Desperately seeking socialism

June 18, 2018

A response by GABRIEL LEVY to Dissidents Among Dissidents, by Ilya Budraitskis – and Budraitskis’s response to that response. (Dissidents Among Dissidents (Dissidenty Sredi Dissidentov) was published in Russian in 2017 by Free Marxist Publishers [Svobodnoe Marksistskoe Izdatelstvo].)

Русская версия здесь / Russian version here

The “new cold war” is the subject of the most politically compelling of the essays in this book by the Russian socialist Ilya Budraitskis. He wrote it in the summer of 2014, as Russian troops streamed into eastern Ukraine to fight alongside the Russian-armed militia of the separatist “people’s republics”, and the Russian ultra-nationalists, mercenaries and volunteers who joined them.

The existence of a “new cold war” was already being treated in public discourse as an “obvious and indisputable fact”, Budraitskis argues – but “the production of rhetoric has run way ahead of the reality” (pp. 112-3).

To question the assumptions behind the rhetoric further, in the essay, “Intellectuals and the Cold War” (in English on line here), Budraitskis considers the character of the original cold war, i.e. between the Soviet bloc and the western powers between the end of the second world war and 1991. The cold war was a set of “principles of the world order”, construed by ruling elites and then confirmed in intellectual discourse and in the everyday activity of masses of people, he writes (p. 112).

The reality of continuous psychological mobilisation, and the nerve-straining expectation of global military conflict, as apprehended by society as a whole, became a means of existence, reproduced over the course of two generations, in which loyalty to beliefs was combined with fear and a feeling of helplessness before fate.

This proposition, that the cold war was essentially a means of social control, in which masses of people were systematically deprived of agency, certainly works for me. I wondered whether Budraitskis knows

Prague, 1968: students take on Soviet tanks

of the attempts, made during the cold war on the “western” side of the divide, to analyse this central aspect of it – for example of the work of Hillel Ticktin and others in the early issues of the socialist journal Critique (from 1973). (Ticktin wrote on the political economy of the Soviet Union, interpreting it in the context of world capitalism. The journal web site is here.)

Today, the cold war’s binary ideological constraints live on, Budraitskis argues. “The trauma of choice between hostile camps has still today not been overcome” (p. 123). As an example, he quotes the reactions to Russia’s participation in the war in eastern Ukraine by, on one hand, Aleksandr Dugin, the extreme right-wing Russian “Eurasianist”, and, on the other, the American historian Timothy Snyder. (See here (Russian only) and here.)

For Dugin, the military conflict in eastern Ukraine amounted to “the return of Russia to history”. For Snyder, it was confirmation that Ukraine had finally to recognise that it was part of Europe. Dugin’s Read the rest of this entry »

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Ireland 1981, Ukraine 2018: support the political prisoners

June 11, 2018

The Ukrainian film maker Oleg Sentsov, unjustly imprisoned in Russia, is going into the fifth week of a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. ANTHONY McINTYRE, a former Irish political prisoner, explains in this interview why he supports this demand.

Gabriel Levy. What’s your view of the international campaign, taking place in the run-up to the World Cup finals, to draw attention to the Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and to demand their release?

Anthony McIntyre. It resonates with the human rights campaigning ahead of the World Cup final in Argentina back in 1978. The military junta under Jorge Videla was engaged in serious human rights

A 1981 protest in support of the Irish Republican hunger strikers, ten of whom died

abuses and when an opportunity presents itself like the World Cup, where the media will concentrate, it has to be seized. So, I think it is the thing to do.

GL. Many of the prisoners are from Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014. Some of the most well-known prisoners, including Oleg Sentsov, have been jailed on “terrorism” charges that all the international human rights organisations regard as fabricated. Another prisoner, Volodymyr Balukh, was sentenced for possessing a Ukrainian flag. Others are civil society activists from the Crimean Tatar community that has suffered discrimination since Soviet times. To what extent would you regard the prisoners as victims of imperialism?

