Joe Wilder with Benny Goodman: ‘To Russia Without Love’

August 1, 2014 at 11:09 pm (gigs, jazz, music, posted by JD, Russia, USSR)


Above: Goodman plays to his Russian audience, 1962

The death in May of Joe Wilder, a beautiful, underrated trumpet player and delightful human being, reminded me that Joe had been part of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra on its tour of the Soviet Union in 1962. The tour was arranged by the US State Department as a sort of cultural exchange at the height of the cold war: I believe the Bolshoi Ballet visited the US in return.

Anyway, the Goodman tour was superficially quite successful (despite Khrushchev expressing a dislike of jazz in the course of a conversation with Benny), but behind the scenes it was a disaster in terms of band morale. The Goodman band included Joe Wilder on trumpet, Teddy Wilson on piano and as such ‘modern jazz’ luminaries as trombonist Jimmy Knepper, altoist Phil Woods and drummer Mel Lewis. Amongst the other ‘greats’ in the band were Bill Crow on bass and  Zoot Sims on tenor sax, and when later interviewed about the tour, Zoot said “Everywhere you go with Benny is like Russia.”

Here are the edited highlights (with an emphasis upon moments involving Joe Wilder) extracted from a full account of the tour by Bill Crow. Bill has kindly given me permission to use excerpts from his often hilarious article:

Because his music was lovely, most musicians expected Goodman to be lovable as well. The stories about him make us laugh because they describe our astonishment at discovering his true nature. They may sound exaggerated to anyone who never dealt directly with the man. Benny apparently did something to insult, offend or bewilder nearly everyone who ever worked for him. He put together some wonderful bands, but he had a reputation for spoiling the fun. During my brief time with him, I watched him completely demoralize an excellent band.

[...]

Jay Finegold [BG's manager] had been nagging us for weeks about the contracts Benny wanted us to sign. A few guys had signed them, and he used whatever leverage he could devise to get the rest of the signatures. Joe Wilder’s trunk became a focus of his attention.

We had been warned that the laundry service would be poor and dry-cleaning nonexistent in Russia, so most of us had brought suitcases full of extra clothes and drip-dry shirts, but Joe Wilder had the largest single piece of luggage, a steamer trunk filled with the dapper suits and neckties he always wears. Jay told Joe that Benny was going to charge him for overweight baggage if he didn’t sign his contract.

Besides being a flawless musician, Joe Wilder is courteous, cooperative, and sweet-natured. He was delighted to be hired for the tour and was ready to do a professional job, and he couldn’t believe the way Benny was treating us. Joe never uses profanity. His strongest adjective is “blamed,” his most violent epithet “shoot!” If he quotes someone who uses strong language, he’ll say something like,

    “He said to get the F out of here!”

But Joe said the secret word in Tblisi when Jay told him that Benny was going to charge him for his luggage. It was the last straw. He indignantly refused to ride on the bus with Benny that night. He walked from the hotel to the concert hall, a distance of two or three miles.

During the last week in Moscow, Jay told Wilder that Benny wanted him to give all the lead parts he’d been playing to John Frosk, since Joe was going to Sweden after the tour and wouldn’t be available for any work in the States. Then, on stage one night, Benny acted surprised that Joe wasn’t playing lead on Bach Goes to Town. Before one of the last concerts, Benny called Joe into his dressing room. He said,

    “I just wanted you to know that I think you’re a fine musician.”

 Joe wasn’t having any.

    “As miserable as you’ve made life for me and the rest of the guys on this tour, do you expect me to be complimented?” he asked.

Benny received an invitation for the band to do a week of concerts in Warsaw on the way home. We were curious about Poland, and we could have used the extra money, but nobody wanted to go with Benny. Jim Maxwell called his wife and told her to send him a telegram saying there was an emergency at home and he was needed. The telegram she sent said:

“COME HOME AT ONCE. THE DOG DIED. THE CAT DIED. EVERYBODY DIED.”

   [...]

 Joe Wilder and Joe Newman were trying to get their flight information from Muriel [Muriel Zuckerman, BG's secretary]. They were to fly from Moscow to Stockholm to meet their wives, and wanted to let them know when to expect them, but Muriel didn’t get them the information. Before the evening concert she repeated her ultimatum. No contracts, no paychecks. We talked it over and decided that the only remedy was to refuse to play the last concert until we got paid.

At curtain time that night we were ready to play but wouldn’t go onstage without the checks. Muriel and Jay conferred, and told us that all they really needed was the first page of the contracts, the agreement on wages, in order to satisfy the paperwork required by the State Department. We conferred, and agreed to sign only that part. The other clauses were crossed out, the contracts were signed, and the paychecks were distributed as we were going onstage, twenty minutes late. Joe Wilder looked at his check and discovered that a couple of hundred dollars had been deducted for “excess baggage charges.” He told Benny he wanted his check corrected.

Benny said,

    “Come on and play. We’ll talk about it later.”

Joe was adamant. He stayed backstage, and we played the last concert without him.

    [...]

Joe Wilder decided to try one last time to get Benny to refund the baggage charge before he caught his plane to Stockholm. Benny said that such things were in Jay’s department, and not his concern. Joe called him a schmuck, and said,

    “If we weren’t here for the State Department, I’d jump on you and beat your brains out!”

 Muriel squawked, “How dare you speak to Mr. Goodman that way!”

 Joe had a full head of steam.

    “If it weren’t for shame,” he told Muriel, “I’d break your broom so you couldn’t fly out of here!”

 Joe told me later that he wasn’t proud of that remark, and had apologized to Muriel when he ran into her a few years later.

