Lair Of A Squirrel Red


Oh well… by korakious
February 17, 2008, 6:22 pm
Filed under: Imperialism, NATO, Russia, Yugoslavia

Kosovo declared independence.

That’s Georgia done as a viable state then.

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With all due respect, it’s not Putin’s Russia. by korakious
December 15, 2007, 12:07 am
Filed under: AWL watch, Russia | Tags: ,

I am surprised, somewhat, that our vibrant blogosphere did not pick up the news of Putin finally breaking his silence over the question of his succession as Tsar President of Russia. You see, for years we’ve had analyst upon analyst coming up with elaborate, almost phantastical, scenarios about how Putin would outflank the constitution and remain in the Kremlin, working his way towards absolute power and reintroducing (lol) totalitarianism in Russia. The most popular of those was that Putin would amend the constitution to allow him to stand again; myself, I quite liked a more amusing variation of this, according to which Putin would finally go through with the decade old plan of a Russo-Belorussian union, and become president under a new constitution. Then, when this became increasingly unlikely as the end of the term approached, the established wisdom was that Putin would manage to transfer authority from the presidency to to the prime minister’s office and go for that. Another scenario was that Putin would put up a powerless yesman for the presidency and run again after four years, as he is constitutionally allowed to. Zubkov who was made PM earlier this year was a perfect candidate for this job. Almost 70 year old, a former security officer who knows how to follow orders and virtually unknown before he became head of the cabinet by the grace of Vladimir Vladimirovich.

And then…. Well then Putin (and his inner circle presumably) decided to nominate Dmitry Medvedev, deputy PM, head of the state monopoly giant Gazprom, supervisor of many a government programme, member of Putin’s St Petersburg circle and without any background in the security services. Medvedev is also only 42 and will thus not be out of the political landscape any time soon. Granted, he is a Putinist, whatever that means and his personal relationship with the Judo President is very close, but he does have his own experience in handling state affairs. There is no doubt that he will provide continuity with the Putin administration, in fact he has said so himself and his invitation to Putin to become PM under his presidency pretty much confirms it. The question is, what is so strange, or alarming about this? Why does RFE/RL see this as a confirmation of Putin’s conviction to stay in power forever? Why the talk of princes, heirs and regents? Of course, you will correctly think that this is because RFE/RL is a US imperialism mouthpiece, but the terms of coverage/debate are more or less similar in all western media outlets.

The answer lies in the rather perverted prism through which Russian politics is viewed by the west. “Putin’s Russia” has become a rather common description of a situation that is far more complex than the Putin-the-puppetmaster paradigm. It is of course impossible to ignore Putin’s personal weight when analysing Russian politics. Putin is perhaps the sole legitimating element of the regime. His popularity, at the end of his mandate, is touching 80% while in the “democratic” West, leaders at the end of their term are about as popular as emokids are amongst metalheads. At the same time, the percentage of Russians who appreciate the political “right to choose” barely reaches double digits while more than half think that elections are little more than a show. This is hardly surprising given the fact that the reintroduction of capitalism in Russia – of which the neo-Kautskyite AWL was and is very supportive – resulted in the greatest AIDS epidemic outside of Africa, more orphans than WWII, a fall in life expectancy only seen in war zones and some 3/4 of Russians falling under the poverty line.

It was addressing and to an extent remedying these problems that has gained Putin his immense popularity and has made him indispensable to the regime. It is for the same reason that the mouthpieces of Western imperialism speak of a rollback of democracy in “Putin’s Russia”. Is Russia authoritarian? Certainly. The presidency has far-reaching executive powers, its decrees are almost impossible to overturn, impeachment is nearly impossible and it can dissolve the Duma should it thrice reject the appointed PM. But has Russia become any more authoritarian under Putin? Not really. If anything, the centralisation of power Putin has undertaken has if anything made politics more institutional, concentrating under an elected office, rather than letting policy be decided through informal deal brokering at all levels of the state. There has been much ado about the fact that regional governors are no longer elected but appointed by the presidency, but given that we are talking about elections that often returned majority “against all candidates” votes and despite that, ended up propelling corrupt bureaucrats to power who would run the regions as their private fiefdoms, embezzling state funds and casually threatening to secede, this is hardly lamentable. If one wishes to find the institutional roots of authoritarianism in Russia, it is to Yeltsin that they should look. It is he who established the hegemonic power of the presidency and notwithstanding the silencing of charlatan opposition leaders like Gasparov, Putin has not resorted to fraud and selling off of state assets to win an election, nor has he ordered tanks to shell the legislature.

