Russia: Waiting for the Wheel of History to Turn

Reflections on the First Phase of the Russian Anti-War Movement, from the CrimethInc website.

The first phase of the anti-war movement in Russia is drawing to a close, suppressed chiefly by brute force. In the following collection, we discuss the stakes of these protests, share reflections from Russian anarchists about why the demonstrations hit a wall, and present translations of four articles by Russian anarchist and feminist groups exploring why they oppose the war, what challenges they have encountered, and how they intend to move forward.

Why the Russian Anti-War Movement Remains Our Brightest Hope

The invasion of Ukraine would never have been possible if Putin’s regime had not spent the past decade crushing every social movement in Russia—using torture to extract false confessions from arrestees and poisoning and imprisoning rival politicians. Likewise, Putin’s military interventions in Belarus and Kazakhstan—not to mention Syria—have helped autocrats to maintain control of those countries; Ukraine is the only country in what Putin considers to be his sphere of influence that has escaped his control over the past decade. Some of the anarchists in Ukraine who have chosen to take up arms against the Russian invasion are expatriates from Russia and Belarus who fear they will have nowhere left to run if Putin conquers Ukraine.

Yet we must not fall for a Western narrative that frames this as a showdown between “the free world” and Eastern autocracy. Russia’s militarist imperialism concerns us because the Russian model of repression is a version of the same state strategy that we face elsewhere around the world. Everywhere on earth, governments are relying on more and more repressive and invasive policing to control restless populations. The war in Ukraine is just the latest chapter in a story that has already been playing out in Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and elsewhere. The invasion of Ukraine represents the same strategy that countless governments have employed within their territories, expanded to the scale of geopolitics: the recourse to brute force to suppress resistance and extend control.

War always intensifies nationalism. Just like the civil war in Syria, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a conducive environment for fascists and other nationalists to recruit new adherents and for proponents of militarism to legitimize their projects, from NATO down to local militias. Many Ukrainian fighters have taken to calling Russian soldiers “orcs,” dehumanizing their enemies. The chief fault for this situation may rest with Putin, but it’s going to be everyone’s problem for years to come.

The only way this war could have been averted—and likely the only way it can be stopped now without tremendous loss of life on both sides—would be if a powerful and internationalist anti-war movement broke out in Russia, destabilizing Putin’s government, hopefully followed by something similar in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world. If the war drags on indefinitely, or is concluded—one way or another—by the brute force of nationalist militarism, that will drive people on all sides of the conflict into nationalist and militarist camps for decades to come.

But if the war in Ukraine comes to an end as a result of the rebellion and solidarity of ordinary people, that could set a precedent for more rebellion, more mutiny, more solidarity, and those could spread from Russia to Ukraine, Western Europe, and the United States, and perhaps even to Turkey, China, India, Latin America—everywhere people are forced to contend against each other for the benefit of a few capitalists.

Had we known that so much depended on social movements in Russia, we might have channeled more resources to anarchists there a decade ago, when the crackdowns there began. This underscores a lesson we have learned the hard way over and over, from the movement against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001-2003 to the tragedy on the Maidan in 2014: every battle that we lose in the global struggle for liberation, we are forced to fight again on much worse terms and for much higher stakes.

Currently, the chances of an upheaval in Russia look slim indeed. The vast majority of the population that remains in Russia appears to be patriotic, complacent, or resigned. Worse, as the war in Ukraine progresses, all parties may become so embittered that they cannot imagine anything other than killing and dying for their respective governments. But unless it ends in nuclear annihilation, the war in Ukraine will not be the last war of the 21st century. There may still be time for us to learn from our failures thus far and prepare better for next time, building solidarity across borders and other lines of difference in order to become capable of responding to war with the one force that is powerful enough to put an end to it: revolution.

