In 2012 a group of working class people from Manchester and Salford come together to create a theatrical show from scratch based on their own experiences and Engels’ book. They have eight weeks before their first performance. The Condition of the Working Class follows them from the first rehearsal to the first night performance and situates their struggle to get the show on stage in the context of the daily struggles of ordinary people facing economic crisis and austerity politics. The people who came together to do the show turned from a group of strangers, many of whom had never acted before, into The Ragged Collective, in little more than two months.
This film, full of political passion and anger, is a wonderful testament to the creativity, determination and camaraderie of working people that blows the media stereotypes of the working class out of the water.
On Sunday, April 28, 2013, the well-known Russian anti-fascist Alexei Gaskarov was arrested in Moscow. He is an elected member of the Russian opposition’s Coordinating Council. The Russian Investigative Committee has accused him of involvement in riots and violence against officials on May 6, 2012, when OMON (Russian riot police) attacked a peaceful, authorized demonstration in Moscow.
May 6 was the day before Putin’s inauguration, and a mass demonstration had been called by the opposition. The winter and spring of 2011-2012 saw the biggest wave of political demonstrations in Russia in almost twenty years, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest election fraud. May 6 was also the first time authorities had moved to crush these protests. According to the opposition, more than 600 people were arrested that day, and 28 people have subsequently been charged in connection with these events, remanded to police custody, placed under house arrest or forced to emigrate.
On May 6, 2012, OMON officers beat Alexei Gaskarov with batons and boots. He filed a complaint against the officers who beat him up, but no one was charged. Now, a year later, and just a few days before the anniversary of the May 6 demonstration, as Gaskarov was preparing to lead a left-wing and anti-fascist column at May Day demonstrations, he has had a set of absurd charges brought against him and been arrested.
Alexei Gaskarov was born on June 18, 1985, and has been politically active since his school days.
Gaskarov gained fame in summer 2010, when, during the protest campaign against the destruction of the Khimki Forest, he was arrested along with Maxim Solopov and accused of orchestrating an attack by 300 to 400 young anti-fascists, who supported the environmentalists, on the Khimki city administration building. In autumn 2010, Gaskarov and Solopov were released from prison, thanks to a massive international campaign on behalf of the “Khimki Hostages.” In summer 2011, Gaskarov was acquitted of all charges.
Gaskarov has been actively involved in the mass demonstrations against electoral fraud in Russia since they began in December 2011. He was one of the speakers at the largest of the demonstrations, on December 24, 2011, on Sakharov Boulevard in Moscow. He was in charge of the security for that rally, where he had to stop neo-Nazi provocations.
Gaskarov is being held in the police jail at Petrovka, 38, awaiting a court hearing, scheduled for 11 am, April 29, 2013 at the Basmanny district courthouse in Moscow. Pending the court’s decision, Gaskarov will be remanded or released.
MOSCOW, August 1 – RAPSI. Opposition activist Alexei Gaskarov has filed an application with the investigative authorities, claiming that he was beaten up by riot police officers during the March of Millions, the Agora human rights organization told the Russian Legal Information Agency on Wednesday.
Gaskarov has also provided a video of the beating to the investigators.
Agora reported that Gaskarov went to the Interior Ministry’s Internal Security Department to speak with investigators about the Bolotnaya Square riots. During the questioning, he gave the investigators a four minute video demonstrating how he was beaten by police officers.
According to Gaskarov, the investigators said they would look into his statement within a month.
Gaskarov sent a statement about his beating to Moscow Investigative Department head Vadim Yakovenko.
Clashes with the police flared up on May 6 during an opposition march across Moscow, which had been granted official permission. Tens of protesters and police officers were injured. The police detained over 400 rally participants.
After May 6, the opposition continued its protests in the form of “people’s promenades.”
Stunning documentary on the 1984 UK Miners Strike where international capital used Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government to mount a vicious campaign of violence and hatred on the British working class. The film features the miners and their families experiences told through songs, poems and other art.
How to remember Margaret Thatcher? Shall we recall the friend of Augusto Pinochet, the woman who protested bitterly about the arrest of Chile’s murderous dictator, a man to whom, she said, Britain owed so much? What about the staunch ally of apartheid, the prime minister who labelled the ANC ‘terrorists’ and did everything possible to undermine international action against the racist regime? The anti-union zealot who described striking miners defending their livelihood as an ‘enemy within’, hostile to liberty? The militarist who prosecuted the Falklands war, as vicious as it was pointless? The Cold Warrior, who stood by Reagan’s side, while the US conducted its genocidal counterinsurgencies in Latin America? The British chauvinist who allowed Bobby Sands to slowly starve to death?
When Thatcher was elected in 1979, tens of thousands rallied against her: 50,000 protested against her racist immigration laws; 50,000 protested in favour for women’s right to choose abortion; and thousands fought cuts to the public sector.
Many people on the left are aware of the defeat of the miners’ union in 1985, but few know of the major industrial and political battles that precipitated the defeat.
In 1980, the steel strike was the first national strike against the Tories. The steelworkers went for a 17% pay increase (the inflation rate was 20%) and fought to protect jobs. British Steel offered 2%, and proposed plant closures and 52,000 redundancies.
The steelworkers fought hard. Huge pickets were mounted at some sites, like Hadfield’s in Sheffield, and flying pickets were organised against private sector steel users.
After a 13-week battle, the workers won a 19% wage increase (including 5% for productivity trade-offs), but thousands of jobs were lost. It was a victory for the government. The main reason for the partial defeat was the isolation of the steelworkers.
Following this, the Tories moved to beef up anti-union laws by outlawing solidarity strikes and picketing. The TUC’s response has to call a national day of action, in which 250,000 people marched in 130 cities. But there was no follow-up action and the anti-union legislation was passed.
By October 1981, the Tories were on the nose. The Social Democratic Party-Liberal Alliance was scoring 59% in opinion polls. The Tories announced new anti-worker legislation, which included outlawing unions from engaging in political action, allowing employers to sack and selectively redeploy workers, and sequestrating unions’ assets if they broke industrial laws.
The union tops failed to call for strike action. Instead, they adopted a position of “non-cooperation” with the act. If a union was attacked, the TUC promised to support it.
In the meantime, an earth-shaking event occurred — Britain went to war with Argentina. This was the perfect diversion for the unpopular government. A short, sharp war — oozing with nationalism — which Britain could not lose.
In the first major test of the Tory’s legislation, railway workers launched an all-out strike to stop trade-offs in working conditions. The strike was solid and picket lines were respected.
The TUC called a general council meeting, ordered the workers back to work and warned that if the strikers did not obey, the rail union would be suspended from the TUC. The union was forced to accept defeat and go back to work.
The TUC “non-cooperation” with the act turned into a cynical betrayal. The rationale was that the strike must end to get Labour re-elected.