There is nothing really enigmatic or unprecedented about Putin’s rule. He is a quintessential Bonapartist leader (like his predecessor), an individual holding exceptional authority mediating a fragile historical situation, maintaining a fragile balance between the fragmented ruling class and the dormant but gradually awakening proletariat. The reason the intellectual vanguard of Western imperialism – liberals – can’t deal with it is because Putin’s (contrary to Yeltsin’s) successful handling of numerous and very dangerous contradictions of Russia, has allowed Russian capitalism to increasingly assert its imperialist interests. It is the emergence of a new competitor on the international arena that the West is so hyped up about, not the “reemergence” of authoritarianism in Russia.

It’s testament to the feeblemindedness of the bourgeoisie that they would even conceive of a situation where capitalism was successfully reintroduced in Russia without turning to bite its collective arse. On our part, lefties of all stripes have more to fear by the resonance of Putin’s policies with the Russian working class, rather than by any supposed scheme of his to become dictator for life.



The arrogant Eagle and the pissed off Bear. by korakious
June 5, 2007, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Imperialism, NATO, Russia


A few days ago there was yet another demonstration in Prague against the proposed installation of a US radar station within the framework of the American missile defense system being set up in Central Europe, allegedly in order to protect US (and Europe) against a hypothetical nuclear missile launch from Iran. As the BBC article comments, the Czech people are overwhelmingly against the building of the station, for both health and security reasons. The current ruling party does not have an absolute majority in parliament, and it seems that the opposition forces are against the move (whether on principle or to capitalize on its unpopularity) meaning that Mr Topolanek might not be able to fulfill his promise to Dubya. Without meaning to sound like a new leftie movementist, I believe it is good to see some sort of political activism – even if it doesn’t have an explicitly working class character – in a country of the former Eastern Bloc. It indicates that the people are gradually overcoming the atomization caused by Stalinism, as well as challenging the hegemony of liberal ideology and building an oppositional political culture. Should the radar proposal fall, it is likely that the Czech people will be heartened enough to start mobilizing over other issues as well. Demonstrations have already been organized for Bush’s visit tomorrow; hopefully, they will be sizable. [I started writing this post a couple of days ago. Bush’s visit has since been completed; if you have any idea as to how successful the planned protests where, please let me know]

As the title implies however, this post is not about the level of class struggle and political consciousness in the Czech republic but rather, the international context and implications of the US drive to establish missile installations in that very troubled part of the world.

The implications are, I believe, rather evident. Russia is getting pissed off at having American missile systems in her backyard. It is rather obvious to anyone with basic knowledge of geography that said complexes are more useful against Russia than Iran. There is absolutely no reason for an Iranian missile headed to the US to fly over anywhere near Poland or the Czech Republic, unless of course the hypothetical missile decided to do zigzag maneuvers on the way. If the US were really worried about an Iranian attack, they would be better off building their radars and whatnot on the north coast of Africa. Indeed, the only way that a projectile from Iran would go over Poland or the Czech Republic was if it was headed to… Greenland. Unless my memory is failing, I believe that Iran does not have any grudges against the Inuit people.

Russia’s response

Vladimir Putin has been quite vocal in expressing his dissatisfaction with what he referred to in Munich as the US overstepping its national borders. A well schooled security bureaucrat, Putin is understandably worried at what he sees as a preemptive measure against the imperialist aspirations of Russian capitalism.

Putin’s response to America’s increasingly antagonistic foreign policy is almost Bismarckian in the extent to which it dovetails with Russia’s general strategic interests. The Judo practitioner, in his speech to parliament on April the 26th, declared a moratorium on Russia’s commitment to the Treaty on Conventional Weapons. The treaty, first signed in 1990, aimed to reduce the number of conventional military forces scattered around Europe within the context of the Cold War. It was amended in 1999 to take note of geopolitical changes affected by the dissolution of the USSR, however, the US and other NATO members have refused to ratify it before Russia withdraws her troops from Georgia and Moldova. Russia of course is not going to have any of this crap, hence Putin arguing that Russian presence in the former SSRs is a matter without relevance to the treaty and declaring it void until the NATO members ratify it. This is hardly surprising. The Treaty was originally signed when the Soviet Union was on its death bed and amended when Russia was in the middle of the devastating crisis that followed the dissolution. Now, the Russian state has to an extent pulled itself together, balancing itself on the wave of rising energy prices and is gradually stabilizing the almost shattered Russian society.

