Radynski: on Russia’s protracted collapse

16 05 2023

Oleksiy Radynski’s new article in E-Flux Notes (“The Case Against the Russian Federation: One Year Later“) almost reads like a response to the thoughts I posted yesterday. (No doubt because of the parallels in our thinking.)

Radynski writes:

In fact, since its emergence as a sovereign state in 1991, the Russian Federation had been mired in brutal internal strife, a series of civil and ethnic conflicts that have taken various forms over time (from open civil war in the streets of Moscow in October 1993, to the brutal suppression of Ichkeria during the “Chechen wars,” to the abolition of self-governance in the Federation’s “republics” since the early 2000s). But to prevent this internal strife from consuming the colonized territories still subjugated by the Russian Federation, the Russian government has continuously exported this suppressed violence beyond its own borders: to the territories of its former colonies, first Georgia and then Ukraine.

The protracted collapse of the Russian Federation is actually the reality we’ve been living in for decades now, and the invasion of Ukraine is just one of the symptoms of this ongoing cataclysm. In a botched Oedipal logic, the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine because it assumed that this was the last chance to preempt its own demise. Instead, it’s been caught in the quagmire of a self-fulfilling prophecy. [paragraphing added]

Far from merely blaming Russia, however, Radynski astutely links the fate of the post-1991 Russian state with the “market fundamentalism” encouraged by western elites (some would say “imposed” — whether it was “encouraged” or “imposed” is worth a book-length study in itself). This, he writes, “swiftly led to monopolistic capitalism coupled with right-wing authoritarianism, then to outright militarized fascism.”

Historians would want to parse that “swiftly led” bit into the various twists and turns, “forks in the road” and “roads not taken,” that would help account for why things turned out as horrifically as they have. But Radynski’s overall argument — that the trajectory of Russian history leads to something like this, and that it requires a reckoning that neither Russians themselves nor the western experts who’ve studied it all these years have given it — is an important one.

The article ends hopefully:

“The demise of the Russian Federation will prefigure the demise of other extractivist empires, and the liberation of their subalterns.”

Russia, decolonization, & the capitalism/democracy muddle

15 05 2023

A slightly modified version of this article (with footnotes) can be read at E-Flux Notes.

The ideas of decolonizing Ukraine, and of decolonizing Russia, are both “in the air.” They are also two entirely different things.

Like many postcolonial scholars, Ukrainian intellectuals have a pretty good idea of what “decolonizing Ukraine” means: it means national self-determination on a political level, accompanied by some measure of cultural revitalization. The details of the latter are debated, but some measure of “Ukrainization” in education, language laws, and the like — echoing that which took place in the 1920s (and was subsequently and violently negated in the 1930s) — is part of the picture, if only because cultural change helps to consolidate political change. (For a sense of this, see these articles in Krytyka, the writing of Timothy Snyder, and the long list of sources on the Ukrainian Institute’s Decolonization page.)

That’s not to say that Ukrainian intellectuals are united in acknowledging Ukraine’s colonial status. Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak argued in 2015 that “Within the Russian empire and the Soviet Union, Ukraine was more core than colony,” and that the postcolonial paradigm was “of little relevance” in explaining the events of 2014’s Maidan revolution and what led up to it. Still, the cultural dimension of decolonization has been prominent in the years since 2014, and it concurs with a view we’d get from any number of sub-state or neo-national peoples — think of the Québecois, the Catalans, the long-established (statified) Irish, et al. — that culture and language matter. By the same token, looking to India should suffice to remind us that culture, in a multi-ethnic state (no matter how successfully postcolonial), will always remain tricky and challenging; and given Ukraine’s historical as well as contemporary multi-ethnicity, may always remain so. (On Ukraine’s historical complexities, see, e.g., Brown, Abramson, and Durand.)

But what might “decolonizing Russia” mean? (Similarly, what could decolonizing the world’s other massive, historically imperial state — China — mean? Here’s a curious depiction of what this suggestion might entail.) And what forms could global solidarity with such a decolonial project take?

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Forensic Architecture: Mariupol bombing

12 05 2023

Forensic Architecture — which has done tremendous investigative “counter-forensics” work in Palestine/Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Myanmar, Colombia, Brazil’s Yanomamo territory, and Louisiana’s “Death Alley,” among other zones of war and human rights violation — has been working with the Center for Spatial Technologies on the March 2022 bombing of Mariupol’s Drama Theatre.

This 20-minute video presents the first part of their investigation. Their investigation of the Russian bombing of Kyiv’s Babyn Yar is also excellent, and viewable from their website. (See co-founder Eyal Weizman’s writings, including his co-authored volume on Investigative Aesthetics, and the “Methodology” section of their extensively documented web site for further information on their approach.)

