Monthly Archives: April 2008

New Street University: A Poem of Solidarity and Alienation

Pavel Arseniev: A Poem of Solidarity and Alienation

We remember, we preserve our faithfulness to the event.
Forty years like forty days.

Return to your classrooms:
They are fireproof.
No, a spark will not set them ablaze.
All measures have been taken,
More or less in earnest. Continue reading

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(New) Street University in Petersburg

Street University, 9 March 2008

The following article was originally published (in Russian) on the website of the Forward Socialist Movement. The translator has slightly altered the original text to reflect certain developments that have taken place since the text was written.

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The (New) Street University, which was founded this year in Petersburg, is one of today’s most interesting and encouraging phenomena in the educational sphere. We asked Pavel Arseniev, one of the participants of the initiative, to tell us about it.

Despite the fact that the current state of education in Russia has provoked bewilderment among many people, until recently students have not organized to defend their rights. The situation at the Moscow State sociology department and the widely covered protest actions by the OD Group have apparently led to nothing, although the protestors took their case to the Public Chamber, where a special commission of experts affirmed the justice of their accusations. Afterwards, it once again became clear that it was both necessary to struggle and that it was impossible to change the situation from top down. The closing of the European University also provoked the ire of students from other universities. The fire inspectors managed to arouse Petersburg’s student population, which until then had mostly been silent and totally amorphous. After hitting the streets with parodic protest actions like the laying of a firehose at the foot of the Lomonosov monument or the folk burlesque play about the closing of “European Aniversity,” the students finally arrived at their natural vocation—education, which, given the fact that the university was closed, also necessarily took to the streets and became a genuinely collective enterprise. Continue reading

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Kirill Medvedev: Literature Will Be Scrutinised

Kirill Medvedev

“Literature Will Be Scrutinised”: The Individual Project and the New Emotionalism

In distant Soviet times, I found Bertolt Brecht’s statement that “for art, not being a party member means belonging to the ruling party” the height of absurdity. Nowadays, this line has a different ring to it. It sounds okay. In any case, it makes you think.
Lev Rubinstein (in Grani.ru)

In order to talk about democracy (people power) we have to give the word “conviction” a new sense. It should mean: to convince people. Democracy is the power of arguments.
Bertolt Brecht, Me-Ti: The Book of Changes

The principal symptom of the cultural situation in today’s Russia is the crisis of the liberal-intelligentsia consciousness and its schism. For over fifty years the consciousness of this stratum consisted of two main components. The first component was the intelligentsia’s well-known anti-statism, its sense of empire (inherited from the revolutionary intelligentsia) as a repressive force. The second element, on the contrary, was inherited from the statist intelligentsia that had produced the famous Vekhi (“Landmarks”) almanac in 1909: the cult of private values and a hatred of everything “leftist,” everything that called the “bourgeois” into question; that is, a mindset that sanctified inequality and exploitation as the order of things. For the Vekhi crowd itself, this hatred was aggravated because they had dallied with Marxism in their youth. For the Soviet and post-Soviet intelligentsia, this hatred was stirred by their own genetic origins among those very same “socialists,” “destroyers,” and “lefties” who had planned and carried out the Revolution. While it was natural that it rejected Soviet (“imperial,” “collectivist”) reality, this type of consciousness became unbelievably hypertrophied. It was this stratum—a hodgepodge of dissidents, moderate frondeurs, crypto- or latent anti-Soviets—that captured the position of cultural hegemon in the nineties on the crest of a general anti-totalitarian wave and the collapse of the Soviet bureaucratic model. It was this stratum that rediscovered the culture that had been wholly or partly forbidden by the Soviet authorities. It was this stratum that set the tone in the press of those years. Using innocent slogans that seemed logical at the time, it was this stratum that threw its ideological weight behind the notorious reforms of the nineties. Continue reading

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“We Are Westernizers Who Struggle Against the Local Westernizers”

The publication of our special issue BASTA! has generated a lot of interest in Russian leftist and liberal circles. Hard on the heels of the issue’s presentation, in late February, the Russian politics web portal Polit.Ru interviewed two Chto Delat co-founders, Dmitry Vilensky and Artemy Magun. They discussed the newspaper’s history, the current conjuncture in Russia, and the differences between western and Russian leftism. Below, we present our readers with part one of a two-part interview. We hope to publish part two in the next week or so. (The original Russian text of the interview can be found here.)

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“We Are Westernizers Who Struggle Against the Local Westernizers”
A Conversation with Dmitry Vilensky and Artemy Magun, Part I

The reconfiguration of Russian state power and the public discussion that should complement this process present us with the task of taking stock of the social and political stances that exist in our society. It is not the orthodox Soviet variety of leftist thought that is underrepresented in serious discussion. We don’t have in mind the run-of-the-mill leftism and the “anti-bourgeois” attitude that is fairly fashionable in bohemia and intelligentsia circles, but the attempt to make sense of the Soviet and post-Soviet past of our country, its current state and perspectives for the future from a leftist viewpoint. One such attempt is the Chto Delat platform. The group was founded in the summer of 2003 after the action “New Foundations for Petersburg.” In August 2003, the Chto Delat collective began publishing an eponymous newspaper (in Russian and English). The project’s creators define it as follows: “To create a space of cooperation between theory, art, and activism that aims to politicize all three forms of activity. The platform carries out its work through a network of collective initiatives in Russia and their interaction with the international context.” Tatyana Kosinova discussed the Chto Delat platform, leftist discourse, and the political context with two members of the Chto Delat workgroup—artist Dmitry Vilensky (Saint Petersburg) and Artemy Magun, a professor in the department of political science and sociology at the European University in Saint Petersburg.

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