    “But I was really disgusted with Benny,” he said, “and I still am.”

    [...]

After he returned to New York, Joe Wilder made a complaint to Local 802 about the money Benny had withheld from his salary. Officials at the local said it had happened outside their jurisdiction. They sent him to the national office of the American Federation of Musicians, where he filed charges against Benny.

The day before the hearing was scheduled, Joe got a call from a secretary at the AFM. She said,

    “Mr. Goodman is willing to forget the whole thing.”

Joe reminded her that he was the one making the complaint, and insisted on seeing it through as a matter of principle.

At the hearing Joe produced a receipt from the post office in Seattle proving he had sent home everything over his allotted forty-four pounds when Jay had first complained that his baggage was overweight. Nothing had been weighed after Seattle. Goodman and his staff had just assumed he was still overweight, and had used it as a pretext to harass him.

Benny told Joe, “In all my years in the music business, you’re the first one to take me to the union.”

    “That’s because I’m not afraid of you,” said Joe.

Joe told me he knew musicians who had been pressured into doing what Benny wanted through Benny’s influence with their other employers, especially in television. He said he wasn’t doing any work that Benny could interfere with, and he certainly didn’t ever want to be in his band again.

The AFM officers reprimanded Joe, saying he should have played the last concert and then brought his grievance to the union. They didn’t require Benny to refund his money, and Joe never got it…

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Ukraine: return of Putin’s useful idiots

July 13, 2014 at 10:46 pm (apologists and collaborators, fascism, Guest post, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism)

RLS - SEE / Boris Kagarlitsky: Od krize socijalizma do krize savremene levice

 Above:  Boris Kagarlitsky

Boris Kagarlitsky je ruski marksistički teoretičar i sociolog, politički disident u Sovjetskom savezu i post-sovjetskoj Rusiji. Zbog svog aktivizma, Boris je dvaput bio hapšen, 1982. i 1993. godine. Koordinator je projekta „Globalna kriza“ pri Transnacionalnom institutu i direktor Instituta za globalizaciju i društvene pokrete (IGSO) u Moskvi. Od 1994. do 2002. bio je viši istraživač-saradnik na Institutu za uporedne političke nauke Ruske akademije nauka (ISPRAN). Doktorat je stekao 1995. godine, sa tezom „Kolektivne akcije i politike rada u Rusiji tokom 1990-ih godina“. Autor je nekoliko knjiga među kojima su i Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System, Russia under Yeltsin and Putin: Neo-liberal Autocracy i The Mirage of Modernisation.

Sa Borisom smo razgovarali o sovjetskom socijalizmu, aktuelnoj političkoj situaciji u Rusiji, ali i o perspektivama levice u Evropi.

- See more at: http://pe.org.rs/osvrti/boris-kagarlitsky-od-krize-socijalizma-do-krize-savremene-levice-intervju/#sthash.ds4nfESE.dpuf

Boris Kagarlitsky je ruski marksistički teoretičar i sociolog, politički disident u Sovjetskom savezu i post-sovjetskoj Rusiji. Zbog svog aktivizma, Boris je dvaput bio hapšen, 1982. i 1993. godine. Koordinator je projekta „Globalna kriza“ pri Transnacionalnom institutu i direktor Instituta za globalizaciju i društvene pokrete (IGSO) u Moskvi. Od 1994. do 2002. bio je viši istraživač-saradnik na Institutu za uporedne političke nauke Ruske akademije nauka (ISPRAN). Doktorat je stekao 1995. godine, sa tezom „Kolektivne akcije i politike rada u Rusiji tokom 1990-ih godina“. Autor je nekoliko knjiga među kojima su i Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System, Russia under Yeltsin and Putin: Neo-liberal Autocracy i The Mirage of Modernisation.

Sa Borisom smo razgovarali o sovjetskom socijalizmu, aktuelnoj političkoj situaciji u Rusiji, ali i o perspektivama levice u Evropi.

- See more at: http://pe.org.rs/osvrti/boris-kagarlitsky-od-krize-socijalizma-do-krize-savremene-levice-intervju/#sthash.ds4nfESE

Guest post by Dale Street

An “international conference” entitled “The World Crisis and the Confrontation in Ukraine” was held in Yalta (Crimea – formerly Ukraine, now Russia) on 6th/7th July.

The background to the conference was provided in an article published on the website of the Russian academic magazine, “Politicheskoye Obrazovaniye” (1). An identical report of the conference’s proceedings was subsequently published on the website of “Rabkor” (2) and “Russian Spring” (3).

(The former is a left-wing website, edited by Boris Kagarlitsky. The latter is a right-wing website which is one of the electronic media mouthpieces of the Donetsk/Lugansk ‘People’s Republics’.)

