Nikolay Oleynikov: The Urgent Need for Struggle (Moscow)

Nikolay Oleynikov
The Urgent Need for Struggle
May 12—June 1, 2010
Paperworks Gallery (Winzavod, Moscow)

At 2:00 p.m. on May 12, concurrent with the exhibition opening, there will be a presentation of the zine “The Urgent Need for Struggle” at Paperworks Gallery. A joint publication of Chto Delat, the Free Marxist Press, the January 19 Committee, and Paperworks Verlag, the zine features texts and artwork by Artemy Magun, Oxana Timofeeva, Maxim Stepanov, Paolo Virno, Christina Kaindl, Alexander Bikbov, Ksenia Poluektova-Krimer,  Władysław Szlengel, Kirill Medvedev, Darya Atlas, Keti Chukrov, and Nikolay Oleynikov. The presentation will also include a roundtable with talks by Ksenia Poluektova-Krimer, Kirill Medvedev, Maxim Stepanov, Alexander Bikbov, and Vlad Tupikin, and a discussion with zine authors and activists.

The revanchism of ultra-rightists on our streets, in the corridors of power, on the pages of newspapers, in university lecture halls, and at art exhibitions does not allow us to consign antifascism to the archives of the past century.

We are in solidarity with the prisoners who rose against the Nazis in Sobibor and the Warsaw Ghetto, with the struggle of Soviet soldiers, the anarchists and POUM militants of Spain, the heroes of the French and Italian Resistance, the Yugoslav partisans, and the victims of Pinochet’s reign of terror.

We do not believe that their heroism should be relegated to the ghettoes of ethnic, state, party or subcultural memory. We do not believe that the historical contradictions between antifascists in the past should divide us today. Historical memory belongs to everyone who is prepared to apply it in their lives and share it with others.

We do not perceive fascism either as an abstract, supernatural evil or a manifestation of perennial human vices. Historically, fascism of all stripes has been generated by a system that has particular features and a specific name. This system is capitalism. Fascism is born when dialogue about specific social ills and contradictions is replaced by a discourse that preaches the primacy of strength, success, and manifest destiny, and the inviolability of social, ethnic and all other boundaries and hierarchies, which are alleged to be God-given or natural. We believe that there is no such thing as God-given or natural inequality.

We know of only one boundary, that between right (that is, hierarchy, whether conservative, national-socialist or market-fundamentalist) and left (that is, equality as the ultimate horizon and the concrete steps that lead us towards this horizon).

We see the urgent need for struggle, including in the realms of culture, art, and knowledge. We must ensure the continuity of antifascist theory and practice.

—The Editorial Board

____________

Here is the conclusion to the lead article in “The Urgent Need for Struggle.”

Artemy Magun: “What Is Fascism and Where Does it Come From?”

[…]

In today’s Russia, fascism is not (thank God) the dominant ideology or political force. That force is conservative liberalism. Fascism, however, is still on the political agenda in Russia. The powers that be simultaneously fear it, use it to frighten the liberal opposition, and flirt with it.

First, Russia not only has smallish ultra-rightist youth gangs, but also popular fascist intellectuals – in particular, Alexander Dugin and Geidar Djemal. These men do not label themselves fascists (although Dugin did use this word in reference to himself during the nineties). Typologically, however, their texts belong to the fascist “family.” Their rhetoric is deliberately mannered and often does not withstand rational critique. For all the eclecticism of this rhetoric, its content boils down to certain invariants: mystical/eschatological scenarios, the imperialistic propaganda of war on the part of groups and countries subjugated at present (“Eurasia” or the Islamic proletariat), etc. Both thinkers combine appeals to the downtrodden with the propaganda of authoritarian obedience. These texts remained popular among readers for a time, provoking neither moral nor political “censorship” in a country where the consequences of World War Two have not been analyzed from the viewpoint of morality, and where the social consensus is ideologically right-wing. Today, however, Dugin’s ideas are being realized in practice in the “International Eurasian Movement” he heads and within other radical right-wing groups. They are employed to justify direct violence against outsiders (moreover, not non-Russians as such, but certain groups that are incompatible with Dugin’s notion of “Eurasia”). And yet at the same time, Dugin has served as an adviser to the speaker of the State Duma, was recently (in 2008) appointed a professor in the sociology department at Moscow State University, and is frequently invited to lecture at Saint Petersburg State University.

