Category Archives: our newspapers

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.”

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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.

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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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Nikolay Oleynikov: The Urgent Need for Struggle (Moscow)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—The Editorial Board

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drift. Narvskaya Zastava (Day One)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This film is edited from documentation of a two-day drift through Narvskaya Zastava, the legendary constructivist district in Leningrad. You can read more about this project in the seventh issue of our newspaper. (Download the .pdf here.)

The footage was shot on two cameras and edited by Dmitry Vilensky.

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Chto Delat International No. 1: Transitional Justice

Chto Delat International issue no.1, entitled Transitional Justice, emerged as a cooperation among its authors and in connection with the recent production of the video film Partisan Songspiel: A Belgrade Story, during the summer of 2009 in Belgrade.

Our authors provide a contextual overview of a Serbian society in transition. During the last two decades, it existed as an isolated camp where everyday life was monopolized by corrupt politicians and ruthless tycoons. The catastrophe of the wars in the ex-Yugoslav countries, which unfolded as an act of mutual extermination, was followed by economic polarization and discrimination against a large part of the population, who ended up homeless and deprived of any state protection. 

The collective Zampa di Leone has produced furious illustrations of hardcore Serbian realities. Novi Sad lesbian activist and Partisan Songspiel actress Biljana Stanković Lori discusses the autonomy of the LGBTIQ community in Serbia in her text Through the Windows of Activism. In his text In the Waiting Room, activist and independent writer Boban Stojanović draws a parallel between the Stonewall riots, which are seen as the beginning of the contemporary struggle for the rights of sexual minorities, and the Pride Parade that was planned in Belgrade forty years later. In his text “Beyond Monstrosity, Nebojša Milikić, cultural worker and program editor at Cultural Center REX, writes about how mass crimes, such as the tragedy in Srebrenica, are perceived in Serbian society today. In Antiziganism and Class Racism in Europe” Vladan Jeremić and Rena Rädle discuss the various forms of ethnic and class racism against Roma that have appeared throughout contemporary Europe. InWhy Do Partisans Still Matter to Politics?” Dušan Grlja, editor of Prelom, journal for images and politics, and a member of Prelom kolektiv, explains that the reference to partisans, communism, and socialist Yugoslavia, as well as the originality of their solutions, represents a “non-existing impossibility” that can provide a radical alternative to what was and still is happening in the region, which is now termed the Western Balkans in the dominant geopolitical agenda.  

The term “transitional justice” has recently received greater attention by both academics and policymakers. It has also generated interest in the fields of political and legal discourse, especially in transitional societies. Transitional justice refers to a range of approaches that certain authorities may use to address past human rights violations and includes both judicial and non-judicial approaches. In the case of the ex-YU countries, transitional justice has been connected with International Tribunal for War Crimes and not, consequently, to other important aspects such as lustration or desirable institutional reforms. 

Issue editors: Vladan Jeremić, Dmitry Vilensky 
Authors: Dušan Grlja, Boban Stojanović, Biljana Stanković Lori, Rena Rädle, Vladan Jeremić, Nebojša Milikić, Dmitry Vilensky, and Olga Egorova Tsaplya 
Translations: Marko Mladenović 
Drawings: Zampa di Leone and Gluklya 
Production: Biro za kulturu i komunikaciju, 2009 
 
The publication of this issue is self-financed and produced with the support of the exhibition project re: ex-post. Critical Knowledge and the Post-Yugoslavian Condition, January 20–February 14, 2010, Open Space, Vienna, Austria.

A .pdf of the entire issue (in Serbian and English) can be downloaded here.


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Chto Delat in London/Alexei Penzei: “Under Suspicion”

First, an important announcement:

Dmitry Vilensky & Alexei Penzin from Chto Delat/What Is to Be Done?
Lecture: Tuesday, December 1st at 6.00 pm
Small Hall / Cinema (to the side of Loafers)
Richard Hoggart Building
Goldsmiths College, New Cross, London SE14 6NW

Organised by Marxism in Culture and the Micropolitics Research Group, Goldsmiths, and supported by the Open University.

Second, to give Londoners a taste of what they might be hearing at the December 1 lecture, we are reprinting here Alexei Penzin’s essay “Under Suspicion,” from a recent issue of our newspaper entitled Another Commons: Living/Knowledge/Action. Sadly, what Alexei wrote this past summer has only gained in relevance and timeliness since then.

