Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 15, 2015

Behind every great fortune there is a crime

Filed under: capitalist pig,crime,literature,Russia — louisproyect @ 10:37 pm

The title of this article stems from Honoré de Balzac’s “Père Goriot”. Often seen erroneously (including by me) as the novel’s epigraph, it is actually words spoken by a scheming, malevolent character named Vautrin: “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been discovered, because it was properly executed.”

Whatever the exact words, the Balzacian worldview came to mind after reading the NY Times series of articles on the filthy rich and mostly criminal owners of the city’s most expensive condos. They sank in further after watching an episode on “Sixty Minutes” about HSBC, a Swiss bank that facilitated tax evasion and worse.

I suppose that I should have long been inured to the criminality of the super-rich but for some reason I always stop dead in my tracks when I encounter it anew on such a grand scale. I end up feeling like Joe Buck, the Texas hustler who has come to NY to make it as a professional gigolo in “Midnight Cowboy”, standing over a man sprawled out unconscious on the sidewalk as people pass him by with barely a glance. Unlike the rest of humanity, Buck tells himself that something is wrong.

Karl Marx was a big fan of Balzac and even intended to write a study of “The Human Comedy”, a massive collection of novels, short stories and articles about the greed, corruption and power of the bourgeoisie but hardly a paean to the common man. Keep in mind that Balzac was a royalist and hardly a purveyor of “socialist realism”. Engels, another fan of Balzac, told London radical Margaret Harkness in 1888 that his politics were less important than his ability to tell the truth about bourgeois society:

The more the opinions of the author remain hidden, the better for the work of art. The realism I allude to may crop out even in spite of the author’s opinions. Let me refer to an example. Balzac, whom I consider a far greater master of realism than all the Zolas passés, présents et a venir [past, present and future], in “La Comédie humaine” gives us a most wonderfully realistic history of French ‘Society’, especially of le monde parisien [the Parisian social world], describing, chronicle-fashion, almost year by year from 1816 to 1848 the progressive inroads of the rising bourgeoisie upon the society of nobles, that reconstituted itself after 1815 and that set up again, as far as it could, the standard of la viellie politesse française [French refinement]. He describes how the last remnants of this, to him, model society gradually succumbed before the intrusion of the vulgar monied upstart, or were corrupted by him; how the grand dame whose conjugal infidelities were but a mode of asserting herself in perfect accordance with the way she had been disposed of in marriage, gave way to the bourgeoisie, who horned her husband for cash or cashmere; and around this central picture he groups a complete history of French Society from which, even in economic details (for instance the rearrangement of real and personal property after the Revolution) I have learned more than from all the professed historians, economists, and statisticians of the period together.

Monied upstarts pretty much describes the billionaires who bought Manhattan apartments through shell corporations that concealed their identities. The article that introduces the series describes the affinity between NY’s one percent and the human detritus that is artificially inflating an already out-of-reach real estate market:

The high-end real estate market has become less and less transparent — and more alluring for those abroad with assets they wish to keep anonymous — even as the United States pushes other nations to help stanch the flow of American money leaving the country to avoid taxes. Yet for all the concerns of law enforcement officials that shell companies can hide illicit gains, regulatory efforts to require more openness from these companies have failed.

“We like the money,” said Raymond Baker, the president of Global Financial Integrity, a Washington nonprofit that tracks the illicit flow of money. “It’s that simple. We like the money that comes into our accounts, and we are not nearly as judgmental about it as we should be.”

In some ways, officials are clamoring for the foreign wealthy. In New York, tax breaks for condominium developments benefit owners looking for a second, or third, residence in one of Manhattan’s premier buildings. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on his weekly radio program in 2013, shortly before leaving office: “If we could get every billionaire around the world to move here, it would be a godsend.”

In fact the invasion of oligarchs and crooks has been the opposite of a godsend. These condominiums enjoy tax breaks originally intended to stimulate the construction of middle-class housing but real estate developers obviously find it more profitable to build high-rises like the Time-Warner Center that is profiled in the articles. Built shortly after September 11, 2001, the ultra-luxury building was advertised as a fortress for the super-rich that had more to fear from the workers and peasants they were screwing than Islamic radicals.

 

Here is an idea of the kind of scum that inhabits the Time-Warner Center:

Units 72B and 51E are owned by the Amantea Corporation, which The Times traced to a mining magnate named Anil Agarwal. His company was fined for polluting a major river near a copper mine in Zambia, which sickened nearby residents. And judicial committees in his native India determined that his company had violated the land rights of an indigenous tribe near a proposed mine.

Perhaps the most eye-opening example of how larceny and power politics commingle is found in part five in the series titled “At the Time Warner Center, an Enclave of Powerful Russians”. If you, like me, place little credence in the notion of the Kremlin and its retinue of connected oligarchs as some kind of anti-imperialist vanguard, this profile of Andrey Vavilov is a must read.

Vavilov was Boris Yeltsin’s deputy finance minister and like many of his top officials cultivated ties with American inside-the-beltway policy wonks and power brokers at places like the Brookings Institution. Vavilov was one of the key architects who advised Yeltsin on turning state-owned industry, particularly in the energy sphere, into get-rich-quick bonanzas for the managers benefiting from privatization including himself. Cashing in on a sale of a oil company being sold back to the state under Putin to the tune of $600 million, he was not put off by the price tag of $37.5 million for an 8,275 square foot penthouse in the Time Warner Center. In addition to this penthouse, Vavilov owns an Airbus jet, apartments in Monaco and Beverly Hills, and recently purchased two diamonds for his wife (55 and 59.5 carats) worth a cool $60 million.

He is also a visiting professor of economics at Penn State, where he must be educating a new generation of economists on how to game the system for Wall Street hedge funds and the like.

Like many on Wall Street, Vavilov has managed to avoid a prison cell despite the serious allegations made against him over the years, including the mishandling of nearly a quarter-billion dollars in proceeds from the sale of MIG’s to India. Just around the time the law was breathing down his neck in 2007, he was elected senator to the Russian parliament, which gave him immunity. The case was dropped a year later because the statue of limitations had expired.

Most interestingly, despite Vavilov’s close association to Yeltsin and Putin’s reputation for cleaning up Yeltsin’s privatization mess, he managed to endear himself to the fearless anti-imperialist leader:

Despite Mr. Vavilov’s close association with the Yeltsin administration, much of his wealth was acquired later, as Mr. Putin’s government was consolidating the nation’s oil industry in one state-affiliated super company, Rosneft.

In 2000, Mr. Vavilov had acquired a small oil company, Severnaya Neft, or Northern Oil, for $25 million. When Rosneft purchased Severnaya Neft in 2003 for $600 million, the deal was widely criticized as having been larded with kickbacks for Kremlin insiders.

In a now-legendary confrontation at the Kremlin, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, chairman of the oil giant Yukos, challenged Mr. Putin about the purchase. Many people believed that it was Mr. Putin’s anger over the very public encounter that sparked his campaign against Mr. Khodorkovsky, who would be stripped of his company, prosecuted and imprisoned.

