Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 9, 2014

The view from Donetsk

Filed under: Fascism,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:38 pm

From “The Exiled” 10 years ago:

Much has been made of eastern Ukraine’s support for Yanukovych, the pro-Russian prime minister who tried to steal the election. The Western and the Russian press both play up the issue, albeit for different reasons. Others, like my good friend Olya, who is an editor at a respected Ukrainian magazine, claimed everyone in Donetsk was just brainwashed.

What’s happening in Donetsk is the real key to figuring out what’s going to happen in Ukraine. The general situation in Ukraine has gotten plenty of coverage, but a brief outline of the facts is in order. Basically, Ukraine has always been divided into east and west, with the east Russian-speaking, heavily industrialized, and Russia-friendly; and the west Ukrainian-speaking, agrarian, and nationalist. Yanukovych is the east’s candidate, Yushchenko the west’s.

Almost all of Ukraine’s oligarchs are from the east or Kiev, and they almost exclusively lined up in support of Yanukovych, a Donetsk native. There are a few exceptions, notably Petro Poroshenko, the owner of car and candy factories and a ship-building yard. He also owns Channel 5, which was an invaluable tool in helping Yushchenko compete. In recent weeks, Channel 5 is the only Ukrainian channel to show news and propaganda 24 hours a day. A large part of the programming consists of watching Yanukovych’s team make asses of themselves. They often repeat a speech Yanukovych gave where he was gesturing with his fingers in the air, “paltsami,” a classic bandit gesture. Another favorite clip of theirs is of Yanukovych ally and Kharkov governor Kushnyarov gesticulating wildly and declaring, “I’m not for Lviv power, not for Donetsk power, I’m for Kharkov power!” Still, the biggest and most powerful clans are still behind Yanukovych, who is their man.

Yanukovych is a truly loathsome character. Most Ukrainians agree that if a more palatable candidate had been given the nearly unlimited access to “administrative resources” that Yanukovych had, he would have won handily. But Yanukovych twice served jail time in the Soviet Union, he has no charisma, and is obviously a tool of powerful Russian and Ukrainian interests. Yushchenko, on the other hand, is considered by most western Ukrainians to be something between Gandhi and Christ, while many people in the east worry he has it in for everyone who speaks Russian. Many people who voted for Yanukovych did so out of suspicion of Yushchenko, not because they like Yanukovych (except perhaps in his home turf, Donetsk).

While the country is relatively evenly divided, it’s a fact that Yushchenko would have won the election if it had been violation-free. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a fool or getting paid by the Russians. Even Putin, who called Yanukovych to congratulate him before all the votes were counted, recently said he’d be willing to work with any elected leader and seemed to acknowledge that there’d be a re-vote. Thanks to ballot-stuffing, Donetsk and the neighboring Lugansk oblast had by far the highest voter turnout in Ukraine (Donetsk had 97 percent turnout, of whom 97 percent voted for Yanukovych, and Yushchenko actually lost votes in between the first and second rounds of voting) and it’s on the basis of thousands of violations that the Supreme Court recently ordered a new round of voting. Channel 5 has plenty of footage of election observers getting the shit beaten out of them, and Yushchenko observers weren’t allowed anywhere near the polls in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

The blatant falsifications, combined with an extremely well-funded and coordinated protest movement, have brought us where we are today, gearing for another round. The protests have come under fire as an American-funded coup, particularly in the Russian media. And there’s some truth to it — the US has been bringing in Serbs and Georgians experienced in non-violent revolution to train Ukrainians for at least a year. One exit poll — the one finding most heavily in favor of Yushchenko — was funded by the US. The smoothness and professionalism of the protest, from the instant availability of giant blocks of Styrofoam to pitch the tents on to the network of food distribution and medical points, is probably a result of American logistical planning. It’s certainly hard to imagine Ukrainians having their act together that well. The whole orange theme and all those ready-made flags also smack of American marketing concepts, particularly Burson-Marstellar.

But the crowds in Kiev, which can swell up to a million on a good day and are always in the hundreds of thousands, are there out of their own homegrown sense of outrage, not because some State Department bureaucrats willed them there. The meetings that happen every day in virtually every city in Ukraine (and in literally every western Ukraine village) are not the result of American propaganda. Rather, they are the result of the democratic awakening of a trampled-on people who refuse to be screwed by corrupt politicians again.

While you wouldn’t know it by watching Russian TV, maybe the only two cities in Ukraine where there are not Yushchenko rallies that outnumber the Yanukovych rallies are Lugansk and Donetsk. According to my friends in the heavily Russian Kharkov, for example, active Yushchenko supporters outnumber active Yanukovych supporters four to one. One reason why Lugansk and Donetsk are an exception is because every time Yushchenko’s people try to organize a rally there, they get beaten. Another is because the vast majority of those two regions really do support Yanukovych. So what gives?

* * * *

The Tuesday rally, which I witnessed in full, was like watching a farce of a Nazi rally. This time they introduced Ludmila Yanukovych but made sure not to give her the mike, lest she say something as ridiculous as her spiked-orange theory. However, the other speakers weren’t much more sane. One speaker after another spewed venomous anti-Kiev, anti-western Ukrainian, and anti-American rhetoric at the crowd of several thousand. One of the more famous, Natalya Vitrenko, is sort of a Zhirinovsky without the slapstick element. Vitrenko argued that the US planned to colonize and enslave eastern Ukraine and would use NATO as its muscle. Another speaker warned that east Ukraine would beat back the Americans like they had the Germans, and reminded the audience that western Ukraine welcomed the Nazis with bread and salt, keeping in the theme that Yushchenko’s the fascist here. Some of the other arguments were just silly; one doctor said that Yushchenko was destroying the nation’s health by forcing students to spend long hours in the cold, thereby causing a public health crisis (a line echoed on Russian state television). Another said under Yushchenko people would be jailed for speaking Russian and that the “orange plague” was a terrorist organization. Another popular theory was that western Ukraine was planning on raping the riches of the east and only regional autonomy could save them. Every speaker was fear-mongering and totally detached from reality.

Everyone in Donetsk repeats the same figures and statements obsessively. 15 million voted for Yanukovych, he is the legitimate president, and Yushchenko is an unchecked fascist. People in Kiev are brainwashed and undemocratic; Russian-speaking centers Odessa, Kharkov, Dneipropetrovsk and the Crimea will leap at the chance to form a breakaway republic with them; American money is behind everything. Funny they never mention a word about Russian funds used by Yanukovych, although estimates of Russian contributions reach up to $300 million.

From RT.com, March 16 2014

Thousands picket Donetsk govt building, demand release of local governor

Published time: March 15, 2014 15:30

Pro-Russian activists hold Russian national flags during a demonstration rally in the center of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 15, 2014. (AFP Photo)
Thousands have gathered in the city of Donetsk, picketing the Security Council building. The protesters called for the current Kiev authorities to release the local governor and pro-Russian activists detained earlier, threatening to storm the building.

The protesters blocked the Security Council building trying to break the doors and smashing windows on Saturday afternoon. Activists removed the Ukrainian flag from the top of the building, hoisting a Russian tricolor.

The protesters were demanding the release of local governor Pavel Gubarev and 70 pro-Russian activists previously detained by the current Kiev authorities. They also urged local law enforcement to take their side.

The local head of the Security Council has promised the protesters to release the activists and Gubarev, according to Life news. He then reportedly escaped through the back door of the building.

More on Pavel Gubarev

Gubarev is third from the left in the bottom row.

That’s a close-up of Gubarev

And yes, that emblem is meant to look like a Swastika. It was the official symbol of the Russian National Unity group that was formed by Alexander Barakshov in 1990. Who’s Alexander Barakshov? I’m glad you asked. You might want to look at John Dunlop’s article “The Rise of National Socialism in Russia“. Here’s an excerpt:

The ideology and program of the RNYe are, like those of Hitler and the German National Socialist Party, insane and genocidal. As the instance of Hitler demon- strated, however, insane and genocidal programs can in fact be rigorously applied. Since Barkashov’s ideas and prejudices have been taken over virtually wholesale from the German Nazis—and since those ideas and prejudices are well known— a detailed discussion of them should not be necessary. I will therefore limit myself to highlighting a few of the RNYe programmatic positions. In one area—that of religion—Barkashov’s stance, as we shall see, diverges notably from that of his mentor, Hitler, resembling that of Corneliu Codreanu, the charismatic leader of the interwar Romanian fascists, who was strangled by gendarmes loyal to King Carol of Romania in 1938.

At the center of the RNYe program lie twin obsessions with race and conspiracy. It is these obsessions that render the RNYe especially dangerous from a political perspective. The Russian ethnos, in the RNYe view, must harshly assert itself as the ruling people of the Russian Republic to protect Russians from lethal internal and external enemies. In 1917, the RNYe contends, in a fiendish plot orchestrated by Jewish bankers in New York, Jewish Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Citing A. Diky’s anti-Semitic classic, The Jews in Russia and the USSR (1976), Barkashov maintains that of the 556 persons who took over the top party and state positions in the new Bolshevik state, a total of 448 were Jews, with most of the rest being “Latvians, Armenians and so forth.” “There were practically no Russians” among the early Bolshevik leaders.21

These so-called genocidal Jews who had seized power in Russia, according to the program, then set about uprooting Russians and Slavs in vast numbers, eventually slaughtering some one hundred million of them. While this crime was being perpetrated, a healthy development was, by contrast, occurring in Germany, where a vibrant German National Socialist movement had come to power under Adolf Hitler. Determined at all costs to thwart this development, the Jewish financial oligarchy of the United States and Great Britain organized the Second World War in order to prevent the rebirth of the German nation. Cunningly, the Jews of New York and London succeeded in pitting two brother Aryan peoples, the Ger- mans and Slavs, against one another. The end result of this plot was the utter destruction of German National Socialism and the continued enslavement of the Russian and Slavic peoples of the USSR.

