Darya Polyudova

Darya Polyudova, holding a placard that reads, “Ukraine, we are with you.”
Image courtesy of Ivan Astashin

A subscriber has reported that he received a letter from political prisoner Darya Polyudova in which she told him about her court hearing in the Moscow City Court on May 12.

Let me remind you that left-wing activist Darya Polyudova is currently doing her second stint in prison on political charges.

In 2015, the activist was sentenced to two years in prison for “calling for extremist activities and separatism”: this was how the authorities viewed her preparations for a March for the Federalization of the Kuban.

After her release, Darya continued to be involved in political activism. But in January 2020 Polyudova was arrested again. In May 2021, she was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “condoning terrorism” and “calling for terrorism.” The court regarded posts about Shamil Basayev and a phrase about the “Lubyanka shooter” Yevgeny Manyurov, who opened fire on FSB officers near Lubyanka Square in Moscow in December 2019, as evidence of Polyudova’s guilt.

In both cases, the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Polyudova as a political prisoner.

However, the Russian state’s persecution of Darya Polyudova has not ended there. In late 2021, the FSB opened another case against the activist. Now she stands accused of “organizing an extremist community,” i.e., the so-called Left Resistance movement. Under the new charges, Darya may face another six to ten years in prison.

In this new case, Darya has been remanded in custody. Of course, she is already in custody. Without a new criminal case she would have been in a prison camp a long time ago [serving the sentence for her previous conviction], but the investigation wants her in a pretrial detention center.

Darya is appealing all the court decisions on the extension of her remand in custody. The court will consider her appeal of the latest extension on May 12.

Come and support Darya Polyudova!

11 a.m, 12 May 2022, Moscow City Court, 8 Bogorodsky Val, Room 327

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 7 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Problem with Bothsidesism

Is this monstrous war of aggression really between two equal sides?

An open letter in response to the Manifesto Against the War

Dear comrades,

I write in anger and sorrow about your Manifesto Against the War, to which I turned in the hope of learning from you about how we can situate the anti-war movement in the wider struggle against capital.

Enumerating the causes of military conflict, you refer, first, to “the growing rivalry between the greatest imperialist powers”. Third is “Islamic fundamentalism”. But before that, second, comes that “the US government has positioned its military alliance system, NATO, against the Russian Federation to prevent the integration of the defunct Soviet empire’s successor into an enlarged, stable and peaceful European order with mutual security guarantees”.

Demonstrations in Ukrainian cities occupied by the Russian armed forces are part of a people’s war

You don’t explain why you think that, in this age of the deep crisis of the capitalist system – which in your words “unleashes ever more violent struggles for geostrategic zones of influence” – such a “peaceful European order” could ever have been possible.

That hope, embraced by Mikhail Gorbachev and many social democrats in the 1990s, was surely dashed as the economic crises of neoliberalism (1997-98, 2008-09, etc) multiplied, as the Russian bourgeoisie emerged in its 21st-century form on one hand, and the alliance of western powers pursued their murderous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on the other.

Download this letter as a pdf.

You don’t explain why you name the US government and NATO, and Islamic fundamentalism, as causes of the current war … but not the Russian elite, which actually started it.

You turn causes into effects, and effects into causes, in order to justify this focus on the US and NATO. So, immediately following your point about the US using NATO to prevent Russia’s integration into a stable European order, you continue: “The sabotage of Nord Stream 2 shows that economic pressure is just as important here as it is in the positioning against China.”

This just doesn’t fit with the facts. Nord Stream 2 was a major point of dispute between the German ruling class and its US counterpart. For years, the US sought to sanction the pipeline, and the German government resisted. In July 2021, the Biden administration struck a deal with chancellor Merkel under which the pipeline would be completed. The German desire to integrate Russia, at least as a trading partner, prevailed.

The pipeline was finally frozen by the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, on 22 February, the day after Russian president Putin recognised the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” – a clear indication that the Minsk peace process was finished and that Russia was preparing for some sort of war. Russia acted; Germany reversed its long-standing policy.

The freezing of Nord Stream 2 put no discernible economic pressure on Russia, anyway. The point of the pipeline was to enable Russia to pipe gas to European destinations without taking it across Ukraine. It was designed to reduce Russian dependence on Ukraine for pipeline transit, that is, to produce a geopolitical benefit rather than any significant economic benefit. The western powers have imposed heavy economic sanctions on Russia – after it invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

The reason you mix up causes and effects is clear. Your narrative description of the post-Soviet period mentions the collapse of the Soviet empire, the loss of those (to my mind illusory) “quite favourable” chances of Russia “democratising” – and then the failure of that option due to NATO expansion. The arrogance inherent in that expansion “created the external conditions in Russia for the implementation of a strategy of imperialist revisionism” under Putin, you say.

I would dispute the prevalence of NATO expansion as an “external condition”. I think the broader crises of capital, and of its neoliberal management strategy, were far more important. But what about the internal conditions? You don’t mention those. What about the reconstruction of the Russian bourgeoisie in the post-Soviet period, and its relationship with the post-Soviet repressive apparatus represented by Putin? Where does that fit into your analysis?

Your focus on the “external condition” means that your account of Russian militarism is one-sided. The Georgian war in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea were “warning signals” that were “disregarded” by NATO, which, according to you, built “infrastructure” in Ukraine. What “infrastructure”? (NATO was always divided about admitting Ukraine as a member, and until last month’s invasion kept its military relationship with Ukraine at a low level.)

Your account of Russian militarism starts in 2008. What about the murderous assault on Chechnya in 2000-02, which first cemented Putin’s position as president, and was supported by NATO? What about the Russian assault on eastern Ukraine in 2014, which you incorrectly describe as a “civil war with indirect Russian involvement”? What was “indirect” about a war in which Russian mothers lost their sons on the front line, fighting in Russian army uniforms? What is “indirect” about the massive logistical, financial and political support given by the Russian government to the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics”?

