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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.

Memories of Bakunin

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Just when you though anarchist studies was a dead subject, Mark Leier, the director of the Centre for Labour Studies at Simon Fraser University in Canada has published a new biography of the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. You can read Walter Moss’ review of the book in the Moscow Times. It sounds like a good read, though sadly Leier doesn’t take advantage of the voluminous amount of Russian sources.

I’ve always found Bakunin an attractive figure. Alexander Herzen paints a wonderful picture of him in his memoirs My Past and Thoughts. Bakunin’s debates with Marx are a classic moment in revolutionary intellectual history, though when you think of about it, it is wholly unimportant in the big scheme of things. Unfortunately, not everyone is so convinced of its irrelevance to current politics.

About ten years ago I went to an anarchist convention in San Francisco at Golden Gate Park. The main attraction was not only the book fair, but the fact that Jello Biafra was speaking. When I ventured outside the pavilion for a break from the anarchist hubbub, I came upon a lone Spartacist member peddling the League’s newspaper the Workers Vanguard. Not having much exposure to the Sparts at that time, I began talking to him. What followed was a lesson in American radical politics.

While I was talking to the Spart, an anarchist approached and began denouncing the Trotskyist for a number of political historical crimes: betraying Nestor Makhno and being on the wrong side of the Bakunin-Marx debate. The Spart rebutted with similarly silly accusations. There was a good lesson in this comedic moment: both of these fools were completely irrelevant. And how could they not be? One was speaking about a debate that happened in 1848 as if it was yesterday, and the other was selling a newspaper that had little pictures of Lenin and Trotsky inside the front page.

As a postscript, I did subscribe to the Workers’ Vanguard that day. It wasn’t because I found the Spartacist line attractive in any way, but because it was cheap and I was into collecting radical newspapers at the time. The paper never really impressed; it was mostly concerned with resurrecting revolutionary corpses from a bygone time. Though I must say, it did give me a few laughs, especially when a few months later they published three issues revisiting that damn Bakunin-Marx debate.