Ninety years ago this week, 194 delegates from youth groups from all over revolutionary Russia met to consolidate themselves into an all-Russian youth organization. Of the 194 delegates, 176 had voting rights, (the rest had the right to speak but not vote). The voting delegates claimed to represent 120 different youth groups with a total membership of 21,000. The core groups were two pro-Bolshevik groups, the Socialist League of Worker youth based in Petrograd and the Third International from Moscow. Of the delegates, half (88) were Bolshevik Party members, 38 were communist sympathizers, and 45 were non-party youth. Also present were three Social Democratic Internationalists, one Left Socialists Revolutionary, and one Anarchist. The week long conference, which ran from 29 October to 4 November finalized the creation of the Russian Communist Youth League, or Komsomol.
To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Komsomol, SRB will follow the history, reminiscence, and celebrations occurring throughout Russia over the next week.
Да здравствует Комсомол!
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By Sean — 6 years ago
Russian translation of this post, courtesy of Inosmi.
Update on the Update: More on the Nashi website “403 Forbidden.” Alexey Sidorenko tweeted “for some time [Nashi] were denying all surfers from abroad. In order to be sure try accessing it via Russia-based proxy or VPN.” I went through a Russian proxy and indeed the site works
Having gone through a few articles I saved on Nashi over the last few months, I should note organization’s demise was already in the works since February. Then, Izvestiia reported whiffs of Nashi’s liquidation and the transformation of its summer bash, Seliger, into something else. Moreover, the article pointed to the possible passing of youth politics from Nashi to Molodaia gvardiia, i.e. from Surkov’s people to Volodin’s.
Then in mid-March, Gazeta.ru reported that Seliger was going to be re-branded, and its 12 million ruble budget placed in new hands.
Again, all of this suggests that Nashi’s destruction is part of Volodin’s victory and the subsequent coring out of Surkov’s clients.
On Friday, Gazeta.ru dropped a bomb concerning the future of Nashi, the Putinphiliac youth organization. According to unnamed sources, Vasilii Yakemenko, Nashi founder and soon to be outgoing head of Rosmolodezh, met with Nashi’s four Commissars, Maria Kislitsina, Artur Omarov, Alexkasnder Gagiev, and Sergei Blintsov, and told them “the history of [Nashi] in the present form is over.” The youth organization was to be “disbanded,” with Yakemenko telling his loyal servants, “thanks for everything, you’re all free.” All current Nashi initiatives were to be shuttered, the ruble spigot plugged, the marquee clicked off, the doors bolted. Good night, y’all.
Gazeta‘s article circulated quickly as many expressed elation at the doom of what is arguably a much hated organization. Nashi’s media maiden, Kristina Potupchik, tried to dispel the story as based on unfounded “rumors.” “I’m officially declaring to all interested persons: There isn’t any talk about Nashi’s dissolution or shutting. Nor could there be.” Potupchik wrote on her blog. “Nashi will not simply continue to exist, but will also birth new projects which will remain within the framework of the movement.” “We are not closed,” she added in response to the jubilation at the news, “[unlike] your white-ribbon-fountain “revolution.”
I’ve been skeptical of Nashi’s demise in the past. This time, however, I think something is in the works. Potupchik can gloss over Gazeta‘s very detailed report all she wants. The truth is this news comes amid a few significant turning points in Nashi’s seven year history: the Nashi brand soured, Vladislav Surkov’s dismissal, Vyacheslav Volodin’s ascendency, and Putin’s plan, albeit still nascent, to reorganize the structure of his electoral base.
But does this mean Nashi is dead and buried? Dead maybe. But a resurrection in a new form is entirely possible.
Indeed, according to the article, Nashi will be “reformed” but how and into what “no one knows.” One theory is that, with Yakemenko out as Youth Affairs chief, he will join his patron Vladislav Surkov in the Duma (there is talk that if Medvedev becomes Prime Minister, he will name Surkov his chief of staff), where a new youth movement will be born under his leadership. Given that Nashi is essentially Yakemenko’s personal property, many of the activists and all the resources the organization has accumulated will go with him. This would be an interesting move. This would put Surkov-Yakemenko-Nashi re-branded under Medvedev. Could this be the budding of the long sought after Medvedev clan base? A pretty weak base, I know. But it’s something.
