Just when you though anarchist studies was a dead subject, Mark Leier, the director of the Centre for Labour Studies at Simon Fraser University in Canada has published a new biography of the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. You can read Walter Moss’ review of the book in the Moscow Times. It sounds like a good read, though sadly Leier doesn’t take advantage of the voluminous amount of Russian sources.
I’ve always found Bakunin an attractive figure. Alexander Herzen paints a wonderful picture of him in his memoirs My Past and Thoughts. Bakunin’s debates with Marx are a classic moment in revolutionary intellectual history, though when you think of about it, it is wholly unimportant in the big scheme of things. Unfortunately, not everyone is so convinced of its irrelevance to current politics.
About ten years ago I went to an anarchist convention in San Francisco at Golden Gate Park. The main attraction was not only the book fair, but the fact that Jello Biafra was speaking. When I ventured outside the pavilion for a break from the anarchist hubbub, I came upon a lone Spartacist member peddling the League’s newspaper the Workers Vanguard. Not having much exposure to the Sparts at that time, I began talking to him. What followed was a lesson in American radical politics.
While I was talking to the Spart, an anarchist approached and began denouncing the Trotskyist for a number of political historical crimes: betraying Nestor Makhno and being on the wrong side of the Bakunin-Marx debate. The Spart rebutted with similarly silly accusations. There was a good lesson in this comedic moment: both of these fools were completely irrelevant. And how could they not be? One was speaking about a debate that happened in 1848 as if it was yesterday, and the other was selling a newspaper that had little pictures of Lenin and Trotsky inside the front page.
As a postscript, I did subscribe to the Workers’ Vanguard that day. It wasn’t because I found the Spartacist line attractive in any way, but because it was cheap and I was into collecting radical newspapers at the time. The paper never really impressed; it was mostly concerned with resurrecting revolutionary corpses from a bygone time. Though I must say, it did give me a few laughs, especially when a few months later they published three issues revisiting that damn Bakunin-Marx debate.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Perry Anderson, prominent left wing social critic and historian at UCLA, has written an insightful analysis of Putin’s Russia for the London Review of Books. I recently translated an interview Anderson gave to Kommersant, and in the LRB piece he elaborates on some of the ideas he presented there. I highly recommend reading it. It’s quite lucid and thick. Not to mention the guy can just flat out write. Here is an opening excerpt:
Under lowering skies, a thin line of mourners stretched silently outside the funeral hall. Barring the entrance, hulking riot police kept them waiting until assorted dignitaries – Anatoly Chubais, Nato envoys, an impotent ombudsman – had paid their respects. Eventually they were let in to view the corpse of the murdered woman, her forehead wrapped in the white ribbon of the Orthodox rite, her body, slight enough anyway, diminished by the flower-encrusted bier. Around the edges of the mortuary chamber, garlands from the media that attacked her while she was alive stood thick alongside wreaths from her children and friends, the satisfied leaf to leaf with the bereaved. Filing past them and out into the cemetery beyond, virtually no one spoke. Some were in tears. People dispersed in the drizzle as quietly as they came.
The authorities had gone to some lengths to divert Anna Politkovskaya’s funeral from the obvious venue of the Vagankovskoe, where Sakharov is buried, to a dreary precinct on the outskirts that few Muscovites can locate on a map. But how necessary was the precaution? The number of mourners who got to the Troekurovskoe was not large, perhaps a thousand or so, and the mood of the occasion was more sadness than anger. A middle-aged woman, bringing groceries home from the supermarket, shot at point-blank range in an elevator, Politkovskaya was killed for her courage in reporting the continuing butchery in Chechnya. An attempt to poison her had narrowly failed two years earlier. She had another article in press on the atrocities of the Kadyrov clan that now runs the country for the Kremlin, as she was eliminated. She lived and died a fighter. But of any powerful protest at her death, it is difficult to speak. She was buried with resignation, not fury or revolt.
In Ukraine, the discovery of the decapitated body of a journalist who had investigated official corruption, Georgi Gongadze, was sufficient outrage to shake the regime, which was brought down soon afterwards. Politkovskaya was a figure of another magnitude. A better historical comparison might be with the murder of Matteotti by Mussolini in 1924. In Russian circumstances, her moral stature as an opponent of arbitrary power was scarcely less than that of the Socialist deputy. But there the resemblance ends. The Matteotti Affair caused an outcry that nearly toppled Mussolini. Politkovskaya was killed with scarcely a ripple in public opinion. Her death, the official media explained, was either an unfathomable mystery, or the work of enemies of the government vainly attempting to discredit it. The president remarked she was a nobody whose death was the only news value in her life.
