Daily Archives: November 14, 2011

The Storming of the Aurora

Power to the people
One of the people to ‘storm’ the Avrora last month discusses the message behind the stunt.
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
November 9, 2011

Yevgeny Schyotov recently spent seven hours on the mast of the Cruiser Avrora — one of St. Petersburg’s main tourist attractions and an iconic Soviet symbol — and 10 days in prison in the name of art and revolution.

Better known as Flor, Schyotov is a member of Narodnaya Dolya (The People’s Share), a new anarchist art group calling itself a party, which occupied the cruiser, now a museum, to protest against poverty, corrupt authorities and oligarchs.

While three activists climbed up a mast using mountaineering equipment to unfold a modified Jolly Roger (the logo of The People’s Share) and another fired a large firework from the Avrora’s cannon, (which in October 1917 fired a blank shot to signify the start of the Bolshevik Revolution), the anarchist movement Food Not Bombs distributed free vegan food to the homeless onshore.

Called “Memorable October, or the Resurrection of the Avrora,” the event took place on Oct. 16 to mark the International Day to Eradicate Poverty.

Television reports and videos show Avrora’s crew — consisting of naval conscripts — attacking the activists and trying to knock them off the mast with two high-pressure water hoses.

“The nozzle on one of the pressure hoses came free and the conscript operating it got water all over himself; they also sprayed some casual visitors,” Flor said.

“It looked ridiculous; they did a great job of adding more absurdity to what was happening.”

Flor, who was on the mast with two other activists, said they climbed down to be arrested seven hours later, after their demand was met that activists being held by sailors in the ship’s hold be brought out where they could be seen. Efforts by the crew, OMON special task police, a team from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and river police to talk the activists down from the mast proved futile, he said.

The police arrested 15 activists out of about 40, but two of them escaped from the police precinct, so only 13 ended up in court. Flor was sentenced to 10 days in prison, while three other activists were given five days each. Several others were fined and the rest had their hearings postponed due to the lack of a lawyer.

“The hearings were postponed to Oct. 20, but as far as I know, none of the activists turned up,” Flor said.

The police, who charged the activists with disorderly conduct, wrote in their reports that those arrested had been swearing and swinging their arms and refused to react to reprimands. Flor says he contested the charges but was overruled by the judge, who he believes was pressured to find the activists guilty.

One of the Avrora event’s more obvious references was to an infamous party held on the historic ship — which officially belongs to the Navy and is a branch of the Central Naval Museum — by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and attended by then St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2009.

Described by the media as “debauchery,” the glamorous party was attended by the forum’s VIP guests, who were entertained by performances from Leningrad frontman Sergei Shnurov, ballet dancers and suit-clad actors who jumped into the waters of the River Neva.

“We considered jumping into the water, but couldn’t get wetsuits due to a lack of funds,” Flor said. “We could only use the little money that we had.”

Before the Avrora event, Flor was known as a member of the Affinity Group, which was originally created to hold a May Day anarchist event as part of the official May 1, 2009 demos, which were broken up by the police, who arrested nearly 200 participants and charged them with crossing the road in the wrong place.

Flor was later seen participating in an artists’ hunger strike near City Hall calling for the release of imprisoned Novosibirsk anarchist artist Artyom Loskutov, and in a series of art exhibitions focusing on police lawlessness. More recently, he was involved in vandalizing “Media Strike,” an exhibit of protest art set up as part of the 4th Biennale of Contemporary Art in Moscow in September.

“We essentially buried the Affinity Group by vandalizing the Biennale’s opening in Moscow,” he says.

“[The exhibit] was ridiculous and idiotic, so we wrecked and ruined everything, and I think that the Affinity Group will never be invited anywhere again. The exhibit was absurd; you can’t institutionalize protest, which they were doing, with such a number of state sponsors.

“They threatened to call the police, and it’s a pity they didn’t, because it would have been the apotheosis of the absurd: To display art that opposes the law, and call the police at the same time! So it was the conclusion of a project that had grown rather institutionalized itself, to a certain degree.”

