Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 26, 2014

This is Russia, get it, faggot

Filed under: homophobia,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:09 pm

Early this month Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest, a TV show similar to “American Idol” but covering the European continent. Wurst is the stage name of Thomas Neuwirth, a bearded transvestite who wowed audiences with a number he wrote called “Rise Like a Phoenix”.

If you forget about the gown he wears, he would be indistinguishable from other androgynous stars like Prince or Turkey’s Tarkan. Strictly speaking, he performs as a man rather than in the female impersonator style of “La Cage aux Folles”.

Wurst is not very popular in Russia or Belarus, a neighbor of Russia that is even more committed to traditional values. In Belarus, a petition campaign directed to the very Orwellian sounding Ministry of Information complained:

The popular international competition will see our children filled with European liberals become a hotbed of sodomy! Belarus, one of the few countries in Europe that was able to maintain normal and healthy family values based on love and mutual support between men and women!

The Russian petition had just about the same wording. For Russians, the clear choice was the Tolmachevy sisters, twins who were the very picture of wholesomeness. They sang a treacly ballad titled “Shine” (I suppose the same thing can be said about Wurst’s song.)

Vladimir Yakunin, who runs Russian Railways and is close to Putin, stated: “This vulgar ethno-fascism from the distant past has once again become part of our lives. The ancient definition of democracy had nothing to do with bearded women but with the leadership of the people.” When asked why a handful of votes for Wurst were cast from Russia, Yakunin replied: “In Russia we also have people with different psychology or abnormal psychology so those [are the people] who voted for this person, the bearded lady.” (Financial Times, May 15)

Meanwhile, his boss told a dinner audience in St. Petersburg that he had nothing against gays just as long as they aren’t too pushy about it: “For us it is important to reaffirm traditional values…. I personally am very liberal (on matters of personal morality). People have the right to live their lives the way they want. But they should not be aggressive, or put it up for show.” That being said, he reminded them that: “The Bible talks about the two genders, man and woman, and the main purpose of union between them is to produce children.” (Telegraph, May 26)

Meanwhile, down in Iran, another country that doesn’t put up with sexual deviancy, the government was cracking down on some youngsters who made a Youtube clip of themselves dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy”. I confess to being ignorant up to that point of Pharrell or his song but subsequently learned that he is quite popular with young people and that he had invited his fans all around the world to create such videos.

The lyrics to Pharrell’s song are as vapid as Wurst’s or the Tolmachevy sisters. You’d think that the Iranians had danced to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”:

Pissing the night away
Pissing the night away
He drinks a whiskey drink
He drinks a vodka drink
He drinks a lager drink
He drinks a cider drink
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the better times

Tehran’s top cop said: “After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip. Following a series of intelligence and police operations and after coordinating with the judiciary, all the suspects were identified and arrested.” Thankfully, the miscreants “confessed to their criminal acts”. (AFP, May 20)

After Iran’s “reformist” president twittered something that was interpreted as the need to cut the “Happy” dancers some slack, they were released. Some analysts view the arrests as an attempt to put the reformists on the defensive by hardliners who preferred Ahmadinejad. For those so disposed, it is probably reassuring that Putin has been able to keep the riffraff at bay, more or less after the fashion of the “kettling” tactic used by cops in the West.

For some on the left, the Russian and Iranian rulers are among the world’s best hope. As a counter-hegemonic bloc, the BRICS and their lesser allies in Syria and Iran, are just what is needed as an alternative to the IMF, NATO, Wall Street, and the EU. Probably nobody articulates this better than Asia Times’s Pepe Escobar whose May 19th article “The Geopolitical Earthquakes Reshaping Eurasia’s Economy” was ecstatic over a “new global architecture”:

Right after the potentially game-changing Sino-Russian summit comes a BRICS summit in Brazil in July. That’s when a $100 billion BRICS development bank, announced in 2012, will officially be born as a potential alternative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as a source of project financing for the developing world.

