the new pantheon near the Kremlin Wall in Moscow was built.
After Stalin’s death, during the Khrushchev Thaw, official Soviet ideology attempted, in a certain sense, to return to its revolutionary origins. On the fortieth anniversary of the revolution, in 1957, an eternal flame was lit in the center of the memorial.
The fire was brought from the open-hearth furnaces of the Kirov Plant, one of the major machine-building factories in Leningrad. It was the first eternal flame in the country, and it was lit in memory of the victims of all revolutions. It was from this fire that the eternal flames at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, and ten years later, in 1967, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin Wall, were lit.
For the rest of the Soviet period, the memorial was one of the most important official places of memory in the country. But it was revered as a monument to “the fighters of all revolutions,” that is, there was no emphasis on the February Revolution, to which it had originally been dedicated. The memory of February was displaced by the memory of October.
In post-Soviet times, the memorial has remained unchanged, but with each passing year it is more and more obviously at odds with the official anti-communist ideology. This has especially been the case in the past few years, given the growing dominance of rightist ideology, the condemnation of all revolutions, and the denial of the revolutionary legacy’s value.
Two years ago, in 2012, an urban development project that called for eliminating the memorial was presented at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum. The project proposed moving the graves to another location and creating a recreational area on the Field of Mars. Once again, members of the conservative intelligentsia were involved. Local historian and journalist Lev Lurie and Alexander Borovsky, head of the Russian Museum’s contemporary art department, publicly expressed support for demolishing the memorial. The argument was as follows: the revolutionaries were villains and murderers, the revolution had long been forgotten, and Petersburgers did not have enough recreational areas. A number of historians and public figures came out in defense of the memorial. I also published an article in defense of the place. In any case, for reasons unknown, the project was canned.
Perhaps the following odd episode played a part in this outcome. That same year, 2012, the city police suddenly organized a solemn commemoration at the memorial. The official statement for this strange commemoration claimed the people buried in these mass graves were not, in fact, revolutionaries, but plainclothes gendarmes who had been killed by protesters during the street fighting in February 1917, and that these defenders of the old regime were the real victims of the revolution.
The context of these recent events has been the crackdown on political freedoms in Russia. For example, Petersburg city hall has repeatedly refused to let the opposition hold rallies in the city center. As a result of this longstanding dispute between the opposition and the municipal administration, the authorities proposed establishing a so-called Hyde Park in the city center, choosing the Field of Mars as the site.
For several years now, protest rallies have been held here. As a rule, they are not well attended: the society is intimidated and politically apathetic. The protesters include everyone from liberals and leftists to animal rights advocates. And yet the historical memory of this place has almost been lost: its revolutionary history is almost never has evoked at these rallies. Perhaps it is too far in the past, hidden under numerous layers of history. Or perhaps this is a problem of today’s political movements, which have lost their connection with this great revolutionary tradition that once triumphed in Russia.
It is difficult to evaluate, either positively or negatively, the practice of revolutionary commemoration, especially when it is bound up with funerals and the rhetoric of “strong emotions,” as well as the post-revolutionary infatuation with monumentalism. On the one hand, the intention of the authorities to find support for their political power in the sacral (in mourning, in sublime feelings, in the archaic) points to the fact that the government had a problem securing its legitimacy. Paradoxically, it would seem that the most advanced political system—the revolutionary soviets of 1917—could rely on archaic feelings just like the monarchy, which used to refer to its “divine right” to rule. The infatuation with monumentalism also seems like something akin to fetishism, especially when we realize that, after many years, even a heavy granite monument is unable to retain its original meaning. In a sense, this is the counter-revolutionary aspect of revolutionary culture.
On the other hand, the monumental solemnity of this forgotten mass commemoration of March 1917 seems today like valuable know-how, even a lesson for us. The commemoration that took place here in 1917 was an alternative to the commemorations of the ousted regime, both in its form and its content. It remains just as relevant today in its separation of church and state, its reverence not for heroes but for common people, and its commemoration of those who did not support but opposed the state.
Ilya Orlov (born 1973) is a Petersburg-based artist and historian. He graduated from the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Smolny College) of Saint Petersburg State University, where he majored in history, philosophy, political science, and art. He wrote his honor’s thesis on revolutionary mourning rituals in 1917, and his M.A. dissertation on the aesthetics of nature in contemporary curatorial studies. Orlov’s recent artistic work has focused on cultural, social, and political issues in post-Soviet reality and the politics of commemoration.