Today, following Gorbachev’s perestroika and the fall of the Communists, Russia remains under the direst threat of extinction. The “international financial oligarchy,” directly ruled by Jews from Israel and the United States, seeks rapa- ciously to plunder Russia’s natural wealth and to turn its people into cheap man- ual labor deprived of any rights. That the United States is ruled by Jews is self- evident to Barkashov, who observes that “the pro-Zionist coalition in the U.S. Congress has reached 75-80 percent of the senators and approximately 60 per- cent of the members of the House of Representatives.”22 A certain Jim Warren, a self-declared “American nationalist” and leader of the League for the Defense of Christians USA, confided to Russkii poryadok during a visit to Russia that the United States was indeed harshly ruled “by anti-national forces.” As “proof,” Warren cited the alleged fact that “in Clinton’s government, Jews and Negroes make up 55 percent of the total.” “American nationalists,” Warren noted, were pinning their hopes on like-minded brethren in Russia. “Never lose your faith in God,” he exhorted, “in yourselves, or in your people. . . . God is with us.”23

March 23, 2014

Snapshots of Crimean Tatar history

Filed under: Crimean Tatars,national question,Russia,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 8:44 pm

Katherine the Great, Stalin and Putin: cut from the same cloth as far as the Crimean Tatars are concerned

Back in 1966 I signed up for group therapy with Louise Potts, an “art therapist” in her 70s who a number of Bard graduates had begun to see. I was in the same group as Daniel Pinkwater, an art major who became famous for his witty children’s books and NPR commentaries. Pinkwater lived in a loft next to my building in Hoboken and we used to spend a lot of time hanging out.

I stopped going to see Mrs. Potts after my post-Bard depression had lifted. When they said that the “real world” was different from Bard, they weren’t kidding. Breaking up with my girlfriend and facing the draft made the adjustment to living alone in NYC and studying philosophy at the New School an even bigger challenge.

I have vivid memories of the therapy sessions in which after scribbling something on a big sheet of paper you were expected to fill it in as recognizable drawing. Supposedly this was the equivalent of a waking dream (not that the interpretation of dreams ever made much difference in “curing” a neurotic.)

Daniel’s drawings always made mine look crude by comparison. Eventually he was eclipsed by another art major, a woman in her early 20s named Lily. She was a Crimean Tatar who had suffered the lot of a “displaced person” throughout the 50s after her parents had been expelled from her homeland. Mrs. Potts believed that Lily’s depression had a lot to do with her family situation even though it had stabilized after they moved to the USA.

Two years later I was in the SWP and reading about the suffering of the Tatars in Intercontinental Press, a magazine edited by Joe Hansen that covered the activities of Russian dissidents, including General Pyotr Grigorenko, a decorated WWII hero of Ukrainian descent. As punishment for his advocacy of Crimean Tatar rights, including repatriation into their homeland, he was stripped of his military rank, privileges and pension and then sent to a mental hospital for two years. In 1971, a Jewish psychiatrist Dr. Semyon Gluzman wrote a report finding Grigorenko sane and concluding that his hospitalization was a form of repression. For his efforts, Gluzman was rewarded with seven years in labor camp and then three years in Siberian exile. Unlike Joe Hansen and the SWP, most people on the Maoist left backed the Soviet bureaucrats for the same sorts of reasons so many “anti-imperialists” are backing Putin today. If imperialism was applauding Grigorenko’s efforts, that was reason enough to jail him in a mental hospital and to make any psychiatrist pay dearly for a report that deemed the General sane.

Mostly as a way of familiarizing myself with Tatar history, I speed read Alan Fisher’s “The Crimean Tatars”, one of the few authoritative books on the topic. As it turns out, the Tatars are a Turkic people—something that makes me even more sympathetic to them since I have a great affection for the average Turk as opposed to the problematic leadership they have endured for a hundred years or so.

The Tatars settled into the Crimean peninsula back in the fourteenth century under a so-called khanate. Their first great leader was a man named Haci Giray who created an independent state that relied heavily on Ottoman support. Giray was a descendant of Genghis Khan but was far more similar to the more settled and urban character of the Ottoman rulers than the Mongol Golden Horde of nomad conquerors. For example, Giray lived in a castle that was like a smaller version of the Topkapi rather than a tent.

As was the case in the Ottoman Empire proper, non-Muslims conducted business, trading, shipping, and personal finance under Tatar rule and paid a tax for these privileges. And as was typical as well, the non-Muslim enjoyed a level of freedom and tolerance that was remarkable for the age. Fisher reports that Karaim Jews spoke a Turkic language, lived according to Turkic traditions, and even sang purely Turkic songs.

This was by no means a paradise but life generally went well for the citizens for a couple of hundred years until Russia developed an interest in the region. Katherine the Great, a relatively enlightened Czarina, decided to annex Crimea in the same empire-building spirit that led her to launch incursions into the southern Caucasus territories. You can get an idea of the changes in Crimean demographics from this chart that appears in Wikipedia:

Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 3.13.06 PM

The Tatars are green, the Ukrainians yellow and the Russians red. So clearly what has happened from the time of Katherine the Great (the late 1700s) throughout the 19th century is a dramatic removal of the Tatars from their homeland. The slight uptick in green toward the far right of the graph reflects the repatriation victory won by the Crimean Tatars. The question, of course, is whether this was similar to Stalin’s wholesale expulsion or something less genocidal.

It was less genocidal but by no means benign. How could emigration ever be benign, after all? As is so often the case, the Russians opted to bring Crimea under its control by using a puppet, in this instance a khan named Sahin Giray. After instituting some reforms intended to “Westernize” the khanate, and deeply unpopular with the masses—including being subject to the Russian military draft—Giray was put under house arrest in St. Petersburg.

Once Crimea was annexed, Katherine began colonizing the region with non-Muslims. This was partly responsible for the demographic changes. There were also reasons for the Tatars to flee, particularly in the period following the Crimean war when Russia was defeated by a coalition of armies including the Ottomans and the British. Despite Russia’s loss, many Tatars fled, especially the elites, because of a fear that there would be reprisals against them even though many fought courageously for the Czardom.

Just as would happen in the Middle East under Zionist colonization, non-Tatars were lured into settling in Crimea with cash awards and the mass expulsions of Tatar peasants.

By 1917, the Tatars constituted only 30 percent of the Crimean peninsula. Despite the fact that the Bolsheviks claimed that it favored the self-determination of oppressed nationalities, the tumult of the civil war made it difficult to put this into practice.

In 1921 Lenin wrote a comrade:

In all autonomous republics, the Tatar Republic in this case, there are two clearly distinct trends (groupings) among the native Communists (Tatars): one of them takes the standpoint of class struggle and works for further class differentiation of the sections of the native population, and the other has a shade of petty-bourgeois nationalism….

The petty-bourgeois nationalism is an obvious reference to the preference for SR and Menshevik politicians among the Tatars, a most unfortunate choice given the polarization following October 1917.

Celebi Cihan was one such “petty bourgeois nationalist”. As leader of the Milli Farka Party, he spoke for its key demands: nationalization of the church and private property, opposition to the conservative clergy, breaking off contacts with the Russian liberals, and closer cooperation with the Russian social democracy.

Despite these sympathies, the Milli Farka was considered an enemy of Soviet power. In February 1918, the Chekha arrested Cehin and put him in front of a firing squad. Afterwards they threw his body into the Black Sea. And this was during the “heroic” period of Communist rule. It should be mentioned that the Bolshevik heading up such repression was none other than Bela Kuhn, the man who also helped to sabotage the German revolution.

It was such actions that led some of the Tatars to collaborate with the German contingent that was part of the invasion force fighting alongside the White Army, just as they would collaborate with the Nazis during WWII.

In a bold attempt to reverse the disastrous policies being pursued by Bela Kuhn, the Soviet Union created an autonomous socialist republic for the Crimean Tatars in 1923 and had the good sense to put Veli Ibramihov in charge. Ibramihov had been a member of the left wing of the Milli Farka and had evolved toward Bolshevik politics. Ibramihov followed a number of enlightened policies:

  • Crimean Tatars were elevated into responsible positions in the autonomous republic’s government.
  • “War Communism” policies that severely affected Tatar peasants were reversed.
  • Tatarization would be implemented on all levels, including the reopening of Tatar-language schools, scientific institutes, museums, libraries and theaters.

Despite Ibramihov’s nationalist leanings, he never for one minute displayed secessionist tendencies. He and the Crimean Tatar people had the misfortune to have encountered Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinism just a few years after these policies were adopted. In 1927 Stalin decided to create an autonomous Jewish republic in the south of Crimea that would be seeded with 3500 “colonists” who would displace the Tatars. (I have written with some pleasure about this kind of project in another part of the USSR. At the time I had not considered the possible collateral damage to the indigenous population.)

After Ibramihov wrote a letter to Stalin complaining about the abridgement of Tatar rights, he was arrested on the charge of being a “bourgeois nationalist” and executed on May 9, 1928.

In my view, there is a red thread that runs from Katherine the Great’s annexation of Crimea, to Kuhn and Stalin’s repression, to Putin’s annexation once again of Crimea. He is basically reprising Katherine’s colonizing tendencies while justifying it in the name of “anti-imperialism” in faux Bolshevik style.

