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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.

Book Shopping in Moscow

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I’ve been doing a lot of book shopping here in Moscow. Most of the libraries and archives I work in have little lavki of mostly academic books. I have to say that there are some interesting things being published here.

What has caught my eye is the sheer number of translations of post-structuralist philosophy. The works of Jacques Derrida, Alain Badiou, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze are filling bookstores philosophy sections.

There are also some interesting historical works being published. I was happy to find Igor’ Navskii’s brilliant study of the Russian Civil War, Zhizn v katastrofe: Budni naseleniia Urala v 1917-1922 (Life in Catastrophe: Everyday Life in the Urals, 1917-1920), at a ROSSPEN store for only 99 rubles as well as the second volume of Sovetskaya derevnia glazami VChK-OGPU-NKVD dokumenty i materialy, 1923-1929 (The Soviet Countryside through the eyes of the Cheka, GPU and NKVD documents and materials, 1923-1929). There are also an increasing number of studies, memoirs, and document collections on the Gulag, Spetspereselenie or “Special Resettlements,” etc. These are also common subjects now being researched and published.

What is even more intriguing are books like Irina Zherebkina’s Feministskaia interventsiia v stalinizm ili Stalina ne sushchestvuet (A Feminist Intervention in Stalinism or Stalin does not Exist). The author of the acclaimed Strast’: Zhenskoe telo i zhenskaia seksual’nost’ v Rossii (Passion: The Female Body and Female Sexuality in Russia), Zherebkina makes a gender and Lacanian analysis of Stalinist Russia. Influenced by the works of Slavoj Zizek, Zherebkina seeks to deploy “Alenka Zupanchich’s methodology of the “ethics of the Real” as a theory of ethical choice in the analysis of totalitarian eroticism, especially the gendered structure of subjectivity” (7).

Another interesting find was Nataliia Lebina’s Entsiklopediia banal’nostei: Sovetskaia povsednevnost’: kontury, simvoly, znaki (Encyclopedia of Banality: Soviet Everyday Life: Contours, Symbols, Signs). This is a great book of short entries on the small, not to mention forgotten tokens of Soviet life. Inside you can find entries on things like stiliaga, the postwar youth subculture, Eseninshchina, the 1920s hysteria about suicides inspired by the poetry of Sergei Esenin, and babetta, which was a woman who dressed and did her hair like Brigit Bardot in the late 1950s and early 60s.

Lastly is Il’ia Utekhin’s Ocherki Kommunal’nogo byta (Study of Communal Life). How Soviet citizens live, regulated, and ordered communal space in kommunalki is a fascinating subject. We often forget that the Soviet experiment was more than just changing the economic and social structure of Russian life; it was also about the restructuring of how people interacted with space. The communal apartment was both practical and revolutionary. The crisis of housing required many families to share apartments; while at the same time also trying to create unalienated living space. Utekhin’s text tries to capture what life was like in these living spaces and how residents negotiated its many compromises and conflicts.