Yevgeniy Zhuravel interviews Kirill Medvedev (above), a Moscow-based poet, translator, and activist. He is the founder of the Arkady Kots band.
YZ: Can you tell a bit about yourself and how did you became a leftist? It seems that in Russia till recently it was not a common political choice.
KM: I became a self-conscious leftist at the beginning of the 2000s. There is a rather typical scenario for that generation of the Russian left, which emerged mostly from the Soviet intelligentsia of different levels of prosperity. Many of us were still able to spend our childhood under still rather comfortable conditions, so we were able to absorb the humanistic code of the Soviet intelligentsia, and then suddenly found ourselves in the historical hole of the 90s, when this code turned out to be not only redundant, but simply made survival difficult. Some of our parents had believed that shock therapy and total privatisation are the necessary stages on the way to democracy, others voted for the failed Communist Party, and some became quickly disappointed and depoliticised. The new left emerged from this trauma, but not out of a desire for revanche, but with the feeling that both nostalgia for Soviet times and jolly anti-Sovietism, which brought most of the intelligentsia to support Putin, are dead ends; that if one wants to be a citizen and a political subject, some hard work is required in order to build a new political culture and environment. Sometime during 2003-2004, I started getting an idea that maybe this thankless job—being part of the left—is not the worst way to spend the next decade or two.
YZ: The band that you are a part of is called Arkadiy Kots, after the Russian translator of “The Internationale”. Who are the people in the band, why this particular name was chosen and what musical and political traditions do you follow?
KM: The name seemed to be appropriate because Kots was simultaneously a poet, a translator, an activist and a sociologist; he wrote a study on the Belgian unions from the beginning of the 20th century. Such synthesis is interesting to us. Oleg Zhuravlev, with whom we founded the group, is a well-known young sociologist, member of the “Public Sociology Lab” collective, which does research on the recent protests in Russia and Ukraine. They just published a book in Russia, which will be released in Holland soon. Nikolay Oleynikov is a member of the renowned art-group “What has to be done?”(Chto Delat?). His work is related to antifascism and gender problems. In fact, in the Free Marxist Press, we published his collection “Sex of the Oppressed”, the discussions of sex and politics. If Oleg brings to the group the spirit of research, Nikolaj the spirit of militant queer carnival. Anya Petrovich and Misha Griboedov are more professionally connected to music: they are practically the musical directors of the group, fighting, for example, with my horrible unprofessionalism. Gosha Komarov, an activist of the Worker’s Platforms, which unites the most workerist (proletarian) part of the left radicals, is a multi-instrumentalist. This is the backbone of the group, we are all convinced communists, but, as it happens, we occasionally end up playing with people who do not share our views, which gives us some openness and a chance not to turn into a sect.
We translate a lot to Russian – from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to old Italian anarchist songs. We write songs based on poems of Russian poets and write our own: “Be Involved in Political Struggle”, “It is not shameful to be a worker” etc., which hide uneasy reflections about our own political subjectivity.
Overall we try to juxtapose maximised aesthetic openness with a clear political message, to get out of the boundaries of the radical left, subcultural milieu. Right now we are working on an album devoted to the history of the worker’s movements, from Luddites to Zhanaozen, with a support of Confederation of Labour of Russia, whose congress we recently opened with our Russian versions of songs “Bread and Roses” and “Power in a Union”, and gave a concert after the end of it.
YZ:You started the Free Marxist Press publishing house back in 2008. How did it evolve? What did you print recently and what are the plans?
KM: It all had started with samizdat (DIY?) books – “Why I am a Marxist?” by Ernest Mandel, Pasolini’s “Communist Party – to the Youth”, “Marxism and Feminism” by Marcuse etc. Later on we started making small press runs at print shops. Producing a book from A to Z—translation, formatting, cover design, printing, binding, distribution – for me personally was an important experience, though a little bit exotic, mixing the spirit of completely unalienated creative work a la William Morris, on the one hand, and the productionism of the 20s, on the other. Being engaged in the material production of a book one gets into a very special relationships with a text which it contains. Read the rest of this entry »
This is from the US Socialist Worker (no longer connected with the UK organisation/paper of that name). Note that the Left Network, while rejecting the terms of the bailout, and denouncing Tsipras’s capitulation, does not call for ‘Grexit’ from either the Eurozone or the EU itself.