For most of the left, particularly those people who remain impressed by NYU professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen who has the same relationship to Putin that Anna Louise Strong had to Mao Zedong, there’s very little understanding of how Putin continues Yeltsin’s policies rather than breaks with them. In fact, there is an analogy with how Cohen’s wife’s vanity publication, ie. The Nation Magazine, fails to appreciate how much Obama is a continuation of George W. Bush.

For the best analysis of the Yeltsin-Putin continuity, I recommend a Tony Wood review of three recent books on Putin that is unfortunately behind a paywall (contact me if you’d like a copy) but this is the takeaway:

New Year’s Eve 1999 – when Yeltsin appeared on Russian TV screens to announce his resignation as president in favour of Putin – is often taken to mark a major turning point, from the ‘fevered 1990s’ to the stability of the ‘Zero Years’, as the 2000s are known, the moment when Yeltsin’s erratic improvisation gave way to the cold calculation personified in Putin. Economically, the prolonged post-Soviet collapse was followed by recovery after the 1998 ruble crash and then an oil-fuelled boom, while in the media a boisterous incoherent pluralism was replaced by deadening consensus. But there were deeper continuities in the system both men commanded.

Politically, the ‘managed democracy’ of the 2000s was not a perversion of Yeltsinism but its maturation. Faced with a fractious legislature – the Congress of People’s Deputies elected in 1990 – Yeltsin bombed it into submission in October 1993 and then rewrote the constitution along hyper-presidential lines, getting it approved by a rigged referendum that December. Even before that, he had sidestepped democratic accountability by implementing much of the key legislation that shaped the post-Soviet economy through a series of decrees – some of them, notably on privatisation, drafted by Western advisers. Thanks to the notorious ‘loans for shares’ deals of 1995-96, a handful of oligarchs obtained vast holdings in oil and metals companies in exchange for flooding the media outlets they owned with anti-Communist propaganda – a vital contribution to prolonging Yeltsin’s grip on power, though generous financial assistance from the West and electoral violations also played their part. In Chechnya, Yeltsin moved to crush local aspirations to sovereignty, unleashing total war against the civilian population in 1994, though the Russian army had been fought to a standstill by 1996.

On each of these fronts, Putin continued what Yeltsin began, starting in the North Caucasus in September 1999, when he launched a vicious counterinsurgency – officially labelled an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ – to destroy any idea of Chechen independence, eventually imposing a tyrant of his own choosing. Once installed as president, he made use of the autocratic set-up he inherited to reassert central authority, reining in regional elites by appointing plenipotentiaries to head seven new federal superdistricts, okruga; five of the first levy were former military men, underlining their disciplinary function (his first envoy to the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, had commanded Russian forces in the North Caucasus). Fiscal reforms increased the federal centre’s tax take at the expense of the regions, with Moscow’s share rising from 50 per cent in 2001 to 70 per cent in 2008. In 2004 Putin further restricted their autonomy, abolishing elections for governors and mayors (though these were partially reintroduced in 2012). The national legislature had been put in its place by Yeltsin, though it showed signs of rebellion in 1998, in the wake of the ruble crisis; Putin brought it firmly to heel, streamlining the party system so that by 2007 there were only four to manage, two of them, United Russia and A Just Russia, the Kremlin’s own creations, while the Communist Party and LDPR (the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) hardly constituted an opposition. In December 2003, Boris Gryzlov, the Duma chairman, summed up its negligible role by declaring that ‘parliament is no place for political battles.’

I suppose there is very little expectation that Swiss Banks are up to anything except abetting criminals but the segment on Sixty Minutes last Sunday about HSBC was enough to bring out the Joe Buck in me. You can watch the entire thing here.

Bill Whitaker interviews attorney Jack Blum, who was graduating the year I entered Bard College. Blum is a capable investigator whose best-known efforts on behalf of the public interest was an aide to John Kerry in his investigation of the Nicaraguan contra-cocaine connection back in 1986 when he still had a shred of integrity. I never had any contact with Blum but he was a fairly typical young Democrat type of student who at least had the good sense to stay clear of electoral politics.

Jack Blum

Here’s the beginning of the transcript from the “Sixty Minutes” piece:

HIGHLIGHT: The largest and most damaging Swiss bank heist in history doesn`t involve stolen money but stolen computer files with more than one hundred thousand names tied to Swiss bank accounts at HSBC, the second largest commercial bank in the world. A thirty-seven-year-old computer security specialist named Herve Falciani stole the huge cache of data in 2007 and gave it to the French government.

BILL WHITAKER: The largest and most damaging Swiss bank heist in history doesn`t involve stolen money but stolen computer files with more than one hundred thousand names tied to Swiss bank accounts at HSBC, the second largest commercial bank in the world. A thirty-seven-year-old computer security specialist named Herve Falciani stole the huge cache of data in 2007 and gave it to the French government. It`s now being used to go after tax cheats all over the world. 60 MINUTES, working with a group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, obtained the leaked files. They show the bank did business with a collection of international outlaws: Tax dodgers, arms dealers and drug smugglers–offering a rare glimpse into the highly secretive world of Swiss banking.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): This is the stolen data that`s shaking the Swiss banking world to its core. It contains names, nationalities, account information, deposit amounts–but most remarkable are these detailed notes revealing the private dealings between HSBC and its clients.

JACK BLUM: Well, the amount of information here that has come public is extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Few people know more about money laundering and tax evasion by banks than Jack Blum.

JACK BLUM: You have a very serious problem.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): He`s a former U.S. Senate staff investigator. We asked him to analyze the files for us.

JACK BLUM: If you read these notes, what you understand is the bank is trying to accommodate the secrecy needs of the client. And that`s the first concern.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Take the case of British citizen Emmanuel Shallop. He was convicted for selling blood diamonds, those illegal gems used to finance conflicts in Africa. The documents show in 2005 HSBC knew Shallop was under investigation, yet helped hide his assets. “We have opened a company account for him based in Dubai…” one entry read, “The client is very cautious currently, because he is under pressure from Belgian tax authorities, who are investigating his activities in the area of diamond tax fraud.”

JACK BLUM: You get into the notes and you find that they offer various products: shell corporations, trusts, various ways of concealing the ownership of the account. They offer products that they`re going to give to the customer that will help with a concealment.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Concealment is what Irish businessman John Cashell got from HSBC. His file contained these notes by a bank employee: Cashell`s “…pre-occupation is with the risk of disclosure to the Irish authorities.” The employee went on, “…I endeavored to reassure him that there is no risk of that happening.” Cashell was later convicted of tax evasion.

The bank files we examined contained more than four thousand names of people with connections to the U.S., holding more than thirteen billion in HSBC accounts. One was a New Jersey realtor. The notes in her file reveal that she and her family wanted assurance that her assets would be well hidden from U.S. tax collectors.

JACK BLUM: And she expresses concerns to the bank, which in turn reassure her that they will find ways to keep her name out of the sights of IRS.

BILL WHITAKER: There seems to be evidence of the bank actively helping clients evade, if not cheat.

JACK BLUM: Of course.