Most telling of all, you don’t mention Syria. The drowning of the Syrian uprising in blood in 2015-16, surely the greatest defeat of a revolutionary movement in this century, was accomplished by the Assad regime with powerful Russian military support.

The NATO powers stood back and allowed this to continue (while they themselves fought their own wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan) for the same reason that they acquiesced in Putin’s actions against Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine: because for all their disavowals of “spheres of influence”, they were content that Russia should act as a gendarme for international capital in certain geographical areas. As indeed they were content to see Russian troops intervene against the Belarussian uprising in 2020, and in Kazakhstan in 2022.

You write: “this catastrophic war of aggression was also preceded by imperialist acts of aggression on the part of the West, which provoked in Putin’s Russia a geostrategic logic common to all imperialist power elites”. Sure! The Russian empire, with its rich history of suppression of its colonies and its own people, needed to be provoked by the western powers, in order to make war on the oldest of those colonies. Just like the British ever needed provoking, before making war on Ireland. (I hope my sarcasm comes through OK in a written text.)

Your policy proposals reflect your skewed view that this is a war between two equal sides. You make serious points, and I hope they are discussed. But first we have to be clear. Is this monstrous war of aggression really between two equal sides? Only one side is shelling and terrorising civilians, and arresting and murdering those who defy its occupying forces. (Remember Putin’s declaration on the first day? “We don’t intend to occupy”? Tell them that in Mariupol.)

Do you really believe this is an inter-imperialist conflict, with no element of a people’s war? Why else did you neglect to mention those thousands of Ukrainians fighting outside the state framework to defend their own communities, with arms in hand or in other ways? Because they didn’t fit your preconceived interpretation?

I write with anger because I have had such great respect for some of the signatories of the manifesto, and the contribution they have made to the development of socialist thinking. In the 1990s – when studying both the Russian revolution and modern-day Russia showed me that Trotskyism, the framework I had accepted before then, was wanting – autonomism was one of the trends that I began to study and learn from. Including what some of you have written.

Your statement looks as though you decided the conclusion – that this is fundamentally an inter-imperialist conflict, and nothing more – and worked back from there to interpret the facts. Comrades, that’s the wrong way round. The younger generation deserves better, from all of us.

In solidarity,

Simon Pirani. (21 March 2022.)

PS. I have written about my own view here, if it’s of interest.

Source: People and Nature, 21 March 2022. Reprinted here with the author’s permission. ||| TRR

Eleven Silent Men

Speech balloon: “The children of officials won’t be going to the front. No war!” Movie poster: “An Alexei Pimanov film. Eleven Silent Men. In theaters from February 17.”

Revalternativa
Facebook
February 14, 2022

We have received a message from an anonymous activist group and are posting it to declare our support.

This is not the time to be discouraged! No one but us will save the world!

On the eve of a major war, Russia looks disconcertingly unanimous. Although the majority of the population has a negative attitude to war with Ukraine, their opinion is not represented at all in the media or the national conservation.

The media is completely controlled by the state. There is no force yet to organize rallies. High-profile opposition figures are either in prison or have left the country. Individual protest is also virtually banned — solo picketers are sent to jail and sentenced to absurdly huge fines. In the media, reports of arrests overshadow the meaning of the protest actions themselves, while on social media, information is distributed only among people who are already politicized. The police are hunting down all the more or less well-known opposition activists and preemptively throwing them in jail.

But the situation can be changed. It is easy to imagine Russian cities covered with anti-war agitation. In such circumstances, there would be no talk of the unanimity of the regime and the people in the face of war. People who came out to protest brandishing creative posters a year ago may well not want to stand holding them and wait to get arrested, but they could paste a dozen such posters on fences, walls, window niches, billboards, and the reverse side of road signs. Graffiti, stencils, leaflets in mailboxes and on shopping mall stands, business cards in elevators — we are limited only by our imaginations.

We are not talking about one-off heroic actions, or large formats, although large formats would do, but about daily, slightly routine, thoughtful, and maximally safe work to change the urban environment here and now.

The target of this activity would be the still passive 50% of society — the lower strata of the working class, pensioners, and apolitical youth who do not read opposition bloggers, and who until now have had things other than politics to worry about. It is these segments of the populace that war, a collapse of the ruble, and a rise in prices would hit first and foremost, and it is these people who need to be shown that people opposed to war do exist.

The authorities will certainly put street cleaners to work [tearing down the anti-war posters], but as the snowfalls have shown, the resources of the municipal services are very limited. By engaging reliable friends who will watch our backs when we are putting up posters, we can become an anti-war snowfall ourselves. This snow will trigger a political spring!

The authorities will beef up foot patrols and continue preventive arrests, but the more people take part in the snowfall, the safer it will be for the rest. However, we shouldn’t forget about cameras, hoods, and PPE either.

Don’t be scared, get organized! Think globally, act locally! Don’t wait for leaders, be leaders! Let’s meet on the streets!

#NoWar! #HandsOffUkraine!

You can find more illustrations of this street anti-war agitprop at the original Facebook post. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ukraine: “Condemn Russia’s Imperialist Threat”

Ukraine: ‘condemn Russia’s imperialist threat’ • People and Nature • 24 January 2022

Ukrainian socialists are urging international unity against the Russian government’s imperialist policies that threaten a new war.

The Social Movement, a group of mainly labour activists in Ukraine, calls in a statement for “solidarity with people who have suffered from the war that has lasted almost eight years, and who may suffer from a new one”.

The statement expresses “gratitude and solidarity to Russian left-wing activists who oppose the imperialist policies of the Kremlin and are fighting for democratic and social transformations in their country”.

