Russia and South Africa: the oppressors make a deal

January 26, 2023

This posturing has a history, BOB MYERS writes

The South African government of the African National Congress (ANC) has decided to join military exercises with Russia and China. They were announced during a visit to South Africa this week by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov – who was given a warm welcome by Nalendi Pandor, the South African foreign minister.  

Striking miners at Marikana, 2012

Lavrov denounced “colonialism” – and no doubt various “left” groups around the world will trumpet this accord as evidence that Russia, China and South Africa are “fighting imperialism”.

Last year, South Africa called on Russia to withdraw troops from Ukraine. But this week Pandor said it would be “simplistic and infantile” to ask for that now.

The ANC government uses its stance to bolster its own “anti-imperialist” credentials among its own people and among neighbouring African governments.  

But this alliance is not “anti-imperialist” at all. It is an anti-working class alliance that actually has a long history.

The ANC emerged as a political movement in the early 20th century. It was the party of the small black business and professional class. With the rise of apartheid it fought for the rights of black business. It tried to appear as a spokesperson for all the oppressed black population, but there was always a problem with this as it had no interest in the real emancipation of black workers.

Two good examples of this tension can be seen in the period after world war two.

First, at the end of the war there was an upsurge of black working class militancy leading to a general strike of black miners. Nelson Mandela, at that time leader of the ANC youth wing, refused to support the strike, fearing it would undermine the ANC’s efforts to win concessions for black business.

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A message from Dnipro: track down the war criminals

January 17, 2023

These facebook posts by ANATOLY DUBOVIK in Dnipro are translated and reproduced here with his permission

From Monday. Official information on the morning of 16 January on the results of the Russian nazis’ destruction of a residential apartment block in Dnipro: 35 dead, 75 wounded, 39 rescued. Another 35 have not yet been found – so the death toll could be doubled.

Rescue work continues.

Among the dead is a well known person: Mikhail Korenovsky, the veteran Ukrainian boxing trainer and trainer of the Dnepropetrovsk regional team. His wife and two children were away from home at the time of the blast, and survived.

A flat in the bombed apartment building

People are saying that in this photograph is the remains of the Korenovskys’ flat. Whether it is or not, the photo will go down in history.

From Saturday. Now, at 19.50, rescue teams and people from the area are working at the destroyed building, dismantling the ruins, dragging out the dead, wounded and survivors. Officially at 18.0 they announced there were five dead and 39 in hospital. Those are the living and the dead that they were able to pull out. Among the wounded are seven children, including a three year old. Cries can be heard from the ruins: there are people in there. And it will be minus four degrees tonight.

Gennady Korban, one of the city’s leaders, a big businessman, and – let’s say it like this – someone who had a very specific reputation back in the 1990s and 2000s, published the following statement on his facebook feed:

Dear friends, we all know that in Dnipro today the Rashists committed a war crime. These Rashists are not nameless. Every war criminal has a name, rank and place of deployment.

Today’s attack was undertaken by the 52nd guards heavy bomber airborne regiment based at Shaikovka. TU-22M3 [a missile-carrying bomber]. V/Ch 33310 [military unit]. Call sign of the commanding officer 42492. The flight left from somewhere near Kursk and landed at Ryazan. Kh-22 rocket.

This is the bastard who fired a rocket at a residential block. As a result, children and adults were killed. The number of victims is not yet known.

The name and address in the Russian federation of this war criminal must be ascertained, for him to be brought to justice. The first person who provides verifiable details will receive $US 25,000 from me, with anonymity guaranteed.

For the first time in my life, I wish Korban success in implementing his plan.

Krivoi Rog. This evening rockets were fired into residential areas. Six housing blocks are damaged. There have been some deaths.

All the Russian nazis will be killed.

From Sunday. And this is about Mr [Oleksiy] Arestovich. On his live stream with [Russian lawyer turned you tube publicist Mark] Feygin, Arestovich, the adviser to the office of the president and lieutenant-colonel (or is it, colonel), commented on the day’s events. He shot his mouth off, talking as though the nazis’ rocket that destroyed the apartment block in Dnipro had been shot down by Ukraine’s air defence, and, after that, the damaged rocket, or bits of it, fell on the building.

I do not have military experience. But I have just lived for nearly 11 months either not far from the front, or very close to the front, but in any case in a city that has been subject to numerous rocket attacks. During that time, almost a year, I have learned a little about how to work out what is happening.

