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 »


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 »


Russia: anti-fascists threatened by state torturers

April 17, 2018

Anti-fascists in Russia, who face a campaign of arrests, torture and “terrorism” prosecutions by the Federal Security Service (FSB), are appealing for support.

Their defence campaign is organised on the Project no. 117 facebook page – named after the clause in

Cartoon by Alexei Komarov, Novaya Gazeta

the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. Please post messages there in English or any other language. These people need our support.

Here is a summary of the cases by Yan Shenkman, published in Novaya Gazeta on 22 March and in English on the Russian Reader web site:

In October 2017, a group of young anti-fascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza [a city the size of Coventry, south-east of Moscow]. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honour their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring [in central Moscow] every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on anti-fascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass [in eastern Ukraine], but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over 30 (the oldest is 29) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced a performance [about the arrests] at Teatr.doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues.  [Teatr.doc is a Moscow theatre specialising in documentaries about current issues. On 18 March, when Vladimir Putin was re-elected as president, it staged a performance based on materials from the anti-fascists’ cases.]

What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head.

When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

Polikhovich told me after the performance: “It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia. But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

I asked: “But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?”

Polikhovich replied: “Location is vital in this case. There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference.

Viktor Filinkov, anti-fascist and victim of torture

The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza anti-fascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognisance, told Novaya Gazeta: “They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,”

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and anti-fascists have been doing the protesting.

Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and anti-fascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested anti-fascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the anti-fascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between [opposition candidates for president Ksenia] Sobchak and [Alexei] Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or anti-fascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the anti-fascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

International pressure makes a difference, too.

The historian Yuri Dmitriev, who was tried on trumped-up charges of possessing pornography and Read the rest of this entry »


The “anti-imperialism” of idiots

April 15, 2018

A guest post by LEILA AL-SHAMI, first published on her blog

Once more the western ‘anti-war’ movement has awoken to mobilise around Syria. This is the third time since 2011. The first was when Obama contemplated striking the Syrian regime’s military capability (but didn’t) following chemical attacks on the Ghouta in 2013, considered a ‘red line’. The second time was when Donald Trump ordered a strike which hit an empty regime military base in response to chemical attacks on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. And today, as the US, UK and France take

Cartoon by Yaser, criticising selective outrage which only applies to chemical attacks

limited military action (targeted strikes on regime military assets and chemical weapons facilities) following a chemical weapons attack in Douma which killed at least 34 people, including many children who were sheltering in basements from bombing.

The first thing to note from the three major mobilisations of the western ‘anti-war’ left is that they have little to do with ending the war. More than half a million Syrians have been killed since 2011. The vast majority of civilian deaths have been through the use of conventional weapons and 94 per cent of these victims were killed by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance. There is no outrage or concern feigned for this war, which followed the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators. There’s no outrage when barrel bombs, chemical weapons and napalm are dropped on democratically Read the rest of this entry »


Iran: revolt, revolution and social disintegration

March 20, 2018

I am very pleased to publish today an interview with TORAB SALETH about the recent nationwide wave of protests in Iran. The interview puts the revolt that has spread across the country, last year and this, in the context of the Islamic republic’s deep political and economic crisis. It discusses the way that such movements can be confounded by reactionary politics, and casts a very critical eye on the “left” groups. Torab Saleth was a leading member of a large Trotskyist group in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution. He left it in protest at its continued cooperation with groups that had collaborated with the Islamic dictatorship. He is active today in the Revolutionary Socialist Tendency of Iran. You can READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE.