Syrias

Here are four very different but complementary reflections on the dangers of Putin’s new Syrian adventure by, respectively, an electrician and veteran grassroots activist, a sociologist, a magazine editor, and a political scientist and leftist activist.

A video released on YouTube claimed to show Russian air raids targeting the ruins of al-Rabiyah and Shinsharah near Kafranbel
A video released on YouTube claimed to show Russian air raids targeting the ruins of al-Rabiyah and Shinsharah near Kafranbel

George Losev
October 1, 2015
Facebook

Russia pacified the North Caucasus just as the US pacified Afghanistan. The Taliban have disappeared from the news but not from life.

The US has started many wars, and the Russian Federation has already started two. The US has got into conflicts in the Middle East primarily for domestic political reasons, and the Russian Federation has done the exact same thing.

The US lies constantly, and the Russian Federation does, too. (As do the EU, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and everybody else.)

But is there even a single reason to support the dispatch of Russian forces to Syria? There are no such reasons, just as there were no reasons to support the NATO bombing of Libya or the [US/UK] bombing of Iraq.

And now, as in the case of the war in Ukraine, just watch carefully and take note of what you see.

P.S. That is, while there is no chance to do anything more substantial.

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Greg Yudin
October 1, 2015
Facebook

You would have to be Putin, of course, to support Assad by way of restoring order.

Assad is a man who, in the past four years, has:

  • let slip an armed grassroots uprising;
  • permitted a civil war with hundreds of thousands of victims;
  • used chemical weapons against his own citizens;
  • allowed the full-scale deployment of an international terrorist group;
  • and lost control of two-thirds of his country.

And this man, of course, is the man who will pacify all of Syria and calm everyone down.

It has often been said of Putin that he takes a cynical (i.e., “realistic”) approach to foreign policy. It is nothing like this. In the case of Syria, it is Obama, who says we should get together and appoint them a leader who can restore order, who has taken the cynical approach.

The approach of Putin and his elite, however, is not cynical but stupid. The point of this approach is that you should always support the current regime. Simply put, the boss is always right just because he is the boss. They arrived at this hard-won conviction through their own uncomplaining obedience. This belief is the basis of their power and their philosophy in life. For its sake they are even willing to entangle themselves in an international conflict.

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Alexander Feldberg
October 1, 2015
Facebook

Until today, this business with Syria seemed strange to me in the sense that it would not be easy to sweep the Russian people off its feet with it. I understand about small victorious wars, but I imagined that this was not like Ukraine, which is next door, or Hungarian geese, which we could even fondle with our own hands until recently. And then, we are talking about a country that has lived through a war in Afghanistan, despite the incomparable scale of the conflicts and so on. But this morning I was riding the subway and saw this guy, an ordinary guy in his forties with a decent face, even, a guy who looked a little like actor Yevgeny Mironov. This guy was riding the subway and looking at something on his telephone. He was not just looking but literally devouring the phone with his eyes and putting it next to his ear from time to time to make out the sound over the roar of the subway. (For some reason he was not using earphones.) I peeped a little and saw that Sergei Ivanov was on the screen of the dude’s phone. This was when I got curious and a bit anxious, because, on the one hand, it is hard to imagine a situation in which a normal person would get so excited by a speech by Sergei Ivanov. On the other hand, in the morning I had heard on the radio about the Federation Council, which Putin had again asked for authorization, just like that other time, and that had made me a little queasy. So I broke down and gently asked the man what was happening.

yevgeny mironov
Russian actor Yevgeny Mironov

“Sy-ri-a!” he mouthed to me, clearly afraid to miss something important in the broadcast.

Then he briefly turned to me again and sighed, “We are going to bomb!”

He said it as if a weight had finally been lifted from his shoulders, as if the going had been tough, but now, thank God, it had been decided.