More BRICS cooperation meant to bypass the dollar is reflected in the “Gas-o-yuan,” as in natural gas bought and paid for in Chinese currency. Gazprom is even considering marketing bonds in yuan as part of the financial planning for its expansion. Yuan-backed bonds are already trading in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and most recently Frankfurt.

So if you are the kind of leftist who gets a frisson of excitement over a $100 billion BRIC development bank, it makes sense that you would be hostile to anything that undermined Brazilian, Russian, Indian, Chinese and South African ambitions. So what if Brazil’s World Cup hosting cost billions that could be better used to build hospitals and schools? Or that India is now being run by a man regarded by many as a fascist or that the ANC gunned down miners at Marikana? After all, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs.

I got my first glimmer of a tendency of the left to adopt an authoritarian attitude when it came to the clash between a BRICS figurehead and the riffraff shortly after Pussy Riot was jailed for sacrilege in a Russian Orthodox Church. Mike Whitney cheered Putin on in an August 8, 2012 article:

The truth is Putin kicked ass. But what does that prove? It proves that the Russian people are either very gullible or that the western media is just spreading more lies. So which is it?

The elections also prove that most Russians don’t share Pussy Riot’s views on Putin. Most people don’t want to “send Putin packing” as the girls said in their so-called “protest prayer”. And that’s understandable, too, because Putin has raised the standard of living for most Russians. He’s reduced poverty, increased literacy, and cut the number of people living in extreme poverty in half.

Let me try to explain the mindset of people like Mike Whitney. It is actually quite interesting in psychological terms. I assume that he, like many people on the left who have become part of the BRICS brigade, were long-haired, dope-smoking freaks who hated Nixon’s “silent majority”. But years of frustration on the far margins of the American left were difficult for many to endure. Such a lonely and thankless task it was to promote a socialism that so few workers were likely to embrace.

Salvation came in the form of the BRICS. If you never would have dreamed of going to a Richard Nixon rally, now you could rally around a Russian president who is about as close to Nixon as you are going to get. What makes Putin attractive, however, is his quarreling with the USA. If you are tired of knocking your head against the wall trying to win working people to socialism, the next best thing—at least for people like Whitney—is backing the “other side” in a geopolitical chess game. What does it matter if they are capitalist oligarchs? As long as they are “anti-American”, that’s good enough for him—goddamnit.

The fervor for Russia is really quite remarkable. On some twitter accounts that belonged to pro-Putin anti-imperialists, there were queries about how to get St. George Ribbon’s, the WWII commemorations worn by separatist militias in east Ukraine. For alienated cyber-leftists who never made a leaflet in their life, let alone passed one out, this was made to order. Wear a St. George’s Ribbon to a college class and you will be making a real statement, just like Pat Buchanan, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama wearing one on their lapel.

I suppose I am inoculated against such a psychological transference because my personality was shaped by the tail end of the beat generation. When I became a Trotskyist in 1967, I never was able to shake the feeling of being an existential outsider that had been with me since high school. I always felt a certain distance from the ranks of the party, young people shaped more by student government than Jack Kerouac.

So that predisposed me to identify with the Pussy Riot type people in Russia rather than the Richard Nixon wannabes like Vladimir Putin. I like angry, alienated people who are driven to sacrilegious behavior. I especially like Kirill Medvedev, the Russian socialist poet who has translated Charles Bukowski—an unbeatable combination in my eyes.

After the Russian Duma passed a law on June 11, 2013 against “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”, Medvedev joined a protest as he recounts in N+1:

I came to the Duma today to protest the homophobic legislation. On the Mokhovka side of the building I found an impenetrable wall of OMON troops and a girl with a sign that said, I think, “Lesbians are people too.” I came around the other side, along Giorgievskiy Pereulok. OMON, a bunch of journalists, a mass of young “religious activists,” and a small group of protesters, without signs. There’s a guy standing at the entrance to the Duma with a sign denouncing pedophiles. I saw a friend, Gleb Napreenko, and came over to him; he said they’d arrested four people so far. A few guys were standing next to us; one of them had a backpack, and his buddy took an egg out of the backpack [to throw it at the protesters]; there was a whole bag full of eggs in the backpack.