Another theory is that Nashi’s Commissars will possibly create a political party out of the organization’s corpse to serve “as a base for tomorrow’s pro-Kremlin youth.” This is an interesting idea too, and works well with something Brian Whitmore and Kirill Kobrin brought up in their latest Power Vertical Podcast. Namely, Putin is looking to reorganize Russia’s political landscape based on a corporatist model around a coalition of parties and social organizations under the umbrella of the All-Russian People’s Front (ONF). United Russia, which Putin has been distancing himself from since December, would either be dissolved or split and its remnants reabsorbed into Putin’s coalition. Indeed, Putin hinted that he might lead the ONF and dump his chairmanship of United Russia. If this is the future of Putin’s electoral machine, then the reform of party registration works in Putin’s rebranding favor. It allows a bunch of disparate parties, presumably the Nashi Party would be one, to form a populist network that is flexible, and more importantly, decentralized to avoid another United Russia PR crash and burn. If one head gets bloodied, chop it off and grow two new ones in its place.
Nashi’s supposed liquidation, then, can be read in terms of a convergence of forces. The idea that Nashi has outlived its usefulness has been a longtime coming. As I noted back in 2008, there was already some in the Kremlin that felt that Nashi was no longer needed with the “Operation successor” imminent and the “Orange Threat” vanquished. Still, Nashi survived, presumably thanks to Surkov’s patronage, and spent the next four years harassing the phantoms of revolution: liberal oppositionists, foreign dignitaries, imagined “fascists,” and critical journalists. Things are now different. According to Gazeta‘s source, Yakemenko told the Commissars that “the movement was quite severely compromised before the [Duma] elections.” This explains Nashi’s conspicuous absence over the last six months. Known for bringing thousands of youth to the street, Nashi was nowhere to be found in any significance (clashes with protesters on Pushkin Square on the evening of December 5th aside) during the Putin love-fests during the Presidential campaign. Nashi’s degradation, however, was a longtime in the making. I would place the beginning of the end at Oleg Kashin’s beating in November 2010. Kashin quite logically fingered Nashi and Yakemenko in particular for organizing the crime. As chronicled in the excellent documentary Putin’s Kiss, Kashin’s beating even turned one of its diehard members, Masha Drokova, away from Yakemenko’s clutches. Things went downhill from there, culminating in February’s email dump by Anonymous that revealed Nashi engaging in all sorts of dirty deeds, including smear campaigns against oppositionists like Alexei Navalny and organizing a DDoS attack on Kommersant, allegedly.
But there is another context to Nashi’s supposed destruction: the fall of Vladislav Surkov, the grey cardinal. Nashi is just one more casualty in the Vyacheslav Volodin-Sukov death match. Volodin won, and in one of his power consolidating moves, quickly placed youth policy directly under his thumb with his client and former Molodaia gavardiia leader Timur Prokopenko at the head. With his patron Surkov vanquished and Rosmolodezh soon to be emasculated, Vasilii Yakemenko announced his intention of leaving his post after the Presidential election. I expect his resignation around Putin’s inauguration, if not sooner. Hence, wither Nashi.
Granted, this story is still young. Things could develop in another direction in the coming weeks. But as things now stand, liquidating Nashi’s present form makes good sense. The question is what would a resuscitated Nashi look like, and more importantly, what role will it play in Putin 2.0.Post Views: 767
By Sean — 11 years ago
As I wrote almost a year ago, youth politics in Russia is polarized between two youths. And the two “actions” this weekend, one in Nizhni Novgorod and the other in Moscow, prove that among political youth the chasm between pro and anti-Putin youth is vast.
For example, take the first action in Nizhni. Hundreds of activists from Other Russia were swarmed by truncheon wielding police. City officials denied the organizers a permit to hold the protest in the center of the city but allowed it to be held in its outskirts. To their credit, the organizers held the protest anyway, though it is possible the lack of a permit made the turnout in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Reports say that the police outnumbered the crowd of mostly youths. Thirty protesters were arrested. And like always police engaged in preemptive arrests.
