At the moment I’m worried by the sense that there is no way out of the situation at the regional level—the war between Russia and Ukraine can go on indefinitely long. Continuing within the pre-established framework of geopolitical nationalism, Russia wants to expand its borders or fortify them with new puppet buffer entities; Ukraine wants to preserve existing territories and get back lost ones; other countries in the region are concerned about preserving themselves as nation-states; and finally, there are territories that someone hopes become new nation-states. We understand some of the above while condemning others, but all of it together is a nationalistic impasse in globalization from which there is no global way out.
A sensible global response to the crisis will emerge only if the situation (no matter how scary this is to say) actually escalates into a global confrontation, into a Third World War. And then those who abstractly and dogmatically insist today that everyone is to blame for the new insane war and the new arms race—Putin, NATO, Ukrainian and European elites—will be proven right. Because the global war, which has been going on for a long time and has lost even a semblance of meaning, naturally provokes peoples and nations who are worse off to ask questions of elites who are still well off or even better off than they were before.
Apparently, this is the only way the one big question to the world order of the last thirty years can be posed and give rise to a big answer—in the form of a new global anti-war, anti-imperialist, redistributive, climate, human rights, unifying federalist, etc., agenda, which would be articulated by new international bodies fueled by genuinely widespread grassroots discontent.
It would be just terrible if different parts of humanity had to kill and maim each other even more in order to feel unity again, embrace common challenges, and suggest common responses.
Hanna Perekhoda Here the Western left has been looking and looking for an anti-war movement on the Russian left. They have searched high and low, wondering how to help them and guessing that those poor people are thinking how to stop the war and undoubtedly need support. With your permission, I will show them this post as an illustration of the ardent zeal on the Russian left to accelerate the defeat of its own fascist regime and stop the war in Ukraine.
Hanna Perekhoda I reread [this post] and was even more gobsmacked. Has helplessness really crushed your brain so much that you are practicing at imagining exactly how the Third World War would solve problems that you no longer have the courage try and solve, let alone think about normally? Have even basic moral and ethical principles fallen by the wayside? This is the living end, and a pathetic one at that. No fucking war indeed. Game over.
Source: Kirill Medvedev, Facebook, 11 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
In an existential crisis and looking to solve a cold case, Max checks into a secretive hotel with elaborate assisted suicide fantasies. He uncovers a disturbing truth, questioning the nature of life, death, and his perception of reality.
“There used to be diasporas, now there are communities,” say newcomers in Kas. Some of them organize traditional guided tours, some are in charge of taxi services jointly with locals or are developing food delivery companies.
Maksim Zaikin creates co-living spaces for people with similar habits and values by subletting villas. Maksim, a mentor for several projects in Moscow and St. Petersburg, creator of Co eco-system, arrived in Kas in November 2020 to pass the winter. He first organized a party in the neighboring town of Kalkan attended by 45 people mostly from Kas. Maksim then realized that it’s better to move there.
“All people that I am talking to here say that it’s a sort of place of power,” he says. “Kas gives you energy and helps you grow. Everyone in my circle can feel it. I was meeting people that I knew through Facebook but never had personal contacts with when Russians were arriving here in big numbers. Now, the trend has reversed — people stayed in Turkey for the officially allowed 90 days and decided to move back home or change the location.”
“We often see people leave, realise what they really want and come back. In the time of war, Kas has become not just an isle of calmness but also a space for development.”
At their peak, Maksim and his business partner Nikita had 6 villas on the peninsula and apartments in the centre. Prices start from $1,000 per month for a double room outside of the tourist season. When it gets hotter, prices go up as well to at least $1,700. Coworking spaces that host events, lectures and workshops are also available. It has essentially transformed into a home for the community or a culture centre. “It’s very easy for us to find speakers, they themselves come looking because Kas is a place with a lot of fantastic people.”
The team is planning to set up camps with experts on their villas and launch educational programs for kids. Maksim himself has two, 8- and 10-year-olds, they are currently studying online. But the entrepreneur is dreaming of creating an offline program for education.
Many Russians come with kids but the nearest school offering education in Russian is located in Antalya.