In order to bring down an enemy rocket, you need to fire your own rocket to intercept it – a minimum of one, but several is better, more effective. Every launch of an air defence rocket is accompanied by its own particular sound, which to an observer – me, for example – sounds very like an explosion.

I recall that once, last summer, six Russian rockets were fired at Dnipro. I heard 14 explosions. That is, six hits by rockets, and eight air defence rocket launches.

Now, yesterday, when the missile strike took place, I was outside, in the courtyard of our building. I heard the explosion very clearly. It was one explosion.

ONE.

Nobody shot anything down. The Ukrainian air defence was unable to stop the incoming rocket. That can happen: for example, a winged missile can fly very low, and it is very hard to hit it. And it was one of these, a Kh-22 supersonic winged missile, that was fired at Dnipro.

I don’t know why or for what purpose the official representative of the Ukrainian authorities Mr Arestovich lied on air. But he lied.

It would be interesting to hear the opinion of others in Dnipro. My daughter, who lives not far from where the missile hit, talked to me yesterday about an explosion. Not explosions. Aleskandr Pavelko yesterday in comments also mentioned just one, very loud, explosion. Did anyone hear any more explosions?

[In the comments on this post, several Dnipro residents said that they had heard just one explosion. One person said there was an explosion that may have been air defence, but only 2 seconds before the main explosion. SP.]

□ Anatoly Dubovik is an anarchist since 1989, and a historian of the anarchist movement.  

More from Anatoly Dubovik on People & Nature:

□ One day in the life of Dnipro (March 2022)

□ Russian soldiers killed that family, just because (April 2022)


Russia: the time for protest has gone, it’s time for resistance

January 17, 2023

A column by ARMEN ARAMYAN, editor of Doxa, published by DOXA on 13 January in Russian.  

For many years the Russian opposition propagandised a particular manner of protest: clean, peaceful protest of the urban class, not dirtied with violence or even any pretension to violence. I was politicised at that time. I am 25, and I first went to a street demonstration when I was 17, in the second year of study at university. And I learned the lessons conscientiously: when somebody urges people to free a demonstrator who is being detained – that’s a provocation. If someone proposes to stay put on a square and not leave, or to occupy a government building – that’s a provocateur, and that person should be paid no heed.

We are better than them, because we do not use violence, and they do. Let everyone see us and our principles as unarmed, peaceful protesters, who are beaten by cosmonauts in full combat gear. Then they will understand what is going on. Why go on a demonstration? To express our opinion, to show that we are here. And if there are enough of us, that will produce a split in the elite.

A fire at a military recruitment centre in Nizhnevartovsk in May last year. Photo from Libcom

Evidently, this strategy didn’t work. Whether it worked at one time is probably not so important now. I am convinced, by my own life experience, that it has failed. A year and a half ago, I recorded an inoffensive video to support student protests – and for that got a year’s house arrest. [Reported here, SP.] And in that year, the Russian authorities succeeded in destroying the remains of the electoral system, and invading Ukraine. No peaceful protest could stop them.

During that time, as the anti-Putin opposition de-escalated protests and adapted to new prohibitions – you need to give advance notice about a demo? OK. You need to set up metal detectors on site? Very good – the authorities, by contrast, escalated the conflict with society. They pursued ever-more-contrived legal cases – for actions ranging from throwing a plastic cup at a cop, to liking stuff or joking on twitter.

We have been retreating tactically for a long time, and finally wound up on the edge of a precipice – in a situation where not to protest would be immoral, but where, at the same time, the most inoffensive action could result in the most serious sanctions. The neurosis in which a large part of Russian society now finds itself – all those arguments about who is more ethically immaculate: those who have left, those who have stayed, those who have half-left or one-quarter-stayed; who has the moral right to speak about something and who doesn’t – all this is a result of living in a paradox. 

For the first few weeks after the invasion, this logic of conflict – that the opposition de-escalates and the state escalates – reached its limits. Peaceful protests came to an end. Resistance didn’t stop: several hundred people, at a minimum, set fire to military recruitment offices or dismantled railways on which the Russian army was sending arms, and soldiers, to the front.

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Russia. Renaissance is not going to happen

December 28, 2022

These comments by Mira Tai were published by Doxa, the Russian on-line student magazine that has become a prominent voice against the war.

