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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.

Georgi Derluguian’s Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus

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On the right side of this page you will find a “Currently Reading” section. The only reason why I mention this is because of the current book that is displayed, Georgi Derluguian’s Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A World Systems Biography. I’m sixty pages into it and I find it absolutely fascinating. I became aware of it a few weeks ago when Derluguian spoke at the colloquium “Russia: Failed Transition?” put on by UCLA’s Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. I was skeptical at first because of the propensity for any talk that has the words “Russia” and “transition” tend to simply suck. But the Center tends not to feature any dimwits. A glance at their colloquium themes over the last several years shows that they bring in some of the best intellectuals on the planet. Yet you never know and I walked into Derluguian’s talk with my standard skepticism. Was I wrong.

Derluguian’s talk was lively, informative, funny, and the guy did it without any notes. It was one of those rare academic talks where you don’t sit there hoping the speaker will shut up and do it quick. I could have listened to him forever.

Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus touches on too many issues to mention here. When I am done with it I hope to write a review for this blog. Essentially, the study aims “to provide a plausible explanation as to why in some regions, mainly in the Caucasus, the catastrophic end of Soviet rule resulted in ethnic conflicts and the emergence of weak states that are thoroughly corrupt, not to say criminalized. The argument can then be extended to explain why in some places, predominantly but not exclusively in Chechnya, state structures withered away almost completely to be replaced by phenomena variously described as mafia, religious fundamentalism, warlord armies, and international terrorism” (8). He does this through the life of one Musa Shanib (russified name Yuri Muhammedovich Shabinov), who was a 1968 “New Left rebel” in Kabardino-Balkaria, professor, nationalist leader, and admirer of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Deluguian discovered the last fact in a rather amusing way:

We were already five hours and two dozen toasts into the feast when, trying to ask another question, I blurted out the words “cultural field.” Shanibov’s reaction was astonishing. He reached across the table to hug me: “Our dear guest! My Armenian brother! Now I see that you are not a spy—forgive our confusion, but you seemed to know too much about local affairs, and my security [his bodyguard was a big bearded Wahhabi–Sean] could not figure out whether you worked for the CIA because you came from America, or for the Russian FSB because you and your companion are from Russia. But now I clearly recognize in you a genuine sociologist, for you are knowledgeable about Pierre Bourdieu!” (So the long drinking session was a charade intended to sound me out for possible hidden intentions.)

I fell into my seat: “And YOU?”

“Me!?” exclaimed Shanibov. “But of course! Bourdieu’s Nachala [the 1994 Russian translation of Choses Dites] became the second most important book in my life after the Holy Quran. I studied it in my hospital bed when I was recovering from a wound received in Abkhazia.”

Brilliant. To get a taste of Derlugian’s work, I recommend reading this interview. If you have access to the New Left Review, you can read a review of Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus in the March-April 2006 issue.