Inside Russia Today:
An Interview with Vadim Damier
by Wolfgang Haug
This issue of Green Perspectives focuses on recent developments in Russia from the perspective of anarchist Vadim Damier. Since 1987, Damier, who lives in Moscow, has been active in a number of different political tendencies. He presently belongs to the Group of Revolutionary Anarchosyndicalists/Friends of the IWA (International Workingmen’s Association), which is made up partly of members of KAS (Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists) and partly of members of FRAN (Federation of Revolutionary Anarchists).
This interview was conducted in June 1994 near Stuttgart, Germany, by Wolfgang Haug, publisher of the magazine Schwarzer Faden, where it was originally published.1 Translated by Janet Biehl.
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Q: I’d like to ask about your personal political development, since it’s an example of how people living under totalitarian regimes can arrive at oppositional ways of thinking.
Damier: My political career began relatively late, actually, in 1987. Before then, my political positions — which I kept private — could be characterized as radical left, but they weren’t differentiated yet as anarchistic or anything like that. In the Soviet Union, we had no real access to books and articles written by various independent thinkers. Those who wanted to find out about the political ideas of unorthodox theorists could read a book like Critique of Petty Bourgeois Socialism — the book, of course, rejects these ideas. We just ignored all the slanderous parts, and based on what we read, we began to construct our own positions. As a result, our ideas were a hodge-podge — you probably couldn’t call what emerged a clear, substantive position favoring a concrete leftist tendency.
Starting in the Brezhnev era, there were dissidents who were openly active politically, but they remained entirely marginalized. They didn’t have any public outreach — you couldn’t develop a relationship with their groups except through personal contact with a member. I had no personal contact with such people, nor did I know how I could ever get it. Besides, we knew very little about leftist tendencies among dissidents — we heard about dissidents over Western radio, and it sounded as if most of them were bourgeois liberal or even nationalistic, like Solzhenitsyn. Of course, that wasn’t very appealing to leftists. Only later did we learn that there had also been leftist dissident groups, but at the time we heard very little about them, which as a rule obstructed any concrete contact with them.
I belonged to the “kitchen dissidents,” as they were called at the time. “Kitchen dissidents” were people who had a more or less critical mentality, usually members of the intelligentsia. They would gather in the evenings in someone’s kitchen, drink tea or whatever, and discuss the political situation, tell each other anecdotes, and so on. They would make informal contact like this. The kitchen was used as the meeting place because of the housing problem in Moscow, where the apartments are pretty small. The kitchen was practically the only place in an apartment big enough for people to meet. That’s the reason for the name “kitchen dissidents” — it wasn’t a separate political grouping, it referred only to this informal communication. That was the milieu of my own politicization. Later, my family joined me; they already had an oppositional orientation, though not in any unified way.
One further point I have to mention is that my socio-logical work also influenced my political development. I wrote a dissertation on the Green, or rather the alternative, movement in West Germany, and because of that I got access to the special sections of libraries where Western newspapers and books — even by leftists — were collected. I began to study these works systematically. I developed sympathies in 1980 with the Solidarity movement in Poland, for example, and with self-management. . . . Then this interest converged with the issue of ecology. In 1987, as the social movements were surfacing in the Soviet Union, I thought that what I’d learned about the Green movement in the West could become useful in Russia. Ever since 1988 I’ve been active in the ecology movement. I tried to influence the founding of the Green party — I was even a member of the coordinating committee for a while. At the time, we tried to construct the party as a real eco-socialist, eco-anarchist organization for self-management, but we failed.
From the beginning of the 1990s I had more and more to do with the anarchist and anarchosyndicalist movements. In 1989 I joined the KAS (Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists), even though I didn’t agree with all of their ideas, like their notion of market socialism. Instead, I tried to spread the ideas of libertarian communism. In 1991 I cofounded the Revolutionary Anarchist Organization in Russia.
Q: What about the earlier dissident groups? The trade-union-oriented SMOT [the Free Interprofessional Workers’ Union, the only leftist dissident organization in the Soviet Union before perestroika, organized in 1978] became known to us as a leftist group here in what was then West Germany, and it gained a great deal of press attention. Was this group wholly unknown to you?
Damier: It was very little known, and to people who didn’t listen to Western radio broadcasts, it was probably entirely unknown. I was listening to Western radio starting in about 1975, so I knew about it. But efforts like SMOT were always quickly destroyed.
