Call for collaborators

16 03 2022

UKR-TAZ compiles materials helpful for understanding Ukraine, with an emphasis on radical democratic (left-libertarian) perspectives. (See here for more.) That makes it an unusual if not rare space on the English-language internet.

To do this well, especially at a time like this, requires help. We are not calling for donations — if you can provide any, please donate to the organizations listed here. Rather, we seek collaborators, who would be willing to collect articles and/or media to be shared here, and potentially contribute original work of an appropriately analytical (or inspirational) nature. If you are interested, please write to the editor, including the words “UKR-TAZ” in your Subject line. Thanks.

Statement on Russian invasion

1 03 2022

UKR-TAZ stands in solidarity with the citizens of Ukraine, who are fighting for their right to live in a sovereign and democratic nation. It condemns the Russian invasion as a morally abhorrent act, and joins with all of those who are committed to ending this violation of civil norms and international law.

For a list of things you can do to support Ukraine and Ukrainians at this time, please see SUPPORT UKRAINE.

Žižek: on Russia’s “nazification” & Ukraine’s popular resistance

13 01 2023

Slovenian theorist Slavoj Žižek has always been easy to agree and disagree with, his elliptically insightful arguments often leaving readers puzzled and exhilarated in equal measure (but rarely simply comforted; for some of my own agreements and disagreements with him, see my book Shadowing the Anthropocene).

On Ukraine, I have found him both insightful and consistent. In June, in a Guardian piece entitled “Pacifism is the wrong response to the war in Ukraine,” he astutely assessed Russia’s “strategic plan” as being

to profit from global warming: control the world’s main transport route, plus develop Siberia and control Ukraine. In this way, Russia will dominate so much food production that it will be able to blackmail the whole world. This is the ultimate economic reality beneath Putin’s imperial dream.

And he saw in Ukraine’s defense “the greatness of Ukrainian resistance: they risked the impossible, defying pragmatic calculations, and the least we owe them is full support, and to do this, we need a stronger Nato – but not as a prolongation of […] US politics,” but rather as a fully European strategy. He criticized the war’s “strange bedfellows like Henry Kissinger and Noam Chomsky,” both of whom have, at least by implication, advocated Ukrainian surrender. And even as he noted that Putin’s attack on Ukraine was little different from George W. Bush’s attack on Iraq, he argued that “Today, one cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine.” 

This past week, in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Vasha Tavberidze (“Denazification Should Begin at Home, in Russia“), Žižek argued that while fascism, “horrible” as it is, has often limited itself to countries attempting to “maintain order in their own land,” Nazism represented a more expansionist and imperialist form of fascism. Today, he suggests, with Putin’s embrace of a vision inspired by fascist thinker Ivan Ilyin and with materially backed rhetoric about the necessary “de-Satanization” of Europe, Russia is the country that is most “dangerously approaching a new version of Nazism.”

The global risk, as he sees it, is that of “a silent pact between Western alt-right neoconservatives, aggressive populists from France to England to Germany, [and] the United States and Russia” pursuing a “new vision of sovereign neofascist states.” In this situation, he defends the social-democratic vision of a Europe that is “a corporation of states in a global emergency situation based on basic social democratic values [… of] global health care, solidarity, free education, and so on,” and argues that it is this Europe that needs to support the Ukraine that today counts as “one of the few examples [of] authentic popular resistance — they did the impossible, every leftist should be glad.” 

RFE/RL’s interview with Zizek can be read here.

Posle: imagining the way out…

20 12 2022

Since late May of this year, Posle/После (Russian for “After”) has been publishing wide-ranging leftist perspectives on the continuing Russo-Ukrainian war, in both English and Russian.

The web site calls itself “a platform for political reflection on this criminal war, its preconditions and consequences,” and welcomes “everyone who seeks to understand the present and to imagine the future.” To that end, it has published several dozen articles that, as the editors put it, collectively “examine the structure” of the invasion, its relation to “immense social inequality and powerlessness,” and the “imperialist ideology” that “feeds on the militarist discourse, xenophobia, and bigotry” — and help to “imagine the way out.”

Editorial details are hard to find, presumably because many (or most?) of those involved are currently in Russia. The web journal’s coverage of Russian dissident voices is good to see (though it can feel a little abstract given the lack of real-world presence they seem to have). But it also includes coverage of the global left and its responses to the war (including the American, Swedish, and German lefts), the “ecological scars of war,” Russian regionalism, and nuanced analyses of Russian shame, discourses of the “brotherly peoples,” and much more.

