Brendan McGeever is Lecturer in the Sociology of Racialization and Antisemitism in the Department of Psychosocial Studies at the University of London, Birkbeck. He’s the author of several articles exploring antisemitism, racism, revolution and the socialist movements. His most recent article is “The Bolsheviks and Antisemitism” in Jacobin. His book The Bolsheviks and Antisemitism in the Russian Revolution will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018.
Fugazi, “Waiting Room,” 13 Songs, 1990.
You Might also like
By Sean — 5 years ago
Arch Getty’s comment, “Putin in History,” was included in today’s Johnson’s Russia List. I asked him if I could repost it here. He kindly agreed. Full disclosure, Professor Getty was my dissertation advisor and mentor at UCLA.
Putin and Russian History
By J. Arch Getty
An occupational hazard of being a Russian historian is that people often ask “What about Putin?” “What’s going to happen in Russia?” Historians are generally allergic to making predictions, and predicting Russia has a very poor track record; almost nobody predicted the sudden fall of the USSR. But because we are at least somewhat the products of the past, that past may tell us something about the future. So where does Putin come from?
In the short-term, Putin’s perception of society is easy to trace to KGB culture in the Brezhnev era: disruptive or unorthodox events were seen as misguided, incomprehensible, or even mentally unbalanced challenges to order. In short, because Soviet society is perfect, protests must originate with foreign enemies, outside agitators or mental illness, so protestors should be ridiculed and punished. This explains Putin’s ludicrous but characteristic reaction that the 2011-2012 winter Bolotnaia election protestors were dupes responding to Hillary Clinton’s “signal,” his offensive mocking of their white ribbons as condoms, and his reflex to punish demonstration leaders.
But there are historically deeper Russian sources for Putin’s myopic vision and actions. For example, in 1825, following the defeat of Napoleon, noble Russian army officers returned from Paris with subversive French Revolutionary ideas about human rights, elections, constitutions, and the rule of law. In December of that year, they staged a demonstration and abortive coup attempt aimed at overthrowing the Russian monarchy. The “Decembrist Revolt” was quickly put down by royal power deployed by the new tsar, Nicholas I.
From the official side, tsar Nicholas I (like Putin) could not understand what was happening. Nicholas was so perplexed that while harshly punishing the Decembrists, he (unlike Putin) had jailhouse conversations with several of them in order to understand their motivations. But like Putin, Nicholas’ world view prevented him from seeing that society was changing. He responded with the official slogan “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality,” a conservative statement that, by the way, Putin could embrace. Instead of understanding the changes around them, both rulers quickly deployed punitive state power against the ringleaders. Since society was basically sound as it was, one could nip change in the bud simply by decapitating it, right?
It seemed that nothing came of the 1825 revolt. Disappointed observers ridiculed the dilettante noble demonstrators for being unable to transform their opposition into a real revolution: They had no mass support. They were poor planners and organizers. Some of them even overslept or got lost that day and missed the action altogether. In the long run, however, seeds had been planted. The poor, marginalized and imprisoned Decembrists of 1825 would inspire later generations of Russian reformers and revolutionaries of all stripes who gradually attracted broader social support and who eventually brought down the monarchy in 1917. Reformers and revolutionaries would later glorify the memory of the hapless Decembrists as forerunners who planted the seeds of change but could not live to see their flowering.
Today’s protesters are also ridiculed and belittled, especially by leftists both in Russia and the west, for not becoming more. But in the long view (which we historians are trained to take) change in Russia has always come very slowly, and one wonders if in a future Russia people will not look back at the Bolotnaia and even Pussy Riot demonstrators as the beginnings of something big, something that took a while to mature. Even if we scoff at their lost potential, let us also not forget that these recent demonstrations for democracy were unprecedented in their scale. They dwarf the Soviet dissident movement of the 1970s and 1980s which, as it turned out, planted much smaller seeds.
Both Nicholas I and Putin represent an old Russian tradition whereby the monarchy doggedly refused to understand or compromise with change. Nicholas’ unbending obsolete vision and inflexibility would do much to radicalize later Russian reformers. Like him, his great-grandson Nicholas II would also be inherently unable to understand the forces for social change around him, and he and the monarchy were eventually swept away by the 1917 revolutions. Nicholas I, Nicholas II, Brezhnev and Putin just didn’t get it. They were constitutionally unable to understand society and how it changes.
They all had silent majorities behind them at one point. Today, some 65% of the population supports Putin, compared with 1% for demonstration leader Navalny. But the long clocks of change were and are ticking, even if few notice at the time. Today it seems that Putin has an unchallenged upper hand and has never been stronger. On the other hand, the Bolotnaia protesters, Pussy Riot women, and possibly leaders like Navalny seem to be fading into obscurity, oblivion and prison. But in the future, the historical results of today’s impotent protests and Putin’s reaction to them could look very different.