It has been at least 35 years since I read “Père Goriot”. I barely have time nowadays to read the political stuff that is my daily bread but I would like to find the time to read it again before I die since it was a book that gave me deep pleasure. Balzac was a master of rendering character, particularly in the depths of their depravity. His introduction to the novel’s main character will give you an idea of the moral rot that underpins bourgeois society. From the sound of this, Père Goriot would have found the road to riches in Yeltsin and Putin’s Russia or a job with HSBC:

In the days before the Revolution, Jean-Joachim Goriot was simply a workman in the employ of a vermicelli maker. He was a skilful, thrifty workman, sufficiently enterprising to buy his master’s business when the latter fell a chance victim to the disturbances of 1789. Goriot established himself in the Rue de la Jussienne, close to the Corn Exchange. His plain good sense led him to accept the position of President of the Section, so as to secure for his business the protection of those in power at that dangerous epoch. This prudent step had led to success; the foundations of his fortune were laid in the time of the Scarcity (real or artificial), when the price of grain of all kinds rose enormously in Paris. People used to fight for bread at the bakers’ doors; while other persons went to the grocers’ shops and bought Italian paste foods without brawling over it. It was during this year that Goriot made the money, which, at a later time, was to give him all the advantage of the great capitalist over the small buyer; he had, moreover, the usual luck of average ability; his mediocrity was the salvation of him. He excited no one’s envy, it was not even suspected that he was rich till the peril of being rich was over, and all his intelligence was concentrated, not on political, but on commercial speculations. Goriot was an authority second to none on all questions relating to corn, flour, and “middlings”; and the production, storage, and quality of grain. He could estimate the yield of the harvest, and foresee market prices; he bought his cereals in Sicily, and imported Russian wheat. Any one who had heard him hold forth on the regulations that control the importation and exportation of grain, who had seen his grasp of the subject, his clear insight into the principles involved, his appreciation of weak points in the way that the system worked, would have thought that here was the stuff of which a minister is made. Patient, active, and persevering, energetic and prompt in action, he surveyed his business horizon with an eagle eye. Nothing there took him by surprise; he foresaw all things, knew all that was happening, and kept his own counsel; he was a diplomatist in his quick comprehension of a situation; and in the routine of business he was as patient and plodding as a soldier on the march. But beyond this business horizon he could not see. He used to spend his hours of leisure on the threshold of his shop, leaning against the framework of the door. Take him from his dark little counting-house, and he became once more the rough, slow-witted workman, a man who cannot understand a piece of reasoning, who is indifferent to all intellectual pleasures, and falls asleep at the play, a Parisian Dolibom in short, against whose stupidity other minds are powerless.

November 21, 2014

Who Is Behind the Trotskyist Conspiracy?

Filed under: Russia,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 1:42 pm

(This appeared originally on http://therussianreader.wordpress.com/, an invaluable source of analysis on Russian society and politics.)

Ilya Budraitskis: The Perpetual “Trotskyist” Conspiracy

Who Is Behind the Trotskyist Conspiracy?
Ilya Budraitskis
November 21, 2014
OpenLeft.ru

Speaking at a meeting of his United People’s Front a couple days ago, Vladimir Putin said, “Trotsky had this [saying]: the movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing. We need an ultimate aim.” Eduard Bernstein’s proposition, misquoted and attributed for some reason to Leon Trotsky, is probably the Russian president’s most common rhetorical standby. He has repeated it for many years to audiences of journalists and functionaries while discussing social policy, construction delays at Olympics sites or the dissatisfaction of the so-called creative class. “Democracy is not anarchism and not Trotskyism,” Putin warnedalmost two years ago.

Putin’s anti-Trotskyist invectives do not depend on the context nor are they influenced by his audience, and much less are they veiled threats to the small political groups in Russia today who claim to be heirs of the Fourth International. Putin’s Trotskyism is of a different kind. Its causes are found not in the present but in the past, buried deep in the political unconscious of the last generation of the Soviet nomenklatura.

The strange myth of the Trotskyist conspiracy, which emerged decades ago, in another age and a different country, has experienced a rebirth throughout Putin’s rule. Sensing, apparently, the president’s personal weakness for “Trotskyism,” obliging media and corrupted experts have turned this Trotskyism into an integral part of the grand propaganda style. Until he died, the indefatigable “Trotskyist” Boris Berezovsky spun his nasty web from London. Until he turned into a conservative patriot, the incendiary “Trotskyist” Eduard Limonov seduced young people with extremism. Camouflaged “Trotskyists” from the Bush and, later, the Obama administrations have continued to sow war and color revolutions. Unmasking “Trotskyists” has become such an important ritual that for good luck, as it were, the famous Dmitry Kiselyov decided to launch a new media resource by invoking it. So what is the history of this conspiracy? And what do Trotskyists have to do with it?

Conspiracy theories are always conservative by nature. They do not offer an alternative assessment of events but, constantly tardy, chase behind them, inscribing them after the fact into their own pessimistic reading of history. Thus, in his Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1797), the Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel, a pioneer of modern conspiracy theory, situated the French Revolution, which had already taken place, in the catastrophic finale of a grand conspiracy of the Knights Templar against the Church and the Capetian dynasty. Masonic conspiracy theories became truly powerful in the late nineteenth century, when the peak of the Masons’ power had already passed. Finally, the idea of a Jewish conspiracy acquired its final shape in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, fabricated by the tsarist secret police at the turn of the twentieth century, when the power of Jewish finance capital had already been undermined by the rising power of industrial capital. Conspiracy theories have always drawn energy from this distorted link with reality, because the fewer conspirators one could observe in the real world, the more boldly one could endow them with incredible magical powers in the imaginary world.

In keeping with the reactive, belated nature of conspiracy theories, the myth of the Trotskyist conspiracy emerged in the Soviet Union when the Left Opposition, Trotsky’s actual supporters, had long ago been destroyed. Unlike, however, the conspiracies of the past, generated by secret agents and mad men of letters, the foundations of the Trotskyist conspiracy were tidily laid by NKVD investigators. The distorting mirror logic of the Great Terror dictated that, although the “Trotskyists” skillfully concealed themselves, and any person could prove to be one, the conspiracy must necessarily be exposed. An unwritten law of Stalinist socialism was that the truth will out, and this, of course, deprived the conspiracy theory of its telltale aura of mystery.

After Stalin’s death, when the Purges were a thing of the past, and Soviet society had begun to become inhibited and conservative, the conspiracy myth took on more familiar features. The stagnation period, with its general apathy, distrust, and societal depression, was an ideal breeding ground for the conspiracy theory. No one had seen any live Trotskyists long ago, and it was seemingly silly to denounce them, but everyone was well informed about the dangers of Trotskyism.

10486371_10205372588653614_1077162896_nDuring meaningless classes on “Party history,” millions of Soviet university students learned about the enemies of socialism, the Trotskyists, who had been vanquished long ago in a showdown. Millions of copies of anti-Trotskyist books were published; by the 1970s, this literature had become a distinct genre with its own canon. Its distinguishing feature was a free-form Trotskyism completely emancipated from any connection with actual, historical Trotskyism.

In fact, the Trotskyism of Soviet propaganda was structurelessness incarnate, a misunderstanding. It was“lifeless schema, sophistry and metaphysics, unprincipled eclecticism, […] crude subjectivism, exaggerated individualism and voluntarism.” Unlike the classic monsters of conspiracy theory, the Masons and the Elders of Zion, the Trotskyists did not run the world. They were failed conspirators: they were always exposed, unless, through their own haste and impulsiveness, they did not manage to expose themselves. In keeping with Stalinist socialist realism, their inept evil deeds caused seizures of Homeric laughter among the people and the Party. And yet, recovering from each shameful defeat, they kept on trying. The Trotskyists had no clear plan for establishing global domination, but without a clear purpose, they were dangerous in their passionate desire to instill chaos in places where harmony, predictability, and order reigned.

