Goodbye, “Russian Romance!”: an Interview with Kavita Krishnan. Part 1

Kavita Krishnan, Indian feminist activist, Marxist and editor, explains to Posle why international emancipatory movements should stand with Ukraine, why supporting Putin benefits the global far right, and how to challenge the geopolitical approach to the leftist politics.


Source > Posle

— You stepped down from the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation (CPIML) because of its stance on the war in Ukraine. What are the differences in your perceptions? Why did it happen at this precise moment, not earlier?

— I had been uneasy with the CPIML’s position on various international conflicts for years. I realized that what we wrote about the war in Syria was focused on the possibility of US intervention. There was very little acknowledgement of repressions conducted by the Assad government and, later, the military intervention of Russia, its actual scale and impact. I have to confess I came to this realization gradually, because initially, I was sharing this attitude. When you read leftist websites worldwide and articles by people you have always respected, you think they must have done their homework. It took me some time to realize that something was wrong with the picture. I have to thank people from Syria in the UK, who found a way to put their positions out on the internet and say that coalitions like “Stop the war” are simply not allowing Syrian antiwar voices onto their platforms. That was a turning point, and since then, I have been extra alert in this kind of matter. 

Before the war in Ukraine, I had already been reading some books on the history of Ukraine. Of course, I should have started much earlier. I read about the period under Stalin’s rule and what it meant for different nationalities, especially peasants, since the national question was particularly acute in the agrarian regions. When the war in Ukraine was about to start, the CPIML brought out a statement, which I helped to edit. I said that we needed to clearly state that the Russian troops should return to the [pre-war] border, and my comrades agreed. However, during informal conversations, they admitted they believed that this situation was just American war-mongering, and that Russia was not going to invade Ukraine. I remember saying it had already invaded Ukraine in 2014, “what makes you think it won’t do it now, as Putin keeps denying Ukraine’s right to exist?” The answer was that it was just rhetoric, and the real problem was that NATO surrounds Russia, and Putin had to use this kind of rhetorical escalation because he was worried Ukraine might join NATO. The following day Russia invaded Ukraine. I immediately called my comrades, and we brought out another statement, on one hand condemning the invasion and Putin’s assertion that Lenin created Ukraine, and on the other hand explaining the role of NATO. 

This war is a question of life and death for Ukraine, and if it stops fighting, it will cease to exist as a country and as people

I also suggested a protest against the invasion of Ukraine, and the party organized protests in different parts of India. We were the only ones to do that. The slogans condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the USA’s, and NATO’s involvement. Still, I thought the situation was salvageable, because people needed more time to learn the facts they might have missed. The thing that gave me hope was that the CPIML’s position had always been different from the Communist Party (CPI) and Communist Party (Marxist) (CPIM). These are two major left parties that have been a part of the central government and currently hold power in Kerala. Their position is openly pro-Russian, and they don’t even use the word “invasion”. They don’t even say that this is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and Ukraine is barely even mentioned. They view this conflict as if it is between Russia and NATO. For a long time, they have seen Russia and China as challengers of US hegemony, so they have sided with them. The CPIML is different, so I thought this was a matter of knowing more. 

However, then I realized that there was tremendous resistance to the facts. For instance, this year there was an editorial in our weekly magazine that I strenuously objected to. According to it, Putin invaded Ukrainian territories after an elected president was “toppled”, a word that reminded me of a US-backed coup. There is no way we would say something like that about what happened in Sri Lanka recently. That was a people’s uprising against a corrupt president. The editorial also said in 2014 there was a disproportionate presence of nazis in the Maidan movement. Of course, every European country has the far right, fair enough. However, saying Maidan was fascist is false, because it started with a Muslim journalist of Afghan origin, who posted a call to come out to the streets on Facebook, and he did that in Russian. And then I met with the seniors of the party, and they told me there was no way to know the facts about 2014: “All the websites we trust say this.” I suggested we should read Ukrainian accounts, and if you don’t trust just any of them, read what Ukrainian leftists have to say. I kept trying to send them what Ukrainian leftists wrote, for example, the open letters to Chomsky explaining what he got wrong. For six months, I was struggling.

— So it means that the party was not responsive to your concerns?

