Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 7, 2017

Lars Lih versus Nikolai Sukhanov: who is more credible on “old Bolshevism”?

Filed under: Lenin,Russia — louisproyect @ 9:58 pm

Nikolai Sukhanov

It is difficult to tell whether Lars Lih had any ulterior motives in trying to establish Kamenev and Stalin as superior theoretically to Trotsky on the dynamics of the October 1917 revolution since he has so little to say beyond the boundaries of a relatively narrow chronological framework. He puts 1917 under a microscope in order to establish that “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” was never rejected by Lenin no matter what he said in the April Theses and that Kamenev/Stalin’s differences with Lenin were minor in comparison to those that existed between Lenin and Trotsky.

Does Lih have any interest in writing about how “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” was applied to the Chinese revolution? If Stalin had such a keen understanding of Marxism and the superiority of this strategic goal to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, how did China end up so disastrously for Chinese workers in 1927 following Stalin’s instructions a decade after his superiority was demonstrated? Inquiring minds are dying to know.

The purpose of this post, however, is not to go into such questions. Instead I will stay within the same narrow framework as him but hope to shed light on the role of Kamenev in “old Bolshevism” by referring to someone totally outside of the Trotskyist orthodoxy that Lih considers so unreliable. I have already referred to Alexander Rabinowitch, a historian with no links to Trotskyism, who wrote in “Prelude to Revolution”:

But all this changed in the middle of March with the return from Siberia of Kamenev, Stalin, and M. K. Muranov and their subsequent seizure of control of Pravda. Beginning with the March 14 issue the central Bolshevik organ swung sharply to the right. Henceforth articles by Kamenev and Stalin advocated limited support for the Provisional Government, rejection of the slogan, “Down with the war,” and an end to disorganizing activities at the front. “While there is no peace,” wrote Kamenev in Pravda on March 15, “the people must remain steadfastly at their posts, answering bullet with bullet and shell with shell.” “The slogan, ‘Down with the war,’ is useless,” echoed Stalin the next day.

Well, who knows? Maybe Rabinowitch was briefly a member of the Young Socialist Alliance and took classes with George Novack. I don’t remember running into him at Oberlin. That certainly would rule him out as a reliable source. Did he fabricate the Stalin quote about the slogan “Down with the War” being useless? If he did, I must denounce him as a rascal.

Now you certainly can’t ever suspect Nikolai Sukhanov of being a Trotskyist. Between 1919 and 1921 Sukhanov wrote a seven-volume memoir of the Russian Revolution that obviously would have not been a transmission belt of Trotskyist ideology, especially since he was a leading member of the Mensheviks. Based on what I have seen in the 686 page abridged version of this tome published by Princeton University Press in 1984, I wish that someone would translate the entire work into English one of these days since it is an important scholarly resource and a very lively read. What follows are excerpts from “The Russian Revolution of 1917” with my introduction to each one that have a bearing on the dubious effort to elevate Kamenev and “old Bolshevik” orthodoxy. (Stalin is mostly ignored in Sukhanov’s book.)


[page 191. Molotov, who later became famous for his cocktail, speaks to a Congress of Soviet meeting in favor of power passing from the Provisional Government to the “hands of the democracy”, which probably meant the Soviets. Sukhanov points out that he was speaking only for himself.]

Throughout the course of the revolution, down to October the problem of the relations between the official Government and the Soviets kept obtruding itself. This problem, however, was always conceived of and treated as a political problem, which the question at issue was political relations. But in this case the question was concerned with the organizational and technical interrelationships (and extremely complicated ones at that.)

It is natural that in the midst of a still fiercely raging struggle for the new order, not all those present at the meeting [on March 1] grasp and clarify all this. And the debate was diffuse, incoherent and confused. A whole series of speakers started talking precisely about political relations, about ‘support’ for the provisional Government, ‘reciprocity’, ‘insofar as … ‘ a negative attitude towards the bourgeoisie, and so on. Consequently talk took us back to the Ex. Comm. session of March 1st, in which conditions and a programme for the future Cabinet were elaborated.

I remember especially well a speech by the Bolshevik Molotov. This official party representative only now collected his thoughts and for the first time began talking about the necessity of all political power to pass into the hands of the democracy. He didn’t suggest anything concrete, but he advanced precisely this principle—instead of ‘control’ over the bourgeois Government and ‘pressure’ on it.

But it turned out that not only was Molotov speaking as an irresponsible critic, who could find fault because he was doing nothing and not suggesting anything concrete; it seemed, besides, the opinion he expressed was not at all that of his party or at least of those of its leaders who were available. On the following day we learned from the papers that on March 3rd the Petersburg Committee of the Bolsheviks had declared that ‘it would not oppose the authority of the Provisional Government insofar as its activities corresponded to the interests of the proletariat and the broad democratic masses of the people’, and announced ‘its decision to carry on the most implacable struggle against any attempts of the Provisional government to restore the monarchist regime in any form whatsoever’.


[pp. 289-292. Lenin’s April Theses were “lunatic ideas” according to the “old Bolsheviks”. Sukhanov’s words reek of hostility to the working class but attest to the clash with party leaders like Kamenev who would fall into the position of “outlaws” and “internal traitors.”]

About a week after his arrival the famous First Theses of Lenin were printed in Pravda, in the form of an article. They contained a résumé of the new doctrine expounded in his speeches; they lacked the same thing as his speeches: an economic programme and a Marxist analysis of the objective conditions of our revolution. The Theses were published in Lenin’s name alone: not one Bolshevik organization, or group, or even individual had joined him. And the editors of Pravda for their part thought it necessary to emphasize Lenin’s isolation and their independence of him. ‘As for Lenin’s general schema,’ wrote Pravda, ‘it seems us unacceptable, in so far as it proceeds from the assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution is finished and counts the immediate conversion of that revolution into a Socialist revolution.’

It appeared that the Marxist foundations of the Bolshevik Party were firm, that the Bolshevik party mass had taken up arms to defend against Lenin the elementary foundations of scientific Socialism, Bolshevism itself, and the old traditional Lenin.

Alas! Many people, including myself, were vainly deluded: Lenin compelled his Bolsheviks to accept his ‘lunatic ideas’ in their entirety. How and why did this happen? I have no intention of investigating this interesting question au fond, nevertheless I don’t think it superfluous here to note a few undoubted factors in the capitulation of the old Social-Democratic Bolshevism to Lenin’s reckless anarcho-seditious system.

That is how matters stood in the Bolshevik general staff. As for the mass of party officers, they were far from distinguished. Amongst the Bolshevik officers there were many first-rate technicians in party and professional work, and not a few ‘romantics’, but extremely few political thinkers and conscious Socialists.

In consequence every form of radicalism and external Leftism had an invincible attraction for the Bolshevik mass, while the natural ‘line’ of work consisted of demagogy. This was very often all the political wisdom of the Bolshevik committee-men boiled down to.

Thus the ‘party public’ of course quite lacked the strength or internal resources to oppose anything whatever to Lenin’s onslaught.

Lenin’s radicalism, his heedless ‘Leftism’, and primitive demagogy, unrestrained either by science or common sense, later secured his success among the broadest proletarian-muzhik masses who had had no other teaching than that of the Tsarist whip. But the same characteristics of this Leninist propaganda also seduced the more backward, less literate elements of the party itself. Very soon after Lenin’s arrival they were faced by an alternative: either keep the old principles of Social-Democracy and Marxist science, but without Lenin, without the masses, and without the party; or stay with Lenin and the party and conquer the masses together in an easy way, having thrown overboard the obscure, unfamiliar Marxist principles. It’s understandable that the mass of party Bolsheviks, though after some vacillation, decided on the latter.

But the attitude of this mass could not help but have a decisive influence on the fully-conscious Bolshevik elements too, on the Bolshevik generals, for after Lenin’s conquest of the officers of the party, people like Kamenev, for instance, were completely isolated; they had fallen into the position of outlaws and internal traitors. And the implacable Thunderer soon subjected them, together with other infidels, to such abuse that not all of them could endure it. It goes without saying that the generals, even those who had read Marx and Engels, were incapable of sustaining such an ordeal. And Lenin won victory after another.


[pp. 225-227. For obvious reasons, Lars Lih devotes very few words to the question of Kamenev’s views on Russia continuing the war. As indicated by the Rabinowitch citation above, this was the source of the real tension with the “old Bolsheviks” and not over whether the democratic dictatorship had been consummated or not. Kamenev is basically recruiting this Menshevik leader to write for Pravda and not to worry about whether his views on the war clashed with Lenin’s. Unless Lih comes to terms with these issues, his historiography will have a huge hole stuck in its middle.]