“Our house was stolen by war”: one of Ukraine’s 1.5 million internally displaced people. Photo from commons.com.ua

The Social Movement denounces the “myth, popular among some Western leftists”, that the Russian-supported “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk are “the result of popular will”. Their statement says:

The heads of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” are integrated into the ranks of the ruling elite of the Russian Federation and have become the mouthpiece of the Kremlin’s most aggressive predatory sentiments. In the “republics” themselves, any opposition political activity, even the most loyal to the Russian government, is suppressed.

In my view, this statement would be a good place to start discussion about how to build solidarity in the face of war, with working-class communities in Ukraine, and with labour and social movements there. So would the principled statement of opposition to Putin’s war drive by the Russian Socialist Movement, which I posted just before the new year.

The (Ukrainian) Social Movement statement concludes with a call for “complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Donbas”. It says that “one of the best means of pressure on the leaders of the Russian Federation would be the seizure of the property and assets of Russian oligarchs and officials in London and other places”.

It calls for “revision of the socio-economic course proposed to Ukraine by the West: instead of destructive neoliberal reforms under the pressure of the IMF – the cancellation of Ukraine’s external debt”. And it urges “more inclusive and progressive humanitarian policies in Ukraine, ending impunity for the Ukrainian far right, and abolition of the ‘de-communisation’ laws”.

One thing many Ukrainians find grotesque is the sight of their country’s fate being discussed by the US and Russia, as though the Ukrainian state did not exist. This is the focus of an article, “Moscow and Washington should not determine Ukraine’s future”, by socialist activist Taras Bilous.

Bilous’s earlier analysis of the breakdown of the Minsk accords is also worth reading.

So is a facebook post written on 20 January by Marko Bojcun, the socialist historian of Ukraine, which I reproduce here with his permission:

Though Putin, the artful player, has several options in his hand, his ultimate objective has been to get the US to join an expanded Normandy format and the Minsk negotiations, and there to help force Ukraine to accept further limitations to its state sovereignty. Basically, that means Kyiv would accept the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” as internationally recognised autonomous state institutions within Ukraine, but in reality bodies that continue to be run by Russian state ministries – as they already are in a concealed manner. Russia would use them to lever Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policies.

Putin recognises that he can achieve his main goal only with US endorsement. He needs the US to join him in twisting the arms of the stubborn Ukrainians. That has been the point of all these Russian troop movements to Ukraine’s current borders: to get the Americans to weigh in, to keep Ukraine out of any direct talks and to conclude a deal over their heads.

Ukraine is critical to Russia’s long term project of economic, military and diplomatic recovery, its resumption as a Great Power. That means Russia will not stop its drive until it achieves much more. The present conjuncture resembles in some way another historical moment, in 1938, when Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, met Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Nazi Germany’s foreign minister, over the Czechoslovak crisis. Chamberlain came out of that meeting, waved a scrap of paper in his hand and declared peace in their time. I wonder what US foreign secretary Anthony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will have to say after their meeting tomorrow?

The answer to that last question turned out to be: nothing much. Blinken offered Lavrov the carrot of a meeting between the US and Russian presidents, something Putin has long craved in his efforts to claim Russia’s “great power” status.

For a substantial analysis from a Marxist standpoint, Bojcun’s 2016 article on “The causes of the Ukrainian crisis” is essential reading.

More things to read in English

Friends are asking where they can find alternative, radical analyses, and views, of the war danger in English. Here are some more suggestions.

□ The Russian sociologist Greg Yudin’s view of “why Putin’s Russia is threatening Ukraine” is on Open Democracy Russia, which features a range of alternative viewpoints from across the former Soviet Union.

□ A recent comment article by the journalist James Meek is on the London Review of Books web site, on open access. Meek and Paul Mason are among the panelists appearing at an event organised by the Ukrainian Institute in London about the war danger, on Wednesday 16 February. (The Institute, run in the distant past by cold-warrior right wingers, is now managed by liberal, post-Soviet Ukrainians. Its educational and informational events are well worth looking out for.)

□ The London-based, official-labour-movement-focused Ukraine Solidarity Campaign regularly publishes information.

□ The biggest gap in English-language coverage is about what is going on in eastern Ukraine. I have occasionally translated and published stuff on this blog (see e.g. a recent post here, and, from further back, herehere and here).

□ The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group web site has excellent, and accurate, coverage of an appalling range of repressive state and military activities – see, e.g., their tags on Crimea and “terrorism” (which includes those “people’s republics”), but note, too, their more general reporting on human rights abuses in Ukraine and Russia.

□ It is a job of work to counter the stream of deceit and misinformation from Putin-ists in the UK labour movement. I summed up the arguments in a recent blog post here. I even wrote to the Morning Star, about one of its more grotesque lies – that “hundreds of trade union leaders” were killed by the post-2014 Ukrainian government. Accuracy about dead bodies is not their big thing, it seems. My letter is reproduced below. SP, 24 January 2022.

False reporting of “hundreds” of trades unionists’ deaths

I I sent this letter to the Morning Star newspaper, which claims its favours “peace and socialism”. It was published, in the print & pdf edition only, on 17 January

Dear Editor,

In the article “Opinion: US and NATO play with fire in their latest anti-Russia campaign”, 9 December, John Wojcik stated: “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government shortly after it came to power [in 2014].”

This is incorrect. The two major Ukrainian union federations reported no such deaths of union leaders. Nor did the detailed reports by the UN High Commission for Human Rights on civil rights in Ukraine. Some activists were killed in this period, during numerous civil disturbances, but there is no evidence that the government was responsible. (Many people were killed, by Ukrainian, Russian and separatist forces, in the military conflict that began in the summer of 2014. This is not what Wojcik is referring to.)

Many of your readers will have mourned the death of friends and comrades killed for their trade union activity. It would be disrespectful to them to leave uncorrected the statement that hundreds of union leaders were killed.

