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.)

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.


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Спільне/Commons: Reconstruction & justice in Post-War Ukraine

12 10 2022

The journal Spilne/Commons is continuing to publish incisive and probing left-wing commentary on the Russian war on Ukraine. A collectively written editorial, “Support Ukrainian Resistance and Disempower Fossil Capital” (Sept. 27), takes on and debunks the arguments of a group of German leftists who recently argued (essentially) for an “anti-militarist” capitulation to Russian goals. Meanwhile, Vladislav Starodubtsev’s “International Solidarity: How Foreign Leftists are Helping Ukraine in the War” (Oct. 4) identifies several organizations on the global left who are appropriately supporting Ukrainian resistance, and who therefore make up a kind of pro-Ukrainian alternative within the international left.

The journal is also organizing a conference to take place October 21-23 on “Reconstruction and Justice in Post-War Ukraine.” Topics will include socio-economic development in the post-war context, energy sustainability, labor rights, housing, the role of the Ukrainian left in the Russo-Ukrainian war, and “the crisis of hegemony, imperialism, and challenges to world security.” The international, online conference will be open to the public. Conference details can be found at the journal’s Feuerbach 11 conference web site.

Reconstruction of Ukraine

3 09 2022

While the war continues, it may seem premature to discuss the reconstruction of Ukraine, but that is precisely what several of Ukraine’s leading cultural institutions feel is needed. It will be the topic of an online symposium entitled “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity. A Symposium of Ideas and Strategies,” to take place this week on September 9 through 11:

Over 40 expert Ukrainian and international speakers – architects, artists, historians, economists, poets and others – will gather this September to discuss Ukraine’s past, present and future in light of Russia’s ongoing invasion. The overall theme of the conversation will be reconstruction: broadly-conceived to refer to the rebuilding of architecture and infrastructure, but also of institutions, social bonds, individual and collective bodies and minds.

The symposium is organized by a network of institutions, including the Центр міської історії / Center for Urban History, Urban Forms Center, Kyiv Biennial / VCRC, ReStart Ukraine, UCL, and Yale University.

The symposium will take place virtually over the course of three days from September 9−11. The official website for the symposium, along with more information about the event, can be found here: https://reconstruct.in.ua/. To register, please follow this link. Accompanying links to the symposium’s Instagram and Telegram channels can be found here. 

The round table discussions held over each of the three days will range from housing, preservation, masterplanning, the political and economic challenges of reconstruction, the impact of gendered and sexual violence, remediation of the country’s psychological trauma, among many other subjects. 

You can register for it here.

Возможно, это изображение текст «The Reconstruction of Ukraine Ruination Representation Solidarity A Symposium of Ideas and Strategies 9, 10, 11 September 2022 (online) Center for Urban History, Lviv, Center for Urban Studies, Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture; Re-Start Ukraine; University College London; Urban Forms Center, Kharkiv; Yale University, New Haven; Visual Culture Research Center, Kyiv. www.reconstruct.in.ua»

Radynski: deconstructing Russia

9 08 2022

I find Kinga Dunin’s conversation with Ukrainian filmmaker and intellectual Oleksiy Radynski refreshing — not because Radynski is a nuanced, scholarly thinker, but because he is a creative, provocative, connective thinker, more Deleuzian in spirit than anything else, which is a missing element from so much thinking on the present Russo-Ukrainian crisis.

Scholars, for instance, will debate whether and how democracy functions in Ukraine (Mikhai Minakov’s and Matthew Rojansky’s 2018 piece was good on that, and here’s one attempt to update that), and whether and how Putinism fits the label of fascism (Cain Burdeau’s recent overview of those arguments is helpful). Radynski simply uses the terms to think with and beyond them.

On democracy, here’s an exchange between Dunin and Radynski:

KD: It’s turned out that the Ukrainian state is quite well organized, efficient, and works surprisingly well despite the war.

OR: This is not the power of the state, but of democracy. February 24 completely changed our vision of what democracy is. It was not the state that organized resistance, but the people who self-organized. Nothing in my life has brought me around more to people’s democracy. I think this is why Russia lost the battle of Kyiv, which one day, with hindsight, may turn out to have been a breakthrough moment in this war. They had a completely vertical and nondemocratic way of managing their military. The commanders of various ranks weren’t allowed to revise their action plans; they were supposed to march ahead, encircle Kyiv, and seize it. Perhaps it’s a weak argument for democracy, but as far as I know the Ukrainian army is fighting democratically, which means it’s in total disarray. It was so especially during the first weeks, when the territorial defense forces were forming and an incredible number of people wanted to join. This story is yet to be written, it was … Makhnovshchyna [referring to Nestor Makhno’s early twentieth century anarchist militia]. A kind of people’s army. There was something Cossack about it.