Thatcher was re-elected in a landslide in 1983 and worse was to come for the union movement. The next major industrial stoush was in the printing industry, between the National Graphical Association and Eddie Shah, the owner of the Stockport Messenger.
Shah won an injunction to have the union remove a picket line but the union refused. The union was fined £150,000 for contempt of court. The picket line at Warrington was attacked by 3000 riot police. The cops broke the line, chased people into neighbouring fields and beat them up.
A further fine of £375,000 was imposed and the union’s assets were sequestrated. The union called a 24-hour strike and went to the TUC for support, citing its pledge to defend any union under attack.
The TUC decided not to support the printers — a move warmly welcomed by Thatcher. Thornett’s describes the TUC’s decision as a “total collapse in front of the anti-union laws without a shot being fired — a defining moment in the history of the British trade union movement.”
Thatcher now knew that she could pick off each union one by one. The coalminers were next in line, followed by Murdoch’s attack on the newspaper printers.
That’s not to say Marx was entirely correct. His “dictatorship of the proletariat” didn’t quite work out as planned. But the consequence of this widening inequality is just what Marx had predicted: class struggle is back. Workers of the world are growing angrier and demanding their fair share of the global economy. From the floor of the U.S. Congress to the streets of Athens to the assembly lines of southern China, political and economic events are being shaped by escalating tensions between capital and labor to a degree unseen since the communist revolutions of the 20th century. How this struggle plays out will influence the direction of global economic policy, the future of the welfare state, political stability in China, and who governs from Washington to Rome. What would Marx say today? “Some variation of: ‘I told you so,’” says Richard Wolff, a Marxist economist at the New School in New York. “The income gap is producing a level of tension that I have not seen in my lifetime.”
The following interview with our comrade Ilya Matveev was made by Mattia Gallo and originally published in Italian as “La Russia ai tempi di Occupy.” Our thanks to her and Ilya for their permission to republish it in English here.
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What is the Russian Socialist Movement? When were you founded? Who are its members?
The Russian Socialist Movement (RSM) is the product of a merger between two far-left groups: Vpered (Forward) and Socialist Resistance. It was founded in March 2011. Both groups were heirs to the Trotskyist tradition. Vpered was affiliated with the Mandelist USFI. However, the RSM is not explicitly Trotskyist: it was modeled as a broad leftist force capable of uniting the non-sectarian far left into the nucleus of a future radical mass party. In part, it was modeled on the French Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), although obviously on a smaller scale.
Currently, we have several organizations in different Russian cities. The largest RSM groups are in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kaluga. We have a smaller presence in Novosibirsk, Samara, and other places, as well as an affiliated group in Perm. Overall, we have some two hundred to three hundred members.
The Kaluga group is probably the strongest and most coherent. There is an industrial cluster in this city, and it harbors a rare thing in Russia, an independent trade union, in this case, a local of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (the ITUA, which is also present in Petersburg and the Petersburg area). Our members in Kaluga are union organizers, autoworkers, and radical youth. The RSM have taken part in strikes and in worker self-organization in Kaluga. In Petersburg, RSM also consists of union workers and activists, but its ranks also include radical intellectuals and artists. In Moscow, the RSM is mostly made up of intellectuals, and it has become increasingly popular in radical artistic circles.
Generally, despite some internal problems, RSM is slowly becoming a rallying point for the radical left in Russia, due to its open, non-sectarian character and strong intellectual foundations. We try and play a role in the trade union movement and various social movements, to bring radical politics into these milieux, not, however in typical sectarian “entryist” fashion, but by really working with people, talking to them, getting to know them. We are also working on developing a coherent leftist theory for our situation. Obviously, our success is limited, but at least that is what we recognize as our goal.
In today’s very difficult circumstances, the RSM is very much focused on defending political prisoners in Russia. One of them, Konstantin Lebedev, is a member of our organization. Another RSM member, Filipp Dolbunov (Galtsov), is currently seeking political asylum in Ukraine. The RSM is a driving force behind the international solidarity campaign against political persecution in Russia.
Apart from that major concern, we also work with independent unions and social movements, especially against neoliberal policies in education and health care, and in the environmental and feminist movements, as well as the anti-fascist movement. We organize various cultural activities, in part through our affiliated independent publisher, the Free Marxist Press. We publish a newspaper called the Socialist, and run a web site.
When and how did Occupy Moscow begin? What things happened in Moscow? What demands did its activists make, and what difficulties did they face?
On May 6, 2012, a mass opposition rally in Moscow was brutally dispersed by riot police. The police violence was unprecedented, and in a twisted Stalinist move our government afterwards started arresting people for taking part in a “riot,” thus setting the stage for a latter political show trial. Still, after the events at the rally, a minority of the marchers, around a thousand people, refused to go home and began a game of “catch me if you can” with the police on the streets of Moscow. This group of protesters moved around the city, trying to outmaneuver the police. This lasted for two or three days. Finally, the group settled in a kind of permanent camp near the monument to the Kazakh poet Abay on a small square in downtown Moscow. People kept coming, and the police didn’t disperse the camp, probably because the new protest tactics disoriented them. That is how Occupy Moscow or Occupy Abay began.
It should be noted that some leftist activists had tried to import Occupy tactics before these events, organizing small “assemblies.” The Spanish Indignados and the American OWS were of course important and inspiring for us. However, we didn’t really believe something like that could happen in Moscow—and yet it happened.
Occupy Abay was an OWS-style camp on a small square, with a thousand to two thousand people in attendance daily, and some fifty to a hundred people staying on site in sleeping bags overnight. It was such a fresh experience of self-organization beyond traditional leftist and social scenes! Leftists, including RSM members, and anarchists were truly energized by what was happening right before their eyes. Leftist activists grouped in a European-style “info point” on the square with literature and leaflets. We organized a series of workshops for camp participants on unions, social movements, and leftist politics. The RSM began publishing a daily Occupy Abay leaflet, which quickly became a kind of official newspaper for the camp. Other self-organized activities included a kitchen and cleaning shifts. The square was so immaculately clean that the authorities had to fabricate evidence to present the camp as a nuisance to the neighborhood. However, the most important self-organized activity was the general assembly.
From the beginning, there was tension in the camp (just as in the Russian protest movement as a whole) between rank-and-file participants and self-proclaimed “leaders.” Some established opposition personalities tried to name one person “governor” of the camp, but of course the people ignored them. The left presented an alternative—participatory democracy in the form of the general assembly. The process was very difficult in the beginning, but eventually the assembly became the real voice of the camp. The climax of this self-governing process was, perhaps, an episode during the final hours of the camp’s existence, when the police ordered people to go home. Opposition leaders asked to speak to the crowd. But they had to wait their turn in a queue, just like other regular participants. When their turn came, they made their case—to comply with police orders—but the assembly rejected their proposal. In retrospect, it was the correct decision, since the police didn’t disperse the camp for another day.