In their work, these Trotskyists were guided by the crazed “theory of permanent revolution” (which had nothing in common, substantially, with Trotsky’s theory except the name). Its essence is that the revolution should not have any geographical or time constraints. It has no aims, no end, and no meaning. It raises questions where all questions have long been solved. It instills doubt where all doubts have been resolved long ago. A normal person would never be able to understand anything about this theory except one thing: it was invented to ruin his life.

Mikhail Basmanov, author of the cult book In the Train of Reaction: Trotskyism from the 1930s to the 1970s, quoted above, noted, “Unlike many other political movements that had the opportunity to confirm their ideological and political doctrines through the practice of state-building, Trotskyism has not put forward a positive program of action in any country in all the years of its existence.” It is so destructive, that “with its cosmopolitanism, carried to the point of absurdity, which excludes the possibility of developing national programs, Trotskyism undermines the stances even of its own ‘parties’ in certain countries. […] Trotskyism is entangled in the nets of its own theories.”

It is important that the idea of the Trotskyist conspiracy against practical reason, reality, and stability was never popular in late-Soviet society: it did not grow, like the “blood libel,” from the dark superstitions of the mob. It remained a nightmare for only one segment, the ruling bureaucracy, which transmitted the myth of the senseless and merciless “permanent revolution” to future generations in Party training courses and KGB schools.

The Soviet theory of the Trotskyist conspiracy reflected the subconscious fear of ungovernability on the part of the governing class.  Devoid of any personalities, the legend of Trotskyism was something like the “black swan” of “actually existing socialism.”

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This, by the way, is its fundamental difference from the version of the Trotskyist conspiracy popular among some American conservatives. In America, it is merely one of many varieties of the “minority conspiracy,” a small group of people who have, allegedly, seized power and are implementing their anti-Christian, globalist ideas from the top down. The fact that the anti-Trotskyist conspiracy theory of the so-called paleoconservatives has become popular in recent years among Kremlin experts and political scientists only goes to show that the old Soviet “Trotskyist conspiracy” has suffered a deficit in terms of its reproduction.

When he confuses Bernstein and Bronstein, Vladimir Putin, however, is not unfaithful to the Soviet anti-Trotskyist legend. Yes, “the goal is nothing, the movement is everything.” The chaos generated by the movement is inevitable, as inevitable as time itself. It moves inexorably toward “permanent revolution,” which cannot be completed and with which one cannot negotiate.

In a recent interview, former Kremlin spinmeister Gleb Pavlovsky, while skillfully avoiding the issue of “Trotskyism,” nevertheless had this to say about Putin:

“He has frightened himself. Where should go next? What next? This is a terrible problem in politics, the problem of the second step. He stepped beyond what he was ready for and got lost: where to go now?  […] The gap between [the annexation of] Crimea and subsequent actions is quite noticeable. It is obvious that everything afterwards was an improvisation or reaction to other people’s actions. People who are afraid of the future forbid themselves to think about which path to choose. When you have not set achievable goals, you begin to oscillate between two poles: either you do nothing or you get sucked into a colossal conflict.”

The worst thing is that the specter of Trotskyism, as has happened with many other specters in history, is quite capable of materializing. The post-Soviet system has entered a period of crisis, in which the ruling elite has fewer and fewer chances to manage processes “manually.” For the Trotskyist nightmare of the elites to become a reality, there is no need for live Trotskyists. The need for them arises only when hitherto silent and long-suffering forces come to their senses and raise the question of their own aims. But that is a different story.

Ilya Budraitskis is a historian, researcher, and writer.

October 24, 2014

Red Army; Wild Tales

Filed under: Film,Russia,sports — louisproyect @ 7:22 pm

The other day I saw a couple of films at the Sony screening room that were being released through Sony Picture Classics, an autonomous division catering to the “art-house” market. Both were very good.

“Red Army” is a documentary about the legendary Russian hockey team of the pre-Perestroika era that reflected the USSR at its best and worst. It consists mainly of interviews with Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, arguably one of the greatest hockey players of the past half-century as well as an extremely witty and insightful interviewee as deft before the camera as he was with a hockey stick.

Director Gabe Polsky was using the fate of Russia hockey as a symbol of Communism’s contradictions and how they were unsuccessfully resolved in the favor of capitalism. Clearly Polsky has learned from Werner Herzog, having served as his producer on the 2009 narrative film “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”. The two men obviously have the same off-kilter view of the world based on this new film for which Werner Herzog returned the favor, serving as co-producer. Like Herzog, Polsky includes some elements that guarantee that the audience will understand that something is being filmed, in his case showing some of his assistants setting up gear and including Fetisov’s admonitions to stop filming since he has to take a phone call. For documentaries, it is the equivalent of breaking through the “fourth wall”.

The film will appeal to people who are still trying to figure out what happened to the Soviet Union and the nature of Putin’s Russia today, as well as hockey fans. In fact the film, which opens on November 14 at the Empire 25 Theater in NY, will have a nationwide rollout in January that will be pitched to sports fans. It has been many years since I watched hockey but followed the NY Rangers in the early 70s when it was led by Rod Gilbert, a speedy forward who turned up as a fellow resident of my high-rise on the Upper East Side.

The film begins with Fetisov reflecting on the state of Soviet Russia when he was a 9-year-old boy trying out for the Russian Army youth team. He tells Polsky that 25 million of his countrymen were killed and that most of the country was destroyed. (Stock footage depicts the horror.) When the country began rebuilding, the new apartment buildings were barely sufficient. It was normal for 3 families to share a 400 square foot apartment. Despite that, Fetisov said that he was happy. There seemed to be enough food to eat, even if you had to stand on line. Of course, once markets were introduced the lines disappeared but hunger became widespread.

Fetisov was a protégé of Anatoli Tarasov, the coach of the Red Army hockey team and the man widely considered the father of Russian hockey. Fetisov joined the team in 1976 at the age of 19, playing defense and learning the skill of passing, something Tarasov saw as fundamental to the game. For Tarasov, hockey as a kind of chess game in which sharing the puck was fundamental.

Indeed, when he was demonstrating to his players how to move forward on the ice, he often illustrated with chess pieces. He was also convinced that ballet exercises could make his players more nimble on the ice, as the film demonstrates from archival footage. By the time that Fetisov began playing on the Red Army team, Tarasov had acquired a huge beer belly. Watching him demonstrating some steps to his team is like watching the hippopotamuses dancing in Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”.

Despite losing to an inferior American hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, a loss that inspired the chauvinistic chant “USA, USA” that has tainted every game since including table tennis, the Red Army team rolled over every professional hockey team that they faced over the years. Tarasov’s goal-sharing methods were superior to the individualistic style of the West. Although the film is far too subtle and skeptical about socialism for that matter to point out that the collectivist culture might have something to do with that, you can’t help drawing such a conclusion.