Radynski describes Russia as fascist in part due to its “blocking” of “the development of culture” (“What they use is some kind of newspeak, a necro-language,” whereas “we,” Ukraine, “are the only country where free speech in Russian exists for the time being”). He replies to Dunin’s question “So Russian culture should not be boycotted?” with the following:

This would be too big a favor to Russian imperial culture. Russian culture deserves a punishment much more severe than a boycott. It deserves a deconstruction. [. . .]

Deconstructing Russian culture means challenging the existing pantheon, now headed by “Tolstoyevski”—Tolstoy, the “good Russian,” and the mad right-winger Dostoevsky. And not by, let’s say, truly radical writers, such as [Nikolai] Leskov. After the deconstruction of this culture, we will also look in a completely different way at Ukrainian literature, for example at such a decolonial revolutionary as Taras Shevchenko.

He also mentions Vladimir Sorokin’s dystopian futurist novel Telluria. Radynski’s future Russia is a “deconstructed” one that has effectively “decolonized” and “disintegrated” into regionalist movements that can no longer constitute the kind of imperial power we see in full force today.

There’s an idealism here that ignores the potential violence of this “disintegration” as well as its impacts on global geopolitics. But it is a kind of “creatively deconstructive” thinking that’s needed to balance out the “realism” of the Mearsheimers, Chomskys (despite the latter’s anarchist ideals), Kissingers, and others who cannot see a future beyond present configurations.

Radynski has shared the following backgrounder on his Facebook page:

e-flux published an interview on the decolonization of Russia that I gave to Kinga Dunin around three months ago. In the meantime, the idea to decolonize Russia kind of skyrocketed. It’s no longer a niche thing: it’s actively debated at international forums, popular magazines and even at panels organised by the State Department. It’s been picked up as a scarecrow by Russian propaganda, which increased its visibility by a multiple.

But we have to be careful with the popularity of this idea in the West. The Russian Federation should be decolonized (read: dismantled) as a result of its own internal contradictions, and not as an outcome of external meddling: this would only lead to a stronger fascist reaction in Russia. What we should do is take advantage of those internal contradictions to help the oppressed peoples liberate themselves.

We in Ukraine are best positioned to take this advantage. Our post-colonial situation allows us to understand the Russian system much better than it understands itself. In addition, we know how to use Russian language and are able of freely doing this, while the total majority of people in Russia are not.

Radynski’s conversation with Dunin can be read on e-Flux Notes.

Musical politics

15 05 2022

As Ukrainian performers Kalush Orchestra, whose “political statement” was allowed by Eurovision organizers for “humanitarian reasons,” went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest (while Russian performers were banned), and as Vladimir Putin continues to complain about western “cancel culture” (while canceling those who disagree with him), the arts world more generally has come to heavily feature the cultural politics surrounding Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

Ani Bundel writes that Eurovision has always been “a stand-in” for the political climate, despite organizers’ insistence that it is not. The same thing can be seen in other places on the musical spectrum.

Time’s Andrew Chow writes about how “A Russian DJ’s Silence About Ukraine is Dividing the Electronic Music Scene.” The scene, as Chow writes, is divided between people like Clone Distribution’s Serge Verschuur — for whom “the house and techno scene [has] stood up for” (and been “built by”) “minorities, for the less privileged, for the oppressed” — and, on the other hand, the “toxic positivity” of the ravers who want to “have fun” and not “think about anything.” In contrast to DJ Nina Kraviz are others like Ukrainian DJ Nastia and Russian DJ Buttechno, who urges his fellow Russians “to admit the imperialistic and colonizing approach of Russian culture and politics throughout Russian history.”

And writing in the New York Times, Gabrielle Cornish describes Ukrainian musical modernism and its destruction at the hands of Stalinism. The article quotes Ukrainian-American ethnomusicologist (and my collaborator) Maria Sonevytsky, who perceptively refers to the association of “greatness” with Russian culture as “Russian soft power” — the “kind of exceptionalism that empires produce and make seem virtuous that smaller countries, depicted as the ‘threatening nationalists’ on the border, are denied.”

See also The Conversation on “How Russian musicians are taking a stand against the war in Ukraine,” The Guardian‘s interview with Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz, or my recent interview with David Novak.

Skip to toolbar