Olga Jitlina: “If you really want to protect us…”

Olga Jitlina
Facebook
May 14, 2021

Friends, if you really want to protect us, put pressure on the governments of your countries to immediately stop the massacre in Gaza, demand an end to the evictions in Sheikh Jerrah (this is necessary, among other things, to stop the bombing by Hamas), and prevent pogroms. When you get right down to it, there are no Jews or Palestinians. There are only people who, for their common survival, need to ensure equality in terms of the right to life, the right not to kill as soon as they’re ordered, the right to freedom of movement and property claims. There is no point in “rooting” for one side or the other. This is not football. We are one: the people who treat my child, change his diapers, love him, and help me in difficult situations, have relatives in Gaza. And they are no less afraid for them than you are for us. Every strike on Gaza is a strike on us.

Share, repost, help!

(In the photo, my son is with his caregiver, Futna, who has been working with disabled children for twenty years. She’s not safe right now.)

Translated by Thomas Campbell

Doing the Right Thing (Victory Day)

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
May 9, 2021

Here is what I’ve been thinking about on this day. I seem to understand why every year on May 9, everyone engages in such jealous and painful arguments about whose victory it was and whether it was a victory at all. Everyone wants to prove that the good guys, that is, people like them, won the war. The bad guys —Hitler and Stalin — lost. The bad guys from the other side and the bad guys from our side lost.

But that’s not how it was. The soldiers who won the war at the cost of enormous bloodshed saved everyone, both good and bad. The victory in 1945 was a victory of life over death. Not of a good life (this is the answer to the question “Why do we live so badly if we won?”), but mere life, life as such. People stopped dying. Wasn’t that enough?

I have seen many times how good deeds were done by the wrong people. A person who does not love the motherland can put out a fire. A man who beats his wife will save someone else’s child. And so on. On the one hand, he saved the child, and on the other hand he has beaten his wife again. What conclusions should we draw from this?

None. It doesn’t change anything. Saving children is still the right thing to do, but beating your wife is not. One does not negate the other.

And the child, by the way, can grow up to be a criminal. And so what? Should it not be saved now?

People are different. What matters is not what they are, but what they do. Seventy-six years ago, they saved the world. And what happened to them afterwards is up to the people they saved, it is our choice.

I remember the grief, the huge amount of blood shed, and the losses. But still, today is a holiday, because we were saved: it’s a joyful occasion. And today is also a time to think about whether we have saved anyone.

George Losev
Facebook
May 8, 2021

There are two main reasons for all the pomp around May 9.

First, the more magnificent the holiday, the more money you can allocate from the state coffers [and embezzle]. Officials are just plain greedy.

The second is that the Russian Federation is an imperialist country. Like any imperialist, the Russian Federation tries to expand and prepares for war, generating the appropriate ideology in the process. The construction is quite simple: either a major historical military victory or a major defeat is taken, and the sense of pride or desire for revenge [occasioned by the victory or defeat] is stoked. A typical example is Germany and France before the First World War. Both sides fanned the flames of the Franco-Prussian War as a subject. On the eve of the First World War in the Russian Empire, the subject of 1812 [i.e., Russia’s victory over Napoleon in the so-called Fatherland War] was also hyped.

The Olympics, big construction projects, and so on serve the same purpose, but it is past wars that best fit the bill.

The Russian Federation now simply has no other choice but the Second World War. First, because of the scale. Secondly, after it, the USSR and the Russian Federation engaged in seven wars (the USSR fought in Afghanistan, while the Russian Federation has two Chechen wars, Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, and Libya to its credit), all of which ended with the emergence of “gray” zones, sites of constantly smoldering conflict. Creating such zones is the goal of the current imperialist countries, but they cannot be cited as [positive] examples. They cannot serve as a justification of the regime’s actions, because they themselves are in need of justification. Why should Russians be glad to remember the actions of Russian mercenaries in Libya? Or the [Russian] bombing of Syrian cities?

Hence the Second World War.

But as it makes this choice, the Russian Federation has one problem.

Putin’s regime represents, rather, the side that the USSR fought against during World War Two rather than acting as the successor to the Soviet Union. It is the side of monopolistic capital, militarism, and institutionalized racism.

The Soviet Union built schools and hospitals, while the Putin regime has been closing them down. The USSR nationalized property in the territories it liberated, while the Russian Federation has privatized it.

Therefore, the ideological construction becomes more complicated.

The very fact of victory is magnified, and everything else is either hushed up or slimed.