What is even more indicative of Russia’s willingness to pursue a confrontational foreign policy is Putin’s hint – during his speech at the Munich Conference – that Russia was not happy with the restrictions imposed on her by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty within the current global political framework. This was followed by further, more intense dick-waving sabre-rattling when Russia announced the successful testing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile which, according to The Guardian, can carry multiple warheads, all of which can lock onto different targets, posing thus a significant challenge to intercepting systems. This of course is just part of the increasingly high-pace Russian rearmament, rather than a shocking development, but its timing, only a few days before Bush’s visit to Prague, is quite telling.

Prospects

Only one thing is sure. The interests of Russian and American imperialism are on a collision trajectory, for various reasons. Not only is Russia threatening to break global US hegemony if she does indeed manage to harness her internal chaos, but she is also obviously interested in (and capable of) regaining dominance in hertraditional spheres of influence which have been usurped by the US. The War on Terror is not helping Kremlin-White House relations much either, as it fuels Islamic radicalism which in turns fuels Chechnyan separatism.

The extent and magnitude of the conflict between American and Russian interests depends on how much the two states are prepared to and can sustain their politics of confrontation.

It seems to me that the US is in a far more difficult position as far as political sustainability is concerned. The foreign and internal politics of the US (on which I’ll admit I am no expert) are marked by irreconcilable contradictions. The soon to end Bush administration is based on an alliance of the intensely ideological Christian Right groups, corporate interests and whathaveyou. The War in Iraq and occupation of Afghanistan is a huge drain on state funds which are already being depleted by far going tax cuts. As the Cedar Lounge Revolution puts it:

And of course the point is that the Bush administration is intensely ideological. But in a weirdly splintered way, with competing interests, commercial, sociopolitical/religious and foreign policy having spent the last seven years vying for pole position and the Presidents ear. These interests are by no means mutually compatible.

I could argue that Bush represents the triumph of the oligarchies, or perhaps the triumph of oligarchies who have cynically utilised the right religious vote. But perhaps that would be to attribute to Bush more guile, or even project management, than he deserves. Perhaps the project was simply about being in power. And perhaps that tells us why the project has failed. If one has no instinctive interest in affairs of state, indeed an antipathy to the very concept of the state or perhaps more particularly the public welfare (in it’s broadest sense), it tends to lead to – at the very least – a sense of dislocation. And that’s all fine, except the state functions in a very real way only due to the collective affirmation by citizens and the input of taxation from citizens. In other words other peoples money.

Said War is to the interests of only some sections of American capital, hence the opposition to the War by certain interest groups. Then there are also disagreements on methods to tackle climate change, with the energy lobby vehemently fighting any marginally progressive proposals while bourgeois leaders like Al Gore have painted themselves green, realising that there are green votes to be won, as well as understanding the bourgeoisie is not immune to environmental destruction. And of course, there’s the repoliticisation of the American public itself as a result of both the war and the influx of immigrants from Latin America who are gradually starting to become class conscious.

Bush himself seems to be unsure as to what approach to Russia is best. First, he tries to reassure the Bear by vowing that the installations are of no danger to her, even going as far as to invite Russian officials over. Then, he goes on to criticise the Putin administrationon rolling back “freedoms”. With such a degree of policy instability, it is impossible to predict how the US will behave in dealings with Russia after the election next year.

As regards Russia, matters are far simpler. Even though Putin cannot run for reelection again in 2008, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the potential future Russian presidents will follow a different political trajectory. The only challenge faced by Russia is, as I said earlier, her internal socio-economic chaos byusing high energy prices to expand the economic base of the country and invest in programmes of social development. None of the opposition parties can hope to defeat Edinaya Rossya and even if they did, there would be no change with respect to the structure and functioning of the state which is entirely dominated by (both state and private) corporate interests in a manner rather different than in other capitalist states. As Tony Wood argues, business and state have become almost fused, with businesses recruiting from state ministries and vice versa:

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev is also chairman of Gazprom; Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Igor Sechin, is also chairman of Rosneft. Taking the Presidential Administration as a whole, ‘11 members chaired 6 state companies and had 12 further state directorships; 15 senior government officials held 6 chairmanships and 24 other board seats.’ Many members of the government are also rumoured to have significant, undisclosed business interests—such as the Communications Minister, Leonid Reiman, who allegedly still holds a stake in the phone company he co-founded, Telekominvest

It is obvious thus that the political trajectory of Russia will be far more stable in the long run than that of the US, as long as she avoids another economic crisis like that of the 90s.

With Iran and China also rising to global prominence, it is certain that we live in interesting -and dangerous- times. I am only hoping that the dormant (for different reasons) working classes of Russia and the US will soon reestablish themselves as powerful enough political actors to put a break to their national bourgeoisies’ mortal pissing contest.