Long-time British Trotskyist (but of a very benign nature) Murray Smith has written a useful article (http://links.org.au/node/3773) that makes the Putin/Romanov connection (Katherine the Great was of course a Romanov). It is about Putin’s desire to reconstitute the traditional Great Russian hegemony over that part of the world even if it has to be realized over the dead bodies of lesser nationalities. Here is Smith:

In 1913, the third centenary of the dynasty of the Romanovs was celebrated with great pomp. Four years later, revolution had thrown them into history’s garbage bin. Definitively, so it seemed. But no. After the fall of the USSR, they were exhumed, literally and figuratively. In 2000, Tsar Nicolas II, known in his time as Bloody Nicolas and a great lover of anti-Jewish pogroms, was canonised.

And, in 2013, Russia celebrated the fourth centenary of the Romanovs. What was showcased and taught to schoolchildren, with supporting interactive maps, was the role of this dynasty in the expansion of the Russian empire. And it’s true: under the Romanovs, from Ukraine to the Baltic countries, from Central Asia to the Caucasus, Russia built up its empire by methods no less barbaric than those used by the British, French and other imperialists all over the world.

When he came to power in 2000, Putin was preoccupied by the decline of Russia and swore to restore the authority of the state, something he has largely achieved. This translates into “guided democracy”, growing control of the mass media, suppression of any serious dissidence and a policy of rearmament.

The whole against a backdrop of Great Russian chauvinism — that ideology which Lenin so detested and against which he fought tirelessly. And which today is broadly shared in the Russian political universe, from the extreme right of Zhirinovsky to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF).

 

March 19, 2014

Pat Buchanan: Is Putin one of us?

Filed under: conservatism,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:27 pm

Is Putin One of Us?

Tuesday – December 17, 2013 at 1:37 am

By Patrick J. Buchanan

Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative?

In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?

While such a question may be blasphemous in Western circles, consider the content of the Russian president’s state of the nation address.

With America clearly in mind, Putin declared, “In many countries today, moral and ethical norms are being reconsidered.”

“They’re now requiring not only the proper acknowledgment of freedom of conscience, political views and private life, but also the mandatory acknowledgment of the equality of good and evil.”

Translation: While privacy and freedom of thought, religion and speech are cherished rights, to equate traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is to equate good with evil.

No moral confusion here, this is moral clarity, agree or disagree.

President Reagan once called the old Soviet Empire “the focus of evil in the modern world.” President Putin is implying that Barack Obama’s America may deserve the title in the 21st century.

Nor is he without an argument when we reflect on America’s embrace of abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values.

Our grandparents would not recognize the America in which we live.

Moreover, Putin asserts, the new immorality has been imposed undemocratically.

The “destruction of traditional values” in these countries, he said, comes “from the top” and is “inherently undemocratic because it is based on abstract ideas and runs counter to the will of the majority of people.”

Does he not have a point?

full article: http://buchanan.org/blog/putin-one-us-6071

March 9, 2014

Thoughts triggered by Max Blumenthal tweets about Ukrainian fascists

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Fascism,imperialism/globalization,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 8:14 pm

So I think I am getting the hang of this twitter thing. Basically it allows a wide range of “personalities”, whether from Hollywood or those who write for the Nation, to keep their followers (literally, that’s what they are called) to keep track of their comings and goings, or their musings—the sort of thing that used to be found on lavatory walls. Like this:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 2.01.30 PM
Just as importantly, it allows the latter group of personalities to make observations about current events without taking the trouble to explain themselves, after all 140 characters does not give you much room for thoughtful analysis. The strategy is to post a link to a picture, a Youtube clip, or an article (probably in descending order) that speaks for itself. When I have asked one of these people for further explanation, they ignore me. Who can blame them, I guess.

Of all the personalities I follow, none epitomizes this form of communications more than Max Blumenthal who has unleashed a steady stream of links to Youtube clips, etc. that would lead any sensible person to conclude that Ukraine is roughly equivalent to Germany after Hitler’s election in 1932. This is typical:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 2.09.59 PM

If Max had a blog like Richard Seymour, another personality into twittering, then it might be possible to engage with him. I suppose if I had a big megaphone like Blumenthal, I wouldn’t put up with disagreeable riffraff myself. But then again, thinking about what a prick I can be, I probably would.

Although I admire Max and consider him one of the leading lights of the liberal left, I have to wonder how much grounding he has in Marxism. Probably none, I’m afraid. Nazism and all the other forms of fascism were defense mechanisms against a rising proletarian resistance to economic ruin. Once fascists come to power, they break the back of the socialist left and the trade unions by imprisoning or killing its leaders and members alike. You know how Martin Niemüller put it: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist; Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.”

While there are theoretical debates among Marxists about whether fascism was a meaningful threat after WWII (for reasons too complex to go into here), you can say that the Greek junta of 1967 and the Pinochet dictatorship had many of the same characteristics of classical fascism, first and foremost the need to destroy a militant left and trade union movement.

So I wonder what exactly this has to do with the Ukraine. I can’t imagine that the fascists have any enemies in the Western half of the nation since people like Blumenthal probably regard them as having the same mindset as most Israelis. I can just see him going down the streets of Ukraine with his video camera getting somebody chosen at random to blurt out how much they love Stephen Bandera, the patron saint of the Ukrainian right.

One wonders how much success he would have in finding such people given the findings of a scholarly poll on attitudes toward the armed forces during WWII. It turns out that 75 percent of Ukrainians would have backed the Soviet Army while Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army was a choice of only 8% of the respondents. You can read all about it here.

I’ve heard from one well-known leftist that fascism was not so much a threat against the Ukrainian working-class but against Russia. I tried to picture what that meant, that fascist gangs would pour across the border and launch storm-trooper type attacks on a working class that is not particularly well-known for general strikes and the like? From what I can gather, it is not so much that but fears—particularly those raised at places like Global Research—that a united front of the EU, NATO, the Obama White House, John McCain, Nicholas Kristof and Ukrainian fascists is plotting to provoke a war that will open Russia up for imperialist penetration after the fashion of the wars in Yugoslavia. They see Putin as a Milosevic type figure mounting a nationalistic defense of his nation’s assets. I have heard this argument repeatedly from the Global Research left whenever something like Chechnya or Georgia crops up. Even when Western imperialism shows little interest in going to war (or even gives its benediction to the suppression of the Chechen revolt), nothing changes. WWIII is always on the horizon.

Do any of these people have any idea of the character of the Russian economy? Here it is from Russia Today, the horse’s mouth:

Russia in world’s top 3 recipients of foreign investment for first time – UN

Published time: January 29, 2014 14:55

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Russia reached a record $94 billion in 2013, a leap of 83 percent on the year before according to a United Nations report. Russia follows the US and China as the third most attractive country for investors.

The Global FDI research published by the UNCTAD – the UN agency responsible for international trade and development – has Russia jumping 6 places from its 9th spot in 2012.

The shift was primarily caused by the UK’s BP taking an 18.5 percent stake in Rosneft as part of Rosneft’s $57 billion acquisition of TNK-BP.

“FDI in the Russian Federation is expected to keep pace with its 2013 performance as the Russian Government’s Direct Investment Fund [RDIF] – a $10 billion fund to promote FDI in the country – has been very actively deployed in collaboration with foreign partners, for example funding a deal with Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Mubadala Development Company to invest up to $5 billion in Russian infrastructure,” the report says.

The RDIF sealed 6 long-term investment contracts worth above $8 billion last year, which also included deals with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, France’s Caisse Des Depots International, Italy’s Fondo Strategico Italiano and the Korea Investment Corporation, the fund said in the e-mailed press-release.

As Blumenthal’s daily diet of “the fascists are coming” tweets arrived, a ring of familiarity set in. Hadn’t I heard of such a spurious amalgam before? And, bingo, I finally figured out the origin this morning,

That’s Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Der Fuhrer. For decades now, enemies of the Palestinian people have tried to smear all forms of resistance to the Zionist state as sympathetic to Nazism and/or anti-Semitism.

Zionists love to bring up what Hitler said whenever they debated people like Max Blumenthal:

Germany stood for uncompromising war against the Jews. That naturally included active opposition to the Jewish national home in Palestine….Germany would furnish positive and practical aid to the Arabs involved in the same struggle….Germany’s objective [is]…solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere….In that hour the Mufti would be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world. The Mufti thanked Hitler profusely.

They pull the same crap with Hezbollah. A photo of one of their rallies has made the rounds on many Zionist websites:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 3.23.47 PMThe NY Sun, an arch-reactionary an arch-Zionist newspaper, is fond of slinging mud at Hezbollah:

Hezbollah’s Nazi Tactics

By STEVEN STALINSKY | July 26, 2006

“Just like Hitler fought the Jews, we are a great Islamic nation of jihad, and we too should fight the Jews and burn them.”

— Hisham Shamas, political science student, at a symposium hosted by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV at Lebanon’s largest and only government-run university, Université Libanaise, November 29, 2005

Hezbollah celebrates Holocaust denial, as well. “Jews invented the legend of the Holocaust,” the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said on April 9, 2000. During an appearance on Al-Manar on February 3, Sheik Nasrallah called Europe’s leading Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy, “a great French philosopher.” On February 23, Sheik Nasrallah appeared on Al-Manar and praised another leading European Holocaust denier, David Irving, for having “denied the existence of gas chambers.

(I defended Hezbollah against the charge of anti-Semitism here http://louisproyect.org/2007/02/06/is-nasrallah-an-anti-semite/.)A

Hamas gets the mud slung at them as well. Here’s a photo of a recent rally:

The picture of Sisi and Hitler carry the words: “Hitler killed the Jews for his people, al-Sisi kills his people for the Jews.”

I think that Hezbollah and Hamas make all sorts of mistakes but linking them to fascism is a filthy slander that only Zionism is capable of, especially offensive considering how Gaza has become Israel’s Warsaw Ghetto.