This is the root of the apparent schizophrenia in which the ideological elite of Putin’s Russia has been dwelling for many years, all those TV presenters, priests, Mikhalkovs and writer-directors of endless series about the war, in which Soviet soldiers and commanders are shown as complete degenerates, cowards and traitors.

All these “cultural figures” realize that they are forced to exalt those who essentially fought against them. So there is a huge difference between my annoyance at the hype and the pathos on the eve of May 9, and the fierce hatred that Putin’s ideological minions radiate.

I don’t like marches by kindergarten children in Red Army forage caps: they would be more appropriate in Nazi Germany.

The Putinists do not like the mass heroism of the Soviet people. They hate the Communists, who accounted for one-third to one-half of all Soviet combat losses.

Vyacheslav Dolinin
Facebook
May 9, 2021

I remember a story, funny and sad at the same time, which was told to me many years ago by the musician Mark Lvovich Rubanenko. He was a young man in the pre-war years, and back then he played in Leningrad in an orchestra with other young musicians like him. All of them were fun-loving: they liked to drink, make jokes, and pull pranks. Once, during a friendly gathering, they were flipping through the phone book and found a surname that seemed funny to them – Kurochkin [“Hen-kin”]. One of the musicians dialed the number of the man with the funny last name.

“Comrade Kurochkin?”

“Yes,” said a voice on the other end of the phone.

“Greetings from Petushkov [“Rooster-ov”],” the caller said and hung up.

After that, the musicians began phoning Kurochkin from different places and at different times of the day, even at night. They usually asked the question”Comrade Kurochkin?” and when he responded, they would say, “Greetings from Petushkov.”

Then the war broke out, and all the band members went to the front. Rubanenko made it all the way to Berlin. After the war, the musicians gathered again in Leningrad. Not everyone had come back alive. They drank vodka and remembered their dead friends. And then someone remembered: “And how is our Kurochkin?” Excited, they picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number.

“Comrade Kurochkin?”

“Yes.”

“Greetings from Petushkov.”

The voice on the other end of the phone was silent for a while. Then it yelled: “You bastard! You’re still alive! So many good people have died, but you’re alive!”

The musicians hung up. They never called Kurochkin again.

Ivan Ovsyannikov
Facebook
May 9, 2021

Recently, my mother told me about her stepfather, a front-line soldier. He was wounded, captured, and sent to a Nazi prison camp, and after the war he was sent to a Soviet labor camp in Kolyma. There he met my grandmother, who was also a victim of political repression. The man was, according to my mother, cheerful (which is not surprising), only he frightened her as a child when he would began raving in German in his sleep. He had dreams about the German prison camp while in exile in the Soviet Union. He was also involved in Komsomol weddings.*

[The inscription on the invitation, pictured above, reads: “Dear Comrade V.D. Nigdeyev! We invite you and your spouse to a Komsomol wedding. The wedding will take place at the Tatyana Malandina Club at 19:30 on August 22, 1964.”]

Vladimir Golbraikh
Facebook
May 9, 2021

[Soviet WWII veterans, gathering on] May 9, 1975, on the Field of Mars in Leningrad. Photos by I. Koltsov

Yan Shenkman reports on political trials and popular culture for the independent liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta. George Losev is a housing authority electrician and socialist activist in Petersburg. Vyacheslav Dolinin is a well-known Leningrad-Petersburg Soviet dissident, former Gulag inmate and samizdat researcher. Ivan Ovsyannikov is a journalist and socialist activist in Petersburg. Vladimir Golbraikh, a Petersburg-based sociologist, focuses on his immensely popular Facebook page on unearthing and publishing archival photos of Leningrad-Petersburg during the Soviet era. Translated by the Russian Reader

* ‘Among the events that Komsomol organs planned were Komsomol weddings, a novel ritual for youth that used cultural activities to inculcate not only officially prescribed cultural tastes but also gender norms, part of a broader post-Stalin drive to ascribe civic meaning to ceremonies and ritual. First mentioned in 1954, these wed- dings began to appear across the Soviet Union with the enactment of the 1957 aesthetic upbringing initiative. Official discourse, as expressed by Komsomol’skaia pravda, touted state-sponsored weddings in clubs as a way to undermine religious wedding traditions, in keeping with Khrushchev’s anti-religion campaign, and to minimize the drunkenness and untoward behavior prevalent at private wedding feasts. The authorities also intended Komsomol weddings to ensure the stability of the family. As noted by Shelepin in 1957, private marriages often ended in divorce, but “when someone gets married openly, in front of the people, his friends and comrades—it is another matter altogether.” Such rituals aimed to place relationships between young men and women within the boundaries of government-monitored official collectives, in effect reframing the norms of courting and family life from private to more public settings and ensuring the performance of officially preferred gendered behavior.’ (Gleb Tsipursky, Socialist Fun: Youth, Consumption, and State-Sponsored Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1945–1970, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016, p. 149)