And at that moment I had the terrible desire not to be here, to disappear somewhere completely. I realize this was cowardice, a momentary weakness, but I felt it all the same. And I also remember a conversation I had with Bob when we were sailing down the Irrawaddy River, and thought that perhaps he had been right: “You may hate him, but you cannot get rid of him.” I don’t want to be responsible for these motherfuckers. I don’t want to think constantly about whom else they have taken it into their heads to crush or bomb. Let them build underwater chapels for scuba divers and invisible bus stops, but please, please, don’t let them bomb anyone.

invisible bus stop
Officials opening an “invisible” bus stop in the village of Körtkerös, Komi Republic, on September 22

Bob
Bob, an Australian who looked like a gray-haired Homer Simpson, spoke intermittently and passionately, now and then dipping his elongated head into his third glass of claret.

“Very well, I know you Russians have it hard. You always have someone to answer for, either Putin or Stalin. ‘He’s Russian? Very well, let’s ask him about Putin.’ It’s the same crap with the Americans. At the drop of a hat they get told, ‘It’s all because you made a mess of things in Iraq, fellows!” You guys are constantly confused with someone else, with some big, important motherfucker. We have it much easier in this sense. ‘Australia? Isn’t that the place where there are kangaroos ?’ We are just Aussies, you know, Alex? I travel where I wish, live where I can earn money, and nobody is going to torment me with your Putin.”

“I already told you,” I replied, “I don’t like Putin.”

“Bingo!” Bob roused himself. “You may hate him, but you cannot get rid of him. Although I know that things are even more complicated in Russia. You Russians hate yourselves most of all.”

Then, in keeping with the conventions of bad movies, Bob laughed heartily and, winking conspiratorially, said, “I’ve read Tolstoyevsky!”

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Ilya Matveev
October 1, 2015
Facebook

If I were in Putin’s shoes I would think hard about the following paradox. Of course, you can accuse America of “destroying sovereignty” everywhere from Libya to Ukraine all the time. But America cannot just up and destroy sovereignty. It can encourage the opposition. It can even drop bombs. But it is not capable of just up and destroying state institutions themselves. The problem is that wherever a state has collapsed, it had already been weak. And a state’s weakness lies in the absence of its autonomy vis-à-vis narrow group interests, be they elite clans, oligarchs, tribes, and so on. A weak state is also labeled “patrimonial,” meaning it has been “privatized” by particular interests. This weak state syndrome was typical of absolutely all the countries Putin thinks the State Department got to. The paradox is that the Russian state, the Putinist state, is weak. It has low autonomy vis-à-vis elite groupings, and its formal institutions are window dressing for backroom deals. The more Putin “immunizes” the state from the opposition, the “fifth column,” and so, the more he strengthens precisely these same elite groups, all those Sechins and other “friends of the president,” who have an interest in weak institutions. Thus, everything Putin does only weakens the state. The easiest way to illustrate all this is with the dilemma of his successor. Putin has built a state in which no one knows what will happen after Putin, including himself. Ukraine-scale chaos is quite possible at the very least; Libya-scale chaos, at the very most. But unlike Libya and even Ukraine, Putin will only have himself to blame for this. After fifteen years, there is nothing left of the government, the parliament or the courts. All that remains are Putin’s “friends” and his “manual control.” It is a sure bet that the State Department and American imperialism are not to blame for this. In this case, it is homemade.

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My thanks to George Losev, Greg Yudin, Alexander Feldberg, and Ilya Matveev for their permission to translate and publish their remarks here. Click on the links, above, to read their previous contributions to this blog. Images courtesy of the Telegraph/YouTube, Tochka.net, and Zvezdakomi.ru

Ilya Matveev: Without Stalin, Crimea Is Not Ours!

Without Stalin, Crimea Is Not Ours!
Ilya Matveev
February 14, 2015
OpenLeft.ru

yalta-1

The unveiling of a monument to Stalin (and Churchill and Roosevelt) in Yalta is an event both outrageous and telling. It is clear why it is outrageous, but it is telling for the following reasons.

On the one hand, the monument displays the state’s current approach to historical memory, an approach that is one-dimensional, instrumental, and mobilizing. The message is clear: “There were times, sonny, when we would shake our fist at everyone. Everyone feared us, and we decided the fate of the world on a par with Europe and America. Yes, and there was order at home, too. Don’t worry, sonny, those times will return. They’re already coming back!”