Although I doubt that this will make much difference to Blumenthal or any other liberal who has made up his mind that the Ukrainians are scary, beady-eyed monsters ready to lynch the first Jew they get their hands on, this is what Ukraine’s official Jewry had to say about the fascist threat:

An open letter to Vladimir Putin from prominent Ukrainian Jews has accused the Russian president of using false claims of ultra-nationalism and anti-Semitism to legitimise intervention in Ukraine.

“Historically, Ukrainian Jews are mostly Russian-speaking,” begins the letter, dated Friday March 7, which calls on Putin to withdraw his forces from Crimea.

“Our opinion on what is happening carries no less weight than the opinion of those who advise and inform you.”

The signatories, among them scholars, scientists, businessmen, artists and musicians, firmly reject the line put forward by Putin in a press conference on Tuesday that the protest movement that removed president Viktor Yanukovich was made up of “anti-Semitic forces on the rampage”.

“Your certainty about the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, which you expressed at your press conference, does not correspond to the actual facts,” the letter continues. “Perhaps you got Ukraine confused with Russia, where Jewish organisations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year.”

And while the signatories accept the existence of “some nationalistic groups” in the anti-Yanukovich protest movement, they insist that “even the most marginal do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behaviour”.

“And we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government – which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.”

Finally, and even more incontrovertibly, there’s the statement made by highly reputable researchers on the Ukrainian and East European far right:

We are a group of researchers who comprise specialists in the field of Ukrainian nationalism studies, and most of the world’s few experts on the post-Soviet Ukrainian radical right. Some of us publish regularly in peer-reviewed journals and with academic presses. Others do their research within governmental and non-governmental organizations specializing on the monitoring of xenophobia in Ukraine.

As a result of our professional specialization and research experience, we are aware of the problems, dangers and potential of the involvement of certain right-wing extremist groupings in the Ukrainian protests. Following years of intensive study of this topic, we understand better than many other commentators the risks that its far right participation entails for the EuroMaidan. Some of our critical comments on nationalist tendencies have triggered angry responses from ethnocentrists in Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora living in the West.

While we are critical of far right activities on the EuroMaidan, we are, nevertheless, disturbed by a dangerous tendency in too many international media reports dealing with the recent events in Ukraine. An increasing number of lay assessments of the Ukrainian protest movement, to one degree or another, misrepresents the role, salience and impact of Ukraine’s far right within the protest movement. Numerous reports allege that the pro-European movement is being infiltrated, driven or taken over by radically ethnocentrist groups of the lunatic fringe. Some presentations create the misleading impression that ultra-nationalist actors and ideas are at the core or helm of the Ukrainian protests. Graphic pictures, juicy quotes, sweeping comparisons and dark historical references are in high demand. They are combined with a disproportionate consideration of one particularly visible, yet politically minor segment within the confusing mosaic that is formed by the hundreds of thousands of protesters with their different motivations, backgrounds and aims.

Here are some of the researchers who signed this statement, starting from the top:

  • Iryna Bekeshkina, researcher of political behavior in Ukraine, Sociology Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine
  • Tetiana Bezruk, researcher of the far right in Ukraine, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine
  • Oleksandra Bienert, researcher of racism and homophobia in Ukraine, PRAVO. Berlin Group for Human Rights in Ukraine, Germany
  • Maksym Butkevych, researcher of xenophobia in post-Soviet Ukraine, “No Borders” Project of the Social Action Center at Kyiv, Ukraine
  • Vitaly Chernetsky, researcher of modern Ukrainian and Russian culture in the context of globalization, University of Kansas, USA

Now maybe all of them are secretly in cahoots with the ultraright. I guess we’ll have to wait for the next intercept of a phone call between one of them and a Svoboda goose-stepping thug to prove that. Let’s see when the Russian security forces come up with. My only advice is to read it very carefully since they have a way of slinging the bullshit around.

March 5, 2014

A new Cold War with Russia? Really?

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 8:33 pm

At the garbage dump

You know that scene in “The Getaway” when Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw make their escape in a garbage truck? It saved their lives but you can tell from the disgusted look on their face that it was no fun to dig the fish bones and cigarette butts out of their hair and pockets. That’s the way I feel about a day’s worth of Facebook references to NATO’s closing in on Russia using Ukraine as a battering ram.

Were these people born in 2008 or something? There’s so much evidence of lovey-dovey relations between the White House and the Kremlin that I am led to believe so. Let’s start with Yeltsin’s war on Chechnya that was only consummated with Putin’s scorched earth policy that left around 10 percent of its population dead. Some “anti-imperialists” at the time rallied around Putin in the same way that they are rallying around Bashar al-Assad today, who is clearly adopting Grozny type mass murder tactics to Aleppo, Homs and elsewhere.

Here’s what President Clinton said at a press conference on April 21, 1996:

Let me make two brief points. First of all, I think the record will reflect that the United States has consistently supported a political solution to the Chechnya crisis and offered its support for that. And when President Yeltsin made his announcement on March 31st, we supported that.

You say that there are some who say we should have been more openly critical. I think it depends upon your first premise; do you believe that Chechnya is a part of Russia or not? I would remind you that we once had a Civil War in our country in which we lost on a percapita basis far more people than we lost in any of the wars of the 20th century over the proposition that Abraham Lincoln gave his life for, that no State had a right to withdraw from our Union.

That’s really rich. Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s Abe Lincoln. Pardon me while I vomit all over my Macbook.

And then after 2001, the USA invades Afghanistan to supposedly gain control over oil pipelines according once again to our pinheaded anti-imperialists. Didn’t they realize that Russia bought in entirely to that war on the border of former Soviet republics based on the evidence of its willingness to fuel it—literally?

Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable for a U.S. war effort to rely exclusively on Russia and its allies for one of America’s most sought-after resources. In 2013, it is a reality.

Almost every drop of fuel used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan comes from Russia and other former Soviet countries, most of which Russia still has considerable sway. The U.S. purchased roughly 22 million gallons of fuel for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in June alone, which officials say was an average month.

Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the Russian government invaded neighboring Georgia, endured a string of domestic terrorist attacks, helped investigate Chechen links to the alleged Boston bombers, and chose to provide asylum to the source of one of America’s greatest breaches in intelligence. Amid all of this, the gas kept coming.

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/08/29/us-purchases-all-afghanistan-fuel-from-russians-former-soviet-countries

You can also read all about Putin’s desire that the USA maintain its bases in Afghanistan from the Moscow Times:

On May 9, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced he would allow the U.S. to keep nine military bases in Afghanistan after direct U.S. participation in the Afghan war ends in 2014. How has President Vladimir Putin responded to the possibility that Afghanistan may turn into “one giant U.S. aircraft carrier,” as Kremlin-friendly political analyst Yury Krupnov recently put it?

After Karzai’s announcement, you might have expected the Kremlin to offer its usual bluster about how the U.S. and NATO are trying to create a suffocating “Anaconda ring” around Russia — from the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Georgia and Turkey to Afghanistan, South Korea and Japan. You might even have expected a dose of the anti-U.S. demagoguery about the U.S. government using Afghan bases to run a lucrative narcotics-export business, including daily flights of U.S. cargo aircraft filled with heroin destined for Russia and Europe. Or that U.S. bases in Afghanistan could be used for an attack on Russia. After all, Yury Krupnov and other conservative, pro-Kremlin analysts are particularly fond of reminding Russians that a U.S. nuclear missile could reach Moscow from the U.S. airbase in ­Bagram, Afghanistan, in less than 20 minutes.

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/why-putin-wants-us-bases-in-afghanistan/480087.html

Instead Putin said: “We have a strong interest in our southern borders being calm,” Putin said. “We need to help them [U.S. and coalition forces]. Let them fight. … This is in Russia’s national interests.” It made a lot of sense for him to state this since the same fear and hatred of Muslims on Russia’s southern flanks explains the murderous attack on Chechnya that was a counterpart to what Bush and Obama have been doing in Afghanistan and more recently in Waziristan.

Speaking of Bush, how can anybody forget the Bromance between him and Putin? From the May 23, 2002 BBC:

Analysis: Bush and Putin on nickname terms

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George W Bush meet in Crawford Texas
The leaders presented an old pals’ act last time they met

By Paul Reynolds

George W Bush likes to give people nicknames. It is nice for those who receive them – especially journalists and politicians, as it gives them the sense that they are on the inside track.

Those who do not get them, dismiss them as a sign that parts of Dubya – his name for himself – never really grew up.

Mr Bush has given Vladimir Putin, the steely-faced son of the KGB and now President of Russia, a nickname. It is Pootie-Poot.

It is not known if Pootie-Poot will respond with his own offering.

Improbable relationship

But all this indicates that relations between Mr Bush and Mr Putin are good. And it has been growing for some time. Remember last June, when Mr Bush surprised the world by declaring after a meeting with Mr Putin in Slovenia: “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

This rang rather true. George Bush does like to look people in the eye. He has a habit of pausing between sentences (which are usually more lucid in private than in public), cocking his head and waiting for a response.

It is an improbable relationship. On the one hand, there is the chirpy Texan, and on the other, the stern apparatchik. One cannot imagine that dinner table talk is a bundle of fun.

But it is a balance of interests. It is based on a belief by Mr Bush that Mr Putin is genuinely trying to bring Russia into line with the Western world.

Mr Putin has not made big issues out of the policies which Mr Bush has favoured – especially the missile defence system.

And they have just reached agreement on a new Nato-Russia consultation mechanism and on reducing deployed missile warheads from some 6000 to 2,200 each.

Trade-off

Russia, therefore, is ceasing to be a threat to the West, in deed as well as in word. A historian might say – Russia blinked first.

From Mr Putin’s point of view, Mr Bush has not caused trouble over Russia’s own backyard problem – Chechnya. This is a trade-off for Russian support in the US-led war on terrorism which was declared after the 11 September attacks.