Russian Diplomation

Dmitry Gudkov
Facebook
April 14, 2021

You, of course, have already seen this photo, which can even now be inserted into a history textbook to illustrate Russia’s foreign policy at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The military attache of the Russian Federation in Latvia, Ruslan Ushakov, flipped off neighbors who complained about him for having a feast during the plague, that is, a party during the covid pandemic. Everything about the photo is lovely, including the fact that the attache hid from the police, but then ran back out into the yard. And the fact that he was rude from behind a fence, confident that no one could get at him here, and even that he favored the spiritless western fuck-you over the traditional Russian kukish (“fig”).

No director could have produced a better metaphor for the Russian authorities. When it comes to their thoughts, their families, and their wallets, they live in the West. They are terribly afraid of retribution, so the Magnitsky Law cuts them like a knife. They are rude to everyone around them when they know that they will not be able to get to them. Because in front of them, instead of a fence, we stand, unwitting or voluntary hostages.

And one more thing. Would you make indecent gestures to your neighbors, and so enthusiastically? I wouldn’t. Would you steal bicycles in a city? Deal drugs? What other exploits have Russian diplomats been up to recently?

Russian diplomats are the face of our country,  and so this is how our country looks to the world. And in this case you cannot even say that there is no need to blame the mirror. I see myself in the mirror, not Ushakov and his fuck-yous. And you, too, are unlikely to recognize yourself in it. This is scum from the bottom of the pond that has floated to the surface. And while some people catch their fish in this muddy water, we are suffocating.

No, this is not what I was taught at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry in the early noughties.

_______________

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been growing for weeks following the breakdown of a ceasefire in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014, and a massing of Russian forces nearby. Yesterday Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, admitted that Russia had built up two armies and three airborne units on its western borders for “combat-training exercises”. Russian amphibious vessels have also moved from the Caspian to the Black Sea. Ukraine claims that there are 40,000 Russian troops on its eastern border and 40,000 more in Crimea. Tod Wolters, the commander of America’s European Command, said the build-up “mirrors the size and scope and scale” of that which preceded Russia’s previous invasion. But war might not be Russia’s ultimate goal. It may just be to intimidate Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, into offering concessions over Donbas—such as greater autonomy for pro-Russian separatists—and to test just how far America and Europe will go in supporting Ukraine.
-The Economist Espresso, 14 April 2021

Geolocations of Russian military equipment movements on the borders of Ukraine: an interactive map

Russia has deployed a field hospital on the border with Ukraine – German media (photos, videos)
Fokus
April 14, 2021

Russian military camp south of Voronezh Photo: Tagesschau

To the south of Voronezh, the Russian military has built an entire tent city, equipped with a field kitchen and guarded by military police

The Russian army has deployed a huge field military camp near the Ukrainian border, south of Voronezh, which includes a field hospital, as reported by the German news program Tagesschau.

“The entire field is filled with military equipment. You can’t walk there, let alone drive. With their chains and wheels, they plowed up the whole field,” a local resident told the program.

Israel Defense Forces officer and military analyst Yigal Levin noted in a column for Fokus that the deployment of field hospitals is a grave sign of preparations for full-scale military operations.

According to Tagesschau, eyewitnesses told them that the military has built a whole town out of tents. Flags are flying everywhere, smoke is coming from smoke vents, military trucks with water tanks are constantly passing by, and a field kitchen is up and running.

The field camp is patrolled by military police.

All evidence suggests, Tagesschau notes, that the Russian servicemen have settled in this area for the long haul and are not going to leave quickly.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday, April 13, that all “verification activities” currently taking place near the borders of Ukraine and involving the participation of Russian servicemen, were scheduled to be completed “within two weeks.”

Also, an interactive map tracing the movements of Russian troops toward the borders of Ukraine has appeared on the internet. It records all instances of the transfer of Russian army equipment, weapons and personnel to the borders of Ukraine and to occupied Crimea.

Iskander operational-tactical missile system units from the Western Military District have been delivered to Voronezh, ostensibly to participate in a parade.

In turn, at a meeting with the French Ambassador to Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran said that Russia is capable of preparing the “Georgia 2008” scenario.