According to its organisers, who included the “Centre of Co-ordination and Support for Novaya Rus’ (Novorossiya)” (4), the purpose of the conference was threefold:

“To create an international network of support for the movement for the creation of Novorossiya. … To provide additional arguments and emotional materials for western activists and intellectuals who support us.” (1)

“By inviting a number of western experts to Crimea, to demonstrate to the domestic (i.e. Russian) public the existence in western public opinion of a strong current hostile to the current anti-Russian campaign.” (1)

“Publications by conference participants in the western press and in the English-language section of the web (which) must facilitate the dissemination of information which is positive for Russia about the processes now underway.” (1)

The organizers also stressed the importance of the fact that the conference was being held in Crimea:

“The mere fact of the arrival in Crimea of an entire delegation of western intellectuals in and of itself is already a form of support for the changes which have taken place (i.e. the annexation of Crimea) and a blow to the various initiatives for a boycott of Russia.” (1)

The conference agreed that the overthrow of Yanukovich and the uprising in the south-east of Ukraine were both the product of the European social-economic crisis. As one of the participants put it:

“The struggle against the new Kiev authorities is really a struggle against the European Union, only not just in the form of a rejection of the politics of the destruction of the family and heterosexual relationships but in the form of a rejection of the entire anti-social neo-liberal policies of the western elites.” (2, 3)

“Banderite fascism,” the same speaker continued, was “needed by Washington and Brussels as an instrument to beat down social opposition.” (2, 3)

‘Representatives’ of the Donetsk and Lugansk so-called ‘People’s Republics’ informed the conference:

“A fifth column in Donetsk dreamed of surrendering the city to the punitive expeditionaries (the name used by the separatists to describe Ukrainian troops). They blocked initiatives to organize the rear and the defence of the city. But now order is being imposed.” (2, 3)

“We will not be raising the white flag, as desired by the oligarchs and the Banderite politicians and their American chiefs. We are very much in need of international support. We want people in Europe and beyond to know: we are fighting against the new fascism, we are fighting for freedom, we are fighting for our land.” (2, 3)

Described as “the co-ordinator of the campaign in defence of Novorossiya”, Richard Brenner (presumably Richard Brenner of “Workers’ Power”) is quoted as saying:

“For us it is very important to know what is happening in Donetsk and Lugansk, what is happening in the entire territory controlled by the junta. We perfectly understand that we are not helping some faraway incomprehensible rebels but are making common cause with the workers of Novorossiya.” (2, 3)

Other speakers stressed:

“The struggle of the people against fascism in former Ukraine has an international character. The Banderite-liberal-fascist regime in Kiev does not accord us any rights. And this is the doctrine of the USA and the EU, who are running the show on our land. The liberation struggle of Novorossiya not only has a Russian character but also a Eurasian one.” (2, 3)

An unnamed “European expert” present at the conference described the socio-economic havoc currently being wreaked by the “Euro-bureaucrats” and concluded:

“That is why we are in solidarity with you! Because we recognise that the enemy of Novorossiya is our common enemy – those neo-liberal forces who deprive us of our future.” (2, 3)

The conference concluded with agreement on an appeal to be published in English and Russian. Doubtless its politics will be on the same grotesque level as those of the conference itself.

Apart from Richard Brenner, attendees at the conferences included Boris Kagarlitsky, the American economist Jeff Sommers, Vasily Koltashov (doubtless not the only participant to have a problem with gay rights), and Roger Ennis (“co-ordinator of the Canadian Campaign in Support of the Donetsk people’s Republic”).

1) http://www.lawinrussia.ru/node/299677

2) http://rabkor.ru/report/2014/07/09/yalta

3) http://rusvesna.su/news/1405106243

4) This organization defines its role as: “The struggle against the fascist junta which has seized power in Kiev. The struggle for the freedom of the citizens of Novorossiya. The struggle of the Russian World for the right to live according to its own laws, free of Neanderthal Galician nationalism and oligarchic fascism of the Latin-American variety.” See: http://centerkor-ua.org/o-tsentre/pomoshch-soprotivleniyu.html

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Ukraine public meeting, London, Weds 9th July

July 8, 2014 at 9:44 am (Europe, internationalism, London, posted by JD, Russia, solidarity, stalinism, truth)

We’ve been asked by Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity, to publicise this meeting to be held at the House of Commons tomorrow; we’re happy to oblige, especially in view of the appalling, thoroughly one-sided campaign of misinformation/disinformation and pro-Putin propaganda being spread on the British left by the likes of the Morning Star and the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition.’ Apologies for the short notice:

Ukr Soc Commons Meeting (Amended)

Ukraine is suffering from war and a deep social crisis that has implications for all of Europe.  Many are asking what has happened in Ukraine. What is the role of Russia and the West?  How should we respond?  This forum is a unique opportunity to hear an alternative, first-hand analysis from leading socialists and trade unionists from Ukraine and Russia.

 Speakers

Nina Potarskaya of the Left-Opposition, director of the Centre for Social and Labour Research, socialist candidate in the Kyiv elections
Kirill Buketov  of the Praxis centre Moscow, and the Global Labour Institute
Hosted by John McDonnell MP.

Wednesday 9th July 7pm

Committee Room CR10,  House of Commons, London
Via the main St Stephens entrance

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Of course Putin’s Russia is imperialist!

June 28, 2014 at 10:30 pm (AWL, imperialism, Marxism, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism, USSR)

By Dale Street (first published by Workers Liberty)

Sam Williams has written 16,000 words to claim that Russia is not imperialist, even when its tanks are rolling through other nations.

He describes the old Stalinist states “the former socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” In those days there was “no true Soviet imperialism”, claims Williams, because “wealth was not accumulated in the form of capital, and therefore not in the form of finance capital — there was not a single kopeck of finance capital.” Any other view is down to “imperialist Western propaganda and its bought and paid-for historians.”

And Russia retains its non-imperialism even after it has unambiguously reverted to capitalism. “Has the military-feudal imperialism of pre-1917 Russia been restored?” asks Williams. No, it’s not feudal. (But it was not the feudal residues in Tsarist Russia which made Marxists of the time classify it as imperialist. It was its domination and exploitation of other nations).

“What about a modernised Russian imperialism based on the rule of monopoly capitalism and finance capital?” He rejects this argument as well: Russia is “very poor in finance capital. … (Therefore) today’s Russia is very far indeed from becoming an imperialist country.”