Mr Putin also needs American support for Russian economic ambitions. Without a strong economy, Russia cannot be strong again.

It was summed up in a comment to Time magazine by Mr Bush’s National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a Russian specialist who also worked for George Bush senior.

She said: “To see the kind of relationship that Presidents Bush and Putin have developed and to see Russia firmly anchored in the West – that’s really a dream of 300 years, not just of the post-Cold War era.”

Six years later the Bromance cooled off when Georgia fought Russia over some disputed territory, a one-sided war if there ever was one. Like today, Putin blamed the USA for instigating the conflict but that was probably more as a way to shift blame for the conflict from himself (not that the Georgian government was entirely innocent.) Given the opportunity to intervene on behalf of George Soros, Western banks, NATO, and the IMF, George W. Bush showed a diffident side never on display when it came to Iraq or Afghanistan.

All he did was make a statement, about the same thing basically as Obama is doing now.

Russia has stated that changing the government of Georgia is not its goal. The United States and the world expect Russia to honor that commitment. Russia has also stated that it has halted military operations and agreed to a provisional cease-fire. Unfortunately, we’re receiving reports of Russian actions that are inconsistent with these statements. We’re concerned about reports that Russian units have taken up positions on the east side of the city of Gori, which allows them to block the East-West Highway, divide the country, and threaten the capital of Tbilisi.

Ouch, that must have really hurt.

Since the same sorts of people who have stood up for Bashar al-Assad are now backing Putin in the Ukraine, it should not come as a surprise that the same kind of “sky is falling” WWIII hysteria is cropping up again just as it did after Obama’s empty “red line” bluffing. Here, if anything, is a reminder of where things stood toward the end of 2013 as Obama calibrated his relationship with Russia—not that it ever had anything to do with the Cold War to begin with. Here’s Fred Weir, one of the sharper minds on Russia:

Secretary of State John Kerry huddled in the Kremlin for several hours with President Vladimir Putin Tuesday, in what US officials described as an effort to “intensify” US-Russia dialogue and inject some fresh juice into a bilateral relationship that’s been stumbling aimlessly, amid growing acrimony, for over a year.

More urgently, he told Mr. Putin that Russia and the United States must try harder to forge a common position on the fast-deteriorating situation in Syria, where conflicting charges of chemical weapons usage have alarmed the big powers, and a series of Israeli airstrikes in recent days have raised the specter of a much wider war.

“The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria,” Mr. Kerry told Putin.

Those mutual interests include promoting stability in the region, blocking extremists from gaining power, and working together to broker a peaceful political transition for the civil war-wracked country, he added.

http://jewishworldreview.com/0513/kerry_putin.php3

Let me conclude by saying that “blocking extremists from gaining power” likely means anybody who yells “Alluah Akbar” after shooting down a Baathist helicopter.

December 16, 2013

Two Lessons

Filed under: Argentina,Film,Poland,Russia — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

Now that I have fulfilled my obligations to New York Film Critics Online by watching just enough Hollywood crapola to allow me to fill out a ballot for our December 8th awards meeting, I can return to the kind of film that really matters to me and presumably my readers. As the first post-NYFCO awards film reviewed by me, “Two Lessons” is the perfect example of why I would prefer a low-budget Polish language documentary that cost perhaps $50,000 to make over something like “Gravity”.

Opening today at the Maysles Theater in Harlem, “Two Lessons” is an exquisitely beautiful and spiritually elevated study of rural poverty in Siberia and Argentina pivoting around director Wojciech Staron’s wife Malgosia, who was sent by the Polish government to give Polish language lessons to émigré communities after 1989 when nationalism took the place of Communism. Although it is a documentary, the filmmaker whose work it bears the closest resemblance to is that of French Catholic New Wave narrative film director Robert Bresson, especially his “Diary of a Country Priest”.

One of my favorite Bresson quotes is “Don’t run after poetry. It penetrates unaided through the cracks”, words that describe “Two Lessons” to a tee. Like the young priest in Bresson’s classic who arrives in a country village on a mission to save souls, Malgosia Staron (she was the director’s girlfriend at the time) comes to Usolie-Siberskoe in 1998 in order to preserve culture. What she and Wojciech rapidly discover is that the citizenry is also in need of material salvation, facing one hardship or another in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR. This is a people who never benefited from the “free market” revolution led by Yeltsin and Putin. Malgosia arrives in the middle of a teacher’s strike. After not having been paid in months, they are ready to confront the new rulers whose contempt for working people is well understood by the teachers who carry a portrait of Lenin at a rally.

That being said, this is not a social protest film even though the director’s sympathy is with those at the bottom. Instead it is a beautiful and moving portrait of people living in a forbidding realm who manage to make the best of their lives despite all sorts of challenges. While the primary inspiration seems to be Bresson, the film also evokes Werner Herzog’s “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga”, a riveting portrait of hunters and trappers in Siberia. When not focused on Malgosia’s lessons to her students, her boyfriend’s camera is trained on a number of local “personalities”, including a Pole who is determined to translate the bible from Polish into Russia just as an exercise. There are scenes of ice-fishing, local dances, church gatherings, and many landscapes that appear inspired by the Bressonian stricture: “Don’t run after poetry. It penetrates unaided through the cracks”.

If there was ever a reason to go slow on the digital revolution, it is this film which was made with a 16-millimeter camera—probably a necessity given the year when it was made. It is a reminder that film can capture images in a way that digital cameras never can unless they are prohibitively expensive. It would appear that director Wojciech Staron made part one of “Two Lessons” with a one-man crew, namely himself. This is a miracle of filmmaking and an inspiration to anybody working in the field including a patzer like myself.

Part two of “Two Lessons” was made possible by Malgosia’s assignment to work in Azara, Argentina but the film is much more about the struggle of an 11-year-old Polish girl named Marcia to eke out a living with the Staron’s 8-year-old son Janek in tow.

Marcia’s parents have fallen on hard times and she is forced to make bricks, pick yerba mate leaves, or sell ice from a roadside stand to help her mother make ends meet. Her father has separated from the mother out of a combination of financial difficulties and personal strife, no doubt aggravated by the failing economy. (The film was made in 2011, supposedly after Argentina’s economic recovery, which like Russia’s never seemed to have filtered down to the rural backwaters.)

As is the case with part one, the focus is on human relationships and the solace of natural beauty rather than the class struggle. In one of more captivating scenes, the young Staron teaches the older and much more assertive Marcia how to swim.

At the risk of sounding like a hack reviewer hyping something like “Gravity” or “Inside Llewyn Davis”, I would describe this film as breathtakingly beautiful and a reminder of Polish filmmaking when people like Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda were in their heyday. That the underfunded Wojciech Staron can be mentioned in the same breath as such masters should be recommendation enough.

June 24, 2013

Three documentaries of note

Filed under: african-american,comedy,Film,Russia — louisproyect @ 4:54 pm

As a wistful look at funeral homes in the Black community, the documentary “Homegoings” that opens today at Maysles Cinema in the heart of Harlem is the perfect companion piece to Spike Lee’s first movie “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads”. Although Lee’s movie is a fairly conventional crime melodrama with the owners of the barbershop having stolen money from racketeers, it is best when it is about the small talk that goes on in one of the Black community’s longest standing institutions. As two barbers are playing checkers, the subject turns to straightening hair. “Processes ruin the hair and the brain too. That’s why we’ve got so many dumb brothers,” says one barber to the other.

“Homegoings”, a euphemism for death that speaks volumes, features Harlem funeral director Isaiah Owens, a sixtyish man who really brings this ostensibly morbid subject matter to life. An obvious geek when he was young, Owens was obsessed with burying dead animals—frogs, cats, dogs, you name it. He also loved to simulate funerals with miniature objects in the same way that I used to play with toy soldiers, something he reenacts in the course of the film.

Last Thursday I almost ventured down to a “Death Café” in downtown Manhattan, a group that meets monthly to discuss death—obviously. At the age of 68, this is a subject that has more currency than it had when I was 28. Four decades ago I understood intellectually that I was not going to live forever (I can hear many of my readers shouting “Hurray!”) but it was nothing to brood about. Nowadays that’s mostly what I have on my mind, when I am not brooding about the Brenner thesis or the sorry state of Hollywood movies. The NY Times reported on the death café:

Socrates did not fear death; he calmly drank the hemlock. Kierkegaard was obsessed with death, which made him a bit gloomy. As for Lorraine Tosiello, a 58-year-old internist in Bradley Beach, N.J., it is the process of dying that seems endlessly puzzling.

“I’m more interested, philosophically, in what is death? What is that transition?” Dr. Tosiello said at a recent meeting in a Manhattan coffee shop, where eight people had shown up on a Wednesday night to discuss questions that philosophers have grappled with for ages.

The group, which meets monthly, is called a Death Cafe, one of many such gatherings that have sprung up in nearly 40 cities around the country in the last year. Offshoots of the “café mortel” movement that emerged in Switzerland and France about 10 years ago, these are not grief support groups or end-of-life planning sessions, but rather casual forums for people who want to bat around philosophical thoughts. What is death like? Why do we fear it? How do our views of death inform the way we live?

I was not surprised to learn from my friend Jeffrey, who is even older than me believe it or not, that his mind is wrapped around the same questions. I think to some extent this is a function of both of us having parents who went through a fairly lengthy experience being ground down by lengthy illnesses—in his father’s case Parkinson’s and in my mother’s case heart disease. It tends to focus the mind.

In “Homegoings” you get a totally different take on dying. As the title of the movie implies, there is a joy that awaits the average devout Harlemite serviced by Owens’s specialized trade, which involves among other things applying a kind of botox treatment to make a 92 year old dead person look years younger so that the funeral service will be more upbeat. One supposes that this is essentially what religion is about, making you believe that there is everlasting life in heaven. Of course, for those unlucky enough to be raised in a Jewish household, where such beliefs are understated, and beyond that to have matured as atheists, there’s little to console us except the knowledge that we don’t have to worry about going to hell—a real bonus for someone like me.