Q: Is there any successor to this group today?
Damier: Yes, SMOT still exists, but most of the people aren’t the same as the ones who started it. From the begin-ning, SMOT was a kind of gathering place for representatives of very different political orientations. It was an oppositional trade-union initiative. It had anarchists, left-socialists and even nationalistic groups. In the earliest phase, social democratic positions were the most widely held, I think. But this first generation was more or less eliminated pretty early on: they were thrown into prisons and mental hospitals. Even Klebanov, one of the founders of the free unions [i.e., unions independent of the Communist Party], had to spend many years in psychiatric treatment — he was freed only at the beginning of perestroika.
What remained was no longer a trade-union initiative but a very small group. At the beginning of perestroika, SMOT was practically refounded. Klebanov tried to revive the free unions, but he had changed his own position. Before, he had considered himself a leftist, a Marxist; now he said his free unions had to adapt to capitalism. But it all remained a pretty limited collection of small organizations in various cities, no more than a hundred people all together. There are some cities, like Minsk, in which SMOT really is a trade union. But then there are other places where SMOT attracts virtually only right-wing people — like Smolensk, where they’re monarchists! That’s a different bag of beans. The information office of SMOT still exists in Moscow — we exchange information with them. They say they’re in-terested in everything from independent trade-union work to syndicalism, and that they’re against the Communist Party, but otherwise they call themselves “apolitical.”
Q: I’d like to ask you about the October 1993 “putsch” [Yeltsin’s attack on the parliamentarians in the Russian parliament building, or “White House”]. The Western press has portrayed President Yeltsin, both before and after, as representing democracy. But after the fight over the White House, after the barricades were taken away, we heard the reaction of the left opposition and learned that for you he represents dictatorship.
Could you explain what caused you to arrive at this conclusion? Which particular steps of his did you criticize? What politics does he stand for, and what do Rutskoi2 et al. stand for? It would be helpful if you could distinguish these positions, since the left opposition is somewhere between these two poles: Yeltsin on the one hand, and Rutskoi, Khasbulatov, and the nationalist groups on the other. What issues do the radical leftists advance?
Damier: It’s been obvious for some time that the so-called liberals of the ruling bureaucracy show authoritarian ten-dencies. It started gradually. Their faction came to power under slogans of democratization, calling for a strengthening of the legislative branch. But once they were in power, they began to build up the executive. In 1993 it was clear to us that the confrontation between two bourgeois models of the state was reaching its climax. One model was parliamentary, by which many moderate leftists wanted to grant priority to the parliament; the other was the one in which all power would derive from the president. The constitution, which Yeltsin and his followers drew up, was clearly tailored for a strong, autocratic president. He can dissolve the parliament, and the government is controlled by the president, not by the parliament — in short, the president makes policy. All that’s left to the parliament is financial matters and confirming individual ministers and the like.
So during this conflict the so-called left-democratic forces, including social democrats, sided with the parliament — not because they wanted to defend the present composition of the parliament but because of the idea of parliamentarism.
As far as the radical leftists were concerned, they saw the conflict a bit differently: their starting point was that a few weeks before the “coup d’état,” Yeltsin had brought his man Yegor Gaidar, the former prime minister and an advocate of “shock therapy,” back into power. [He had left the government for a time — W.H.] He named him vice premier.
At the same time the delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came to Moscow, which makes up the economic background of the conflict. Broader market reforms were then being discussed — especially the contin-uation of the “shock therapy” policy. The Yeltsin camp stood for implementing the IMF plans and, consequently, for shutting down numerous factories, eliminating state subsidies and the like. These factories, after all, did not make a profit from production but depended on the civil service bureaucracy, as well as on the newly emerging commercial bourgeoisie — including the mafia bourgeoisie.
In contradistinction to the Yeltsin camp, the “parlia-mentary faction” represented the interests of the industrial bureaucracy, the top managers who wanted to privatize the factories under the management of the “workforce.” Their (capitalist) views came from their desire to maintain control of the factories, and so they resisted some of the strictures of the IMF. During the October conflict, this camp was sup-ported by the nationalist/fascist and Communist faction, which constituted itself as the “irreconcilable” opposition to Yeltsin and represented the interests of the old bureaucratic stratum, which at the time was being either laid off or discriminated against. It was also generally supported by Russian banking and industrial circles, which feared Western competition.