So long, fucker. by korakious
April 24, 2007, 7:39 am
Filed under: Russia

You know, I was going to make a very long post about how much of piece of shite Yeltsin was.

But I won’t. I don’t need to. No matter how much bourgeois journos weave him peans as a “liberator”, his legacy – and popularity – in Russia speak for themselves.



Unbreakable union of freeborn republics… by korakious
March 25, 2007, 3:39 pm
Filed under: Russia, USSR


Fifteen years have passed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union on the first of January, 1992. The country – now region – with the most hotly debated – by its supporters, critical supporters, critics and enemies – political system in the world, has since then, been more or less ignored by people belonging to all shades of the political spectrum, apart perhaps from some largely irrelevant Stalinists, nostalgic about the olden days.

No one wants to talk about the post-Soviet republics. The left has moved on to more exciting issues like the new left wing wave that’s sweeping Latin America, or the meltdown of imperialism in the Middle East while others might also focus on Nepal and the rise of the Maoists. On the other hand, liberals prefer to talk about things like the WTO, the EU, the “threat” of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, while, depending on where they stand on the Iraq war divide, they’ll also comment on how US action in the Middle East is necessary to maintain Western security, or how it is irresponsible and destabilizes the region. If there’s any mention of the post-Soviet and Eastern bloc countries, it is invariably within this framework. Russia helps Iran with its nuclear programme, Poland whines about Gazprom and Germany, the Ukraine’s prospects for EU accession seem slim – the formerly real-socialist countries’ political past is referred to only when there is some sort of clash of interests between said countries and the West. When Russia pursues her own imperialist objectives, Soviet Cold War mentalities are to blame. When the right wing authoritarianism that has spread all over Eastern Europe, and beyond, rears its ugly face, it is, naturally, considered an undemocratic residue and brushed aside as yet another problem to be dealt with by the liberal democratization process.

But that’s as far and deep as any (mainstream) references to the real-socialist past go. That the fall of this deeply flawed and perverted form of socialism was, for the majority of the Soviet population, the greatest catastrophe that has befallen them in modern history, is rarely touched by socialist and liberals alike. By the left, the fall of the USSR is seen merely as a justification of their criticisms (degeneracy for Trotskyists, revisionism for Stalinomaoists). Every, 7th of November, their party press will carry an article about how important the Russian revolution is, how it shows that capitalism carries the seeds of its own destruction and more importantly, how the eventual fall of the USSR shows that their criticisms were right all along. They’ll also add that what Russia needs now is the establishment of a true Leninist (meaning Trotskyist or Stalinist depending on whose paper it is) party.

Liberals on the other hand will usually deny that what happened in 1992 was a disaster. The grave problems faced by Russia and the rest of the post-Soviet republics are only the negative legacy of “Communism” and they can only get better, as long as democratization continues and governments remain responsible (it’s up to them now, we helped as much as we could!). Somehow, they fail to see a connexion between the gangster capitalism unleashed by Tsar Yeltsin and fostered by Tsar Putin and the fact that the top 9 countries by suicide rate are all former real-socialist states. Further, that Russia suffers from an annual population decline of 750-800,000 is for them unconnected to the “shock therapy” advised by the Harvard economists and gleefully implemented by their Russian lackeys.

When faced with the facts, the liberal sycophants of global capital will quickly point to the Baltic countries – most often Estonia; here are successful, liberal democracies with booming economies! They will of course fail to mention that said economies have been built on the huge ethnic Russian minorities (25% in Estonia and 29.6% in Latvia) that lack citizenship and live in poverty.

The situation in the former Soviet Union is desperate, no matter how many pairs of rose-tinted glasses bourgeois commentators may look at it through. The only answer to the problems of the working class in all CIS countries is the creation of a new socialist movement. The task of any such future movement is threefold: First and foremost, it must make a powerful stand against fascism, as it is expressed by both the growth of the far right (National Bolshevism in Russia, neo-Nazism in the Baltics etc.) and the growing authoritarianism of the former Soviet states. Second, it must challenge any illusions the working class may hold about capitalism promoting “freedom and democracy” and offer a socialist alternative. Finally, it must fight against the culture of top-down, great leader politics that is prevalent amongst the left of the former Soviet states.

Given the lack of political culture and atomization the working class suffers from after decades of Stalinist rule and authoritarian capitalism, that any attempt to establish a united, powerful and participatory socialist movement in certain. It is equally undeniable however that there is no other way forward.