The article also states that the new Ukrainian government “banned the use of the Russian language”. This is incorrect. A law making Ukrainian the single state language was adopted in 2019. It requires Ukrainian to be used – but not exclusively, i.e. it can be used together with other languages – in certain public spaces. It will be applied to educational institutions and the media, but not to private or religious life. Many Ukrainian socialists are opposed to it. But exaggerating its effect can only help to exacerbate differences between working people on grounds of nationality and language, that historically the labour movement has endeavoured to overcome.

Simon Pirani, London. 

Correction. This article has been corrected on 4 February, to reflect the fact that this letter was published in the Morning Star’s print & pdf editions. It was not published in the on-line edition.

Voices in the Wilderness

Timothy Ash: “Nord Stream 2 is about undermining Ukraine.” The most cogent analyst of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is hiding out at a place called Bluebay Asset Management. Watch this six-minute clip if you want to know why Putin is likely to invade Ukraine. Thanks to the indomitable Mark Teeter for the heads-up.

Meanwhile, in the total absence of an anti-war movement in Russia, I share these recent reflections from two past contributors to this website.

George Losev: “On the eve of a big war, I want to remind you that not only the politicians and capitalists are responsible for it, but also the leftists who since 2014 have denied the Russian Federation’s role, flapped their tongues about the ‘conflict between East and West,’ ‘civil war’ in Ukraine, the right to self-determination of the ‘republics,’ and the ‘workers’ uprising against fascism,’ tolerated [the Ukrainian leftist organization] Borotba, and so on. It effectively prevented the left from making a stand against the Russian Federation’s imperialist aggression. I wish those who did it for money would croak. I hope that those who heeded the leftist VIPs are tormented by their conscience for the rest of their lives.”

Sergey Abashin: “With its military preparations, the Kremlin is leading (or has already led) Russia to a real disaster, a moral disaster above all. They say that he will not start another, even larger-scale escalation of the war he unleashed in ’14, that he’s just showing off, engaging in scaremongering. Maybe. Although who could guarantee it? But even the very policy of military blackmail, the very idea, inspired by total propaganda, that they (and all of us, willingly or unwillingly) are ready for such an escalation, that is, for the murder of even more people, is completely morally destructive for society. The very idea of such actions seems to be quite real, even if it does not come to new and even larger-scale battles now. (Although who would guarantee it?) Declared the norm, made its permanent policy by the current Kremlin, war has become a real obsession. It is already real war: war in our minds, murder in our heads. This in itself is a disaster.”

Photo and translations by the Russian Reader

Putin’s Little Helpers

Putin’s little helpers undermine solidarity • People and Nature • December 29, 2021

We know what solidarity in the face of war looks like. It looks like the Grupa Granica, set up to support those stranded on the Polish border by the government’s vicious anti-migrant policy and the Belarusian government’s cynical manipulation of refugees.

It looks like the thousands of Polish people who have demonstrated, demanding “stop the torture at the border”. And it looks like the solidarity networks set up further afield (including the Solidarity Without Borders appeal for cash to support groups on the spot).

To those supporting refugees – whether in Poland or Belarus, or in the English Channel, targeted by the UK government’s murderous crackdown – it makes no difference which war people are fleeing. It might be the US-UK-supported war in Iraq, or the bloodbath perpetrated in Syria by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Now, we face the possibility of renewed Russian military action in Ukraine. This carries the greatest threat of war in Europe since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

Demonstration in Warsaw, October 2021, to “stop torture on the border”. Photo by Slawomir Kaminski / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

The war in eastern Ukraine in 2014-15 has already caused 2 million or more people to flee their homes: more than 1 million now counted as “internally displaced” in Ukraine; at least as many have crossed the border to Russia. A new conflict would be both a human tragedy and a threat to social movements.

Solidarity is needed. An anti-war movement is needed.

Already, pro-Putin propaganda – that corrodes parts of the so-called “left”, as well as thriving on the extreme right – is being dialled up. It seeks to justify Russia’s military preparations. And it could endanger efforts to galvanise anti-war protest.

Putin’s little helpers on the “left” generally have a world view inherited from Stalinism: they believe that authoritarian regimes that spout anti-American rhetoric (Russia, China or both) are to be praised; the imperial character of these regimes’ actions is ignored; and these regimes, rather than popular movements, are seen as the means to resist western powers.  

Four of the fairytales told by Putin’s helpers, on the Stop the War website and the Morning Star newspaper, are:

Fairytale no. 1: NATO started it

Andrew Murray, writing on the Stop the War website, claims that “if there is conflict over Ukraine, it is the west that bears most of the blame”. But it’s not “if”. There has been a conflict going on for more than six years, which has taken more than 14,000 lives.

The forces involved are the Ukrainian army, the vastly better-resourced Russian army, and separatists and mercenaries supported by, and to a large extent funded and armed by, the Russian state. The western powers have been noticeable by their absence.

Murray says the 100,000 Russian troops stationed on the Ukrainian border are “allegations” and “media speculation”. John Wojcik in the Morning Star says they are there “if corporate press outlets are to be believed”. In the real world where the rest of us live, the Russian forces actually exist (see satellite pictures here and here).

Murray claims that the NATO military alliance is “trying to seize Ukraine by means of moving NATO right up to Russia’s borders”, that the US is “arming Ukraine to the hilt to resist” and that “British troops are stationed in the Balkans”. The journalist and commentator Paul Mason has demolished these claims point by point. He writes:

There is, in short, no NATO plan to “seize” Ukraine; no possibility of Ukraine joining NATO; no “arming to the hilt”; no significant number of British troops in the Balkans; no major deployment of NATO troops “eastwards towards Poland”.

The US military support for Ukraine so far amounts to Javelin anti-tank missile systems, and small arms and a group of training officers. It remains dwarfed by the Russian mobilisation.

The danger of war is real. But to deny the central role of the Russian military is to deny reality.  

Putin’s helpers have form on this. During the civil war in Syria, the Stop the War campaign and their friends had little or nothing to say about the murderous Assad regime and the Russian government that armed and militarily supported it – despite the fact that they were responsible for an estimated 90% of the killings.