Thanks to Yigal Levin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Syrian Revolution 10 Years On

Speakers:
Leila Al Shami, Banah Ghadbian, Shireen Akram-Boshar, Sara Abbas, Zaher Sahloul, Wafa Mustafa
Moderators:
Yazan al-Saadi, Shiyam Galyon

Watch here:
https://www.facebook.com/147353662105485/posts/1790854954422006/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Y7h4N_uHQ

Syria had been the focus of much regional and global attention following the massive eruption of popular revolt in mid-March 2011. The Syrian revolution gradually developed into a war involving multiple local, regional and international actors. As a result, the revolution and its massive protest movement, as well as the resistance from below that have sustained them, has been mostly ignored or silenced. Hegemonic narratives centered around geopolitical rivalries and sectarian conflicts have dominated much of international and Western discourse stripping the Syrian popular classes of any social, political or revolutionary agency.

To push back against these narratives, we had organized a series of an Online Summer Institute titled “The Syrian Revolution: A History from Below” that included presentations from activists, organizers, academics, and writers, who discussed an array of topics ranging from grassroots movements, imperialism and anti-imperialism, political economy, international solidarity, feminist struggles, the prison system, healthcare weaponization, Palestinian solidarity, Kurdish self-determination, refugees, revolutionary art, and the future of the Syrian and regional uprisings (2011 and today). To view the series on Syria’s past and present, go here: https://syrianrevolt159610334.wordpress.com/

Now, we shall turn our gaze to the future.

Marking more than a decade since uprisings erupted in Syria and elsewhere in the region and the world; there is an urgent need to start planning, preparing, and coordinating. Resistance against imperialism and dictatorships of all types is a long and grueling process. It will be painful, frustrating, depressing, and at times heartbreaking, yet to survive and prevail in this long, long war, it will require creative, passionate, patient, self-reflective and stubborn optimism.

In this spirit, we announce an event called “Syria, the Region, & the World 10 Years from Now”. This event will include revolutionary songs, footage from the revolutionary archives, and short interventions from activists, intellectuals, and organizers, and will not only commemorate the Syrian uprising, and other social movements for self-determination and dignity, but also revisit the past with a critical mindset to better prepare for the future. The webinar will examine, discuss, and outline practical steps that we could take to make the Syrian struggle and beyond more visible to people outside Syria. The webinar will also explore the connections between the different struggles in the region. The webinar will cover topics such as the effect of the pandemic on resistance and population, reflect on how to achieve accountability and justice for crimes committed against people, and examine how to develop transnational solidarity between communities struggling for peace and dignity.

This event will challenge the mainstream, orientalist, and Manichean perspectives, as well as push back against the pessimistic and compromising fatalism that have come to dominate narratives surrounding solutions and justice for Syria and others communities.

The future is ours, not theirs.

Speakers:
Leila Al Shami is a British-Syrian who has been involved in human rights and social justice struggles in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East since 2000. She is the co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War with Robin Yassin-Kassab, and a contributor to Khiyana-Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution. She blogs at leilashami.wordpress.com.

Banah Ghadbian is a Syrian woman poet, jewelry maker, and activist. She has a B.A. in comparative women’s studies and sociology from Spelman College and an M.A. from University of California-San Diego, where she is a doctoral student in ethnic studies. Her research focuses on how Syrian women use creative resistance including poetry and theatre to survive multiple layers of violence. Her work is published in The Feminist Wire (finalist in their 2015 poetry competition), and the print anthology Passage & Place.

Shireen Akram-Boshar is a socialist activist and alum of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). She has organized around the question of the Syrian uprising and the relationship between Syrian and Palestinian struggles for liberation, as well as on anti-imperialism and solidarity with the revolts of the Middle East/North Africa region. Her writing has covered the repression of Palestine solidarity activists in the US, revolution and counterrevolution in the Middle East, Trump’s war on immigrants, and the fight against the far right.

Sara Abbas is a Sudanese Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the Freie Unversität Berlin. Her doctoral research focuses on the discourses and practices of women members of the Islamist Movement and al-Bashir’s formerly ruling party in Sudan. Most recently, she has been researching Sudan’s resistance committees which emerged out of the 2018 revolution. She is a member of SudanUprising Germany and the Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists.

Zaher Sahloul is a critical care specialist at Christ Advocate Medical Center in Chicago. Dr. Sahloul is the immediate past president of and a senior advisor to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a humanitarian and advocacy organization that provides medical relief to Syrians and Syrian refugees.