The article above is based on the text of a guided tour Ilya Orlov led to the Field of Mars in October 2014. My thanks to him for permission to publish it here and his generous assistance in locating some of the accompanying illustrations. The text was edited by the Russian Reader. Funeral photographs courtesy of humus and statehistory.ru. Photo of Elena Osipova by Sergey Chernov. Modern-day photos of the Field of Mars (except for aerial view) by the Russian Reader
Around 6,000 People Rally against “Collapse of Medicine” in Moscow
Farida Rustamova and Artyom Filipenok
November 2, 2014 rbc.ru
A rally against health care reform in Moscow brought together six times more protesters than originally announced, uniting medical and educational trade unions and people from entire spectrum of the political opposition. They protested against the city government’s plans to close twenty-eight medical facilities in the near future. The protesters demanded the resignation of Moscow deputy mayor Leonid Pechatnikov and the heads of the capital city’s health department. According to organizers, another protest, this time nationwide, has been planned for late November.
The Stop the Collapse of Moscow Medicine rally took place on Sunday [November 2, 2014] on Suvorov Square in Moscow. According to rally organizer Alla Frolova (leader of the civic movement Together for Decent Medicine) around six thousand people came out for the rally, despite the fact the announced number had been one thousand.
“We are grateful to the doctors who were not afraid of being laid off and came. Seventy percent of the speakers were doctors, and many people wanted to speak at the open mike we announced at the end of the rally,” Frolova commented.
She told RBC that the trade union Action planned to hold a nationwide protest against medical care reform on November 29, and Together for Decent Medicine would support it.
The speakers included representatives of Yabloko, the December 5th Party, and the CPRF, and Andrei Nechayev, leaders of the Civic Initiative party and former economics minister. The rally was also attended by activists from independent trade unions (Confederation of Labor of Russia, Action, Paramedic.ru, a trade union of ambulance workers, the trade union Teacher, and opponents of reforms at the Russian Academy of Sciences) and opposition movements, from far-rightists (the National Democratic Party) to anarchists.
The rally was attended by people of all ages, but the attendees were mainly middle-aged and elderly. Several protesters wore uniforms of doctors and orderlies. The slogan on the placards borne by protesters called for “bureaucrats to get a conscience shot,” “demolish old Soviet residential buildings, not maternity hospitals,” and so on. Many of the attendees were health care workers who had either been fired or threatened with layoffs. All the protesters with whom RBC spoke wished to remain anonymous, for fear of losing their job and not finding a new one.
Protester at Sunday’s rally: “They screwed up with Ukraine, now they’ve moved to medicine. Let’s say a firm no to closures and layoffs. The people who busted the budget should be fired.” Photo courtesy of RBC
Psychiatrist Alexander still works at Psychiatric Hospital No. 14, but the hospital is among those slated for closure by 2017.
“We have slowly been cut back. Over the past two years, half of our 1,100 beds have been slashed. My salary has not been cut yet, but it has been kept afloat by layoffs of coworkers,” he said.
According to Alexander, the elimination of clinics will primarily affect the most disadvantaged people. He warned of a possible increase in the number of offenses and suicides committed by patients, who will be left to fend for themselves at inpatient facilities.
“Western Europe already went through this in the seventies, when psychiatric hospitals there were closed. Later, they had bring them all back,” said the psychiatrist.
The doctors, nurses, trade unionists, and party activists who gathered at Suvorov Square in Moscow demanded an end to layoffs of doctors and wage cuts, and a moratorium on the reorganization of medical facilities. Another demand was the dismissal of all the top managers of the Moscow health department involved in reorganizing the Moscow health care system. During the rally, doctors even promised to organize a Doctor at Hand protest rally where attendees would be able to get free medical advice. Organizers said that doctors who had been planning to attend the rally had been threatened with dismissal.
Marina, a nephrologist, received a layoff notice on Friday.
“I, a highly qualified nephrologist, will be unemployed as of January 1 of next year due to a downsizing of beds. Ten of sixty beds are left in our department at Izmailovo Municipal Children’s Hospital, which has been merged with the Morozovskaya Hospital. Since April, only a third of our five hundred employees are left. I have come here in the hope that we will be heard, because as these reforms continue it will only get worse,” said the fired doctor.
Elena, an anesthesiology nurse, expects to be fired after the New Year.
