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?

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

The anti-Americanist Left

20 03 2023

Re-reading Stephen Velychenko’s 2014 piece on the “Strange Case of Foreign Pro-Kremlin Radical Leftists,” I’m struck by the continuing relevance of his characterization. The following makes for a completely appropriate description of the part of today’s Left that could be considered both Russophilic and Ukrainophobic (I’ve added some punctuation for readability):

Since 1991, pro-Kremlin leftists have been either been silent on or supportive of regimes in China, North Africa, Syria, North Korea, Zimbabwe, the Congo, fundamentalist Islamists, and Arab Baathists. Now Putin’s government, and pro-Russian neo-Nazi and fascist parties can be added to the list. Activists, workers, indigenous minorities and groups or persons with grievances against, opposed to or miserable due to the above listed governments or groups are ignored or condemned. Alongside the Russophilism, neo-Soviet sympathies, material interest, delusion and ignorance that can account for this double standard among pro-Kremlin leftists, is the anti-Americanism that has overshadowed anti-imperialism in their thinking. [. . .]

Anti-Americanism is a set of beliefs that classifies imperialism as a singular, specific[ally] American rather than global phenomenon, that discounts or ignores competition between imperialists and intra-capitalist rivalries. Anti-Americanism bears little relation to Lenin’s concept of rival imperialist ruling classes divided within and engaged in an unending struggle with one another that dominated classes groups and nations might exploit. Instead, anti-Americanists restrict “imperialism” to the objectives of a corporate-controlled US government that supposedly dominates a bloc without fundamental intra ruling-class differences. Such a perspective leads believers to see the world as a stage for a duel between a capitalist USA and NATO on one side, and capitalist Russia on the other — with possible allies like India, Brazil, and China. On this manichaen stage, Ukraine must remain Russian so the US does not get stronger. Middle or working class Ukrainians who see benefit in the EU, the massive support for the Maidan, a long tradition of Ukrainian anti-colonialism, and the possibility of future support from Ukrainian leftists in the fight against neoliberal capitalism within the EU, have no place on this stage. Nor does the possibility that Ukrainians might prefer the EU to the Russian variant of neoliberal capitalism because experience has shown them the latter is more destructive and rapacious than the former. [. . .]

Such anti-Americanism has little in common with Marx or Trotsky. It has much in common with people who have nothing to do with socialism or marxism like Carl Schmitt, Aleksandr Glaziev, Vladimir Putin and Aleksander Dugin.

The only point which I’m not sure of is whether this part of the Left even considers Russia to be capitalist, at least by their definition of capitalism as necessarily imperialist (and imperialism as necessarily American).

Matviyenko & the war’s ‘colonial-imperial vector’

15 03 2023

Critical media theorist Svitlana Matviyenko’s recent Marshall McLuhan Lecture, delivered at Berlin’s Transmediale conference, has now been turned into an online article in E-Flux. Titled “Speeds and Vectors of Energy Terrorism,” the article provides both a deeply personal perspective (from one who has been in Ukraine during much of Russia’s full-scale invasion) and a rigorously theorized one covering the continuities and discontinuities between the Russian-Ukrainian war and previous wars going back to world wars one and two.

As has been the case with her “Dispatches from the Place of Imminence” (written for the Institute of Network Cultures), and familiar to previous readers of her writing, Matviyenko focuses especially on the more innovative fronts of this particular war, including cyberwar and disinformation; the role of nuclear power plants, including the occupation of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia complexes; the “irreversible militarization of life” with its “epidemic” proliferation of “martial assemblages”; the mythical nature of the concept of “victory”; and the production of “terror environments” centering around “necropolitical data-subjects.” Regarding the latter, Matviyenko notes how the Russian government’s justification for the full-scale invasion, and its refusal to call it a “war,” fully marks it as a “state of exception”:

In this regard, the Russian state’s description of its war as a “special operation” is accurate: it declares its intention to transgress the laws of war by opening space for unregulated war crimes, for creating multiple terror environments marked by extreme suppression and violence.

