Michael Idov’s “The Hibernation” has received cheers and jeers from SRB readers. One of the issues Idov’s article raises is the difficultly in reporting on Russia. In Idov’s view the real challenge is to talk about Russia without using the “heap of memes” handed down by decades of Cold War. I couldn’t agree more. Here is Idov’s take on the matter (You can also follow his Live Journal):
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By Sean — 10 years ago
As regular readers can see, my blogging has been sparse over the last few weeks. I just finished a three week teaching blitz of a Western Civilization course at Santa Monica High School. The class was part of Santa Monica Community College’s dual enrollment program which allows high school students to take classes for college credit. The class was everyday, 8-11 a.m. I haven’t woken up so early since I worked in a stove factory over fifteen years ago.
Rushing through 500 years of history has never been so daunting. The class was enjoyable and the students remarkably bright. One thing that struck me about the high school is how it resembled a prison. I guess Gilles Deleuze was on to something when he wrote that modernity initiates,
The organization of vast spaces of enclosure. The individual never ceases passing from one closed environment to another, each having its own laws: first the family; then the school (“you are no longer in your family”); then the barracks (“you are no longer at school”); then the factory; from time to time the hospital; possibly the prison, the preeminent instance of the enclosed environment. It’s the prison that serves as the analogical model: at the sight of some laborers, the heroine of Rossellini’s Europa ’51 could exclaim, “I thought I was seeing convicts.”******
So teaching was the main reason why blogging has been sparse. It will continue to be so. On Thursday, I leave for Israel for two weeks. I’m hoping to do so research for a few articles on the Russian diaspora there. My big hope is to meet up with some Israeli neo-Nazis for an article for the newly relaunched eXile Online. (Yes, if you haven’t already heard, the eXile is back in virtual form. Mark has left Russia and word is the eXile is going to be less Russia focused. Look for its verbal assassins to set their sites on more victims.) If the Israeli Nazi thing doesn’t pan out, I’m sure my travels will present a number of other topics. So stay tuned.
Though I haven’t been keeping up with the Russian news as well as I normally do, there have been a number of interesting stories that have appeared. Some of them are directly Russia related, others are bit tangential.
First article to catch my notice was a report on the exhumation of a mass grave containing around 300 bodies in an asphalt plant in Chechnya. The grave was discovered in 2000 but wasn’t uncovered until now. The site dates to the Second Chechen War and according to the report “likely contains civilian victims of an attack by Russian forces.” The report of this mass grave follows the announcement a week earlier of another one found in Grozny containing an estimated 800 corpses.
Open Democracy has published several articles on Russia as part of their collaboration with Polit.ru. Football fans should check out Lyubov Borusyak’s “Russia, Football and Patriotism.” Granted connecting football to patriotism, or what I’d rather call nationalism, is not new. Sport is a uniting force and it is no surprise that in Russia’s so-called “age of stability” sport is making a national comeback. Russia now appears as a winning nation to many of its citizens, and this is only reinforced by the fact that its teams have some victories under their belts. But as Borusyak points out, its not just that Russian teams are winning. In fact, the ultimate crown often alludes them. This however doesn’t dampen the link between national enthusiasm and sport. Just the opposite actually. As she notes, “There are two kinds of patriotic rhetoric. On the one hand, our people are winning because Russia is ‘rising’. On the other, our people are losing because the whole world is against us. Until 2008,the second discourse predominated, as there were not many successes. But this year the situation changed.”*****
With much of the world reeling from capital’s cyclical curse of overproduction, speculation bubbles, or to put it more kindly, “market corrections,” it begs the question of Russia’s economic prognosis. Unlike the American economy, the Russian economy has not experienced shocks of similar magnitude. It’s banks aren’t collapsing, being bailed out or raided by the state. Corporate profits aren’t taking a hit. Announcements of layoffs, buyouts, and wage slashing aren’t ubiquitous. Like so often, American capitalists who love to spit on the state are the first to run to it for a handout. It all proves once again that its socialism for the rich and capitalism for everyone else. As Robert Borosage reminds us, Wall Street’s “losses are socialized; their profits are pocketed.”
This is not to say that Russia’s economy is all bread and circuses for the average Russian. Inflation is a particular bugaboo that is not just being fueled by high oil prices and general global inflation in commodities. Russian inflation more comes from the fact that, as Dmitri Travin notes, “millions of people, from oligarchs to cleaners really are benefiting from oil revenues.” Of course, the spread of petrodollars contains the seeds of its own destruction. Especially when you consider its effects on manufacturing. Travin writes,
From the point of view of manufacturing,this wealth is a terrible curse. An expensive ruble makes the goods we manufacture more expensive by comparison with imported goods. If the Central Bank does not stop the ruble from rising, many Russian producers will lose their competitive advantage and cease to exist. And along with them, many jobs will disappear. GDP will stop growing, and parts of the country will be plunged into crisis. In the long term, the Russian people’s unexpected wealth will turn into poverty.
