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Nazis in Ukraine

25 Feb

I have been watching the events of the last two weeks or so in absolute horror. The sight of open Nazis in Ukraine with Nazi insignias on their clothes, waving far right flags used in the war by Nazi collaborators and getting, until recently, uncritical coverage in the BBC and other media outlets, fills me with rage and despair, as an antifascist, as a Jew and as a human being 😦

There is however a real risk of any social anger against Yanukovich and his backers in the Kremlin being written off as being driven by the extreme right, a tactic that Russia has made use of before despite an increasingly intolerant and far-right political climate towards gay people, Muslims and other minorities with the Putin regime’s tacit approval. While they have come to be dominated by the extreme right, such as the extreme right wing, antisemitic Svoboda party, one of whose activists established a ‘Joseph Goebbels research centre’ and the the even further right Pravy Sector, initially at least the makeup of the protests was a lot more mixed and included left-wingers and even anarchists. The character of the protests changed when neo-Nazi activists were able to overpower other groups protesting, by for example smashing up a stall by Ukrainian trade unions in the square. The fact that they were physically more well prepared and well armed put the fascists at the forefront of most of the fighting against the police and government. They were able to set up barricades deciding who came in and out of the protest camps and most of these were dominated by far-right groups. However even now the protests are not fully dominated by Nazis – many homeless people came to the protest camps for example attracted by the free food.

It may seem unusual in the UK but protests with this sort of mixed character are not unusual in Eastern Europe. In 2009 for example, there were protests in Moldova against the Communist Party who at the time controlled the country. These protests eventually forced the removal of the governing party and resulted in a victory for a coalition of ‘pro-European’ parties, some of whom, but not all, included the extreme right. Russia was quick to allege fascist involvement in the protests, a charge that didn’t really stick given the wide range of people involved in them. But there was a grain of truth involved in these claims. The protests split the country with many Russian speakers, rural people and older people being against them and shocked by the disorder. On the other hand fascist groups were involved in the protests as well as ordinary people, leftists and ‘liberal‘ pro EU nationalists such as the ‘Hyde Park‘ group (portrayed in western media as a liberal, pro-European integration group, but when I took their leaflet on a demonstration I walked past while I was living there, I discovered it was racist).

Although I do have some time for some of the activists in this group and others of a similar political nature, the insipid pro-EU liberalism of these organisations as a whole, and uncritical attitude towards anything which opposes Russia, leaves much to be desired – their politics don’t tend to go further beyond the idea that “we should join the EU and all be nicer to each other”, and with the implied idea being that EU integration, likely to be opposed by Russians, is itself a good idea in itself, that it will automatically make the country more prosperous etc – and that the only “problem” is Russia. Thus in these social movements and organisations you get liberals, pro-EU “economic liberals” and free-market types alongside social democrats and leftists who think that joining the EU will lead to a more “european style” democracy and standard of living – and fascists, who will have very different motivations for wanting closer ties to the West from the above, but the vagueness and apolitical liberal nature of the above means it’s easy for them to support it or to be supportive. When there I came across a few people who supported government austerity plans and supported the EU because they imagined that they would largely impact old Russian people who were “communists” – these plans were popularised on this basis, too.

Groups like Hyde Park are often in favour of human rights and campaign for very reasonable things, but they also campaign against things like “the russification of the national curriculum”. Being pro-western and pro-EU usually implicitly means the increased use of the national language – and the marginalisation of the Russian language. It is doubtful whether many of these groups would organise protests against for example, Romanian and Ukrainian nationalists in the same way.

In addition, irredentist nationalist slogans such as ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc‘ (Bessarabia is Romanian land) were common during these protests, some people (not all of them far-right) thinking that closer integration to the EU would be a way to reunite with Romania, something which is by no means only supported by the extreme right but is promoted by them as the answer to the country’s problems – an answer that by implication excludes Russians. A closer look at the groups promoting this ideology reveals racism against Russians and Jews as well as extreme homophobia. I once looked out of the window on the way to work and saw protesters with Romanian flags, ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc’ and the Celtic cross on a black background leaving you in no doubt as to where they were politically.