Her reference to the “necropolitical ‘death-worlds'” produced by the use of pollution as a weapon of war — a form of “vertical occupation” that is different from the “horizontal occupation” of territory — is especially sobering:

In war, however, pollution spreads—and violence occurs—at various speeds. In addition to the fast, or extremely fast, violence of rocket strikes, bombs, and other explosions that also release toxic chemicals, other forms of pollution spread “gradually and out of sight,” whether as a consequence of these faster forms, or independently. [. . .] This war will stay with us as a sequence of heavy losses for the entire earthly community.

This is a topic I intend to come back to in future posts. But I want to focus a little more here on a line of thinking connected to the colonial/decolonial question.

Matviyenko identifies two “vectors” of the “ongoing, complex, asymmetrical warfare.” The first is “interimperial,” and it “unfolds according to the logic of deterrence.” While this vector “is extremely aggressive,” it is a “communicative exchange” that largely follows the transactional pursuit of national interests. In this case, Russia’s “extreme extractivism and exploitation” has served “the fossil-fuelled capitalist interests of the so-called West and its simultaneously ‘oil-soaked and coal-dusted’ democracy,” as Cara Daggett has called it. Alongside the global South’s similar reliance on Russian fossil fuels (which Matviyenko doesn’t get into, but in which India is a key actor), this means that “the list of countries that retain economic relations with Russia after a year of genocidal war remains long” and that “fossil-fuel fascism” is sustained, not fundamentally challenged.

The second vector Matviyenko identifies is “colonial-imperial,” which follows “a trajectory of noncommunication.” This is a vector that “sets the direction for relations of suppression, subsumption, annihilation, and erasure,” such that “[a]ll negotiations are suspended indefinitely”: “‘Ukraine does not exist’ for the Russian state as a party in negotiations, except as an imagined subaltern who must submit to the invader’s will.” Matviyenko continues:

The Russian Federation claimed that they “had no choice” but to invade Ukraine and kill its people, which constitutes a complex and contradictory epistemological landscape that could probably only be deciphered through psychoanalysis. This urge, ever embittered by an extreme resentment that will only grow in the future, is particularly strong in those citizens of the Russian Federation who already feel—or will feel very soon—that whatever future they thought they had in Russia has been stolen from them. This mass vision of a stolen future will remain one of the many dangerous consequences of this war, no matter what awaits the Russian Federation in the years to come. It will also serve as a resource for future fascist mobilizations.

This same noncommunication sustains colonial relations between the Russian state and underdeveloped communities in its jurisdiction. This noncommunication also extends to peoples who self-identify as Indigenous, but remain unrecognized. Russian legislation only acknowledges forty-seven peoples across the vast landmass. According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, after the annexation of Crimea the list of unrecognized but self-identified Indigenous peoples grew to include the Crimean Tatars, the Krymchaks, and the Karaim. The empire only acknowledges the existence of a form of life when it is deemed useful, when the empire sees its potential for resourcification.

The coloniality of the latter is especially evident in Russia’s “reliance on an unrestricted supply of cheap, disposable human resources drawn from colonized first-nation communities and many strategically underdeveloped ethnic and social groups within the Russian Federation.”

It’s worth pointing out here that there are multiple imperial-colonial vectors at play in today’s situation. In a recent piece in New Eastern Europe, Milosz Cordes notes this colonial disparity writ large across Russia — where “[r]evenues from oil and gas from the non-ethnic Russian Nenets, Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrugs [provinces] fuel investments in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and prevent regions like Novgorod, Bryansk or Pskov from economic collapse. This is a typical model of economic exploitation,” he writes, “known from the Congo, Egypt or Latin America,” which qualifies the Russian regions east of the Urals as “part of the Global South.”

