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leberwurst proletariat

Tag: soviet union

Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (2007)

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A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917

by Marcel van der Linden

Translated by Jurriaan Bendien

[Download PDF]

The ‘Russian Question’ was an absolutely central problem for Marxism in the twentieth century. It was, as Castoriadis put it, ‘the touchstone of theoretical and practical attitudes which lay claim to revolution’. For that reason, it is all the more astonishing that, until this very day, not one scholar has tried to portray the historical development of Marxist thought about the Soviet Union since 1917 in a coherent, comprehensive appraisal. Quite possibly, this lacuna in the literature has less to do with the specific topic area than with the underdeveloped historiography of Marxist theories generally. Anderson concluded years ago in his Considerations on Western Marxism that ‘the causes and forms of [Marxism’s] successive metamorphoses and transferences remain largely unexplored’. Likewise, in the history of ideas Marxist theories have not received the attention they deserve.

The Double Heritage of Communism to Come: 1917-1968-2018

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by Bini Adamczak

Crisis & Critique Vol. 5 Issue 2 Nov 2018: 50 Years After May 68

Communism does not exist in the singular. The common is no unity that would encompass everything by subordinating it to an idea, will, or central committee. The common is rather that which the many share with one another, as equals and free in solidarity.

At the same time, communism was repeatedly understood like this: a final sublation of social divisions into an overarching harmony. Thousands of communist parties and factions of the past dreamt in this way of the future: the troublesome dispute with enemies as well as with comrades would finally find an end when the whole world would see that just this one, one’s own party program is the right one. To be signed by everyone. Even, and especially, the Communist Party of the SovietUnion (Bolsheviks), for a long time the largest and most influential communist party, followed this dream. In a spiraling movement that begins even before 1917 and finds its climax in the Stalinism of the late 1930s, it combatted initially the monarchist and bourgeois parties, then the allied social-democratic, social-revolutionary and anarchist parties and ultimately, when all other parties were prohibited, the oppositions, fractions, currents and platforms within itself. As it had, according to its own conviction, a privileged insight into the truth of the social, it believed itself able to represent the common in all its parts: the population was represented in the working class, the class in the party, the party in the central committee, the central committee in the general secretary. The party line that was issued by the latter would lead into the communist future, no matter however much zigzag it would entail. Whoever would deviate from this deviating course was guilty. The counter term to identity was thus not difference, but opposition. “Other” became synonymous with “inimical”. Until its demise, the Soviet leadership saw itself surrounded by inner enemies. Wherever social initiatives cropped up, it was safer to oppress them. This mistrust worked as self-fulfilling prophecy. Eventually, the protesting people did (preponderantly in fact) not want a more democratic, more humanist or more friendly socialism, as was still the case in the 1920s, 1950s and 1960s, but rather no socialism at all.

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Socialism in one apartment complex

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The House on the Embankment, Moscow, pictured in January 2007. 

Historian Yuri Slezkine in conversation with ‘Rīgas Laiks’ editor Uldis Tirons (via eurozine)

Moscow’s House on the Embankment was home to many of the first generation of Russian revolutionaries. Historian Yuri Slezkine, who has written the definitive account of the building, describes how it embodied the lives, hopes and fate of the Soviet project and its elite.

Introductory note

The historian Yuri Slezkine, professor of Russian history and director of the Berkeley Program in Eurasian and East European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of those Soviet émigrés who have ended up in the US not so much trby force of circumstance as out of curiosity and thanks to a chain of coincidences. In the late 1970s, after graduating from Moscow State University, Slezkine worked in Mozambique, later moving to Lisbon and, in 1983, to Texas, to teach Russian at the University of Texas at Austin, where he gained a PhD.

Although, as Slezkine explains, his wanderings were driven by a desire to discover more of the world rather than by the pursuit of a career, this experience, both academic and general, nevertheless exerted a fundamental influence on the theoretical thrust of his research. In the early 1980s Slezkine visited a number of indigenous Indian reservations in America, studying the impact of western colonial policy on what the Soviets referred to as ‘small peoples’. However, as a historian working and studying abroad, the system required him to cover Russian history in one way or another, and he began to study the Soviet Union’s treatment of its multinational population in the broader context of colonial policies, drawing parallels between the collective fates of national minorities in various imperial structures. This provided the theme of two of his books: Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Cornell University Press, 1994) and The Jewish Century (Princeton University Press, 2004). His most recent book, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton University Press, 2017), which took Slezkine 20 years to write, is an exhaustive account of the most prestigious block of flats in the Soviet Union, situated on the embankment of the River Moskva, and of the first generations of its tenants – revolutionaries and functionaries and their families. Here, as in his previous works, Slezkine views national identity as a vital element of their life, but on this occasion his focus in on personal history: what went on in the kitchens and bedrooms of the nomenklatura, its members’ faith in a new utopian life, and the disillusionment that the utopia turned into.