This is really just a re-run of Williams’s denial of Stalinist imperialism. There was no finance capital in Stalin’s USSR, and therefore no Stalinist imperialism. Today’s Russia is “very poor” in finance capital, and therefore there is no Russian imperialism.

However, Williams’s equation of “imperialist” with “rich in finance capital” obliges him to classify Taiwan, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and New Zealand as imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Eurasianism and the ‘Russian Spring’

June 11, 2014 at 7:53 pm (anti-semitism, Cross-post, fantasy, fascism, populism, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism, Stop The War, USSR)

Above: Andrew Murray addresses a recent London meeting of Eurasianists (aka  ‘Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’)

Cross-post by Dale Street:

Apologetics, if not outright support, for the forces of political reaction and oppression have become a hallmark of sections of the socialist left in the two and a half decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The “rationale” for such an abandonment of basic socialist principles is rooted in a bogus “anti-imperialism”, according to which any force in conflict with “imperialism” (defined solely as: the USA and/or the European Union) is automatically presumed worthy of some degree or other of support.

Now the “anti-imperialist” left is well advanced in repeating the same ‘mistake’ in relation to the conflict in the south-east of Ukraine.

Obsessed with the role played (or allegedly played) by the US and the European Union, fantasising about the supposed power wielded by fascist organisations in Ukraine, it shuts its eyes to the actual politics of those playing the leading role in the Russian-separatist forces.

On this occasion the result is even more bizarre than usual: the “anti-imperialist” left ends up in a de facto alliance with a political ideology committed to imperialist expansion and containing pronounced elements of fascism.

Eurasianism first emerged as a relatively systematised set of ideas amongst White émigrés in the early 1920s. Central to those ideas was the belief that Russia represented a unique civilisation with its own traditions and path of historical development.

Russia’s future, argued the Eurasians, lay not in following in the footsteps of Europe or Asia (although it would incorporate certain elements of both). Instead, they looked forward to the eventual collapse of the west and the emergence of an expanded Russia as a leading imperial power in its own right.

Eurasianism remained the preserve of Russian diaspora intellectuals until the collapse of the Soviet Union, since when it has become a significant political movement in Russia itself.

The main traits of Eurasianism today are: a commitment to restoring the glories of imperial Russia; the expansion of Russia’s borders to incorporate the territories of the ancient kingdom of Rus; hostility to western liberal values, which it holds responsible for what it sees as the decline and degeneration of the west.

The European Union and the USA — and Jews — are regarded as responsible for the post-Soviet economic and social collapse of Russia. Stalin, on the other hand, is admired as someone who established Russia as a world power.

Eurasianism is socially conservative and singles out gay rights for particular condemnation. Although it frequently presents itself as “anti-fascist”, its “anti-fascism” is no more than a Russian-imperialist glorification of Stalin’s defeat of Nazi Germany and the subsequent occupation of Eastern Europe.

At best, Eurasianism is a form of extreme Russian nationalism. At worst, it is a specific form of fascism which has been shaped by political traditions peculiar to Russia.

And it is the politics of Eurasianism which are espoused by leading figures in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, by the websites which seek to rally support for them, and by those political forces which have taken the lead in Russia in mobilising support for them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Prime Minister Borodai: fascism draped in a Russian tricolour

May 24, 2014 at 3:38 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, fascism, Guest post, philosophy, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism, thuggery, truth)

Aleksandr Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the pro-Russian separatists' self-declared 'People's Republic of Donetsk,' speaks to media during a press conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Saturday, May 17, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Alexander Khudoteply)

Above: Borodai – a ruler in the tradition of Plato?

Guest post by Dale Street

In mid-May the previously unheard-of Aleksandr Borodai was declared Prime Minster of the so-called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’.

This fact alone should disabuse anyone deluded enough to believe that there is anything ‘progressive’, ‘anti-imperialist’ or ‘left-wing’ about the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and its Lugansk counterpart.

In 1992 Borodai fought as a volunteer in the war in the predominantly ethnic-Russian Transnistrian region when it broke away from Moldova. In 1993 he took part in the defence of the Russian Parliament after its dissolution by Yeltsin.

Borodin went on to write for the Russian newspaper “Zavtra” – poisonously anti-semitic, full of nostalgia for Stalin, rabidly Russian nationalist, and arguably outright fascist. According to the newspaper’s owner and editor, Aleksandr Prekhanov:

“I’ve known him (Borodai) since 1991. In terms of his ideology he is a Russian nationalist. He is a supporter of a strong Russian state. … He’s always been close to me, and has preached the idea of a Russian national white – not red – imperial consciousness.”

Apart from turning his hand to running his own PR consultancies and working as deputy editor of the magazine “Russian Businessman”, Borodai helped Prekhanov to launch the “Djen” television channel in 2011.

Like “Zavtra”, the channel’s output consists of anti-semitism, Russian nationalism, conspiracy theories, homophobia, misogyny, denunciations of the decadence of European civilization, and, more recently, treatises on the ‘fiction’ of a Ukrainian national identity.

Borodai is on the channel’s editorial board and, until recently, regularly hosted its programmes. Another “Djen” regular is Konstantin Dushenov. He has served time for anti-semitic incitement and is the author of a video series entitled: “Russia with a Knife in its Back – Jewish Fascism and the Genocide of the Russian People.”

In early 2014 Borodai turned up in the Crimea, working as a “political strategist” for the peninsula’s “governor” (and mafia boss) Sergei Aksyonov at the time of its annexation by Russia.