— Because of my intervention, the CPIML adjusted its position. I wrote an article about Putin’s fascist project represented by [Aleksandr] Dugin, and how the invasion of Ukraine fits into it. The article was published in Liberation (CPIML’s magazine), but it wasn’t endorsed as the party’s position. Several seniors admitted that Putin and Dugin are fascists. CPIML’s position now is that “we don’t blame NATO for the invasion, and we hope that Ukraine will succeed in defending its sovereignty”. But they still insisted that the party could not support Ukraine like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, because the balance of power is entirely different, and Ukraine has all the Western countries on its side. They wanted to remind people that the USA was benefiting the most from this war, while Ukraine and Russia were bleeding. To this, I said: “Of course, Russian soldiers are bleeding, and the country is suffering, but that is because the Russian regime is invading, and it can stop bleeding at any moment.” One can not equate Russia and Ukraine. This war is a question of life and death for Ukraine, and if it stops fighting, it will cease to exist as a country and as people. It will be genocide. How can one imply that Ukrainians don’t have a right to take arms from NATO and the USA? They have a right to demand arms. There was also this thought that there was so much sympathy for Ukraine [but not Iraq or Syria] due to racism. Well, yes, and we should have said that Syrian people also deserved the arms, and supported them. Moreover, Ukrainians still face racism in Europe despite being white.

The colonial character of Russia’s relationship with Ukraine and Stalin’s remarkable contribution to industrialization could not have happened without the expropriation of grain and other resources from Ukraine and other colonies

There was also little analysis of Putin’s speeches and what he meant by this invasion. The part about Lenin, the party was happy to analyze, but not other significant parts. Every line is worth examining, to understand his vision of the world and what he says to like-minded leaders and regimes worldwide. 

The party also felt very uneasy about me referencing Stalin, genocide, Holodomor, and mass killings. They say they are a party critical of Stalin, but they agree that 70% of his doings were good. Even if one could say that 30 years ago, it is no longer acceptable, because there is an immense amount of archival material and studies. I explained the colonial character of Russia’s relationship with Ukraine and Stalin’s remarkable contribution to industrialization could not have happened without the expropriation of grain and other resources from Ukraine and other colonies. They were not ready to accept that, and promised to look into it at some point, but claimed that there is a national priority to fight Modi’s regime. “Why are you obsessed with Ukraine and Stalin? You are losing focus on the present moment.” I disagreed. I am concerned about fighting fascism. Still, I feel that while they see that Modi is close to Trump, they don’t see the relationship between Trump and Putin, which is a material relationship, not only ideological. 

I said that we need to dig deeper into the shadowy relationships the fascists have. Russia is developing relations with China and Israel, while India is also getting closer with the Chinese. Officially there is a conflict between Modi’s party and China; there is a lot of anti-Chinese rhetoric. The USA indeed hopes to use India to contain China. The CPIML criticizes China in a very fraternal way as if it is a socialist regime gone off its track. The regime, however, is not concerned with any communist positions; it is authoritarian. In that sense, Modi has taken a lot of cues from China, Xi Jinping’s regime in particular, and reproduced many similar practices in India, including surveillance technology deployed against Muslim minorities. My comrades didn’t understand that point, saying I was just dragging everything into the argument. They forbid me to write anything on these issues publicly. This is how it came to the breaking point.

Even though the CPIML supported Ukraine in their statement, they undermined their stand by adopting the arguments used by Putin’s propaganda. They also keep calling for negotiations to end this war: if more autonomy is given to the Russian-speaking regions, Putin will back off. However, Putin has declared those regions are now a part of Russia. How can one just accept that? The fascist can do whatever he pleases, and everyone is OK with it? What kind of negotiations are these? I don’t remember any negotiations with George Bush when he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. When the USA invades another country, we go into every element of their propaganda exposing racist and islamophobic dog-whistles. In 2003, I was an editor of the Liberation magazine, and there was no problem with this national priority back then. Now Putin is threatening Ukraine with a nuclear attack, killing civilians, and somehow we are all silent about this and his ideology’s danger. He cites actual fascist authors like Ivan Ilyin. This bothered me a lot; it is unacceptable. 

— You said that supporting Putin plays in the hands of Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Why is it so?

— While fighting Modi’s regime, if we don’t get the international relations right, if we keep acting as if the world is the same as it was 20 years ago, we will make a big mistake affecting national struggles. It’s clear that Modi cultivates relationships with the USA and vice versa. There are all kinds of dubious interests involved here, those of American imperialism, those of Modi’s supremacy. The better sections of the Indian left who are not Putin’s fans, like the CPIML, think that Modi cultivates relationships with Russia and China just to have more bargaining power with the USA. However, they ignore facts like Putin’s recent speech about annexing Ukraine’s territories. He sees multipolarity as a way to strengthen his sovereignty against the USA’s unipolarity and imperialism. At the same time, he said that inside Europe and the USA, many like-minded people are fighting in an anti-colonial movement against unipolar hegemony. You must look at this carefully and read between the lines.