As a political figure Kamenev was undoubtedly an exceptional, though not an independent, force. Lacking either sharp corners, great intellectual striking power, or original language, he was not fitted to be a leader; by himself he had nowhere to lead the masses. Left alone he would not fail to be assimilated by someone. It was always necessary to take him in tow, and if he sometimes balked it was never very violently. But as one member of a leading group Kamenev, with his political schooling and supreme oratorical gifts, was extremely distinguished and amongst the Bolsheviks he was in many respects irreplaceable.

Personally he was gentle and good-hearted. All this taken together added up to his role in the Bolshevik Party. He always stood on its Right, conciliationist, passive wing. And sometimes he would balk, defending evolutionary methods or a moderate political course. At the beginning of the revolution he jibbed against Lenin, jibbed at the October Revolution jibbed at the general havoc and terror after the revolt, jibbed on supply questions in the second year of the Bolshevik regime. But—he always surrendered on all points. Not having much faith in himself, he recently (in the autumn of 1918) said to me, in order to justify himself in his own eyes: ‘As for myself I am more and more convinced that Lenin never makes a mistake. In the last analysis he is always right. How often has it seemed that he was slipping up—either in his prognosis or in his political line! But in the last analysis his prognosis and his line were always justified.’

Here is what Kamenev wanted to talk to me about then:

‘About the article in Pravda: our people have told you must first declare yourself a Bolshevik. That’s all nonsense no attention to it; please write the article. Here is the point. D’you read Pravda? You know, it has a completely unseemly and unsuitable tone. It has a terrible reputation. When I got here I was in despair. What could be done? I even thought of shutting down this Pravda altogether and getting out a new central organ under a different name. But that’s impossible. In our party too much is bound up with the name Pravda. It must stay. It’ll be necessary to shift the paper into a new course. So now I’m to attract contributors or get hold of a few articles by writers with some reputation. Go ahead and write…’

All this was curious. I began asking Kamenev what was being done in general and in which direction a ‘line’ was being defined in his party circles. What was Lenin thinking and writing? We strolled about the Catherine Hall for a long with Kamenev trying at some length to persuade me that his party was taking up or ready to take up a most ‘reasonable’ (from my point of view) position. This position, as he put it, wall close to that taken by the Soviet Zimmerwald centre [ie., Kautskyism], if not identical with it. Lenin? Lenin thought that up to now the revolution was being accomplished quite properly and that a bourgeois Government was now historically indispensable.

`Does that mean you are not going to overthrow the bourgeois Government yet and don’t insist on an immediate democratic regime?’ I tried to get this out of Kamenev, who was showing me what I thought important perspectives.

‘We here don’t insist on that, nor does Lenin over there. He writes that our immediate task now is—to organize and mobilize our forces.’

‘But what do you think about current foreign policy? What about an immediate peace?’

‘You know that for us the question cannot be put that way. Bolshevism has always maintained that the World War can ended by a world proletarian revolution. And as long as not taken place, as long as Russia continues the war, we are against any disorganization and for maintaining the front.’


[p. 257. This repeats the points made above, namely that Kamenev veered toward the Menshevik position on continuing the war.]

The sections of the [Congress of Soviet] Conference began to work on the morning of the 30th. 1 was forced into the agrarian section, which was full of nothing but soldiers. I left without entering into the useless wrangling.

Kamenev showed me a Bolshevik resolution on the war, which was of course doomed to defeat. It appeared to me that the Zimmerwaldites ought to vote for this resolution, and to do it to make clear the relative voting strength of the two sides. But there was a suspicious point in the resolution, to the effect that the imperialist war could be ended only with transfer of political power to the working class. Did this mean that the struggle for peace was not necessary at that moment? Or did it mean that it was necessary, but that therefore political power had to be taken into one’s own hands at once? Kamenev assured me that it meant neither the one nor the other. But he responded extremely evasively to the suggestion that this point be altered, and tried to eliminate the misunderstanding by remarks alone. Meanwhile everyone who had read this resolution maintained that the Bolsheviks were demanding political power for the working class.

Where did the truth lie? Kamenev, in giving a ‘benevolent’ interpretation of the resolution, was doubtless trying dutifully to retain in it the official Bolshevik idea: that the conclusion of the imperialist war was only possible by way of a Socialist revolution. But I also had no doubt that Kamenev didn’t sympathize with this official Bolshevik idea considered it unrealistic, and was trying to follow a line of struggle for peace in the concrete circumstances of the moment. All the actions of the then leader of the Bolshevik party had just this kind of `possibilist’, sometimes too moderate, character. His position was ambiguous, and not easy. He had his own views, and was working on Russian revolutionary soil. But—he was casting a ‘sideways’ look abroad, where they had their own views, which were not quite the same as his.

April 24, 2017

Tony Wood on Russia

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 4:40 pm

Tony Wood

This weekend I went to the Historical Materialism conference in NY held at NYU that is basically an academic conference with presentations by graduate students and professors. Unlike the Left Forum that meets in early June, you won’t find any 9/11 Truther or Assadist panel discussions. That’s the upside. The downside is that you are likely to hear someone read a jargon-filled paper on their brand-new interpretation of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony for 15 to 20 minutes until your eyelids feel like they have been tied to anvils.

I went to hear Lars Lih and Eric Blanc defend Stalin and Kamenev as closer to Lenin on theorizing the Bolshevik revolution than Trotsky but was far more interested in hearing what Todd Chretien had to say in response. Todd was very good but far too civil. I would have thrown a pie in Lih’s face myself.

I only wish I had been able to hear George Ciccariello-Maher speak at a “Roundtable on Training Political Cadre: Historical Lessons and Currents [sic] Methods”. His insights on turning over garbage bins as a currents methods to stop fascism must have really wowed all the sociology students.

Instead of running down every panel discussion I attended, I want to touch on a couple of high points in this post and a follow-up tomorrow. The first today will recap Tony Wood’s presentation on Putin’s Russia that was included in a panel titled “Critical Geopolitics Today” and the one tomorrow will be about how CUNY adjuncts are pressing for their demands in the Professional Staff Congress (PSC).

I am not sure about Wood’s background but right now he is working on a PhD in Latin American History at NYU, which might explain how he ended up speaking at the conference. Wood is best known as a Russia specialist and has been around for a while. Since he would likely be close to 50 after getting a PhD in Latin American History and qualified at that point for getting a position as an adjunct like the people I will be talking about tomorrow, I am not sure why he is bothering. But good luck to him anyhow since he is fucking brilliant.

If you want to know how I became a CIA agent pushing for regime change in Syria, you can blame it all on Wood. You have to understand that during the war in Kosovo, I opposed the KLA that I considered a tool of NATO in the same way that many people today regard the FSA in Syria. Someday I might revisit the debates I had with Michael Karadjis but as is the case today with respect to Syria, I would have opposed NATO intervention back then whatever the merits of the KLA.

Not long after the Kosovans won their independence, Putin launched the second war on Chechnya. Most people on Marxmail used the same arguments they used about Kosovo that sounded a lot like mine, except they didn’t seem to notice that the Chechens not only had received no aid from the West but were likened to the American secessionists in our Civil War by President Clinton who said:

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.

Clinton, I should add, did view Chechnya as part of Russia.

As Putin began the bombing campaign in Grozny that had all the criminal aspects of his blitzkrieg in East Aleppo, I began to become increasingly put off by the enthusiasm for Putin on Marxmail, including some who went further than Clinton. They likened Putin to Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs, a position that I found just as psychotic as the Assadist crap I put up with every day, at least not on Marxmail.

As I began looking for alternative views on Chechnya, I stumbled across Tony Wood’s article in the November-December 2004 NLR that was presented in the name of the editorial board (too bad we never saw anything like that from Tariq Ali et al when it came to Syria.) Wood’s command of the facts and his logic persuaded me that Putin was a counter-revolutionary. Not only that, his methodology primed me to look critically at other struggles that defy the neo-Cold War thinking of people like Mike Whitney, Roger Annis and ten thousand other numbskulls. This excerpt should motivate you to read the entire article:

There can be no greater indictment of Putin’s rule than the present condition of Chechnya. Grozny’s population has been reduced to around 200,000—half its size in 1989—who now eke out an existence amid the moonscape of bomb craters and ruins their city has become. According to UNHCR figures, some 160,000 displaced Chechens remained within the warzone by 2002, while another 160,000 were living in refugee camps in Ingushetia. The latter figure has declined somewhat since—a Médecins Sans Frontières report of August 2004 estimated that around 50,000 Chechen refugees remained in Ingushetia—thanks to the Kremlin’s policy of closing down camps and prohibiting the construction of housing for refugees there. Those forced back to Chechnya live on the brink of starvation, moving from one bombed-out cellar to another, avoiding the routine terror of zachistki and the checkpoints manned by hooded soldiers, where women have to pay bribes of $10 to avoid their daughters being raped, and men aged 15–65 are taken away to ‘filtration camps’ or simply made to disappear. The Russian human rights organization Memorial, which covers only a third of Chechnya, reported that between January 2002 and August 2004, some 1,254 people were abducted by federal forces, of whom 757 are still missing.