AM. I think imperialism is a term that has been used much too liberally over the years by the Left. It now sounds like a slogan rather than something that is analytically descriptive. The prisoners are victims of an aggressive and intrusive power.

Whether that power is exercised on the grounds of pursuing markets and profit, or as part of the politics of power and security in a volatile world, is up for discussion, but its effects are catastrophic for those in Crimea.

Russia, given its geographic location and historical proximity to threatening powers, might expand outside its own borders but not necessarily for imperialist reasons as understood by Marxists. But that expansionism is necessarily unjust.

GL. There is a view widespread on the “left” that the Russian government can not be defined as imperialist, because of its anti-NATO and anti-US rhetoric. People in Ukraine, Chechnya and Syria, who have dealt with the Russian military at first hand, think otherwise. What do you think? Read the rest of this entry »


“Free the Kremlin’s hostages”

June 3, 2018

Demonstrators in London yesterday demanded that Russia release 70 Ukrainian political prisoners.

The picket was part of an international action to support the film director Oleg Sentsov, one of the 70, who has been on hunger strike since 14 May in the Labytnangi prison colony.

Sentsov, who was arrested in Crimea after it was annexed by Russia in 2014, was sentenced to 20 years on fabricated terrorism charges.

On 25 May, Oleksandr Shumkov, a Ukrainian serviceman taken forcibly to Russia and imprisoned there, started a hunger strike in support of Sentsov. And on 31 May they were joined on hunger strike by Oleksandr Kolchenko, an anarchist militant from Crimea tried together with Sentsov and sentenced to ten years.

Another Ukrainian prisoner in Russia, Volodymyr Balukh, a farmer jailed for possession of a Ukrainian flag in Russian-occupied Crimea, went on hunger strike on 19 March. From the 25th day of his action he started taking minimal nutrition – oat broth and a piece of bread each day – to avoid being force-fed.

The London picket was organised by Ukrainians studying and working in London, who were joined by British supporters. Rafis Kashapov, a civil society activist from the Tatarstan republic in Russia, recently ordered by a Russian court to desist from political activity, was there too.

News of the international campaign here: #FreeSentsov #SaveOlegSentsov #TheyAreStillThere #LetMyPeopleGo.

Sasha Dovzhyk, one of the organisers of the protest, said: “It’s a pleasant day in London, less so in Labytnangi colony, where Oleg Sentsov was brought to rot for 16 years after he had served four years Read the rest of this entry »


Memo to Labour. Let’s have energy systems integration for the many

May 17, 2018

The UK electricity system needs “radically different forms of grid planning and operation” if it is to stop using fossil fuels, researchers at the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College argue in a briefing paper published last month.

“A whole systems approach is required, in which one single party has responsibility for optimising technical performance across the system”, Richard Hanna and his colleagues say in the paper, entitled Unlocking the Potential of Energy Systems Integration (see p. 24).

The briefing paper outlines the technological potential for moving away from fossil fuels by integrating and decentralising energy systems, using, mainly, smart computers and cutting-edge

An integrated system will make it practical and possible for solar panels to go on many roofs

methods of switching between forms of energy. It summarises, in language comprehensible by a general readership, the findings of a big pile of technical reports and research articles by engineers.

I hope the Energy Futures Lab’s findings will be read by everyone interested in putting together socialist approaches to the transition away from fossil fuels: trade union militants in the energy sector, climate campaigners, eco-socialists, and so on. In particular, I hope they will be taken into account by those discussing energy and environment policies for the Labour Party in the UK.

Only by putting the technological transformation of energy production and consumption at the centre of our discussions will be able to work out how we can best change the ownership of, and control over, the system. We need to challenge the corporate control of the technologies, and make Read the rest of this entry »


Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate: staring history in the face

May 14, 2018

The Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg’s stage adaptation of Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman’s epic novel about the holocaust, the second world war and Stalinism, above all brings hope for the future.

The play, being shown this month (in Russian, with English captions) at the Theatre Royal in London, portrays the darkest days of 20th century European history. What conveys hope is how determinedly its director, Lev Dodin, and its cast stare Soviet history in the face.