What God giveth, God (might) taketh away. Again, the inevitability of overproduction is a real bitch to tame.
The losses of global economic crisis are not equal. There are winners and losers. Take General Motors, for example. GM executives plan to make some “difficult decisions” in regard to its American workforce. This includes, according to the New York Times, “a 20 percent reduction in payroll for salaried workers, elimination of health care for older white-collar retirees, and suspension of G.M.’s annual stock dividend of $1 a share.” GM, like most car companies, are reeling from the slide in the American market. No one wants their big gas guzzling SUVs and two-ton trucks anymore. As a result, GM plans to make $10 billion in cost cuts. And where will these cuts come from? Why labor and benefits of course.
At the same time GM is slashing labor costs in the United States, it’s looking to expand in Russia. GM is currently in negotiations to up its production in Russia, where its market share has increased by 2 percent over the last year. Given that Russia has a skilled, cheap workforce it’s ripe for exploitation. The average wage for a Russian autoworker is about $1000 a month with few, if any, benefits. An American autoworker makes an average of $5000 a month and that’s if you don’t include benefits. With GM sales rising coupled with the benefit of slashing labor costs, its no surprise that they and many other automakers can’t get to Russia fast enough.
Russian and American autoworkers know the score. Class war is heating up in both countries. In the States, auto union are fighting against the “two-tier wage system” which looks to slash staring wages by half. In Russia, autoworkers are increasingly understanding their labor power and are putting collective pressure on automakers. This pressure is expected to grow. As Aleksey Etmanov, the leader of a Ford auto union in St. Petersburg, said in a recent interview,
The creation of trade unions will increase. Even now there is simply a wave of new trade unions appearing. Today in our trade union there are approximately 1000 people, this is half of the workers of plant. In Taganrog the works manager hides in order not to obtain information about the creation of the trade union. Certainly, the pressure everywhere is being stepped up, and repression from the side of employers is increasing, they are sacking activists. Nowhere do the employers want to live according to the law (including Russia) but we are fighting back. In Toyota in the Petersburg area the manager, who, by the way, went there from “Ford”, is himself putting the workers in such conditions that we are confident, that very soon there will a trade union there too.
We are actively participating in the setting up of new trade unions in other factories of our industry, and we are developing inter-district unions of the Russian automobile industry, which, according to our plans, will be linked up as members of an organization covering all the car factories of the country, and we think we can do this towards the middle of next year. The Ford trade unionists are the most experienced elements in this association, and without us, probably the association would not have appeared. But all over the world the car workers trade unions are the strongest. The joint-combine committee draws nearer…
It is clear that the strength of the union is not only in the individual enterprise but is also in all the surrounding workplaces. Therefore we want to be combined with other trade unions, both with the Russian and in other countries. In particular, we closely collaborate with the international association of metalworkers. Now our interests can also be represented abroad. For example, when we struck, our American friends came to examine the headquarters of company “Ford” in Detroit…
Finally, its not just Russian autoworkers who are organizing. So are Russian prisoners. ON July 6 over 100 former Russian political prisoners gathered for the First Congress of Political Prisoners in Moscow. The result was the formation of the Union of Prisoners, which in the words of Edward Limonov, “will gather, not only political prisoners, but will defend the rights of all prisoners and ex-prisoners.” Limonov also proposes the creation of A Day of Prisoners for September 14. He also plans on turning his National Bolshevik Party toward organizing prisoners. Limonov clearly knows his history. Prison is indeed a transformative revolutionary experience. Any bonafide Old Bolshevik did a stint in prison or exile. Prison hardened the Bolshevik soul and spirit. Apparently many of Limonov’s young charges are undergoing the same process. As Limonov says of Aleksei Makarov, who was recently released from prison. “Aleksei wasn’t yet 18 when he was arrested two years ago. He grew greatly in prison.”
If the Natsbol’s slogan is indeed “Yes, to death!” then nothing will harden that political will more than prison.