An interview with Ukrainian artist Mykola Ridnyi includes some perceptive comments about the on-the-ground situation in Ukraine. Here’s one:

[A]lthough it is believed that wars inevitably lead to an increase in conservative sentiments, I try to stay optimistic. This war is engaging an unprecedented number of people with very different political views and backgrounds. Organizations such as Solidarity Collectives and the Unicorn Battalion support many left-wing activists and LGBT people who are serving in the army. Right-wing groups played a big role in 2014, because the Ukrainian professional army was weakened and undeveloped, but today the situation is different. 

The journal can be followed on Telegram and Instagram, in addition to its main web site.

“Russophobia” & decolonization

14 12 2022

What does it tell us that even the supposedly “best” Russians — the Pushkins and Joseph Brodskys, for instance — were capable of such brutishly colonialist, Russo-chauvinist writing as the pieces referred to in this article, from earlier this year (“The Ally of Executioners: Pushkin, Brodsky, and the Deep Roots of Russian Chauvinism“)?

Reading Nobel Prize winner and U.S. Poet Laureate Brodsky’s 1992 poem “On Ukrainian independence” is, I think (if I’m a sufficient sample), repulsive to a Ukrainian. Listening to him read it in his agonized, incantatory style, complete with Russian-Orthodox cantorial tonal ascent toward a kind of epic climax, is all the more so. For Russians with a conscience, I suspect it may be squirm-inducing. I can only imagine Brodsky wrote it to express some deeply hurting chip-on-his-shoulder whose source he couldn’t quite identify, and instead projected an imagined betrayal onto an entire nation.

It took the wind out of me when I first watched the video. It also confirmed that accusations of Ukrainian “Russophobia” are a little bit misdirected at this point. (Is it Russophobic to fear, or even to hate, people who are invading, bombing, shelling, murdering, and raping your co-citizens? This may be “Putin’s war,” but it happens to be supported by a majority of Russian citizens, with only a few thousand out of 144 million ever showing any inclination to protest it, and many proud of it in a smirky, alt-right kind of way.) 

The lesson in it, I think, is that colonialism and imperialism can get so deeply rooted in the colonizer, and in any person who identifies with that colonizer (as both Brodsky and Pushkin did), as to be almost impossible to even notice, let alone begin to uproot. If this is the case with Russians vis-à-vis their ostensibly lesser Ukrainian “brethren,” then no wonder Europeans and Euro-Americans are still struggling with their own racism against the non-white, non-European world.

Decolonization is hard work, especially for those who don’t realize how infected they are by the disease. It’s also a shared task, with so many colonial legacies still at large in the world. The best result of the Russian invasion is if, once it manifestly fails, it leads to a process of self-decolonization within Russia. But I suspect the complexes run deep — superiority vis-à-vis one’s neighbors, inferiority vis-à-vis the West, resentful obeisance before czar and/or church, et al. — that even that will take a deeper therapy than will be on offer. (And it does make one wonder if all of that is part of the reason communism failed so miserably in Russia.)

Toward deoligarchization?

10 12 2022

The Washington Post‘s article “War has tamed Ukraine’s oligarchs, creating space for democratic change” makes for a useful read, despite some seemingly contradictory premises: i.e., (1) that the war might be bad for Ukrainian oligarchs and good for Ukrainian democracy, and (2) that humanizing Ukrainian oligarchs is good for understanding what oligarchy is. The first of these is very good news, if it turns out to be true; the second is a little ambiguous.

Yes, it helps to know who Rinat Akhmetov, and others like him, are. But the point I would like to see made more clearly is that the “transition from communism to capitalism” (as it’s commonly but inadequately described) presented a massive opportunity for capitalization — the creation of largely unregulated new markets that amounted to a massive “land grab” akin to the opening up of the American frontier — that was taken advantage of by those best positioned for it (the young Communist party managerial class) at the expense of the vast majority of Ukrainians, Russians, et al.

Such moments of “mass capitalization” (or “frontierization”) need to be much better theorized and understood because they are so consequential to the history that follows, and because we are all affected by them.

In the West, the largest such opening up in decades was the capitalization of online behavior and “attention” that enabled the new class of global oligarchs (the owners of Google/Alphabet, Facebook/Meta, Apple, Microsoft, et al) to become the wealthiest people in the world. Capitalism thrives at such moments of “creative destruction,” which extract what’s monetizable from its previous embeddedness within sociocultural, ethical, and cosmological relations that had kept them viable but, from a capitalist viewpoint, “unfree.” (This is why reading Karl Polanyi is still so important. And why understanding capitalism and developing a viable alternative to it – democratic mixed economies that allow for a re-embedding in society and ecology – is the only way forward beyond the climatological apocalypse of extractivist industrialism.)

