Stephen Kotkin and Slavoj Zizek discussed Kotkin’s Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 at the New York Public Library. Both the audio and video are available on the Library’s site but I thought I’d repost it here to increase exposure.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the Russian liberal opposition. Not only do they seem to be out of touch with the sentiments of the population, or seem to offer any alternative to Putinism, they also appear prone to something I call historical transfiguration.
Take for example, what “parallels” Grigory Yavlinsky of Yabloko, Leonid Gozman of SPS, and Garry Kasparov of Other Russia see between the Russia of 1917 and Russia of 2007. Yavlinsky said that some of those parallels are “the dominance of corruption and bureaucracy, the absence of inner mechanisms for modernization, the absence of economic and political competition, the absence of a mechanism for the government’s renewal, and the absence of the chance to form a responsible and efficient opposition.” Gozman thinks that like in 1917, today’s rulers have an “absolute feeling of stability, and the tsar also had it. In addition, the opposition is being ousted toward revolution, and the tsar did not want to discuss anything as well. He had his own truth, and this was quite enough for him.” And never to be outdone, Kasparov claims that the “analogies with 1916-1917 are quite explicit.” “The Objective tensions are rising in society,” he explained, “and this is exactly what serves as the main engine of revolutionary processes. For instance, a gap between the rich and the poor has reached an unimaginable size.”
I don’t know what history books these three are reading. Because they leave out one crucial factor: World War I. The war was the number one issue in 1917. All of the instabilities that the above three speak of were exacerbated by it. Russia’s failure at the front is what made the difference between revolution and protest. The Revolution would have gone nowhere without soldiers willingly, and often happily, turning their guns on their officers. Take for example these Okhrana reports from 26 February 1917:
“In the vicinity of the Church of Christ the Saviour, the 4th company met a mounted patrol of 10 policemen; the soldiers abused the policemen, calling them “pharaohs,” and firing several volleys at them, killing one police man and one horse, and wounding one policeman and one horse. Then the soldiers returned to the barracks, where they staged a mutiny. Colonel Eksten came to put it down and was wounded by one of the soldiers; his hand was cut off.”
That same day, Okhrana agents also reported:
“As the military unites did not oppose the crowds, and in certain cases even took measures tending to paralyze the initiative of police officials, as for two days the mobs wandered unhindered about the streets, and as the revolutionary circles advanced slogans: “Down with the war” and “Down with the Government”–the people became convinced that the revolution had started, that success was on the side of the mobs, that the Government was powerless to suppress the movement because the military units were on the side of the latter, that a decisive victory was in sight because in the very near future the military units would opening join the revolutionary forces.”
It was actions like these, not just in Petrograd, but also at the front which made the Russia Revolution, as one scholar argued, essentially a mass soldiers’ revolt.
Moreover, it is no secret that the key to the Bolshevik’s taking power in November 1917 stemmed from the fact that they controlled almost the entire Petrograd garrison and had solid support among soldiers at the front. This why 66.9% of soldiers at the Western front cast their Constituent Assembly votes for the Bolsheviks.
Russian oppositionists might remember these historical facts before they try to draw “parallels” between Russian in 1917 and Russia now. After all, believing in their own analysis of 1917 might end them up on the wrong side of the gun.Post Views: 527
By Sean — 3 years ago
I learned this morning from my Facebook feed that the Academic Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION) caught on fire destroying the third floor and causing the roof to cave in. There are conflicting reports on whether any of INION’s library perished in the flames. Vladimir Fortov, the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Kommersant that 15 percent of the materials in INION were damaged. However, the institute’s director Yuri Pivovarov told TASS that “The depositories were not harmed—the building was damaged and the employees of the institute have nowhere to work.” He credited the 147 firefighters who fought the blaze for saving the books. “These guys (the firefighters) did everything they could to save the books. What remains, I think, we will rebuild.” Let’s hope so. Still the situation is catastrophic. Fortov summed things up: “This is a major library in the world. Unique materials are collected there and its scientific work is arranged so that every Russian scientific institute uses this library. To us, all this resembles Chernobyl.”