After Perestroika, it became possible for Russian hockey players to turn professional in the West. Fetisov and other Red Army superstars took high-paying jobs but were not shown to their best advantage since the teams were all based on the individualist model.

It was only when the Detroit Red Wings recruited Fetisov and a cadre of ex-Red Army players that they were able to cash in, winning the Stanley Cub in 1997 and 1998.

I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It is a very sharp analysis of the Communist experience by a director who not only studied at Yale but also was on their hockey team. As the son of Russian immigrant parents, he has just the right background for drawing all the human drama out of the Red Army story. His statement in the press notes indicates the outlook that was clear to me but one that he did not want to beat over the audience’s head:

When I was at Yale, I studied politics and history and learned about the unusual role sport played in the Soviet Union. The Red Army team was designed as an instrument of propaganda to prove the superiority of the Soviet system. The country’s investment in the team’s success was massive. The demanding lifestyle and oppressive circumstances under which the players trained were a reflection of broader Soviet society. It became clear to me that the Red Army’s style of play, too, was significantly informed by the country’s ideology. Much like Communism, there was little emphasis on the individual. Those who became heroes earned as much money as teachers. Priority was placed on serving your teammates and your country, and expressing individuality or questioning authority was forbidden.

“Wild Tales” opens on February 8th. It is an Argentine narrative film directed by Damián Szifron that he described in the following terms:

I frequently think of Western capitalist society as a sort of transparent cage that reduces our sensitivity and distorts our bonds with others. Wild Tales presents a group of individuals who live within this cage without being aware of its existence. But at that point where most of us would repress – or get depressed – these people shift into gear.

Although I loved the film, I don’t think it had much to do with “Western capitalist society”. Basically it is a dark comedy about people going to extreme lengths to destroy each other in the fashion of classic Warner Brothers cartoons but without any hero like Bugs Bunny to cheer for. Instead it is like watching Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd trying to blow each other’s brains out with shotguns.

The film consists of six chapters, each one set up as elegantly as an O. Henry short story and an ending that serves as poetic justice for the miscreant characters. In “Road to Hell”, road rage turns into an elemental battle for survival pitting an Audi-driving yuppie against a hulking rural bumpkin who refuses to allow his wreck of car to be passed on a mountainous road. Not long after the yuppie passes him by, making sure to curse him out as he passes, he gets a flat tire next to a bridge over a mountain stream. When the bumpkin catches up to him, all hell breaks loose, including him taking a dump on the Audi’s hood. As the violence escalates, you will not be able to keep your eyes off the action. It is akin to not being able to avert your eyes from a highway accident except one that is far more entertaining.

I will only add that the final chapter, titled “Till Death to Us Part”, is about a Jewish wedding party that will remind you of the great Michael Douglas-Kathleen Turner vehicle “War of the Roses” with bride drawing almost all the blood. It is obvious to me that the guests are Jews even though this is not a point made specifically. Since the director (and screenwriter) has a last name that is a dead giveaway for his Jewish origins, this is a conclusion I feel safe drawing.

Both films are worth putting down on your calendar.

October 7, 2014

Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia

Filed under: Film,Gay,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:04 pm

Thirty years ago when I was working closely with Peter Camejo on getting the North Star Network off the ground, I totally agreed with him that the left should not be divided on historical questions like when and if the USSR became capitalist. Or on international questions such as whether to support Eritrea or Ethiopia, etc. You can obviously have sharp differences that must be debated openly but they are not “split” questions as is the norm in the Trotskyist movement.

After watching “Hunted: the War Against Gays in Russia”, I am not so sure any more, at least on the international question. This 48 minute documentary that can be seen on HBO Go, a streaming service available to HBO subscribers, left me in a complete state of rage both for what is happening to Russian gays but also for the open affection for Vladimir Putin that exists on wide sectors of the left.

Needless to say, the Western left would never support a politician who was responsible for fostering a war on gays in the USA or Britain. Furthermore, in all of the pro-Putin propaganda in the “anti-imperialist” left, you will never see him applauded for his anti-gay legislation that serves as legal cover for the vigilante movement exposed in the HBO documentary. That instead is what you will hear from the rightwing movements that also back the Kremlin, including just about every neofascist group in Europe, including Jobbik, Golden Dawn and the National Front in France. They love Putin because he stands up for “traditional values”. One imagines that in their heart of hearts, the “anti-imperialists” have no problems with crackdowns on NGO’s that defend gay rights in Russia since they are obviously a necessary defense against plots concocted in the basement of the State Department by George Soros, Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power. After all, if you were going to make a choice between gays being forced to drink piss by skinhead vigilantes and coming down on the same side of an issue as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, you’d naturally opt for gays drinking piss.

Fortunately, you can see the documentary as well on Youtube. This is identical to what is being shown on HBO but with a different narrator:

The film will give you a good idea why a sixteen-year-old gay youth sought political asylum in the USA. Here on an exchange program, the boy decided that he would stay in the USA rather than put up with the kind of bigotry seen in the film. Tass said that this was all the result of a gay cabal and Russia said it would no longer participate in the exchange program.

Directed by Ben Steele, the documentary takes a look at two of the major vigilante organizations in Russia, Parents of Russia and Occupy Pedophilia. Leaders of both groups were more than willing to allow the cameramen to film every one of their attacks. Naturally, this would be the case since the cops are their accomplices.

To give you an idea of how the cops operate in tandem with the ultraright, you see gay rights activist Yekaterina Bogatch hounded by the cops for simply standing on the sidewalk holding a sign calling for equal treatment of all citizens. If she had put the word gay on the sign, she risked arrest.

Parents of Russia is a group that is dedicated to exposing gays by putting information about where they live, etc. on the Internet. Yekaterina Bogatch, a schoolteacher, is one of their prime targets. They want her fired from her job even if she is straight. Gay teachers, who are not even involved with protests, have just as much to worry about since Parents of Russia deems them as pedophiles.

That is basically the strategy of the vigilantes, the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s base of support in elected officialdom. Although laws against homosexuality were lifted fifteen years ago, the attacks are mounted as against pedophiles rather than gays. Occupy Pedophilia is a prime example. It tells Steele that is only after pedophiles but in the one entrapment scene that involves their activists openly tormenting a gay man they have lured through the Internet, there is not the slightest evidence that pedophilia was involved.

I have often scratched my head trying to figure out the attraction that Putin has for the “anti-imperialist” left. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream” when Puck puts a potion in Titania’s eyes. Upon waking, she falls madly in love with Bottom, a man whose head has been replaced by that of a donkey. Who has put such a potion in the eyes of Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek and Michel Chossudovsky, I ask you?

For an unrepentant Marxist like me, the Russia I adore is the Russia of the 1920s when laws against homosexuality were not only lifted, there was a pervasive sense that sexual freedom and socialism went hand in hand. Ironically, despite the Workers World Party’s tendency to fall in line behind the Kremlin, one of their activists has written some very useful material on sexual freedom in the early USSR:

During the 1920s, in the first decade of the Russian Revolution, signs that the struggle to build socialism could make enormous social gains in sexual freedom–even in a huge mostly agricultural country barely freed from feudalism, then ravaged by imperialist war and torn asunder by civil war–were apparent.