I thought about it for a couple of seconds, then stuck my hand into the backpack, pulled out the eggs, and stomped on them. The guys were confused, at first they didn’t say anything. Then one of them came over with an egg in his hand. We started wrestling, sort of like bulls. I was shaking. I decided that he could easily smear his egg all over my face, so I ripped the egg out of his hand and threw it on the ground. He became very angry, but he kept himself under control. I thought, maybe they’re under orders, you can throw eggs but no actual fighting. We came closer to the bus with the protesters in it. A group of young Christians followed us, and were joined by a few other people.

The guy who’d had the egg comes up to me again. “You gay?” he asks me. I say, no, I’m not gay. Cut it out, he says. You’re gay, right? No, I say, I’m not. Then why are you here? I say I came here to support these people, I don’t want eggs being thrown at them. He says to me, You got egg all over my hand, I want to wipe it off on you. I say, No, don’t wipe it off on me. Gleb says, Let me give you a napkin. The guy says, OK, give me a napkin, but I’m still going to wipe my hand on him. Gleb starts looking in his bag for a napkin, the guy and I start pushing and pulling one another, in the end my shirt is of course covered in egg. Another, bigger guy comes up and says, What, you want gay marriage? I say, Yes, I do, but I’m not really going to discuss this with you right now, in this situation. He says, This is Russia, get it, faggot?

This is Russia, get it, faggot? Yes, we get it.

8 Comments »

  1. During World War II, Zionist policy was to “fight the war as thought there were no white paper, and fight the white paper as though there were no war.” Since none of us are not actually fighting anyone, a comparable policy should prove a lot easier to execute: simply spout off against the reactionary social policies of the one, while damning the neoliberal global designs of the other. Duh? I do it all the time.

    Comment by J. Marlin — May 27, 2014 @ 12:30 am

  2. How’s post-Quaddafi Libya doin?

    Comment by Rojo — May 27, 2014 @ 6:09 am

  3. How’s post-Quaddafi Libya doin?

    About the same as most countries that had bourgeois revolutions in Europe and elsewhere. You really need to study Italian history to get an idea of how long it took for a stable parliamentary system to emerge. I assume, btw, from your question that you are a fan of Vladimir Putin. Maybe you can give us your reasons for why laws against sexual deviancy are tolerated by Global Research readers like yourself.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 27, 2014 @ 11:54 am

  4. Random side note on Chumbawamba:

    Chumbawamba were a British alternative music band that had, over a career spanning three decades, played anarcho-punk, pop-influenced music, world music, and folk music. The band’s anarchist politics exhibit an irreverent attitude toward authority, and the band has been forthright in its stances on issues including animal rights, pacifism (early in their career) and later regarding class struggle, feminism, gay liberation, pop culture and anti-fascism.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chumbawamba

    Comment by Nikolas Barry-Shaw — May 27, 2014 @ 5:13 pm

  5. “About the same as most countries that had bourgeois revolutions in Europe and elsewhere.”

    Tell me again who’s into making omelettes.

    Comment by Rojo — May 27, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

  6. Rojo, revolutions are bloody affairs. When Britain, the USA, German and Italy overthrew monarchies, it typically took a century for peace and civil society to emerge. Differences were settled by armed conflict. Since you call yourself “rojo”, I’d think that you’d understand that. Of course, given your propensity to one-liners, who knows.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 27, 2014 @ 10:05 pm