While the regime preferred to butcher and torture its own citizens, rather than to grant them a measure of democratic rights, Putin’s helpers spoke up only about minor incursions by western forces … the “anti-imperialism of idiots”, as Syrian-British writer Leila al-Shami called it.

As for Ukraine, the Stop the War campaign did nothing to support the victims of the 2014-15  conflict, but nevertheless hurried to the defence of the Russian “leftist” Boris Kagarlitsky, who joined fascists and nationalists in supporting the Russian intervention.  

Putin’s helpers are everywhere, including the Moscow Carnegie Center. Screen shot by the Russian Reader

Fairytale no. 2: Ukraine is fascist, really

There was a “fascist coup” in Ukraine in 2014, writes John Wojcik in the Morning Star (in an article republished from the US-based People’s World, of which Wojcik is editor). “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government shortly after it came to power.” He also claims that the new government “banned opposition political parties, including the widely supported Communist party”. And it “banned the use of the Russian language, the primary language of 40% or more of the Ukrainian people”. Let’s go through the bits of this fairytale one by one.

(a) A “fascist coup”. The overthrow of the government headed by president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 was, by any measure, a mass popular action. A crowd of more than half a million people occupied the centre of Kyiv for more than two weeks, in the face of assaults ranging from baton charges to sniper fire, making it impossible for the government to continue. There were mass actions on a similar scale in dozens of other towns and cities. The politics of this “Maidan” protest were complex. Participants ranged from fascists, who played a key part in the violent confrontations with the old regime’s armed forces, to socialists and anarchists. But the word “coup” is meaningless to describe it. As for the new government, while its record on defending democratic rights was mixed to put it mildly, it was no more “fascist” than the governments of e.g. Poland or Hungary. And, in terms of the rights to assembly, free speech and workplace organisation, less repressive than the governments of e.g. Turkey or Russia. 

(b) “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government.” This is false – shockingly so. No such murders took place. No such murders have been recorded on the web sites of Ukraine’s two trade union federations. None have been mentioned in the detailed reports of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights on attacks on civil rights in Ukraine. Demonstrators were killed in clashes with the security forces, but this was mostly before Yanukovych was overthrown. Activists and journalists have been attacked, and some killed, apparently by non-state actors, albeit sometimes with covert support from elements in the state. In 2014, prior to the military conflict, there were other deaths and injuries resulting from civil conflict. The most serious incident, by far, was the deaths of demonstrators opposed to the new government who, confronted by its supporters, took refuge in a trade union building in Odessa that was then set on fire. Ukrainian law enforcement did little to investigate. Tragic as these deaths were, they were not murders of trade union leaders or activists by the government.

(c) The government “banned opposition political parties”, including the Communist party. It didn’t. The electoral commission banned the Communist party from participation in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections, under the 2015 “decommunisation” law. This law, which forbids the promotion of “totalitarian regimes”, defined as Nazi and Communist, and their symbols, has been and is being used to attack democratic rights. Together with similar laws in other eastern European countries, it deserves to be denounced and resisted. But note, too, that the Communist party continues to operate legally; that it has mounted legal challenges to the ban; that no other party has been banned from electoral participation under the law; and that the government and the electoral rights group OPORA are currently in dispute over the extent of proportional representation – an election procedure that in the UK, for example, remains an unattainable dream.

(d) The government “banned the use of the Russian language”. It didn’t – and it’s irresponsible and inflammatory to sit in an editorial office in the US claiming it did. A law making Ukrainian the single state language was adopted in 2019 – the culmination of three decades of argument, shaped both by by aspirations to revive Ukrainian culture that has suffered historically from Russian imperial domination, and by hard-line Ukrainian nationalism. Ukrainian socialists opposed the measure (and I sympathise with them). Remember, though, that the law requires that Ukrainian be used in public spaces, and not exclusively; that it does not apply to private or religious life; that it will be applied in the education system, and to TV, over an extended period; and that breaching the law is essentially a civil, not criminal offence. (See reports by Russia’s state owned TASS news agency here, and Russia’s opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta here.)

Another of Putin’s helpers’ favourite tricks is to portray Ukraine as protective of the memory of wartime Nazi collaborators. With no reference to the real, complex battles over memory (see e.g. here and here), they point to Ukraine’s opposition to a Russian resolution on the holocaust at the UN, in a ridiculous diplomatic ritual repeated annually since 2005 (see here and here). This is a facile attitude to a serious subject. Putin’s helpers seem blind to the reality that it is the security forces in Russia, not Ukraine, that have recently tortured and jailed a group of young anti-fascists.

Fairytale no. 3: Ukraine is part of Russia, really

Putin’s helpers insist that Ukraine is not really a country with a history. The Stop the War site says that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 “turned what had been internal borders, arbitrarily drawn with no great significance, into inter-state boundaries”; Ukraine has “failed to develop anything like a common democratic culture”; therefore what is now “decisive” is the “international aspect” and the actions of the western powers; and what mattered about 2014 was that the government established in Kyiv was “anti-Russian”.

Both Stop the War and the Morning Star quote Putin’s article On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, published in July. It heightened fears in Ukraine of imminent invasion, with insanely exaggerated warnings of a path towards “an ethnically pure Ukrainian state”, that would be comparable to “the use of weapons of mass destruction against us”. (Putin followed up earlier this month, with a deranged claim that “current developments in Donbass” are “very reminiscent of genocide”.)

In his article, Putin explains the tsarist empire’s anti-Ukrainian legislation of the 1870s on the grounds that the Polish nationalist revolt was in progress; argues that Ukrainian nationhood was an invention of the Poles and/or Austro-Hungarians; and describes the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, by which Poland and the Baltic states were divided between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, with the words “the USSR regained the lands earlier seized by Poland”. He never once refers to Russian imperialism and colonialism, and the role they have played in shaping, and trying to deny, Ukrainian national identity.