“Before it was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, the Mariupol Theater was a key refuge in the besieged city, a unique site of solidarity and resistance. With Forensis & Forensic Architecture, the Center for Spatial Technologies interviewed survivors to tell the story of a self-organized commune: a city within a building.”

Snyder’s warnings

30 03 2023

Since Timothy Snyder is such a key figure in today’s debates over the Russian invasion of Ukraine (and over the larger global context in which they figure), and since I had intended to write something about him and his critics but have not done that yet, I was happy to see Robert Baird’s long-form article about him, which appeared in today’s Guardian. In “Putin, Trump, Ukraine: how Timothy Snyder became the leading interpreter of our dark times,” Baird covers all these things and more.

On the debate between “realists” and those I previously called “culturalists“, Baird writes:

This emphasis on ideas has led Snyder to be criticised by some in the realist school of international relations. Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, a thinktank, counts herself an admirer of Snyder’s historical work, but she also says that his “understanding of world affairs is almost indelibly shaped by what he thinks are the big important ideas, whereas I would say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was motivated as much by trying to prop up its falling security in the region”. The dispute is not academic. If you believe, as Ashford does, that Russia is motivated by strategic fears, then every additional degree of western involvement risks exacerbating the original causes of the war and prolonging the conflict. By contrast, if you believe with Snyder that the war’s roots lie in Putin’s fascist worldview, then victory on the battlefield becomes imperative. “A lot of smart people have said it before me, but fascism was never discredited. It was only defeated,” he says. “The Russians have to be defeated, just like the Germans were defeated.”

The article provides an intellectual biography of Snyder including his work as a historian of Eastern Europe and of the Holocaust, as well as his writings as a “public intellectual” analyzing Trumpism, Putinism, and much more.

It can be read here.

CFP: Ukrainian wartime reimaginings for a habitable Earth

23 03 2023

CALL FOR PROPOSALS/SUBMISSIONS: Creative writing, theoretical/scholarly writing, experimental text/image works from Ukrainian writers/artists and humanities scholars

Terra Invicta: Ukrainian Wartime Reimaginings for a Habitable Earth

Creative visions from Ukrainian artists and humanists articulating what in the world is worth fighting for

In an Anthropocenic context of intensifying climate change, exploding migration crises, and anticipated future wars over land, resources, and borders, Ukraine’s recent experience is hardly peripheral. It is in fact central to geopolitical, economic, and sociocultural processes at large in the world, and becoming more pressing year by year. Just as the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident placed Ukraine on the map of the world’s socio-ecological “sacrifice zones,” so has Ukraine’s invasion by Russia—an authoritarian petro-state poised to decline as its fossil-fuel economy depreciates—made it central to the global crises expected to arise on a climate-destabilizing planet.

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Putin vs. Voltaire, Žižek

22 02 2023

Putin, yesterday:

The West started to turn Ukraine into anti-Russia. This project started back in the 19th century, started by Austria-Hungary Empire and Poland.

Putin, Feb. 21, 2022:

modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia.

Voltaire, in 1731 (in his Histoire de Charles XII):

“Ukraine has always aspired to freedom.”

May be an image of text that says 'L'Ukraine a toujours aspiré à être libre: mais étant entourée de la Moscovie, des États du Grand Seigneur et de la Pologne, il lui fallu chercher un protecteur, et, par conséquent, un maître dans l'un de ces trois États. Elle se mit d'abord sous la protection de la Pologne, qui la traita trop en sujette; elle se donna depuis au Moscovite, qui la gouverna en esclave autant qu'il le put. D'abord les Ukrainiens'

Žižek, “The Dark Side of Neutrality” (responding to Roger Waters, last week, also readable here):

As an independent voice who follows Russian media very closely, I am well acquainted with what Putin and his propagandists “actually say.” The major TV channels are full of commentators recommending that countries like Poland, Germany, or the United Kingdom be nuked. The Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, one of Putin’s closes allies, now openly calls for “the fight against Satanism [to] continue throughout Europe and, first of all, on the territory of Poland.”

Indeed, the official Kremlin line describes the war as a “special operation” for the de-Nazification and de-demonization of Ukraine. Among Ukraine’s “provocations” is that it has permitted Pride parades and allowed LGBTQ+ rights to undermine traditional sexual norms and gender roles. Kremlin-aligned commentators speak of “liberal totalitarianism,” even going so far as to argue that George Orwell’s 1984 was a critique not of fascism or Stalinism but of liberalism.

[. . .]

Those who would claim neutrality forfeit their standing to complain about the horrors of colonization anywhere. […] It is obscene to blame Ukraine for Russian acts of destruction, or to mischaracterize the Ukrainians’ heroic resistance as a rejection of peace. Those, like Waters, who call for “an immediate ceasefire” would have Ukrainians respond to redoubled Russian aggression by abandoning their own self-defense. That is a formula not for peace, but for pacification.

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.

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.


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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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.

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