The Russian Revolution breathed new life into the international sexual reform movement, the German Homosexual Emancipation Movement, and the revolutionary struggle as a whole in Germany and around the world.

It was a historic breakthrough when the Soviet Criminal Code was established in 1922 and amended in 1926, and homosexuality was not included as an offense. The code also applied to other republics, including the Ukrainian Republics. Only sex with youths under the age of 16, male and female prostitution and pandering were listed. Soviet law did not criminalize the person being prostituted, but those who exploited them.

For example, author Dan Healey states, “The revolutionary regime repeatedly declared that women who sold their bodies were victims of economic exploitation, not to be criminalized, and campaigns to discourage them from taking up sex work were launched.” The growth of prostitution had of course been spurred by the chaos and dislocation of people accompanying war.

Historian Laura Engelstein summarizes, “Soviet sexologists in the 1920s participated in the international movement for sexual reform and criminologists deplored the use of penal sanctions to censor private sexual conduct.” (“Soviet Policy”)

In 1923, the Soviet minister of health traveled to the German Institute for Sex ual Science and reportedly expressed there his pride that his government had abolished the tsarist penalties against same-sex love. He stated that “no unhappy consequences of any kind whatsoever have resulted from the elimination of the offending paragraph, nor has the wish that the penalty in question be reintroduced been raised in any quarter.”

Also in 1923, Dr. Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Soviet Hygiene, published a pamphlet titled “The Sexual Revolution in Russia.” It stated, “Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle: it declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, as long as nobody is injured, and no one’s interests are encroached upon.”

And the pamphlet spelled this out clearly, “Concerning homosexuality, sod omy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality–Soviet legislation treats these the same as so-called ‘natural’ intercourse.”

September 9, 2014

Merriment in the Kremlin

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 8:22 pm

putinPutin makes his entrance into a Kremlin ballroom

 

20140110_anthony-roth-costanzo-as-orlofsky_33The party is in progress, soon to be joined by the Russian leader

Screen shot 2014-09-10 at 12.39.57 PM

 

September 8, 2014

Why there will be no new Cold War

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 6:30 pm

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 2.25.11 PM

Photo

Forte dei Marmi, a seaside resort town in Italy, is a popular spot with wealthy Russians. Credit: Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

FORTE DEI MARMI, Italy — In this seaside resort town that is Italy’s version of a Russian Riviera, where furs dangle in shop windows in August and beach clubs keep chilled bottles of vodka, a temblor of anxiety unnerved hoteliers and restaurateurs in March. Usually, the phones would ring with Russians booking rooms, villas, even helicopters. But the phones suddenly went quiet.

It was the silence of sanctions. When the United States and Europe announced the first round of sanctions early this year in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the intent was to cripple individuals and institutions close to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. But Russian money is on conspicuous and regular display on this stretch of the Tuscan coast, and the possibility that it might dry up alarmed the town’s business leaders.

Not to worry.

“For a few days, there was a pause, and business looked like it was slowing down,” said Paolo Corchia, owner of the Hotel President, one of the town’s most elegant hotels, and president of the regional hotel association. “But then business went back to normal.”

If normal can be defined as one shop selling violet-colored crocodile-skin loafers for 1,690 euros, or about $2,200. Or simple beach canopies that rent for up to €250 a day just to reserve 10 square feet of shaded sand. Or aviation companies that rent helicopters to take Russian shoppers on day trips to Monte Carlo for €4,450.

READ FULL ARTICLE

September 3, 2014

American White Nationalists To Hold Conference With Russian And European Far Right

Filed under: right-left convergence,Russia — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm
http://www.buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/american-white-nationalists-to-hold-conference-with-russian

American White Nationalists To Hold Conference With Russian And European Far Right

The fringes of the U.S. conservative movement build bridges with their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.

posted on Aug. 29, 2014, at 4:34 p.m.

National Policy Institute / Via npiamerica.org

WASHINGTON — The white nationalist think tank the National Policy Institute is holding a conference in October in Hungary that will feature Alexander Dugin, a Russian nationalist thinker who is increasingly popular in Kremlin circles.

Richard Spencer, the president of NPI and a former writer at the American Conservative, said the conference, which will also feature figures from the ascendant European far right, would be the first of its kind for NPI outside the United States. It’s part of an effort to reach out to “European traditionalists” all over the world, he said, and the relationship with Dugin is just beginning: a publishing arm attached to NPI will publish a book this fall by Dugin, who this week called for Ukraine to be“cleansed” of the Ukrainian “race of bastards.”

“I think there are a lot of things happening in Europe that I think would excite people like me and people who want to go to the conference, and would excite Americans who care about their European identity,” Spencer said.

Apart from Dugin, the conference will also host Márton Gyöngyösi, a leader of Jobbik, Hungary’s extremist far right political party.

This is not the first time that figures from the fringes of the American conservative movement have built bridges with the right in Europe and Russia. Pat Buchanan has publicly expressed support for Vladimir Putin’s policies, as have others. But this is the first time that Spencer’s crowd of white nationalists, who are no longer welcome in the mainstream U.S. conservative movement, have so publicly joined themselves to their Russian and European counterparts.

Spencer’s thoughts on the Ukraine crisis hew closely to Moscow’s.

“I think to a large degree the Maidan revolution was organized and funded by outside powers, I don’t think that’s a controversial statement,” he said. “I certainly understand the position of Ukrainian separatists and nationalists. I think that to a very large degree they are supporting a geopolitical policy of Washington and I myself am more sympathetic towards Russia as a major power entering the world stage. Russia has the opportunity, to put it bluntly, to make the world a better place.”

“I’m sympathetic toward Putin in many ways,” he said.

Spencer is a great admirer of Dugin’s, whom he says he knows personally, and will be publishing a Dugin volume about the German philosopher Martin Heidegger this fall titled Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning under the Radix Journal imprint, which is part of NPI.

“We’re certainly honored to have him at our conference,” Spencer said.

“I think the fact that we’re inviting Dugin is expressive of the fact that we want to have a real healthy dialogue with the major currents of Russian conservatism,” Spencer said.

h/t Adam Holland

August 31, 2014

Ukraine, NATO and imperialism

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,NATO,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:29 pm

A Google search on “Ukraine”, “NATO” and “imperialism” results in 493,000 hits. Right off the top, there’s a Youtube clip of Rick Rozoff who runs the “Stop NATO” Yahoo mailing list and is an old hand at this, followed by other old hands such as Eric Draitser, Global Research, the Spartacist League, and the World Socialist Website. Most of the nearly half-million articles make the same talking points. WSWS.org is typical:

Can anyone seriously believe that Washington did not expect that Russia, at the very minimum, would deploy military forces to secure control of Crimea—a part of Russia until 1954, the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet and its sole access point into the Mediterranean? Or that Washington knew Russia would not simply turn the other cheek as the installation of an extreme rightwing government in Ukraine, in which xenophobic nationalists exert immense influence, transformed the country into the new forward base for NATO forces, armed with missiles, on the very border of Russia?

Nobody could ever mistake Rozoff, Draitser or Global Research for Marxists, but one does have to wonder how self-described Trotskyists as the Spartacist League and WSWS.org would have so little interest in understanding why Eastern European nations would gravitate toward NATO. If you were the head of state in a country that had been invaded by Russian tanks in the past, your options are rather limited in terms of alliances after you’ve left the Kremlin’s orbit. One doubts that the Martians can be relied upon, no matter the prowess on display in “War of the Worlds”.