From the Crimea Borodai moved directly to south-east Ukraine: “The territory of the Crimea is quite closely connected to the Donbass, and naturally the people who set up these popular movements are the same people, they are connected to each other. So when I finished in Crimea, I automatically came here.”

More information about Borodai’s politics can be found in an interview recently published by “Russkaya Vesna”, the website of the Donetsk and Lugansk ‘People’s Republics’:

*******************************************************************************************************

Q: “Aleksandr, how did it come about that it was you who ended up as the head of the republic’s government?”

A: “Fate decreed it to be so. I cannot answer any differently. I was prepared to take this responsibility on myself and to take up this role simply by virtue of my personal characteristics. I see what is happening as a confirmation that history has not ended, contrary to the claims of fashionable philosophers. Today it is happening in front of our eyes. And the most important thing is that it is the history of my native country.”

Q: “You are a product of the Faculty of Philosophy of Moscow State University, the son of a philosopher. You’ll recall Plato’s idea that philosophers must rule. I know you fought as a volunteer in Transnistria and defended the Russian Parliament in 1993. What are your opinions?”

A: “To put it briefly and simply, I am a Russian patriot. I consider that the extent of the Russian world was artificially reduced as a result of certain circumstances, and that the Russian world was divided by artificially created borders. Those borders divide people of Russian culture. I am convinced that the difference between the inhabitants of, say, the Rostov and Donetsk regions is to a certain degree imaginary. I therefore see my task as defending and supporting my compatriots. Basically, we are at one of the first stages (this became particularly obvious after the reunification of the Crimea and Russia), the gathering together of the Russian world, which was violently dismembered after the geo-political catastrophe of 1991.”

Q: “Is it true that you were personally acquainted with the philosopher Lev Gumilev (see below). Could one say that his creativity has influenced your own views?”

A: I was still a child when I had the good fortune to associate with him. He was often a guest in our home and spent summers in my father’s dacha.  Once he even had something like a mystic revelation, but I’ll talk about that another time. Many early but valuable memories link me to this mystic. I highly value his contribution to Russian culture and science. Absolutely, he has influenced me.”

Q: “In that case, could what is happening in the Donetsk Republic be regarded as an eruption of passionarity?” (see below)

A: “What’s happening confirms that the Russian cultural archetype is far from having exhausted his vitality. Just as in Transnistria, so too in the Donetsk Republic we are confronted with the process of the self-organisation of the Russian world, in response to the uncompromising challenge it faces. What is happening in the south-east of Ukraine can be characterized as a Russian uprising. Russian in the broad sense of the word – in terms of culture, mentality and civilization. But I’d also like to point out that ethnic Ukrainians are massively involved in the resistance movement. This process is not to be stopped.”

******************************************************************************************************

The Lev Gumilev praised by Borodai was a Russian ethnologist and anthropologist (and anti-semite) who theorized that ethnic groups went through a particular life-cycle. Such groups expanded, through conquest, when their national “passionarity” reached maximum heat.

“Passionarity” is stimulated by external, mostly natural, events (such as oscillations in solar radiation levels). Similarly, it is natural events which set cultures apart. Hence, according to Gumilev, the border between Russia and the West coincides with the negative isotherm for January.

For Gumilev, the Mongol domination of medieval Russia saved Russia from the West and Catholicism and created a Russian “super-ethnos”, through a merger of Eastern Slavs (currently: Russia, Ukraine and Belorus) with Tatars and Mongols.

Gumilev contrasted the “passionarity” of the Russian “super-ethnos” with “parasite states” which exercised only “chimera statehood”. Examples of the latter states were America and France, both of which has been created by Jews (who, lacking a “passionarity” of their own, are necessarily parasitic on other peoples).

The next time British Stalinists want to stage a protest about fascism in Ukraine – perhaps they could direct their anti-fascist endeavours towards Prime Minister Borodai and his supporters? Or are they incapable of recognizing fascism when it comes draped in a Russian tricolour?

 

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Ukraine: self-determination is still basic

May 12, 2014 at 9:29 pm (AWL, imperialism, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism)

 

Statement from the AWL. This is important in view of the willingness, on the more ignorant sections of the neo-Stalinist left, to go along with Putin’s monstrous, hypocritical “anti-fascist” justification for Russian imperialism:

Accounts vary of the clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalist groups in Odessa on 3 May, in which some 42 people were killed.

Some people say it started with an attack by militarised Russian and pro-Russian far-rightists on a peaceful Ukrainian nationalist demonstration. After that, “ultras” among the Ukrainian nationalists set out for the building where the pro-Russians had their headquarters.

Some say that it was a planned assault by far-right Ukrainian nationalists on pro-Russians who did no more than defend themselves.

Yet others suggest conspiracies. Maybe the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists and the far-right pro-Russians have a common interest in fomenting bloodshed which will irreparably split Ukraine. If it leads to the east being annexed by Russia, then the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists will have a better chance of influence in a rump Ukraine than if it stays united.

Maybe, so Ukrainian leftist Volodymyr Ishchenko suggests, “one of the reasons why all these protests in the Eastern Ukraine started now, and why they are so violent, is actually to halt the national elections in May — to postpone them and give [Yulia] Tymoshenko some time to gain more popularity among Ukrainians”.

Tymoshenko is way behind in the polls. Her pitch is Ukrainian nationalist. But she is also known to have had, and may still have, good relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Putin certainly wants to sabotage Ukraine’s presidential election due on 25 May. Maybe he also looks forward to a later election when Tymoshenko can win and then do a deal with Moscow.