Here’s a video of Moldovan fascists marching to be part of Romania.

When I was there the new Moldovan government introduced an austerity programme which included, for example, ending free bus travel for pensioners. Surprisingly this received a bit of public support from some people I met who initially at least saw these policies as targeted at old Russians and Communist Party supporters. One of these people also told me that “our language is very dirty, with a lot of Russian words”. On my way to work I used to walk past a headquarters of a religious group with an icon of Jesus and Mary facing the traffic – facing inward was a billboard alleging a conspiracy between Jews and the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church complete with “photo evidence”, a surprising theory given that this church has been caught selling copies of the Protocols and other extreme-right literature in Russia.

That said most people I met there who had been involved in the protests or were at least supportive of them were definitely not fascist, but were very dissatisfied by the inequality presided over by the Communist Party and also, frequently, actual and perceived discrimination in favour of the Russian minority. They were in the majority of cases motivated by real and justified anger at the government, and in the moldovan case fash were in a definite minority. The protesters occupied government buildings and struck at the power of the state. You have to remember that the left in these places is practically non existent and where it does exist the organized left isn’t worthy of the name, being bag carriers for the Kremlin and presiding over neoliberal policies and corruption, promoting Russian nationalism and trading on Soviet nostalgia, but with something far nastier frequently lurking underneath – the former communist president of Moldova describing a black opposition activist as ‘a negro who came down from a tree’ . The lack of a left that is not nostalgic for the soviet union and with it, Russian rule over the ‘backward’ eastern european countries, itself a key idea in Russian imperialist nationalism has been one of the contributory factors that has opened the gateway for the extreme right.

The fact that Russian far-righters have been involved on the opposite side to the Maidan protesters, and, ludicrously, that the police have reputedly been told that the protesters are led by Jews despite clear evidence of fascist involvement, demonstrates that the idea that Yanukovich’s regime and the Kremlin are motivated by antifascism is hard to swallow, as is Putin’s claim that he is against corruption and imperialism when the regime is perfectly happy to tolerate their own oligarchs and use Russian military bases in former soviet countries as a way to control them.

With that in mind however, it is clear that the far right have played a huge part in the Ukrainian protests, bigger than their part in Moldova or even for that matter in the Orange Revolution in 2007, where groups such as UNA-UNSO, a paramilitary organization which was one of the forerunners of Svoboda, played a role in the demonstrations, and several figures in Viktor Yushchenko’s party had links to them. By unbreaking the link above BTW you can see an odd article combining a call for Ukraine to join the EU with antisemitic statements about ‘Jewish lords’. It is estimated that around 30% of protesters are involved in far-right groups such as Svoboda and Pravy Sector and many more will sympathise with them, especially because these neo-Nazis have been doing the bulk of the fighting with the government. Even more concerning is the fact it looks likely that Svoboda may enter a coalition in the new government. This used to be their old logo by the way:

Svoboda's original logo. nice huh?

If Russia’s conduct has been grotesque as they try to portray themselves as a bulwark against fascism it has been equally sickening to see the UK government portray these events as entirely peaceful protesters while Nazi symbols have been on display and protesters have been photographed with weapons, wearing helmets and shields with far-right leaders screaming about how they want to kill their enemies. The images of lynch mobs and ‘government supporters’ forced to pray at shrines for dead protesters (when they say government supporters what does that mean, officials or just some poor random Russian?) And the reports that Nazi propaganda has now been legalized are extremely disturbing – whether or not we should have such a law it’s a strange priority for a new government. The images of these “friendly protesters” daubing Celtic crosses and SS symbols on areas they occupied should worry anyone.