In 1999, three new nations were added to NATO, the first additions since 1982. They were Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. For those whose historical memory goes back further than EuroMaidan, it is not so difficult to figure out why they would hook up with NATO. All had been invaded by Russian tanks “defending socialism” against imperialist aggression.

Under the serene and wise leadership of Mátyás Rákosi, Hungary was proceeding rapidly toward communism in the 1950s, occasionally having to rein in agents of imperialism. According to Wikipedia, they were a motley crew:

Under Rákosi’s reign, the Security Police (ÁVH) began a series of purges, first within the Communist Party to end opposition to Rákosi’s reign. The victims were labeled as “Titoists,” “western agents,” or “Trotskyists” for as little a crime as spending time in the west to participate in the Spanish Civil War or for being Jewish (labeled as “Zionist agents”). In total, about half of all the middle and lower level party officials-at least 7,000 people-were purged.

When the revolution of 1956 broke out, the British Communist Party sent a trusted reporter to Hungary expecting articles of the Rick Rozoff and Eric Draitser variety. Imagine their disappointment when Peter Fryer joined the counter-revolution:

There were Gestapo-like torture chambers with whips and gallows and instruments for crushing people’s limbs. There were tiny punishment cells. There were piles of letters from abroad, intercepted for censorship. There were batteries of tape recorders to take down telephone conversations. There were prostitutes retained as police spies and agents provocateurs. And the young brutes who made up this strong arm of the people’s democratic State were paid – according to documents found on their dead bodies – 3,000 to 4,000 forints a month as men, 9,000 to 12,000 as officers: three to twelve times the average wage. Plus luxurious flats while thousands in Budapest lived cramped in slums and cellars.

Surely Dryer should have understood that stern measures were required against Spanish Civil War veterans and rootless cosmopolitans.

Largely decided at the Yalta Conference of February 1945, the USSR won the right to create “buffer states” that would protect it against another imperialist invasion, or more specifically another German invasion. Like Daniel Goldhagen, the Soviet tyrant considered Nazism to be a kind of essential expression of the German Geist. Feelings of hatred directed against all things German filtered down to the Red Army grunt who thought himself justified in raping German women on a massive scale. In a book on this blot on Soviet history, Anthony Beevor quoted a Russian fighter: “Our soldiers’ behaviour towards Germans, particularly German women, is absolutely correct!.”

In exchange for the buffer states, Stalin agreed to rein in the Communist Parties in places where they had considerable strength: Italy, France and Greece. In Greece the consequences of this policy were particularly harmful. After Stalin tossed the Greek CP overboard, the Greek bourgeoisie was rewarded with 25 years of stability. When the workers got uppity, they got the back of the hand just like the Hungarian workers. While Greece and Hungary rested on rival social systems, they both knew how to keep the rabble at bay.

If not for Stalinism, the world would look a lot different today. A socialist Italy, France or Greece would have had much more importance than a socialist Hungary since the pre-existing democratic rights would have militated against Stalinist ambitions. As Fryer points out, Hungary was a dictatorship except for a brief period: “Hungary has never known democracy, except for four and a half quite abnormal months at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, under the bourgeois-democratic government of Károlyi.”

From the day that the buffer states were created, the citizens suffered under dictatorship and economic privation. While the Warsaw Pact was not about extracting profits, Eastern Europe economies had to put up with bureaucratic inefficiencies that were both unnecessary and pain-inducing, particularly in Czechoslovakia, a country that was relatively advanced. When Dubcek proposed a series of economic changes that might be described as technocratic but that remained consistent with socialist principles, the pro-Kremlin wing of the CP attacked him as an agent of imperialism. When Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia and re-imposed hardline Stalinist political and economic rules, a layer of the intelligentsia decided that if socialism with a human face was not possible, then you might as well opt for liberal capitalism. The most notable example was Vaclav Havel, who became president after the country left the Soviet fold. In other words, the primary driving force behind Czechoslovakia’s lining up with imperialism and NATO was Stalinist obduracy.

It might have been expected that Boris Yeltsin would have little problem with the former buffer states joining NATO since he was as willing to satisfy Western imperialism’s interests as a member of Congress. So much so in fact that he wrote a letter in December 1991 raising the possibility that Russia join NATO.

The letter stated: “This will contribute to creating a climate of mutual understanding and trust, strengthening stability and cooperation on the European continent. We consider these relations to be very serious and wish to develop this dialogue in each and every direction, both on the political and military levels. Today we are raising a question of Russia’s membership in NATO, however regarding it as a long-term political aim.”

Now our “anti-imperialist” friends might write this off as to be expected from a tool of Western interests. But not so fast. He changed his tune just four years later, sounding positively Putinesque. In 1996 he complained that the expansion of NATO as “an attempt to keep the foreign policy mechanisms and the mentality of ‘Cold War’ times.”

Whether or not Yeltsin would have been up to the kind of stiff resistance to NATO expansion as his successor Vladimir Putin is difficult to determine. However, when it came to Chechnya both leaders showed that they were ready to shove the country back into the Stone Age to protect Russian interests.

In contrast to Eastern Europe, the Kremlin has been far more willing to both wage open warfare and to ally with the West in the former Soviet Republics of the southern Caucasus, with Chechnya being the most extreme example. The Party of Socialism and Liberation went the furthest in linking the Chechen revolt to NATO’s expansion, writing in 2004:

If it were to succeed in separation from Russia, Chechnya would join the league of former Soviet lands that are now “hosts” to U.S. and NATO occupation, and whose wealth is exploited for foreign profiteers.

Few could have imagined in the 1980s that today U.S. and NATO would occupy former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kirgizistan, and Georgia, which borders Chechnya and whose pro-U.S. government is playing a key role in the struggles taking place.

One doubts that the PSL ever took the trouble to follow up on this analysis, but the presence of American troops in Uzbekistan did not exactly generate the kind of response from Putin one might expect given this gloomy prognosis. Uzbekistan has an enormous NATO base that has been key for the war in Afghanistan. Furthermore, as long as these former Soviet republics were part of the “war on terror”, Putin had no problem with a NATO presence as the NY Times reported a month after the 9/11 attacks:

Today, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, Mr. Putin seemed to signal a far more flexible approach to enlargement. ”If NATO takes on a different shape and is becoming a political organization, of course, we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion, if we are to feel involved in the processes,” Mr. Putin said.

”They keep saying that NATO is becoming more political than military,” Mr. Putin added. ”We are looking at this (and) watching this process. If this is to be so, it would change things considerably,” he said.

Mr. Putin has moved swiftly since the terror attacks to lend his support to the West. Most strikingly, he dropped Russian objections to the deployment of American and other NATO counterterrorism forces in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere in Russia’s Central Asian sphere of influence.

He has already extracted a price for his help. Within days, the United States and Germany lined up behind a Kremlin demand that rebels in Chechnya lay down their arms, notably omitting criticism of human rights abuses there by Russians.

