The other day a FB friend, Vaska, shared this post by someone called Jeff Martin. No one seems to know the guy but I’ve sent a friend request. How could I not, to one who wrote this?
Someday, some enterprising and quite brave young scholar will write a dissertation analyzing the overt orientalism of the Western discourse on Russia, doing for Slavic studies what Said did for Near Eastern studies. Until then, those of us who are of Eastern European descent, or married to Russians, or just plain, you know, not racist, will have to endure this nonsense. The neocon/liberal establishment is having a hissy because the sequence of a) the denouement of the Cold War, b) the Hungry 90s in Russia, and c) the expansion of the Western alliance structure was supposed to forever reduce Russia to the status of vassal node in the neoliberal architecture of exploitation and primitive accumulation. But it didn’t. They resent the country and its people for refusing to submit, for refusing to bless the chains so malevolently fashioned for them, as indeed they resent any people who have the temerity to assert themselves, for themselves. American ideology, since Wilson (Worst. President. Ever. Yes, even worse than the current one.), has been replete with platitudes about the ‘self-determination of nations’ and shit like that; but actually-existing America despises nations and peoples that actually assert their rights to self-determination – what America actually desires on the part of other nations and peoples is a freely-willed conformity to American norms and interests in political economy, which is why America so loves most of the nations of Eastern Europe, which, in their desire to escape the Soviet past, freely embraced the accumulation-by-dispossession of deindustrialization and subordination to international cartels in finance.
This is why – to be slightly provocative – it was not at all inappropriate for Trump to shove the Croatian (?) PM in that goofy photo-op. Rather, it was the breach of etiquette that discloses the actual geopolitical significance of the relationship: most of these EU executives are satraps and prefects who administer the exploitation of their countries on behalf of multinational conglomerates and banks based in London, New York, Frankfurt, Berlin, Ireland, Paris, and – sometimes – Sweden (for the Baltics). These are quislings and stooges who sell out their people for personal membership in that transnational class of neoliberal parasites; as such, they merit neither respect as representatives of their nations, nor honor as heads of state formally equal to other heads of state – in the precise sense, they are *not* heads of state, but compradors acting on behalf of their superiors, in an effort to buy the allegiance of those superiors, and thereby, to buy their way into that class. The shove, in its boorishness, just demonstrated the reality of the power dynamics that already exist.
But Russia has refused that role, and that is why it is hated. It is not hated, by people who actually matter for the setting of policy, because of the gay ‘propaganda’ law, or because of Ukraine, or because of journalists getting gunned down in apartment stairwells. If there were no gay law and pride parades were held in every city in Russia every week; if Russia had done nothing in Ukraine after February 2014, and neo-fascists were running riot through Donbass and Crimea, and the US Navy were moored in Sevastopol; if no dissidents and journalists had ever come to bad ends in Russia, American policymakers would still hate Russia for some other reasons. There would be complaints about the relationship of Moscow and the regional governors; there would be bitching about the fact that Russia still retains control over its own energy resources, and probably some bullshit lawfare attempts to sanction it over this; and neocons/liberals would be whinging more volubly about Russia’s geographic expanses and ethno-linguistic diversity, and advocating self-determination for every ethno-linguistic groupuscule found somewhere in the RF: little groups with potential clientelistic elites waiting to sell out, just like most of the Eastern Europeans. Because American elites love nothing more than those who enthusiastically bless their chains and kiss the scourges that lash their backs.
See also the recent steel city scribbling, Our media are not fit for purpose, and the older but still relevant, Putin: an open letter to Owen Jones.
Standing on the embankment of the Moskva river in the late afternoon outside Gorky Park we took a photograph of the vista on the opposite bank. A vista which included a building we had passed earlier in the morning on the tour coach during the City tour. A building identified to us by the Russian guide as the Defence Ministry building.
The ensuing conversation went like this:
“Once upon a time we would probably have got arrested for taking that photograph.”
“Just as well we are in Moscow. If we were in London these days we probably would have been.”
It was not the only irony, my favourite form of humor, evident in the recent seven day escorted tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Behind us, in Gorky Park, was a scene I had not seen in Great Britain since the mid to late eighties. A Park full of well tended and planned flower beds. Rows and rows of beds full of rose bushes and a plethora of other flowers all planted to come into bloom at different times over the short Moscow summer. Tended by people known as Park Keepers, remember them? Public servants we now longer have here because its deemed “inefficient”, a waste of taxpayers money and we cannot afford it .
With facilites for young and old alike, from reasonably priced cafe’s and restaurant’s and giant lounger’s through to volleyball, basketball, table tennis and other similar public infrastructure you no longer get in “Great” Britain.
It had been something of a culture shock traveling through the south of Moscow from the airport towards the center the previous evening. Coming from a culture which tells you every Englishman’s home is his castle it was jaw dropping to see square miles of tower block complexes the size of Park Hill, Hyde Park and the old now demolished Kelvin as far as the eye could see and not a single recognisable house with even a concrete back yard never mind a garden.
But other details kept invading the senses and overriding the propaganda images learned and assimilated over decades. Like the plethora of regular well kept green spaces and actual well maintained children’s playgrounds in and between each block or complex. The absence of litter – public sector street cleaners again. Dogs, but no dog shit. Conversely, we saw not a single cat in the whole trip. Plenty of fur caps for sale to cope with the long bitter winters. But no cats?
Later that evening, on an extra Moscow by night coach tour, we saw something else you no longer see in Great Britain, bikers with hair. Visiting some of the regular traditional haunts of bikers in the UK, like Matlock Bath, its easy to focus on the machines and ignore the fact that the vast majority of owners are in their fifties and sixties. Balding middle aged and old bikers from the seventies who are now the only age group able to afford such bikes.