This is the text of a leaflet, translated by Leandros Fischer, that the Left–an alliance of socialists who are a leading voice in SYRIZA’s Left Platform–distributed during demonstrations on July 15, as the parliament meets to vote on Tsipras’ proposals.
JUST ONE week after the July 5 referendum’s massive “Oxi!” vote, the governmental leadership and Alexis Tsipras have returned from negotiations in Brussels, having agreed to a gigantic Memorandum, socially and fiscally harsher than the two previous ones, and with a much stronger colonial character.
This Memorandum threatens to crush the social majority that lives from its work and has suffered in the five years of extreme austerity policies under the previous two Memorandums, which have eliminated what remains of its gains over many years.
Tsipras and the government have betrayed the Greek people’s shattering “Oxi!” in the referendum by signing an agreement much worse than the Juncker proposal that was rejected in the referendum, at the urging of the government.
With its unprecedented colonial clauses, this Memorandum completes the disastrous task of transforming Greece into a debt colony within the EU. It dishonors the left, since it was agreed to in its name, and by the leadership of a party of the left and a government dominated by this party, which won governmental power based exactly on its historical commitment to abolishing the Memoranda and overthrowing austerity.
This new Memorandum essentially and practically overthrows the government led by SYRIZA: programmatically, but also politically, since it transforms SYRIZA into an austerity government with an increasingly pro-austerity composition (more so after the removal of left-wing cabinet ministers and the potential openings to the austerity camp).
It will have a destructive effect on SYRIZA itself, by blackmailing it to become an apologist for the implementation of austerity policies; to sever its ties to the working-class majority and move against it; to transform itself into a social-liberal party of austerity and authoritarianism.
The new Memorandum strikes a double blow at the left’s system of core values and its moral high ground, by cheating the people who believed its longstanding promise to abolish the Memoranda and topple austerity, but also all the people who contributed to the referendum’s shattering “Oxi!” vote.
It whitewashes the austerity system and the pro-austerity parties by giving them the chance to claim that SYRIZA and the left have delivered a Memorandum worse than their own. It hinders us in the fight against local and international capitalism, making them look all-powerful and capable of crushing and humiliating a left-wing government.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
FOR ALL these reasons, the new Memorandum poses the serious danger of massive disillusionment among the left and the social movements, while also creating a danger that popular discontent will be exploited by the right, the far right and the fascists.
Yet if all these are dangers arising from this agreement, if its first consequences are already visible, nevertheless, the struggle for its overthrow is not in vain. On the contrary, the potential for blocking and overthrowing the new Memorandum, but also lifting the banner of the left, which some, criminally, want to tread upon, are great!
The people of “Oxi!”–this massive popular force, this class-based alliance of workers, the poor and the youth that surfaced in the battle over the referendum–continues to exist. It proves to us that the will to struggle, as well as the anger at their conditions, not only haven’t subsided, but are accumulating at the base of society. The baton of the battle against the new Memorandum can be handed on to new hands! That means the struggle will continue with the same goal as always: abolishing the Memorandums and overthrowing austerity.
And SYRIZA, too–the left-wing SYRIZA, with its radical soul–continues to exist. The government and party moderates rightly consider it to be an obstacle in managing and implementing the new Memorandum, and threaten it with disciplinary measures and expulsions. They call for it to be disciplined to party decisions.
But what counts for the left, above all, is discipline to its program and its political strategy–including abolishing the Memorandums, overthrowing austerity, renouncing the debt and the implementing the basic measures articulated in SYRIZA’s Thessaloniki program–discipline to the inviolable principles and values of the left; and discipline to the collective decisions made to realize both of these.
For SYRIZA, this means discipline to the program of its founding congress, to its pre-election commitments, to the Thessaloniki Program, to the popular mandate of the January 25 elections, and to the mandate of the “Oxi!” vote on July 5.
We are the SYRIZA that abides by all this and that calls for discipline from those who dare to trample on the double popular mandate, and the principles, values and collective decisions of SYRIZA. For the left, discipline does not mean discipline to the arbitrary decisions of the “leader” and the tight circle around him!
Now is the time for this SYRIZA to enter the battle and prevent the disastrous decision to sign a new Memorandum agreement.