Forming the People’s Share as a party was an attempt to break out of the limitations of a small art group, according to Flor.

“In activist art, it’s activism that should be at the forefront, rather than art; it should draw attention to social problems,” he says.

“There are too many art groups that have become institutionalized, and I don’t think this is right.”

The People’s Share party was formed at a congress in Moscow on Sept. 1 and held its first event the same day, bringing six live piglets to the Ministry of Education as protest against educational reform. The piglets had the names of state corporations such as Gazprom, Aeroflot and Sberbank written on their backs.

“[The piglets] defecated all over the place, and got a lot of coverage, so that the Minister of Education [Andrei] Fursenko had to comment on the event,” Flor says.

The group’s name is a reference to Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will, or The People’s Freedom), the late 19th-century illegal revolutionary organization responsible for killing Tsar Alexander II with a bomb on March 1, 1881, and for a series of other attacks and assassinations of state officials. Five members of the People’s Will were hanged and many imprisoned.

The logo of The People’s Share is a skull and bones, but the skull has its frontal lobe removed, while the motto calls for the people’s freedom from tyrants and for the people to get their share of oil and gas profits.

“The flag with our logo was mistaken for the Jolly Roger, but we didn’t even try to point that out, because the aspect of piracy was also apparent in the Avrora event,” Flor says.

The activists also hung a sign with the word “Restoration” on it as a comment on the changed political situation, after President Dmitry Medvedev announced in late September that he would not run for presidency in 2012 and invited Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to return to the post.

“Of course, Putin helped us a lot, because Medvedev declared modernization, but Putin forced him to drop his claims to the presidency,” Flor says.

“The modernization epoch has ended and been substituted by the post-modernization epoch. Real postmodern!”

According to Flor, the media reaction to the Avrora event surpassed the group’s expectations.

“I didn’t expect that we would be shown on Channel One,” he says.

NTV Television’s report showed St. Petersburg police chief Mikhail Sukhodolsky criticizing the activists, saying that while they were fighting “for freedom and rights, the rights of other citizens who wanted to visit the Avrora were infringed.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In reality, the group boarded the Avrora several minutes before entrance to the ship closes at 4 p.m., Flor said. “They also claimed that the Avrora lost money, which is also not true, because entrance is free.”

Although many media reports described the activists as “hooligans,” Flor says that exposure probably made people read the group’s original materials on the Internet, adding that a blog entry about the event made No. 4 in a Russian blog rating last week.

“Even policemen say that television lies, so people should want to have independent information,” he says.

“We described in great detail how drastically living standards have dropped in Russia, while the number of billionaires has increased. People understand this on the level of class feelings, but exact figures are seldom available.”

While preparing for the event, the activists agreed not to use violence, which, Flor says, they later regretted, because the sailors behaved aggressively, attacking and beating activists.

“One activist tried to defend himself with a large plush cat,” Flor said. “We tried to bring the situation to the totally absurd. Our speaker wore a black ski-mask — like an aggressive radical — but with a red pompom.”

The detention center Flor was put in was, symbolically, a 19th-century political prison on Zakharievskaya Ulitsa, where Vladimir Lenin and members of the People’s Will were once held.

“On the first day, the guards who were on duty called me in and said, ‘Tell us how it was in reality, because we know that what they are reporting on television is all lies,’ so I spent the whole day giving political classes to them,” Flor said.

Flor believes that the authorities and oligarchs may underestimate the people’s potential.

“The Russian people keep silent and endure as they are bent further and further, but when they find themselves with their faces in the dirt completely, they will snap up all of a sudden,” he says.

“In January 1917, Lenin said that only the youth of that era would live to see the coming revolution. He couldn’t even imagine what would happen in February.”

While the People’s Will made bombs, the new art group works with the media and information, Flor said.