Sven Kuzmins, Rīgas Laiks

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Red Seder

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Bdikas khomets (Search for leaven). Illustration from the first edition of Hagadah far gloybers un apikorsim (Passover story for believers and atheists). Kharkov, 1923.

Blessed is October, dictator of the proles, who produces, distributes, and consumes the earth’s harvest.

In Berlin 5777, a new communist Haggadah for a Red Passover Seder was brought forth into the world. It replaces the communist Haggadah of  Brooklyn, 5771. This new one is the first Red Haggadah since the Jewish Bolsheviks used them in the 1920s. I now offer it here for use (the Hebrew text came out backwards, unfortunately). The historical background text is below, but to do an actual seder, one must download the Haggadah and follow the steps. Love live October 5778!

Download the Haggadah for a RED SEDER: to read/ to print

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Fictional Communists

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Who’s your favorite fictional communist? 

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KGB agent Leo Demidov, the hero in Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy of Soviet thriller novels, isn’t a terribly rich character in his own right. But the intrepid, thoughtful Demidov acts as a convincing stand-in for a generation of operatives who watched from the inside as the Soviet machine transformed itself and ultimately sputtered to a halt. His struggle to reconcile reality with party orthodoxy begins in the first (and best) book of the series, Child 44, which has Demidov investigating a serial murder case while he tries to maintain the official pretense that the USSR is a crime-free society. Nikita Khrushchev’s shocking repudiation of the Joseph Stalin personality cult gives its name to the second book, The Secret Speech, and Demidov’s disillusionment deepens accordingly. By the last half of the final book (Agent 6), Demidov hopes to escape his homeland once and for all, so he fights to outrun the ever-encroaching tendrils of the massive Soviet intelligence apparatus. Demidov isn’t just the central figure in a series of vibrant thrillers—he’s also a glimpse into what it might have been like to live through the USSR’s major political upheavals, which those of us in the Western world could only watch from afar. – John Teti

Here’s how good Dr. Strangelove is: It features my favorite Hollywood commie, and he never even shows up in the flesh. Soviet Premier Dimitri Kissov exists only as the other side of an exasperating phone conversation with U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers at his deadpan best), but he’s such a thoroughly sketched character that it’s hard not to fall in love. Found at an unlisted number (because, as the Russian ambassador sheepishly notes, this man of the people is “also a man, if you catch my meaning”), Kissov is drunk, partying, and delightfully petulant. (When Muffley explains he’s not calling just to say hello, the smashed statesman demands to know why he wouldn’t do just that.) Dr. Strangelove is an entire movie about how our poor, doomed world is light on actual villains but heavy on supposedly well-meaning idiots (and that the latter are just as dangerous as the former, when nuclear bombs are in the mix), and portraying Kissov as a childish buffoon, instead of a sneering supervillain, only heightens the human tragedy of the apocalypse to come. It doesn’t hurt that he gets (indirectly) one of the movie’s best punchlines: When nuclear expert Strangelove (also Sellers, also brilliant) demands to know why the Russians haven’t told anybody about their perfect, world-ending deterrent, the ambassador explains that it was going to be announced the following Monday. “As you know,” he says, with just a hint of a sigh, “The premier loves surprises.” – William Hughes

My love for Zangief knows no bounds. Though he’s now billed as hailing from the Russian Federation, Street Fighter’s premiere wrestler has deep Soviet roots. With the USSR’s full support, he traveled the world pile-driving rivals into oblivion for the glory of Mother Russia and nothing more. His hyperbolic patriotism led to some of the series’ funniest moments—like the time he celebrated his Street Fighter II victory with an ersatz Mikhail Gorbachev “in the appropriate Russian fashion” (doing a Hopak dance with the Soviet president, of course). But thanks to an endearing personality that’s as massive as his physique, Zangief’s appeal transcends geopolitics. There’s an earnest goofiness beneath all those bear-wrestling scars, which the artists at Capcom have continued to amplify throughout The Red Cyclone’s 25-year street-fighting career. In Street Fighter V, it’s gotten to the point where, whenever you choose to play as him, he responds by flexing every muscle and screaming “CYCLONE” at the top of his lungs while his eyes bulge and his entire body convulses. How can you not love this guy? – Matt Gerardi

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