This is not just a major loss for Russian academia; it’s a tragedy for international social sciences. INION is one of Russia’s best libraries. For those not familiar with its academic importance, INION’s library was founded in 1918 and houses over 14 million books, rare texts in ancient Slavic languages, documents from the League of Nations, UNESCO, the United Nations, the International Labor Organization, and reports from the legislatures of the United States, England, Italy and others since 1789. INION is also part of an international interlibrary loan system with 874 institutions spanning 69 countries. INION hosts the German Historical Institute Moscow and the Center for Franco-Russia Research as well. Last time I was there, it also housed two excellent academic bookstores, a ROSSPEN store and another I can’t remember the name of or locate on the internet.
The cause of the fire, it seems, was a short circuit in the electrical system. Moscow fire officials conducted an inspection of the institute in March 2014, fined 70,000 rubles, and gave it until January 30, 2015 to get things up to snuff. Whether the institute’s management made the repairs or not is unknown. Looks like all that doesn’t matter anymore . . .
I have really fond memories of working at INION during my dissertation research. It was a great alternative to the crowdedness of the Lenin Library. It was adjacent to a metro, had a comprehensive catalog and rich holdings, easy to navigate and a great cafeteria to boot. I also bought a lot of books from its bookstores. You couldn’t ask for more in a library. It will take a long time for INION to be a functioning library again, if ever. All I can say is what a tragedy.Post Views: 764
By Sean — 10 years ago
Meet Don Kozlents. This octogenarian medal of valor holder is one of the millions of Red Army veterans of WWII. Like so many others, most of his family perished at the hands of the Nazis. He fought in the Battle of Kursk, where he was wounded when he crawled out of a pit to reconnect the wires of his primitive radio. A shell hit him, shattering his arms. Ironically, the very faulty radio equipment that brought him out of his hole was the very thing that protected him from the shell’s fatal blow. To this day shrapnel from the shell float in his body. As Kozlents spreads his metals out on his kitchen table in his apartment in Rishon Letrzion in Israel, he tells Haaretz‘s Lily Galili, “I did good work as a soldier. I was there for Russia, but as a Jew for Russia.” After the war he continued this good work by developing drug patents for the Soviet state.
Indeed, Kozlents was a “Jew for Russia.” Like so many WWII vets, Kozlents’ identity is irreducible. Like his father, also a Red Army officer, Kozlents was and remains a Zionist. By the 1970s, he joined thousands of refusniks, Soviet Jews who wanted to immigrate to Israel but were denied. Success finally came when his son Mark managed to immigrate. The elder Kozlents followed shortly after thanks to a Canadian “kibbutznik” and the personal intervention Margaret Thatcher.
Also like his father, Kozlents was a die hard communist. And remains so to this day. “I worked in the plant from morning until evening,” he says as he shows Galili a certificate signed by Stalin thanking him for his pharmaceutical work. “We sent the drugs to Africa and Asia. I worked to achieve a better world. I wanted to change the world.” But even Kozlents’ Marxism is difficult to categorize. As Galili writes,
He remains a fervent communist, but over the years he has also become a loyal “Bibi-ist.” According to him, Benjamin Netanyahu is following in the path of Karl Marx, more or less, and if we fail to understand this, that’s our problem. Kozlents says he is a real Marxist, just as he is a real communist, a real Jew and a real Likudnik – he sees no contradiction among these elements.
A Marxist Likudnik? I shutter to think. But who am I to say who is and who isn’t a real Marxist. “In Russia, the communists weren’t real communists,” he explains to Galili, “certainly not the counterfeits of Lenin and certainly not Stalin. I’m a real communist. Marx wasn’t a Bolshevik.” He doesn’t waver in this view when the Haaertz reporter points out to him that Marx wasn’t a member of Likhud either. But her question of how the two–Marxism and Likudism–mesh goes over his head.
“Read this,” he says, pointing to one of the volumes of Das Kapital. “The rules written here are Marx’s economy. Bibi understands these rules. More or less.” A remark that Bibi is a capitalist does not sway him. “So was Marx,” he claims, without showing any confusion.
And so when you put it all together Kozlents is a symbol of two events being commemorated this week: the Soviet defeat of the Nazis and the 60th Anniversary of Israel’s independence. For him the two are in an eternal dialectical relationship. “Without our victory over the Nazis, there wouldn’t have been a state,” he proudly tells Galili. “Everything is connected.” Such is the happy life of a Red Army veteran, Zionist, and Marxist Likudnik. Happy Victory Day and Independence Day, Don.Post Views: 569