The whole history of Occupy Abay/Occupy Barrikadnaya/Occupy Arbat (the last two are subsequent names for Occupy Moscow, reflecting the sites it briefly occupied after Abay was broken up) didn’t last more than several days, but it was an incredibly rich period of improvisation, self-organization, political struggle, and agitation. It injected the ideas of participatory democracy and horizontal structures into the protest movement, which had almost completely lacked such ideas before. We are still reflecting on the political and social significance of this event.
The major difference between Occupy Moscow and OWS, the Indignados, etc., is that the Moscow camp was not leftist as a whole. It wasn’t organized around social issues; rather, it was the temporary form that the opposition movement in Russia, mostly liberal, took in Moscow in May 2012. Therefore, the participants were not only leftists, but also liberals, even people from the far right (which was rather humble and didn’t cause trouble, being in a weak political position). However, only the left in Russia practices self-organization, self-government, and participatory democracy. Therefore, the left quickly became an essential force driving the camp and its activities.
Talking about civil liberties in Russia, the Pussy Riot case and the anti-gay laws enacted in several Russian regions and now proposed in the national parliament are emblematic in the eyes of the world. You wrote an article last November, “A Police Story (What Happened to Filipp Dolbunov),” about a Russian student abducted by the police. Can you tell us what happened? What is your analysis of civil liberties in Russia?
Well, I wrote about a specific case of police repression against one activist. Currently Filipp, who is my comrade, is seeking political asylum. He is in Ukraine, but this country isn’t safe for him, as the case of another activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, shows: Leonid was kidnapped in Kyiv by Russian security forces, tortured, and brought back to Moscow.
The situation with civil liberties in Russia is outrageous and rapidly becoming more and more catastrophic. More than twenty people are awaiting trial for taking part in the May 6 “riot” (i.e., the brutal attack on a legal, sanctioned rally by riot police). Most of them are in jail. Hundreds of detectives are working day and night to conjure a case out of nothing. One of the arrested confessed and was sent to prison for four and half years. On January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.
The police have merged the May 6 “riot” case with the Sergei Udaltsov case. Udaltsov is one of the few public opposition leaders from the left. He has been charged with “organizing the unrest” on ”evidence” presented to the entire country during a special broadcast on Russian state-controlled TV. Udaltsov and two other people, one of them, Konstantin Lebedev, an RSM member, are now accused of being the “organizers” of the “riot” that took place on May 6. There is an endless chain of fabricated evidence and trumped-up charges that is directed against the Russian opposition, but mainly the left.
I was on Bolotnaya: arrest me!
Another group that suffers disproportionately from state repression are anti-fascists. Some of them have been sentenced to prison, while others have been arrested and awaiting trial for months on end.
Please read our appeal for solidarity to learn the details about the recent crackdown in Russia. The RSM and other left groups are in desperate need of solidarity, so any actions of support are most welcome.
Another article of yours, “The ‘Welfare’ State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This,” talks about the situation of the “welfare state,” a term that in Italian and Russian translates to the “social state.” What is your analysis in this article? What are the social and economic problems in your country?
My basic point in this article is that Russia is not a welfare state, despite the fact that it’s called a “social state” in the Constitution. It lacks a minimum wage (which is set below official subsistence level, i.e., this minimum wage is not enough to avoid dying from starvation). Strikes are almost completely prohibited. The situation with housing, education, health care, childcare, science, and cultural institutions is scandalous, and it’s getting worse day by day.
Even though we now have more than 130 dollar billionaires and one of the world’s largest money reserves, teachers and university professors in some Russian regions are paid the equivalent of 150-250 euros a month, just like doctors and other public employees. Wealth inequality, according to some sources, is the greatest in the world.
Oil and gas-driven growth has not brought prosperity or a meaningful economic future to Russia. It is a country ruled by a parasitic, uncontrollable elite. And their answer to all problems is more neoliberalism, more deregulation. They are currently implementing neoliberal reforms in education, health care, and science and culture, just like in Europe. For example, schoolteachers are forced to compete for wage bonuses, just as schools are forced to compete for pupils. This deliberate introduction of market logic in fields completely alien to it, such as education, health care, and culture, is a basic sign of neoliberalism. And the result is European-style “budget cuts” in a situation where there’s nothing to cut to begin with. The social, scientific, and cultural institutions of the Soviet state are in shambles, and now they are being terrorized yet again by this new neoliberal assault.
What are the problems of universities in Russia? Is the education system under attack by neoliberal policies undertaken by the Putin government? What are the main changes and differences between the education systems in USSR and Russia today?
University teachers have been underpaid for decades in Russia. Average wages are 200-500 euros per month even for those who have degrees. In general, the share of educational spending in the federal budget is very low both in absolute and relative terms. Education amounts to about 4.5 percent of Russian GDP, lower than the OECD average—despite the fact that it needs to be rebuilt, not just maintained.
Another problem is university bureaucracy. The institutions of collegial self-government and university autonomy do not function. Both professors and students are subjugated to the will of the administration.
Some problems, such as the lack of autonomy, are inherited from the USSR; some are new.
For example, the authorities have embarked on a program of university reform. It is basically a neoliberal policy, which identifies “ineffective” institutions of higher learning and closes them or merges them with others. Students, professors, and society as a whole have no say in this.
Still, there are some encouraging signs. The atmosphere in Russia has changed since the protests began in 2011. It is not such an apathetic, depoliticized society as before. And university staff are becoming angry, too: when the education minister blamed them, in an interview, for their incompetence (which, he said, explained their low salaries), more than a thousand professors signed a letter of protest. A new independent university teachers’ union is being created. Just a few days ago, an activist at Moscow State University, Mikhail Lobanov, successfully avoided being fired after a strong campaign of solidarity on his behalf. This might be a small success, but it inspires hope: students are becoming more aware of their potential, and professors are, too. There is an incredible amount of work to be done, but it is much easier now to believe in our eventual success.
Last May, before the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for yet another term as Russia’s president, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Moscow in protest against the fraudulent election that gave Putin another victory two months before. Police descended on the peaceful demonstration and attacked protests, arresting 400 people.
Since then, Putin’s dictatorial regime has used the May 6 demonstration as a bogeyman to accuse various left-wing leaders of wanting to foment violence — when those truly bent on violence were his own security forces. In this statement, left-wing organizations in Russia — the Russian Socialist Movement, the Left Front and the Russian Anarchists — appeal for international solidarity against the government’s violence and repression.
Demonstrators in the streets of Moscow on May 6 (Sergey Kukota)
TWO MONTHS ago, we, representatives of the Russian left, asked for your solidarity in the face of the coming wave of political repressions in Russia.