“I am not going to get involved in terrorism of any sort, except for the informational kind. In our times, bombs are different. There’s no point in blowing up anybody. We should blow up information space; it’s more effective.”

On Monday, Interfax reported that individual visitors were temporarily unable to visit the Avrora, which was only open to guided groups. The restrictions were explained as being “winter measures.”

Photos by Sergey Chernov and The People’s Share.

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Occupy PDX and the “Ironclad” Logic of Policing as a Substitute for Politics

And here’s one more thing I was wrong about: I originally was very uncomfortable with the way the protesters were focusing on the NYPD as symbols of the system. After all, I thought, these are just working-class guys from the Bronx and Staten Island who have never seen the inside of a Wall Street investment firm, much less had anything to do with the corruption of our financial system.

But I was wrong. The police in their own way are symbols of the problem. All over the country, thousands of armed cops have been deployed to stand around and surveil and even assault the polite crowds of Occupy protesters. This deployment of law-enforcement resources already dwarfs the amount of money and manpower that the government “committed” to fighting crime and corruption during the financial crisis. One OWS protester steps in the wrong place, and she immediately has police roping her off like wayward cattle. But in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes.

This is a profound statement about who law enforcement works for in this country. What happened on Wall Street over the past decade was an unparalleled crime wave. Yet at most, maybe 1,500 federal agents were policing that beat – and that little group of financial cops barely made any cases at all. Yet when thousands of ordinary people hit the streets with the express purpose of obeying the law and demonstrating their patriotism through peaceful protest, the police response is immediate and massive. There have already been hundreds of arrests, which is hundreds more than we ever saw during the years when Wall Street bankers were stealing billions of dollars from retirees and mutual-fund holders and carpenters unions through the mass sales of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.

It’s not that the cops outside the protests are doing wrong, per se, by patrolling the parks and sidewalks. It’s that they should be somewhere else. They should be heading up into those skyscrapers and going through the file cabinets to figure out who stole what, and from whom. They should be helping people get their money back. Instead, they’re out on the street, helping the Blankfeins of the world avoid having to answer to the people they ripped off.

People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes. I think I understand now that this is what the Occupy movement is all about. It’s about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new, the same way that the civil rights movement of the 1960s strived to create a “beloved community” free of racial segregation. Eventually the Occupy movement will need to be specific about how it wants to change the world. But for right now, it just needs to grow. And if it wants to sleep on the streets for a while and not structure itself into a traditional campaign of grassroots organizing, it should. It doesn’t need to tell the world what it wants. It is succeeding, for now, just by being something different.

Matt Taibbi, “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests”


Portland mayor Sam Adams and Occupy Portland spokesman Jim Oliver debate on PBS NewsHour on the eve of police evictions of the Portland encampments:


Exquisite ventriloquising of police logic (disguised as “balanced reporting”) by The Oregonian, the strikebreaking voice of the man in the Greater Portland area since 1850:


I do not, however, identify the police with what is termed the ‘state apparatus’. The notion of a state apparatus is in fact bound up with the presupposition of an opposition between State and society in which the state is portrayed as a machine, a ‘cold monster’ imposing its rigid order on the life of society. This representation already presupposes a certain ‘political philosophy,’ that is, a certain confusion of politics and the police. The distribution of places and roles that defines a police regime stems as much from the assumed spontaneity of social relations as from the rigidity of state functions. The police is essentially, the law, generally implicit, that defines a party’s share or lack of it. But to define this, you must first define the configuration of the perceptible in which one or the other is inscribed. The police is thus first an order of bodies that defines the allocation of ways of doing, ways of being, and ways of saying, and sees those bodies are assigned by the name to a particular place and task; it is an order of the visible and the sayable that sees that a particular activity is visible and another is not, that this speech is understood as discourse and another as noise. It is police law, for example, that traditionally turns the workplace into a private space not regulated by the ways of seeing and saying proper to what is called the public domain, where the worker’s having a part is strictly defined by the remuneration of his work. Policing is not so much the ‘disciplining’ of bodies as a rule governing their appearing, a configuration of occupations and the properties of the spaces where these occupations are distributed.

— Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, 29

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Chto Delat No. 33: Against Slavery

The latest issue of our newspaper — No. 33, entitled “Against Slavery” — is available online here. Produced in conjunction with the exhibition Towards the Other (State Museum of the History of Saint Petersburg, Peter and Paul Fortress, October 2011), the new issue features texts by Kirill Medvedev, Hito Steyerl, Ivan Ovsyannikov, Thomas Campbell, and Alain Badiou, artwork by Victoria Lomasko and Babi Badalov, and a migrant labor “board game” conceived and designed by Olga Zhitlina, Andrei Yakimov, Alexander Lyakh, Galina Zhitlina, David Ter-Oganyan, Tatyana Alexandrova, and Nadezhda Voskresenskaya.

Here is a sneak preview of the new issue, featuring our editorial, illustrations by Victoria Lomasko, and Ivan Ovsyannikov’s insightful, compelling outline for a “new abolitionism.”


This issue of Chto Delat deals with migrant labor, an issue today at the center of not only Russian, but also world politics. Although our world has always been “globalized,” the numbers of people migrating in order to better their existence, whether economically or otherwise, are unprecedented. Discussion of this issue is complicated by the fact that we immediately find ourselves on slippery terrain occupied by the shadowy figure of the immigrant, who like the Wandering Jew in its time has come to function as a synonym for danger, contamination and the alien per se. Racists and nationalists of all stripes and lands rally round (so to speak) this fictional villain as they defend the supposedly homely but no less fictional spaces of nation, race and tribe from invasion by aliens. Judging by recent election results in certain “liberal democratic” European countries and legislative innovations in US states such as Arizona and Georgia, the “commonsensical” and “down-to-earth” slogans and prescriptions of the tribalists really are sometimes capable of generating a “groundswell” of “grassroots support.”

Some people have always found it hard to share their homelands, hometowns and neighborhoods with different languages, skin colors, and ways of understanding world, self and community. However, it is all too easy to accuse “the common folk” of being the source and support of xenophobic sentiments. As British sociologist Paul Gilroy has argued, when left to their own devices the “working classes” and “common folk” (whatever their “primary” tribal allegiances) are just as often capable of creating a “convivial” existence together, a life where each person’s allegedly essential difference informs and shapes a totally unexpected common good, a new commons. In reality, it is more often the liberal (or, now, neoliberal) talking and ruling classes, whose experience both with conviviality and the (non)realities of ethnic difference is frequently limited to a fondness for certain cuisines and holidaymaking in the global south, who shape the xenophobic and nationalist agenda via the media they produce and control, via the obscurantist norms and repressive laws they promulgate in the public space. It is this “common sense” from above that is the main instrument for stigmatizing and excluding people who sometimes lack the right language to tell us both about their plights and their joys, who frequently lack the right papers to exercise their individual civil rights and their collective right to struggle for a better lot in life.

Amidst this latest flowering of xenophobia, leftists often invoke the spirit of internationalism, which is supposed to immediately infect everyone with love and solidarity for the newcomers. Just like the old appeals for communism, the slogan “No Borders!” is not enough for those of us who want to popularize and implement the ideas of equality and emancipation. To resurrect the legacy of radical universal emancipation (as Žižek writes) we need to fundamentally reassess the world we have made and attempt step by step to free ourselves from the prison of post-colonial and “post-imperial melancholy” (as Gilroy calls it).

But this task is not simple. Wars, hot and cold, rage around us. The difference in living standards between the first and third worlds grows, and each of these worlds “colonizes” the other, producing Mogadishu-like slums amidst the west’s great cities, and oases of luxury and refinement in the deserts of the Middle East. These contradictions can and do provoke a radical rejection of any emancipatory project, especially when it comes dressed in the idioms of culture, art and critical thought, often perceived as the latest projection of a faltering western hegemony.