None of the stories give any special trade-union significance to the fact that the building which the Ukrainian nationalists stormed was the trade-union headquarters in Odessa. It appears in all stories just as the big public building in the city (built in a time when the “trade unions” were just departments of the state administration) where the pro-Russians happened to have gathered.

Some structural facts, however, are evidenced enough to be clear even at a distance.

The local coups in the cities of east Ukraine are not just external Russian interference. There is little evidence of active popular resistance to them, for example by workers in the public buildings which have been seized.

We would, anyway, expect a base for pro-Russian sentiment. A large minority of the population, over 30% in some areas, is Russian. The cities are more Russian than the countryside. The east has voted more pro-Russian, in independent Ukraine’s elections, than the west.

The new Kiev government is distrusted everywhere, but more so in the east. People in eastern Ukraine will be reluctant to resist the pro-Russian coups not just out of fear, but also out of a wish to avoid supporting the new Kiev government, and a lack of any strong third alternative.

There are no reports of the local coups raising social demands, but it is plausible that some support accrues to them because of the social concerns of people in eastern Ukraine, worried that its old heavy industry will decline fast if Ukraine is more integrated into the world market.

The local coups also show evidence of being decisively shaped and led by people closely linked to the Russian government. They did not well up from mass protests about social or regional or language-group concerns, but started straight off with seizures of public buildings by armed groups.

The issue is not Russian-majority pockets near the Russian border, and a call for adjustment of the border. Putin has staked a claim to the whole of Novorossiya, which is a vast area of south and east Ukraine. Despite all the diversity within Ukraine, it has been a historically-defined nation for a long time. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is the central issue here, and can and must be defended without endorsing the ideas, or all the actions, of Ukrainian nationalists.

The Kiev government has put new laws for regional autonomy to the parliament, and promised to uphold the laws for Russian language rights introduced by Yanukovych, but in the east people seem to distrust the government that these measures change little.

Russia’s aim is to establish de facto control in the east so as to give Russia mor­e options. Putin’s preference, probably, will be for a deal in which he agrees to reverse the local coups in return for strong influence over all Ukraine. Immediately, he wants obstruct and discredit the Ukrainian elections on 25 May and prevent a Kiev government gaining authority.

Volodymyr Ishchenko points out that “you have to understand that the political mainstream in the Ukraine is much further to the right than, for example, in Western Europe. Things which would receive very strong criticism in the West are more or less tolerable in the Ukraine. It’s more or less okay to talk about things like ‘the defense of white European people’; this kind of thing can even be said by mainstream politicians. It’s okay to be homophobic, not to recognize any need to defend LGBT people… The Right Sector and Svoboda [the Ukrainian-nationalist ‘ultras’] are being criticized because their violent and provocative actions are seen as something that can be used by Russia” [i.e. not really out of a leftish revulsion at their far-right bias].

This rightward tilt of the political spectrum is at least as true of eastern Ukraine as of western Ukraine. There are many reports of strong far-right forces within the pro-Russian coup-makers.

We cannot orient ourselves here by asking which side seems less right-wing, and especially not by taking Stalinist nostalgia as evidence of good left-wing resistance to right-wing Ukrainian nationalism. We can orient only by the fundamentals: Ukraine’s right to self-determination.

The Kiev government is in an impasse. It cannot mobilise the population of east Ukraine against the coup-makers. It cannot send in the Ukrainian army full-force, because that would rally people against it and open the way for a Russian invasion “to restore order”. Equally, it would like to be able to prevent the local referendums scheduled in some districts in east Ukraine for 11 May, on propositions as yet unclear, but amounting to some sort of secession. It remembers the Crimea referendum on which those gambits are modelled. It will condemn the new referendums as undemocratic, like the Crimea referendum, and it will be right, but that won’t help it gain a grip in the east.

So it tries an ineffectual middle way, moving against the coup-makers, but mildly and tentatively.

The US and the EU side with the Kiev government, but see no overriding interest in Ukraine, and (especially the EU) fear the effect on their own economies of even sharp economic sanctions against Russia. So Putin, sees Ukraine as a vital issue for which he will take risks, has the upper hand.

A way out of the impasse will require the Ukrainian left to mobilise Ukrainian workers, west and east, on socialist demands against the corruption and oligarchic inequality which people both east and west name as their main concern. Those socialist demands will be integrated with a democratic programme of national self-determination for Ukraine and full minority rights for Russians within Ukraine.

At present, though, the Ukrainian left is weak. As well as helping it as much as we can, we must also support the national self-determination of the whole Ukrainian people against Russia’s moves to grab territory, tacitly threaten invasion, and seek decisive influence over the whole country.

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Miners strike in South East Ukraine: a change in the direction of the protest movement?

April 28, 2014 at 4:41 pm (Europe, posted by JD, reblogged, Russia, unions, workers)

From the website of the Russian Socialist Movement via Workers Liberty:
 

A strike broke out on 22nd April in the coalmines belonging to Rinat Akhmetov in the Lugansk region (in the south-east of Ukraine). Two thousand miners besieged the management offices and demanded a pay rise. Is this a sign that the direction of the Ukrainian protests is changing?

According to Andrei Ishchenko, a member of the united-socialist organization “Left Opposition” and co-ordinator of the Workers Defence Committee of Odessa:

“Until now it was difficult to call the protests in the south-east class protests. They were dominated by Russian-nationalist slogans and reactionary-abstract ideas. But now the situation can change radically.”