Alas, today, this call is even more urgent than before. It is no longer an exaggeration to compare the political trials taking place right now to the prosecution of Russian populists in the late 19th century. The number of possible convictions resulting from the so-called “riots” of May 6, 2012 has steadily climbed over 20, and the majority of the detainees have already spent many months in jail awaiting trial.
Their names are Vladimir Akimenkov, Oleg Arkhipenkov, Andrei Barabanov, Fyodor Bakhov, Yaroslav Belousov, Alexandra Dukhanina, Stepan Zimin, Ilya Gushchin, Nikolai Kavkazsky, Alexander Kamensky, Leonid Kovyazin, Mikhail Kosenko, Sergei Krivov, Konstantin Lebedev, Maxim Luzyanin, Denis Lutskevich, Alexei Polikhovich, Leonid Razvozzhayev, and Artem Savelov.
The aim of the prosecution is self-evident: to break the will for political struggle of those unhappy with the current political regime and to systematically demolish the existing political opposition, a significant portion of which is situated on the political left.
The Investigative Committee — a structure accountable only to President Putin — has constructed the case as a wide-ranging conspiracy, stretching from rank-and-file street protesters to established politicians. Thus, on January 10, 2013, the Committee merged two trials: the May 6th “riots” (with 19 detainees, two people under instructions not to leave, and 10 hiding outside of Russia) and the “organizing of unrest” with which our comrades Konstantin Lebedev, Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov have been charged.
THE LIST of detainees continues to grow. On February 7, 24-year-old Ilya Gushchin was arrested and accused of using violence against a policeman during the May 6th “riots.” A little earlier, on January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.
On February 9, Sergei Udaltsov’s status changed from instructions not to leave to house arrest. This means that his channels of communication with the outside world have been cut off, and that even the tiniest infraction will land him in jail.
In addition, the prosecution and the judges, guided by the Kremlin, keep on placing pressure on the detainees, further risking their health and lives.
Thus, for example, the eyesight of 25-year-old Vladimir Akimenkov has continued to worsen since his arrest on June 10, 2012. Akimenkov, a Left Front activist, suffers from congenital impaired eyesight, which has deteriorated in prison conditions and may soon turn into a permanent loss of vision. Akimenkov’s lawyer, human rights activists and over 3,000 petitioners have asked the authorities to release him. However, the prosecution and the courts have remained firm and extended Akimenkov’s arrest until May 6, 2013.
Another of the accused, 37-year-old Mikhail Kosenko, has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since his military service. Instead of granting him access to medication or releasing him, the court is preparing to send him to “forced treatment” in a prison hospital.
Leonid Razvozzhayev, 40, a coordinator of the Left Front, was abducted from Ukrainian soil by unknown parties and delivered to Moscow. After the abduction, a confession appears to have been extorted from Razvozzhayev under threat of torture and harm to his family. Once in prison, he renounced his “confessions,” but his words are still being actively used against others. Currently, Razvozzhayev has been transferred to the Siberian city of Irkutsk, where his freedom to communicate with relatives and lawyers is severely limited.
The trial will most likely begin in earnest in March. The prosecutor will claim the existence of a massive anti-state conspiracy in which the accused will be said to have played various roles. We have little doubt that this trial will be biased and unjust. Unless fought against, its probable outcome will be the broken lives of dozens of people (the charges carry imprisonment up to eight years), conspiratorial hysterics in the state-run media, and a carte blanche for new repression.
Your solidarity now is crucial for us. On the eve of this shameful trial, from February 28 to March 3 we ask you to stage protests in front of any consulates of the Russian Federation in your countries, to disseminate information about the political trials and to urge your government and relevant NGOs to act. Please send reports on solidarity action and any other information or questions to RussiaSolidarity@gmail.com.
The Russian Socialist Movement
The Left Front
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
— Yegor Letov, “We’re Getting Stronger”
Until recently, the habit that young left-wing activists have of dreaming up conspiratorial nicknames for themselves seemed mere child’s play, a tribute to a red romanticism long out of fashion. I spoke with Filipp Dolbunov, better known as Filipp Galtsov and whom I’m used to calling just plain Filippok, the day before the latest pogrom-like police search took place in his Moscow apartment. He is nineteen years old, in Kyiv, and in danger. The Russian government wants to put him in jail. He is a revolutionary.
— First of all, I wanted to ask whether you’re safe.
No, I’m not safe now. I’m experiencing unhealthy attention from the Russian and Ukrainian security services. In particular, as I’ve learned, I’ve secretly been put on the wanted list in Russia. My parents are visited once a week by the police, people from Center “E”, and perhaps the FSB. In Ukraine, I am being followed by the SBU.
I also don’t feel safe because the UNHCR does not respond to my requests for asylum.
— Are you afraid you could be deported?
Yes, that possibility exists. After Leonid Razvozzhayev’s abduction in Kyiv and considering that the Ukraine’s statistics for deporting refugees are high, it’s quite possible. And knowing what close friends the SBU are with the FSB and Center “E”, I would raise the likelihood of this several times.
— You say you’re being followed. What does that look like?
On February 6, for example, I was followed from the building of the Ukraine Migration Service right to the place where I’m staying. Three men bearing a strong resemblance to police investigators followed me at a distance of forty meters. They periodically stopped and pretended to talk. In the subway, they got into the car next to mine and glared at me the whole way. They got out at the same station as I did and took the same street as I did. Only when we were approaching the house did I shake them. I saw one of them running after me, but I managed to escape. Kyiv police officers are now periodically staked out near the house.
“Honor the UN convention on the rights of refugees”
— Why do you think the security services are so interested in you?
I think the security services are now paying special attention to people with leftist views. If a person defends his position not only in theory but also in practice, this interest often leads to something unhealthy from their point of view. The economic situation in Russia is now rather dodgy. The government is cutting spending on education, health care and other social needs. Unlike the liberals, who are enthusiastic only about “Russia without Putin,” the left speak loudly about these problems. The authorities are most afraid of a societal explosion. Hence the persecution, crackdowns, and intimidation on the part of the security services.
— What did you personally do to annoy them?
Lately I’ve been active in social movements, for example, the defense of the Khimki and Tsagovsky forests, support for workers’ dormitory residents [facing eviction] in Moscow, and the movement for fair elections. I have also been involved in some unsanctioned protest actions, but of course I didn’t do what they’re charging me with.
— What was your real role in the events of May 6, and what are you accused of doing?
As the lawyers and civil rights advocates tell me, I might be facing the charge of “organizing a riot.” The investigation is seriously basing itself on Leonid Razvozzhayev’s confession of guilt [whose authenticity has been disputed, first of all by Razvozzhayev himself], where I was identified as someone who allegedly led a column of anarchists. In fact, that day I marched in the column of the Russian Socialist Movement, of which I’m a member. I used no violence against police officers, all the more so because there was no “rioting” on Bolotnaya Square.