Obviously the same game plan that Assad and Putin are using in Syria.

Wood’s talk on Saturday was mostly focused on demonstrating Russia’s weakness. Despite the obsession that many liberals have about Russia as a super-power, the reality is quite different. Except for its nuclear weapons, it is quite weak—especially economically. When it comes to per capita GDP, Russia now ($18,100) ranks lower than Greece ($23,600). This is not just a function of falling oil prices. 10 years ago the comparison was $9,753.30 to $28,899.90—an even greater gap.

In reviewing Russia’s place in the world, Wood asserted that the big change is Putin’s shift away from partnership with the West. Although we tend to think of Putin as the ultimate anti-Yeltsin, there were signs that he hoped to continue Yeltin’s foreign policy but with a greater emphasis on Russia’s rights. Wood startled me by mentioning Putin’s hope during the Clinton administration that Russia would be able to join NATO. This morning, I found a reference to this obscure passage of history fleshed out in a Michael Weiss article titled “When Donald Trump Was More Anti-NATO Than Vladimir Putin”.

“Even before being elected president,” Mikhail Zygar writes in his recent history of the Russian president’s longtime cabal, All the Kremlin’s Men, “Putin asked NATO Secretary General George Robertson at their first meeting, in February 2000, when Russia would be able to join the alliance.” Robertson was not prepared for the question and answered routinely that every country that wanted to join should apply according to the established procedure. “Putin was irked,” writes Zygar. “He was convinced that Russia should not have to wait in line like other countries; on the contrary, it should be invited to join.”

Unlike most on the left, Wood regards Putin’s intervention into Ukraine as a disaster. It has only resulted in sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

Demographically, Russia is suffering as well. The population is receding and the percentage of older people increases each year. The only solution to this problem is opening the doors to immigration but that would mean from the Caucasian countries abutting Russia to the south, which is made impossible by the official Islamophobia today.

Much of Wood’s talk was reflected in an LRB article from March 2, 2017 titled “Eat Your Spinach” that is a review of new books on Russia and fortunately not behind a paywall. This excerpt will give you an idea of the weakness of the Russian state that no amount of military adventurism can overcome:

Part of the reason there has been no place for Russia inside the Euro-Atlantic order is that, despite its weakness in the post-Soviet period, it nonetheless remained too large to be absorbed comfortably – especially in a system that revolved around a single, superordinate power. The paradox of Russia’s recent resurgence is that, for all its refusals to fall into line with Washington’s priorities, it is still in no position to mount a frontal challenge to the West. In terms of military might, economic weight and ideological reach, Russia is no match for any of the larger NATO member states, let alone the whole alliance combined. The collapse of the planned economy sent all of the former USSR – already lagging behind the West on any number of indicators – into an economic depression that lasted a decade. In 1999, Putin said that it would take 15 years of rapid growth for Russia to draw level with Portugal’s current level of per capita GDP. It reached that milestone in 2011; but by then Portugal was further ahead, and even amid the deep recession sparked by the Eurozone crisis, its GDP per capita was still more than one and a half times that of Russia. In 2015 Russia devoted around a tenth as much money to its armed forces in absolute terms as the US did, and slightly more than the UK; in per capita terms, it spent somewhat less than Germany or Greece. All told, its 2015 military spending came to around 8 per cent of the total for NATO as a whole; the US accounted for almost 70 per cent of that total.

To be sure, Russia still has one of the largest armies in the world in terms of personnel, though many of them are teenage conscripts. But the 2008 war with Georgia among other things revealed how far behind Russia was in terms of technology and military organisation, prompting a major overhaul and upgrading of weapons; Syria has been the testing ground for some of these new-look forces. Yet what allows Moscow to pose a military threat to its neighbours is not so much the scale or strength of its armies as its readiness to use force in pursuit of its policy goals. This was what enabled it effectively to call NATO’s bluff by invading Georgia in 2008 – causing alarm in Central and Eastern European capitals about the solidity of the alliance’s security guarantees, especially the commitment to ‘collective defence’ in Article 5 of its charter. But the rapid resort to force is in itself an indication of the much cruder means at Russia’s disposal, a sign of its inability to secure the outcomes it wants either through diplomatic persuasion or through economic pressures or inducements. As Trenin observes, ‘the obvious asymmetry in power and status between Russia and the United States leads Moscow to elect the field which it finds more comfortable – military action.’

 

February 26, 2017

Other Russias

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 10:22 pm

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Largely through connections made through Russian Reader blogger Thomas Campbell, I have learned about important developments involving the Russian left that defy the stereotype of Russian opposition to Vladimir Putin as neoliberal snakes. To be sure, such snakes exist but the Western left has an obligation to keep abreast of our comrades there, who are opposed to capitalism just as much as us. In addition to Thomas Campbell’s blog, another important asset is the journal n+1 that largely because of the presence of co-founder Russian émigré and Marxist Keith Gessen (Masha’s brother) on the editorial board has a pipeline to the Russian revolutionary movement that makes it indispensable to our ongoing political enlightenment.

It was through an introduction to Keith Gessen made by Thomas Campbell that I learned of a tour by Kiril Medvedev, the revolutionary socialist poet, journalist, activist and–most distinctively–translator of Charles Bukowski. n+1 published Medvedev’s “It’s No Good“, a book whose $16 price tag goes against capitalist rationality, just as does every word in his Molotov Cocktail of Russian literature.

The good news is that n+1 has now published another voice of the Russian left: Victoria Lomasko, the author of Other Russias, which was translated by the good Thomas Campbell. Vika is an artist and activist whose work reminds me both artistically and politically of Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”. Satrapi’s work was a comic book after the fashion of Harvey Pekar but Lomasko’s is much more text with powerful illustrations to make key points such as the ones shown below that come from the chapter on Pussy Riot.

Like Medvedev and Pussy Riot, Lomasko is “one of us”. In one of her chapters, she describes Russian protests marked by a large antifa contingent that was countering a phalanx of Russian nationalists who can only be described as Richard Spencer with a Russian accent. Far be it from me to try to penetrate the thick skulls of the Putinite left in the USA and England, but with Trump clearly trying to emulate Putin’s authoritarian ways it is high time to familiarize ourselves with the thinking of the Russian left that has been dealing with this crap for the longest time.

Vika is coming to New York the day after tomorrow and her tour begins with her speaking at Columbia University on February 28th, NYU (3:30 PM, Jordan Center, 19 University Place, 2nd Floor) on March 2nd, and at the n+1 offices on March 3rd (7:30pm, 68 Jay Street #405, Brooklyn). She will also be having an art opening at Ortega y Gasset Projects in Brooklyn on March 4th.

Information on other stops on Vika’s American tour can be found here. It includes engagements in Pittsburgh, Seattle and Portland.
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October 23, 2016

Marx and the Russian Revolution

Filed under: Academia,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:13 pm

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Dear Professor Peter E. Gordon,

3 years ago in a New Republic review of Jonathan Sperber’s bio of Karl Marx you wrote:

It is sobering to recall that throughout his life Marx looked upon Imperial Russia as the most reactionary state in all of Europe. 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.

Today you reviewed another Marx biography in the NY Times, this time by Gareth Stedman Jones, that has a different take on Marx and the Russian Revolution:

After 1870, however, Marx relaxed these strictures, in part because the failure of the Paris Commune left him dismayed at the prospects for a Communist revolution in the West. This change of perspective brought a new openness to the possibility of revolution in Russia and the non-European world. In 1881, Marx answered a query from Vera Zasulich, a Russian noblewoman and revolutionary living in exile in Geneva. Pressed to explain his views on the Russian village commune, Marx agonized over his response — his letter went through no fewer than four drafts. Though still insisting that the isolation of the village commune was a weakness, he granted that the historical inevitability he had once discerned in the process of industrialization was “expressly limited to the countries of Western Europe”.

Perhaps in the period between the two reviews you had a chance to read Teodor Shanin’s “Late Marx and the Russian Revolution”. If so, I commend you.