The impact was especially forceful last week, when Russian officialdom was as usual celebrating the “great patriotic war” with vast, aggressive displays of military hardware (on 9 May, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany).

Russian and Ukrainian friends have been sharing on social media, with horror, photos and video clips of kindergarten children, encouraged by teachers and parents to parade with models of tanks, armoured cars and heavy weapons. (See for example videos here from Piatagorsk, or here from Krasnodar.) All while real Russian bombs are killing kindergarten children in Syria. …

But that’s only one Russia. The Maly Drama Theatre reminds us of another, where past wars are not justified or reproduced, but thought about, along with the repression and prison camps that accompanied them. Such thought is a precondition for making a future without any of these things.

The Theatre has put on its adaptation of Grossman’s masterpiece every year since 2007. It was developed out of a theatre school course taught by Lev Dodin, the theatre’s director. (He talked in an interview at the time about how that happened. See below.)

Life and Fate was written in the 1950s, suppressed in Soviet times, and published in Switzerland in 1980 and Moscow only in 1988. It is set in 1943, when the battle of Stalingrad turned the tide of the Read the rest of this entry »


“I am here as the accuser, of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot”

May 3, 2018

Remember past heroes by pausing to reflect, TERRY BROTHERSTONE argues in this guest post, marking one hundred years since John Maclean’s speech from the dock

On 9 May, 2018, it will be 100 years since the Clydeside Marxist revolutionary, John Maclean, stood in the dock in the Scottish High Court in Edinburgh, refused to recognise its authority by making any plea in his defence against a charge of sedition, and instead delivered an audacious, hour-and-a-quarter-long speech denouncing World War I as a murderous capitalist enterprise inflicting death and disaster on the working people of Europe.

“I have taken … unconstitutional action … because of [these] abnormal circumstances”, he said. “I am a socialist, and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the

John Maclean speaking from the dock. Photo from the Glasgow Digital Library

benefit of all. I am proud of my conduct. I have squared my conduct with my intellect, and if everyone had done so this war would not have taken place.”

You can read his speech, with some contextual analysis, in a recent edition here.

The verdict was a foregone conclusion. The sentence was five years with hard labour. When the war ended, and in the light of a growing protest movement in Maclean’s support, and Government fears that his continued persecution might stimulate more serious working-class disaffection – the Russian Revolution was much in their minds – he was released after only a few months.

However, there is little doubt that Maclean’s several terms of imprisonment in the harsh conditions of Scotland’s jails contributed to his early death in 1923, aged only 44.

At the time of Maclean’s 1918 trial, the outcome of the War – which by then had been waged for over three and three-quarter bloody years – was still in the balance. The German Spring offensive, which Read the rest of this entry »


FIFA World Cup 2018: Sport for the people, not for governments and big business!

April 19, 2018

Moscow students call for solidarity

This is a statement from the Moscow State University Student Initiative Group, forwarded by friends in Moscow. Please circulate and re-post it.

Russia will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup – a grandiose event both in terms of tens of thousands of fans from around the world, and for big business and the Russian government.

As is often the case with events of this scale, the organisers do not hear the voices of ordinary people, even if there are thousands of them. This time, it is planned to hold the FIFA Fan Fest in Moscow in

“The World Cup is no reason to humiliate the university”. Photo from the MSU Initiative Group facebook page

an extremely inappropriate place, near Moscow State University (MSU). Students, graduate students, staff and local residents are protesting this decision.

The noise and the security measures will affect badly the educational and research activities and the life of the campus with 6500 inhabitants, 37,000 students and 9000 professors and researchers.

Faculties are to shorten the courses and the exam sessions; researchers are being forced to take holidays. Dormitory residents are either to suffer from the noise or to risk eviction. Citizens are to suffer from a transport collapse caused by the installation of a strict gating system around territory that has always been open to public. The green territory around our University was not designed to host a festival with 25,000 football fans.

After the protests, the zone was moved a little further from the main building. This is a fake response. Read the rest of this entry »