Among those arrested was Marina Litvinovich, an aide to liberal opposition figure Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion turned fierce critic of Putin.
Litvinovich told The Associated Press that she was detained, to prevent her from protesting, as she was driving into the city, on the grounds that her personal car was on a list of stolen vehicles. She was released several hours later, only to be arrested a second time for the same purported reason.
Morar said two other organizers detained ahead of the rally were in custody on suspicion of terrorist activity. She said they have been accused of distributing pamphlets with instructions on how to become a terrorist.
Regional police spokesman Alexander Gorbatov said that only about 30 people had been detained for holding an unauthorized protest.
It was unclear what would happen to the protesters who were detained. Under Russian law, police can hold suspects for up to 3 days, after which they must either be released or a court must sanction their arrest for a longer period of time, pending investigation.
To further discredit the legitimacy of the protests, Novgorod deputy governor Sergei Potapov claimed that the protesters were receiving funds from American and European NGOs.
These events are in stark contrast to Nashi’s Komsomolesque action in Moscow. Fifteen thousand Nashists flooded Moscow’s streets in an action called “Connecting with the President,” giving out Putin’s cell phone number to passerby so they could send him a text message. The action commemorated the seventh year anniversary of Putin becoming president. In contrast to the above protest in Nizhni, “the event’s participants were peaceful and did not disturb order. There were no detentions,” reported Itar-Tass. The Nashi action was not without police presence. An estimated 5000 police were deployed to ensure “law and order.” A 5000 strong police escort is probably a better way of thinking about this.
A Nashi poster asked who Russians wanted for their next president, with pictures of past leaders from Catherine the Great to Josef Stalin to Mikhail Gorbachev and Putin.
The organization’s members descended on Moscow from throughout the country, with participants saying they came from locations including Bryansk, on the border with Ukraine; the Volga River city of Saratov; and Vladikavkaz in the south.
Festivities began Saturday as members slept in tents in a Moscow suburb, one of the group’s commissars told dpa. The following day, dozens of buses brought the youths to central Moscow, where Vasily Yakemenko, the group’s leader, and commissars spoke before a crowd.
Police closed Prospekt Sakharova, a busy central street named after Soviet-era human rights advocate Andrei Sakharov, and guarded the group’s buses. Members, accompanied on the metro by police escorts, struck out to compass the city.
Dressed in identical red-and-white jackets, baseball caps and shoulder bags emblazoned with the slogan ‘Don’t Oversleep Russia – The President’s Phone Number,’ Nashi members presented passersby with nine questions, most of them about the West and the United States.
One can’t ignore the sad irony that police closed down Prospekt Sakharova so Nashi could have their protest. Such is what passes for youth politics in Russia.
Update: I think an interesting comparison between Russian and American police tactics against protesters can be made. Those interested should read the NY Times article, “City Police Spied Broadly Before GOP Convention.”Post Views: 452
By Sean — 13 years ago
“This is a mass organization which is not interested in the Kremlin. The arm of the court is trying to liquidate us, but we will not stand for it and will go to the European Court on Human Rights . . . If you ban us we will flee underground and from this it will be worse for everyone!” Such were the words from the former Soviet dissident, writer, and the National Bolshevik Party founder and leader Edward Limonov at the Moscow District Court last Wednesday. Kommersant reported quite a scene. Outside the court a bus full of OMON agents (the Russian riot police) waited for signs of protest. Police lined the corridor leading to the court room. Agents were on duty in the courtroom with dogs. The Moscow District Court banned the National Bolsheviks or Natsbols because they failed to properly register as an official political party. According to Russia law, “social organizations,” which the Natsbols registered themselves as in 1993, cannot call themselves a political party. Since the Natsbols don’t run candidates, and by Limonov’s own words are a “mass organization” that is “not interested in the Kremlin” they don’t seem to fit in the legal definition of political party. They don’t have candidates for office. Nor do they participate in the electoral process at all. In fact, it seems their goal is to destroy it.