“I am not thinking of going back to Russia,” Maksim concludes. “I want to create a lifestyle where I can move between hubs: Kas, Bali, Portugal. We go where there’s a market for it, where Russians go. I want to live on the planet, not in a country.”
Source: Olga Grigoryeva, “Russians in Kas: A small town in southern Turkey turned into a hub of Russian intellectuals,” Novaya Gazeta. Europe, 14 July 2022
But here’s the thing. The jerk in question simply does not recognize this particular state as independent or legitimate. In fact, he thinks it’s some kind of historical misunderstanding or aberration. And remarkably he is joined in this opinion by a huge number of his fellow citizens, including many bien-pensant communists, anarchists, etc.
You would never know from the way these Trotskyists, Makhnovists, anarcho-syndicalists, antifascists, Maoists, alterglobalists, reformed Stalinists, and “engaged artists” talk and write about this non-state’s current political scene, troubles, (mis)fortunes, etc., that it has been independent of the jerk’s empire (their own empire) for almost twenty-five years. So they feel perfectly in their rights to fulminate against what they see as this non-state’s faults, stupidities, “contradictions,” and brutalities—for example, the apparently ridiculous claim, made by the non-state’s illegitimate non-prime minister the other day, that some opposition to his government’s proposed neoliberal policies is directed by the same people who had protested loudly for reunification with the jerk’s empire (“federalization”), folks allegedly linked to the empire’s security and espionage services.
(Although how could the illegitimate non-prime minister think to make such a ridiculous claim under normal circumstances, that is, if the empire hadn’t just annexed one part of his non-country and been aiding “separatists” trying to slice off another part? Would, say, David Cameron think it possible to claim publicly that Britons opposed to his own ruinous neoliberal polices were agents of the German secret services?)
While some of them might think that the jerk’s own methods of intervening in the non-state’s affairs are a bit extreme, the jerk’s fellow citizens more or less don’t have a problem with such interventions generally, because they really don’t see the non-state as a real country or its inhabitants as full-fledged adults. For the jerk’s imperial leftists, this is doubly the case, because they are still “dreaming” of worldwide “communism” breaking out everywhere, god knows how or when. Like last time round, this worldwide communism will be managed from their empire’s capital, and they will be its commissars and leading intellectual lights, of course. They certainly have the qualifications.
So strictly speaking it is quaint, wrongheaded and retrograde (“fascist,” even) to want your own country, independent of the empire. And god forbid that your non-state, like most of the other states (or are they non-states, too?) in the vicinity (and most of the rest of the world), should have oligarchs and fat-cat capitalists, corrupt and stupid politicians, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalists and real-life neo-Nazis itching to get into political office and beating up nearby undesirables in the meantime, neoliberal economic policies and austerity programs, clericalism and xenophobia, an atmosphere of intellectual benightedness among the general populace, confusion, dismay and sycophancy within the cultural and intellectual elites, and self-destructive economic pacts with dicey transnational neoliberal blocs. If you have any of these things in any quantities whatsoever in the place you quaintly call your country, then theoretically, dialectically and morally, you are liable to intervention of one sort or the other by the empire and/or its leftist allies, especially if your non-state borders on the empire, and you and/or some of your neighbors speak the same language as the jerk and his fellow citizens.
To put it more bluntly, it is inconceivable to them that anyone who speaks the same language as they do would want to live anywhere else other than “worldwide communism” (i.e., in their empire).
This may explain the signal fact, which really should trouble or at least puzzle leftists and progressives in other parts of the world, that the empire’s leftists—otherwise so eager to draw attention to themselves, to hold forth on the dreadful “postcolonial” condition they have been plunged into by the combined (external) forces of anti-communism, neoliberalism and insensitive foreign Marxists, to beat their chests about the political prisoners from among their ranks and their need for international solidarity right now, to demand asylum for political refugees (or their imitators) from their empire, and to show off their impeccable intellectual and ideological pedigrees at conferences and progressive art shows from London to Sydney—have been incapable or (more likely) unwilling to organize a vigorous anti-war movement, neither now, during the current conflict with the inglorious non-state on the empire’s borders, nor a bit earlier, when it proved dialectically and imperially necessary to crack down on some other non-states in the empire’s southern marches.