It is possible that Russian strongman monarchy is built into Russian political culture. But it is just as possible that its days are numbered. Polling support for Putin is inversely proportional to educational levels, which are broadly rising. These protesters may mark something big, something ultimately decisive. Putin’s clock is ticking, but he has inherited the deafness of all Russian monarchs. And even if he could hear the ticks he wouldn’t know what to do about them.
J. Arch Getty is Professor of History at UCLA. He is the author of several books on Russian history, including Practicing Stalinism: Boyars, Bolsheviks and the Persistence of Tradition, (Yale University Press, 2013) will be published in July.Post Views: 202
By Sean — 9 years ago
Anyone who watches the goings on in Russia knows about last week’s police raid of the human rights organization Memorial in St. Petersburg. The six hour search by masked, truncheon wielding agents has received forceful, cautious and hysterical condemnation as people try to figure out why the hard drives and computer files, financial records, archival documents about Stalinist repression were confiscated. While the English language press is shrieking Stalinism redux (A strange assertion since a very large international academic conference on Stalinism took place in Moscow this weekend.), the Russian media is hardly mentioning Stalinism and are playing up other but no less fantastic angles. For example, one theory that is gathering steam is that Memorial was raided because it recently screened the film Rebellion: Litvinenko Case.
If the conspiracy theories put forward to explain the raid weren’t strange enough, the official story is even stranger. According to LJ user lev_k, who has given a step by step account of the raid, the search is connected to an extremism investigation of Novyi Peterburg. The extremist track in question is an article published last summer called “General Rodionov – There’s a Real Candidate!” by K. Chernyaev. The article spews all sorts of anti-Semitic allegations that the Gluag was created by Jews and goes so far as to suggest the occurrence of a number of ritual blood murders in Krasnoyarsk in 2005, 2006, and 2008. The authorities say that Novyi Peterburg and Chernyanev have some connection to Memorial based documents seized in a search of the newspaper’s offices. Memorial, of course, denies any connection whatsoever. “Neither Andreev [the editor of Novyi], the article’s author, or Novyi Peterburg has any connection to Memorial. We have neither good nor bad relations. We are simply not acquainted. Just how Memorial is connected to this criminal case is unknown to us.”
I assume that if there is any real connection, it will (hopefully) come out in the coming days. I doubt it. Part of me thinks that the Petersburg authorities made a bad mistake, which could be even worse because now they’ll probably do whatever necessary to save face. Nevertheless, given how extremism is being applied in all directions these days also makes me wonder if something more nefarious is at work.
Many in the Russian press believe something is afoot and are attempting to peal back the onion and discover the real story behind the “official” one.
Nezavisimaya gazeta has connected the dots as follows. The head of the investigation is Mikhail Kalganov, who has already had his name “connected to many political cases” in St. Petersburg. The most memorable was his involvement in the arrest of the Yabloko leader Maksim Reznik earlier this year. Apparently Kalganov also detained a television crew for filming a large fire in Russia’s second capital. Therefore since Kalganov has a history of harassing liberals and media, the raid against Memorial must be part of this trend.
Russia’s liberals have fed this theory. Reznik told Kommersant that “It is difficult for me to comment of activities of Investigator Mikhail Kalganov. He leads my case at the moment. How can you comment on the actions of a person who has a portrait of Felix Dzerzhinskii next to an icon in his office? If this isn’t by his own initiative, then I don’t understand why the prosecutor gives him such political cases. If this is an order from above, then this is one of the most atrocious demonstration of the country’s legal system.”
In regard to whether the raid is connected to the 20 November screening of Rebellion: Litvinenko Case, Yulii Rybakov, a Memorial worker and former Duma rep, said the following: “This film asks questions that those in power don’t want to answer.” Well, it seems that Rybakov has never seen the film and is making assumptions based on Andrei Nekrasov’s other conspiracy laden films. I’ve seen Rebellion (it as called Poisoned by Polonium when it showed in LA) and I the only reason why I could see Russian authorities not wanting to answer any questions in it is because said questions are complete nonsense. If the raid is an atrocious example of Russian governance, then Rebellion is a similar example of filmmaking.
So what was the real reason for the raid on Memorial? Do they have an embarrassing connection of a nationalist rant as the official version suggests? Do the Stalinist redux, liberal or Litvinenko conspiracy versions hold water? Or was the whole thing a serious f-up on the part of the St. Petersburg’s keystones?
As of now, I’m with the latter. That is until more information is released. For some reason, I can’t help being reminded of Jello Biafra’s faint words at the end of Lard’s “Drug Raid at 4 a.m.”
“Um, sorry, wrong house.”Post Views: 470
By Sean — 1 year ago
Guest: Steve Maddox on Saving Stalin’s Imperial City: Historic Preservation in Leningrad, 1930–1950.