That is why today, both in Russia and elsewhere, we need to set ourselves the “modest” task outlined by Badiou: to loudly and visibly manifest our respect for working people, especially immigrant workers. They are doubly exploited, even though our present prosperity is largely underpinned by their ceaseless, invisible labor. Their presence in our midst is an object of scorn and neglect, just like the uncomfortable fact that we share the same planet with billions of people in the Third World who do our dirty work, whose countries are poisoned by our toxic factories, and whose own essentially slave labor provides us with our beautiful consumerist idyll, an unsustainable (anti)utopia incapable of recognizing limits and borders.

We imagine that intellectuals, artists, and all other people of good will and sound mind should constantly expose these fundamental inequalities. Collective repentance and charity are probably wonderful things, but they are beside the point here. The real point is that if our planet is to have a future, it can only be a common future. And this common future will be possible only if we learn how to build it in common. By trying to figure out how we can do this, we immediately call into question the current capitalist system and force ourselves to seek ways of moving beyond it.


A Leftist Response to the Immigration Question

Russian Marxists do not often raise the issue of immigration. When the latest explosion of anti-immigrant passions puts the issue on the national agenda, leftists as a rule limit themselves to general declarations in the spirit of internationalism and humanism. However, a simple refutation of xenophobic myths or stating the obvious truth that the problems associated with immigration are the product of capitalism is not enough to counter nationalist propaganda and prejudices. A program is needed that would oppose both right-wing and neoliberal “solutions” to the issue of immigration.

Divide and Conquer: Xenophobia and Labor Market Dumping
The encouragement of xenophobia amongst workers is one of the oldest and most effective strategies employed by the oppressors. How it works is easily shown by a simple example from trade union practice. A South Korean corporation that produces automotive parts built a plant in a depressed area of Russia beset by chaos and unemployment. Faced with hyper-exploitation, the violation of elementary labor rights, and the boorish attitude of their foreign and Russian managers, the workers at the plant decided to organize a trade union. Using intimidation and repressive tactics, company management squashed this attempt at self-organization, thus reducing the number of trade union members to an isolated handful of activists. However, one of the main deterrents was the threat of mass layoffs and the hiring of “guest workers.”

Not content with verbal threats, plant management set about putting them into practice. Within several months, the number of immigrant workers from Central Asia at the plant had increased several times, while the hiring of local residents was practically curtailed. Hostility towards the newcomers began to mount both among the plant’s workers and in the surrounding community.

The roots of this resentment are understandable. Local workers perceive “guest workers” as unwanted competitors on the labor market. Wholly dependent on their employers and the government officials in their pockets, the immigrants are willing to work for lower pay, to slave away from dawn to dusk, on weekends and holidays. The unpretentiousness of these people from Central Asia, where the elimination of large farms and de-industrialization have led to truly appalling poverty, makes them ideal targets for exploitation.

Sensing their social superiority to these “Ravshans” and “Jamshuts” [translator’s note – Ravshan and Jamshut are immigrant-worker characters on the Russian TV satire program “Our Russia”], the locals likewise sense the total fragility of this superiority. And since the fear of job loss, the absence of successful experience in organizing collective actions, and a lack of confidence in their own strength prevent them from speaking out against their employer, their anger is directed against people who are even more downtrodden and powerless.

Other – cultural – factors complicate this picture even further. Thus, the unsanitary conditions in which the immigrants often dwell (which are partly the fault of their employers, and partly due to habits imported from their homelands) often cause revulsion against them on the part of Russians. For example, at the plant we have just been discussing, local workers have demanded separate tableware for immigrants who eat in the factory canteen, for fear of contracting hepatitis and other serious illnesses. Their irritation is also aroused by the poor qualifications of the newcomers – everyone pays for substandard work and delays in meeting quotas. The language barrier, as well as the social isolation of “guest workers” from locals, also does not contribute to rapprochement between the two groups.