Now available from Showtime on-demand, “Richard Pryor—Omit the Logic” is a fascinating account of the Dorian Gray-like rise and fall of arguably the USA’s greatest stand-up comedian next to Lenny Bruce. As was the case with Bruce, Pryor’s decline can be attributed to the abuse he took from industry heavies as well as the self-abuse of a major heavy drug habit.

But digging a bit deeper into the Pryor story, I am convinced that the comparison is better made with Miles Davis, another Black artist whose improvisational skills rivaled Pryor’s. What one did with a horn, the other did through stories and jokes.

The documentary is graced by interviews with both the people who knew him as friends or lovers, as well as knowledgeable students of African-American society—most notably Walter Moseley and Ishmael Reed.

The film of course includes footage from nightclub, television and film appearances but it does not try to compete with the 1979 Richard Pryor: Live in Concert or the 1982 Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, a film made two years after he set himself on fire—supposedly a free-basing accident. The film reveals, however, that this was a suicide attempt inspired by Pryor’s watching a newsreel of Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest the American-backed dictatorship in Vietnam in the mid-60s.

The film also goes into detail about Pryor’s decline and eventual death from multiple sclerosis, a disease that for the first time in his life made him dependent on others and very likely for the first time in his life to learn to trust them as a result.

Another documentary available as on-request from a premium cable station (and on Youtube above until the intellectual propery cops find out), HBO’s “Pussy Riot—a Punk Prayer” is both notable as a news story and as human drama. It is also a fundamental challenge to those on the left who would treat Vladimir Putin as some kind of anti-imperialist icon because he is the target of Nicholas Kristof or Thomas Friedman’s abuse. If after watching this documentary, you can still agree with the get-tough recommendations of “leftist” blogger Moon over Alabama, then maybe you should reconsider what it means to be on the left:

Abusing places of worship for a “free speech act”, especially when that act is subjectively blasphemous to the religion, is an infringement of the right of freedom of religion. In my view such an infringement, as in this case, can not be justified by the right of free speech. There are many other places where the free speech can be made. I therefore find the sentence against Pussy Riot quite obviously justified.

This of course is utter nonsense. In 2003 a couple had sex in the pews at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in N.Y. as a shock radio prank. While awaiting trial, the man died of a heart attack—not likely a result of overexertion—but the woman got 40 hours of community service, a proverbial slap on the wrist.

The hostility toward Pussy Riot from some sectors of the left makes you wonder if they were around when Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman were up to stunts like throwing dollar bills on the New York Stock Exchange trading floor. These people so anxious to see “law and order” prevail in Russia are nothing less than the purple Kryptonite reversal of the right-wingers who belonged to the Moral Majority.

In actuality, the Pussy Riot performance had little to do with shock radio. Instead, as the documentary makes clear, it was a political act that was cut from the same cloth as the Gezi Park protests in Taksim Square, but even far more engaged with anti-capitalist consciousness.

The background of the three women in Pussy Riot makes this completely clear. Maria Alyokhina, a 25-year-old single mother, was a member of Greenpeace who was active in the protests against the clearing of Khimki Forest that is part of the “green belt” around Moscow, obviously in the same spirit of the Taksim Square rebellion. The forest was to be leveled for an 8 billion dollar superhighway to connect Moscow with St. Petersburg.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is the 24-year-old daughter of an artist who was raised by her ardently communist grandmother after her parents divorced. Combing her father’s esthetics and her grandmother’s firebrand politics, she hooked up with the Voina street-art group that embodies autonomist values, including a “refusal to work” and commitment to provocative actions—thankfully excluding black block type adventurism. The film shows her and a man having sex along with other couples in the Biology Museum in Moscow, an obvious commentary on reproduction.

The thirty-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich was the third member of the group. She took part in Operation Kiss Garbage that involved “ambush kissing” of female police officers in subway stations from January through March 2011. All told, the activities of the three women were assaults on Russian notions of propriety utterly in keeping with bohemian radicalism going back for more than a century. It was the sort of activism that was a core part of the 1960s but one that is now disavowed by many of the elderly survivors of that period who now equate radicalism with following the foreign policy initiatives of the Putin state machinery.

The film climaxes with the trial of the three women at which the prosecution expects them to grovel before the court in 1930s Moscow Trial fashion. The more they flagellate themselves, the more lenient the punishment. Defiant of the sexist, class-oppressive, environmentally destructive state apparatus, the women do not budge an inch from their principles, as their closing statement to the court makes clear:

Katya, Masha and I are in jail but I don’t consider that we’ve been defeated. Just as the dissidents weren’t defeated. When they disappeared into psychiatric hospitals and prisons, they passed judgement on the country. The era’s art of creating an image knew no winners or losers. The Oberiu poets remained artists to the very end, something impossible to explain or understand since they were purged in 1937. Vvedensky wrote: “We like what can’t be understood, What can’t be explained is our friend.” According to the official report, Aleksandr Vvedensky died on 20 December 1941. We don’t know the cause, whether it was dysentery in the train after his arrest or a bullet from a guard. It was somewhere on the railway line between Voronezh and Kazan. Pussy Riot are Vvedensky’s disciples and his heirs. His principle of ‘bad rhythm’ is our own. He wrote: “It happens that two rhythms will come into your head, a good one and a bad one and I choose the bad one. It will be the right one.” What can’t be explained is our friend. The elitist, sophisticated occupations of the Oberiu poets, their search for meaning on the edge of sense was ultimately realized at the cost of their lives, swept away in the senseless Great Terror that’s impossible to explain. At the cost of their own lives, the Oberiu poets unintentionally demonstrated that the feeling of meaninglessness and analogy, like a pain in the backside, was correct, but at the same time led art into the realm of history. The cost of taking part in creating history is always staggeringly high for people. But that taking part is the very spice of human life. Being poor while bestowing riches on many, having nothing but possessing everything. It is believed that the OBERIU dissidents are dead, but they live on. They are persecuted but they do not die.

Do you remember why the young Dostoyevsky was given the death sentence? All he had done was to spend all his time with Socialists—and at the Friday meetings of a friendly circle of free thinkers at Petrushevsky’s, he became acquainted with Charles Fourier and George Sand. At one of the last meetings, he read out Gogol’s letter to Belinsky, which was packed, according to the court, and I note, with childish expressions against the Orthodox Church and the supreme authorities. After all his preparations for the death penalty and ten dreadful, impossibly frightening minutes waiting to die, as Dostoyevsky himself put it, the announcement came that his sentence had been commuted to four years hard labour followed by military service.

Socrates was accused of corrupting youth through his philosophical discourses and of not recognizing the gods of Athens. Socrates had a connection to a divine inner voice and was by no means a theomachist, something he often said himself. What did that matter, however, when he had angered the city with his critical, dialectical and unprejudiced thinking? Socrates was sentenced to death and, refusing to run away, although he was given that option, he drank down a cup of poison in cold blood, hemlock.

Have you forgotten the circumstances under which Stephen, follower of the Apostles, ended his earthly life? “Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council. And they put forward false witnesses who said, ‘This man incessantly speaks against this holy place, and the Law.’” He was found guilty and stoned to death.

And I hope everyone remembers what the Jews said to Jesus: “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy.” And finally it would be well worth remembering this description of Christ: “He is possessed of a demon and out of his mind.”

Read full statement.

June 15, 2013

Three films of note

Filed under: art,Film,Russia — louisproyect @ 8:51 pm

Opening yesterday at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema in New York, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story” combines the strands found in two other excellent documentaries about artists. Like Gerhard Richter who was born one year after him in Germany, the 82-year-old Ungerer knew World War Two horrors firsthand from growing up in Alsace. In Strasbourg, the capital, French citizens were forced to speak German or go to jail. Once France was liberated, there was a drive to destroy German-language books in retaliation. Needless to say, a sensitive young man with a passion for free expression, especially in the arts, would be drawn to the USA, which after the end of WWII had the reputation for being the freest place on earth.

Not long after resettling in New York, Ungerer launched a career as a commercial artist using his particular off-kilter sensibility to make advertisements that belonged in the Museum of Modern Art. His main influence starting out was the legendary New Yorker magazine cartoonist Saul Steinberg whose minimalist style could convey in a few lines what it would take a thousand words to express.

His next step was to begin writing children’s books with the same kind of offbeat sensibility that endeared him to children everywhere. His books were filled with menace and darkness; all reminiscent of his youth in Alsace and calculated as he put it to help them discover the light. His work was a major influence on Maurice Sendak, who is interviewed throughout the film.

In a trip to Texas during the Jim Crow era, Ungerer was shocked to discover separate accommodations for Blacks and whites. That impelled him to begin making art with a message. By the time the Vietnam War started, he was primed and ready to become one of the most original and most trenchant poster artists against American intervention. He held nothing back. Ironically, he attributes his straight for the jugular style to the Nazi propaganda posters he was exposed to as a youth.

Susceptible to all the social upheavals of the 1960s, Ungerer discovered the sexual revolution and wasted no time launching a new career as a master pornographer. His sexually explicit and often sadomasochistic drawings were an acquired taste but nobody could question the power of his art.

Except perhaps for the censors who decided that his children books should be removed from the public libraries and the unofficial black listers who made him as unemployable in the 1960s as a CP’er was in the 1950s. This led him and his family to look elsewhere to make a living. Like Ai Weiwei, the artist profiled in another documentary, Ungerer was persecuted for his un-American values. In some circles, fucking is obviously as subversive as socialism.