On the other hand, in a gesture of self-justification and self-defense typical of the current regime, Stalin was returned to the streets not alone but with two other rulers, as part of a well-known grouping, on the principle that “you’re sure not going to toss Stalin out of this spot!” It is embarrassing, of course, and a bit frightening to erect a monument not just to anyone but to Stalin. But these feelings can be suppressed if you strike a defensive posture: this is not just Stalin, but Stalin at the Yalta Conference, the world-famous Stalin.

Characteristically, State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin’s speech at the opening of the monument was defensive rather than offensive. According to Naryshkin, the monument was intended not to convey the right idea but to dispel the wrong one: “The opening of the monument is simultaneously yet another warning to those politicians and historical speculators who have been attempting to brazenly and cynically distort the history of the Second World War and the post-war world order.”

A clear imperial message (“There were times, sonny…”) appears in the form of self-justification: “We won’t let them cynically twist the truth.”

This is approximately how Russia behaved in 2014 and has continued to behave in 2015: offense in the guise of defense, aggression in the guise of self-declared victimhood. The damned west refuses to listen to us, what else can we do but provoke it a bit? How else can we draw attention to ourselves?!

yalta-2

It is the same with Stalin. We will erect a monument to him, and if push comes to shove, we will say, “That really happened.” Similarly, two lines from the Stalin-era Soviet national anthem—“We were raised by Stalin to be true to the people, / To labor and heroic deeds he inspired us!”—were unexpectedly restored to the renovated lobby of the Kursk subway station in Moscow in 2009. This was justified by the alleged need to restore the station’s “historic look,” although the restorers were somehow ashamed to bring back a statue of Stalin that had also been part of the “historic look.”

Finally, it has to be mentioned how wretched and obtuse the monument is. Only Zurab Tsereteli could have come up with the idea of copying a photograph while also enlarging the subjects to the size of the Hulk. Apparently, as in Egyptian paintings, the bigger a subject’s size, the greater his or her significance. The opening ceremony was a match for the monument, with The Surgeon, leader of the Night Wolves biker gang, in attendance, and all the other signs of our time on display.

* * *

So much for the monument. I want to talk now about alternatives to the current politics of memory. The one-dimensional, one-way nature of what is being done now is stunning. Monuments are supposed to convey a single idea, and that idea must necessarily great-powerist, revisionist, and revanchist. The Obelisk to Revolutionary Thinkers in Alexander Garden in Moscow just had to be turned back into a monument to the Romanovs, again with a direct, literal message. “It’s as if the ages have closed ranks,” as Rossiskaya Gazeta quoted Patriarch Kirill saying at the rededication ceremony. History is no excuse for a conversation and no place for a discussion. In this sense our authorities are in total solidarity with the Ukrainian nationalists who have organized the so-called Leninopad (the mass demolition of Lenin statutes in Ukraine). Tear down something old and/or put up something up new: what matters is to return to an authentic, utopianly consistent past. We must make sure “the ages close ranks.”

947831798

The alternative to the current historical activism should not be substantive (switching one set of monuments for another) but methodological. It is no good simply changing pluses to minuses. It is pointless to turn a blind eye to the imperial milestones in our history, to just dismiss them. In my view, the politics of memory in a mature, pluralistic Russia would involve saying, “That all happened, BUT…” We were a militarized aristocratic empire, BUT more radically than anyone else in the world we rethought its foundations in 1917. So this happened, and so did that. And how to deal with it can only be understood through a broad public dialogue, a dialogue that can be provoked by playing up the monuments of the past (rather than demolishing them), by working with context. Monuments should not go on the attack (much less should they should go on the attack defensively, like the monument to Stalin in Yalta). They should point to the past in its controversial entirety. Only in this way can we better understand the present in collective dialogue about the past. But for this to happen, of course, we need to effect sweeping political change in Russia and, what is perhaps even more difficult, leave Zurab Tsereteli without commissions.

Ilya Matveev is a teacher and researcher.