Just as Ukrainians, Russians, and other post-Soviets are still living with the consequences of the 1990s land/industry grab (that the Post article describes), we are all living the consequences of the 2000s “mind grab” by digital media industries (that Zuboff and others have described). Meanwhile, the global South is still living with the consequences of the 1500s-1800s “land/body/spirit” grab of colonialism. The question is how to (democratically) rein in all of these at the same time, globally.

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Explaining Russia

23 11 2022

It’s trite to call Russia’s actions in Ukraine these days evil. In their goal of bringing an entire country to its knees through military firepower, battered infrastructure, and a decimated power grid (in time for the cold winter ahead), they are certainly that. But they are an evil that calls for analysis and explanation.

That analysis, however, would have to cover a great deal.

For starters, it would have to explain how it is that Russians allowed their country to succumb to the belligerent authoritarianism of Putinism, and how enough of them came to either support Putin or to consider it imprudent or too costly to resist him. And how Putin himself transformed from the (seeming) pragmatic realism of his early presidency to the neo-imperial fantasies of today. And how the late Soviet power elite finessed its way into an oligarchic capitalism amenable to the consolidation of Putin’s power vertykal (and, conversely, how Putin coldly disemboweled any rival sources of power). And how his rise was built, from the get go, on the creation of external threats (Chechens, Georgians, “Nazis,” the “liberal” West) and assertive displays of disciplinary power to eliminate or neuter them.

And how Russians who were poised to follow in the footsteps of their fellow East Europeans by threading the needle (challenging as it was everywhere) between democracy and neoliberal entrepreneurialism on the one side, and the social safety net of socialism on the other, came to lose all faith in the former two and accept what scraps of the third were offered them. And how decades of Sovietization, the economic traumas of the 1990s, and the creeping authoritarianism of Putinism exorcised away any capacity among Russians to act collectively and politically in the face of any challenge (so unlike Ukrainians in that).

And of how Russia’s essential conservatism bounced back after 1990 with a vengeance, led by an apocalyptic church beholden both to its own hierarchic religiosity and to its deep historical entanglement with power (in this case, Putin’s). And of the unquestioned imperialism and colonialism at the heart of the Russian imaginary, in which Ukraine functioned only as a lesser, weaker brother liable to forget his allegiance to the imperial center and needing to thereby be reined in, repeatedly and by force if necessary. And of how the West, with its wealth, its progress, and its freedoms, became the ultimate foil for the Russian project and the ultimate object of its ressentiment.

And of how challenging the liberal West has become Russia’s modus operandi on the world stage, allowing it to find supporters (tacit or otherwise) in nearly every country in the world, and to repurpose its Soviet era security apparatus toward global informational warfare. And of how Russia’s oil and gas reserves — its only source of economic strength — has made it an attractive partner to other states with reason to distrust the U.S.-led West (such as Iran, Syria, and North Korea these days, but also China and India).

And of how all this leads to a situation where colossal miscalculations — such as the dubious assumption of a three-day military victory and an overwhelmingly welcoming Ukrainian population — will naturally arise, and where the internal logic of strongman authoritarianism, with its blinded judgment and its to-the-death dependence on victory, can only lead to the gory intensification of military might that we are seeing now, people’s lives be damned.

That’s for starters.

Russia’s eliminationist rhetoric

21 11 2022

New York University’s Reiss Center on Law and Security based Just Security web site has been maintaining an exhaustive (and regularly updated) list of quotes demonstrating the “eliminationist” intent of some in Russia’s political elite against Ukrainians. Entitled Russia’s Eliminationist Rhetoric Against Ukraine: A Collection, it can be read here. A Ukrainian version is available here.

While the quotes lack appropriate context, all include links to sources.

Taken collectively, they make for depressing, indeed exhausting, reading. These are the kinds of quotes you can often hear on some of Russia’s talk shows, which The Atlantic‘s Tom Nichols today aptly described as “a hallucinatory experience, a kind of febrile nightmare shot on sets that look like a dark mash-up of a manic game show, Fox News, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But the creepy star-chamber vibe and the vertigo-inducing camera work are perfectly suited to the deranged rantings of the hosts and guests.”

Links and Green Left on the Russo-Ukrainian war

15 11 2022

Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, an Australian-based journal that calls itself both a “journal for a post-Cold War left” and a journal for “Socialism of the 21st century,” has been publishing excellent material on the continuing Russian war on Ukraine.