I suppose we long-time Marxists who have risked arrest and worse for our beliefs can be grateful that the review was not written by someone like Ronald Radosh, now that the book review section is no longer edited by neocon Sam Tanenhaus.

But I find it hard to believe that Stedman Jones has “written the definitive biography of Marx for our time.” You do allow that “Stedman Jones is not always sympathetic to his subject.” Well, that goes without saying. He is on record as stating that Marx’s last important work was the German Ideology, which strikes me as preposterous. You certainly wouldn’t agree with that, I hope.

It is also a bit difficult to figure out whether you are speaking for yourself or Stedman Jones when you write: “In his early writings and well through the 1860s, Marx propounded a theory of history that extolled the heroic achievements of the bourgeoisie as the collective agent of global change.”

Where did you get the idea that Marx thought the bourgeoisie was “heroic”? In fact, he got off that tack just two years after the Communist Manifesto was written, arguably the only work where the term “heroic bourgeoisie” might be applied even if inaccurately. Perhaps you had in mind what Marx wrote in the Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.” I suppose it is a bit easy to confuse the terms “heroic” and “revolutionary” but Marx was referring primarily to the overthrow of feudal social relations rather than, for example, French workers defending the Paris Commune.

Returning to the question of what Marx thought only two years after the Manifesto, I would refer you to the Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League. Although it was written in March 1850, it looks back at 1848 as a year of bourgeois vacillation if not open counter-revolution:

We told you already in 1848, brothers, that the German liberal bourgeoisie would soon come to power and would immediately turn its newly won power against the workers. You have seen how this forecast came true. It was indeed the bourgeoisie which took possession of the state authority in the wake of the March movement of 1848 and used this power to drive the workers, its allies in the struggle, back into their former oppressed position. Although the bourgeoisie could accomplish this only by entering into an alliance with the feudal party, which had been defeated in March, and eventually even had to surrender power once more to this feudal absolutist party, it has nevertheless secured favourable conditions for itself. (emphasis added)

Finally, returning to the Russian question, I am afraid your last paragraph lacks clarity:

Just a year before his death and gravely ill, Marx wrote with Engels a short preface to the Russian edition of the ‘Manifesto.’ It entertained the prospect that the common ownership system in the Russian village might serve as “the starting point for a communist development.” Three and a half decades later, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, and by the late 1920s the government commenced its brutal collectivization of agriculture. Like all intellectual legacies, Marx’s work remains open to new interpretation. But it seems clear that the man himself would never have accepted the inhumanity undertaken in his name.

One cannot be sure whether you are drawing an equation between Marx’s hopes for the rural communes and Stalin’s forced collectivization. If so, you are entirely mistaken. Marx saw a peasant-led revolution as merely the first step in a European wide revolution that would have a more proletarian character in the industrialized West while Stalin collectivized agriculture as part of “socialism in one country”, a project 180 degrees opposed to what Marx discussed with Vera Zasulich.

I hope this helps.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect, moderator of the Marxism list

June 27, 2016

Guess what, neo-Nazi group attacked in Sacramento is pro-Assad and pro-Putin

Filed under: Fascism,right-left convergence,Russia,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

It is old news by now that virtually every neo-Nazi or ultraright outfit in Europe is solidly behind Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, from Golden Dawn to Marine Le Pen’s National Front. As you are also probably aware, the Brexit campaign was pushed heavily by Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, a rabidly anti-immigrant group that advocates working with Bashar al-Assad.

The first sign of a similar development in the USA was obviously the Donald Trump campaign that is first cousin to the UKIP. Trump stated that the Brexit vote was a great thing and hoped that its goals could be replicated in the USA. As it happens, the neo-Nazi group that was attacked in Sacramento yesterday by anti-fascists falls squarely within the global Red-Brown alliance. You almost have to wonder whether a pro-Assad group like the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) might be tempted to come to their aid the next time the neo-Nazi group is threatened.

The neo-Nazis are constituted as the Traditional Worker Party and led by a character named Matthew Heimbach who first came to attention as the Donald Trump supporter who roughed up a Black female protester at his rally in Louisville in early March. That’s him in the red baseball cap.

Before he launched the Traditional Worker Party, Heimbach operated as the top man of the Traditionalist Youth Network. From early on, he backed Assad because he saw him as a pillar of resistance to Muslims who were falsely accused of threatening the Christians in Syria. In 2013 Heimbach organized a protest in Michigan that sounds very much like the sort of thing that would be embraced by the Baathist left as an exercise in Red-Brown politics.

CORUNNA, MI — An organization accused of having ties to the white supremacist movement is planning a protest in support of embattled Syrian leader Bashar Assad during a Sept. 11 event in Corunna.

The event, organized by the Traditionalist Youth Network, was initially billed as a “Koran BBQ,” a protest geared toward showing “Islamic immigrants and citizens alike that they are not welcome here in Michigan” that included burning copies the Quran and images of the Prophet Muhammad, but changed direction after President Barack Obama asked Congress for authorization to use military force in Syria.

Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Youth Network, said the event was changed to focus on Syria to protest what he claims is the Obama administration’s offer of support to al-Qaida and Islamist militants working with rebels to topple Assad’s regime.

Heimbach said the protest will be “anti-jihadist,” which he says is an appropriate message on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Protestors are expected to meet in McCurdy park around 5:30 p.m.

With respect to Putin, you can listen to Matthew Heimbach interviewing Dr Matthew ‘Raphael’ Johnson, a self-described Christian Orthodox Medievalist, on his Ayran Radio show about the huge breakthrough for neo-Nazi groups by the Kremlin’s strong leadership against the West.

Finally, some snapshots from Matthew Heimbach’s Faith-Family-Folk Twitter account (https://twitter.com/MatthewHeimbach):

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April 28, 2016

How can Trump be a fascist when he is for making deals with Russia?

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 3:53 pm

Patrick L. Smith of Salon.com wrote what probably most people in the Putinite left were thinking today in an article titled “Trump opposed Iraq. Hillary voted for war: Let’s take his foreign policy vision seriously”.

After dispensing with the parts of Trump’s foreign policy speech that he had trouble with (mostly about making America “great” again), Smith got down to what he liked—the turn away from interventionism and toward accommodation with Russia:

Here he [Trump] is on Russia, an especially stark example given the prevailing state of relations. (He lumps the Russians in with the Chinese. See what I mean about blur?)

“We are not bound to be adversaries,” says Trump. “We should seek common ground based on shared interests. This horrible cycle of hostility has to end.”

Were I a younger man I would say something like, “Dude. Like totally cool.” Instead—another sentence I will take a sec to brace for—I am thoroughly in agreement with Trump on this point and think he should hit Hillary “I Urged Him to Bomb” Clinton over the head with it every chance he may get. As noted in a previous column, Trump prefers making deals to force. Implicit in the preference is a recognition of alternative perspectives and interests, which I count essential equipment in the 21st century.

The speech was delivered as part of an effort to appear “presidential” in keeping with the advice of Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign adviser.

It was sponsored by the Center for the National Interest that was founded by Richard Nixon in 1994 and whose president is Dmitri Simes, a Kremlinologist of long standing. The Center publishes National Interest, a magazine stamped with the Center’s realist foreign policy and that published Francis Fukuyama’s infamous “end of history” article. You can find such reasonable people as John Mearsheimer and Andrew Bacevich on its editorial board. Who can ask for more than that? Mearsheimer and Bacevich are widely regarded as foreign policy “doves” even though it is based much more on a realpolitik outlook than anti-imperialism. For his part Mearsheimer was a supporter of the first Gulf War while Bacevich urged a vote for Obama in 2008 as the most sensible choice for conservatives like him.

The tilt toward Trump does not come out of the blue. For example, there was an article in the May 19, 2015 Nation Magazine by James Carden complaining about “McCarthyism” in the American media designed to “ban Russia policy critics” like Stephen F. Cohen who he defended against the charge of being a “Putin apologist”. Gosh, you could have fooled me.

Carden is identified as “the executive editor for the American Committee for East-West Accord” beneath the article. The board includes both Cohen and his father-in-law William vanden Heuvel. It also includes Chuck Hagel, the Republican Senator whose views on foreign policy are frequently aired in Simes’s National Interest. Carden is also an editor at the American Conservative and a frequent contributor to the National Interest. So essentially you have a bloc of liberals and conservatives sharing a “realist” belief that the USA and Russia need to ease tensions and focus on shared goals such as blowing the jihadists to kingdom come. Since Trump is on record as not ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against ISIS, that’s quite a bridge to cross.