Is Solidarity Possible?
The classic leftist response to the challenges posed by immigrant labor is to declare that local workers and immigrants should battle exploitation side by side, demanding equal rights, pay, and work conditions. This approach is fundamentally sound. As long as the demand for a cheap, disempowered labor force is maintained, no police measures, no quotas on the recruitment of foreign labor (which merely increase the share of illegal workers), and, of course, no nationalist terror can stop the slave trade. On the contrary, the more downtrodden and isolated from the rest of society foreigners are, the more profitable is their labor for Russian and transnational capital.

However, the simple desire for solidarity amongst workers regardless of their country of origin is clearly insufficient in order to make this solidarity a reality. There are many formidable obstacles – both objective and subjective – on the path to self-organization and protest on the part of immigrant workers, and to their recruitment into the labor movement. The first such obstacle is the weakness of militant trade unions in our country, which still have not managed to permeate any notable strata of relatively high-paid and skilled workers at modern manufacturing facilities. Much more vulnerable categories of workers – employees at failing enterprises, service industry workers, temporary workers, and immigrants – will probably be able to join the organized movement only after the more advanced strata of the working class show them successful examples of militancy and acquire enough strength to defend the class’s weakest members. However, no matter how hopeless the task of trade-union agitation amongst “guest workers” at plants with mixed workforces might seem, this work has to be done. If they fail to recruit temporary workers and immigrants to their ranks, progressive trade unions will be condemned to live under a permanent threat that will deter and even completely halt their development.

However, the foregoing considerations in no way imply that immigrants, the most oppressed segment of the working class, are incapable of independent resistance and should be regarded as “scabs” or followers. It suffices to recall the heroic 2005 strike at the Don-Stroy construction company in Moscow, as well as the other, lesser-known strikes by construction workers in Yekaterinburg (2008) and Russky Island in Primorsky Krai (2011). In many ways, these events are reminiscent of the labor protests that typified the nineties in Russia. In all these cases, the cause of work stoppage was the non-payment of wages. The strikes broke out spontaneously and did not lead to the emergence of any sustainable forms of organization. Apparently, if protests by immigrant workers do continue to occur, then they will occur only in the form of sporadic, radical outbursts, which may affect government policy but are unlikely to have a significant impact on the development of the labor movement in Russia.

The organization of immigrant workers in manufacturing is not the only possible form of militancy, however. The problems associated with immigration concern broad sections of the Russian populace. The fact that ultra-rightists now wholly occupy this “field” should not frighten leftists away, but encourage them to advance an alternative program for solving the issue of immigration. The xenophobic rhetoric of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) has to be countered with a stance that we might characterize as a new abolitionism – a movement against slavery.

A New Abolitionism: Outline of a Program for the Left
The favorite “anti-fascist” argument of liberals is to point out that immigrants are useful and necessary, that they do the “menial” work that no Muscovite or Petersburgers would consent to perform. The very existence of an entire sector of labor relations in which slavery and poverty exist at a level outrageous even for hard-to-shock Russians provokes no protest on the part of liberals. They call on society to be tolerant towards the Ravshans and Jamshuts, but not more than that.

In fact, aside from the greed of corporations that exploit cheap human resources from the peripheries of the former Soviet Union, there is no objective basis for the existence of this vast sector of what essentially amounts to slave labor. We hardly need to underscore the excess profits raked in by the construction sector, which is closely linked to the political elite. However, it is precisely the construction industry where the exploitation of immigrant labor has become most widespread. A similar situation can also be observed in the new industrial enterprises owned by transnational corporations. Thus, according to the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA), immigrants make up seventy to eighty percent of workers employed in production at facilities in Russia that supply parts to the Hyundai plant in Petersburg – and this despite the fact that in 2011 this Korean corporation ranked first amongst foreign auto manufacturers in Russia in terms of cars sold.