It is tempting, but would be a mistake, to see in that casual dismissal no more than the ordinary arrogance of power. All governments deny their crimes, and most are understanding of each other’s lies about them. Bush and Blair, with still more blood on their hands – in all probability, that of over half a million Iraqis – observe these precepts as automatically as Putin. But there is a difference that sets Putin apart from his fellow rulers in the G8, indeed from virtually any government in the world. On the evidence of comparative opinion polls, he is the most popular national leader alive today. Since he came to power six years ago, he has enjoyed the continuous support of over 70 per cent of his people, a record no other contemporary politician begins to approach. For comparison, Chirac now has an approval rating of 38 per cent, Bush of 36 per cent, Blair of 30 per cent.Tags: Putin|Russia|Perry Anderson|London Review of Books|journalism|human rights|democracy|economics|historyPost Views: 455
By Sean — 11 years ago
If you’ve ever been to
, and you stay with friends or in a private residence, you know what a pain in the ass it is to register. The process required getting a letter from the person who owns the apartment, take it to OVIR, and wait in line. If an inviting organization does the procedure for you it can take up to 10 days to get your passport back. When I was in Russia in October, it took two weeks to get my passport back. Granted, I was registering illegally since the owners of the apartment I stayed in didn’t want anything to do with the registration process. My registration was done the very Russian way—a friend of a friend of a friend who knew some babushka who worked in OVIR. She probably had 50 people registered at her apartment and making a good profit in doing it. Thank god for blat. Thankfully, I didn’t get stopped and had to pay no fines. These days, white skin goes a long way in Moscow . Russia
On January 15, 2007 new laws on registration went into effect with the intent of simplifying this process. Full text of the law can be found here. The law mostly addresses issues of monitoring immigrant labor, which according to Daniel Sershen of the Moscow Times are “overdue.” The law expands quotas for immigrant labor and levies fines up to $30,000 to business who don’t keep track of their foreign employees. Unfortunately, the law is not without its racist elements.
Xenophobia and political considerations have determined some aspects of the new policy, and the results will hurt both
and the countries from which most of the migrant workers come. Russia
The market ban is part of a trend of growing intolerance; a populist move intended to placate elements in society that would rather have immigrants out of sight and mind. Moreover, if fully enforced, it would lead to higher prices in many markets, as employers switch from migrants to more costly domestic labor. Even now, markets have curtailed activities and even closed in some cities, the public relations manager for the Tsentraziya migrant support group, Nurbek Atambayev, said last week.
Moreover, the law impacts tourists and those who travel to
on business. As the Moscow News explains, Russia
The new law is essentially different from the old in that foreigners have to formally notify migration authorities, instead of waiting for permission to get registered. In practice this means that within three days of arrival, the host of the foreigner – the owner of the apartment, or the head of a company that invited him – fills out a form stating the guest’s identity, purpose of stay, occupation, passport information, his home address, and his migration card (which the foreigner obtains separately upon entering the country). By law, the host then takes this form, together with a receipt for a government fee, to the nearest local Federal Migration Service office (traditionally known as OVIR). An official keeps the top part of the form, and the visiting foreigner is left with the bottom half. That’s his proof that he’s notified the authorities.
Like most changes in Russian law, those who have to actually enforce them are left confused. It seems that local officials are unsure about the law and are unwilling to sway from standard procedure. As one anonymous source told the Moscow News, “So far, [all these new procedures] are not envisaged by anything. We’re waiting for an official enactment from the government. It was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 15, but so far it doesn’t exactly exist.” Or as Alexei Filipenkov, deputy chairman of Association of European Businesses’ visa task force complained to the St. Petersburg Times, “Nobody knows what is going on. I ask one migration official what to do, and he tells me one thing. On the same day I go to another official, and they tell me something completely different. Nobody knows what is going on because the rules are constantly being changed.”
Does anyone know how all this is supposed to work?Post Views: 536
By Sean — 12 years ago
Kommersant’s English mirror site has an article with the details about Basayev’s death and autopsy. His body was so mangled by a weapons explosion that forensic experts had to identify the corpse through his hands and feet. Details of the explosion that killed him have been pieced together by representatives of the Interior Ministry and Ingushetian Prosecutor’s Office. They are as follows:
According to the investigation, late Sunday evening, several automobiles – three cars and two KamAZ trucks, one of which was towing the other – came to an unfinished house on the edge of Ekazhevo. There was some movement inside the house for a while, said the very few witnesses investigators were able to find, as people in black uniforms went back and forth between the house and the forest, which began at the edge of the yard and stretched all the way to the border with North Ossetia. They unloaded crates from the trucks and transferred other between cars. Then a powerful explosion took place.