“Our hospital, Gynecological Hospital No. 5, was merged with Municipal Clinical Hospital No. 57: now we are Medical Diagnostic Unit No. 3. In the past two years, eighty beds have been slashed at our hospital. The remaining one hundred and ten beds will be cut to sixty, meaning only one of five wards will be left,” she said.
Despite the fact she has worked twenty-one years, she is the first to face redundancy, she says. Her salary is now 22,000 rubles a month [approx. 400 euros at the time of publication]. Over the past two years, it has been cut by forty percent.
“Who is now going to provide qualified gynecological assistance to women in our place? We are told that we aren’t wanted,” said Elena.
Ekaterina came to the rally instead of her relatives, who were threatened with dismissal if they went.
“My relatives work in Moscow’s oldest eye clinic, on Mamonovsky Alley. In December, the clinic will turn a hundred and ninety years old. Now it is Branch No. 1 of the Botkin Hospital. This clinic is being vacated. It is on the timetable of hospitals slated for downsizing, and by 2017 there will not be any doctors or patients there,” said Ekaterina.
Not everyone could make it to the rally. As an ob-gyn doctor from Medical Unit No. 33 who identified himself as Dmitry told RBC, a shift prevented him from going to Suvorov Square. According to him, layoffs have also been made in his unit, which is attached to Hospital No. 40.
“Many of my colleagues no longer believe the situation can change,” he said, expressing hope that the rally would have some impact.
In a number of Moscow hospitals, Sunday had been declared “Health Day,” which, people in the crowd claimed, had been done specially to prevent doctors from taking part in the rally. Rain TV reported this, in particular, citing a source in Clinical Diagnostic Center No. 1.
In the resolution adopted by the rally, protesters demanded an immediate halt to “pseudo-reforms to health care in Moscow.” Organizers were also interested in the fate of the real estate vacated after the closure of the health care facilities. There were also demands for the immediate resignations of Moscow deputy mayor Leonid Pechatnikov and the top managers of the Moscow city health department, who had been “discredited by their involvement in the destruction of Moscow’s health care system.” As Frolova told RBC, rally organizers had invited Pechatnikov and health department chief Alexei Khripun, but the deputy mayor’s office only promised to pass the invitation on to him, while Khripun was represented at the rally by an aide, who “remained incognito.”
Protesters called for a public debate on the present state and future of the Moscow health care system involving members of the medical community, the Pirogov Doctors Movement, Together for Decent Medicine, and other public organizations. They demanded that all discussions be public, and the proceedings be published in the media.
“The demands in this resolution will be sent to municipal and federal authorities,” the conclusion of the resolution states.
Cuts to medical institutions in Moscow have been underway since late last years. According to the working version of the timetable for closing Moscow clinics and maternity hospitals, employees at twenty-eight facilities, including fifteen hospitals, will be fired and their premises vacated. Employees have already been laid off at several hospitals listed in the timetable. The bulk of the closures will take place by April of next year.
Plan for eliminating medical facilities in Moscow. Courtesy of RBC
“We did not want to publish [the timetable] because we were crying softly in our offices. But since it has already gone public, we can now all cry together,” said Pechatnikov, commenting on the document.
Read more about the planned hospital closures in Moscow and the public outcry:
Andrei Kozenko, “‘You closed a hospital, open a cemetery’: doctors rally against health care reforms,” Meduza, November 2, 2014 (in Russian)
Alison Quinn, “Moscow’s Deputy Mayor Attempts to Allay Panic over Health Care Reforms,” Moscow Times, October 29, 2014 (in English)
Lyudmila Alexandrova, “Russia’s fast-tracked health service reform sparks protests,” Tass, October 21, 2014 (in English)
Ilya Matveev, “Who built them?” OpenLeft.ru, October 17, 2014 (a list of facilities scheduled for closure, in Russian)
“We were crying softly in our offices,” Navalny.com, October 17, 2014 (in Russian)
Dina Yusupova and Konstantin Gaaze, “Why hospitals are being closed in Moscow,” Bolshoi Gorod, October 17, 2014 (in Russian)
Moscow, October 16, 2014, Interfax. On Thursday, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov told Interfax that, according to the draft budget, a record sum of 3,286,800,000,000 rubles [approx. sixty billion euros] which amounts to 4.2% of GDP, would be spent on the national defense in 2015. This exceeds 2014 spending by 812,160,000,000 rubles.
In 2016, the government plans to spend 3,113,240,000,000 rubles on defense; in 2017, 3,237,820,000,000 rubles.