Before the October events, Yeltsin was clearly taking steps to consolidate his power in order to institute concrete social and economic policies. The radical leftists had been against such policies all along — the whole development seemed to us to be a “Pinochet-ization,” that is, the intro-duction of a dictatorship in order to rapidly convert to a market economy. On the other hand, we were certainly not in favor of the parliament: first, because we are against the prin-ciple of representation as such and, second, because we knew that most of the people who stood behind the parliament belonged to other factions of the same ruling bureaucracy.
Q: Officially, it wasn’t reported in the West that Yeltsin stood unconditionally for the IMF. Here, the main criticism of the parliamentary faction was that the parliament had not been freely elected.
Damier: But it was elected! And the election was, in principle, free — that is, there were many different candidates. Even though it took place in 1990, it was still a multiparty election. The Yeltsinists, of course, said that the parliament wasn’t democratic because it had been elected while the Communist Party still held power. But there were already several parties, and it was this parliament that had chosen Yeltsin to be its speaker. At the time, Yeltsin saw the parliament as good, and until 1991, both factions worked together. Only later was this harmony was disrupted, when the power struggle began — but not because the parliament had made undemocratic and inhumane decisions. . . .
The position of the radical leftists in 1993 was the same as it had been in August 1991 [during the failed coup against Gorbachev]: we didn’t support either side. In both cases we didn’t take part in the barricades but instead distributed pamphlets denouncing the declaration of a state of emergency and opposing militarization, the ban on strikes and the curtailments of freedoms. . . .
There were a few groups of radical leftists who, to some extent, took the side of the parliament. Their reasons were like those of the social democrats, but they also had their own particular reasons. On the evening after Yeltsin expelled the parliament, barricades were constructed around the White House. The people who built them were Trotskyists and a few (I would emphasize this) anarchists, who did it completely spontaneously — that is, no organization made any decision to do it. These particular people just decided to make use of the situation, probably to try to radicalize the people who had gathered around the White House and push them in a certain direction.
It’s clear that the people gathered around the White House weren’t only ultrarightists and nationalists — this fact was determined afterward and was confirmed in interviews with people who had been in front of the White House. There were four types. First the nationalists and ultrarightists, who considered Yeltsin an agent of international Zionism and supported the parliament even though they had difficulties with Khasbulatov, who is Chechen.3 Second were people from former state-Communist groups, who hoped that during the struggle against Yeltsin, the situation could be changed in their favor — that if Yeltsin were toppled, they could bring back the Soviet Union. Third were democrats who had been disappointed since 1990 and 1991 but who still held the same positions — they thought parliamentary institutions had to be protected from the authoritarian tendencies of the executive. And finally, there were those who came simply to protest the existing regime, because that regime promised no future.
The radical leftists had only minimal success in influencing these people, though, partly because there were too few radical leftists there, and in my own opinion, partly because it was useless from the outset. It wasn’t our affair, it wasn’t our struggle. But the main reason was that the ultrarightists soon drove the radical leftists from the area around the White House. There were fights between anarchists and Nazis — the people who support Alexander Barkashov [a prominent anti-Semitic polemicist, organizer of Slavic congresses and leader of the Russian National Unity Group]. One anarchist had to defend himself with a knife, and afterward the Nazis handed him over to the police.
That the Nazis and the police cooperated was clear. They may already have had a relationship, since the Barkashov people from the Russian National Unity Group — who I consider to be the most dangerous ultrarightists in Russia — had somehow been permitted to use police training facilities, and they had rifles from somewhere, nobody knows where. Something similar happened to two anarchists from Belarus, who had come to Moscow in order to understand the situation themselves. They were in the square and began to debate and then got into fights with neo-Nazis, who handed them over to the police as “provocateurs.”
Q: Had there already been clashes between radical leftists and Nazis before this? In a leftist newspaper, I read about a confrontation over literature distribution.
Damier: It’s been going on since the early summer of 1993, when there were clashes between distributors of leftist and Nazi literature. It started when Nazis attacked some people who were selling a Communist newspaper in front of the Lenin Museum. Let me explain this. The Lenin Museum, in the center of Moscow (it’s closed at the moment and is supposed to be changed over into a historical museum), back then still held exhibitions in the Communist style, and the Communists saw it as their natural holy place. The distributors of Nazi literature saw it as a good place to concentrate their propaganda. Before the 1917 revolution, by the way, this building was where the Moscow city parliament met. The Nazis attacked the distributors of the Communist newspaper and claimed the building for themselves.