— You were a witness in the case of another person charged in the Bolotnaya Square case, Stepan Zimin? Have you been pressured in this connection?
Yes, I volunteered to be a witness in Stepan’s case. On October 25, I was abducted from my home by several Center “E” officers, who tried to force me into testifying against Konstantin Lebedev, Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov [during an interrogation] at the Investigative Committee. My apartment was searched. The same day I was released, with them telling me my procedural status was not clear. That is, it was difficult to understand whether I was a witness or a suspect. A week later, I finally received a [legal, written] summons from Investigator Marukyan. In my testimony, I said that Stepan had not thrown stones, had not used violence against police officers, and had not taken part in any rioting. During the questioning, Markuyan threatened to send me to the army if I didn’t, to borrow his expression, “stop talking nonsense.”
— Why did you decide to leave Russia right at this moment?
They had begun pressuring my relatives — my mother, grandmother, and grandfather. During the October 25 search, the eshniki [Center “E” officers] threatened that if my relatives continued to interfere with their “work,” they would be sent to the Investigative Committee for questioning. I left because too many facts had piled up that pointed to the possibility of my being arrested. From November to early January, people from Center “E” and the FSB came to my house once a week: they would ask where I was and threaten and intimidate my relatives. And recently, on February 12, they dragged my grandmother, who is seventy years old, in for questioning.
— How did you become a leftist? What influenced you?
I once was at a Grazhdanskaya Oborona concert, where I met really interesting people who were wearing hammer and sickle or anarchy patches. Then I gradually started reading, following the news, and looking at what was happening around me, and I realized that it was not even the country that had to be changed, but the whole world, the [entire] system of economic, human and spiritual relations.
— What’s your favorite Yegor Letov song?
Well, I have two favorites: “Sing, Revolution” and “We’re Getting Stronger.”
— You are applying for refugee status? How are things going?
At the moment I’m looking to be resettled in a third country, because I absolutely don’t feel safe here. Things are going badly, because the UNHCR does not react to reports of persecution on the part of the Ukrainian authorities. I don’t know how to explain this. The head of the local UNHCR office has said in the press that Ukraine is not a safe country for refugees. But considering the circumstances that I and other political refugees from Russia find ourselves in, I cannot understand why they can’t provide us with additional protection.
Besides me, Other Russia activist Alexei Devyatkin, journalist Jenny Kurpen, and Solidarity activist Mikhail Maglov are in Ukraine [applying for political asylum]. You can help us in this situation, first of all, by drawing attention to the problem of Russian refugees, especially at the international level.
— What would you wish or advise your comrades in Russia? Both those who are free and those already in prison.
I would like to wish my comrades success in the struggle. I wish a speedy release for the prisoners. You guys are such a big help. I really miss you and hope to see you soon.
Occupy Parnassus!: Kirill Medvedev’s ‘It’s No Good’
By Garth Risk Hallberg
February 19, 2013
In the fall of 2011, as the first protesters began assembling in Zuccotti Park, a different sort of occupation was underway in my apartment. My son had just turned one, and another kid was due in the spring. My life now consisted largely of early-morning adjunct gigs, late-night sessions banging my head against the writing desk, and afternoons measured out in the tiny spoons used to scrape the last bits of Gerber from the jar. Also: NPR. Lots of NPR.
By late September, the top of each hour brought new details about the methods and motives of “Occupy Wall Street.” Here, it seemed, was the cause I’d spent my twenties longing to throw my body behind. But now that it had materialized, there was a catch: mine was no longer the only body I was responsible for. I could take my son with me to the demonstrations, but did I really trust the NYPD to lay off the pepper spray, should he rattle the bars of our protest pen?
Plus who would take care of him if I got carted off to jail? Not his mother, whose nine-to-five job was our primary means of keeping the fridge stocked and the rent paid, and whose sick days would convert to precious maternity leave come the spring. There was always daycare, of course…but, then, as a would-be placard-carrying member of the 99%, I couldn’t even afford the hours of daycare I was already paying for. And here I ran up against the first great fallacy of the mainstream media’s OWS coverage. Of course the occupation as such was heavy on students, the unemployed, and men who looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Wavy Gravy. Stroller-pushing contingent-workers like me were constrained from spending all day and night at Zuccotti by the very conditions that made them want to do so. Thus does insecurity—financial, physical, psychological—become the stick that keeps us on the rutted path of late capitalism. (Consumer electronics being the carrot.)
Then again, another of the things too often glossed over in accounts of Occupy Wall Street is that it wasn’t a top-down program, whose output was a certain number of sleeping bags on the pavement. Rather, it was a piece of tactical hardware designed to execute any app deemed useful by its users—techno-utopian cant made collectivist flesh. This should have been apparent to anyone who spent more than half an hour down at Zuccotti. At first, you’d see the modest size of the occupation, relative to the number of cameras trained on it, and you’d think, Wait: Is this it? Then, out of nowhere, thousands of union electricians would appear, or affordable-housing advocates, or undergraduates, or, more likely, all of the above, and another drive or meeting or march would whir into motion. (As Michael Greenberg has noted in The New York Review of Books, those circuits would be reactivated after Hurricane Sandy to channel vital aid to the Rockaways.)
By October, my son and I had found our own way to take part. With his mother’s blessing, we pursued a sunshine policy, steering clear of martial-sounding or geographically marginal events in favor of those well-publicized enough to ensure my small comrade wouldn’t become another casualty on YouTube. We marched on Citigroup. We marched on JPMorgan Chase. We repaired to Zuccotti for pizza and purée, and then we marched some more. Well, I marched; he rode.
One memorable afternoon, in the company of a whole holy host of freaks and straights, aging lefties and juvie anarchists, friends from other events and perfect strangers—plus, this being a Saturday, my wife—we even took over Times Square. It was the same rainbow coalition I’d observed a decade earlier, marching against the Iraq War. In 2002, though, in the streets of D.C., everyone seemed to recognize that the switches on the war-making machinery had already been thrown. You could sense the inertia in the way the message decayed into calls for the abolition of the WTO and the World Bank, the liberation of Palestine and Mumia. Those chants that managed to break through the discord rang hollow off executive buildings emptied for the weekend.
By contrast, the message of Occupy Wall Street was so clear and so obvious as to subsume any ancillary concerns. Obviousness, in fact, may be why Occupy Wall Street proved such an effective counterweight to the Tea Party movement, with only a fraction of the money and organization and time. It takes great resources of all three to persuade Americans that Keynesian deficit spending is the source of our ills, because it’s total horseshit, whereas it takes very little to remind people of what they’ve already discovered in the most grinding, empirical way to be true: As an allocator of resources, our economic system is needlessly unjust, and getting more so by the day. And when the hoary old cry went up from Times Square—”We are unstoppable; another world is possible”—this, too, felt self-evident, assertion and evocation in a single stroke. For here was a halter-topped woman with frizzy hair leading thousands of people in social democratic chants from atop someone’s shoulders, and here was the commercial center of the world coming disobediently to a halt. Here were tourists taking buttons from engagé tweens and affixing them to jackets that would soon travel back to every corner of America. And here it all was again, up on the giant news screens overhead, the peak of a “high and beautiful wave” (to crib from Hunter S. Thompson). Under all those lights, we seemed to be waking, however briefly, from a long bad dream.