Local police arrived to find the smoking frame of one of the trucks with a thick cable tied to its front bumper and a large pit, on the other side of which was the rear part of a car frame. The other truck stood at a distance of several tens of meters and was relatively undamaged. In the back of the truck were 150 unguided artillery missiles and about 100 cartridges of various calibers. Several dozen barrels from RPG-7 and RPG-26 grenade launchers were scattered within a radius of half a kilometer, as well as unexploded warheads from them and a large number of bullets. Those were the contents of the truck that exploded. Four bodies and four machineguns were also found.
Early Monday morning, about six hours after the blast, FSB agents arrived on the scene. They dismissed the local police and prosecutors and declared that the event had been their special operation. Several hours later they announced that Basaev has been killed.
The material evidence gathered by experts indicates, however, that the militants most likely blew themselves up due to careless handling of explosives. Newly built empty houses were being used by the separatists as warehouses where large shipments of weapons from abroad were received and distributed. Representatives from various groups were dividing a newly received shipment among themselves on Sunday. It is possible that the weapons were to be carried away in the two trucks but, after one of them broke down, the weapons had to be reloaded into a car.
So there you have it. FSB special forces did not have a hand in killing him, though I’m sure they will continue to claim it until their dying end. Rather, Basayev’s death was a result of the “careless handling of explosives.” Not the type of valiant death a “shaheed” would hope for.
I also encourage readers to check out Thomas de Waal’s comment on Basayev in today’s Moscow Times. De Waal met with Basayev once in 1998, and while he claims that the terrorist was no “Islamist” or “politician”, he was a “permanent warrior” and “his fearlessness, cunning, propaganda skills and cruelty made him unique.” In Waal’s view, this makes Basayev irreplaceable. He continues:
Two of his kind do not come around twice in a generation. The bad news is that his removal came many years too late — and not just because many hundreds of people might otherwise be alive. The Russian leadership has eliminated or exiled the moderate wing of the Chechen pro-independence movement, which wanted to negotiate and could have brought alienated Chechens back intosome kind of political process.
Consider the situation of a young twenty-something Chechen male who has been part of the rebel movement for the last decade. He has seen friends and family members die and quite probably has been wounded or tortured by Russian security forces. He has almost no education. If he watches Russian television he will see reports of his comrades being “destroyed” as if they were vermin.
Now this man has no leaders left. What route does he follow? One route is collaboration. The so-called “Kadyrovtsy” who comprise Chechnya’s pro-Moscow security forces aremainly ex-fighters, taking a rest from the hills and earning a decent salary in a new uniform. Their loyalty is entirely provisional and on the day after their leader, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, is replaced or arrested, there is no knowing what they will do next.
The other road is radical Islam. In the last five years, a network of shadowy jamaats, or Islamic groups, has sprung up across the North Caucasus, from Dagestan to Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Its adherents are anonymous pious young men from marginalized social groups. Not for them the theatrics of Basayev; they will operate like tiny ants gnawing away at the fundamentals of Russian power in the region.
This last point again raises the question of whether Basayev’s death will be a blessing that goes beyond the demise of a ruthless terrorist. Some, like Timur Aliev of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, are reporting how some in Chechnya hope that Basayev’s death will be the beginning of the conflict’s end. Others, like Andrei Smirnov at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, suggest that the militant’s death in no way means the problems in the North Caucauses are solved. Though the reigns of the rebels’ leadership now passes to Doku Umarov, the course he chooses for the movement could engender rivals to his leadership. Thus the movement could further fracture between a young and old guard. Another worry is that now rebel forces in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Ingushetia lack leadership and an iconic hero. While many in Russia might greet the disarray of the Chechen nationalist movement, that chaos will only make any positives that might result from Basayev’s death difficult to achieve.
This difficulty will in part be exacerbated by the utter misanalysis Russia makes of the conflict. As Stephen Blank, another commentator at the Eurasia Daily Monitor, concludes:
Although official Russia likes to attribute the unrest in the Caucasus in general — and in Chechnya in particular — to Wahhabism, in fact the cause of the unrest remains long-standing Russian misrule and oppression. This situation ultimately led to unbridled Islamic terrorism as practiced by Basaev and his like-minded colleagues, but it is doubtful that Kadyrov and his thugs represent a better prospect or that anyone else has a solution to the problems of the North Caucasus. Undoubtedly Putin has won a big battle here, even if inadvertently, and cut down a tall tree of Chechen resistance. But it is unlikely that a people who have fought Russia for more than 200 years will simply accept defeat now or that Russia knows how and will bring about a peace based upon a legitimate order that compels assent rather than fear either in Chechnya or in the North Caucasus.Post Views: 747