“In my opinion, the pro-Russian direction of the protests in south-east Ukraine is beginning to dissipate, and there are objective reasons for this.”

“Initially, the main goal of the protestors was unification with the Russian Federation. All the talk about a referendum and federalization – with a Russian flag in the background – was, of course, nothing more than an attempt to give the protest the appearance of a certain legality.”

“But the real role of Russia has become clear to many participants in the “anti-Maidan” protests. It is intervening in the situation just as much as it needs in order to keep the protests half-alive for the purpose of accomplishing its geo-political tasks.”

“The unrest in the south-east can be used (by Russia) for bargaining with the west, and as a means of putting pressure on the weakened authorities in Kiev.”

“It seems that the miners in Krasnodon (city close to the mines) have understood who their real enemy is.”

“Few people now believe in unification with Russia. The pro-Russian protest has exhausted itself from within. Deprived of goals and of any meaning, it is simply dying away. But at the same time, Ukraine is in the grip of a profound economic collapse.”

“The participants in the protests are disappointed now not just in the policies of the Kiev authorities but also in those of Putin’s Russia. More and more they are turning to their own basic problems: the exchange rate of the hryvnia (Ukrainian currency), local rates of pay, and prices in supermarkets and petrol stations.”

“These are of much greater concern to people than problems of language or big questions of geo-politics. Let’s hope that that protests will now gradually take on a different meaning, and that there will be no more empty chants about “Glory-to-Ukraine – Glory-to-Russia”!

Additional information about Rinat Akhmetov and the miners’ strike:

Rinat Akhmetov is the richest man in Ukraine, worth somewhere between $7 billions and $17 billions. He claims that he accumulated his wealth through commercial risk-taking.

Investigations by the Ukrainian government, on the other hand, have identified him as the leader of an organized crime syndicate. In 2005 Achmetov fled to Monaco, but returned the following year after an investigation into his financial activities was killed off by the Yanukovich government.

Akhmetov is also a prominent member and financial benefactor of Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions, and a former MP for the party. Like all good Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, he owns a football club (Shachtar Donetsk).

(His predecessor as club president was, alas, killed in an unsolved bombing assassination in 1995.)

The current strike involves miners in five pits owned by “Krasnodon Coal”, one of Akhmetov’s many business subsidiaries. The decision to strike was taken by a mass meeting held in Krasnodon’s main square at four o’clock in the afternoon on 22nd April.

2,000 miners then ‘laid siege’ to the company’s offices overnight, demanding that their rates of pay be raised to the average rate of pay for miners in the Donbas. For footage of the ‘siege, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTPa3YSkOCA

(The chant is: “(Put the money) On the Table!”)

According to one of the striking miners:

“Yesterday (22nd April) there was a meeting in Krasnodon about the referendum and there was some other meeting. But 22nd of the month is when we get an advance payment on our salary. We each got a thousand hryvnia.”

“But prices have gone up in the last week – petrol is dearer, bread is dearer. Then one of the lads said: ‘Let’s demand a pay rise.’ And we backed him. Top pay here is 6,000 hryvnia, but the average in the Donbas for anyone working at the pit face is between 8,000 and 10,000 hryvnia.”

The strikers have not raised any political demands.

The separatist movement in south-east Ukraine has also been condemned by Nikolai Volynko, leader of the Independent Trade Union of Donbas Miners:

“As far as separatism is concerned, these issues could have been closed off a long time ago, if it had not been for these anti-terrorist campaigns, with their opening phases, medium phases, concluding phases, stops and postponements. And with every phase, more and more regional offices are seized.”

“The local authorities are on the side of the separatists because they have unofficially been promised that they will all remain in their posts if anything changes in terms of Russia. The time has come to be open in our resistance.”

“The central authorities are behaving indecisively, very indecisively. The local forces are not helping the army. What is left for us, the people of the Donbas, to do? Are we to wait until the authorities are kind enough to conduct another anti-terrorist operation? But what phase, or what stage, will the pregnancy be at the next time?”

“We will resist!”

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East Ukraine and the ‘fascist’ matrix

April 22, 2014 at 1:07 pm (anti-semitism, Europe, fascism, imperialism, posted by JD, Russia, thuggery, truth)

The following article, first published by Al Jazeera, should be drawn to the attention of those on the left who, throughout the Ukraine crisis, have been taken in by and/or parroted Putin’s hypocritical “anti fascist” rhetoric:

Is the Russian leadership formenting links with some European far-right parties?
By Halya Coynash 

Ukraine’s main far-right party, VO Svoboda, has been dumped by its erstwhile European ultra-nationalist allies. It was dumped for Russia with whom the most virulently anti-Semitic, anti-migrant and far-right parties in France, Hungary and other EU countries are developing close ties. The Kremlin’s blossoming contacts with those parties, and the far-right roots of prominent pro-Russian activists in Ukraine do not deter Russia from claiming to be protecting Russian nationals from the anti-Semitic and fascist hordes who have allegedly seized control in Ukraine.

The claims have been refuted countless times and attempts to use anti-Semitism condemned by the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, prominent Jewish civic figures, academics and others. The UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights has rightly indicated that “misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred need to be urgently countered” but missed the point entirely about the source of it all.

Who is fascist?