This “colonial-imperial vector” works differently in relation to the Buryats, Dagestanis, Tatars, or South Ossetians who have been among the primary “cannon fodder” for the Russian military, than to Ukraine or Belarus, the “brotherly peoples” of the “Great Russian race.” In imperial thinking, the latter have been more valued as the “backbone” of Great Russia, but are (as is clear today) also to be punished more vehemently when they reject their fate as “inner colonies.”

Ukraine’s long dance in relation to Russia and away from it has been going on for over a century and a half (and in some places since the 17th century state-building of Bohdan Khmelnytsky), with even leaders of Ukraine’s first independence movement — among them Mykhailo Hrushevsky, pivotal historian and first president of the Central Council of the 1917-20 Ukrainian People’s Republic — uncertain of whether Ukraine’s future lay with Russia or apart from it. If Stalin could destroy an entire generation to crush Ukraine’s independentist aspirations, however, Putin cannot. And so today we find Ukrainians in their culminating national-liberationist moment.

What this means for Ukraine is pretty clear: political self-determination accompanied by some measure of civic and cultural revitalization (the details of which have become clearer over time, but which still remain to be determined in post-war Ukraine). What it may mean for Russia — especially as Russia risks imploding from the neo-imperialist overextension of its capacities, and as calls for Russia to decolonize increase — is something I will explore in upcoming posts.

Please stay tuned for more on this topic.

Decolonialism divided against itself…

1 03 2023

Ukrainian anti-colonialists can continue to be disappointed by the leading postcolonial/decolonial intellectuals from the Global South whose views on the Russian invasion have reiterated Russia’s main propaganda narratives.

Writing in the French-language Lundi Matin, Pierre Madelin, in “Des pensés décoloniales à l’épreuve de la guerre en Ukraine” (“Decolonial Thinking Put to the Test by the War in Ukraine”), finds such views being spread not only by politicians like Lula and Evo Morales (respectively, the president of Brazil and former president of Bolivia) and France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, but also decolonialist intellectuals par excellence Walter Mignolo, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, and Ramon Grosfoguel.

Madelin writes (in Google’s English translation, which I’ve modified for readability and meaning),

Suffice to say that I was surprised when I discovered these [Grosfoguel’s] speeches, which reproduced the Kremlin’s discourse down to its most delirious aspects, as it seemed obvious to me that the war of annexation waged by Russia, an old imperial and colonial power, should have oriented the solidarity of these authors towards Ukraine. The logic of anti-colonialism or anti-imperialism would in fact require the countries or peoples who suffer from it to show solidarity with those who suffer from it elsewhere, even if it is under the boot of a rival power to the one that oppresses them. 

The problem, as Madelin points out, is a lack of reflection in the Latin American decolonialists’ view on behalf of a “dialectical vision of Europe” that is characterized by its own internal tensions and contradictions. Europe is, instead, “presented as a unity, as a malignant substance spreading throughout the world” (quoting Daniel Inclan).

Yet this framework, within which the analysis of concrete situations seems to give way to a metaphysics of history where an all-powerful hyper-subject holds the quasi-monopoly of evil in the world, is obviously ineffective for grasping the specificity and complexity of the war in Ukraine, just as it was hardly conclusive to understand the revolution and civil war in Syria.

Critics from the Global South have latched onto the legitimate critique of Europeans’ “double standard” in welcoming Ukrainians but not darker-skinned refugees from the South, to seemingly, and less legitimately, justify their “absence of unfailing support for the resistance and the massive mobilization of Ukrainian society.”