When the populists from DPNI propose introducing a visa regime and securing the borders with the republics of Central Asia and Transcaucasia, they of course conveniently forget that there are depressed areas with enormous levels of unemployment within Russia itself: it suffices to recall the Russian hinterlands, not to mention the North Caucasus region. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “Over the past twenty years, the population has flocked to the Central Federal District, primarily to the Moscow area. Seventy to eighty percent of the increase in immigration is accounted for by an influx from other regions of the country, primarily from within the Central Federal District itself.” However, the situation of “Russian guest workers” is often no better than that of their counterparts from Central Asia, as is shown by the scandalous story of how female workers are treated at the Babaevsky chocolate factory in Moscow. The prescription proposed by the far right thus amounts not to eradicating poverty and criminality, but to Russifying them.

A system of quotas is just as useless. In practice it leads only to an increase in the proportion of illegal immigrants, as was illustrated by the situation in 2008, when a sharp reduction of quotas put thousands of foreigners outside the law overnight. As Nikita Mkrtchyan, a researcher at the Institute of Demography at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, rightly notes, “Quotas […] do not perform any of the functions invested in them. They do not protect the domestic labor market because all workers not covered by quotas swell the ranks of illegal immigrants – the most powerless, lowest-paid and, consequently, the most attractive workforce for business, a workforce that has a de facto presence on the market. […] The number of foreign workers that are needed is exactly the same as the number present on the market, if you add up the legal and illegal segments. The majority of immigrant laborers come to fill jobs that already exist, by prior arrangement with employers or their intermediaries, the so-called foremen. There are very few workers willing to buy an expensive ticket from, say, Tajikistan, to collect money from relatives [for the trip], without being sure that they will find work.” However, the abolition of quotas, now being pushed by the Federal Migration Service in defiance of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, is unlikely to produce any significant change. In fact, this measure would amount to a consolidation of the status quo, an admission that the previous system was useless. Whether “legalized” or not, immigrants will remain slaves as long as slavery is still in demand.

As concerns the police measures of control over immigrants strongly advocated by the fascists, they are useless in the absence of a coherent policy for eliminating the social causes of crime, as is shown by the entire history of policing. Drunkenness, drug addiction, theft, rape, and murder – all the long-familiar “charms” of modern life – flourish in any impoverished society without any help from immigrants. When they become part of such a society, newcomers are not always able to avoid its vices. According to data from the Federal Migration Service, however, the contribution of foreigners to crime statistics is small – only 3.5% of all crimes committed – although there are between seven and twelve million immigrants in Russia (that is, they constitute five to eight percent of the overall population). The myth of terrifying, criminal migrant workers is beneficial, especially to our truly terrifying and criminal law enforcement agencies, who pretend to be terribly busy fighting crime even as they collect tribute from silent Uzbeks and run protection rackets for the capitalist slave owners who employ the labor of illegal workers.

In the public debate about immigration, leftists should talk not about vicious Tajiks, Uzbeks, Moldovans or Chinese, but about the enormous numbers of the working and unemployed poor. It is obvious that without eradicating this vast island of humiliation and poverty it is impossible to talk seriously about combating the problems generated by immigration. This means a total ban on temporary and agency labor and other forms of precarious employment, and raising the minimum wage to match the real cost of living. Depending on the region, the minimum wage should in any case be no less than fifteen to twenty thousand rubles a month [approx. 350 to 450 euros], with obligatory annual indexing for inflation.