Wafa Mustafa is a survivor from detention, and an activist and journalist from Masyaf, a city in the Hama Governorate, western Syria. Mustafa left the country on 9 July 2013, exactly a week after her father was arrested by the authorities in Damascus. Mustafa moved to Turkey and began reporting on Syria for various media outlets. In 2016, she moved to Germany and continued her interrupted studies in Berlin where she studies Arts and Aesthetics at Bard College. In her advocacy, Mustafa covers the impact of detention on young girls and women and families.

Moderators:
Yazan al-Saadi is a comic writer, communications specialist, journalist, and freelance researcher based between Kuwait and Lebanon. He holds a Bachelor’s (Honors) degree in Economics and Development Studies from Queen’s University, Canada, and a Masters of Arts in Law, Development, and Globalization from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He often dreams of electronic sheep.

Shiyam Galyon is a U.S. based Syrian writer and communications coordinator at War Resisters League. Previously she worked on Books Not Bombs, a campaign to create scholarships for Syrian students displaced from war, and is currently a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.

Visit our website: syrianrevolt.org

Thanks to Yasser Munif for the heads-up. || TRR

Leila Al Shami: The Case of Syria’s Communes

Building alternative futures in the present: the case of Syria’s communes
Leila Al Shami
March 18, 2021

Originally published at The Funambulist

“We are no less than the Paris commune workers: they resisted for 70 days and we are still going on for a year and a half.” Omar Aziz, 2012

On 18 March 2021 people around the globe will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune. On this date, ordinary men and women claimed power for themselves, took control of their city and ran their own affairs independently from the state for over two months before being crushed in a Bloody Week by the French government in Versailles. The Communards’ experiment in autonomous, democratic self-organisation, as a means to both resist state tyranny and to create a radical alternative to it, holds an important place in the collective imaginary and has provided inspiration for generations of revolutionaries.

On 18 March another anniversary will pass, but surely to much less acclaim worldwide. On this date a decade ago, large scale protests were held in the southern Syrian city of Dera’a in response to the arrest and torture of a group of school children who had painted anti-government graffiti on a wall. Security forces opened fire on the protesters, killing at least four, provoking wide-spread public anger. Over the next few days protests spread across the country, transforming into a revolutionary movement demanding freedom from the four-decade dictatorship of the Assad regime. In the following years, as people took up arms and forced the state to retreat from their communities, Syrians engaged in remarkable experiments in autonomous self-organisation despite the brutality of the counter-revolution unleashed upon them. As early as 2012, Omar Aziz a Syrian economist, public intellectual and anarchist dissident, compared the first of these experiments to the Paris Commune.

Omar Aziz was not a mere bystander to the events underway in Syria. Living and working in exile, he returned to his native Damascus in 2011, at the age of 63, to participate in the insurrection against the regime. He became involved in revolutionary organizing and providing assistance to families displaced from the Damascus suburbs under regime assault. Aziz was inspired by the movement’s level of self-organisation in its resistance to the regime. In towns and neighbourhoods across the country, revolutionaries had formed local coordinating committees. These were horizontally organised forums through which they would plan protests and share information regarding both the accomplishments of the revolution and the brutal repression the movement faced. They promoted non-violent civil disobedience and were inclusive to women and men from all social, religious and ethnic groups. Revolutionaries were also organising the provision of food baskets to those in need and setting up medical centres to tend to injured protesters who feared going to hospitals due to risk of arrest.

Aziz believed that whilst such activities were an important means to resist the regime and had indeed challenged its authority, they did not go far enough. Through their organisation, revolutionaries were developing new relationships independently of the state based on solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid, yet were still dependent on the state for most of their needs, including employment, food, education, and healthcare. This reality enabled the regime to maintain its legitimacy and perpetuate its power despite people’s wide-spread opposition to it. In two papers published in October 2011 and February 2012, when the revolution was still largely peaceful and most of the Syrian territory remained under regime-control, Aziz began advocating for the establishment of Local Councils. He saw these as grass-roots forums through which people could collaborate collectively to address their needs, gain full autonomy from the state, and achieve individual and community freedom from structures of domination. He believed that building autonomous, self-governing communes, linked regionally and nationally through a network of cooperation and mutual aid, was the path towards social revolution. According to Aziz, “the more self-organizing is able to spread … the more the revolution will have laid the groundwork for victory.”