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The more disturbing part of this is the entirely uncritical attitude of the EU and the American government, describing the protesters as being ‘peaceful’ even when they are photographed with fascist insignia and weapons. It is, to pit it mildly, very unlikely that Ukraine will become a Nazi dictatorship to say the least. One of the candidates for the new president, Klitschko, looks like an apolitical figurehead brought in on the basis of his popularity elsewhere, and he is far from being universally popular with the protesters at Maidan, especially not the organized far right. Like most of the high profile politicians there such as Yulia Timoshenko, the corrupt ‘gas princess’ feted by the west and seemingly transformed into some sort of Aung Sung Suu Kyi figure, Klitschko has had his own rumours of corruption such as a doping scandal.

It may even be that Yanukovich’s old party get back in at the next elections. We don’t know, all sorts of scenarios could play themselves out. However the deeply concerning thing for now is the possibility of further ethnic violence in both Ukrainian and Russian areas – already there are reports of Crimeans in Sevastopol holding ‘antifascist’ rallies to ‘defend Russia’. In the early 1990s the leaders of the pro-Russian separatist breakaway state of Pridnestrovie (Transnistria) used pro-Romanian and anti-Russian sentiments by Moldovan nationalist leaders such as the slogan “Suitcase – train station – Russia”, to justify breaking away from Moldova. The fears people had of the possible consequences of Moldovan independence were very real given that during the 1940s the Nazis had turned the area into a giant death camp.

And in addition the very real likelihood of attacks on, for example, Jews – in the last few months several antisemitic attacks have taken place and there are reports of Jews being threatened and told to get out of the country – as well as Crimean Tartars who often traditionally identify with Ukraine in an area that is majority Russian and who are discriminated against and tend to have a far higher poverty and unemployment rate than the rest of the population as it is, having been deported by Stalin and only allowed to start returning at the end of the 1970s.

The wider implications of the protests and what they mean for the far-right will be felt for a long time to come. While it is very unlikely that the far right will emerge completely victorious and the leaders of a new Ukrainian Reich, as some of the more hysterical commentary from pro Russian sources has seemed to imply, this is a huge victory for the far right and they are extremely strengthened by it, they have grown in confidence and gained a fair amount of experience and some public support, despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainians have not participated in the protests and nowhere near the numbers of, for example, Egyptians who did. The repercussions of this will be felt for a long time to come. At the level below the top echelons of the state institutions like MAUP, the Ukrainian university which had ex KKK leader David Duke to speak and routinely gives ‘lectures’ attacking Jews, will feel more confident in propagating their views now they know they can do so with impunity.

Some further thoughts.

It is difficult for leftists to argue in these countries that there was anything good about for example Lenin and Trotsky when many Eastern Europeans experienced even Lenin’s rule as a brutal occupation and following his death the cult of Lenin became inextricably linked with the Soviet state and Russian rule. The whole concept and vocabulary surrounding ‘communism’ has for a lot of people become linked to ethnicity (although austerity measures, rising inequality and attacks on already shit pay and conditions affect everyone regardless of ethnicity) therefore especially here, taking all your views from these ‘dead Russians’ is unlikely to be helpful, one reason perhaps why Trotskyism never took off there).

There is a worrying tendency in many eastern European countries for some people within the state to take advantage of the bitterness that people feel about the Soviet occupation and communist rule and use this to argue that the Nazi occupation was as bad, or less bad than what happened under communism. Ironically these trends started to develop in some countries under communism itself with Ceausescu arguing before his death that Antonescu, the fascist leader during the war, had in fact been a national hero. Likewise in Ukraine, the Holodomor (the famine in the 1930s which killed millions of people) has become a cornerstone of the far-right, who have used popular anger about the suppression of information about this issue and the lack of recognition about it, especially in Russia, as a way to promote nationalist conspiracy theories and far-right ideology.

In Hungary, much of the Jewish community have boycotted the official commemorations of the holocaust because they whitewash Hungary’s involvement in the war and refuse to admit that the government did anything wrong. A similar trend has emerged in Lithuania, where the EU has actively assisted in propagating this agenda, and where leading politicians have described Nazi sympathizers during the war as heroes and partisans and anti-Nazi fighters as criminals. And the EU are somehow absolutely fine with this state of affairs just as they are with the ‘peaceful protesters’ in Ukraine.