Images, above, courtesy of OpenLeft and Afoniya’s Blog

Ilya Matveev: Austerity Russian Style

Austerity Russian Style
Ilya Matveev
November 19, 2014
OpenLeft.ru

Despite attempts to confuse and misinform the public, protests in the social sector will continue to grow.

sm13“Only the rich will survive”

Reforms of the social sector in post-Soviet Russia have always had a very important feature: their course has been completely confusing and opaque, and everything connected to the reforms, even their strategic goals (!), has been shrouded in mystery. This is partly a consequence of the extreme fragmentation of the Russian state apparatus, unable to implement a completely coherent reform strategy, but in many ways it is a quite deliberate policy: a policy of disinformation.

The Russian authorities are confident that painful reforms are not necessary to explain, let alone announce, sometimes. One can always give journalists the shake, because who are they anyway? As for the public, it suffices to blame them for not understanding the grand design, for confusing reform and optimization, optimization and modernization, modernization and business as usual. This “spy” policy towards reform leaves wide room for maneuvering. It is always possible to note the level of public indignation and pull back a bit (while making the obligatory remark, “That was the way it was intended!”).

This has been borne out by research. For example, Linda J. Cook, author of Postcommunist Welfare States, has written that when carrying out reforms, both the parliament and the government have relied on a strategy of delays, deliberate obfuscation, and denial of responsibility.

At moments of crisis, chaos and uncertainty in the social sector only grow. Yet now, in my opinion, an absolutely unique situation has taken shape.

First of all, the social sector in Russia has been moved into an austerity regime. This must be noted. Funding will be cut, along with the quantity (and quality) of public services in education, health, and other areas. But how has this austerity been organized?

Paradoxically, it was launched not by a technocratic decision hatched in the bowels of the government, but by Putin’s populist decree on increasing the salaries of state employees. Disinformation has reached its peak: cuts are made to the social sector via a decree that at first glance has nothing to do with it. However, it does, as it turns out. The mechanism is simple. Given insufficient federal subsidies for executing the decree, the regions can carry it out only one way: by cutting some workers while increasing the workload (along with the salaries) of other workers. Of course, the decree does not function in isolation: for example, in health care it is combined with measures to move to “single-channel” financing, meaning that salaries have to be increased, but the only available money is from the health insurance fund. Together, the decree and single-channel financing form a lethal package, leading to indiscriminate layoffs and the closure of health care facilities.

Such is the strange state into which the social sector has been immersed. No less strange is the political spectacle being played out around this issue, a spectacle that reprises in caricatured form the conflict between Party activists and bourgeois specialists in the 1920s. When government and regional “specialists” warn about the impossibility of fulfilling the “order of the Party” (Putin’s May 2012 decrees), “activists” from the All-Russia People’s Front reply, No objections! If you mess up, it’s the firing squad for you! Putin weighs in wisely: the decrees must be carried out, but taking mistakes into account, and without excesses at the local level.

However, the banal fact is that from the outset the federal funds allocated for implementing the decree were not nearly enough, and subsidies will be cut even more in 2015. In such circumstances, implementing the decree on salary increases, in fact, automatically translates into layoffs, increased workloads, and the closure of public facilities.

At the same time, according to Kommersant, “[I]n general, suspension of the decrees may not have to be announced: technically, the government and the administration do not have to do this.”

It is a kingdom of crooked mirrors. “Salary increases” mean layoffs and increased workloads. These increases/layoffs can be stopped at any moment, but what that depends on is unclear. “Activists” are fighting “specialists.” Putin remains calm.

But will society remain calm? The juggling act with Putin’s decrees has not gone unnoticed by independent trade unions representing state employees, including Action, Teacher, and University Solidarity. University Solidarity has already announced protests against cuts to subsidies for increasing the salaries of university lecturers in 2015. The layoffs cannot be hidden, even if they are presented as “increases.”

The rally against the dismantling of the Moscow health care system, on November 2, was the largest social protest since 2005. The protests will continue to grow. In this situation, in my opinion, it is important to point to the clear link between cuts to the social sector and Putin’s policies. The “activists” are no less to blame than the “specialists,” but the main culprit is Putin, who, after all, signed these very decrees. The only way to stop the degradation of the social sector and prevent permanent crisis in the Russian economy, which actually has lasted since 2008, is broad political change.