Aziz was not concerned with seizing state power and did not advocate for a vanguard party to lead the revolution. Like the Communards, he believed in the innate ability of people to govern themselves without the need for coercive authority. In his view the new self-organised social formations that were emerging would “allow people to take autonomous control over their own lives, to demonstrate that this autonomy is what freedom is made of.” Aziz envisaged that the role of the Local Councils would be to support and deepen this process of independence from state institutions. Their priority would be working together with other popular initiatives to ensure the fulfilment of basic needs such as access to housing, education and healthcare; collecting information on the fate of detainees and providing support to their families; coordinating with humanitarian organisations; defending land from expropriation by the state; supporting and developing economic and social activities; and coordinating with recently formed Free Army militias to ensure security and community defence. For Aziz, the most powerful form of resistance to the state was a refusal to collaborate with it through building alternatives in the present that prefigured an emancipatory future.

In November 2012, much like so many of Syria’s revolutionaries, Omar Aziz was arrested and died in prison a short while later. Yet, before his arrest, he helped found four local councils in the working class suburbs of Damascus. The first was in Zabadani, an agricultural and touristic town surrounded by mountains, some 50 kilometres from the capital. The town was quick to join the uprising in March 2011, holding regular demonstrations calling for freedom and the release of detainees. By June, young men and women had formed a local coordination committee to organize demonstrations and carry out media work to communicate what was happening in the town to the outside world. Like the female Communards of Paris, the women of Zabadani also created their own forums. In mid-2011 the Collective of Zabadani Female Revolutionaries was formed. They participated in demonstrations in huge numbers and called for peaceful civil disobedience. They played a leading role in the Dignity Strike in December 2011, a nation-wide general strike that attempted to place economic pressure on the regime. In January 2012 they established Oxygen Magazine, a bi-monthly printed magazine providing analysis of the revolution and promoting peaceful resistance. The group later evolved into the Damma women’s network, which continues to work to support women to build resilience and alleviate the impact of violence in conflict affected communities, as well as providing education and psychological support for children.

Zabadani was liberated by local Free Army militias in January 2012. Barricades were set up and the town was brought under the control of its residents. A local council was established to fill the vacuum created by the regime’s departure. The town’s Sunni and Christian residents came together to elect the council’s 28 members from respected individuals within the community and to choose a president. This was Syria’s first experience of democracy in decades. The council established a number of departments to administer daily civil life, including for health care and humanitarian assistance, as well as a political committee involved in negotiating with the regime, and a court to resolve local conflicts. A military committee supervised the Free Army battalions to ensure security. Whilst the council representatives were all men, the Collective of Zabadani Female Revolutionaries played an important role in supporting the Council’s activities. Like the Communards of Paris, the people of Zabadani, who dreamt of a free and just society, managed to creatively self-organise their community independently from centralized state control.

Local autonomy and grass roots democracy was seen by the regime as its greatest threat. As the government of Versailles, which had refused to fight against the Prussians, turned their weapons on the Communards, so the Syrian regime directed all of its might against the people of Zabadani. The town was subjected to a siege, enforced by the regime and its ally the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and daily bombing led to a dramatic worsening of humanitarian conditions. Inside the town, revolutionaries also faced challenges from extremist Islamist battalions which gained in prominence over time and finally wrested control from the local council in 2014. After a number of failed cease-fire agreements the regime regained control of Zabadani in April 2017, after which many of its residents were forcibly evacuated.

The experience of Zabadani was remarkable, but not unique. Over the course of the Syrian revolution, land was liberated to such an extent that, by 2013, the regime had lost control of around four-fifths of the national territory. In the absence of the state, it was people’s self organisation which kept communities functioning and allowed them to resist the regime, in some cases for years. Hundreds of local councils were established in the newly created autonomous zones providing essential public services such as water and electricity supplies, rubbish collection, and supporting schools and hospitals to keep operating. In some areas they grew and distributed food. People also worked together to set up humanitarian organisations, human rights monitoring centres, and independent media associations. Women’s centres were founded to encourage women to be politically and economically active and to challenge patriarchal mores. One example is the Mazaya centre in Kafranbel, Idlib, which taught vocational skills to women, held discussions on women’s rights issues, and challenged the threats posed by extremist Islamist groups. Unions were established for students, journalists and health workers. In the northern city of Manbij, revolutionaries established Syria’s first free trade union, which campaigned for better wages. Cultural activities flourished, including independent film collectives, art galleries and theatre groups. In the liberated town of Daraya, close to Damascus, revolutionaries built an underground library from books they salvaged from people’s destroyed homes.