'peaceful' protesters

Watching this from over here makes me feel so powerless. Not really much else I can say. And yeah I know I don’t have links to back up everything I’ve said here but it’s late, work in the morning and I’ll put them in tomorrow or over the next few days. Comments, criticisms etc always welcome.

Pop-up shops and the decay of social provisions

30 Jun

As if you didn’t need another reason to hate hipsters . Especially the London hipsters.

The decomposition of social provision is being given a “trendy” spin by the new trend of “pop-up” shops in London which take over disused buildings for a very short period after established shops and social provisions have closed down. According to the article:

Recessions don’t usually create distinctive new spaces. The “new” capital skyline now under construction is mostly made up of buildings shelved during the first phase of the Great Recession, and at this rate London as it “should” have been in 2010 won’t be finished for some years yet – something even more true of the cancelled skyscrapers of Leeds or Manchester.

Yet there is one obvious offspring of the collapse of the old model: the pop-up. The japery of the term – oh, look, what used to be a wasteland has now got an organic hot dog company on it! – makes clear the sort of thing we’re dealing with, part of the mental regression of a generation elsewhere bent on reviving cupcakes. Pop-ups are fun! A railway yard with boutique shops! A “shopping village” on a council estate! An arthouse cinema in an abandoned petrol station! A burger bar in an Asian women’s advice centre! (The last of these, recently opened in Hackney as “The Advisory”, is surely one of the most offensive: the decay of social provision given a fun, ironic spin.)

Pop-ups, which in the UK are tellingly mostly London-based, purport to be an example of doing things differently. Rather than another chain store, luxury apartment block or more trading floors, a pop-up scheme will, in theory, produce some kind of a social space – a cinema or a gallery, usually more esoteric than the average restaurant or bar.

Some of these are functions that would once have been taken on through squatting – and sometimes still are, as at Open House, a social centre recently and precariously opened in London’s Elephant & Castle, an area torn apart by rampant gentrification, where estates are flogged off to developers with zero commitment to public housing and the aforementioned “shopping village” is located in a derelict estate. In this bitterly contested environment, Open House has been genuinely trying to resist this process and think of non-temporary alternatives to the current malaise – but unlike a pop-up vintage clothes shop, it’s unlikely it would have received planning permission.

Unlike squats, which aim to hold on to spaces for as long as possible, pop-ups are, by their very definition, temporary. They’re urban placeholders, there to fill the space until the market picks up – which in London is starting to occur in the most terrifying, nothing-has-been-learned way, discounting the idea that pop-ups have a tangible, permanent effect.

Rather than the Great Recession appearing as a series of gaping, rotting scars in the urban fabric, which would at least have the virtue of honesty, it is creating a series of spatial gap years, where people have a bit of fun and learn a few skills which they can eventually put to more usual profit-making service.

I have some thoughts on this. One of them is that for some people this casualisation of business might be a way to try and get around business rates etc if they don’t have enough start-up capital to succeed, so casualisation might be affecting the small business owning classes and the aspiring small business owners in the same way that it is affecting temporary workers, tenants and all other aspects of society. Of course it means that anyone who works for them is in an even more precarious position than they are, and anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of these shops are using “volunteers” from the job centre or people can afford to work for free anyway.

However, for a lot of them they DO have enough capital to start a proper business should they wish to and this “pop up” business is a way of them testing the water – of course it also has the effect of increasing gentrification, pricing people out of their own areas in the same time as making a load of hipsters think about how ironic and cool the whole thing is. A lot of people see no problem with gentrification … as long as they can afford what these shops are selling. What did that Palestinian carpenter say. “Man cannot live on cupcakes, chorizo and cranberry flatbreads and organic soaps alone”. It’s great if youve got money to spend, not so much if you’re on the dole or trying to feed your family.

Bronies

19 May

Why. Why?
I really cannot see the attraction.

Ding Dong!