Ilya Matveev is a researcher and teacher.

Ilya Matveev: The New Putinist Stability?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

Recent articles in Vedomosti newspaper and especially leaks at b0ltai.wordpress.com make it easy to piece together the fiscal and economic situation in Russia. The country is in an “autonomous” recession, meaning one caused by internal factors. The resources for growth have been exhausted, and there is no money for Crimea or for executing Putin’s May 2012 presidential decrees. The government is preparing to respond with austerity measures: the abolition of free medical care for nonworking citizens, tax increases, and another raid on retirement savings. For now the situation is rough but not catastrophic. At the same time the overall trajectory is clear: there will be less and less money, and it will be ordinary people who pay the bills.

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

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

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

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

Sochi Opening Ceremony

Ilya Matveev

Common sense is based on a sense of measure, a sense of proportion. Common sense is simply impossible in Russia, because the very fact the Olympics are being held here does not jibe with any justice of “number and measure,” as Plato called it. Meaning, literally, there are the Olympics, and “there is nothing else to talk about.” The hospitals have no drugs, the countryside has no schools, roads and stores, the universities cannot pay salaries of more than 10,000 rubles [approx. 200 euros] a month, and the most widespread dwellings, after all these years, are shabby nine-storey prefabs, built forty years ago by authorities who still possessed a shred of conscience. If you work in a kindergarten you’re dirt poor. If you’re a pensioner, boil yourself buckwheat and ask at the shop for an eighth of a loaf of bread. And in the midst of all this there is the Olympics. No “discussion” whatsoever is possible here. It was hard to imagine that the renewed tradition of ancient sporting competitions would come to symbolize the total, final and irrevocable humiliation of absolutely all people in Russia.

Source: Facebook (with kind permission from the author)

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Sergei Loiko
Triumph of the Will

Every day Nina Toromonyan comes to feed her pets amid the ruins of her house in the center of Sochi.

sochi story

The house and 25-acre plot with a view of the sea were confiscated by force and the house demolished, ostensibly because they impeded construction of Kurortny Avenue.

Thirteen people lived in the house, three families. They received total compensation of five million rubles [approx 105,000 euros]. Masked riot police toting machine guns evicted them on October 23, 2013, although Kurortny Avenue had already been built two kilometers from Nina’s house.

Her grandfather was officially granted the plot in 1947 in recognition of his heroism in World War Two.

None of the three related families who lived there has been able to buy themselves a house or even an apartment in Sochi. Like vagabonds, they find shelter where they can.

No one touched the homes to the right and the left of the plot. Experts says someone had set their sights on Nina’s property and used Putin’s Olympics to grab it on the sly. In fact, the prices in Sochi are such that the compensation payment should have been no less than forty million rubles [approx. 845,000 euros] .

When the riot police were dragging the bawling women from the house, Nina’s nine-year-old grandson Grisha shouted, “Don’t shoot, don’t kill us!” Trying to calm him down, his mother took his hand and said, “Don’t be afraid, son. They’re just making a movie—about fascists.”

Source: Facebook

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Fontanka.Ru
Four LGBT Activists Detained on Vasilievsky Island 
February 7, 2014

Four gay activists were detained today on the Spit of Vasilievsky Island [in Petersburg] when they decided to take a picture with a banner on the way to the place where a protest action was planned.

The LGBT activists did not make it to Belinsky Bridge, where they had planned, according to a previously circulated press release, to unfurl the meters-long banner in support of Olympic values.

As Fontanka.Ru has learned, along the way the activists decided to take a picture on the Spit. However, before they could unfurl the banner, emblazoned with the slogan “Any form of discrimination . . . is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement,” police officers arrived at the spot and detained them.

According to preliminary reports, among the detained is a young man and three young women, one of whom is pregnant. They are being taken to the 16th police precinct.

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Elena Kostyuchenko

Well, I’m home.