Notwithstanding the Monday-morning harrumphs of the commentariat, that autumn of idealism has left behind consequences of the most solid, realpolitik kind. The ongoing debate over whether creditors—i.e., capital—or borrowers—i.e., you and me—will bear the losses of the Great Recession has been permanently rebalanced, to the great annoyance of the business class. (Last December’s $43-million PR push was not so much about how to “Fix the Debt” as about whom to affix it to.) On its own terms, though, the Occupy project remains incomplete. When we argue over whether to set top marginal tax rates at 35% or 39.6%, or what to do about the sequester, or the class politics of Girls, we have turned from debates about an unjust system to debates within it. And though the possibility of “another world” has been preserved from total eclipse, it now seems hazy again, as if glimpsed from the far side of sleep. We need some outside force to jolt us back awake.
All of which is a very roundabout way of trying to explain why It’s No Good, the first major English-language publication of the writing ofKirill Medvedev, is so necessary, and so timely. Medvedev is a Moscow-based poet in his late 30s, and the book, the latest entry in Ugly Duckling Presse’s redoubtable Eastern European Poets Series (and the first to be published jointly with N+1), assembles English translations of his most important “poems/essays/actions” from over the last fifteen years. This was a period of radicalization for Medvedev, and the work amounts to a guerilla attack on the stagnation of Russian cultural life in the new millennium. By itself, this would make It’s No Good an invaluable document. But for readers beyond the old Iron Curtain, there’s a further twist of the knife: as with the best science fiction, the outrageous world Medvedev brings so vividly to life starts to sound awfully like our own.
An introduction by editor Keith Gessen sets the scene for Medvedev’s evolution. In “the years of mature Putinism, between about 2003 and 2008,” he explains, the atmosphere in Russia was one of “boredom, suffocation, and surrender…”
Nothing happened. No one wanted anything to happen. “Stability” was the word of the day and in service of this stability people were willing to give up a great deal. The liberal opposition that still made appearances in the New York Times not only had no real presence…[but was] also permanently discredited.
In the texts that follow, Medvedev will link this surrender to two mutually reinforcing phenomena, one political, one aesthetic. On one side was a problem of ignorance: Members of his generation, the first to come of age after the fall of Communism, “spent the 1990s not really knowing what politics was,” he writes. “We lived outside it; we never believed it could affect our private lives.” On the other side was a problem of sophistication: literature, which might have enlarged those private lives, had become content merely to reproduce them.
An exemplar here was the poet and impresario Dmitri Kuzmin, who published Medvedev’s early poems in his magazine, Vavilon…and who hovers over It’s No Good as a sort of Oedipal-Hegelian father figure, to be rebelled against and absorbed. A long, valedictory “essay-memoir” two-thirds of the way through the book may put some readers in mind of McSweeney’s circa 2003:
The central literary tendency of Vavilon was the so-called “new sincerity”: the appeal to personal experience (childhood; romantic and sexual encounters; family life) to the exclusion of social and political experience, justifying this by appealing to its authenticity (personal, emotional, etc.)
Of course, Russia’s liberalizing culture industry had no more difficulty assimilating Vavilon’s “authenticity” than the Politburo did assimilating social realism. As Medvedev sees it, this was art as gesture, as narcotic, as commodity, “a series of irresponsible infantile games and so-called independent intellectual proclamations – covering the terrain specifically assigned to such proclamations.”
The poems that make up the bulk of It’s No Good burst out of that terrain like bombshells. Superficially, their debt to Kuzmin is obvious. Medvedev’s voice, as translated by Gessen and others, is resolutely direct, colloquial, and personal. At times, it sounds like a Muscovite Frank O’Hara. “I don’t know why / I decided to work / at the nightclub Sexton / when I was eighteen,” begins one poem. Says another: “I really like when / a series of arches in moscow run /one after the other /creating their own kind of tunnel / out of arches.” As with O’Hara, the specificity of reference almost overwhelms argument; viewed from a certain angle, Medvedev’s poems might seem merely a catalogue of people, buildings, and foodstuffs signifying life for a young cosmopolite. Yet read him at any length (the poems are rarely under three pages, and sometimes swell to dozens), and it becomes impossible to confuse his urbanism with urbanity, or, as he puts it, “dignified aloofness” to the wider world. Medvedev complains, of one Vavilon-affiliated contemporary: “a person in his poems is always / returning from work / moving around the glaring twilit / cityscape / given shape by information streams.” His own Moscow resists such streamlined shapes. It is “glaring” in a different sense, made discontinuous by eruptions of frustration, pessimism, and rage. One moment, it’s true, we may be among the office towers, cruising through a catalogue
of everyone who turned out to be a computer genius
of everyone who became an assistant
or a designer
for major fashion magazines….
But then suddenly, we are hearing
of all the half-drunk and stunted intellectuals
who (unlike me)
matured too early,
then burned out,
of everyone who found work in the morgue
of everyone who did time in jail
then died of an overdose
of everyone who worked at
the politician kirienko’s campaign headquarters
and then joined his permanent team.
The closing descent from threnody back to sarcasm bespeaks the scale of Medvedev’s loss of faith in that distinctly Russian class formation, the “intelligentsia.” These were the people who were supposed to lead his country out of its slumber and instead discovered a taste for Ambien. But the dramatic expansion of the point-of-view, the deepening of emotion, and the Beatnik anaphora holding it all together produce a countervailing movement: One feels the quickening of an almost spiritual belief. Medvedev wants his poetry not only to “appeal to personal experience,” but to transfigure it, to break it open, to disclose what is underneath. And what is underneath, he insists, is always already political. The meticulously name-checked fruits of bourgeois existence—parties, nightclubs, careers, and even much of contemporary art—are underwritten by exploitation, militarism, and a more nebulous brand of postmodern unfreedom. Reader, you are hereby called to consciousness. Or at least deprived of an alibi.