The question I’ve had since I heard of Limonov’s motley crew of radical youths is: what exactly are the National Bolsheviks? This question pertains more to than just the semantics of Russian electoral law. Like most radical groups the Natsbols straddle the line between “party” and “mass organization.” Their actions and ideology hardly fit in a liberal electoral system. Their politics appeal to the disaffected. Their style hails from the fringes of youth culture. Their discourse is political venom that seeks to demolish the pretenses of polite political society.
Because of all this, many correctly surmise that their liquidation is not about form, but content. The National Bolsheviks are a fascist organization of mostly young people in their late teens and early twenties who are attracted to Limonov’s radical writings, the group’s extremist views, and militant, if not cartoonish, tactics. Their symbol: a red flag with a solid white circle in the middle with a black hammer and sickle in the center of it that embodies the colors of Nazism and the symbol of Soviet Communism. In their program, the Natsbols call for the destruction of the “anti-human trinity” of liberalism, democracy, and capitalism; the creation of a Russian Empire from “Vladivostok up to Gibraltar on the basis of Russian civilization”; and, among other things, the creation of a “total state” that places the nation above human rights. All that sounds pretty fascist to me.
Yet there is something about the Natsbols that makes it hard to take them seriously. They seem more style than politics. Theirs is a political aesthetic that weds the politics of the 1920s and 30s with the punk rock nihilism of the 1970s and 80s. As Limonov describes in his trademark broken English in the Exile, a Moscow expatriate weekly a new political aesthetic was the center piece of the National Bolsheviks birth:
“In 1994 I have founded National-Bolsheviks party. I was so sick of conventional politics that I have decided to create some entirely new idiology [sic] based on style. Much later I have declared that National-Bolsheviks were in existence before National-Bolsheviks Party was created. Yes, when in 1994 somebody asked Egor Letov, Russian punk idol, why he is so poorly dressed, I was present in that moment. Letov answered that he is wearing clothes which his admirers normally wear. “And they are poor people, you know,” explained Letov. “That why I wear cheap baskets, he pointed at his sneakers.”
Taking example from Letov we have recommended to our followers in few first issues of “Limonka” to wear black jeans, black footwear, to cut their hair short. That was precisely those clothes that poor moscovits youngsters were sporting in those days, and now. So our party style was an imitation of street style. In that very sense it is true that National-Bolsheviks were valking streets of Russian cities before National-Bolsheviks Party was created. Black is very practical colour, stains and dirt are less visible on black clothes. Later some vise journalists wanted to tie our black clothes to fascist black shorts. I always pointed out that poor moscovites youngsters are dressing up in black. And short hear is practical, it doesn’t require much care.
Moreover, Limonov claims, “Our party style was an imitation of street style. In that very sense it is true that National-Bolsheviks were valking [sic] streets of Russian cities before National-Bolsheviks Party was created.” Their combination of fascist and Bolshevik symbols produced shock in a country where Soviet Communism defeated German Nazism to the cost of 28 million of its citizens. As did the Natsbol slogans like “Capitalism is shit!”, “We hate the government!”, and “Eat the rich!”
Their political actions are more akin to anti-globalization groups in Western Europe and the United States. The Natsbols have dropped banners from expensive Moscow hotel windows calling for Putin’s resignation. They’ve pelted former NATO Secretary-General George Robertson with rotten vegetables, smeared mayonnaise on Russian officials, and even slapped Prince Charles with carnations. The National Bolshevik style is to be scandalous, witty, confrontational, loud, and colorful. Their aesthetic was to offend; to turn politics into the carnvalesque of street theater.
Yet there is nothing in this political aesthetic that is antithetical to fascism or communism. In fact, quite the opposite. The political aestheticization of everyday life was a main tenet of Italian, German and Central and Eastern European fascism and communist movements. Fascist uniformed marches, banners, slogans and songs went hand in hand with street brawls and attacking individuals, whether they were Jews, ethnic minorities, liberals, communists, anarchists, etc. In fin-de-siecle Russia, futurist youths engaged an in your face street transformed “hooliganism” into a political art. The aestheticization of politics also captured the imagination of early 20th century avant-garde artists, writers, poets, and dramatists. Many were subsequently drawn to and joined both radical movements.