After 2011, before the counter-revolution ground them down, communities across Syria lived in freedom from the tyranny of the regime. Power was brought down to the local level and people worked together for their mutual benefit, often in extremely challenging circumstances, to build a pluralistic, diverse, inclusive and democratic society that was the very antithesis of the state’s totalitarianism. They were not motivated by any grand ideologies, nor led by any one faction or party. They were driven by necessity. Their very existence challenged the myth propagated by the state that its survival was necessary to ensure the fulfillment of basic needs and stability. Syrians showed that they were more than capable of organising their communities in the absence of centralised, coercive authority by building egalitarian social structures and recreating social bonds of solidarity, cooperation and mutual respect. There was no one model or blueprint. Each community organised in accordance with its own needs, unique local circumstances and values – the very essence of self-determination – essential in a country which is as socially and culturally diverse as Syria. What they shared was a desire for autonomy from the regime and a commitment to decentralized, self-managed forms of organisation.

Whilst the experience of the Paris commune is well known and celebrated in the West, we must ask why similar experiments happening in our own time in Syria are not – why they have usually failed to attract even the most basic forms of solidarity. Whilst much radical theory holds pretentions to universalism, it often pays little attention to other, non-Western contexts or cultures. When leftists in the West think of Syria they often think of foreign state intervention, extremist Islamist groups, and numerous armed brigades jostling and competing for power and territory. Little attention is given to ordinary men and women and their courageous acts of defiance against a tyrannical, genocidal regime. These people formed the backbone of Syria’s civil resistance. They not only resisted the regime but built a viable, beautiful alternative to it. Their struggle became multi-faceted. They defended their hard-won autonomy from the regime and later numerous foreign forces and extremist groups that saw their existence as the greatest threat. They were shunned and often slandered by the international community, including by people who consider themselves part of the anti-imperialist left. Their existence became an inconvenience to the grand narratives people wanted to indulge in regarding Syria’s revolution and counter-revolutionary war. Epistemological imperialism left little room for Syrian’s lived realities.

As with the Paris Commune, there is much to be learnt from Syria’s revolutionary experience. In times of insurrection or at times of crisis, new ways of organising often emerge which provide alternatives to the hierarchical, coercive and exploitative systems practiced by both capitalism and the state. Through decentralised self-organisation, without the need for leaders or bosses, but through voluntary association, cooperation and the sharing of resources, people can transform social relations and effect radical social change. They show us that emancipatory futures can be built in the here and now, even in the shadow of the state.

*****

All quotes are taken from the English translation of Omar Aziz’s two papers on The Formation of Local Councils by Bordered by Silence, except for the introductory quote which came from Twitter, now deleted.

Thanks to Michael Karadjis for the heads-up. || TRR

Evil vs. the People

Khabarovsk, January 31, 2021. Photo: Yevgeny Pereverzev. Courtesy of Vitaliy Blazhevich

Vitaliy Blazhevich
Facebook
February 5, 2021

The most important observation of the last few weeks is that there were more than enough riot police for all the cities: each detainee was dragged away by five or six riot policemen. They have enough batons, shields, and paddy wagons, they have stun guns, rubber-bullets pistols, and even combat firearms. Evil was prepared for the new wave of protests. Evil did not sit idly by all this time: it built up its strength and increased its forces. Evil has stolen enough from the people to maintain and equip this vast army.

Well, never mind, we’ll see who comes out on top. After all, it is quite obvious that this time Putin is not opposed by a particular social stratum, by a particular political force, or by one region. The entire country and the entire people have risen up, and Putin’s “power vertical,” including the riot police, cannot be regarded as part of the people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Love Conquers All

The saw “Love conquers all” makes us disavow a violence that has always already conquered love.
—Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism (New York: W.W. Norton, 2020), p. 325

Elena Vilenskaya
Facebook
December 31, 2020

Many people won’t like this, probably, but I cannot help but write it for the sake of many people’s memory. On December 31, 1994, I stopped enjoying the New Year. On New Year’s Eve, [Russian] federal troops bombed Grozny. That night, a lot of people of different ethnicities who had remained in Grozny died, and the conscripts who were sent there by the [Russian] authorities died senseless deaths. Forgiving and forgetting this would be impossible and wicked. That night, our family was unable to celebrate the New Year. I haven’t celebrated it since.

Still from The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933). Translated by the Russian Reader

The Murder of Roman Bondarenko

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 12, 2020

The Chorus of My People

it is not a public event

the unauthorized
supplications and groans of those tortured
by nkvd hoodlums
by kgb and mvd scum
in the torture chambers of police stations and prisons

it is not a public event

the death rattles
of those hanged in forest parks
buried alive
by the riffraff from the riot police

it is not a public event

it is my country’s ruptured womb
the chorus of my people’s birth trauma

September 10–18, 2020

Roman Bondarenko, who was beaten by men in plainclothes in Minsk, has died in intensive care
Current Time
November 12, 2020

On the evening of November 11, Bondarenko was seized by persons unknown dressed in plainclothes and masks in the courtyard of his house on so-called Change Square and taken away. Neighbors who got through to the Minsk central police department were told that Bondarenko had taken ill and was in hospital. At midnight, Bondarenko was taken to the emergency hospital in serious condition: he was in a coma.