Alongside Medvedev’s messianic streak runs a notable impatience with the formal strictures of Russian lyric poetry—the elegant prosody of Anna Akhmatova or his beloved Joseph Brodsky. Gessen’s introduction presents these tendencies as merely coincident. But really, I think, one compels the other. Trained at Moscow’s famed Gorky Literary Institute, Medvedev has a considerable, if well-disguised, capacity for artifice—for finding Pushkin in the punkish. Still, his conception of poetry is one of vision, rather than of craft. This helps explain the porousness (some might say sameness) of these largely untitled poems, which tend to flow together into a single Poem. It also helps explain their peculiar rhythms, and their general aversion to beauty. They gather force not by rhetorical turns, but by incantation, as Medvedev strains “to see without distortion by one’s social position, without limitations by one’s artistic milieu.” The results are frequently startling:
we dance around others’ misfortunes like mischievous wolves like some sort of lascivious bats in a frenzy we make our way toward them by the light of bonfires on the outskirts of town through desolate fields of garbage we fall on them swoop down throw ourselves at them with all of our might oozing the syrupy poison of empathy.
Which isn’t to say that the artist-monk can’t be funny, because Medvedev’s puckish streak runs deep. It surfaces sometimes at the expense of others (“as a janitor / I was always beyond suspicion”), but more often at the expense of his own ambitions. One of my favorite poems in the collection concludes on a note of perfectly serious ridiculousness, or ridiculous seriousness:
misha is going to do everything right
in this life,
whereas I’m going to continue sitting here
deep in shit
with my principles.
In 2004, Medvedev’s principles led him to make an unusual move: he renounced copyright to his own oeuvre. Henceforth, he declared in his “Manifesto on Copyright,” his poems would cease to be grist for the culture industry. They would appear on his website, and on facebook and LiveJournal, but reprinting them “in any anthologies, collections, or other kinds of publications” would be “consider[ed]…a disgusting manipulative action by one or another cultural force.” They were to be published
ONLY AS A SEPARATE BOOK, collected and edited according to the desires of the publisher, released in a PIRATE EDITION, that is to say, WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR, WITHOUT ANY CONTRACTS OR AGREEMENTS.
The “Manifesto on Copyright” marks a hinge moment in the book, and in Medvedev’s career. Immediately before comes the longest, finest poem in the book (“Europe”) and an incendiary essay called “My Fascism.” The poems that follow the manifesto are thinner—at times they feel like Medvedev doing Medvedev—but the critical essays, by way of compensation, grow richer and more prophetic.
In the piece on Kuzmin and especially in “Literature Will Be Tested,” from 2007, Medvedev begins to articulate a dialectical vision of a new global humanism. Its acolytes, he argues, must preserve “postmodernism’s irrepressible critical outlook.” At the same time, Medvedev departs from the main body of post-’68 critical thought by insisting on the value of “grand narratives and global concepts.” To forego them, he says, is to accede to “an idealized consensus between the goals of ‘diversity’ and the interests of the global marketplace.”
And as he pursues the links between the stagnation he’s been confronting in Moscow and the larger, global situation, parallels that have heretofore been sub rosa become explicit. For Russia isn’t the only place where the notion of a life beyond politics gained traction after the collapse of Communism. “The end of history,” we called this period in the U.S. And what were the results? Open-ended war, accelerated environmental destruction, and the further consolidation of class power. History, history, and more history. Meanwhile, “the idea of ‘contemporary art’” grew ever more attenuated, as every imaginable gesture of “authenticity,” literary or otherwise, became a fungible commodity—one whose sale or purchase gets broadcast to your social network. “You can’t change the world that way,” Medvedev reminds us. “You can’t rise to the next level of existence that way.”
After the bracing cynicism of some of the poems, this formulation might sound preachy. But as a craftsman and as a human being, Medvedev knows he must make the political personal, even as the arrow also runs the other way. Taken as a whole, then, It’s No Good is less a sermon on change than a narrative enactment of it. In aesthetic terms, the distinctions among poems and essays and actions come to seem as provisional as those subtitular backslashes suggest; there’s criticism in the poetry, poetry in the criticism, and action in all of it. And in political terms, we get a portrait of the poet’s awakening to futility where he’d thought there was power, and vice versa. The thing might as well be a Bolaño novel…albeit one with a happier ending.
In another of his more unguarded moments, Medvedev confesses
I think it was genuine contact–
when two completely different people
begin to understand one another
in my opinion this
is a real event
in art and
It’s No Good is just such an event. It awakens us to the contingency of contemporary reality’s ceaseless argument for itself, and to what might still be possible outside it. Archimedes famously said something like, Give me a place to stand, and a long enough lever, and I’ll move the world. Kirill Medvedev and his translators have given American readers another place to stand, a kind of Zuccotti of the mind. Now if only we can keep our grip on the lever.
Excerpt from the documentary American Revolution 2. This segment showcases Black Panther Bobby Lee helping comrades in the Young Patriots (a Chicago Urban Appalachian civil rights group in similar vein to the Panthers) organize a group of working class Whites to demand for radical change in their neighborhood (which has been victimized by police brutality and economic disenfranchisement) and/or take it into their own hands. This took place in 1968 Chicago, some time after the riots that had happened after the Democratic National Convention.
A Call for International Days of Solidarity against Political Repression in Russia, November 29—December 2, 2012
An appeal from Russian leftists to their comrades in the struggle
Today we, members of Russian leftist organizations, appeal to our comrades all over the world for solidarity. This appeal and your response to it are vital to us. We are now facing not just another instance of innocent people sentenced by the punitive Russian “justice” system or another human life wrecked by the state. The authorities have launched a crackdown without precedent in Russia’s recent history, a campaign whose goal is to extinguish the left as an organized political force. The recent arrests, threats, beatings, aggressive media attacks and moves towards declaring leftist groups illegal all point to a new general strategy on the part of the authorities, a strategy much crueler and much less predictable than what we have seen in recent years.
The massive protest movement that began in December 2011 radically changed the atmosphere of political and social passivity established during the Putin years. Tens of thousands of young and middle-aged people, office workers and state employees, took to the streets and demanded change. On December 10 and 24, 2011, and, later, on February 4, 2012, Moscow, Petersburg and other major Russian cities were the sites of massive rallies, demonstrating that a significant part of society had undergone a new level of politicization. The “managed democracy” model crafted by the ruling elite over many years went bankrupt in a matter of days. Political trickery stopped working when confronted by real grassroots politics. The movement, whose demands were initially limited to “honest elections,” quickly grew into a protest against the entire political system.
After the elections of March 4, 2012, during which Vladimir Putin, using a combination of massive administrative pressure on voters, massive vote rigging and mendacious populist rhetoric, secured another term for himself, many thought that the potential for protest mobilization had been exhausted. The naïve hopes of the thousands of opposition volunteers who served as election observers in order to put an end to voter fraud, were crushed.
The next demonstration, in whose success few believed, was scheduled for downtown Moscow on May 6, 2012, the day before Putin’s inauguration. On this day, however, despite the skeptical predictions, more than 60,000 people showed up for an opposition march and rally. When the march approached the square where the rally was to take place, the police organized a massive provocation, blocking the marchers’ path to the square. All those who attempted to circumvent the police cordon were subjected to beatings and arrests. The unprecedented police violence produced resistance on the part of some protesters, who resisted arrests and refused to leave the square until everyone had been freed. The confrontation on May 6 lasted several hours. In the end, around 650 people were arrested, some of them spending the night in jail.