Last, but not least in importance, there is also the left beyond SYRIZA of the social movements and the “Oxi!” vote. Whatever the mistakes made and disagreements we have had, we found ourselves in the streets and in struggles in recent years, and we won the battle of the July 5 referendum. In this new cycle of social and political struggles, we must and can stand side by side!
This battle of ours is, at the same time, a battle against demoralization and disappointment–for a new commitment to our part in the mass struggle. Not by way of moralizing and not because it is our “duty,” but on the basis of both reason and imagination, based on the realistic assumption that we can win!
Together, the people of “Oxi!” and the party of “Oxi!” which is SYRIZA–the forces of SYRIZA, but also the forces of the rest of the left, for whom “no” means no and cannot become maybe or, even worse, “yes”–can enter this battle, and win as well!
Translation by Leandros Fischer
In response to acting Leader Harriet Harman’s support for Osborne’s attack on poor families (also backed by leadership candidate Liz Kendall), Shiraz calls on readers to sign up to Corbyn’s petition against cuts to working families tax credits.
The Tory budget means taking child tax credits off working families.
If you back my call that Labour should be opposing this plan, you can join the thousands who’ve added their names since last night and sign my petition.
It’s a policy that hits working families with more than two children.
Yesterday we heard Labour might not vote against this policy. From my campaign, we immediately said no – we must oppose this.
It is now said our position on this is to wait until we have a new leader.
I don’t want us to spend the summer waiting to oppose this policy. We must oppose it now.
This matter goes to the heart of our choice on the future of our economy, and how we oppose the Conservative Party.
If we want to get the benefit bill down, let’s invest in secure jobs and affordable homes, not squeeze those trying to make ends meet.
To win, we must set out a clear alternative to the cuts and austerity of the Conservatives.
If you want Labour to stand for a modern Britain, join our movement.
Sign the petition against the child tax credit cut and please ask your friends to join you.
Jeremy Corbyn MP
This footage below was sent to me by one of the teachers taking part in the widespread strike by the Iranian teachers. They are demanding better pay and conditions.
“Most of the martyrs in the war were from our ranks, the teachers and pupils, so we have paid our fair share for this revolution, but sadly we have received the least just rewards for our sacrifices, during these days of strike, I read things that saddened me, I want to address the Friday Prayer leaders who in their sermons speak against us teachers, they say “when a teacher talks about money, it means knowledge has been abandoned in exchange for wealth”! I ask these clerics who have put on the prophet’s robes, who wear the messenger of Allah’s turban on their heads, why is it that when wealth comes your way, it doesn’t mean your religion has been abandoned for wealth? Why is it that most of the factories are owned by your lot? [crowds applause] Is religion just for me, a teacher? I am proud that I am a teacher, we are the faithful servants of real Islam, for us the first teacher is God and then his messengers, yet they say if there is talk of free lunch somewhere, the teachers will run to there, this is sad, Yes, I, a teacher am hungry, because there are many greedy stomachs in our country, [crowds applause] Yes, I a teacher have no money, because all the cash has been plundered by the children of the officials running the country, [crowds applause] My pockets are empty, because the sons and daughters of this country have such grand villas in Canada and European countries, [crowds applause] ..”
The woman who was simply the greatest singer in the entire history of jazz was born 100 years ago. Apart from her extraordinary voice (limited but highly expressive), she tends to be remembered for her “tragic” life, bad choices in lovers and her clashes with the authorities (she was even arrested on narcotics charges as she lay dying in hospital).
She made an extraordinary impression on all who met her, or even just heard her records. The British jazz critic Max Jones who met her and got to know her when she visited Britain in 1954 and then just before her death in 1959, is typical:
“Soon reports were coming in regularly of her deteriorating condition. At the end of May she collapsed and was taken to hospital, suffering from liver and heart complaints.
“Still harried by the authorities, she died in degrading circumstances at 3 a.m. on 17 July 1959, with 70 cents in the bank and 750 dollars in large notes strapped to her leg. She was, by her reckoning, only 44 years old. And I was halfway through a letter to her when friends telephoned to say she was dead. Though half expecting it, I was devastated by the news.
“But still, we have those many lovely or disturbing recorded performances. They will be a pleasure to my ears for the rest of my life and those of future generations for all time, I guess.”
The actor, Billy Crystal (who, it turns out, is the nephew of Commodore Records’ Milt Gabler, who recorded Billie singing ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939), still remembers her.
