On Russia and our political co-ordinates: morbid symptoms and the reign of absurdity.


After attempting to explain the historical co-ordinates of the Nemtsov murder in my previous post I came across this citation in my Facebook feed on how a Russian leftist, Ivan Ovsyannikov, would attempt to explain to a western leftist what exactly has been happening politically in Russia. Here is this comment:

How can one explain political reality in Russia to the western left? Something like this: someone like Le Pen’s National Front is in power and the servile parliament is divided between the “left” and the “right” fascists. The most radical opposition are the right-wing liberals, akin to the US Republican Party. They are persecuted by the State which considers them extremists. Public morality is moving towards to sharia law. Racism is at Alabama 1950s levels and sexism and homophobia recall those of Victorian England. The trade unions are similar to those in the Stalin era“.

Just as it’s frustratingly hard trying to find some historical co-ordinates to explain what is happening in Russia today, it is also difficult to find any political coordinates. Marching in memory of a politician who was essentially a Neo-Liberal figure may seem odd for any western Leftist but in Russia this had some sense even for groups of Trotskyist Leftists and for anarchists and other strands of the anti-authoritarian Left. All political co-ordinates that western Leftists may try to use about thinking of Russia often seem ultimately to make little sense.

In a discussion that followed this comment, Michael Dorfman compared Russia to exhibiting a Victorianism which had made a sudden jump into post-modernism. There is something constant about these paradoxical co-ordinates. For it is not that Russia can be described as historically backward but there is a kind of disconnect and this disconnect feels like it is getting more uncontrollable. Adam Curtis has made some interesting points about how Russia’s methods of political control could be a precursor to a future model in the UK (one could talk of a Surkov-based Osborne model):

However, the kinds of disconnect and misunderstandings that exist seem to be destined to get ever greater. It is, after all, a time when demonisation has been reaching disproportionate levels on both sides. Kiselev and co’s two minutes hate slots on ‘gayropa’ are reflected in a distorted way by some western journalist and commentators who find themselves repeating time and again the Hitler and Stalin metaphors without any real attempt at analysis.

Maybe one of the ways of thinking about what is happening is talking about Russia is thinking of the country as (in a recent title on Russian cinema by Andrey Plakhov) being on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The kind of initiatives that come from Russia’s politicians and elite surely show definite signs of congenital dementia. In the cultural sphere a campaign is initiated against a production in Novosibirsk of Tannhauser by church authorities in which the theatre director and producer Boris Mezdrich and Timofey Kulyabin are threatened with a year in prison. Not to be outdone it appears that another attempt is made to censor Kirill Serebrennikov’s theatrical adaptation of a novel by the socially conservative left patriotic writer Zakhar Prilepin for extremism and (wait for it) homosexual propaganda. This time it is a United Russia deputy of the State Duma and co-ordinator of a ‘National Liberation Movement’, Yevgeni Fyodorov, demanding this exemplary censorship. Large doses of black humour are surely required to get through the present moment in Russia in March 2015. In the meantime it appears that a new reign of the absurd has been established. A two-word phrase might be of use in making sense of the present interregnum in Russia: Маразм крепчает (the idiocy is gaining strength).

Perhaps one needs to remember one’s Gramsci these days when thinking about Russia:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

Morbid symptoms certainly abound at the moment but it’s uncertain how long this will all last. In any case for the time being it seems that once more Putin (like Brezhnev) will be foreover, until he’s no more.

About afoniya

I am a translator, language teacher, independent film scholar who is interested in many aspects of culture. I have my own blog on Russian and Soviet cinema at http://giuvivrussianfilm.blogspot.com and I have also written for journals such as Film Philosophy and Bright Lights as well as Ribbed magazine. Outside of film my interest runs to language, politics, literature and my world is centred around the Meditteranean, Russia, Southern Ukraine as well as the UK.

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