The next day, Putin’s motorcade traveled to his inauguration through an empty Moscow. Along with the protesters, the police had cleared the city center of all pedestrians. The new protest movement had demonstrated its power and a new degree of radicalization. The events of May 6 gave rise to the Russian Occupy movement, which brought thousands of young people to the center of Moscow and held its ground until the end of May. Leftist groups, who until then had been peripheral to the protest movement’s established liberal spokespeople, were progressively playing a larger role.
Those events were a signal to the authorities: the movement had gone beyond the permissible, the elections were over, and it was time to show their teeth. Almost immediately, a criminal investigation was launched into the “riot,” and on May 27, the first arrest took place. 18-year-old anarchist Alexandra Dukhanina was accused of involvement in rioting and engaging in violence against police officers. The arrests continued over the next few days. The accused included both seasoned political activists (mainly leftists) and ordinary people for whom the May 6 demonstrations were their first experience of street politics.
Nineteen people have so far been accused of involvement in those “disturbances.” Twelve of them are now being held in pre-trial detention facilities. Here are some of their stories:
⁃ Vladimir Akimenkov, 25, communist and Left Front activist. Arrested on June 10, 2012, he will be in pre-trial detention until March 6, 2013. Akimenkov was born with poor eyesight, which has deteriorated even further while he has been in jail. His most recent examination showed he has 10% vision in one eye, and 20% in the other. This, however, was not a sufficient grounds for the court to substitute house arrest for detention. At Akimenkov’s last court hearing, the judge cynically commented that only total blindness would make him reconsider his decision.
⁃ Mikhail Kosenko, 36, no political affiliation, arrested on June 8. Kosenko, who suffers from psychological disorders, also asked that he be placed under house arrest rather in pre-trial detention. However, the court has declared him a “danger to society” and plans to force him to undergo psychiatric treatment.
⁃ Stepan Zimin, 20, anarchist and anti-fascist, arrested on June 8 and placed in pre-trial detention until March 6, 2013, after which date his arrest can be extended. Zimin supports his single mother, yet once again the court did not consider this sufficient grounds to release him on his own recognizance.
⁃ Nikolai Kavkazsky, 26, socialist, human rights activist and LGBT activist. Detained on July 25.
Investigators have no clear evidence proving the guilt of any of these detainees. Nevertheless, they remain in jail and new suspects steadily join their ranks. Thus, the latest suspect in the May 6 case, 51-year-old liberal activist and scholar Sergei Krivov, was arrested quite recently, on October 18. There is every indication he will not be the last.
If the arrests of almost twenty ordinary protesters were intended to inspire fear in the protest movement, then the hunt for the “organizers of mass disturbances” is meant to strike at its acknowledged leaders. According to the investigation, the so-called riot was the result of a conspiracy, and all the arrestees had been given special assignments. This shows that we are dealing not only with a series of arrests, but with preparations for a large-scale political trial against the opposition.
On October 5, NTV, one of Russia’s major television channels, aired an “investigative documentary” that leveled fantastical charges against the opposition and in particular, against the most famous member of the left, Sergei Udaltsov. This Goebbelsian propaganda mash-up informed viewers of Udaltsov’s alleged ties with foreign intelligence, and the activities of the Left Front that he heads were declared a plot by foreign enemies of the state. By way of decisive proof, the broadcast included a recording of an alleged meeting involving Sergei Udaltsov, Left Front activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, Russian Socialist Movement member Konstantin Lebedev, and Givi Targamadze, one of the closest advisors to the president of Georgia. In particular, the conversation includes talk of money delivered by the Georgians for “destabilizing” Russia.
Despite the fact that the faces in the recording are practically indiscernible and the sound has clearly been edited and added separately to the video, within a mere two days the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office (the state law enforcement agency playing the lead role in organizing the current crackdown) used it to launch a criminal case. On October 17, Konstantin Lebedev was arrested and Sergei Udaltsov released after interrogation, having signed a pledge not to travel beyond the Moscow city limits. On October 19, a third suspect in the new case, Left Front activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, attempted to apply for refugee status in the Kyiv offices of the UNHCR. As soon as he stepped outside the building, persons unknown violently forced him into a vehicle and illegally transported him across the Ukrainian border onto Russian territory. At an undisclosed location in Russia he was subjected to torture and threats (including regarding the safety of his family) and forced to sign a “voluntary confession.” In this statement, Razvozzhayev confessed to ties with foreign intelligence and to preparations for an armed insurgency, in which Konstantin Lebedev and Sergei Udaltsov were also involved. Razvozzhayev was then taken to Moscow and jailed as as an accused suspect. Razvozzhayev has subsequently asserted in meetings with human rights activists that he disavows this testimony, which was obtained under duress. However, police investigators have every intention of using it. We know of the existence of “Razvozzhayev’s list,” a list beaten out of him by torture: it contains the names of people who will soon also become targets of persecution.
The scope of the crackdown is steadily growing. The Investigative Committee recently announced an inquiry into Sergei Udaltsov’s organization, the Left Front, which may well result in its being banned as an “extremist” organization. Pressure against the anti-fascist movement is likewise building. Well-known anti-fascist activists Alexey Sutuga, Alexey Olesinov, Igor Kharchenko, Irina Lipskaya and Alen Volikov have been detained on fabricated charges and are being held in police custody in Moscow. Socialist and anti-fascist Filipp Dolbunov has been interrogated and threatened on several occasions.
It is hardly accidental that most victims of this unprecedented wave of repression are involved in the leftist movement. On the eve of the introduction of austerity measures, curtailment of labor rights and pension reforms in Russia, the Putin-Medvedev administration is most afraid of an alliance between the existing democratic movement and possible social protest. Today’s wave of repressions is the most important test for Russia’s new protest movement: either we hold strong or a new period of mass apathy and fear awaits us. It is precisely for this reason, faced with unprecedented political pressure, that the solidarity of our comrades in Europe and the entire world is so crucial.
We appeal to you to organize Days of Solidarity against Political Repression from November 29 to December 2 outside the Russian Federation embassy or any other Russian government misson in your countries, demanding the immediate release of those who have been illegally arrested and termination of the shameful criminal cases and preparations for new “Moscow trials” based on torture and fabrications. We also ask that you use the specific names and details we have provided in this appeal in your own protests and demands. This is crucial for every person now behind bars.
Please send your reports on solidarity actions and any other information or questions to the following email address: email@example.com
Solidarity is our only weapon! United, we will never be defeated!
Russian Socialist Movement, Autonomous Action, Left Front
*Editor’s Note. Originally published in Russian here, and in English here. The original English translation has been edited slightly to make it more readable and accurate.