You will note that the West had little problem with the Russians solving the “Chechen problem” in the way that it saw fit. For those who are still expecting the USA to go to war in Syria for “regime change” as pursuant to Samantha Power type “human rights” ideology, it would be useful to review what happened to Chechnya. With both the White House and the Kremlin acting on pragmatic grounds, there’s little reason to expect a penny to be wasted on reversing the biggest humanitarian crisis in decades.

Unless you are one of those people who still take Russian press conferences seriously, there’s little reason to believe that the Kremlin is intervening in Ukraine for fear of NATO encirclement.

Long after Yeltsin had departed from the scene (leaving aside how he eventually put some distance between himself and the West, arguably under pressure from his military), the Kremlin continued to see NATO in terms far less apocalyptic than the “anti-imperialist” left as the EUObserver reported on January 4, 2009:

Russia does not rule out NATO membership at some point in the future, but for the moment it prefers to keep co-operation on a practical, limited level, Moscow’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin told EUobserver.

“There is no such necessity at this moment, but we cannot rule out this opportunity in the future,” Mr Rogozin said in a phone interview on Tuesday (31 March), one day after Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Russia should join the military alliance, if it meets the membership criteria.

Ironically, the obstacle to joining NATO was not primarily over the occasional flare-ups of the sort that took place in Yugoslavia or Georgia but whether or not NATO was the appropriate place for a Great Power:

“Great powers don’t join coalitions, they create coalitions. Russia considers itself a great power,” the Russian ambassador stressed.

He said Russia wanted to be NATO’s “partner,” provided the alliance took into account Moscow’s “interest” – a catchphrase alluding to NATO enlargement to its neighbouring Ukraine and Georgia, which it fiercely opposes.

Well, who can blame Rogozin? Interests are paramount when it comes to Great Powers. Kissinger said it best: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

For reasons we can only guess at, Russia sees the carve-up of Ukraine in its interests. It now seems bent on either annexing Donbas in the way that Crimea was annexed or keeping Kyiv in a constant state of turmoil so that it will eventually accede to a state of affairs that allows de facto separation of Donbas.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a PhD student at the UCL in London, has a very useful blog for keeping track of what is happening in Ukraine if you are looking for an alternative to WSWS.org, Global Research et al. Of course, I imagine that if you prefer being spoon-fed from RT.com, you’d probably not be here in the first place. Here’s from his latest post, titled “The ‘Ukraine crisis’ is a long-planned operation” that should make clear that fearing encirclement was not what drove Kremlin policy:

For the Russian authorities, the “colour revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine that brought to power pro-Western governments in 2003-2004 was a sign that these countries were willing to leave the Russian sphere of influence choosing liberal democracy over semi-authoritarian kleptocracy. President Vladimir Putin perceived these revolutions as a direct threat to his rule: if Russian citizens see that post-Soviet countries such as Georgia and Ukraine can successfully modernize and democratize, then they may want the same for Russia – and this would dramatically undermine the authoritarian regime that Putin and his elites have built. Hence, Putin’s task was to subvert democratic governments in the neighbouring countries to prevent them from successful modernization.

In the past one could possibly understand why the Western left would have a tough time making up its mind what was the lesser evil, Stalinist authoritarianism that at least provided a social safety net or liberal capitalist democracy that at least opened up the possibility for a genuine socialist movement to develop and eventually take power. But how does one explain a left that seems so anxious to see the Ukraine return to the state of affairs that prevailed under Yanukovych and the Party of Regions?

Under Yanukovych, you had police repression and economic insecurity. For all of the blather about how bad life in Ukraine would become if it became tied to the EU, there’s plenty of evidence that for the average Ukrainian things couldn’t be much worse than they were in 2011, as the Kyiv Post reported:

Ukraine is on the verge of another wave of labor and intellectual potential losses, expert from the Razumkov Center and former First Deputy Labor and Social Policy Minister Pavlo Rozenko has said. During a press conference on Nov. 14, the expert said that employment does not protect a person from poverty in Ukraine nowadays.

Rozenko also said that, according to recent data, 23% of families in which all members have jobs, and 37% of families in which only one member is employed, are below the poverty line.

The poverty risk is even higher for families with children. According to the expert, 26% of families with one child, 39% of families with two children, and over 70% of families with four and more children are living in poverty.

Meanwhile, while this state of affairs existed, Yanukovych—Putin’s golden boy—lived like this. No wonder the country rose up.

 

August 29, 2014

Reminiscent of WWIII?

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm

August 26, 2014

The perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order?

Filed under: Russia,Ukraine,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

“By contrast, the Donetsk Republic formulates its agenda from below, literally on the run, in response to the public mood and the course of events. Strictly speaking this republic is not even a state—rather, it amounts to a coalition of diverse communities, most of them self-organised. In essence, it is the perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order.”

–Boris Kagarlitsky

 

Pro-Russia rebels paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war through the main street in central Donetsk on Sunday. Onlookers shouted insults and pelted the prisoners with beer bottles, eggs and tomatoes. Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

NY Times, August 25 2014
In Eastern Ukraine, Rebel Mockery Amid Independence Celebration
By ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW HIGGINS

DONETSK, Ukraine — On a day when Ukrainians celebrated their independence from the Soviet Union with parades and speeches, pro-Russia separatists in the eastern part of the country staged a grim counter-spectacle: a parade that mocked the national army and celebrated the deaths and imprisonment of its soldiers.

Leading the procession was an attractive young blond woman carrying an assault rifle, followed by several dozen captured Ukrainian soldiers, filthy, bruised and unkempt, their heads shaved, wearing fetid camouflage uniforms and looking down at their feet.

Onlookers shouted that the men should be shot, and pelted the prisoners with empty beer bottles, eggs and tomatoes as they stumbled down Artyomovsk Street, Donetsk’s main thoroughfare. A loudspeaker played Tchaikovsky’s “Slavonic March,” a familiar Russian patriotic piece. Behind the prisoners were two tanker trucks spraying soapy water, demonstratively cleaning the pavement where the Ukrainian soldiers had passed.

People in the crowd shouted “fascists!” and “perverts!” and separatist fighters held back a man who tried to punch a prisoner.

The Geneva Conventions’ rules for treating prisoners of war prohibit parading them in public, but the treatment of the wounded, disheveled prisoners seemed to offend few of those watching, who in any case had turned out for the promise of seeing a ghoulish spectacle. “Shoot them!” one woman yelled.

(clip)

A passer-by at a checkpoint taunted a woman suspected of aiding the Ukrainian military. The prisoner had to hold a sign saying: “She kills our children.” Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

NY Times, August 26 2014
As Peace Talks Approach, Rebels Humiliate Prisoners in Ukraine
By ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW ROTH

DONETSK, Ukraine — On the sidewalk of a busy street beside a checkpoint, a bearded gunman wrapped a woman in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand, sobbing in terror, holding a sign identifying her as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery. “She kills our children,” it read. Because the woman was a spy, said the gunman, a pro-Russian militant, everything that would happen to her would be well-deserved.

Passers-by stopped their cars to get out and spit, slap her face and throw tomatoes at her. Her knees buckled. She struggled to mumble in protest of her innocence and to shake her head in denial.

This theatrical scene of abuse unfolded a day after the rebel movement had paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war down a main thoroughfare here at bayonet point, then dramatically washed the pavement behind them.

(clip)

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