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.

Consuming Russian Feminism

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The theme of my last post on how International Women’s Day has been transformed from a public to a private holiday reminded of the enormous advertisement at Lubyanka Square covering Detskii Mir, the famous toy store now under renovation.  The advert was put up in November to promote the publication of Elle Magazine in Russian.  I don’t know if  it’s still there, but I do know there are smaller incarnations around the city as photos from a small IWD protest held yesterday show (the photo shows one of the ads was with a leaflet picturing the Bolshevik-feminist Alexandra Kollontai).

The Elle ad, designed by Johann Sebastian Hanel, is worth thinking about in the context of the general consumerization of feminism not only in Russia, but around the world. It also reveals, yet again, as Thomas Frank showed in his book about post-1960s advertisements in the US, consumer capitalism subsumes revolutionary messages into its logic quite seamlessly.  All potential contradictions are smoothed under the powers of the culture industry.

Elle‘s ad does exactly this by picturing a crowd of women engaging in a riotous protest. All of them are dressed and primped to the hilt, of course.  At the helm is a brunette carrying a red flag–the universal symbol for communism.  Black flags–the symbol for anarchism–are also found among the crowd.  The feminine mob flanking her are waving handwritten signs demanding a slew of rights.  But  the demands aren’t for economic, social, or political equality.  Rather, they are for consumer equality and the right to excessive consumption. They read “Let there always be mini-skirts!” “Give us a paid holiday during sales!”  “Shopping is the best opium!” “Everyone vote for new dresses!” and “A third purse isn’t a waste!”

To add more insult to injury, Elle‘s press release reads:

ELLE, the most popular fashion magazine in the world, has proclaimed revolution! And this time without seizing the Winter Palace!  Today ELLE advances new demands and calls for a fashionable rebellion of active, flashy young women who keep track of fashion trends, love to devote time to themselves, spend money, are financially independent and successful in family life, in their career, and for whom self-realization is important and love fun and excitement.  ELLE makes this fashion revolution and declares with every intent: “ELLE’s TIME HAS COME!”

Revolution, feminism, and consumerism all wrapped up into one.  Beautiful.