By “vigorous” I don’t mean that unless millions of people appear on the streets of the empire’s major cities tomorrow or the day after tomorrow waving “Hands off the non-state!” placards, there will be nothing to write home about. “Vigorous” means, at a minimum, that the empire’s leftists and progressives banish from their romantic hearts the notion that the current wildly lawless, rampantly corrupt, socially destructive, obscurantist mess that their empire has become can be suddenly dialectically aufhebunged, for no particular reason at all, and with a minimum of effort on their parts, into its synthetic better, transmogrified into a Wallersteinian “anti-hegemonic” force for global grassroots good.
That is a needlessly fancy way of saying that the empire’s leftists and progressives have to start fighting their own corner rather than either outright shilling for the empire under the banner of an alleged ongoing “proletarian revolution” in the eastern provinces of the neighboring non-state (the minority case) or (the majority case) pretending to themselves that “internationalism” means being utterly self-absorbed, self-important, Benjamin- and Bakunin-quoting punk stars on the international and national lecture, conference and art circuits, hovering high above the overall hugger-mugger like photogenic angels of history (with all of this glamor-pussing appearing almost instantly on their Facebook pages).
If you are incapable or unwilling to band together with your non-Benjamin or Bakunin-reading neighbors or workmates to strike your workplace, show real, practical solidarity with persecuted minorities (from migrants to gays), defend beleaguered civil society groups doing important, good work you would never want to do yourself (many of these groups have now been branded “foreign agents” and dismantled by the jerk’s minions for their efforts while society seethed with hatred at the non-state’s cheekiness) or protect a forest or an eighteenth-century listed market hall from destruction, then maybe you really have nothing to say to anyone, at home or abroad, about “communism.”
Of course there are some leftists, progressives, and just plain people in the empire who do these things and to whom nothing I have said applies. But right now they are outnumbered and overwhelmed not only by their rank-and-file fellow citizens, seemingly bewitched by the jerk’s hyperactive propaganda machine, but also and more importantly by their own ideological comrades, who do not seem to realize what a demoralizing effect their furious public intellectual activity, Internet editorializing, and so-called research and artistic engagement have on the movement (if one actually exists, which at this point is doubtful) and the prospects for democratic socialism in the country where they actually live.
There is one point on which there is striking agreement among liberals, Putinists, and the “populist” segment of the Russian left. This is the idea that the majority of the Russian population adheres to leftist values, as opposed to the narrow strata of the middle class and intelligentsia in the big cities.
This simplified representation of societal processes, typical of both semi-official and opposition propaganda, is based on a juxtaposition of the so-called creative class with the notional workers of the Uralvagonzavod tank and railway car manufacturing plant, supposed wearers of quilted jackets with alleged hipsters. Discussion of such complicated topics as the Bolotnaya Square protests, Maidan, and Anti-Maidan revolves around this juxtaposition. The various ideological camps differ only in terms of where their likes and dislikes are directed.
Leaving aside left-nationalist figures like Sergei Kurginyan and Eduard Limonov, the most prominent proponent of the “populist” trend within the leftist movement is Boris Kagarlitsky. The whole thrust of his current affairs writing is to exalt the silent majority (the working people), who are organically hostile to the parasitic petty bourgeoisie that, allegedly, constituted the core of the anti-government protests in Russia in 2011–2012, and in Ukraine in 2013–2014.
Ukraine in the Mirror of Russian “Populism”
In an editorial published on the web site Rabkor.ru, entitled “Anti-Maidan and the Future of Protests,” Kagarlitsky (or his alter ego: unfortunately, the article has no byline) describes the events in Ukraine as follows: “Nothing testifies to the class character of the confrontation that has unfolded in Ukraine like the two crowds that gathered on April 7 in Kharkov. At one end of the square, the well-dressed, well-groomed and prosperous middle class, the intelligentsia, and students stood under yellow-and-blue Ukrainian national flags. Across the square from them had gathered poorly and badly dressed people, workers and youth from the city’s outskirts, bearing red banners, Russian tricolors, and St. George’s Ribbons.” According to Kagarlitsky, this is nothing more or less than a vision of the future of Russia, where only the “state apparatus despised by liberal intellectuals defends them from direct confrontation with those same masses they dub ‘white trash.’”