Alexei Penzin: Under Suspicion

When we peruse the timeline of the “merry month of May” 2009 in Russia—a laconic chronicle of arrests, detentions of activists, intellectuals and artists, but also of protests against these actions of the authorities—many difficult questions arise. Of course, the fragmentary and brief comments given below do not claim to be a definitive diagnosis. The incomplete and sketchy quality of these comments is rather a part of the problem itself. A fuller analysis will be possible when there is a systematic understanding of the post-Soviet political experience, which for now is a thing of the future. 

1. In medias res

It is very difficult to understand what is going on in medias res, from the inside: these are events that are in the process of development, that affect us personally and assail us from all sides without allowing us to assume the stance of a dispassionate observer. These events affect many of us, sometimes in the literal, physical sense. The command “Hands against the wall!” A stunning blow to the head in a bus filled with people nabbed at a demonstration. Or, for example, the indescribably grotesque intrusion of a detachment of armed, shouting men during the showing of a Godard film at a peaceful leftist seminar. For about a year now the solidarity networks have been constantly delivering reports of new arrests, unlawful summonses for “discussions,” and beatings of activists. It is possible, however, that we should not be so focused on ourselves. The bad news concerns not only the minority of activists and intellectuals. The news also comes from those who are not involved in politics, education or research—from “average citizens.” The very texture of post-Soviet society in recent years has been steeped in anonymous, free-floating violence committed by the “forces of law and order.” Violence against civilians has become a kind of collateral damage, an excess of the existing system of political management. Sometimes this anonymous violence takes on personal and transgressive features. For example, in the person of a police officer who shoots at customers in a supermarket with the cold-bloodedness of a character in a computer game. Continue reading

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BASTA! Special Issue: Kirill Medvedev, “The Experience of the Majority”

This is the seventh in a series of translations of the articles in BASTA!, a special Russian-only issue of Chto Delat that addresses such pressing issues as the fight against racism and facism, the new Russian labor movement, the resistance to runaway “development” in Petersburg, the prospects for student self-governance and revolt, the potential for critical practice amongst sociologists and contemporary artists, the attack on The European University in St. Petersburg, and Alain Badiou’s aborted visit to Moscow.

The entire issue may be downloaded as a .pdf file here. Selected texts may be accessed here.

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We often explain that we will work for “majority” and consciousrevolutions. Majority: which implies revolutionary-democratic processes. […] Conscious: which requires the preparation of the revolutionary rupture by a series of confrontations where the masses go through the experience of the superiority—even partial—of socialist solutions compared to capitalism.

—François Sabado, “Components of Revolutionary Strategy”

Advanced by the workers of the Ford plant in Vsevolozhsk on the eve of the parliamentary elections (in early December 2007), the slogan Don’t Vote! Strike! was a precise and capacious reply to certain vital questions. For example, it became clear what was meant by the “active boycott” to which leftists have long been making abstract appeals. An answer was given to the question, “Which is better: not to go to the polls or to go and invalidate your ballot?” This question has, up until now, been followed by the useless, apathetic answer, “Go or don’t go. Tear up the ballot or don’t tear it up. All the same we’ll be deceived.” A weighty word has also been uttered in the debate about whether there is a working class, and if there is one, who should represent it and how it can be given a voice.

Continue reading

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BASTA! Special Issue: Foma, “Who Makes the Nazis?”

This is the second in a series of translations of the articles in BASTA!, a special Russian-only issue of Chto Delat that addresses such pressing issues as the fight against racism and facism, the new Russian labor movement, the resistance to runaway “development” in Petersburg, the prospects for student self-governance and revolt, the potential for critical practice amongst sociologists and contemporary artists, the attack on The European University in St. Petersburg, and Alain Badiou’s aborted visit to Moscow.

The entire issue may be downloaded as a .pdf file here. Selected texts may be accessed here.

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In the centerfold of this newspaper you will find a map of catastrophe and terror. Buildings razed or made to collapse in the name of progress; parks and squares surrendered to “developers”; human beings maimed or destroyed in the attempt to purify one of the capitals of “Russian civilization.” Continue reading

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