The short version is that during the four hours at Kitai-Gorod police station [in Moscow] Lynne Reid and Knicks Nemeni were handcuffed and kicked, Gleb Latnik was punched and pulled by the hair, and Ginger was put in a choke hold. I got off relatively easy: first, they suggested I “suck their cocks,” then they spat in my face.

Oh yeah, “You all should be burned” was among the remarks they made.

None of the policemen were wearing badges.

They enjoyed themselves. They confiscated our telephones. They sat there looking through our photos and leafing through our text messages.

A defense lawyer (an aide to MP Ilya Ponomaryov) was not let in to see us.

Then I was simply kicked out of the police station, with no arrest report, no nothing. “[He or she] sang a song to the tune of the Russian national anthem with distorted lyrics” was written in the arrest reports of the people who got them.

That’s not true. We sang our country’s national anthem, including the parts about “our free fatherland” and “you are unique in the world.”

We sang the national anthem all the way to the end.

It’s excellent singing the national anthem on Red Square. It’s nice on Red Square in general. We need to go there more often.

kostiuchenko-red square

Oh yes. When we left the cafe where we met before the protest, the police were already waiting for us. Dear LGBT activists, phones really are bugged, email really is scanned, and text messages are received not only by the people they’re sent to. Use alternative means of communication and take care of each other.

Love triumphs, both at the Olympics and just like that.

Source: Facebook

Ilya Matveev: A Word to the Wise (On Putin’s “Leftism” and Solidarity with Russians)

I have been banned on Facebook by Mark Sleboda, and for the most innocuous of comments. For those of you who don’t know this guy, he is an American who voluntarily came to Russia to work with Alexander Dugin, the conservative “Eurasianist” imperialist/traditionalist circus clown who went from hanging out, in the nineties, with the likes of politically dicey counter-culturalists like musician Sergei Kuryokhin and writer Eduard Limonov (with whom he co-founded the National Bolshevik party) to being a “respected” media commentator, “academic,” and Putin loyalist, in the noughties.

I’m writing in English in order to warn my Anglophone friends. There is a whole network of expats in Russia working on the “ideological front” defending Putin, frequently portraying him as an anti-Atlanticist battling NATO and EU hegemony. Many of these people pose as “leftists.” Basically, they are bought-and-paid petty ideologists, no better than our own homegrown Russian journalists and Kremlin think tankers. However, many of them, like Sleboda, sincerely believe Dugin’s “theories” and willingly support the Kremlin propaganda machine. What they offer is propaganda pure and simple: that is why I was banned for modestly questioning Sleboda’s position on Euromaidan. Different views are not tolerated, because the purpose of propaganda is to overwhelm a person with a stream of repeated buzzwords, not to discover the truth.

However, I am writing not just to warn you about the work of guys like Sleboda. Some political considerations are in order.

Apparently, the Putin regime’s “external” propaganda makes Putin out to be a “leftist” somehow. There are three key points in this portrayal. First, geopolitically, Russia is presented as an alternative to NATO and the EU. Second, politically, Russia is said to be against the neoliberalism imposed by the Atlanticist bloc. Third, culturally, Russia is combating “decadent perversions” such as the LGBT movement (which, again, has been imposed by the west).

In some respects, this is different from what we get here in Russia. Our “internal” propaganda does not focus on Putin’s alleged anti-neoliberalism, since very few people here are receptive to such “leftist” claims. Not so in the west: many people there sincerely believe that Putin is an anti-neoliberal.

What I want to do here is to refute all three points of the Kremlin’s “external” propaganda.

First, geopolitically, Russia is weak and only masquerades as an enemy of the west. It constitutes no regional bloc against western imperialism, as Latin America does. To be a genuine counter-power, you need to have an alternative set of values and an alternative model of the future. Putin’s Russia is far from possessing any real ideological commitments. It engages only in pure opportunism.

Second, politically, Russia is neoliberal through and through. There are neoliberal reforms in the public sector underway, Prime Minister Medvedev’s “technocratic” government is planning more privatizations (!), and not a single person within the government’s financial/economic bloc is an anti-neoliberal, even a moderate one. They are all neoliberal experts trained in the Chicago school of economics.