That Putin justifies his imperial aspirations with reference to Russia’s imperialist past is not surprising. For western “leftists” to endorse this logic suggests that the “left” has sunk to a new low.

Fairytale no. 4: Putin is protecting Russia’s riches from imperialist looters

“Possible western aggression against Russia” is caused, in part, by “the desire of the fossil fuel monopolies to control the world energy market”, the Morning Star claims. These western interests seek to “turn Ukraine into a base”, in order to “achieve economic control of Russia”. This is unbelievably upside-down and back-to-front.

The Russian economy was subordinated to world markets, as a supplier of raw materials such as oil, gas and minerals, in a process that took two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In the first decade of Putin’s presidency, especially, large chunks of the wealth earned from these exports found its way into private hands and was shipped to offshore locations, at the rate of tens of billions of dollars per year.

Although Putin insisted that the private owners of oil and metals companies pay more taxes than they did in the 1990s, and some oil assets have been renationalised (the state owns an estimated 50% of the oil industry now), investigations by journalists and the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny have shown conclusively that his governing team put far, far more effort into diverting many billions in to their own accounts. Russian oil companies remain open to foreign investment; the largest of them, Rosneft, is 22% owned by BP.

So Russia’s economy has been integrated into the world capitalist economy in a way that serves its elite, not its people. Material inequalities have widened substantially under Putin.

Since 2014, a giant contradiction has opened up for the Russian government. The elite’s economic interests would be best served by developing these good relations with foreign capital. But its political interests required it to stoke up nationalism, to seek to reinforce its diplomatic and military control over its near neighbours that have slipped from its imperial grasp, Ukraine first among them. The war fought by Russia in Ukraine in 2014-15 was driven by these politics, not by economic interests. It, and western sanctions that resulted, damaged those interests.

The western powers already have most of what they want from the Russian economy. The idea that they are plotting military action to control it is, frankly, daft. There’s no doubt that the US hopes to constrain Russia’s geopolitical and military reach in central Europe – although the western alliance is split, and Germany is generally readier to compromise with Russia. But there is another factor here: the popular movement that removed Yanukovich and drastically weakened Russia’s political control over Ukraine, rooted in a history of colonialism. Putin is not only trying to reassert Russian influence against a divided NATO, but is also reacting to those changes in Ukrainian society. And it is Ukrainians who are being killed, and Ukrainian communities divided and devastated, by war.

In conclusion

The arguments put by Putin’s helpers are so absurd that I find it hard to explain them to Russian and Ukrainian friends. In 2015, a Ukrainian friend living in the UK asked: “What is it with these people? Are they being paid by the Russian embassy?” I answered that I was sure they are not. They justify Putin’s actions on account of their messed-up ideology, which on some level they must believe. That’s why, although it’s a bit like explaining why the earth isn’t flat, I offer readers these thoughts. SP, 29 December 2021.

Thanks to Simon Pirani for permission to reprint his essay here. ||| TRR

La algarabía 

WORD OF THE DAY
la algarabía (ahl-gah-rah-BEE-ah)
noun
racket
Cerré la ventana para no escuchar la algarabía de los manifestantes que estaban afuera.

I closed the windows so as not to hear the racket of the protesters outside.

Source: “Word of the Day,” 29 December 2021, spanishdict.com

Yigal Levin • Facebook • December 24, 2021

Do Russians want war?

A picket in Russia against war with Ukraine was so tiny that I didn’t even notice it in the stream of incoming news. And it happened something like a week ago. Six (6) activists were involved in the protest. They unfurled posters calling on the Kremlin to stop the war against Ukraine and waved the Ukrainian and Russian flags.

This was how it was reported on the Voice of America website:

“The participants of the anti-war rally said that most passersby did not support the picket. Some spat at the picketers, while others made the cuckoo sign and called the picketers insulting or abusive names. Kirov residents, mostly people of the older generation, urged that ‘Ukraine be wiped off the face of the earth,’ and told the protesters ‘not to disgrace themselves.'”

Basically, it’s all quite clear and expected. Just remember a few things. First, when they tell you that Russians don’t want war with Ukraine, they are lying to you. Let me remind you that silence = consent. Secondly, when you are accused of Russophobia, spit in the face of the person who accuses you.

But the six people who attended this protest rally are heroes. I say that without the slightest trace of irony.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“No to war! No to Putin” “Hands off Ukraine!” Photo of anti-war rally in Kirov courtesy of Yigal Levin

On 4 December, the Associated Press, citing information from the US intelligence services, reported that Russia was preparing to put 175,000 troops near the Ukrainian border. “[Deploying] Russian armed forces on Russian territory – that’s the legal right of a sovereign state”, responded Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, without denying the build-up of forces on the border.

Along with the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, these actions are an episode in the cynical and dangerous geopolitical game of Russian and the west, in which millions of working people in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other countries are being held hostage. This sabre-rattling is not only an attempt to push other states into retreat. Behind it also stands the aspirations of the elite to “rally the nation” once again around the Putin regime, as it did in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea.

The so-called “hybrid war with the west” is needed to distract the population’s attention from the poverty, inequality, political repression, falsification of elections and the collapse of the fight with the coronavirus. This “hybrid war” serves as a justification for round after round of attacks on the rights and freedoms of Russians, for the continuation of a social and economic policy directed against the majority of people – and for power becoming un-removable.

Militarism and nationalism are lethally dangerous drugs that are being injected into Russian society and, at the same time, are poisoning the consciousness of the ruling clique, which is becoming more and more removed from reality.

The loss of social support, the absence of any vision of the future and the determination to stay in charge by any means have pushed Russia’s rulers towards this terrible step: an attempt to cut the Gordian knot of their problems by dragging Russia into a major war.

