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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.

On Shattered Selves and Young Communists

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My article, “The Shattered Self of Komsomol Civil War Memoirs,” has come out in the Fall 2012 issues of the Slavic Review. You can download it here.  Here are the opening paragraphs:

Komsomol literature in the 1920s repeatedly evoked the memory of the civil war as a means to inspire young communists to sacrifice themselves for the construction of socialism. In the words of Alfred Kurella, “The heroic times of the civil war presently take on a great role in satisfying youth’s romantic proclivities.” The war, he explained, bound the Komsomol around a “single principle,” for it recalled a time when all “surrendered to one great purpose” and “individual identity was significant only as part of a large family. Everybody conformed to the principle that bestowed life or death.” Like other European nations, which used memories of World War I in the construction of national unity, the Komsomol recalled the civil war in order to unite youth around a common heroic memory. The civil war functioned as a “meaningful and sacred event,” providing “ever-present saints and martyrs, places of worship and a heritage to emulate.”

The desire to codify the civil war as a foundational event began with the creation of the Komsomol’s historical commission in December 1920: Istmol, or the Commission for the Study of the History of the Russian Youth Movement. Throughout the 1920s, Istmol collected documents and organized evenings of reminiscence and exhibitions to commemorate the participation in the civil war by members of the Komsomol. Istmol also solicited civil war veterans to write memoirs that would bring revolutionary heroism to life, adding color and depth to the official documents. Their publications varied in content and style, and recollections were often published with very few revisions. The result was a heterogeneous body of literature lacking a dominant narrative for civil war memory. The recollections constituted the main literary form of civil war commemoration since the obituaries, tributes to fallen Komsomol leaders, and articles highlighting the enthusiasm of and service provided by members of the Komsomol that were published during the war.

Komsomol civil war memoirs display an ambivalence toward the civil war. This contrasts with our broader understanding of the war’s memory as a heroic period in which communists sacrificed themselves wholeheartedly for the revolution. Alongside a narrative that framed the war as a “heroic epoch,” veterans voiced confusion, personal loss, hardship, physical suffering, and fear in the face of death. It is precisely because of these elements that Komsomol civil war narratives can be seen as part of the important phenomenon of war remembrance at the turn of the century. These narratives, like many of their European counterparts, are ultimately personal stories that attempt to come to terms with the personal transformations that war brought upon young soldiers and to render the strangeness of these experiences understandable to both the readers and the soldiers themselves.