Ungerer is altogether captivating subject. The film consists of him reminiscing about his past and brilliant examples of his work, much of it rendered as animation. This is a film that will remind people like me how powerful the transformative movements of the 1960s were and encourage younger people to keep their ammunition dry for the upheavals that are bound to occur down the road, especially those who believe in the revolutionary potential of art.

Also opening yesterday at the Village East Theater in New York is “In the Fog”, a Russian film that is a happy reminder that the Russian film industry continues to rebound nicely from the devastating impact of the Yeltsin years when Hollywood became part of the battering ram of privatization.

Like “White Tiger”, another excellent Russian film I reviewed recently, “In the Fog” is set during WWII but unlike “White Tiger” it does not exactly follow the Great Patriotic War narrative. Instead it is an existential saga that poses the dilemmas faced by men and women forced to make difficult choices under the gun.

Around the time I joined the Trotskyist movement in 1967, I read Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”, an essay that mapped to my own transitional state of mind. I still retained some of the French existential ideas that I had absorbed at Bard College as an undergraduate and others at the New School when I found myself embarking on a new course of revolutionary politics. Sartre’s essay was meant to highlight the difficult choices that people faced that did not lend themselves to a pat Marxist analysis:

As an example by which you may the better understand this state of abandonment, I will refer to the case of a pupil of mine, who sought me out in the following circumstances. His father was quarrelling with his mother and was also inclined to be a “collaborator”; his elder brother had been killed in the German offensive of 1940 and this young man, with a sentiment somewhat primitive but generous, burned to avenge him. His mother was living alone with him, deeply afflicted by the semi-treason of his father and by the death of her eldest son, and her one consolation was in this young man. But he, at this moment, had the choice between going to England to join the Free French Forces or of staying near his mother and helping her to live. He fully realised that this woman lived only for him and that his disappearance – or perhaps his death – would plunge her into despair. He also realised that, concretely and in fact, every action he performed on his mother’s behalf would be sure of effect in the sense of aiding her to live, whereas anything he did in order to go and fight would be an ambiguous action which might vanish like water into sand and serve no purpose.

“In the Fog” is the aptly named story of a Byelorussian partisan who comes to the house of a railroad worker who is believed to have betrayed three other workers who derailed a German train. Since they were hung and he was released, the partisans concluded that he was a collaborator. Part of the human drama involves the survivor arguing with the three fellow workers in a flashback about the drawbacks to sabotage. The Nazis will undoubtedly kill many villagers in retaliation. Do they want to be responsible for their deaths?

This is essentially a two-character film with Sushenya the railroad worker (Vladislav Abashin) trying to convince Burov the partisan (Vladislav Abashin) of his innocence. There is always a sense of impending doom as the Nazi army and the local cops acting on their behalf close in on the men. However, this is not an “action” film but much more about the tensions that exist during a state of war between revolutionary justice and the need for both fairness and mercy. The fine line between the two is often so thin as to be invisible.

“In the Fog” is based on a novel by Vasil’ Bykaw, Byelorussia’s most important author who was a WWII veteran who died in 2003. Like all great movies, I am always motivated to read the novel that they may be based on. Although Bykaw was not that ideological, there is one scene that suggests his judgments about the Stalin era. The bureaucrat who is in charge of the local railroad station is a Nazi flunky who beats the men as the mood hits him. One of the three railroad workers who ends up hung tells the others, “He was the same way under Stalin”.

Just before he died, Bykaw became part of the movement against Alexander Lukashenko, the vile autocrat who ran Byelorussia like the railway boss. Based on the evidence of the moral and philosophical foundations of “In the Fog”, it is not difficult to understand why Lukashenko would have felt the need to suppress the mass movement. As is the case with Tomi Ungerer, the artist is often part of the true vanguard of a revolutionary movement.

Unfortunately I was not able to see “Student” until after it closed at Anthology Film Archive. For those with a taste for politically hard-hitting and artistically daring fare, you can watch “Student” at mubi.com, a fee-based streaming service that might be described as the not-Netflix.

This is a very free adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” with an utterly impassive and mostly taciturn Kazakh student living in poverty while attending a local university. He has a part-time job as a gopher on a movie set that features director Darezhan Omirbayev playing the director of a cheesy b-movie starring the girlfriend of a business/gangster who drives around in an oversized SUV surrounded by hulking bodyguards. When “the student” (Nurlan Bajtasov, his character is never named) accidentally spills tea on her lap, a bodyguard spirits him into a room on the set, locks the door, and beats the living crap out of him.

The next day he attends a college class in which the instructor lectures the students about the need for a society divided into classes with the rich on top of the poor. How else will anything get done without social stratification, she asks. You need to learn how to survive just like animals in the jungle. The strong kill the weak. That is how society advances.

Taking this lesson to heart, the student buys a gun and robs a Khazak version of a convenience store. Unlike Dostoyevsky’s novel, the act has no underlying philosophical meaning. It is just the act of someone trying to survive in the post-Soviet jungle.

Darezhan Omirbayev, who also wrote the screenplay, is obviously angry about what is happening in Kazakhstan. His camera lingers on the sight of the ultramodern high-rises that are home to the country’s petro-millionaires.

In an interview with the director at mubi.com, he was asked:

Dostoevsky’s novel was called “an encyclopaedia of Russian society of the 60s of 19th century”. Did you make it to create something similar about the modern Kazakh society?

His reply:

This is to be judged by the viewers, not by me. I based my film on this novel not accidentally. Marcel Proust said once: “Dostoevsky’s style is a bit clumsy, but the power of his novels is in their compositional harmony and beauty”. And this beautiful composition came thanks to those problems and ideas that troubled Fyodor Mikhailovich. And plus, some prose is very keen to be filmed – and “Crime&Punishment” is among of such. I was impressed much by the sequence where Raskolnikov, having murdered the old X, forgets to shut the door and an accidental person steps in. Also, this novel has a social undertone which is very actual nowadays. The 60s of 19th century were the period of launching capitalism that bred the conflict in a Russian society. The reaction of young minds was quite harsh, and Dostoevsky made it to catch that zeitgeist. The same process is currently going on in modern Kazakhstan: there’s too big financial gap between people and that troubles the youth of Kazakhstan very much.

Indeed.

May 5, 2013

Letter to a Harvard professor on Karl Marx

Filed under: india,Russia — louisproyect @ 2:55 pm

Dear Professor Peter E. Gordon,

In your New Republic review of Sperber’s new bio of Marx, you write:

“The outbreak of Bolshevik revolution a little more than three decades after his death would have struck him as a startling violation of his own historical principle that bourgeois society and industrialization must reach their fullest expression before the proletariat gains the class-consciousness that it requires to seize political control.”

Despite your Harvard credentials (or perhaps in light of them, given Niall Ferguson’s foot-in-mouth disease), you show a shocking unawareness of Marx’s late writings on Russia. In letters to Danielson and Zasulich, he warned exactly against the interpretation you proffer to New Republic’s readers.

In an 1881 letter to Zasulich, he stated:

“Theoretically speaking, then, the Russian ‘rural commune’ can preserve itself by developing its basis, the common ownership of land, and by eliminating the principle of private property which it also implies; it can become a direct point of departure for the economic system towards which modern society tends; it can turn over a new leaf without beginning by committing suicide; it can gain possession of the fruits with which capitalist production has enriched mankind, WITHOUT PASSING THROUGH THE CAPITALIST REGIME, a regime which, considered solely from the point of view of its possible duration hardly counts in the life of society. But we must descend from pure theory to the Russian reality.”

You can find out more about this in Teodor Shanin’s “Late Marxism”, a book you would find most edifying, I’m sure.

You also state: “In one of his many columns for  The New York Tribune, he reasoned that British imperialism, however regrettable, was a historical necessity: only via modernization could India overcome its heritage of ‘Oriental despotism’.”

Once again you demonstrate a shocking unfamiliarity with Marx’s later thinking. I would refer you to the chapter in Aijaz Ahmad’s “In Theory: Classes, Nations and Literatures” titled “Marx on India: a Clarification.”

Even in Marx’s earlier writings, he qualified the benefits of capitalist modernization by saying in 1853: “The Indian will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the new ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindus themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether.”

And, more to the point, in an 1881 letter to Danielson that reflects his total break with the “stagism” you attribute to him, he noted:

“In India serious complications, if not a general outbreak, are in store for the British government. What the British take from them annually in the form of rent, dividends for railways useless for the Hindoos, pensions for the military and civil servicemen, for Afghanistan and other wars, etc. etc., — what they take from them without any equivalent and quite apart from what they appropriate to themselves annually within India, — speaking only of the commodities that Indians have to gratuitously and annually send over to England — it amounts to more than the total sum of the income of the 60 million of agricultural and industrial laborers of India. This is a bleeding process with a vengeance.”

A bleeding process with a vengeance.

This, Professor Gordon, notwithstanding your and Sperber’s insistence that Marx belongs to the 19th century, is what makes him very much a 21st century figure since “A bleeding process with a vengeance” is a perfect description of the garment factory disaster in Bangladesh and the suicide epidemic in India of small farmers who have no future. I understand, of course, that a magazine owned by a Facebook billionaire rests on the assumption that there is no alternative to capitalism, but in the interests of serious Marx scholarship I would urge you to do your homework.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect, moderator of the Marxism mailing list

April 22, 2013

The myth of Vladimir Putin’s progressivism

Filed under: Film,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:03 pm

For that segment of the left that thinks more in terms of hegemonic blocs and geopolitical chess games between imperialism and “anti-imperialist” states than classes, Putin is something of an exemplar. Immanuel Wallerstein, perhaps its most respected and principled representative, made the case for Putin in a July 15, 2007 Commentary titled “The Putin Charisma“:

Yes, he has upset a good portion of the intelligentsia, but there is every indication that he is quite popular with most Russians, unlike some other presidents of major states today. It seems that Russians see him as someone who has done much to restore the strength of the Russian state, after what they see as its humiliating deterioration during the Yeltsin era… He has opposed United States plans to install antimissile structures in Poland and the Czech Republic, and has gotten support for his stand (if quiet support) from Western Europe. He has used control of gas and oil exports from Russia itself and from both Central Asian and Caucasian countries not only to obtain greater rent for Russia (and thereby greater world power), but more or less to impose his terms on energy issues on Western Europe.