The coach took us up to an area of higher ground to the southwest just outside the city center known as Sparrowhills, near the State University campus, to a near 20 metre or more wide pavement alongside a wall which is used as viewing platform overlooking the City center. The place was buzzing. Mainly because for as far as the eye could see in the dark every bit of pavement was occupied by row upon row of bikes and their young owners. Coming and going and generally having a good time. Which included a small rock band ensemble which seemed to be playing a mix of rock and ska. Fifteen minutes was just too short to take in not just the view but the atmosphere.
There is certainly money here, like any other Capital in the West. Which is why so many young people with hair can afford to be bikers. Unemployment in Moscow is certainly low even if some parts of the city have high property values. It was like taking a visit back in time to the era of the real mixed economy which the “prefects” in the self styled “progress” wing of the Labour Party kid themselves they are in favour of:
What I could not get out my head was a long remembered fragment of poetry by the Caribbean poet Louise Bennett ( “Colonization in Reverse”):
Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie,
I feel like me heart gwine burs’
Jamaica people colonizin
Englan in reverse
All the spitting image style stereotypes you are bombarded with over decades about how regimented, inefficient and authoritarian life is in places which are designated the official enemy are, in reality, reversed. I recall the odd occasion to relieve the barrack room boredom over forty years ago listening on the multiband radio to Radio Moscow, rolling about slapping thigh and biting the lino as some Soviet functionary read off his official autocue the dry statistics of the tomato harvest from the Ukraine and the tonnage of steel produced that quarter from the mills in Magnetigorsk. wondering what it must be like to live in such a tick in a box society.
The answer to that question dawned shortly after Blair’s ascension to head boy as the convergence of computer and communications technology opened up the space for the reintroduction of Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management (sic) with steroids across all sectors and levels of British society. Introducing a single approach based on private sector mores and values in both the public and voluntary sectors. The irony that it was the West which exported Taylor’s methods to a Lenin eager to industrialise the backward Russian State the Soviet’s had inherited from the Tsars, at a time when the West was scrapping that approach to its own development, which the West has now re-imported is both humorous and tragic.
The experience of seeing the official stereotype reversed was most stark at the airports and on public transport. If it were not for the existence of other airports in Great Britain I would argue that Manchester is the worst airport in Europe. Everyone queued for at least an hour just to get their baggage checked in for the flight, followed by a fifteen minute queue just to reach the back of the queue for security. And this was at five and six in the morning. Everyone on the 6:55 plane had to be fast tracked through a grossly understaffed security process for the number of cattle being processed. It was like the cattle pens at Bakewell Market.
It was the same coming back in to Manchester just after 11:00pm. Where a ten meter walk to the new single staffed automated passport readers became 100 meters because everyone was made to walk up and down between queue barriers, tired as we all were. If this had been the experience in Russia or in the outward and inward transit stops at Munich and Frankfurt you can bet unfavourable comparisons between the two societies would have been constant to the point of boredom.
Conversely, where the stereotype image of inefficiency and authoritarianism is officially supposed to be the process through Munich, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Frankfurt (an amazing airport which took us forty minutes walking to get from tarmac to new terminal gate which included a light rail journey between terminals) was efficient, comfortable and a pleasant experience. There must be a number of people on this island who have been through the same experience who must be suffering severe cognitive dissonance.
Arguably the most stark comparison is public transport. I won’t go into the effective and efficient layout, along with the decor, of the metro (80 Roubles anywhere on the system in Moscow). Or the six lanes each way inner ring road. The trolley buses and trams. The high speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg was a real eye opener.
Built by Siemans, there are 15 trains a day in each direction starting at 5:40 am. Standard train has ten carriages including the engine at each end. One First class; one Business Class, One Buffet car; One Economy class Plus and six Economy class. Total of 554 seats. Some services have two sets together giving a total of 1108 seats. There are facilities for children, special seats for those traveling with pets, plenty of leg room and space and NO ONE STANDS. They don’t cram as many people as possible into every available nook and cranny. If there are no seats on one train there is always another leaving shortly.
Cheapest standard seat is about £60. But as “seniors” our ticket was less than £20 for a 420 mile (700 Km) journey which took less than four hours with only two stops.
What struck me most on that journey was the fields one inevitably sees through the window. Mile upon mile. Standard fare on any rail journey. But here what was noticeable was the lack of crops and livestock. Maybe its just too far north to be productive? Or a legacy of the Farm Collectives? Its a vast landmass. And that’s the bottom line.
Western elites are still involved in ‘The Great Game.’ Manouvering decade after decade, generation through generation, to gain control and ownership of the vast resources of the Eurasian landmass. Which is why the Russians and the Chinese and anyone allied to or associated with them are portrayed in the way they are.
The current smoke and mirrors over Trumps supposed ownership by Putin is part of this. See here for example:
And the fact that the sanctions have been limited by Trump suggests we would be further down this trajectory if Clinton had won.
What is particularly worrying is that a section of the supposed “alternative” media on the self styled “left” have gone down this rabbit hole just in order to appear “right on” in attacking Trump. Oblivious of the fact they are aligning themselves with the Deep State establishment elites on both anglo-saxon sides of the Atlantic. Despite the evidence free bullshit which is flying around. Dealt with here:
Keep up the good work Phil.
Nice writing Dave. And terrific scene painting. Can you clarify: is this trip very recent? It sounds like it. What a contrast to the usual depiction of Russia under Putin’s leadership. Ironic isn’t it? We in the West have grown up with the most sophisticated machinery ever for manipulating thoughts and behaviour on a mass scale – I mean of course commercial advertising, and the soft propaganda of the entertainment industries – yet delude ourselves that we are better informed than those poor saps in countries where they have, gulp, propaganda …
Phil, 19th to 25th July this year