Kazakhstan. A young mother grieves, Tony Blair cashes in

April 20, 2016

Kazakhstan’s social media has been shaken this week by a photo that tells of a family tragedy triggered by the police massacre of striking oil workers at Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011.

The photo, posted on facebook by Zhadyra Kenzhebaeva, a young mother of two children, shows: Bazarbai Kenzhebaev, Zhadyra’s father, who died after police arrested and tortured him on the day of the Zhanaozen massacre; Zhadyra’s mother Tilektes Kanatbaev, who died in 2013 after mourning her husband for 17 months; and Zhadyra’s sister Asem Kenzhebaeva, who campaigned to bring Bazarbai’s torturers to justice, before her own death in 2014.

The Zhanaozen shootings – in which 16 people died and more than 60 were injured, according to official figures – brought to an end six months of strike action by thousands of workers in the western Kazakhstan oil field.

The police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in Zhanaozen’s main square – oil workers, whose demands for pay rises and democratic trade union representation had been met by mass sackings and violence by management thugs, and local people who turned out to support them.

Bazarbai Kenzhebaev was not an oil worker and was not demonstrating. He had travelled in to Zhanaozen from his home in the village of Kyzylsai, to visit

family photo

(Translated from Zhadyra’s facebook page:) “This is my dad Bazarbai Kenzhebaev, born 16.2.1961 and died 21.12.2011 as a result of brutal tortures, during the Zhanaozen events. In the middle, my mum Tilektes Kanatbaeva, born 28.9.1960. She died from grief a year and more after my father’s death, 11.5.2013. Next to her my sister Asem, born 2.2.1990. She spoke about the Zhanaozen events at times when other were scared to speak. She died 13.12.2014.”

Zhadyra, who had given birth to her daughter Aisuna that day in the maternity hospital.

As he walked to the hospital, Bazarbai, a 50-year-old tractor driver, got caught up in a frenzied police round-up of demonstrators, suspected demonstrators, and Read the rest of this entry »

“Left-wing” Trident? You’re having a laugh

April 8, 2016

The UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should drop his opposition to the Trident nuclear weapons programme, the journalist Paul Mason argued in a video broadcast this week.

What a monstrous example of “socialist” and “left wing” discourse being turned upside down and inside out.

“We” (which in the broadcast means “the British state”) should participate in the NATO strategy in Europe using conventional weapons, Mason argues. But Corbyn should drop his opposition to Trident, so he can get elected and focus on what “really matters for ordinary people ”, e.g. defending the National Health Service and stopping “shovelling public assets into private business” as they were during the banking crisis.

The kindest thing I can say is that maybe Mason imagines he is thinking pragmatically about how Labour, with a clearly left-wing leader for the first time since the 1920s, might win the next election.

It doesn’t even work on that level.

Mason’s argument assumes people will decide how to vote on the basis of Corbyn’s defence policy. Why? All sorts of things influence election results – family finances, Read the rest of this entry »

I have seen the techno-future, and I’m not so sure it works

April 4, 2016

“I have seen the future, and it works”, wrote the American journalist Lincoln Steffens after visiting Soviet Russia in 1919, at the height of the civil war. The Bolsheviks, he said, were “a revolutionary government with an evolutionary

A Chinese labour demonstration. "Networked humanity", or "the working-class movement"?

A Chinese labour demonstration. “Networked humanity”, or “the working-class movement”?

plan”.  Nearly a century later, one of the UK’s most thoughtful journalists, Paul Mason, argues that information technology can open the road to post-capitalism where the Russian revolution failed. He’s as enthusiastic about technology’s capacity for liberating humanity as Steffens was about the Bolsheviks.

Networked computers underpin “postcapitalism as a process emerging spontaneously”, and what matters now is networks against hierarchies, Mason writes in Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (Penguin/Allen Lane, 2015). He aims to visualise goods, labour and Read the rest of this entry »

From the Russian revolution to socialism on Mars

April 4, 2016

What can be learned from the history of the Soviet Union, and its failure to break free from capitalism, about a future transition to a post-capitalist society? In Paul Mason’s book Postcapitalism: a guide to our future, the places he starts looking

Red Star by Aleksandr Bogdanov: the cover of an early edition

Red Star by Aleksandr Bogdanov: the cover of an early edition

are (i) Aleksandr Bogdanov’s utopian novel Red Star (downloadable here), and (ii) the Trotskyist opposition’s critique of Stalinist planning. I think he presents answers that are too easy. The histories of Russian socialism and Stalinist tyranny give us lessons that are richer, but also more difficult to access, than he suggests. Here are some thoughts provoked by chapter 8 of Postcapitalism, “On Transitions”.