It is necessary to combat illegal employment, of course. But this campaign should be directed not against guest workers, who in this case are victims of a crime, but against slave-owning businessmen. At present, the penalties for employers who use illegal workers are laughable, which cannot be said of the immigrants themselves. Here is a typical story. After an inspection by the Petersburg prosecutor’s office, the construction firm LenSpetsSMU-Komfort was fined 825,000 rubles [approx. 19,000 euros] for employing forty-seven illegal workers during construction of a power plant. That is, the company paid out 17,500 rubles [approx. 400 euros] for each of its virtual slaves. It is also reported, however, that the workers were prosecuted under Article 18.10 of the Russian Federation Administrative Code, which stipulates a fine of two to five thousand rubles [approx. 45 to 115 euros] and possible expulsion from the country. Even government officials, however, acknowledge that most immigrant workers become illegal through no fault of their own. “For various reasons, not everyone wants the immigrants to be visible – for example, when an employer did not participate in the quota or it is simply not to his advantage to do this,” said Federal Migration Service spokesman Konstantin Poltoranin in 2009 (that is, before he was fired from the agency for his tireless concern over the “survival of the white race” and the “proper mixing of blood”).

Fining and deporting illegal immigrant workers is tantamount to punishing a victim of fraud. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of employers who use illegal labor go unpunished? For, unlike Russian workers, who fairly regularly appeal to the courts and the labor inspectorate, immigrant workers do not file complaints against their employers, who can always come to an understanding with police and bureaucrats.

It is an obvious truth that if a person works (and thus benefits society), he or she should work in humane conditions and be protected by labor laws that are identical for all working people. If labor laws are violated, then it is the employer who should be held responsible for the violation, and no one else. Instead of rounding up illegal immigrants, holding them in detention centers, and either deporting them at public expense or releasing them so that they can join the army of the homeless, the government should force their “owners” to restore the violated rights of workers: to provide them with a work contract, decent housing, medical insurance, a pension, and safe working conditions.

To the working people who today, echoing nationalist propaganda, accuse the newcomers of taking jobs away from Russian citizens, we reply: the only way to limit the influx of immigrants is to provide absolutely equal conditions for all workers, whether they are citizens or not. It is not Uzbeks or Tajiks who take away our jobs, but the capitalists and bureaucrats who profit at their and our expense.

Immigration Should Serve Society
We owe the fact that Russia’s major cities have turned into typical Third World capitals, where grinding poverty exists side by side with Asiatic luxury, to the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with its planned economy and well-developed social infrastructure. Migration from peripheral regions to places where heavy industry is concentrated, from the countryside to the towns and cities, has always existed, and it was never more massive in scale than during the twentieth century. However, the millions of peasants who were the ancestors of the majority of today’s city dwellers did not merely migrate to the cities. They were absorbed by the growing industrial sector and integrated into urban culture. They were provided with education and the other benefits of civilization. Whatever the horrors that accompanied the Stalinist industrialization, during that time the allocation of labor resources did not occur spontaneously, but according to plan. New regions of the country were explored and developed; new cities and gigantic industrial complexes were built. Yesterday’s peasants and residents of the former imperial hinterlands were given the chance to receive an education and job skills, to move up the career ladder.

Today, of course, everything is different. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, “Even given the political will and economic opportunities […] there are no benchmarks of any kind, and ‘policy’ in this area is entirely reduced to ritual incantations. […] In the foreseeable future, the formation of poles of growth in the country’s eastern regions will be almost exclusively due to large-scale projects for the extraction of mineral resources. However, these do not require the hiring of large numbers of specialists and can be implemented using workers on a rotational basis. So there is likewise no point in counting on business having a stake [in solving the problems associated with immigrant labor].”

The new Russian capitalism, which emerged from the ruins of Soviet industry, requires skilled specialists less than it does arms and backs obedient to their master’s will. We can stop our large cities from overflowing with beggars and semi-impoverished people, and from nourishing an army of menial laborers, the unemployed, and déclassé elements, only by developing the economies of our country’s regions. We need a policy aimed at re-industrializing the country, a policy that introduces intellectualized forms of labor, revives agriculture, and creates conditions from relocating workers from depressed areas to new industrial centers. In other words, we need to make the transition to a socialist planned economy. Only in this case can immigration be transformed from a festering societal sore into a powerful lever for our country’s progressive development.

Ivan Ovsyannikov
Russian Socialist Movement

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