Billie is well represented on Youtube, including her incredibly moving 1957 TV recording of ‘Fine and Mellow’ , a reunion with her old (platonic) friend and confidant Lester Young, after some years of estrangement. Then there’s the cry of pain and protest that is ‘Strange Fruit.’
But I prefer to remember the young, joyous and careless Billie of the mid-to-late 1930’s, as can be heard on this little gem from 1936 (below):
Billie even (playfully) puts drummer Cozy Cole in his place in the opening banter. Bunny Berigan on trumpet, Artie Shaw on clarinet.
NIPSA Hails Support for Public Sector Workers’ Strike
Brian Campfield, General Secretary of NIPSA, Northern Ireland’s largest public sector trade union has welcomed the massive support from public service workers and the community for today’s strike action and protests.
Commenting after today’s march and rally in Belfast he stated:-
“The trade union movement is delighted with the massive response by workers to the call for strike action. The thousands of workers who participated in today’s strike and protests across Northern Ireland have sent a very clear message to the Northern Ireland political parties and leaders that they will not accept the decimation of our public services and jobs.
The next step should be that all the political parties with MPs elected to Westminster at the May general election will declare that they will refuse to support any new government at Westminster which does not call an immediate halt to these unprecedented and damaging cuts to public services. They may well have a critical role in the event of a hung parliament and they must ensure that they use whatever power they have to force a reversal of the UK Government’s unnecessary austerity programme. This is the least they can do in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Commenting further on the role of the NI Executive Mr Campfield stated:-
“The financial elements of the Stormont House Agreement must be revisited. The £700m borrowing for redundancies should be invested in public services and plans to reduce corporation tax must be abandoned.
The UK Government must be told that Northern Ireland cannot afford these cuts and that the NI Executive must do their utmost to force the Westminster Government to provide an adequate public expenditure settlement for Northern Ireland.”
End of Statement
Here’s an open letter to Cameron, Miliband etc. on the case of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who now again faces possible execution for apostasy.
The organisers are trying to move the campaign from petitioning and desperate pleas – amnesty style – to something a little more substantial. There is a translated letter being used in France and they are trying to get Charlie Hebdo survivors to sign.
We intend to send it end of Tuesday, sending to the press for Tuesday lunchtime. It would be good if we could get some signatures on it from trade unionists and socialists.
We are attaching the letter and signatures as of midday today (also below) but anyone thinking it would be useful to make contacts as well as get signatures please use it. Or obviously if you want to sign….. let us know in the comments below.
Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is currently imprisoned in a Saudi Arabian jail having received the first 50 of a threatened 1,000 lashes. If Raif survives these floggings he faces another 10 years in jail. His ‘crime’ was to have set up a website that called for peaceful change of the Saudi regime away from the repressive and religiously exclusive regime that it is.
In another shameful act his lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair, and other human rights activists were also later arrested. On February 20th this year Waleed had his sentence confirmed as 15 years in prison.
The European Parliament in its resolution of Feb 12th made clear its demands on Saudi Arabia to release Raif, as well as his lawyer Waleed and others imprisoned there for exercising their freedom of speech.
But to free Raif from this nightmare needs more than politicians saying that they disapprove of his punishment.
The total EU trade with the Saudi regime is currently close to €64 billion a year. The UK alone has approaching £12 billion invested in Saudi Arabia whilst it continues to invite Saudi investment in the UK, particularly in the property market. Saudi investment in the UK is currently over £62.5 billion.
As the regime inflicts beheadings and floggings on its people, questions have to be asked about why more cannot be done to promote the human rights of citizens of a country with which there is such extensive business. Particularly questions have to be asked about the morality of providing such a regime with arms, particularly the weaponry and facilities they use in their brutal penal system.
We ask that you make publicly clear your complete opposition to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and demand the immediate release of Raif and Waleed as the EU parliament has done. We also ask that you make publicly clear what measures you will take as a government to put any trading with this regime on an ethical basis and what conditions you will demand from the Saudi regime if all of that trade is to continue – particularly in relation to weapons that might be used in oppression or imprisonment.
If nothing is done to stop the brutality, beheadings and floggings that are committed there – then any moral stand taken against similar horrors committed elsewhere by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria can only be compromised.