The fact that the venerable sociologist has been forced to resort to such demagogic methods as assessing the class makeup of protesters by reversing the proverb “It’s not the gay coat that makes the gentleman” indicates the conjectural nature of his scheme. (I wonder how much time Kagarlitsky spent poring over photos from Donetsk with a magnifying glass.) When discussing the social aspect of Maidan, most analysts have noted the dramatic changes that occurred as the protests were radicalized. “At the Euromaidan that existed before November 30–December 1,” notes political analyst Vasily Stoyakin, “it was Kyivans who dominated, and in many ways the ‘face’ of Maidan was made up by young people and the intelligentsia, albeit with a slight admixture of political activists. Many students, people with higher educations, and creative people attended it. […] After November 30, when the clashes began, […] a lot of blue-collar workers without higher educations arrived, in large part from the western regions.”
According to Vadim Karasev, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, as quoted in late January, “[T]he backbone of Euromaidan is men between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five, ‘angry young men,’ often unemployed. […] In my opinion, it would be mistaken to call Maidan a lower-class protest, just as it would be to call it a middle-class protest. It is a Maidan of all disaffected people who are able to get to Kyiv.” According to a study carried out in mid-December 2013 by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, every fifth activist at Maidan was a resident of Lviv, around a third had arrived from Ukraine’s central regions, every tenth activist was from the Kyiv region, and around twenty percent were from the country’s southeast.
Sixty-one (two thirds!) of the protesters killed at Maidan were from villages and small towns in Central and Western Ukraine. As political analyst Rinat Pateyev and Nikolai Protsenko, deputy editor of Ekspert Iug magazine, noted, “Among the victims, we see a large number of villagers, including young subproletarians. […] On the other hand, occupations favored by the intelligentsia are fairly well represented [in the list of the slain]: there is a programmer, a journalist, an artist, several school teachers and university lecturers, several theater people, as well as a number of students.” By “subproletarians” Pateyev and Protsenko primarily have in mind seasonal workers “who live on the money they earn abroad.” Isn’t this all fairly remote from the portrait of the “well-dressed, well-groomed and prosperous middle class” painted by Rabkor.ru’s leader writer? We should speak, rather, of the classical picture observed during revolutionary periods, when peaceful protests by students and the intelligentsia escalate into uprisings of the working class’s most disadvantaged members (who for some reason were not prevented from fighting by either liberals or hipsters).
As evidence of Anti-Maidan’s class character, Rabkor.ru’s editorialist adduces no other arguments except to point out the “short text of the declaration of the Donetsk Republic,” which “contains language about collective ownership, equality, and the public interest.” However, many observers have also noted the growth of anti-government and anti-oligarchic sentiments at Maidan. Journalist and leftist activist Igor Dmitriev quotes a manifesto issued by Maidan Self-Defense Force activists: “The new government of Ukraine, which came into office on Maidan’s shoulders, pretends it does not exist. We were not fighting for seats for Tymoshenko, Kolomoisky, Parubiy, Avakov, and their ilk. We fought so that all the country’s citizens would be its masters—each of us, not a few dozen ‘representatives.’ Maidan does not believe it has achieved the goal for which our brothers perished.”
Maidan and Anti-Maidan, which have a similar social makeup, employ the same methods, and suffer from identical nationalist diseases, look like twin brothers who have been divided and turned against each other by feuding elite clans and the intellectuals who serve them. There is absolutely no reason to force the facts, cramming them into a preconceived scheme drawn up on the basis of completely different events that have occurred in another country.
Is Russian Society Leftist?
But let’s return to Russia and see whether the “populist” scheme works here. Can we speak of a “leftist majority” that deliberately ignores protests by the petty bourgeoisie, who are protected from popular wrath by the authorities?
This belief is common within a certain section of the left, but there is no evidence at all to support this view. Poor Kagarlitsky is constantly forced to appeal to absences. For example, commenting on the outcome of the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, he declared a “victory” for the “boycott party” (that is, people who did not vote in the election), which by default is considered proof the electorate is leftist. It logically follows from this that the absence, say, of mass protests against fee-for-services medicine must testify to the triumph of neoliberal ideas within the broad masses of working people.
