Recent Posts

Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

Super Antonio

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A momentary pause from Russia to give notice to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was inaugurated this past week. From pictures of the inauguration, it seems that the crowd well represented LA both by ethnicity and by class. This was my hope despite the code orange alerts from now ex-mayor Jim Hahn’s campaign that Antonio would only serve the Latinos. A pretty bold statement that fed on the white man’s ubiquitous fear of the Other. It was also damn racist, and Hahn should be damned ashamed of himself for it. He should have known better considering that his popularity came from his father’s strong links to African Americans in South Central. But this time, the use of race by the Hahn camp was not just directed again whites in the Valley; it was also to exploit the ethnic and class divisions between Latinos and African Americans in South Central. What Hahn probably didn’t suspect was for black dignitaries such as Magic Johnson and Maxine Waters to endorse Villaraigosa. Plus Hahn’s firing of Bernard Parks was what really did him in anyway. Enough of that. It didn’t work and I think all of us Angelenos are better off for it.

Antonio, as he is now affectionately referred to, has already done more before becoming mayor than Hahn did in four years as mayor. Villaraigosa seems to have single-handedly solved the 14-month labor dispute between hotel workers and their employers. As reported by Robert Greene in this week’s LA Weekly, ‘Raigosa worked tirelessly on both sides to get them to talk. This averted a possible lockout of hotel workers that would have crippled the city’s tourism and business. Greene’s article as a whole is an interesting just to get a sense of Villaraigosa’s seemingly super hero powers, stature, and, what makes him the polar opposite of Hahn, his personal style. I also recommended Harold Meyerson’s complimenting piece on Antonio’s unlikely rise to power, given his liberal-left political associations. By Meyerson’s account, the conjunction of forces of Los Angeles ethnic and racial makeup plus the power of labor were partially responsible for the possibility of someone like Villaraigosa to become mayor.

The question now is what he can actually accomplish. It seems that the three big issues are the MTA, the schools, and the corruption in City Hall. If he even attempts to tackle these it will be an improvement.

Finally, there is an interesting political dynamic occurring, which Greene briefly points this out. Villaraigosa, the superhero, is being set against an arch villain, the evil Governator. As Schwarzenegger is reviled by teachers, nurses, firefighters, and more and more regular voters, Villaraigosa is being thrust forward as a potential bulwark to Arnie’s assault on labor and the State itself. This was probably best seen in the Governator getting booed so loudly at Villaraigosa’s inauguration that Antonio had to step up and calm the crowd. It is only a matter of time before the Antonio for Governor chants begin.