Third, culturally, Russia might be against “decadent perversions,” but such “perversions” are not what defines the west culturally. LGBT rights are the result of a brave struggle over many generations, not an organic part of western culture. However, if we can speak of “western culture” at all (which is very doubtful), we might very cautiously say that consumerism, a private sphere inhabited by atomized individuals, and the degradation of public virtues (in short, Guy Debord’s “spectacle”) are what define western capitalism. All these things are prevalent here in Russia, even more than in the west itself. Russia is more immersed in private life, and more consumerist than many western countries, and Putin fully supports that. So culturally speaking, he offers no opposition to capital’s creeping influence, and that is the most important thing.

Don't get into bed with Putin, comrades!
Don’t get into bed with Putin, comrades!

Okay, now that this has been said, should a western observer be a Russophobe, like the notorious blogger La Russophobe, who frequently writes for conservative US media outlets? No. The point is not to attack Russia as such, not to express solidarity with the Russian “people” against the Russia “government.” That is an empty formula used by the likes of John McCain. The point is to educate yourself about alternative political and social forces here in Russia—social movements, independent unions, leftist groups, and the opposition movement as a whole (in all its complexity, with its neoliberal and anti-neoliberal currents). As a leftist, I feel responsible for refuting the crazy idea that Putin is somehow a leftist. However, I also feel responsible for fighting against one-sided Russophobia, which essentially supports the US and EU agendas. Solidarity is very much needed here in Russia, but it should be solidarity coupled with political awareness. It should be against Putin, against neoliberalism and imperialism, but for genuine solidarity with the international left and with social movements across the globe. That is what I was wanted to explain here.

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

Editor’s Note. Readers who enjoyed Ilya’s comments might be also interested in this recent blog post by Anton Shekhovtsov, “The pro-Russian network behind the anti-Ukrainian defamation campaign.”

Ilya Matveev: The Childish Face of Russian Fascism Today

Our friend Ilya Matveev writes:

I have noticed, incidentally, that the focus in the current state-sponsored fascist upsurge is on children—moreover, both as objects of various bad actions (“propaganda,” pedophilia, etc.) and as subjects, as “young militants.” For example, teenagers were clearly involved in the “attempt to clean up the dormitory” in Moscow’s Kapotnya District: I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were thirteen or fourteen. This was all shown on national TV almost as an example to be emulated. Children also play a large role in convicted Russian neo-Nazi Maxim “Tesak” Martsinkevich’s Occupy Pedophilia campaign (likewise hyped on TV). The same kids have opened up their own shop (Occupy Gerontophilia) and set to bullying their gay agemates. Kids beat up activists at LGBT protests. Eighty percent of attendees at the so-called Day of Russian Rage were children. Finally, a sixth-former (!) has detected homosexuality in T.H. White’s Once and Future King, and again it has made the TV news. This stuff is served up completely seriously, as the new moral standard.

In general, I see two major differences from previous years. Very rapidly, just as described by Hannah Arendt, whole groups of people are denied the status of human beings. For example, it is taken as a given in fascist rags like Komsomolskaya Pravda that the Interior Ministry is using a gang of teenagers against illegal immigrants. Legally, migrant workers are no longer human beings; the issue of “purging” them is a technical matter, not one of law enforcement, and anything goes here. LGBT are also not human beings, but defective biomaterial, so their “hearts should be burned” and so on.

That is the first difference. The second is the focus on children. In the noughties, “youth policy” was about the eighteen- to twenty-year-olds who embedded themselves in a fake albeit political organization (Nashi), with its own program, ideology, and so on. (Although Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko and Kremlin ideology chief Vladislav Surkov daydreamed of units of stormtroopers combating the “orange menace” on the streets.) Now it is a matter of fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds, with a distinct taste of hatred as something absolutely irrational, along the lines of school bullying. The state has no doctrine or theory of hatred: there is only the pure emotion displayed by laboratory mice-like children. Grown-up “psychologists” and “educators” comment on this, arguing that we really are facing a gay threat and IT SHOWS in children. In short, the shit has hit the fan. Now things really are serious.