Aleksandr Bogdanov’s utopian vision – set out in his 1909 novel Red Star, about a Russian communist who is invited to Mars, where a human-like race of people live in a socialist society – was not at odds with the mainstream of communist thought in the way that Paul suggests.

By portraying the communist future, Bogdanov, a member of the Bolshevik party led by Lenin, was “defying the conventions of his time”, Mason writes. “All wings of socialism were opposed to discussing castles in the air.” Bogdanov believed Read the rest of this entry »

Russian mining deaths: families denounce management safety cheats

February 29, 2016

Relatives of Russian mineworkers killed in a series of explosions at the Severnaya mine in Vorkuta, north of the Arctic circle, are demanding legal action against managers who repeatedly violated safety procedures.

Four miners died on Thursday 25 February as a result of two underground explosions of methane gas. Twenty-six more men were trapped underground: on Sunday 28 February,

Rescue teams arriving at Severnaya mine on Thursday 25 February. Photo by Vladimir Yurlov/ TASS

Rescue teams arriving at Severnaya mine on Thursday 25 February. Photo by Vladimir Yurlov/ TASS

media reported that hope of finding them alive had faded. Also on Sunday, five rescue workers and a miner were killed in a further explosion.

By midday Sunday 300 people had signed a petition launched by the victims’ relatives to Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of Russia’s state investigation committee, demanding that mine managers be prosecuted.

“The [first] explosion came as no surprise: the detectors had for a long time shown an excess of methane”, the petition states. “Work should not have continued at the time. This is a crude breach of safety procedures. Management knew this, but continued to allow people underground.”

On Thursday, workers on the surface believed there had been a movement of rock strata underground. On Friday the press service of the Vorkutaugol company, which owns the mine Read the rest of this entry »

Russia: punishment psychiatry back in vogue

February 17, 2016

The Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been sent to the notorious Serbsky Institute of psychiatry, and his family and lawyers are worried about him. [Update, 23 February. Pavlensky has been returned from the institute to prison, Novaya Gazeta is reporting (Russian only).]

On 9 November Pavlensky poured petrol over the doors of the infamous federal security services (FSB) building at Lubyanka square in central Moscow and set fire to them. He named the action Threat [Ugroza]: friends photographed and filmed him as the flames took hold. (Damage was done, but no-one was hurt.) Pavlensky was arrested soon afterwards.

The FSB’s building was inherited directly from the Soviet KGB. Thousands of the regime’s political opponents were tortured and killed behind its austere façade.

Pavlensky has been charged with “vandalism motivated by ideological hatred”, whatever that means, and appeared at the Tagansky district court several times. At his first appearance he compared his case to those of Crimean activists jailed on false “terrorism” charges – including Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov – and said he would not address the court further.

Oleksei Chirniy, who was charged along with Kolchenko and Sentsov, was also detained at the Serbsky institute prior to his trial. His supporters alleged he had been mistreated with psychotropic drugs.

Pavlensky is also awaiting trial for charges arising from an earlier performance, “Freedom” (“Svoboda”). In February 2014, days after the removal  of Ukrainian president Viktor

Separation (Otdelenie). Pavel Pavlensky protesting against punishment psychiatry, October 2014. Photo from the Calvert journal site

Separation (Otdelenie). Pavel Pavlensky protesting against punishment psychiatry, October 2014. Photo from the Calvert journal site

Yanukovich, he went with collaborators he went to Malyi Koniushennyi bridge in St Petersburg, setting light to car tyres and banging dustbin lids, to recreate the atmosphere of the Maidan demonstrations in Kyiv.

Pavlensky was sent to the Serbsky State Scientific Centre for Social and Forensic Psychiatry Read the rest of this entry »

Ukrainian anti-fascists defy attack by neo-Nazis

January 20, 2016

Anti-fascists in Kyiv yesterday marked the anniversary of the assassination of two Russian activists – and faced intimidation by a neo-Nazi gang as the police stood by.

Russian and Ukrainian activists take to the streets every year to commemorate journalist Anastasia Baburova and lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who were shot dead by fascists in broad daylight on 19 January 2009 in central Moscow.

In previous years, demonstrators in Russia have been harassed by police, while those in Kyiv have had relatively few problems. But not this time. Fascist groups

Anti-fascist demonstrators in Kyiv yesterday. Photo from the 19 January committee

Anti-fascist demonstrators in Kyiv yesterday. Photo from the 19 January committee

in Kyiv issued threats against the demonstration in advance, and the police told organisers they could not guarantee their safety.

“Today’s demonstration by the [Kyiv] 19 January committee did not go ahead in the planned format”, the organisers said in a statement issued afterwards. “About Read the rest of this entry »


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