The Russian Revolution made the aesthetics of politics a centerpiece of youth’s political expression, whether official or unofficial. For example, under the auspices of “cultural revolution” or “anti-religion,” both of which employed a wide range of propagandistic styles, members of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) broke into churches or mosques, destroyed religious artifacts, and even beat up the resident priests and mullahs. In 1928, in Turkistan, Komsomol members turned the celebrations of the introduction of the Turkmen alphabet into a pretence for pulling the beards and knocking off the turbans of men and ripping the veils off of women. All of this was much to the horror of their superiors, who referred to these members as “Komsomol hooligans.” Such incidents were quickly referred to the secret police.
By National Bolshevik accounts, they too have attracted the attention of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Their confrontation with the State security forces came to a head in Devcember 2004 when 39 Natsbol members took over a Presidential administration office near the Kremlin. Several Natsbols are now on trial and could face up to ten years in prison. The combination of fascist-communist rhetoric, aggressive style, and militancy seems to have finally caught up with them.
The legal crackdown on this small group that portends to have 1500 “active” members and 30,000 “sympathizers” in all of Russia (their website, both official and unofficial boasts National Bolshevism as an international movement) must also be explained within the current context of “orange revolution” hysteria. Many believe that the crackdown on the National Bolsheviks is the Kremlin’s way of sending a message to both the far right and left. They’re small and they’re freaky social outcasts so no one will miss them.
Despite their existence on the fringes of Russian politics, the ban of the Natsbols has got the notice of Russian political parties. Ivan Mel’nikov from the Communist Party said that the case showed that the court lacked “independence” and the decision was completely “political.” Dmitrii Rogozin, the leader of Rodina (Motherland) declared that the banning of the Natsbols was a “precedent” and that the Kremlin ultimately seeks to “liquidate the opposition.” Sergei Mitokhin from Yabloko simply saw the whole affair as a way for the Natsbols to get media attention. And predictably, Vladimir Zhironovsky from Liberal Democratic Party felt that the ban was the correct decision and that “[the National Bolsheviks] have no place in a modern democratic society” while Oleg Kovalev from United Russia said that the descision was also correct because “this brown plague must be liquidated.”
What then is the source for this so-called “brown plague” that Kovalev speaks of? Surprisingly, Zhironovsky, (surprising because if you’ve ever seen Zhiri debate on Russian TV, you’d know that with him there is little debate, less sense, and a lot of shouting. Zhiri would be great on Reality TV. He would make the Donald look like a total wimp) in a discussion of the matter on Ekho Moskvy radio, said that the reason why many youths are attracted to Limonov’s group was because
“We’ve got a lot of young people who are, basically, destitute. They’re not in school. They’ve got no jobs. They’re from poor homes. And they need some sort of revenge. And they can see there’s a party and it’s okay, it’s got the hammer and sickle – didn’t their grans and granddads say that was a good thing? – people with armbands, like Hitler.”
He then went on to add that the Red Youth Vanguard (a similar, but far left wing group based in St. Petersburg) was next because, “It’s a warning to everyone who will try to go out on the streets in the next few years and resort to violence,” emphasizing events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. He added, “Everyone had to be warned that nothing like that can happen in Russia … It shows the danger if radical organizations aren’t put in their place in good time.”
Once again the specter of the Ukraine haunts Russian politics. I’m afraid Zhiri is correct on both points. Aspects of Russia’s present economic, political and social climate parallel the conditions that made youths attracted to such radical movements in the 1910s and 1920s. Granted the situation is not near the same, nor do I think Russia will get to that point. However, the extreme reaction to such a small band of youths, who probably never contemplated the seriousness of their actions, shows that there are some real visible tensions in the Russian polity. Sections of the elite seem scared, if not down right paranoid.
Is it justified to ban the Natsbols, even if they are honest to god fascists? I can’t say. I’m still trying to figure them out, however much their rhetoric and platform scares me. I can’t help seeing this as just another politically opportunistic move by the Kremlin to send a warning to everyone else, even if there is no place for such groups in a modern “democratic” society.
Updates will follow . . .Post Views: 343