  7. Don’t know if you have seen this, from the Silicon valley based Pando – byline Mark Ames , who seems to cover the SV oligarch beat as well. We might call this “It’s Morning Again In Russia”:

    http://pando.com/2014/05/14/sorry-america-the-ukraine-isnt-all-about-you/

    I think there is something to the Nixon-Reagan “Red-Blue” analogy. No wonder Pat Buchanan loves Putin. But there are limits to any analogy of course. And the very term was supposedly popularized by the liberal New York Democrat Tim Russert, Pat Moynihan’s former chief of staff, in 2000, according to WaPo. In the case of Russia, these limits and differences are 1) that the strategy is far more weighted in favor of the “red states” in the Russian case, meaning that Putin’s strategy will have far more staying power beyond Putin himself, and worse 2) the demographic “tide of history” does not run in favor of the Russian “blue states”, essentially the SPB-Moscow “Northwest Corridor”, also minus a California-type Pacific “Left Coast” (Vladivostok, really?). The original Nixon-Reagan strategy was in reaction to the emergence of what turned out to be a rising and ultimately unstoppable tide, then in the form of the Black Power struggle, the “counterculture” and the anti-war movement. As someone correctly mentions in a comment on the above article, critical to the strategy at the time is that the reactionary, arch-neocon Meanyite labor bureaucracy was at the height of its social and political influence in the 1960’s, based on a White supremacist, imperialist labor aristocracy also at the pinnacle of a development whose institutional origins are traceable to the 1890’s. Is there a Russian equivalent of sufficient weight, followers of “Eurasianist Neoconservativism” observable in the Moscow May Day procession, as opposed to the fringe nutters?

    In the US that is all gone now (thank goodness), and the profound transformation of the demographics and economics of the US working class, spilling over into the racial and cultural attitudes of young white workers as well, is irreversible. If Pat Buchanan doesn’t like that, he can go to hell or “go to Russia”. I see no such transformation in the works for Russia, unless there is some great tide of non-Slavic immigration or great neo-capitalist transformation of Russia I don’t know about.

    Marxist – real Marxists, not the plethora of fakers currently on the scene – should of course support complete freedom of racial, ethnic, cultural and artistic expression as a necessary and integral part of their vision of socialism. At the same time I don’t think it’s the place of Marxists, in a confusion of tactics and strategy, to put themselves inadvertently in a strategic bloc with liberal (often savagely neo-liberal) yuppies in opposing Putinism. Even as a tactic, I think it would be blindingly stupid, given the limits of the Red-Blue analogy with the US outlined above. Further, these “Blue state” liberal elitists, who monopolize “freedom of expression” as their own private property – often quite literally,for profit, as we see in the split of Pussy Riot – are part of the problem in every country. It is part of the Marxist program to expropriate the Blue state elitists of their “cultural property” for free distribution to the whole working class, whether these be found in “Red” or “Blue” demographics. That is real freedom of expression.

    After all, the political representatives of these same liberal elitists have currently shamelessly entered into a tactical bloc with actual neo-fascists in Ukraine. That’s the reality and truth of this liberal ilk, and their more extreme members advocate the ethnic cleansing of all the Russians from the Baltic States, Ukraine and, who knows, in the future, Kazakhstan as well. You know, like the Euro-liberals did with the Serbian Krajina (another Ukraine) in Croatia, with US mercenaries walking point. I don’t want to imagine the ultra-revanchist Russia that will emerge out of that not unrealistic scenario. Marxists don’t want to be caught looking the other way, gazing towards the inevitable teleological horizon of the emergence of a pacificist, cultured “civil society” – of course, in the total possession of the liberal elitists – after the “bloody bourgeois revolution”, a teleology I reject BTW, just as I reject the notion that revolutions, especially socialist revolutions, must invariably be bloody, as Trotsky pointed out in his well known article on communism and the United States.

    There are the culturally backward Red-Browns, but don’t forget the avant-garde “futurist” Blue-Browns!

    -Matt

    Comment by Matt — May 28, 2014 @ 5:51 pm

  8. Chumbawamba was an anarchist outfit that made mostly political music released independently through their own Agitprop record label.

    Wiki has info: Chumbawamba were at the forefront of the 1980s anarcho-punk movement, frequently playing benefit gigs in squats and small halls for causes such as animal rights, the anti-war movement, and community groups. The band’s collective political views are often described as anarchist. They made several songs about the UK miners’ strike, including the Common Ground cassette and a song dedicated to the pit village of Fitzwilliam, which was one of the worst cases of economic decline following the strike.

    Comment by Steve D — May 29, 2014 @ 5:56 am


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