You can get a feel for the internecine connections between the gurus of realpolitik and Russian power by looking at Richard Burt, who reportedly helped to draft Trump’s speech. Burt has been a Washington insider for many years. He led the SALT 1 talks with Russia when he served in the Bush ’41 White House. He is on the advisory board of the National Interest and also a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank that includes Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Leon Panetta on its board of trustees.

But don’t let any of that worry you. In a recent interview Burt told the National Interest that he has gone through a conversion that put him firmly in Trump’s camp. He stated that the Republican Party has become averse to the sort of policies that Hillary Clinton espouses and is now evolving away from neoconservatism. To show you how committed he is to a realist foreign policy that won’t make a fuss over Ukraine or Syria, he has accepted a seat on Alfa Bank’s Senior Advisory Board in Moscow. That’s called doing well by doing good, I suppose.

Unlike Dmitri Simes or Stephen F. Cohen, Paul Manafort is not a high-profile commentator on world politics. A search on Nexis for “by Paul Manafort” produces zero results. He is mostly content to operate behind the scenes advising people like Trump. In the past he has also been a campaign adviser to Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain.

He also got involved with an overseas presidential campaign, namely for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin oligarch who was overthrown by the Euromaidan movement in 2014. Now you’d think that Manafort might have gotten involved with advising Yanukovych through some connections he had with Stephen F. Cohen or some highly placed pro-Kremlin power broker. But in fact Manafort got the job through connections he had established with the scary warmonger John McCain.

You can read about it in an article titled “McCain’s Kremlin Ties”  by Mark Ames and Ari Berman that appeared in the Oct. 1, 2008 Nation Magazine, the kind of article that tends to appear with less frequency nowadays after it joined the Putinite propaganda machine.

In December 2004 Ukrainians poured into the streets of Kiev and other cities in the peaceful “Orange Revolution,” which overthrew a Putin-backed corrupt leader, Viktor Yanukovich, who had tried to steal the country’s presidential election that year (during which the pro-Western opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned and almost died). It was a serious blow to Russia’s geopolitical standing.

Putin’s Ukrainian proxies were also in trouble. Shortly after the Orange Revolution, a murder investigation was launched against the country’s richest oligarch, Rinat [sometimes referred to as Rihat] Akhmetov, Yanukovich’s main backer. Akhmetov fled the country. In exile in Monaco, he turned to Davis’s business partner, Paul Manafort–the second name in the lobbying firm Davis Manafort. An old GOP hand, Manafort, like Davis, had played a key role in Dole’s failed 1996 presidential run and had worked for dictators like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. Akhmetov initially hired Manafort to improve the image of his beleaguered conglomerate, SCM, but soon Manafort’s role shifted to helping Yanukovich.

Manafort assembled a skilled team of political operatives in Ukraine and set about raising the popularity of Yanukovich’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, which Akhmetov financed. It was a very lucrative deal for Davis Manafort–and successful (according to Ukrainian investigative journalist Mustafa Nayem, Akhmetov paid Manafort upward of $3 million). Yanukovich’s disgraced party won a resounding victory in the March 2006 elections–and Akhmetov returned as the top Ukrainian oligarch. Thanks in part to the work of Davis Manafort, the Orange Revolution was essentially undone, putting Putin back in the chess match over Ukraine’s future.

It would be wrong to interpret Manafort’s efforts on behalf of Yanukovych as something in line with McCain’s foreign policy agenda. He did it mostly for the money obviously. That being said, Trump clearly does have an affinity with Putin and vice versa. They are both deeply hostile to the Arab struggle to rid the Middle East of tyrants. Trump had this to say about Obama’s role in Egypt: “He supported the ouster of a friendly regime in Egypt that had a longstanding peace treaty with Israel, and then helped bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in its place.”

One imagines that it was sufficient to utter the words “Muslim Brotherhood” for Trump to get his point across. During a January 5, 2016 campaign rally, when Trump was castigating Obama for caving in to Iran over the nuclear treaty, someone in the audience yelled out, “He’s a Muslim” to which Trump replied “Okay, I didn’t say it.” In a 2011 Fox News (where else?) interview, Trump raised the possibility that Obama was actually a Muslim: “He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that.”

Meanwhile, Putin bombs Sunni Muslims all across Syria getting a free pass from people like Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and Patrick L. Smith because the targets are jihadists to one degree or another, even the three-year olds who might grow up to be jihadists. The latest outrage now has the Baathist amen corner claiming that the White Helmets got what they deserved because they are allied with al-Qaeda. When Syrian and Russian jets bomb volunteers as they are rescuing civilians from buildings caved in by the same bombers, you really have to wonder how some on the “left” can take the side of the bombers. This is a level of Islamophobia that would probably have mortified Christopher Hitchens.

Meanwhile, General al-Sisi, who is now regarded as even more dictatorial than Mubarak, has developed the same kind of bromance with Putin as al-Jazeera reported on August 27, 2015:

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have pledged to further boost relations between the two countries at talks in Moscow.

Wednesday’s talks’ agenda included economic cooperation, conflicts and the political situation in the Middle East. It was Sisi’s third visit to Moscow.

At a joint news conference following the negotiations, Putin spoke of possible cooperation between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union.

“Among concrete steps to give additional stimulus to the economy is a possible creation of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union,” he said.

And just to show that the Eurasian Economic Union is an irresistible alternative to the perfidious European Union, even Israel gets in the act:

The Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is planning to hold talks with Israel on establishing a free trade zone. The agreement is likely to strengthen Tel Aviv’s economic ties with the union and improve Russia’s investment climate.

“There has been a decision to kick-off talks on the free trade zone with Israel,” said the director of the EEU’s Integration Development Department Victor Spassky.

When al-Sisi, Netanyahu, Donald Trump, Patrick L. Smith, Mike Whitney, Paul Banafort, Pepe Escobar, Paul Craig Roberts, Richard Burt and Stephen F. Cohen can all line up in support of Putin, you’d have to be crazy not to join the fan club.

Call me crazy.

 

April 17, 2016

All you need to know about the Russia Insider scandal–and more

Filed under: humor,journalism,Russia — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

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Like the better known Worker’s Spatula, Russia In Your Face (RIYF) is a parody website. While Worker’s Spatula tends to dish out RT.com type talking points, you can tell by the other site’s name that it is just the opposite. What they have in common is that their references can be obscure, which leads to a certain in joke tendency.

In the latest RIYF parody, there is a riff on an online magazine called Russia Insider that I have only the slightest familiarity with. It is a pro-Kremlin outlet that might be likened to Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly with RIYF playing Stephen Colbert’s old show on Comedy Central off of it. Here’s a snippet from the piece:

For years, a Western-funded, Russophobic parody site has mocked Russia and our dear leader. Thankfully their tomfoolery is soon coming to an end.

Russia Insider, or more accurately Russophobia Inside Her, was a site clearly designed to embarrass pro-Russian journalism by using ridiculous hyperbole. They try to embarrass people like our fine staff by making all pro-Russia journalists seem like Putin (Glory to his name) worshipers and conspiracy theorists. Well now this site has been exposed for what we all knew it was- a CIA psyop.

This is a somewhat subtle joke. Actually, Russia Insider was not Russophobic at all. It was just like RT.com, Sputnik News, and a host of Western fellow travelers like Moon of Alabama, Information Clearing House, et al—a totally slavish conveyer of Kremlin talking points.

I could glean from RIYF that Russia Insider had become compromised but there was nothing in the parody that revealed exactly what had happened. For that I had to do a bit of research. What it says about the Putinite “left” is quite damning.

It seems that Russia Insider had pissed off Peter Lavelle, a journalist who has a long career on RT and is very committed to the Kremlin’s cause in the geopolitical chess game. “Putin and the Mythical Empire” is a fairly typical article. In a very real sense, Lavelle is one of the real leaders of the Putinite movement worldwide with a lot of credibility. Given his spotless reputation in such circles, it was a shock to discover that he had denounced Russia Insider as a scam.

The story appeared on Fort Russ, a blog with RT type politics that features a book on its home page titled “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach to Regime Change”. As you can probably surmise, it describes Euromaidan and the Syrian revolution as plots orchestrated by the CIA. So if you get on Fort Russ’s wrong side, you must have really screwed up royally.

Titled “Bausman and fraud at Russia Insider? Lavelle blows the whistle”, the article starts off with Lavelle’s FB post:

It has come to my attention that all is not well at the website -Russia Insider.” A number of key people have left with acrimony and it said there are numerous corporate governance issues contested and disputed. I too question the transparency and openness of the site’s management and the entire operation. There appears to be no accountability on how investor funds and crowd funding revenues are spent. Before you invest in any endeavor do your due diligence. Things do not always appear what they seem…

Backing up Lavelle, Fort Russ characterizes them as a rip-off:

Readers are asked to donate money for this content which is already readily available elsewhere for free, with the unremunerated costs of creating original content shifted onto other sites’ writers. It is a very interesting business model which other popular alternative journalists have regularly criticized.