TUT.BY reports that the doctors operated on Bondarenko for several hours: his chances of survival were estimated as one in a thousand. He was unconscious the entire time. He needed another operation, but it was impossible to perform it given his condition.

Bondarenko’s sister Olga Kucherenko told TUT.BY that someone came to the hospital and took all of her brother’s belongings. The family does not know who it was.

In the evening, Bondarenko’s condition deteriorated. He died soon after.

Kucherenko also told Radio Liberty’s Belarusian bureau that she doubted that her brother could have provoked someone into a fight.

“Roma did not provoke anyone: I know this for sure from the the witnesses, and not just one of them. Everything that happened to him happened after Change Square, I know that. I am recording this video so that a large number of people will know what is happening in this country, that people are absolutely defenseless. I very much hope that the law enforcement agencies will open a criminal case. Roma is a very calm person, he never got into any conflicts, even in family relationships. He was very calm and always saw the positive, humorous side of things. I very much hope that justice will prevail and those who did this to him will be punished by real law.”

After the news of Bondarenko’s death, concerned citizens gathered at Change Square. They brought flowers and candles.

Late in the evening on November 11 in the Minsk courtyard known as Change Square, persons unknown tried to remove white-red-and-white ribbons. Bondarenko went out to find out what was going on. People in plainclothes and balaclavas attacked him. A fight broke out. Bondarenko was captured and taken to the central police department. Two hours later, he was in a coma in the intensive care unit of the emergency hospital

The Interior Ministry called the incident a “neighborhood conflict” and a “conflict of opinion.” According to the ministry, “concerned citizens have been trying to restore order and prevent violations of municipal beautification rules.”

The Mingorispolkom police department reported that the security forces arrived on the scene after the brawl: allegedly, the police had received a report about persons unknown fighting in the courtyard on Chervyakov Street.

“Police officers found a 31-year-old citizen with injuries. Subsequently, law enforcement officers called him an ambulance. The man has been hospitalized,” they said.

However, the surveillance video clearly shows persons unknown dragging Bondarenko into a minibus and driving away.

Who Was Roman Bondarenko?
Roman Bondarenko lived on Chervyakov Street near Change Square. Periodically, he spent time with neighbors in the yard. He was an artist by education and had graduated from the Belarusian State Academy of Arts. Recently, he had been working as manager of a store in the Island of Cleanliness chain. He was married. He had served in special forces unit 3214 of the Interior Ministry troops, Belsat reports.

According to relatives, Bondarenko never had any problems with the police, and he did not attend protests or opposition marches.

“He told me that he knows what they can do to him if they detain him, because he served in the special forces,” Bondarenko’s sister told Nasha Niva.

Change Square in Minsk is the name for the courtyard formed by Smorgovsky Tract and Chervyakov Streets. Residents of the nearby residential buildings have created a very close-knit community: in the evenings, tea parties, concerts, and performances are held in the courtyard. For a long time, there was a mural entitled DJs of Change on the transformer vault, and white-red-and-white ribbons constantly hang on the fence. In September, local resident Stepan Latypov was detained there. He demanded that persons unknown who were erasing the mural identify themselves and show their documents. Since September 15, Latypov has been behind bars, accused of “organizing mass riots” and “intending to poison the security forces.”

Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up and other assistance. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL. Translated by the Russian Reader

Comrade Chadova

chadova klavdia (dimitrii ivanov)

Claudia Chadova, a young woman, 19 years old, worked at a factory for 3 years. After joining the RCP, she expressed a voluntary desire to engage in military training and stayed in the barracks for 1 month.

Having been stationed in the barracks, she was sent to the front to fight bandits in Ukraine. After staying at the front for about 8 months, she was captured by bandits and ran back towards the Reds, who did not find out that she was a Red, and hacked her to pieces. Comrade Chadova laid down her young life for the cause of the working class.

Source: Mass Grave: A Biographical Dictionary of Deceased and Killed Members of the Moscow Organization of the RCP, vol. 1 (Moscow, 1923), p. 176

Found on Dimitrii Ivanov’s invaluable Facebook page and reprinted with his permission. Translated by the Russian Reader