This is the second in a series of translations of the articles in BASTA!, a special Russian-only issue of Chto Delat that addresses such pressing issues as the fight against racism and facism, the new Russian labor movement, the resistance to runaway “development” in Petersburg, the prospects for student self-governance and revolt, the potential for critical practice amongst sociologists and contemporary artists, the attack on The European University in St. Petersburg, and Alain Badiou’s aborted visit to Moscow.
In the centerfold of this newspaper you will find a map of catastrophe and terror. Buildings razed or made to collapse in the name of progress; parks and squares surrendered to “developers”; human beings maimed or destroyed in the attempt to purify one of the capitals of “Russian civilization.”
Who makes today’s Nazis, fascists, and nationalists? The British sociologist Paul Gilroy argues that while we can never simply explain racism away as a mere byproduct of the class struggle, it always arises in particular conditions of economic and social injustice, imperial domination, nationalist resurgence, systemic collapse or “post-imperial melancholy.” Hence, he writes, we should speak of “racisms” in the plural. In the US, for example, racism persists, after the hard-fought struggles of the sixties, in the criminalization and massive incarceration of the poor non-white classes; in Britain, it has found new life (after the routing, in the seventies, of the fascist National Front by a broad, combative coalition of minorities and leftists) in the all-too-respectable fear of “homegrown” terrorists and “Islamofascists.” In the latter case, this fear is connected to the history of the empire and its loss; in the former, on the contrary, to a regime in which “civil” and “world” peace are achieved (at great financial and political profit to those pursuing it) by turning the space of politics into the realm of the police.
Whatever the case, it is always specific histories, discourses, sociopolitical regimes, local class struggles, and armed or unarmed conflicts (domestic and foreign) that coalesce to produce particular racisms and fascisms. One could write more than a few books about what coalesced in which way to generate both the street violence in Petersburg and other Russian cities, and the broad “moral” support for the “ideas” (if not the methods) of these cowardly murderers among representatives of the establishment and the society at large. Here, the perpetually anxious cult of strength (that is, of political and financial capital acquired through deceit and selective violence) and autocratic decision making filter down to the streets as a reflexive hatred of non-Russians and their handful of defenders.
Retroactively, the projects of Russian imperial internal colonialism and Soviet internationalism are shown to have to been founded on a racist core that, in the post-imperial period, propels pro-Kremlin youth activists to besiege the Estonian embassy and greet the returning murderer Kaloev as a conquering hero, while their less well-connected peers stab Timur Kacharava and Khursheda Sultonova to death in dark courtyards or in broad daylight. The “civilizing” missions of the Russian imperial and Soviet states thus return as bloody farce—as furious, spectacular impotence and near-invisible (or invisibilized) terror. This destruction of solidarity and justice, however, is re-presented on TV screens and hence in minds as the stability that brings with it the ability to consume as if there were no tomorrow, and the geopolitical power that comes with something much more valuable than a dubious civilizing mission—oil and gas. All of this is almost so obvious as to require no comment. This obviousness apparently explains the near-silence on, and almost total inaction against, violent and verbal racism in Petersburg and elsewhere. In reality, however, none of this is obvious, even to the right-thinking “liberal intelligentsia” that, we are meant to imagine, shudders in horror when such crimes are reported, but does little else. “Liberalism,” too, has a racist aspect, which reveals itself in the words and deeds of its local advocates.
Thus, in a recent lecture at Smolny College, dissident hero and would-be presidential candidate Vladimir Bukovsky denounced the corrupting influence of “political correctness” on life in Britain, where “negro lesbian single-mother one-legged” women are hired to read the news and Pakistani doctors are given medical licenses only to avoid lawsuits and maintain a falsified civil peace. His screed (you can listen to it here) was met with silence by his audience of westernizing professors and students. When I retold this story at a public discussion of racism in the offices of Memorial, one participant replied, “Well, of course. Bukovsky grew up under the Soviet system, where the unfair policy of advancing natsmeny in political and academic spheres made most people unhappy.” (Remarkably, this same man had been involved in repelling the skinhead attack on anti-war activists—on the very same street—that later led to the city’s most famous anarchist being forced into exile in Ukraine.)
Likewise, what are we to make of a panel discussion (after a screening that was part of a film festival meant to encourage ethnic toleration) in which a Jewish school director passionately catalogued the discriminations visited on ethnic Russians in the post-Soviet period, and prominent sociologists hotly defended the rights of Nazis to free speech and enjoined the audience to be more sympathetic to the hard lives of young skinheads?
The examples of such “liberal” thinking I have encountered in the past few years are so many that they do constitute a pattern for me. To put it crudely, authoritarian or fascist racism requires or generates its “progressive” counterpart, thus ensuring a continued escalation of the terror. Here, the catchword tolerance—whether promoted by flimsy government public education programs or uttered by pseudo-liberals—implies that the dominant group has to force itself to tolerate subalterns. This tolerance quickly reveals its true content when those subalterns refuse or otherwise fail to conform to this narrow-minded regime.
Who makes the Nazis, then? You do.
Who unmakes the Nazis? The four people whose stories you will read on these pages. Two stories involve direct action or intervention: the first, in the best traditions of the international movement for civil rights and social equality; the second, drawing on the equally proud history of grassroots leftist and communal resistance to fascists. The other two partake in what Gilroy calls the multiculture of conviviality. By this he means that people really do live or want to live in ways that unmake and erode the absolutely artificial restrictions imposed on them by the dominant racialist and culturalist ideologies. Whatever the strategic or tactical value of these approaches, theirs is the only way to be democracy, not just “manage” it.