Arina Vakhrushkina standing on Manezhnaya Square on March 18. Her sign reads “For this poster, I will receive a fine of 50,000 rubles. I am standing here for your future and the future of Ukraine. People, don’t be indifferent! Right now children are dying in Ukraine and Russian mothers are losing their sons. It shouldn’t be like this!” She was arrested immediately afterwards.

The Limits of the Protests—and Their Future

In Russia, the protests against the invasion of Ukraine peaked at the beginning of March. According to OVD-info, on March 6, by 8 pm Moscow time, Russian police had detained over 4419 protesters in 56 cities, including 1667+ in Moscow, 1197+ in St. Petersburg, and 271+ in Novosibirsk. It’s worth remembering that the day of action on March 6 was organized through clandestine and illegal channels, as the legalistic groups had not been able to secure a permit for that weekend and confined themselves to organizing for the subsequent weekend, by which time the course of events was already determined. Over the following weeks, the protests steadily diminished. For now, the window of possibility has closed.

In the course of preparing this text, we communicated with anarchists around Russia about the limits that the anti-war movement reached in its first phase. These are the factors that they believe prevented the protests from going further:

  • The extraordinarily high ratio of risk to gain in participating in the protests. “Gain” would include any changes in the situation influenced by the protests, or a significant success in the clashes with the police. Neither has occurred.
  • The centralization of the protests. People had gotten used to [Alexei] Navalny [a dissident politician, now imprisoned] or his team calling for people to go to the streets. This produced a lack of creativity and independence on the part of the protesters. Now, people are waiting for a new Navalny to appear to rally people to the streets.
  • Many people have seen that even the smallest attempts to protest often end in arrest, and they fear further extra-legal persecution targeting them via their employment, university studies, family life, and the like. People are tired of being arrested and sitting at the station at risk of being tortured, receiving a fine or fifteen days in prison, in return for almost no visible gain.
  • Many people are disappointed in peaceful protest tactics. Some let off steam in chats, where they can write what bothers them and then forget about it.
  • Though we do not blame people for this, we must also take into account that a large number of people left Russia early in the war, either because they faced persecution or because they suspected that there would be no better time to escape. This included a high proportion of people who would otherwise be organizing. Now, due to a lack of long-term structures and confidence that, if they remained, they would have a sufficient number of comrades and opportunities to organize, they are not here.
  • Simple apathy and acceptance of what is going on, inflected to varying extents by fear.
  • Many protesters have been demoralized by the large number of Russian people who support the invasion and by visual dominance of pro-war propaganda in Russian society. For now, unless you really follow all the news and don’t have serious financial issues, it is still possible to tell oneself “everything will be alright, it’s not that bad.” Russian propaganda has served its purpose: many people believe Russia is simply saving Donbas from Nazis.
  • Lacking a concrete strategy. Without concrete goals, the demand to “Stop the war” is pointless. Many people feel that the government won’t ever listen to them, and protests have not radicalized (yet).

Many Russian anarchists believe that the momentum for nationwide mass protests has only temporarily subsided. They expect that, as the economic situation gets worse and more reports of casualties make their way back to Russian families, larger numbers of people will eventually return to the streets, not only to protest against the war but also against the government and the prevailing social order. In the meantime, anarchists who remain in Russia seek to spread proper security practices, re-establish or reinforce support structures for dealing with the consequences of repression, and carry out clandestine outreach and skill sharing in hopes that, when the tide of popular outrage rises again, they will be ready.

The pipeline of repression continues to work, and it may seem that there is no end to it. But glimpses of the dawn of freedom are already visible. The war unleashed by the Russian fascist regime in Ukraine is clearly not going according to the plan of the Botox dictator. Resistance to the occupation regime continues in Belarus. Our imprisoned comrades will be freed if the defeats of Russian imperialism in Ukraine are supported by a popular struggle against the dictatorships of Putin and Lukashenko. Let the wheel of history pick up speed—to the misfortune of tyrants.

Anarchist Militant, “Repression in Belarus and Russia,” March 27, 2022

Source > CrimethInc

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