Most recently, they have featured a video interview with political economist Yulia Yurchenko, urbanist Alona Liasheva, and cultural and political activist Ilya Budraitskis, and a lengthy article entitled “Ukraine, Self-Determination, and the National Question.” The authors of the latter — Bill Fletcher, Jr., Bill Gallegos, and Jamala Rogers — debunk some leftist myths about Russian aggression and develop a rigorous argument in support of “the Ukrainian struggle against aggression and for self-determination, including for self-defense.” “Standing with Ukrainians,” they conclude, “is an act of international solidarity of the oppressed.”  

An interview with Hanna Perekhoda, a University of Lausanne Ph.D. candidate in history who was recently featured on Democracy Now!, has also just appeared at Links’ ecosocialist “sister publication,” Green Left. Federico Fuentes’s interview with Perekhoda, entitled “Ukraine: Peace in Donbas ‘requires the complete withdrawal of Russian armed forces’,” is one of the most thorough yet concise summaries of the entire conflict and well worth reading, especially for its insights into the Donbas region.

The Links web site devoted to “special coverage” of the war includes an exhaustive listing of links to articles from the Ukrainian left, on Russian resistance to “Putin’s war,” and covering global and historical dimensions of the current crisis. It is an excellent resource.

The Ukrainian left and the war

15 11 2022

Спільне/Commons has gathered some voices from the Ukrainian left on what they have been doing during the Russian invasion. You can read them in their forum on Resistance and Solidarity: Ukrainian Leftists in the War with Russia.

Budraitskis: The “fascistization” of Russia

5 11 2022

Writing in the Marxist journal Spectre, Moscow-based historian, political theorist, and cultural activist Ilya Budraitskis considers whether and how the term “fascism” is an appropriate descriptor for Putinist Russia. His article “Putinism: A New Form of Fascism?” draws on Karl Polanyi, Hannah Arendt, and other leftist thinkers to argue that Putinism is not an aberration, but is an outgrowth of the market rationality and “social atomization” of neoliberal capitalism in its “late” crisis phase.

In attempting to impose order on a crisis-ridden world, he argues, Putinism is a form — the clearest and most intensified to date — of a new “fascism from above.” Where in the first decade of this century, Putin’s “neoliberal authoritarianism” relied on technocratic management and “mass depoliticization, associated with increased consumption, enjoyment of ‘stability,’ and a focus on private life,” from 2011 it “began the process of ‘fascistization,'” by which the leader transformed himself into the defender of the “traditional family,” the “silent conservative majority,” and the “besieged fortress” of Christian Russia. Finally, with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the regime took “only weeks to establish a new political order,” which it did “with the utmost ferocity” and brutality.

Budraitskis concludes:

This is the “normality” and familiarity of Putin’s regime: it oversees the passivity and atomization of society, the reactionary anti-universalism of its rhetoric, multiplied by the utmost cynical rationality of its elites. And it is worth explicitly calling it fascist, not only because it fits that definition, but also so that the emancipatory movements of the present can understand the scale of the global threat to our common future.

The entire article can be read here.


13 10 2022

A promising new initiative, entitled SONIAKH Digest, was launched this week by an editorial collective “of artists, curators, journalists, editors, media experts and academics” from Ukraine and beyond. It describes itself as

a platform amplifying voices and visions from Ukraine and those of Ukraine’s allies and neighbors — by artists, activists, and scholars — in response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and its worldwide propaganda machine.

The title references the anonymous woman handing out sunflower seeds to invading Russian soldiers, described here.

The About page continues:

The online publication and affiliated think tank seeks to counter misinformation, disinformation, negative stereotypes and propaganda that obfuscate, relativize and undermine the efforts of Ukrainians to defend themselves against the Russian colonial invasion. The initiative is embedded in the context of contemporary art, using the artistic medium to enhance strategies of public communication. The curatorial strategy merges a variety of media with academic analysis and journalistic integrity to reach diverse audiences. SONIAKH digest reincarnates and mutates the archaic journalistic tradition of the “digest” as an outlet where information, propaganda, analysis and artistic production are collated, summarized, illustrated and amplified for a general audience. 

Among the platform’s first text publications are Oleksiy Radynski’s excellent “Russian Fossil Fascism is Europe’s Fault” and Yevheniia Butsykina’s “Motherhood in War, Bodily Experience.”

Click here to go to the journal’s opening announcement, and here (or below) to go to its front page.

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