Hello! It’s Mira.

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has compelled many people, who live in Russia but are not ethnic Russians [russkye], to think about how we actually became the “small peoples of Russia” [a widely used term for the non-Russian nationalities that make up about one fifth of Russia’s population]. We saw many parallels between the way that the “Russian world” is trying to swallow up independent Ukraine, and the way that the ethnic republics “voluntarily became part of Russia” previously.

Russians in Berlin demonstrating in support of Ukrainian resistance, 13 November. Photos by Aleksandr Anufriev, from the Feminist Anti-war Resistance facebook page

We have seen how the state, in which openly-declared nationalists hold leading posts in government bodies, justifies the massacre of citizens of a neighbouring country as “denazification”. We have seen how the propaganda machine is speaking openly about the renaissance of a gigantic centralised empire, in which there is no identity except Russian, and no other language than Russian.

These months have made all of us pose a mass of difficult questions, to ourselves and to each other. And no matter how hard the Russian propaganda machine tries to ridicule or denigrate this process, it will not be stopped and not be turned back – because we have changed. The surge of anger among non-Russian people has gone too far. The genie will not be put back in the bottle.

And the further it goes, the more astonishing it becomes that the majority of prominent Russian liberals and representatives of the “anti-Putin resistance”, continue to ignore what is happening. A great example is the new educational project, “Renaissance” [“Vozrozhdenie”], which opened today [23 December] and which has been loudly advertised on Ekaterina Schulmann’s Youtube channel over the last few months.

For the project, nine men and Ekaterina Schulmann invite people to take courses on the theory of democracy, capitalism and protest, the history of Christianity, and so on. They promise that in future this knowledge will facilitate the working-out of “a strategy for the Russian state, rebuilt and reborn as the inheritor of Russian, European and world culture”. Judging by the visual images chosen – golden-haired young women in Monomakh caps [the crown symbol of the pre-1917 Russian autocracy], gold leaf and portraits of monarchs – the school’s founders are especially inspired by the aesthetics of the Russian empire.

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Greenwash and techno-babble take us towards catastrophe. We need to turn the great power of social movements against them

November 30, 2022

This interview with Simon Pirani, first published on the Transnational Social Strike platform, is part of the Climate Class Conflict initiative which the platform is promoting, to provide a space for transnational discussion on climate struggles.

Q. In the last years, the climate movement – brought about mainly by young people – has used the strike as its main political tool to claim for a just transition and for climate justice on a global level. Which impact do you think this movement is having, in particular on social movements? Which are the main challenges do you think the climate movement have to face now?

“We have not been defeated”: African climate protesters at COP 27. Photo from Cop27 coalition twitter feed

A. Thank you for these questions. First, it is worth thinking about the way that the meaning of “strike” has changed. As far as I know, for at least two centuries, “strike” had a fairly narrow meaning: a collective refusal to do paid work. It was the most basic weapon of working-class struggle against employers. But under the impact of feminist and other movements, “strike” has come to cover a wider range of actions. The school students’ “Fridays for Future” movement is one such action.

I wish I could answer your question about what impact this is having on social movements! I think, time will tell. There was a moment when the new movements that emerged in 2018 – in the UK, around “Fridays for Future” and Extinction Rebellion – seemed to have the potential to change social movements more broadly. Then came the pandemic and the whole process was disrupted. It really did make organising more difficult.

This year, with the worst of the pandemic over, I have noticed two trends. The first is the growth of protest around climate issues in Africa, and a recognition of that by groups in the global north. The Niger Delta has decades of history of organising against the oil companies whose extractivism trashed the local environment and impoverished the population: that is not new. But some new movements – especially against the renewed push to exploit gas reserves – appear to be broader. Coalitions such as Don’t Gas Africa and Stop EACOP (the East African Crude Oil Pipeline) are significant. And many groups in Europe have made solidarity with the global south a basic building-block of all that they do on climate issues.

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How Russia’s tame opposition parties support the war on Ukraine

November 18, 2022

Russia’s loyal opposition parties have played a crucial role in enforcing and administering the occupation of Ukrainian territory, a new report shows.