Second, surrounding the flagrant fascism of Dugin or Djemal there is a large zone that we might call fascizoid. It generates a climate in which the texts and gestures of such writers are perceived as comme il faut. As early as the late nineties, a manipulative attitude to political texts and ideas (“political technology”) took root in society, and there emerged an especially cynical style of aggressive rhetoric that did not hide the fact that it was purely demonstrative and sought to impress its audience by virtue of its effectiveness. Vladimir Zhirinovsky was probably the first to “invent” this style. It later came to be widely employed, for example, in the “war” waged on Russian television channels in 1999 (Sergei Dorenko’s style), and is to this day typical of the extremely aggressive nationalistic rhetoric of Mikhail Leontiev (on the “However” program). Moreover, in both cases we are dealing with journalists who were previously liberal and analytical in terms of their style. The ongoing Chechen war and contradictions in Russia’s foreign relations made it possible to engage in this rhetoric of violence with a relative amount of legitimacy. At the same time, this rhetoric services the subject who is “liberated” from ideology but is fundamentally passive. This subject is unwilling to give up those little things that fuel his subjectivity (apartment, education, recognition of his class), but wants somehow to express both his own ego and his frustration with the emptiness that prevails around him.

The aestheticization of violence was also characteristic of popular culture during the nineties (as typified, for example, by such films as Brother, Brother-2, and Brigada). In addition, as early as the stagnation period, a huge interest in mystical and occult theories and practices of all kinds emerged within society, including amongst the intelligentsia. This interest boomed during perestroika, thus coinciding with the popularity of the commercialized New Age in the western media.

Whereas during the nineties the rhetoric of violence, nationalism, and occultism were mostly ludic, aestheticizing, and, at the same time, manipulative in character, in the following decade, after Vladimir Putin came to power, they came to be taken more seriously: although the degree of its violence decreased, this sort of rhetoric became more widespread amongst public figures. Putin himself has frequently exploited it by as it were “breaking loose” from officialese (e.g., “We’ll wipe out [the Chechen terrorists] in their outhouse,” “If you want to become an Islamic radical and have yourself circumcised, I invite you to come to Moscow,” etc.) and publicly humiliating his underlings. Moreover, during the past decade, aggressive nationalism has practically become Russia’s official ideology. True, this nationalism is not ethnic in character and rarely leads to outright militarism. Nevertheless, it is one of the central rhetorical genres of public life (as exemplified in stories about the intrigues of the country’s enemies and the stupidity of politically correct Americans).

In short, a certain fascizoid context exists in Russia today. Given this atmosphere, acute socioeconomic disruption and failed liberal-democratic reforms could fortify the fascist movements and their alliance with the authorities. We could describe this context as a set of popular mindsets and particular facts that the society regards as legitimate and tolerable (at very least). These include a manipulative and cynical attitude to all ideas; a desire for “myths,” which allegedly need to be deliberately produced (many liberally minded intellectuals share these first two attitudes); the aestheticization of violence and violent rhetoric; a nationalistic xenophobia triggered by a sense that the country has been humiliated; and, finally, the presence of quasi-legal paramilitary youth groups. Whereas it is the police who should combat these radical right-wing gangs (something it does not do), it is the job of all citizens, especially intellectuals in their workplaces, to struggle against the overall context. We must strive to create an atmosphere in which fascism or semi-fascism ceases to be comme il faut. But we cannot achieve this with ordinary political correctness or liberal moralism. They are part of the problem, not the solution. It is likewise counterproductive to excessively generalize the notion of fascism, apply it to all non-liberal tendencies, and demonize our opponents.

We can achieve this [de-fascisization of public discourse] by involving people in a concrete democratic discussion of our country’s future, demonstrating the limits of cynicism and egoism, criticizing capitalism, revealing the roots and hopelessness of historical fascism, and seriously enlightening the masses with the aid of philosophy and science (as opposed to positivism, which precisely generates mysticism as its necessary complement). It is only enlightenment from the left, along with the practical struggle to democratize politics and the economy, that can rob fascism of its vulgar charms.

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Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, art exhibitions, contemporary art, critical thought, our newspapers, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

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