In this situation it is essential that the progressive forces in Russian society, including the left, are united in opposition to war. Whatever our attitude to the political situation in Ukraine, or to the policy of the USA or the EU in the region, another military adventure will lead to nothing but a humanitarian catastrophe and the reinforcement of authoritarianism on both sides of the border.

We must not allow a repeat of 2014, when a section of the Russian opposition, gripped by illusions in the supposedly progressive character of the so-called “Russian spring”, in practice supported the Kremlin and its imperial expansion.

It must be axiomatic that a regime of record-breaking social inequality, of lies, repression and obscurantism, can not bring “freedom” to anyone, including the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine.

Source: Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) • Facebook • December 7, 2021 • Translated by Simon Pirani and published on People and Nature on December 29, 2021


Yigal Levin • Facebook • December 29, 2021

Solo pickets by Russians against the Russian government’s aggression in Ukraine. December 12, 15, 22, 27 and 28, Moscow. My deepest gratitude to these brave people. [There are several more photos at the link — TRR.]
 
“No to war! Money for the treatment and education of children, not for murder weapons.”

11/11

 

“Killer icicles” on the rooftop of a building in downtown Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

11 November 2021

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office has petitioned the Russian Supreme Court to “liquidate” the venerated human rights, educational and charitable organization Memorial, reports the BBC’s Russian Service.

A snowy street in downtown Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

200 Years Ago

On this day in 1821, Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow into the family of an army doctor who worked at a hospital for the poor. After finishing school in Moscow, Dostoevsky joined the army and studied engineering in St. Petersburg, where he was captivated — or perhaps invented — the city’s dark allure. He published his first novel, “Poor Folk,” in 1845. Four years later he was arrested for being in a literary club that discussed banned books critical of the authorities; he was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted just moments before he was to be shot. He spent four years in a prison camp and another six years of compulsory military service.

A snow-covered Alexander Pushkin on Pushkinskaya Street in Petersburg, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

1 Year Ago

The US correspondent of a newfangled “leftist” Russian website, writing one year ago:

“If you believe the mass American media, former Vice President Joe Biden won the US presidential election. If you believe the camp of the current president Donald Trump and American Marxists (a bizarre interweaving), it was not without machinations. I personally have no confidence in any of the candidates, much less in their parties, or in the American electoral system as a whole.”

 

Corner of Bolshaya Podyacheskaya Street and Nikolsky Lane at the Fontanka River in Petersburg, with a view of the Trinity Cathedral of the Izmailovо Life Guards Regiment in the background, 11 November 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

11 November 2021

Officials Decide to Send Network Case Convict Viktor Filinkov to Single-Cell Room, Then to Punitive Detention
Mediazona
November 11, 2021

Prison officials have decided to send Viktor Filinkov, convicted in the [Network] case, who was sent to Orenburg Correctional Colony No. 1 in August, to a single-cell room for a month, and then to a punitive detention cell for ten days. His public defender Evgenia Kulakova reported this turn of events to Mediazona.

According to Kulakova, yesterday the prison’s disciplinary commission decided to send Filinkov to a single-cell room [abbreviated EPKT in Russian, this is a prison within a prison for the most “unruly” or “dangerous” inmates] because of razor blades that, as the prisoner noted, had been planted [in his cell] by Federal Penitentiary Service officers on his birthday. The second penalty was imposed on the young man for “inter-cell communication.”

Filinkov was delivered to Orenburg Correctional Colony No. 1 in August after 45 days in transport. Since then, he has spent only three days in the general population. He has spent the rest of the time in a punitive isolation cell or strict conditions of detention.

On October 6, Filinkov received a month-long reprimand for his [alleged] refusal to sweep the exercise yard in the colony and transferred to a single-cell room. He was also put on a watch list as someone “prone to systematic violation of internal regulations.” Kulakova also said that on October 30, Political Prisoners Day, he went on a hunger strike.

Filinkov demanded freedom for all political prisoners and that he be moved from solitary confinement. A few days later he added a new demand — that books, newspapers and writing materials be brought to his cell. He ended his hunger strike on November 9.

In 2020, the Second Western District Military Court, sitting in St. Petersburg, sentenced Filinkov to seven years in a penal colony in the Network case. He was found guilty of involvement in a terrorist community (punishable under Article 204.5.2 of the Criminal Code). Filinkov was the first of the young men charged in the case to report that he had been tortured by the security forces.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The October Counter-Revolution

Yes, I know that Boris Kagarlitsky is completely beyond the pale after his vigorous defense of the Kremlin’s misadventures in Ukraine. But as my friend Vlad Tupikin has reminded me, solidarity is not about supporting our close friends and people whose views are identical to our own. And things in Russia are so out of control right now that even Kagarlitsky deserves solidarity and support. Photo courtesy of The Nation. ||| TRR

Volja. Telegram. 1 October 2021

We usually do not repost entire texts by third-party authors produced for other platforms and other channels. But now a new time has arrived, a time for solidarity, so such content will naturally appear here.

We begin with a text by the political scientist Boris Kagarlitsky, who was sentenced yesterday to ten days in jail posting on social media about the protests by [Valery] Rashkin and the Communist Party.

So, we yield the floor to Kagarlitsky. This was the last text he published before his arrest.

Kagarlitsky Letters. Telegram. 29 September 2021

The actions of the Russian authorities in the wake of the elections appear, at first glance, clearly excessive vis-a-vis the political circumstances. In fact, almost everyone who was promised a seat was elected to the State Duma, and the opposition was routed, and even the internet is largely under control, but for some reason they still have been carrying out lawless raids on Communist Party lawyers, chasing down individual activists, expanding the lists of “undesirable organizations,” and opening new criminal cases against those who are already in prison or have fled abroad. They are behaving as if everything is about to collapse. Why? What is the source of their hysteria?

Without reliable information about what is happening inside the Kremlin, we can only draw some conclusions based on history and psychology. It seems that the reason for the regime’s nervousness is the regime itself, its own internal and insoluble contradictions.