It was set up as a nonprofit but none of the income went to journalists. This not only pissed off Lavelle, who was lured into the scam by founder Charles Bausman, but Robert Parry—another Putinite stooge. You can get a feel for the sordid world of Kremlin apologists who come across as hustlers out for a fast buck from another Lavelle FB post:

The smoking gun: Charles Bausman and fraud at Russia Insider

When I agreed to help Bausman start-up Russia Insider he suggested a shareholding arrangement — 75% for Bausman and 25% for me. I accepted. For that I supported the project and Bausman in every way I could when the site was launched. My FB page is evidence of this. Little did I know Bausman habitually lied about my share and involvement in Russia Insider Even up to a few weeks and days ago he claimed (behind my back and without my knowledge) I had a 5% share. In the last few hours. I learned from an ex-Russia Insider worker that Bausman later ordered a legal document claiming 100% ownership — cutting out those who may have believed they were investing in the site for an equity position. A noble cause is being destroyed because of one person’s greed and complete disregard of basic principles of honesty and transparency.

Right. Noble cause. Writing articles defending barrel bombs in Syria and throwing Pussy Riot in prison for blasphemy.

The remainder of Fort Russ’s article is a fairly tedious but necessary dismantling of a website that has been a source of talking points for many in the “anti-imperialist” left. Mike Whitney has cited it as has the feckless Roger Annis.

Bausman is a shadowy figure. Before he launched Russia Insider in 2014, he worked for AVG Capital Partners, a Russian private capital firm specializing in agribusiness. In addition to his own seed money and funds he ripped off from people like Lavelle, he relied early on from contributions from one Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian oligarch who has quite a track record. Like most Putinites, he is committed to strong family values and serves as the chairman of the Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation that seeks to strengthen the Russian Orthodox Church. He is also on the board of trustees of the Safe Internet League that created the original draft of Internet censorship law in Russia. And to top it all off, he hosted a secret anti-gay conference in Austria that drew upon the support of the country’s ultraright as Searchlight magazine reported.

A secret meeting discussing ways to rid Europe of the ‘satanic gay lobby’ was hosted by a Russian oligarch and attended by a host of far-right MPs and ultra-conservative Eurasian ideologists in Vienna at the weekend – just across the road from where the Life Ball was taking place the very same night.

The meeting was hosted by Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeew and his Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation and was attended by nationalists and Christian fundamentalists from Russia and the West. These were thought to include the chief Russian ideologist of the Eurasian movement Alexander Dugin, the nationalist painter Ilja Glasunow, and MPs from far right parties including the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

Years from now historians will try—perhaps in vain—to explain what led nominally leftist people like Mike Whitney and Roger Annis to develop ideological ties with scum like Charles Bausman. Perhaps psychiatrists well-versed in Kraft-Ebbing will come to their assistance.

March 11, 2016

Surprise, surprise: German ultraright party tilts toward Kremlin

Filed under: Russia,ultraright — louisproyect @ 1:38 pm

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February 9, 2016

A return to the question of whether Russia is imperialist

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia — louisproyect @ 9:54 pm

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One of the main talking points of the pro-Kremlin left is that Russia is not imperialist. This goes hand in hand with an analysis claiming that Putin’s intervention in Ukraine was purely defensive, a move against the genuine imperialists in Washington, London and elsewhere.

The last time I dealt with this question was in June 2014 when I replied to Roger Annis, a tireless defender of Kremlin foreign policy. Annis has once again made the same arguments on Links magazine in Australia in an article co-written by Renfrey Clarke who shares his orientation to Russia. Titled “Perpetrator or victim? Russia and contemporary imperialism”, it rehashes many of the same arguments that are supposedly based on Lenin’s “Imperialism, the final stage of Capitalism”.

As I indicated in a commentary on John Clegg’s article “Capitalism and Slavery”, I find social science definitions of terms like capitalism, socialism and imperialism problematic. To start with, they are describing economic systems that are global in character so when they are used to taxonomically describe a particular country, they are strained to the breaking point. When Trotsky took up the question of whether the USSR was socialist, he answered in terms that defied the formal logic of the social scientist: “To define the Soviet regime as transitional, or intermediate, means to abandon such finished social categories as capitalism (and therewith “state capitalism”) and also socialism. But besides being completely inadequate in itself, such a definition is capable of producing the mistaken idea that from the present Soviet regime only a transition to socialism is possible.”

When it comes to a term like imperialist as a category that applies to a particular country, there is little doubt that the USA, Great Britain, or Germany qualify. This is made clear in page after page of Lenin’s essay. But using the search tool available on the Marxist Internet Archives, you will find Lenin referring to “Russian imperialism” on many occasions:

Have the socialists of France and Belgium not shown the same kind of treachery? They are excellent at exposing German imperialism, but, unfortunately they are amazingly purblind with regard to British, French, and particularly the barbarous Russian imperialism. They fail to see the disgraceful fact that, for decades on end, the French bourgeoisie have been paying out thousands of millions for the hire of the Black-Hundred gangs of Russian tsarism, and that the latter has been crushing the non-Russian majority in our country, robbing Poland, oppressing the Great Russian workers and peasants, and so on.

The European War and International Socialism, 1914

The attitude of the Soviet Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic to the weak and hitherto oppressed nations is of very pradtical significance for the whole of Asia and for all the colonies of the world, for thousands and millions of people.

I earnestly urge you to devote the closest attention to this question, to exert every effort to set an effective example of comradely relations with the peoples of Turkestan, to demonstrate to them by your actions that we are sincere in our desire to wipe out all traces of Great-Russian imperialism and wage an implacable struggle against world imperialism, headed by British imperialism. You should show the greatest confidence in our Turkestan Commission and adhere strictly to its directives, which have been framed precisely in this spirit by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee.

To the Communists of Turkestan, 1919

You speak about the revolution in Russia, but, Citizens Chernov, Chkheidze, and Tsereteli [Menshevik politicians], you have all studied socialism, and you realise only too well that so jar your revolution has only put the capitalists in power. Is it not trebly insincere, when, in the name of the Russian revolution, which has given power to the Russian imperialist capitalists, you demand of us, Germans, a revolution against the German imperialist capitalists? Does It not look as if your “internationalism”, your “revolutionism” are for foreign consumption only; as if revolution against the capitalists is only for the Germans, while for the Russians (despite the seething revolution in Russia) it is agreement with the capitalists?

Chernov, Chkheidze, and Tsereteli have sunk completely to the level of defending Russian imperialism.

An Unfortunate Document, 1917

This is what crops up when you do a search on the exact term “Russian imperialism”. It is also worth examining “Imperialism, the final stage of Capitalism” to see if there are any references to Russia there. While Lenin takes care to single out British and German domination of the financial sector, even to the point of specifically pointing to Deutsche Bank’s penetration of Russian “holding companies”, he does not let Russia off the hook in chapter six titled “The Division of the world among the great powers”. In a chart titled COLONIAL POSSESSIONS OF THE GREAT POWERS, Russia is in second place behind Britain:

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He even makes comparisons between England and Russia in their pursuit of colonial exploitation:

The British capitalists are exerting every effort to develop cotton growing in their colony, Egypt (in 1904, out of 2,300,000 hectares of land under cultivation, 600,000, or more than one-fourth, were under cotton); the Russians are doing the same in their colony, Turkestan, because in this way they will be in a better position to defeat their foreign competitors, to monopolise the sources of raw materials and form a more economical and profitable textile trust in which all the processes of cotton production and manufacturing will be “combined” and concentrated in the hands of one set of owners.

It is of course of some interest that Lenin refers once again to Turkestan, one of those regions that were seized by Catherine the Great and that were victims of the Great Russian Chauvinism that Lenin fought from his sick bed until the day he died. Like Ukraine, these regions never felt like they were truly free in the USSR. It is most unfortunate that people like Annis and Clarke are essentially seeing things the same way that Stalin did in the 1920s even though they supposedly got their political training in the Trotskyist movement.