The four main parties in the Russian parliament have supported the “destruction of Ukrainian statehood in every form – cultural, political, ideological and historical”, concludes a report by the Eastern Human Rights Group (EHRG), a Ukrainian organisation set up in Donetsk in 2015 by trade union and civil rights activists.

People in Kherson welcoming Ukrainian troops. Photo from the World Ukrainian Congress site

The report finds that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and A Just Russia, another nominally left-wing party, have helped to lead Russia’s campaign of control over the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions over the past eight years. It also addresses the role of the ruling party, United Russia, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), an extreme right-wing populist party.

The CPRF and A Just Russia were active in the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk from 2015, despite Russia’s acceptance of the Minsk peace agreements that acknowledged those areas as Ukrainian.

The two “left” parties gave voice to aggressive policies, such as recognition and other formal support for the illegal “republics”, and to ideologies associated with the “Russian world” – a concept of cross-border Russian culture that supports Russian imperial claims – more stridently than government figures.

After this year’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s pro-government opposition parties have supported the administrative and political structures hastily imposed in newly occupied areas of Ukraine.

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Ukraine’s energy system: principles for post-war reconstruction

October 28, 2022

Ukrainian socialists hosted an on line discussion on “Energy Crisis and Sustainability: lessons of the Russo-Ukrainian war” on 22 October. You can watch a recording on youtube here in English, or here in Ukrainian. The panel of speakers included Ukrainian climate policy researcher Maryna Larina; Leszek Karlik of the Energy Policy Group of Razem, the Polish left party; and Christian Zeller of the University of Salzburg; and me.

The event was part of an on-line conference on Reconstruction and Justice in Post-War Ukraine, hosted by the editors of the socialist journal Spilne (Commons). Recordings of all the sessions are now up on line, and well worth viewing.

Here’s the text of my talk. At the end I have added some comments on the discussion, and some links to further reading. I look forward to the continuation of our discussion. Simon Pirani.

□  

I have not been to Ukraine since the invasion in February, and I only understand the difficulties people face at second hand. Furthermore, it is difficult for all of us to talk about post-war reconstruction when the war is raging. Every day this means not only deaths and injuries, but also the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including power stations and boiler houses. 

Delegates from the Independent Miners Union of Chervonohrad delivering food, medicines and other aid to front-line communities last week. Photo from the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine twitter feed

This winter, Ukrainians will not only be trying to protect themselves from bombs and bullets, but also trying to stay warm and healthy in the face of disruptions to gas, heat and electricity supplies. [This month, Russian bombing has focused on civilian infrastructure, putting one third of power stations out of action and forcing widespread power cuts as winter temperatures set in.]

But even under these circumstances, discussion has begun about post-war reconstruction, in the first place between the Ukrainian government and European governments at the Lugano conference in July. They are making plans for the long term.

The labour movement, and social movements, need an approach to these issues that takes the side of working people and of society, as opposed to economic or political elites. I am going to suggest four principles that can help develop such an approach.

1. Energy should be supplied mainly from renewable sources.

Society internationally needs an energy transition – that is, a transition to a system without fossil fuels, centred on electricity networks, with the electricity generated from renewable sources such as solar, wind and wave power. In Ukraine, there is also some potential for biofuels made from agricultural waste.

I am sure everyone present knows why this is: because global heating could seriously damage human society, and the chief cause of global heating is the burning of fossil fuels.

For the last 30 years, the world’s most powerful governments have gone to great lengths to delay the energy transition while simultaneously pretending to deal with the problem.

The labour movement and social movements need to advocate a transition that serves the interests of society, not capital.

Two points to make about Ukraine specifically.

a. Coal has historically been central, in the Donbas in particular. Coal use has been falling since 2016, mainly due to Russian military aggression. Now, political forces in the Donbas are discussing a future without coal. For example in the recent open letter by the Mayors of Myrnohrad, Chervonohrad and other towns (here in Ukrainian, here in English). I hope that the labour movement and social movements will engage in this discussion.

b. Gas has also played a key role. The government has sought to reduce dependence on Russian gas, and there have been no direct imports since 2015. However, in Ukraine, as elsewhere, gas companies make the false argument that gas is part of the solution to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, because it produces energy with fewer emissions than coal. Actually, it’s part of the problem. The energy transition means moving away from gas.

2. It is in society’s interests to cut the flow of energy through technological systems.

To understand this, we should, first, forget the idea of “energy demand”. People do not want “energy”. They want the things that it provides – heat, light, electricity to run computers, the ability to travel from place to place, and so on.