Madelin cites the analyses of Pierre Gaussens and Gaya Makaran, who critique the Latin American Modernity/Coloniality scholars for “historiographical oversimplification,” “permanent Manichaeism,” “cultural essentialism,” “Latin American provincialism,” and an “apparent criticism of Eurocentrism that in reality hides a tenacious Westernism.” He continues,

The paradox indeed is that the thought of these authors, one of whose first vocations, perfectly legitimate, was to criticize “Eurocentrism” and to “provincialize Europe,” is often deeply Eurocentric and Western-centric when it sets out to understand the present, the blissful celebration of the West and its “civilizing mission” having given way to the endless denunciation of its misdeeds but without ever losing its centrality, even when it no longer fully corresponds to developments in the contemporary world. There is something like an unthought-out political theology in there: a primary cause (in this case the United States/the West) and secondary causes which are always its derived and reactive product, or even its passive object. (emphases added)

The result is an “inverted occidentalocentrism” that, in the author’s view, is little better than the “campism” that sees no difference between Ukrainians today fighting for their national self-determination and U.S. militaries squashing third world liberation movements of the past. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then Putin, for all his faults, must be a friend to these thinkers. The contradictions of such “anti-imperialism” are profound:

If the long history of American interventions in the world, from the coup d’etat in Guatemala in 1954 to the war in Iraq in 2003, passing through the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961, the war in Vietnam, Pinochet’s Chile in the 1970s and the Nicaraguan Contras of the 1980s, is relatively well known and constantly recalled, a strange amnesia seems to surround the equally long history of Soviet interventions in many of its peripheries: in Berlin in 1953, Budapest in 1956, Prague in 1968 or Warsaw in 1980, without even mentioning, in the specific case of Ukraine, the Holodomor or the deportation of Crimean Tatars, even though these different events are the subject of a large number of works by historians. […]

Certainly, unlike the Spanish, British or French colonial empires, which essentially developed “overseas”, Russian colonialism was […] less easily discernible, since the territories conquered from the 17th century until the end of the Second World War were conquered, in successive layers, on the immediate periphery of the initial core territory. And if some of these territories were emancipated from Soviet tutelage after the fall of the Union, the consequences of this long colonial history remain strong, especially in the Caucasus and in Central Asia, where the populations suffer from persistent racism. To that should be added that in the first months of the war, it was the ethnic minorities of the Russian Federation, in particular Buryats or Yakuts, who paid the heaviest price on the Ukrainian battlefield, while the white middle classes of Moscow or Saint-Petersburg were relatively spared.

The risk the cited authors take is that they end up supporting the quasi-multilateralism that Indian feminist Kavita Krishnan calls “the mantra of authoritarianism.” This “multipolarity” is, in Madelin’s words, “a rallying cry for the despots” — in Krishnan’s analysis, it is authoritarians like Putin, Modi, Xi, Orban, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, and Trump, leading “far-right, white-supremacist, racist, anti-feminist, homophobic and transphobic political movements” — “which serves to disguise their war against democracy as a war against imperialism.”

In contrast, Madelin points for inspiration to Mexico’s Zapatistas: “Long engaged in a struggle with decolonial overtones against capitalism and the Mexican state,” he writes, “they gave in nothing to campism, and on March 13, 2022, they marched by the thousands in the cities of Chiapas in support of the Ukrainian resistance with cries of ‘Putin get out!'” 

For all those reasons, Madelin calls for a “polycentric decolonialism,” or, as I’ve referred to it (which he cites in his conclusion), an anti-imperialism that is against all imperialisms — an anti-all-imperialisms.

The entire article by Madelin can be read in the original here.

Reflections on a year of full-scale war

24 02 2023

Here are a few quick thoughts on the anniversary of Russia’s tragic decision to fully invade Ukraine.

1) The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a full-scale atrocity, with tragic consequences for millions, and indicative of the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Putin regime. Everything I’ve said and written about it before, including the way it has been a “turning point” in world affairs, remains true, but mostly on the negative side of the ledger. The positive — such as its potential for reorienting Europe away from dependence on Russian fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, and its potential for strengthening democratic movements around the world — remains only partially attained, if at all.

