Due West: “Radical chic” Russian style

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Konstantin von Eggert - Sputnik International
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“Occupy Wall Street,” “Occupy London,” “Occupy Berlin”… Will we see “Occupy Moscow” next? Laughable as it may seem, the suggestion is not entirely implausible.

“Occupy Wall Street,” “Occupy London,” “Occupy Berlin”… Will we see “Occupy Moscow” next? Laughable as it may seem, the suggestion is not entirely implausible. Recently, I criticized OWS in one of my commentaries on Kommersant FM radio. I called it yet another reincarnation of the Marxist-anarchist-anti-globalist circus we have witnessed in the last 20 years accompanying every G8 summit, and as vacuous and pretentious as its previous versions. As a result, I have found myself to be the target of intense criticism in the Russian blogosphere by people who could well be called “The New Russian Left.”

Just 10 years ago, people like that could have been squeezed into one telephone booth. People like the Moscow State University neo-Marxist professor Alexander Buzgalin appeared regularly on the BBC Russian Service or Ekho Moskvy radio stations, but were rather an amusing oddity. These days, intellectuals modeling themselves on Noam Chomsky in the United States and the Guardian crowd in Britain are an increasingly vocal and visible group on the web and among political activists. They are among those who take to the streets in protest against the abuse of the environment (like the popular movement to protect the Khimki Forest near Moscow) or the political regime in Russia (Eduard Limonov’s unregistered Other Russia is at the forefront here). Their views are a somewhat strange conflation of the anti-capitalist and libertarian slogans. Thus Limonov’s people, who only a decade ago made themselves famous by chanting “Stalin! Beria! GULAG!” at their rallies, now say they stand for democracy, freedom of speech and government accountability, as well as for nationalization of strategic sectors of the economy.

Russia’s New Left is not an entirely original product. It claims to take its spirit from the 1968 protest movement in America and Europe, disregarding the fact that conditions in Russia today are vastly different from what they were in the West nearly half a century ago.  Russian intellectuals newly found love for Che Guevara and the likes is more of a reaction to the developments of the last 10 years, a way of saying “no” to the political regime created by Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin-inspired brand of unbridled greed and near-deification of material success in combination with authoritarian politics started to symbolize capitalism as such to increasing numbers of Russian intellectuals. Our New Left is anti-capitalist, anti-church (although not uniformly atheist yet), mostly pacifist, supports LGBT rights, Women’s Lib (free access to abortion notwithstanding), but is otherwise confused about all other aspects of politics and economics. 

In a recent TV debate on a minority-interest Kultura TV channel (Russia’s equivalent of ARTE in Europe or C-SPAN in the U.S.) I debated with Alexander Kupriyanov, one of the founders of Falanster, a popular Moscow bookshop selling radical literature. A mildly spoken 40-year-old self-professed Orthodox Christian, Kupriyanov is one of the most articulate gurus to a generally much younger mass of Russia’s New Left fans. In the studio he expressed views that should inspire the Guardian to issue him with a lifetime free subscription. Kupriyanov defended the London rioters as victims of excruciating social circumstances rather than products of the British welfare system gone mad, insisted on such strict church-state separation that would make even the French feel uncomfortable, and claimed that modern capitalism inevitably bred authoritarianism and produced the likes of Norwegian mass killer Anders Bering Breivik. He regularly complains about the Russian society's moral decay and lack of civic solidarity. When I noticed that solidarity was a very Christian idea, which should go hand in hand with responsibility and initiative, Kupriyanov looked a bit perplexed. He seemed to think that anyone who defends capitalism should be completely immune from any moral considerations. 

Although none of Russia's New Left proponents is an original thinker (in a sense that Chomsky or Marcuse are), they are definitely becoming a part of a global left-wing intellectual movement. They are small in numbers but they are quite determined in their goal of ridding Russia of the Putin regime and its ruling class of the last 20 years. The left's main competitors are increasingly vocal nationalists who are decidedly bigger in numbers but lack ideological coherence.

Although none of them are represented in the Duma or for that matter any other official bodies, they should not be discounted. Moreover, while the government-sponsored loyal opposition parties are becoming more and more discredited, demand for voices from the fringe grows. Russia's New Left is quite well-positioned to offer an alternative to stale and corrupt Russian reality – and its small numbers should deceive no one. With their mix of social demagoguery and anti-authoritarian rhetoric they can capture a significant audience if given a chance. Those of us who still think capitalism and personal responsibilities count for Russia should take notice. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.

Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

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