Russian prisons are of course nightmares. They always have been and continue to be so. For a run down on the conditions in prisons and the treatment of prisoners in Russia, I recommend checking out Robert Amsterdam’s excellent coverage of the issue. In particular, check out Grigory Pasko’s three part series “Life Behind Bars.”Post Views: 484
By Sean — 11 years ago
No one likes to be over edited. Least of all Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. So much so that he pulled his article “Containing Russia: Back To The Future?” [Part One and Part Two] from publication in Foreign Affairs because, according to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry:
The Editors, with reference to their own standards, substantially edited the article, if not censored it. It was cut by 40%, losing a considerable part of its original meaning. Some editing even meant that Sergey Lavrov was to subscribe to certain Foreign Policy positions of the present US Administration, to which Russia objects on grounds of principle. Having gone through that all and motivated exclusively by the interests of strengthening US-Russian relations, we had to face an utterly artificial and unacceptable demand by the Editors. We were required to supplement the article’s title “Containing Russia: back to the future?” with a subtitle which read “averting a new Cold War” or “a conflict between Russia and America.”
FA editor James Hoge, speaking in an interview with RFE/RL, rejected “all suggestions of censorship” and that Lavrov’s retraction “was a total surprise” and was “kind of baffling.”
The editorial dispute according to Hoge concerns his request that Lavrov provide a subheading for the article, which is standard practice for FA articles. But Lavrov “balked at presenting one. We then said, we really have to have it, all the essays have it, it’s really a format formality, you can choose the wording you want, if you want a few suggestions, we’ll make them, which we did. And the next thing we know, he just sends us an email withdrawing the piece with no explanation.” In regard to Lavrov’s claim the edited version would aggravate US-Russian relations, Hoge replied, “Well that’s nonsense. The piece — you can see because the Russian Embassy thinks it is so aggravating they have put it on the wire (newswires), which we would have done too, but we didn’t want to violate his copyright — it’s a very tame piece.”
The thrust of the piece is a reply to Yuliya Tymoshenko’s May/June 2007 article “Containing Russia.” That article, which opens with a reference to George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” raises the specter of Russia’s “age-old imperial designs,” this time fueled by its oil-gas empire, and argues that “the West must seek to create counterweights to Russia’s expansionism and not place all its chips on Russian domestic reform.” Basically it seems to me with her arguments about the need to create a “collective energy market” i.e. the EU should negotiate energy deals collectively rather than on a state by state basis, while at the same time promoting “democracy and free markets” amount to a new form of containment policy. Yet, despite all these, Tymoshenko maintains that “I do not believe that a new Cold War is under way or likely.” You could have fooled me.
The article is also a plea for Western European and American backing of Ukraine. “By strengthening our independence,” Tymoshenko writes, “we can shape Europe’s peace and unity as we roll back the crony capitalism and lawlessness that are now the norms of the post-Soviet world.”
My favorite line is “Russia’s leaders deserve understanding for their anguished struggle to overcome generations of Soviet misrule.” As if Russia’s leaders are wounded children that need nurturing, understanding, but also a bit of tough love. I doubt infantalizing Russia’s leaders will hardly garner their cooperation.
If anything, Tymoshenko’s article makes it crystal clear where she stands in all this: Save us from the Russians because your future is tied with ours.
Lavrov, of course, sees right through this ruse. “The mere posing of the question [of whether or not to contain Russia],” he writes, “suggests that for some almost nothing has changed since the Cold War.” Lavrov never mentions Tymoshenko or Ukraine specifically and mostly addresses the US as if the former is merely a puppet of the latter. So despite all his claims that the Cold War is anachronistic and “it is time to bury the Cold War legacy and establish structures that meet the imperatives of this era,” Lavrov nevertheless speaks in terms of a West-East binary. Still he does well to draw attention to the “limits of force” (a direct shot at Washington) in dealing with some of the crisis that plague the world. But his scope for those problems are limited to those which directly affect Russia’s interests: Iran, Kosovo, and NATO expansion. While serious issues for sure, but besides nuclear proliferation, the real crises are yet to come.
If Russia wants to be a partner in global cooperation in dealing with the world’s problems it needs to take stock of how many of its current domestic problems are also global ones: the increasing gap between rich and poor, migration/immigration of redundant populations, the rise in ethno-religio-nationalist radicalism, the increasingly collapse of secular political movements as vehicles for political change, the rise of low intensity political violence by groups that lack state power, and the “balkanization” of the Middle East and Central Asia as a result of all this.
It seems to me that no binary can encompass the totality of these processes. Not East-West, nor North-South. Because when you look at the topography of the world, conditions previously relegated to the former are now found in the latter, and vice versa. Such is the bequeathal of globalization.Tags: Putin|Russia|Foreign Affairs|US-Russia relations|Sergei Lavrov|media|democracy|globalization|Cold War|UkrainePost Views: 503
By Sean — 11 years ago
I’ll be appearing on Political Vindication Radio at 6:10 pm PST to talk about Putin and the state of Russia. Political Vindication Radio emphatically portends to be “doing the work blue blood Republicans just won’t do.” I’m not sure what that means but having a stanch lefty like myself as a guest should certainly prove to be interesting radio.Post Views: 321