Political scientists have been contemplating the prospects of Putin’s so-called transit for more than a year. Will Putin appoint an heir? Who will it be? The ruler’s health clearly leaves much to be desired, and the question of how long he will be able to exercise his powers is probably a matter of concern not only for pundits. Naturally, preparations for the transit have begun, and Putin himself must be involved in them in one way or another. But even if the president promises his entourage that he will take care of the future, he knows for certain that as soon as a successor is named, the current ruler’s [sic] grip on power will be shaken. Therefore, the transit will be readied, but it will not take place. As long as Putin is alive, he will not permit any final decisions to be made. If something happens to him, it will be too late to make decisions, and the process will develop spontaneously and catastrophically.

It is no surprise that this state of affairs has generated the most severe neurosis among people in and around the Kremlin. The transit has begun, but it does not end. Vital decisions are discussed and readied, but not made. The cruelest intrigues and conspiracies are hatched within the ruler’s entourage, but nothing comes of them. Threatening, unbearable uncertainty becomes an all-consuming element that ravages the mind. Everyone is afraid of everyone else; no one trusts anyone. Exactly as Freud would have it, fears and complexes are displaced. The form of this displacement is a crackdown against members of the opposition or those who have been labeled members of the opposition.

Irrational actions generate unforeseen, but absolutely predictable consequences. Loyal functionaries from the leadership of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) are being pushed into the radical opposition’s vacated niche, which is just as psychologically and emotionally unbearable for them as the endless transit, going nowhere, is for government officials. Maxim Kalashnikov has compared this to a situation in which a very weak radio receives a signal too strong for it, which totally fries its circuits. I think this analogy describes quite accurately what has been happening among Communist Party executives and staffers.

Political rationality requires the Kremlin to stop escalating the crackdown, take a breath and at least weigh the consequences of its decisions. But this will not happen, because the rationale for the regime’s behavior has nothing to do with managing the political process. It is no longer political scientists, but psychiatrists who should analyze the actions of the ruling circles.

Translated by the Russian Reader

_____________

A court in Moscow has sentenced Marxist theoretician and sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky to 10 days in jail for sharing content on social media promoting unpermitted protests by the Communist Party (KPRF) against the results of Russia’s recent parliamentary elections. Police arrested Kagarlitsky on Wednesday on his way to the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, where he is a lecturer.

Boris Kagarlitsky is also the director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, which Russia’s Justice Ministry designated as a “foreign agent” in 2018.

KPRF has refused to recognize the official results of electronic voting in Moscow, where online ballots propelled several candidates backed by the Mayor’s Office to victories over oppositionists. The Communist Party staged small protests on September 20 and 25, prompting a sweeping police crackdown in the days that followed.

Source: Meduza, 30 September 2021

Kronstadt as Revolutionary Utopia: 1921-2021 and Beyond

Kronstadt as Revolutionary Utopia: 1921-2021 and Beyond

March 20-21, 2021

Conference to be streamed on Twitch, including discussion/questions and answers

Saturday, March 20, 2021
1) Welcome and opening event – 9:30am Pacific/12:30am Eastern/4:30pm GMT/7:30pm Moscow

2) Historians’ panel – 10:00am Pacific/1:00pm Eastern/5:00pm GMT/8:00pm Moscow

  • Konstantin Tarasov, “Kronstadt self-government in 1917”
  • Simon Pirani, “Kronstadt and the workers’ movements in Moscow and Petrograd, 1921”
  • Dmitriy Ivanov, “Kronstadt 1921 uprising, political identities, and information flows”
  • Alexei Gusev, “Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 as a part of the Great Russian Revolution”

Lara Green moderating

3) Panel: “Disinformation and Counter-Revolution, 1921-2021” – 11:30am Pacific/2:30pm Eastern/6:30pm GMT/9:30pm Moscow

  • Ramah Kudaimi, “The People Want: Syria’s Uprising”
  • Lara el-Kateb, “Disinformation in the age of social media: The case for the Syrian revolution”
  • Omar Sabbour, “On the continuities between imperialism and vacuous anti-imperialism”
  • Javier Sethness, “Marx/Plekhanov vs. Bakunin; from Kronstadt to Neo-Stalinism”

Shon Meckfessel moderating

4) Film screening: The Russian Revolution in Color (2005) – 1:00pm Pacific/4:00pm Eastern/8:00pm GMT/11:00pm Moscow

Sunday, March 21
1) Welcome and opening event: recap of day 1, and agenda for day 2 – 9:30am Pacific/4:30pm GMT/7:30pm Moscow

2) Panel: “The After-Lives of Kronstadt” – 9:45am Pacific/12:45pm Eastern/4:45pm GMT/7:45pm Moscow

  • Mike Harris, “In the Spirit of Kronstadt”
  • Danny Evans, “A Spanish Kronstadt? The Barcelona May Days of 1937”
  • George Katsiaficas, “Enduring Problems of Communist Parties’ Suppression of Popular Movements”
  • Dmitriy Buchenkow, “The problem of power in the anarchist worldview”

Laurence Davis moderating; Irina Sisseikina interpreting

6) Film screening: Maggots and Men (2013) – 11:30am Pacific/2:30pm Eastern/6:30pm GMT/9:30pm Moscow

  • Q&A with Cary Cronenwett, Ilona Berger, and Zeph Fishlyn afterward

7) Kronstadt 1921 and the Social Crises of 2021 – 1:00pm Pacific/4:00pm Eastern/8:00pm GMT/11:00pm Moscow

  • Lynne Thorndycraft, “Kronstadt: Why It Matters”
  • Tom Wetzel, “Worker Congresses as a Form of Working Class Political Power”
  • Bill Weinberg, “Syria: Lessons from Kronstadt 1921”

Javier Sethness moderating

8) Closing event with words from cosponsors – 2:30pm Pacific/5:30pm Eastern/9:30pm GMT/12:30am Moscow