On a more fundamental level, I find the term “imperialist” as an adjective for a particular country problematic when it functions in the same way that the term mammal applies to a kind of animal or perennial to a type of flower. A bear is always going to be a mammal while a zinnia will never be a perennial. These are fixed categories. When it comes to social and economic entities, it becomes a lot more problematic. What criteria do we use? Lenin thought that the size of financial holdings was key. For Annis and Clarke, this means that Russia is not a player: “A mass of evidence shows that in terms of the financial instruments ‒ stocks, bonds, derivatives, bank deposits, money-market funds ‒in which wealth is mostly held within modern capitalism, the finance capital of present-day Russia is startlingly weak.”

Let’s look at fascist Italy for comparison’s sake. In the 1930s, the three largest banks had a capitalization of about 500 million lira each. Since one dollar was equal to 20 lira at the time, this meant that they were worth about $25 million each. On the other hand, the five largest banks in the USA were all worth over a billion dollars each in 1935 according to a January 21, 1936 NY Times article. So Italy was not even in their ballpark. Does that mean that Italy was not an imperialist nation?

In fact, it was the very weakness of Japan, Italy and Germany in 1939 that made them more aggressive. When you are top dog, you don’t go out and pick fights with those trying to overtake you as the alpha male after all. You don’t pay them any attention except when they looking to displace you. That’s when you defend your pack. That is why the “pacifist” and “democratic” nations like the USA and Britain could scold the aggressive fascists even though they were far more harmful to people living in vast empires covering the globe.

This brings us to Putin’s Russia. Perhaps finally recognizing that when the Kremlin sent its troops to Donetsk and Luhansk or its bombers to Syria might compromise them in the eyes of a few Marxist malcontents, Annis and Clarke try to excuse this bad behavior. Boys will be boys, after all.

Meanwhile, are Russian interests taken into account when the “rules of the game” of the capitalist world-system are determined? By no means. For years after the dissolving of the USSR, Russian elites held out hopes of joining NATO. Instead, NATO has been expanded to the point where Russia now faces a threatening arc of U.S.-aligned states, on or near its borders, from Turkey to Estonia. The clear goal of imperialist policy is to pressure and intimidate Russia, so as to deepen its peripheralisation and in the longer perspective, to force its break-up.

 In these circumstances, what can one say about the Western denunciations of “Russian imperialism”? Rarely have such fervent protestations been so wide of the mark, or backed by so little substance.

 Does all this matter? If a country uses its armed strength to meddle in affairs outside its borders, doesn’t that make it imperialist per se? The trouble with that line of reasoning is that it quickly leads to absurd conclusions. Countries of the periphery commit armed aggression against one another with horrible regularity. The Ogaden War of 1977-78 began when Somali forces invaded Ethiopia. Did that make Somalia an imperialist power?

This, of course, is what the article is really about, not trying to pin down the exact character of the Russian economy. It is really about what Clausewitz referred to as “warfare being a continuation of politics by other means”. Annis and Clarke essentially view Ukraine’s Euromaidan as an encroachment on legitimate Russian interests in the same way that JFK viewed Soviet missiles in Cuba. Just as was was the case with any former colonial nation seeking support from the Kremlin, Ukraine or any of the Eastern European “buffer states” naturally would have developed an orientation to any global power that could give them some leeway against the Kremlin. Those are the realities of global politics.

Finally, what I found most telling is the comparison with Somalia invading Ethiopia. I wonder if this was subconsciously an admission on the part of Annis and Clarke that they felt guilty serving as Putin’s attorneys. If you want to make comparisons, you start with the fact that Ethiopia—like Tsarist Russia in the 18th century—was a precapitalist empire. The Ethiopian emperors colonized the Oromos to the south and the Eritreans to the north. It also colonized the Ogaden region in between Ethiopia and Somalia that was home to people of Somalian ethnicity and who were practicing Muslims. In 1977, Somalia “invaded Ethiopia” only in the sense that it sought to reassert control over territory that had been seized by Menelik II in the 19th century just as he had conquered the Oromos and the Eritreans.

Very soon the conflict became enmeshed with the Cold War as the USSR gave its backing to the Ethiopian Dergue that supposedly was evolving in a “Marxist-Leninist” direction while Jimmy Carter threw his support behind the Somalians. If your tendency is to choose sides based on who the West was supporting, naturally you would back the Ethiopians even if the Dergue was rapidly transforming itself into a military dictatorship with scant regard for human rights or economic justice.

Interestingly enough, CounterPunch has been a mainstay of the rights of the Ogaden people largely through the various articles published over the years by Graham Peebles such as this:

The ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front] is cast as the enemy of the state, and regarded, as all dissenting troublesome groups are, as terrorists. They in fact won 60% of seats and were democratically elected to the regional parliament in the only inclusive open elections to be held, back in 1992. Civilians suspected, however vaguely of supporting the so-called ‘rebels’, are forcibly re-located from their homes. The evacuated villages and settlements, emptied at gunpoint HRW (CP) record, “become no-go areas” and in a further act of state criminality, “civilians who remain behind risk being shot on sight, tortured, or raped if spotted by soldiers”. Children, refugees report are hanged, villages and settlements razed to the ground and cattle stolen to feed soldiers: HRW record (CP), “water sources and wells have [also] been destroyed”. Systematic, strategic methods of violence and intimidation employed by the Ethiopian regime, that has, Genocide Watch (GW) state, “initiated a genocidal campaign against the Ogaden Somali population”.

It is regrettable, of course, that there are so few people writing about Ukraine for CounterPunch who have the political and moral clarity of Graham Peebles who can see through Cold War or New Cold War nostrums of the sort associated with Roger Annis. Neither the Ogaden people nor the Ukrainians are pawns in a chess game. They have a right to national independence and social justice whichever side gives them a momentary advantage in a struggle against the oppressor. If Lenin could come to Russia in a railway car provided by the Kaiser, why would we expect long-suffering colonized peoples to act any differently?

February 1, 2016

The social conservatism of the Putinite left

Filed under: conservatism,Russia — louisproyect @ 7:30 pm

A few days ago there was an article by one Kit Knightly on something called Off Guardian that defended Vladimir Putin from Owen Jones’s takedown in the Guardian. The Off Guardian website is dedicated to showing how rotten the Guardian is with a slant similar to John Wight’s piece on CounterPunch titled “The Demonization of Vladimir Putin”. The Off Guardian, CounterPunch, DissidentVoice, Salon, the Nation, Infowars, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Moon of Alabama, Global Research, World Socialist Website, Information Clearing House, Socialist Unity, Stephen F. Cohen, Voltairenet, Robert Parry, and a host of other personalities and websites basically function as sounding boards for RT.com. Are they getting paid for their services? I would assume not since there is no question as to the ideological zeal that binds these seemingly disparate voices together. For them, Vladimir Putin is a figure to be revered for standing up for “the Russian nation” in a way that when espoused by Donald Trump in a stump speech for “America” would fill them with disgust. Stars and stripes? Feh! St. George’s Cross? Yeah!

In defending Putin, Knightly had a job roughly equivalent to O.J. Simpson’s lawyer in the famous trial that is soon to be dramatized on cable TV but he did not shy from the task. He could not let Jones off the hook for daring to begin an article calling Putin a “rightwing authoritarian leader who attacks civil liberties, stigmatises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, indulges in chauvinistic nationalism, is in bed with rapacious oligarchs, and who is admired by the European and American hard right.”

To rebut this, Knightly explained that the controversial law banning the “promotion of non-traditional sexual practices to children” did not really target gays. You can even find a gay American attorney named Brian M. Heiss who backs him up on this. I have no idea about what makes Heiss tick but in the 129 page booklet that he wrote and that was cited by Knightly, there’s not a single word about the biggest problem in Russia—namely the entrapment of gay men by gangs of skinheads as documented in the film “Hunted in Russia”

The thing that amused me most about Off Guardian was its premise that the Guardian was a voice of the US State Department. What a strange idea in light of the outpouring of pro-Kremlin tripe that appears regularly under the byline of Seumas Milne, Jonathan Steele, and Neil Clark—not to speak of frequent appearances on “Comments are Free” from Tariq Ali, John Pilger and others of that ilk. One imagines that people like Knightly won’t be happy until the Guardian reads like RT.com.

To bait the bear, I started writing some comments under Knightly’s article that got him irritated especially my positive reference to Pussy Riot:

Yeah, all these people including Pussy Riot with their “weird” behavior, especially being disrespectful to the Russian Orthodoxy. So outside the norms of polite society.

It never fails to amaze me how you “anti-imperialists” attach yourself to Putin’s conservative mores the same way that fraternity boys in Division One Football Schools like Notre Dame kept posters of Ronald Reagan on their wall in the 1980s.

To which he replied:

I don’t think disliking the idea of nailing your testicles to the ground, or disapproving of orgy-like protests in a church make you “conservative”. And I don’t especially want to live in a world where that is the case.