Later, there were attacks on other people selling radical-left literature. In public the Communist leaders downplayed all this, though, so that the alliance of opposition forces (that is, between Communists and nationalists) would not be disrupted. Trotskyists and anarchists were trying to resist these attacks when a larger clash came in August 1993, and Nazis handed over two radical leftists to the police. While they were in the police station, those arrested saw the Russian flag — with a swastika added — hanging there; one of them was beaten up at the police station. In any case, no legal proceedings were brought against the leftists, since the events of September-October overshadowed everything else.
As far as we’re concerned, I think Nazis have to be fought, probably even physically, but to tell you the truth, we have very little means to do this. Our group is very small and the Nazi groups are pretty big; they’re militarily trained and they have rifles. Some reports say that the Barkashov people have hundreds of trained fighters.
Q: After the confrontation over the White House, in which this Barshakov group functioned more or less as a protective guard [for the parliamentarians], didn’t the government go after them?
Damier: Actually, what happened was that the media gave this group a lot of publicity, in effect creating an image for them. Since then, according to a few more recent reports, this group has grown even larger.
The Barshakov group was one of several militarized groups around the White House, and they organized the guard inside the parliament building. They participated in the storming of the broadcasting station,4 and they drove some of the other oppositional forces out of the parliament building, including a few Communist deputies. They later claimed that two of their own people died during the storming of the White House, but most of the Barkashov people had let themselves out of the building before Yeltsin’s attack, as if they had been tipped off in advance that it was about to happen. There are also hints that their organization, Russian National Unity, played a provocative role in the affair. In one demonstration, for example, a radical leftist asked a policeman who was standing passively nearby, “Do you like the fact that there are swastikas in the center of Moscow?” The policeman pointed in the direction of the Kremlin and said, “All questions must be addressed there.” It shouldn’t be excluded that Yeltsin’s crowd used the ultrarightists as provocateurs. The shootout started with them. . . . Finally, the military assault came from the Yeltsin side — even official television had to admit that.
Officially it was reported that the activities of the Barshakov group were stopped. Barkashov himself went underground. A decree was issued for his arrest — but nobody could find him! This is really very interesting — the powerful police of great Russia could not find and arrest him for three whole months! Later, he explained that he’d been in a dacha near Moscow during this time. In December he was attacked — somebody shot at him from a passing car and wounded him. As a result, his whereabouts became known; he was arrested and brought back to Moscow — taken to a military hospital! There he lay until he was once again healthy, and then he was freed. His group, although they were still not legally permitted to exist, started selling their newspaper, Russian Order, out in the open, and it had an immediate circulation of 340,000 copies. Nobody interfered with this. . . .
Q: In the West, Yeltsin’s opponents are portrayed mainly as a collection of Communists, ultrarightists and nationalists living in the past. But you’ve suggested that they really work together. It would be important to look more closely at this new red-brown solidarity.
Damier: Of course, to people in the West it’s incomprehensible that Stalinist Communists would have anything to do with open neo-Nazis. Certainly in Germany they don’t. But you have to remember that Stalinism has always incorporated ideas of nationalism and Great Russian chauvinism. In Russia, this really isn’t so incomprehensible — Stalinism was in power long enough to carry out its nationalistic content. The Stalinists and nationalists have at least one thing in common: the idea of a state that encompasses the republics of the former USSR, and the so-called patriotism around that idea. For this nationalism, the Communists drew heavily from theories of the national liberation struggles, in which the working class and the national bourgeoisie were allied in the common struggle against imperialism. The Stalinists advanced this policy for countries of the so-called Third World.
It goes back in Germany to the 1920s and 1930s too. In 1923 Karl Radek, who was then the German representative to the Communist International, tried to advance similar ideas, to the point where he practically suggested that the Communists and the working class make an alliance with the right-wing völkisch forces so that they could struggle together against the system established by the Versailles Treaty. To paraphrase, Radek’s argument was: “Germany is subjugated by international imperialism. A national liberation movement must be created.” The Communists would be the best patriots in this regard, Radek thought, since they would be able to protect the country’s national interests better than the bourgeoisie. More or less the same argument resurfaced during the 1930s in documents from the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). There was a KPD program for national and social liberation.