16 Apr

A column of soldiers marches past the Margaret Thatcher Museum. Each one salutes to the giant statue of the Iron Lady standing between the two enormous pillars, and her second in command but just as revered antecessor whose Little Blue Book is required reading throughout the UK. Big Ben is silenced on the anniversary of the Lady’s death – the dinging and donging of the clock would detract from the solemnity of the occasion and provide amusement to the critics of the Tory Ideal. The armoured vehicles and tanks cruise past skyscrapers with posters of the inspirational leaders’ faces.

David Cameron, otherwise known as the Young Leader, lies in a specially created section in the Margaret Thatcher Museum. “Adoring” members of the public come to view his body every year, where it is preserved using state of the art techniques. He and Thatcher are remembered as the Inspirational Leaders who transformed a nation, who saved it from internal and external enemies such as the unions and benefit scroungers.

Every public building has a portrait of the Iron Lady inside and usually outside the building as well. The Young Leader’s Little Blue Book takes up pride of place on most bookshelves and those who do not possess a copy are treated with suspicion at best. There are few pockets of dissent, except in the North of England and among descendants of former miners, and even they hesitate to speak their minds.

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Does this sound like an unnerving vision of the future? It’s meant to be. The “preparations” surrounding Thatcher’s funeral are reaching North Korean levels of absurdity. Cameron does seem to want to create some sort of Thatcher leadership cult, which will be a difficult task given how divisive a leader she was.

I will write something longer about the funeral once it’s done. I apologise I’ve not been writing very much on here the last few weeks, I’ve been very busy as well as being tired having just started a new job. I hope to write more soon!

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Capitalism and mental health.

5 Feb

Mental health issues will always exist but under this sick society they seem to be so much worse and new mental health conditions are created or exacerbated by capitalism. Whether it is substance abuse issues, anxiety, anger or something else. The long days and few rights at work that people have, literally make them sick, and the soul destroying reality of unemployment and poverty do as well.

A left communist group called the ICC have a theory that they call “decomposition”. I am not sure whether I have understood this theory in the correct way because some of the terms they use are quite complex, but from a basic reading of it, I think it describes quite well what is happening here, as the system’s ability to work even on its own terms starts to collapse and as a result the conflicts between different factions within the ruling class are accentuated, but they are not sufficiently organised enough for it to turn into a world war or even something like the cold war so it just enters a slow decline, and it is marked by such things as organised crime increasingly becoming intertwined and inseparable from the state and other parts of capital. Of course the bourgeoisie have always been involved in this stuff but according to the ICC (assuming that I’ve understood their arguement) they are less and less able to control it and separate it from the “legitimate” parts of the capitalist system. You can see examples of this in Mexico and also in formerly “communist” parts of Eastern Europe.

I hope that the theory of decomposition is not true because it is a terribly depressing one. If I have understood correctly, which I might not have of course, one of the things that they say is that the decomposition of their system could potentially destroy the working class’s confidence in itself and alienates people from the rest of society, so even bourgeois morals etc start to break down.

Of course they are not the only group to say so, the SP have said something similar in the past, that as capitalism becomes more and more unsustainable and more unstable we are going to see more societal breakdowns.

I am not sure where I am going with this, but it seems to me that so many of both my own problems and those of people who are my friends and I see around me can be traced back to the society in which we live. Capitalism encourages a very uncaring society and it basically contributes to an erosion of social bonds between people for all sorts of reasons whether it’s because they’re exhausted from constantly working or looking for work, or because they are resentful of or look down on other people who earn slightly more or less than they do. And it is not like I am not guilty of this myself, I am.

I am sure that not only would a socialist society be able to better care for people who became mentally ill but fewer people would become mentally ill in the first place.

I’m very worried about a lot of things, it just seems like life is a constant struggle at the moment. It’s hard to see a way out with ever increasing doom and gloom and I am desperately trying to cling on to the good things in my life. The future just seems grim with more and more unemployment and poverty for people I care about and in the background the threat of war and collapse. I have been a Marxist most of my adult life but the idea of any kind of distraction from the current course of events let alone a revolution seems more and more distant. 😦