I imagine that most supporters of Putin on the left would make a case something like this:

1. Oil Populism:

He has taken advantage of Russia’s oil rentier status to fight the poverty and inequality that was a legacy of Yeltsin’s oligarchy-friendly rule. While by no means a socialist, he has something in common with Hugo Chavez who embodied the same economic policy. MRZine, a major outlet of hegemonic bloc theory, published a talk by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov that obviously took him at his word:

It should be no surprise that Russia today is making use of its natural competitive advantages.  It is also investing in its human resources, encouraging innovation, integrating into the global economy, and modernizing its legislation.  Russia wants international stability to underpin its own development.  Accordingly, it is working toward the establishment of a freer and more democratic international order.

Sounds almost Bolivarian, doesn’t it?

2. Anti-Imperialism:

Russia, along with China, is standing up to American imperialism in places like Libya and Syria. Of particular interest is Putin’s steadfast resistance to jihadism wherever it rears its ugly head, especially in Chechnya. For this sector of the left, political Islam has become as much of a bogeyman as it was to people like Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens in 2003. The very same “foreign fighters” who went to fight the American occupation in Iraq are now shunned as tools of American imperialism. Russia Today, an English-language news service funded by the government, is widely considered to be a friend of the left, especially those predisposed to the global chess game analysis. An April 20, 2013 piece by Eric Draitser, who blogs at stopimperialism.com, made the case for the Russian government:

As more information comes out regarding the alleged bombers and their ideological leanings, there will undoubtedly be a propaganda assault to shape this narrative in the interests of the United States and the West.  Talking heads will be on television twenty four hours a day explaining to Americans why Chechnya is such a hotbed of terrorism, asking how something like this could happen, etc.  The truth is however, Washington has perpetuated the conflict through its propaganda machine that will now be employed to once again turn friend to enemy.  Perhaps, instead of being the world’s greatest purveyor of terror, using it as a weapon to achieve geostrategic objectives, the United States should actually work with peaceful nations such as Russia to combat terrorism worldwide.

3. Standing up to foreign meddling

Probably the thing that endears Putin to this sector of the left above all is its willingness to suppress the NGO’s that have foisted “color revolutions” on unsuspecting victims everywhere. Unlike other heads of state, Putin has had the balls (the word certainly applies) to shut them down, an act that gladdens the heart of Global Research, a long-standing member of the global chess-game tendency. On July 14, 2012 they published an article by Veronika Krasheninnikova, a staff member of a Russian think tank, that cheered Putin’s crackdown:

In fact, the multibillions of Western funding have profoundly distorted Russian civil society. A marginal pro-American group of NGOs that was pumped up with US dollars like a bodybuilder with steroids – it has gained much muscle and shine. Those few Russians willing to serve foreign interests were provided nice offices, comfortable salaries, printing presses, training, publicity, and political and organizing technology which gave them far more capacity, visibility, and influence that they could possibly have had on their own. Money and spin are the only means to promote unpopular ideas, alien to national interests.

On the other side is the silent majority of people who are squeezed out of the public space. In Western, and also in Russian media, civil society turns out to be represented by Ludmila Alekseyeva (The Helsinki Group) and Boris Nemtsov and Gary Kasparov, rather than by a worker from the Urals, a teacher from Novosibirsk or a farmer from Krasnodar Region.

Yesterday I had the very great fortune to attend a film screening of “Winter Go Away”, a documentary on the 2012 Russian elections that was co-directed by 10 filmmakers, including Anna Moiseenko who was there to speak about the film in the Q&A. Poet and revolutionary Kirill Medvedev, who I have discussed before, was also there to speak about the current situation in Russia.

I can only say that this film is an eye-opener, even to someone like me who has defended Pussy Riot against Putin and tries to keep up with the Russian left. (The film shows the feminist punk rockers being dragged out of the church.) Basically the documentary demonstrates how radical the opposition to Putin was. Despite the pro-capitalist leanings of some of the major opposition figures—from multibillionaire candidate Mikhail Prokhorov to the aforementioned Gary Kasparov (he should stick to chess)—the rank-and-file of the movement are exactly the same kinds of people who occupied Zuccotti Park. Indeed, some of the chants you hear on the demonstrations are directed against Russian capitalism. You see young people heading toward the protests wearing Guy Fawkes masks, etc. The protests have been erroneously described as upper-middle-class temper tantrums funded by George Soros. It takes a huge amount of brass for some leftists to make such an attack when the Putin rallies are staged affairs that make the Republican Party’s look Bolshevik by comparison. Putin’s slogans were mind-numbingly nationalistic, with his well-heeled supporters chanting “Russia, Putin, Victory” at rallies.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is an interview with one Matvey Krylov who has just been released from prison for throwing water at a government official. The interviewer can’t seem to wrap his head around the question of someone going to prison for throwing water at another person. After repeatedly asking Krylov to explain what happened, the young man–who looks just like the sort of person who would have been found camped out in Zuccotti Park–tells him to Google his name. That will tell him all he needs to know. I followed this recommendation and discovered to my delight that my good friends in Chto Delat, a leftwing artist’s collective, has a report on their website:

The Moscow Times November 1, 2011
Water Stunt May Earn 2 Years in Jail
Alexey Eremenko

An opposition activist faces two years in jail for splashing water in the face of a prosecutor who jailed his comrades and allegedly threatened to kill him, the Agora rights group said Monday.

Dmitry Putenikhin, a member of The Other Russia, attacked Alexei Smirnov outside Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court on Friday shortly after it jailed five people, including three fellow activists, for participating in Manezh Square rioting last December.

The verdict has raised eyebrows because the riots were racially charged, while The Other Russia is not a nationalist group. Critics say the authorities chose the organization as a scapegoat.

Putenikhin, also known under the alias Matvei Krylov, did not flee after the attack, explaining to journalists that his actions were “improvised.” A video released by RIA-Novosti showed police brutally detaining him and three other people minutes after the attack.

 During the Q&A, I described the agenda of the global chess-game left to the speakers. Kirill’s response was most edifying. He said that the idea of Putin somehow having a continuation with the “anti-imperialist” USSR is embraced by both the “civil society”, Perestroika wing of the anti-Putin opposition as well as some elements of the Putin camp, except that the former group places a minus where the other group puts a plus.

But what really gave me pause to reflect was his explanation of the driving forces of the opposition to Putin. While people like Kasparov were still stuck in the perestroika mode and limited exclusively to issues such as freedom of speech (as important as they are), the grass roots of the movement has been driven to take action by the neoliberal policies of the Putin regime, especially in health care and education.

The light bulb went on over my head. Wasn’t this the same scenario that played out in Libya? The pro-Qaddafi left was stuck in a time warp that viewed the dictator in the same light as the mid-80s, the head of an oil rentier state dispensing royalties to the masses in a paternalistically dictatorial fashion. When a movement broke out against Qaddafi, who had imposed neoliberal policies for the better part of 20 years, his defenders made the same kinds of arguments being made on Putin’s behalf today.

Just as I have done for Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Qaddafi before him, I did a search in Nexis (access to which is one of my most valued benefits as a Columbia University retiree) for articles on Putin’s economic policies.

The first significant report of Putin’s intentions appeared in the N.Y. Times on April 2nd, 2000.

The victory of Vladimir V. Putin in the presidential election last Sunday has focused attention on an opulent Moscow building known as Aleksandr House, where a team of liberal-minded economists and other experts has been quietly drafting Mr. Putin’s blueprint for Russia.

German O. Gref, head of the Center for Strategic Research and master of Aleksandr House, confidently predicted this week that by late May Mr. Putin will be ready to release ”a breakthrough scenario envisaging the most radical reforms,” from an overhaul of Russia’s cumbersome tax code to a streamlining of its infamous bureaucracies.

With the exception of tax reform, the contents of the program are still vague and, on critical issues like land reform, still under debate. But the Aleksandr House team — which includes some of Russia’s best-known pro-market reformers — has already firmly established itself as the beachhead of liberal economics in the coming Putin administration.

Four years later, on March 16, 2004, Putin’s aims became clarified as the Guardian reported:

Despite the self-acclaimed miracle of Russia’s economic growth, most citizens still live in grinding poverty and a tenth can barely feed themselves. What little is known about Mr Putin’s domestic plans suggests he does not want to bridge this gap through a greater welfare state but through harsh market reforms.

Professor Oksana Gaman-Golutvina, of the Academy of State Service, said: “Mr Putin represents himself as a left-wing politician, but in reality he is rightwing. This is the master stroke of his PR. He wants to reform communal services, education and health, in a most libertarian way.”

Mr Putin will reduce VAT and the social security taxes companies pay for each employee, theoretically creating more jobs. Students will have to pay for more of their education, patients for more of their health care.

Rail fares and utility prices will rise astronomically as franchises are sold off.

Roland Nash, the chief strategist at the Renaissance Capital bank, said the reforms would “hit the average Ivan in the pocket”.

Hmmm. Obama is on record as admiring Ronald Reagan. I wonder if he has been studying Vladimir Putin’s presidency in light of this:

Mr Putin represents himself as a left-wing politician, but in reality he is rightwing. This is the master stroke of his PR. He wants to reform communal services, education and health, in a most libertarian way.

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