Now Putin is threatening Ukraine with a nuclear attack, killing civilians, and somehow we are all silent about this and his ideology’s danger

Putin says that in countries where multiculturalism is taken for granted, people are fighting for a white supremacist version of these countries. One has to make the connection between his words and the words of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen… When he talks about multipolarity, he says that most countries want to be free from Western human rights standards. Suppose you say one can’t invade a country, massacre civilians, or put minorities into concentration camps (like in China). In that case [according to Putin’s argument], you impose a Western hegemonic worldview on most countries. In a joint statement of February 4, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin said there is no “one size fits all” template in establishing democracy, and each country is free to interpret democracy in its terms. Democracy and human rights are not universal values, so they assert their right to interpret them through the prism of their countries’ histories. So as long as you claim that you have popular support, whatever you do should be considered democratic, and there is no need to adhere to international standards.

We can compare these statements to those of Modi’s government, for example, Amit Shah’s [Minister of Home Affairs, former President of BJP], who is Modi’s right hand and was accused of custodial killings and other things. He says that Western standards do not apply to India; human rights must have an Indian outlook. So they share this idea that the countries that are historical civilizational empires need reordering of the world so that they can have control and rule the way they like. When one talks against human rights violations in India, custodian violence, and the maltreatment of national minorities in Kashmir or the North East, it is immediately said that this person is an agent of the West. This is why human rights defenders have been arrested in India under antiterrorism laws and imprisoned indefinitely. 

There is also an ideological relationship between Dugin and Indian fascists. Dugin has visited India many times. Dugin’s publisher Arktos Media has also published Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya, who claims to be a Hindu godman. That guy writes that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to which the prime minister belongs, needs to be further to the right than they already are. He wrote The Dharma Manifesto, and “dharma” is a word that has been cheated in meaning to have a Hindu supremacist connotation. In the first sentence, he calls to annihilate various people based on identity and ideology. 

When one talks against human rights violations in India, custodian violence, and the maltreatment of national minorities in Kashmir <…>, it is immediately said that this person is an agent of the West

In 2012, even before Modi came to power, Dugin visited Delhi. He said we must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things that is based on human rights, anti-hierarchy, and political correctness (in India this means any opposition to the caste system). These are, as he says, the face of the beast, the Antichrist, or the Kali Yuga. The latter in mythology is an imagined era in which all hierarchies will be turned upside down. The Kali Yuga is described in the Mahabharata as a situation when the castes that should be ruling become servile castes and vice versa. You can compare this to Putin’s saying that Western liberals and Ukrainians are Satanists because they support LGBTQ+ rights. This talk is fascist. 

In another quotation, from 2019, after Modi’s second victory, Dugin says: “In the last couple of decades, we observed a spectacular growth around the question of identity, with insistent claims of restoring Indian cultural, religious and geopolitical greatness. This translated into the electoral success of Narendra Modi.” He keeps referencing Indian identity, by which he means Hindu suprematist identity: “The spectacularly growing Indian identity, based on a system of values, is totally incompatible with western liberalism <…> The multipolar world order, based on the principle of plurality of civilizations against the false pretensions of so-called ‘universality’ of ‘western values’ and ‘inevitability’ of the western way of progress and development, fits much better the Indian view of a rebirth of the country on the foundations of tradition. <…> Multipolarity thus advocates a return to the civilizational foundations of each non-western civilization…and rejection of liberal democracy and human rights ideology.” This is an article written about Modi. My question is: Why would you turn your head to this? The Indian left had no problem realizing that the [Norwegian] terrorist Breivik was linked to Hindu supremacism, so why is that difficult to see that Dugin, Putin, Modi, Bolsanaro, and others use the same language? Modi has repeatedly said that human rights are a Western idea; in traditional Indian culture, the meaning of human rights is supposedly different. 

This is a mistake: to ignore the whole meaning of Modi’s abstaining from resolutions [at the UN], not only on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but also on China’s violation of the rights of the Uyghurs. He is doing that because he wants to do the same thing to Muslims in India, making the same argument China makes. He knows that China funds Myanmar’s genocidal military regime, and he feels comfortable with all of that. The ability to hold two ideas in your head simultaneously is essential, so you should try to understand that while the Modi regime has common interests with the USA, it also has common interests with global fascists.

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