2) Like Ukrainians in general, whose resistance to the Russian onslaught has been remarkable, President Volodymyr Zelensky has done wonders in so many ways. But one thing neither he nor his western supporters have succeeded at — as this New York Times analysis shows — is convincing the global South to support Ukraine in its struggle. Wartime emergencies call for military support, but diplomatic pressure on Russia also needs to increase, which means that Ukraine’s foreign policy must broaden.

There are no good reasons for postcolonial democracies like Lula’s Brazil and the ANC’s South Africa to remainneutral” in an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial struggle. (Pressure on them to do better should increase.) Zelensky and western supporters, however, also need to make clear that that’s what this is (an anti-colonial struggle), and that no “tradition” of cold war “nonalignment” makes sense any more. We’re in a new world with new allies and new enemies, whose contours will increasingly be shaped by new conflicts. One of these — and one whose “war ecology” (to use Pierre Charbonnier’s astute phrase) shapes the nature of this conflict already — is that between fossil-fuel authoritarians (the likes of Putin and Trump) and climate-transitioning democracies (of whom the EU, Biden’s US, and Lula’s Brazil can be leaders).

It’s high time to shed the old lenses and shape a new global reality. In that, Ukraine can stand at the forefront.

3) I recently argued that the cultural dimensions of the Russia-Ukraine conflict cannot be denied. As shown in this excellent New York Times investigation and photo-essay (“A Culture in the Crosshairs,” Dec. 19, 2022), cultural sites have sometimes been deliberately targeted by Russia, and otherwise have simply been part of an indiscriminate barrage of terror against the Ukrainian population.

If Putin’s goal of geopolitical power has long been supported by a complementary goal of strengthening Russian imperial culture — the “Russkiy mir” he regularly touts — and of denying Ukraine’s (the largest non-Russian post-Soviet republic’s) longstanding resistance to it, Ukrainians have also risen to the level of successfully resisting Russian cultural imperialism through defending their own culture and nationhood. As cultural nationalists have long argued, cultural promotion — including the revival and strengthening of the Ukrainian language — can be an essential part of national self-determination.

But the same idea of broadening Ukraine’s foreign policy can apply to internal policy, including cultural and economic policy. What this implies, for me, is an intentional turn toward seeing national self-determination as part of a wider global struggle for democracy, social justice, and climate transition. I have no illusions that Ukrainians can move forward in building anything when missiles are still targeting Ukrainian cities, so the details of any such shift will remain to be determined (and fought for) once the war is over.

But the vision can be articulated now. And it is one that can encompass much more than the Europhilia, Ukrainophilia, and pro-Western orientations that are often expressed. It can encompass democracy as a global project of social justice and climate justice, resistance to all manner of geopolitical imperialisms (most of them based on carbon capitalism and authoritarian conservative resistance to change), and transition to a renewable and sustainable society.

In all these respects, Ukraine could become a global leader. But first we must stop Russian aggression and end this war.

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.

Economics vs. culture: Ishchenko & his critics

6 02 2023

This is intended as the first in a series of more in-depth posts discussing scholarly perspectives on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It reflects thinking-in-progress, shared for the sake of open discussion and not for scholarly exactitude. (I practice the latter elsewhere.) Responses and corrections are welcome.

Volodymyr Ishchenko has carved out a unique niche as one of the western Left’s go-to voices on all things Ukrainian. His list of articles and interviews in popular venues like Jacobin, New Left Review, Democracy Now, The Guardian, Open Democracy, Socialist Project, PONARS Eurasia, and The Dig runs into the dozens. These appearances in the popular press aren’t undeserved, as his longstanding scholarship on Ukrainian social movements (see this and this) has made him a perceptive and nuanced observer of Ukraine. His perspective has been consistent, and his generous engagement with critics has been noteworthy.

The mixed response to Ishchenko’s recent New Left Review article “Ukrainian Voices?” caps what appears to be a growing rift between Ishchenko and some others on the Ukrainian academic Left, which I attempt to make sense of in this post, as I see important issues at stake in it. (For a few examples of that rift, see here, here, here, and here.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Skip to toolbar