Russia’s propaganda machine, and especially Russian-language TV channels are feeding not only the Russian audience, but also a significant number of Ukrainians with lies and manipulated reports. Images of a Crimean rabbi forced to leave for Kiev after condemning Russian intervention are presented as showing a rabbi forced to leave Ukraine because of mounting anti-Semitism.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Protests in East Ukraine: mostly Russian imperialism

April 11, 2014 at 5:37 pm (AWL, imperialism, posted by JD, protest, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia)

Pro-Russian protesters storm the regional administrative building in Kharkiv

Above: pro-Russian protesters storm the regional administration building in Kharkov

By Martin Thomas (at the Workers Liberty website)

On the weekend of 5-6 April pro-Russian crowds staged demonstrations in some cities of eastern Ukraine, and seized public buildings.

In Donetsk the demonstrators echoed events in Crimea by saying that they were constituting a new regional government and would organise a referendum on transferring Donetsk to Russia.

Are these justified protests by Ukraine’s Russian minority, strongest in the east, against Ukrainian chauvinist policies from the new government in Kiev?

Or are they operations fomented by the Russian government, using Russians crossing the border to join the protests, and the east-Ukrainian Russian minority? Operations whose core aim and function is to serve Russian foreign policy, for example by setting up clashes which will give Russian troops an excuse to invade?

The balance of evidence suggests they are mostly the second. The demonstrations do not emerge from a background of growing protest against specific policies and actions by the Kiev government disadvantaging Russian people in eastern Ukraine. Instead, they start immediately by seizing public buildings.

Without question there is a large Russian minority in eastern Ukraine (over 30% in some districts), and many Russians look to Russia.

Without doubt many in that Russian minority dislike the new government in Kiev. In that sense, an element of the depiction of the demonstrations as protests by an aggrieved minority is correct.

However, the broad historical facts which we know for sure are that Ukraine has been an oppressed nation, and mostly oppressed by Russia (Tsarist or Stalinist) for centuries; that for centuries also, Russians have come to Ukraine as imperial colonisers, Russian has been the language of the better-off and culturally-advantaged in Ukraine, and Ukrainian has been disdained as the “peasant language”; and that Putin’s government, keen to sustain Russia as a great power, has been striving to regain some of the reach of Tsarist and Stalinist imperialism (Chechnya, Georgia).

As contemporary evidence we have a large opinion poll conducted across Ukraine and Crimea on 14-26 March, with its results published on 5 April. The fieldwork was conducted by a Kiev-based agency (the “Rating Group”) and funded by the US Agency for International Development, so some bias can be suspected. However, it’s the evidence we have.

In the poll, only 12% of people in Ukraine and Crimea said “yes” or “to some degree” when asked whether Russian-speaking citizens were under threat. Only 29% of people who considered themselves ethnic Russians reckoned that Russian-speaking citizens were under threat, and only 17% of the population in eastern Ukraine had that view.

17% is a big enough minority to provide a base for spectacular demonstrations when the demonstrators know they have support from a neighbouring great power. It is not a democratic mandate for deciding the future of the area.

Only 13% (in Ukraine and Crimea combined) supported the “decision of the Russian Federation to send its army to protest Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine”. Only 14%, and only 26% in the east, were for the federal set-up in Ukraine which Putin demands.

When asked what should the new Kiev government’s priorities be, the big majority in the east as in the west said it should be tackling economic corruption. Only much smaller percentages mentioned minority rights or decentralisation.

27% of people across Ukraine emphatically did not support the Independence Square protests in Kiev which brought down Yanukovych. However, that 27% was a lower disapproval rating than the 33% recorded in February 2014, before the fall of Yanukovych.

In other words, it is not that people supported the movement against Yanukovych, but have recoiled on seeing the new government. On the contrary, some of those who supported or semi-supported Yanukovych to the end have switched sides after seeing Yanukovych flee to Russia and hearing more revelations about his corruption.

The theory that the overthrow of Yanukovych was produced by a surge of the far-right in Ukraine looks doubtful. The far-right Ukrainian chauvinist party Svoboda scores only 5% in the poll, as against 10% in the last elections; the vicious “Right Sector” group scores 1%.

The poll shows low levels of confidence in the Kiev government everywhere in Ukraine, and especially in the east. 50% expressed disapproval of the job the Parliament is doing, and 73% in the east.

That percentage, however, should be compared with 80% across the whole of Ukraine and Crimea who expressed disapproval of the job that Parliament was doing under Yanukovych, in September 2013.

It was not that Ukraine was jogging along fine under Russian hegemony until a far-right pro-EU conspiracy spoiled things. Rather, that the majority of Ukrainians resent both Russian aspirations to dominate, and the rule of Ukrainian oligarchs whether pro-Russian or Ukrainian-nationalist, and rightly doubt that the fall of Yanukovych has changed much about the oligarchic corruption.

The three principles on which Solidarity bases our attitude about Ukraine are:

• Ukraine is a nation historically oppressed by Russia which has the right to national self-determination. Russians living in Ukraine should enjoy democratic minority rights, but their rights cannot cancel the right to self-determination of the whole Ukrainian nation.

• We do not endorse the trade deal which the EU has got Ukraine to sign, and we demand that the Western governments give Ukraine real aid by cancelling its crippling debt to Western banks. But the immediate threat to Ukrainian political self-determination comes from Russia, invading Crimea, massing troops on Ukraine’s border, fomenting small coups in east-Ukrainian cities, and demanding Ukraine fit its constitution to Russian wishes.

• The oligarchs offer Ukraine a bleak, unequal future even if Ukraine manages to conserve its independence. Socialists internationally should back the Ukrainian left and labour movement in its efforts to create a force which can win real victories for the social demands which fuelled the Independence Square protests.

Such a force would provide a solid basis for uniting all workers in Ukraine, Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking, “ethnic”-Ukrainian and “ethnic”-Russian, west and east.

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