Sure, in today’s Russia statues of Lenin are not knocked down so often, and Kremlin mouthpieces eagerly borrow motifs from Soviet mythology. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is still the largest opposition party (but is it leftist?), and many people see the Soviet Union as the touchstone of state and economic power. But are all these things indicators of leftism in the sense the editorialist, who considers himself a Marxist, understands it?
To get closer to answering this question, we need to ask other questions, for example, about the prevalence of self-organization and collective action in the workplace. The statistics on labor disputes in Russia, regularly published by the Center for Social and Labor Rights, are not impressive. Even less impressive are the statistics for strikes. Independent trade union organizations are negligible in terms of their numbers and their resilience, and the rare instances of successful trade union growth are more common at enterprises owned by transnational corporations, where industrial relations approximate western standards. Activists in such trade unions as the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (which rejects the paternalist ideology of the country’s traditional trade union associations) are forced to resort to translated textbooks on organizing and the know-how of foreign colleagues, not to native grassroots collectivism or the remnants of the Soviet mentality.
The above applies to all other forms of voluntary associations, which currently encompass a scant number of Russians. Whereas Russian Populists of the late nineteenth century could appeal to the peasant commune and to the cooperative trade and craft associations (artels) and fellow-countrymen networks (zemliachestva) that were common among the people, the “populists” of the early twenty-first century attempt to claim that a society united by nothing except state power and the nuclear family adheres to leftist values.
The standard explanation for the failure of the Bolotnaya Square protests is that they did not feature “social demands,” meaning slogans dealing with support for the poor, availability of public services, lower prices and utility rates, and increased pensions and salaries. But such demands are part of the standard fare offered by nearly all Russian political parties and politicians, from United Russia to Prokhorov and Navalny. These demands sounded at Bolotnaya Square as well. Successfully employed by the authorities and mainstream opposition parties, this social rhetoric has, however, absolutely no effect on the masses when voiced by radical leftists, strange as it might seem. We are constantly faced with a paradox: opinion polls show that the public is permanently concerned about poverty, economic equality, unemployment, high prices, and so on, but we do not see either significant protests or the growing influence of leftist forces and trade unions. Apparently, the explanation for this phenomenon is that a significant part of the population pins its hopes not on strategies of solidarity and collective action, but on the support of strong, fatherly state power. The Kremlin links implementation of its “obligations to society” with manifestations of loyalty: this is the essence of its policy of stability.
Leftists in a Right-Wing Society
Finally, should we consider ordinary people’s nostalgic memories of the Soviet Union during the stagnation period a manifestation of “leftism,” and rejection of western lifestyles and indifference to democratic freedoms indicators of an anti-bourgeois worldview? According to the twisted logic of the “populists,” who have declared most democratic demands irrelevant to the class struggle and therefore not worthy of attention, that is the way it is. Instead of accepting the obvious fact that proletarians need more democracy and more radical democracy than the middle class, and that protests by students and the intelligentsia can pave the way to revolt by the lower classes, theorists like Kagarlitsky try to paint ordinary conservatism red.
They tacitly or openly postulate that workers can somehow acquire class consciousness under a reactionary regime without breaking with its paternalist ideology and without supporting the fight for those basic political rights that workers in the west won at the cost of a long and bloody struggle.
It is time to recognize that we live in a society far more rightist than any of the Western European countries and even the United States. What European and American right-wing radicals can imagine only in their wildest fantasies has been realized in post-Soviet Russia in an unprecedentedly brief span of time and with extraordinary completeness. The Soviet legacy (or, rather, the reactionary aspects of the Soviet social model) proved not to be an antidote to bourgeois-mindedness, but rather an extremely favorable breeding ground for a strange capitalist society that is simultaneously atomized and anti-individualist, cynical and easily manipulated, traditionalist and bereft of genuine roots. And we leftists must learn to be revolutionaries in this society, rather than its willing or unwitting apologists.
Ivan Ovsyannikov, Russian Socialist Movement April 20, 2014