All of a sudden I had an epiphany. People like Kit Knightly, John Wight and Mike Whitney are social conservatives. When Knightly defends the Russian Orthodox Church from “orgy-like protests”, I feel like I am listening to Glenn Back complaining about Lady Ga-Ga. Where do these people come from? Since the people who put out Off Guardian don’t disclose much personal information, I can only gather that Knightly is a pretty straight-laced fellow even if he adopts “transgressive” positions on Putin. But maybe they aren’t so transgressive when you consider the admiration that Donald Trump professes for Putin. Isn’t it possible that the attachment that some leftists have for Putin is a kind of displaced authoritarianism that expresses itself for a foreign leader cum father figure who embodies traditional values such as the nuclear family, religion and patriotism? Sort of a synthesis of “Father Knows Best” and William Z. Foster. So what if it is Russia that becomes your guiding star of traditional values. Perhaps there is a confusion between the two red states, Kansas and Stalin’s Russia for which Putin has beaucoup nostalgia. Just don’t get the judo master started on Lenin or else he might give you a zetz in the mouth.

The ties between Christian fundamentalists in the USA and Russia is something worth taking note of. If you think that Putin is despised in the bible belt, you haven’t been paying close attention. A rightwing fundamentalist group called the World Congress of Families has been around since 1997. It was apparently very involved with advising the Russians on their anti-LBGT laws just as it has been with similar laws in Africa. In 2014, Mother Jones reported on a conference they held in Russia. The participants should give you an idea of the elective affinities at work:

AMERICANS:

  • Jack Hanick: The former Fox News producer spoke at the third Sanctity of Motherhood conference this past November. He also spoke at a WCF regional event hosted by Malofeev’s Safe Internet League and at a traditional values roundtable hosted this past June by Malofeev’s St. Basil charity. Brian Brown and the Duma’s Elena Mizulina were also in attendance, and gay marriage was a primary discussion topic.
  • Brian Brown: The president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brown also spoke at the June roundtable hosted by Malofeev’s St. Basil charity. Earlier that day, he spoke with Elena Mizulina’s Duma committee on family policy about adoption by gay couples.
  • Larry Jacobs: As WCF managing director, Jacobs works with Allan Carlson at the Howard Center, which runs the WCF. He is also a partner at Komov’s Integrity Consulting, and spoke at annual conferences hosted by Yakunina’s Sanctity of Motherhood group in 2010 and 2013.
  • Allan Carlson: A prolific historian and family scholar, Carlson is the president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. He helped hatch the idea for the WCF in 1995 with Professor Anatoly Antonov. He is Jacobs’ colleague.

RUSSIANS:

  • Vladimir Yakunin: Married to Natalia Yakunina, he helps fund her Sanctity of Motherhood program through several of his charities, including the Center for National Glory and the Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called.
  • Natalia Yakunina: Married to Vladimir Yakunin and heads the Sanctity of Motherhood program.
  • Konstantin Malofeev: This billionaire businessman and telecommunications mogul helps fund the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, the largest Orthodox Charity in Russia, through Marshall Capital, the investment firm he founded. He’s also a trustee at the Safe Internet League. Through St. Basil, Malofeev also hosted a traditional values roundtable in June (attended by Jack Hanick, Brian Brown, and the Duma’s Elena Mizulina) where gay marriage was a primary discussion topic.
  • Elena Mizulina: A member of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, she also heads its committee on family policy. Mizulina sponsored both anti-gay laws—the propaganda and adoption bans—that passed in the summer of 2013. According to WCF’s Larry Jacobs, he and Mizulina have met at least three times in Russia. Two days after the propaganda law passed the Duma, Brian Brown met with Mizulina and her committee to discuss legislation about adoption by gay couples.
  • Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov: A top Orthodox official, Archpriest Dmitri was appointed to head the Patriarch’s commission on the family this past March. He describes the group as a family policy-development shop for the administration that often advises Mizulina’s Duma committee. Alexey Komov is the executive secretary of this commission.
  • Alexey Komov: The WCF’s official Russia representative, Komov heads FamilyPolicy.ru, a WCF Russian partner. He works with several other Orthodox groups, including Smirnov’s Patriarch’s commission (where he is executive secretary), Malofeev’s Safe Internet League (where he is on the board), and Malofeev’s St. Basil foundation (where he runs a charity). Komov is also the founding partner of Integrity Consulting, a management consulting firm.
  • Anatoly Antonov: A renowned demographer, Antonov is a professor in the sociology department at Moscow State University. He helped hatch the idea for the WCF in Moscow with Allan Carlson in 1995. Komov is working toward a PhD in the department, and Antonov is his dissertation adviser.

These kinds of people give me the heebie-jeebies. Maybe that’s because I was a bohemian before I became a radical. I am attracted to deviants. I was a fan of male prostitute and petty thief (and distinguished playwright) Jean Genet long before I read Karl Marx. When I read Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” in 1961, that was the kind of person I wanted to get to know—someone who was capable of writing lines like this:

who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing
obscene odes on the windows of the skull,

who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their
money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,

who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo
with a belt of marijuana for New York,

who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise
Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night

with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and
cock and endless balls,

I first noticed this social conservatism in 2012 when Pussy Riot was arrested for performing punk rock in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Mike Whitney, who runs a landscaping business in Washington State (I hope he pays his Mexican workers a living wage), wrote an asinine article in CounterPunch defending their arrest since they were “useful fools” in a scheme to sling mud at Putin.

As I explained to Knightly, there was nothing “orgy-like” about the performance. Maybe he was confused about an orgy performance piece the women were involved with in a Russian museum some time earlier. My attitude on things like that is go right ahead, kids. I am absolutely for frightening the horses on any and all occasions especially in Russia and the USA.

If Kit Knightly was around in 1961 (he probably had not been born yet), he would have backed the S.F. District Attorney’s attempt to punish Lawrence Ferlinghetti for publishing Ginsberg’s classic. Well, to be fair he might have been opposed to that but certainly would give the Russian courts carte blanche to keep trouble-makers like the gonad-nailer in line.

In fact, the performance artist who offended Knightly so grievously may be committed to a mental hospital because of his public action as CBS reported:

The partner of Russian dissident best known for his politically charged performance art — including nailing his scrotum to Red Square — says he has been transferred to a psychiatric hospital.

Pyotr Pavlensky’s partner, Oksana Shalygina, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the artist was transferred the previous day from jail to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation, lasting up to 21 days.

You judge for yourself whether he is psychotic or not. Of course, since I am quoting a Guardian article, you can assume that Kit Knightly would write it off as State Department propaganda. For such people, everything is black-and-white according to an anti-imperialist theory that reduces the world to a chessboard. I’ll stick with Lenin’s citation of Mephistopheles’s words in Goethe’s Faust: “Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.

Pavlensky says it was during the Pussy Riot trial that he first began to understand the need for a more radical approach to art. “Their trial affected me more than many things in my own life. I started looking at other people and wondering why they were not doing anything. And that is when I had the important realisation that you should not wait for things from other people. You need to do things yourself.”

The idea for his most recent performance came when he was briefly held in a cell after the Carcass stunt. A fellow prisoner regaled him with stories of the Gulag, where prisoners had sometimes nailed their scrotums to trees in an act of protest at the inhumane conditions and miserable existence. “I didn’t think much of it at first but then, when I began thinking that the whole country is becoming a prison system, that Russia is turning into a big prison and a police state, it seemed perfect.”

Some suggested that the act may not have been as gruesome as it seemed, with a piercing having been made prior to the event and the nail simply pushed through, but as we walk along the freezing platform for him to board the Moscow train, Pavlensky insists that he actually drove the nail through that afternoon. “I have the medical report to prove it,” he says. “I was careful not to rupture a vein but it was very bloody and sore. They wanted to give me antibiotics and other medications, but I refused.”

In the end, Pavlensky was not arrested at his questioning the following day in Moscow, but the charges against him still stand, and he remains under investigation. In late January, officers arrived at the cable channel TV Rain and demanded to be given a recording of an interview Pavlensky had given them, saying they needed to examine it as part of a “psychological-linguistic expert analysis” that was being carried out as part of the case against him.

Despite the real threat of a jail term, Pavlensky does not plan to stop, and says his unusually painful brand of art comes from an imperative impulse towards radicalism: “It was a very important step for me – to understand what happens when a person becomes an artist, when a person becomes stronger than their indifference and overcomes their inertia. I don’t think an artist can exist without this and just be isolated and contemplative. An artist has no right not to take a stand.”

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