Reader Luke has emailed in an exchange between himself and the Unrepentant Marxist Louis Proyect. It was triggered by this long, meandering post about Proyect’s old college. The passage Luke took exception to was this:
[Bard College President] Botstein would seem to share [George] Soros’s missionary complex vis-à-vis the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. With money siphoned from developing economies like Thailand’s, Soros has been able to foot the bill for Bard College’s colonizing effort in St. Petersburg, namely Smolny College, which sits next door to the organizing center of the October 1917 revolution–thus bringing the counter-revolution full cycle. Claude Allegre, the former French education minister, expressed misgivings about efforts such as Smolny College: ‘That our students go and study in the United States and Britain is entirely desirable, but that the Americans install their universities throughout the world, all on the same model and with the same courses, is a catastrophe.’ Well, what can one say–that’s just the voice of Old Europe once again. For the New Europe of Donald Rumsfeld, handouts from people like George Soros are eagerly accepted, especially since college professors in the liberated Russia republic average about $65 per month.
This is possibly the silliest thing I have read on a blog since I stopped reading Lenin’s Tomb. Do you know anything about education in Russia? I’m an American student who is studying there this academic year, and can assure you that most Russians are very unhappy with the quality of their higher education, and the very wealthy attempt to send their children abroad to get education in the west. Labeling a liberal arts education the acme of counterrevolution is not only ridiculous but also completely hypocritical for you as a Bard graduate. Calling the creation of a liberal arts college in a country with a notoriously corrupt and inaccessible education system ‘colonial’ is extraordinarily ignorant. I assume you read Russian, since you appear to be able to recognize colonialism in the education system, and would tell me why other Russian professors became so interested in the college’s model?
Luke, I don’t regard a liberal arts education as ‘the acme of counterrevolution’ but I certainly regard George Soros’s philanthropic efforts as counterrevolutionary. Eastern Europe and even gas-rich Russia is economically devastated today largely because of the efforts of the CIA, Soros’s millions and the connivance of the intelligentsia and apparatchiks who calculated that they might be better off under capitalism. If that description offends you, then I invite you to stop reading this blog, just as you stopped reading the blog of my comrade Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb.
Luke gets the discussion back on track: ‘so are you saying now that you don’t regard Smolny as a ‘colonizing effort’? I’m talking specifically about Smolny, not Soros.’
This is where Proyect gets really silly:
Luke, what you should do is look at the political science course directory at Smolny and you will Soros-type preoccupations that would not be found in a normal college such as:
–Closed Institutions: Questions of Human Rights
–Human Rights as Political Theory: Its Emergence, Development, and Current State
–History of Human Rights Activism
–Human Rights Monitoring
–Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia: Scenarios of Post-Soviet Development
Half the courses are taught by Dmitry Dubrovsky, a ‘Human Rights’ activist associated with the ‘color revolution’ type movements that Soros supports. This is a highly politicized department that clearly seeks to influence the intelligentsia in the former Soviet Union along the lines of the Open Society. No other country in the world would have the audacity to open up a college in the US to promote ‘anti-American’ ideology. Could you imagine if the Cuban government funded a new college in the U.S. that had a political science department with courses like ‘On the need for economic justice in America’. It would be shut down immediately. Of course, Soros got away with this crap (until recently) because the Russian government saw the world the way that he did. Putin obviously is too much of a nationalist to put up with the Soros NGO’s but will likely tolerate the Smolny College for the time being.
The comparison with the metaphorical Cuba-US college is laughable given that US academics and students are often extremely critical of American governments. Back to Luke:
I think it’s great that the college offers classes on human rights, and I don’t regard that as colonialism, any more than Cuba’s creation of such a college course would be. The full description of the Human Rights Minor is here, along with actual descriptions of all the courses, which do not look that suspicious, and without actually sitting in a class, I withhold judgment. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Smolny and nothing about ideologically driven courses, if any other Russian speaker can show me where anything that indicates it’s all a stooge system for Soros go ahead. If human rights is an ‘anti-Russian’ ideology, I don’t know what to say, and dismissing these classes as ‘crap’ is an insult.
All Louis can say to that is ‘Luke, apparently you haven’t studied George Soros’s role in Eastern Europe very carefully with respect to ‘human rights’ but I would invite you to read what I wrote here: (Proyect link). Luke presses on:
As I said before, there is nothing in the course descriptions or offerings in the human rights minor that indicate that there is a bias in these specific courses or meddling by Soros. Until you have sat in on one of the classes that is being taught, neither you nor I can pass judgment on what is being taught in the classes.
‘Of course, Soros got away with this crap (until recently) because the Russian government saw the world the way that he did. Putin obviously is too much of a nationalist to put up with the Soros NGO’s but will likely tolerate the Smolny College for the time being.’
That’s funny, because according to here there are discussion going on between the program and the Russian ministry of education about the human rights program, and the Ministry is interested in expanding it to be included at other schools. Could you explain why the Russian government would want to have this spread if it is all just a Soros plot?
Several hours later, Luke adds: ‘You could always just admit that you made a mistake by writing about an educational system and course offerings that you misjudged.’
I am sorry, Luke. I really can’t take you seriously. You don’t show the slightest familiarity with George Soros’s NGO’s, especially their role in Georgia, Yugoslavia, Ukraine and other countries where they push for free market ‘solutions’ that have left people in dire poverty. I asked you to read what I wrote about Soros’s role in Hungary and you evaded me completely, only to pollute this blog with thousands of Russian words that nobody but a Russian or somebody who reads the language can understand. I have no idea whether you are some fan of the capitalist system irked by my taking exception to that system, or a confused left-liberal who really doesn’t understand what Soros means by ‘human rights’, a term that you have an uncritical understanding of. The one thing I got out of Bard College in the early 60s was an ability to think critically. Too bad that young Bardians today, and yourself apparently, have not been trained in that fashion.
I think this is a fascinating look at the problems with doctrinaire anti-imperialism, as well as the position that human rights is a purely Western idea forced upon the baffled natives of ex-slave empires and glorious socialist states.
Luke adds in his email to me:
I just would like to note that I don’t care for Soros or his politics, this is about Louis’s smearing of an educational institution and the human rights activists who have worked and trained there, and those who see it as a model for future human rights education in Russia.