In the spirit of consistency, transparency and humanity we ask you to take action to Free Raif and promote human rights in Saudi Arabia
Signatories as at Sunday, 8th March, 12pm: Read the rest of this entry »
Free and safeguard the liberal Saudi Raif Badawy, NO 1000 LASHES!!
Update4: (13.01.2015) Raif has been lashed last Friday 50 times, the same is planned for the next 19 Fridays for the other 950 lashes!!
Update3 Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison! Help him!
Update2: (30.12.2013): Raif Badawi may face death penalty for apostasy
Update1: 600 LASHES and 7 years prison for Raif Badawi, we have to stop implementing this court decision!!
Raef Badawi, a Saudi who is one of the establishers of the “Liberal Saudi Network”, which angered Ultra-orthodox clerics of Saudi Arabia and has been sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison.
Originally, he was expected to be sentenced to death for apostasy, for instance, as published by AFP:
“A Saudi court on Monday referred a rights activist to a higher court for alleged apostasy, a charge that could lead to the death penalty in the ultra-conservative kingdom, activists said.
A judge at a lower court referred Raef Badawi to a higher court, declaring that he “could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy,” a rights activist told AFP. Apostasy means renunciation of a religious faith.
Badawi, who was arrested a June in the Red Sea city of Jeddah for unknown reasons, is a co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network with female rights activist Suad al-Shammari and others.”
The sentence was 600 lashes and 7 years in prison, then increased to 1000 lashes and 10 years, the appeal was refused and the sentence has been confirmed.
We demand that Saudi Arabia free and safeguard Raef Badawy and stop threatening people merely for expressing nonorthodox views on Islam or religion in general, because without freedom of speech, one can not counter the dangerous beliefs of extremist Islam that leads ultimately to terrorism and threatens the safety of all people around the world.
Raef Badawi, a Saudi who is one of the establishers of the “Liberal Saudi Network”, which angered Ultra-orthodox clerics of Saudi Arabia and has been sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison
This report comes from the (US) International Socialist Organisation and is the best coverage of the Ferguson protests I’ve yet been able to find:
A grand jury wouldn’t indict Mike Brown’s killer, but the angry protests in Ferguson and beyond show the struggle will go on.report.
DARREN WILSON has gotten away with murder–and the American injustice system sent the message once again that Black lives don’t matter.
It was long after dark on November 24 when St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch marched to the microphone and announced that a grand jury had refused to indict the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer on any charge at all for killing 18-year-old Mike Brown on August 9.
This was the result that millions of people expected, but it was shocking anyway: A white cop who shot more than a dozen bullets at an unarmed African American teenager, killing him, was not only off the hook, but was being portrayed as a victim.
After days of rising tensions as the long-awaited grand jury decision didn’t come, people in Ferguson and around the country erupted in bitter protest. Even while Barack Obama followed McCulloch onto the airwaves to make his own statement urging peace, police fired their first volleys of tear gas and smoke grenades in Ferguson.
The media bemoaned the “violence” in Ferguson when a police car was wrecked and local businesses set on fire–without the slightest recognition of the violence that African Americans living in a city like Ferguson endure on a daily basis, directly at the hands of racist police and indirectly as a result of endemic poverty and unemployment.
Tory Russell, the co-founder of Hands Up United, responded firmly when asked in a CNN interview if he was “urging calm” after the decision. Russell replied, “I am urging calm. I’m urging calm for the police officers to not pepper spray me, tear gas me, mace me and shoot rubber bullets…People need to urge the police to be calm. Stop hurting kids, stop traumatizing our communities.”
The media vultures had their cameras trained on Ferguson, but there were angry demonstrations around the country after the grand jury decision was announced. In Chicago, hundreds of protesters took over Lake Shore Drive. In Oakland, Calif., in the largest protest in the Bay Area, the hastily organized solidarity demonstration drew more than 1,000 people who marched through downtown and later blockaded Interstate 580, one of the major routes through the city. Nearly a thousand turned out to Times Square.
There will be more protests today and in the days to come. We need to make sure everyone who was outraged by Mike Brown’s murder and inspired by the rebellion in Ferguson against racism and police violence raises their voices and sends a message: We won’t forget Mike Brown–and our struggle for justice will continue.
Let’s make this the start of a real fightback on pay
Local Government and School workers’ unofficial blog (GMB, Unison, Unite), here