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The limits of western economic war with Russia and the failure of climate policy   

October 17, 2022

By Simon Pirani

Download this article as a PDF

Russia’s war on Ukraine marks a historical turning point. The illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions in September, and the nuclear threats issued, are a dangerous intensification. It is a matter of principle, in my view, that the labour movement and civil society internationally should support Ukrainian resistance, and I have written about that elsewhere.[1] In this article, I make an initial attempt to understand the economic war being waged alongside the military conflict, the resulting disruption of energy markets, and their place in the broader social and ecological crises shaking capital.

Anti-war protest in Lisbon. Photo from Feminist Antiwar Resistance / @t_alexx_t

In the first section, I argue that the western powers’ economic war against Russia is reactive and limited; even now, sections of western capital hope to mend ruined business relationships with Russia. In the second section, I show that, until 2014, western policy was focused on integrating Russia into the world economy on the west’s terms: even after the Kremlin’s military intervention in Ukraine, the western response remained reactive. The third section is about the consequences of this year’s invasion for energy markets – in particular the European gas market – and for the energy transition. Narratives of “energy crisis” are being used to double down on fossil fuel investment and undermine the western powers’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, magnifying the impact of the war and climate crisis for the whole of humanity.

1. Economic warfare and its limits

The aim of the western powers’ sanctions on Russia is to try to discipline the Putin government, not to destroy it. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions in September, marks the breakdown of the relationship established in 1990-92 between Russia and the European powers, especially Germany – a breakdown that those powers had desperately hoped to avoid. This breakdown will transform not only capital’s military arrangements in Europe, but also the energy system, in which cheap Russian gas has been a key element for four decades.  

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Ukraine: bogus ‘anti-imperialism’ serves the Kremlin

September 28, 2022

I gave a talk at an on-line event on the war in Ukraine, arranged by the Future of the Left group on Monday. The meeting was shorter than planned, due to technical problems. Only two of the advertised speakers made it: Richard Sakwa, emeritus professor of Russian and European politics at Kent university, and me. Sakwa focused on the western powers’ failure to uphold principles of sovereign internationalism in the post-cold-war period, and concluded by opposing military aid to Ukraine. Against that, I put the case for supporting Ukrainian resistance as a matter of internationalist principle. I said that I think such discussions should continue. Here’s a recording of the session. Simon Pirani.

Here is a text, based on my talk. It is aimed mainly at the bogus “anti imperialism” widespread in the left, and among Future of the Left’s supporters, rather than at anything Sakwa said.

Thanks for inviting me to join the panel. It’s worth reflecting on what good panels like this, or gatherings like this, can possibly do. As a socialist, I believe that effective change is caused by the labour movement and social movements acting independently of the state. So I will say what I think the labour movement could or should do, and what people here could or should do, rather than declaiming principles with no reference to implementation. 

My main point is that we should build solidarity with Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. That is rejected by some people in the labour movement, and I think we have to find ways of discussing these differences on life and death issues.

Character of the Russian war  

Russia is a weakened empire desperately trying to restore its imperial status. It emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union as an economically subordinate power, supplying the world capitalist economy with raw materials and pumping oligarchs’ wealth into the world financial system. Under Putin, since 2000, it has sought to make up for economic weakness by military means.

In the second Chechen war, Russia pulverised Chechnya and its population, rather than allow aspirations for national autonomy or independence to take root. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, and intervened in Syria in 2015, to support a dictator who drowned citizens in blood rather than allow them any democratic freedoms.

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War and climate justice: a discussion

July 22, 2022

OpenDemocracy yesterday hosted a useful, and sobering, discussion about the war in Ukraine and the fight for climate justice, with Oleh Savitsky (Stand with Ukraine and Ukraine Climate Network), Angelina Davydova (a prominent commentator on Russian climate policy) and me.  

To open, I made three points about the policy response by the governments of rich western countries that consume most of those fossil fuels.

1. Political leaders are focusing on replacing Russian oil and gas with supplies from elsewhere. This undermines all the promises made at the international climate talks.

So the UK government, just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, gave the go-ahead for a new oil field, Jackdaw, operated by Shell – when we know that tackling climate change means there can be no new oil fields in rich countries.

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