Today, the argument coming from the Russian Stalinists sounds pretty much the same: “Russia is a country that is subjugated by international imperialism/Zionism. Allied with the patriotic forces of the national bourgeoisie we must lead a struggle for national liberation.”
Q: How does this emphasis on Zionism always get into it?
Damier: That goes back to the Stalin era, after the Second World War. In 1953, shortly before Stalin died, there was actually a project to deport all Jews from the European part of Russia to Siberia. After Stalin’s death, fortunately, this didn’t happen. Anti-Zionism was revived in 1967, when the Arab-Israeli war flared up. At that time, Brezhnev took the side of the Arab countries. An intense anti-Zionist campaign broke out in Russia. In nasty caricatures, for example, it was asked why Jewish citizens should be allowed to study in Russian schools, since they were only building up cadres for Israel. Books were published that placed the blame for the medieval pogroms on the Jews themselves — something along these lines: “The Jews were rich, and the struggles weren’t really about racial hatred but were ‘class struggles.’ “
Q: Have the Party versions of history omitted the fact that many Jews played very revolutionary roles in 1917 and afterward?
Damier: Yes, it’s been forgotten in Party history — but not by the nationalists! In Russia today there are certainly some nationalists who don’t mind working alongside Communists. But other nationalists are anti-Communist and want nothing to do with the Communist Party, since the 1917 revolution was a “Jewish conspiracy.” The nationalists who are willing to work with Communists have a tacit understanding not to mention such matters.
Q: Nationalism, as an ideology “beyond parties,” holds together political alliances, and no group seems to be either able or willing to separate itself from it. In the Russian case, the development of a new racism and nationalism are attributed not only to the collapse of the Soviet Union but also to the terrible social and economic conditions there, or at least those conditions have contributed to it. Can you give a few clear-cut conditions that at this moment are shaping life in Russia? I’m thinking of inflation, the discrepancy between prices and wages, the alignment of prices to the Western level.
Damier: The social crisis plays an enormous role in causing the growth of nationalistic opinions. The economic situation is bad, and the social situation is even worse. In principle, however, it’s pretty difficult to compare prices and wages in Russia with those of the West. One must first of all consider what they were like before perestroika. Back then, you couldn’t compare wages and prices at all — even currency exchange rates were arbitrary. But then, those exchange rates weren’t entirely wrong since at least they maintained a balance. Now prices are set, on principle, at the international level, so the tendency is that a few things still cost less than in the West — things like bread and some foodstuffs particular to Russia. But other items, like clothing, imported goods and so on, are priced at the world level.
Wages, however, are much, much lower than at the world level. It’s hard to figure out what the average wage is. The figures the government issues are entirely different from figures the unions give out. But my approximate estimate for Moscow is that a qualified worker on the production line last fall got about 70 rubles; now it could be about 200 rubles.5 People who don’t work in manufacturing or the new commercial sphere get even less — and that includes everyone who works in education, science and medicine.
What makes it even more difficult is that the people who work in manufacturing receive their wages only irregularly. The authorities agree that wages should be raised, but then these wages aren’t paid out for maybe three months. By the time they’re finally paid, inflation has grown, and the wages have lost much of their purchasing power. So one of the main demands during the recent labor conflicts has been that wages be paid regularly.
Q: What’s the outlook concerning unemployment?
Damier: Unemployment is still not very high. That’s probably why our situation still has a degree of internal stability. In spite of all demands for reform, in spite of all the IMF demands, there hasn’t yet been a single bankruptcy of a state industry. But the new government has already announced that unemployment is going to come. And what will happen then? It doesn’t seem likely that there will be unemployment insurance or any other money for the unemployed. Up to now, unemployment money was paid out for a few months after someone lost a job, and after that, no more.
In any case, the state hasn’t got the money to pay insurance to millions of unemployed people. There are no programs. There’s an idiotic television program that depicts the labor office as a place that can help the jobless find new work, industries find new workforces and unemployed people start up their own business. The producers of this program must think that a good way to fight unemployment is to transform people into businessmen. . . .
Q: Let’s go on to another question about nationalism. Is there any kind of a liberal media in Russia that refuses to be tainted by nationalism? Are there any newspapers that at least make a pretense of reporting objectively?
Damier: I have to say, unfortunately, that nationalism is the prevailing consensus in Russia at the moment. Practically all parties have a more or less nationalistic tone in their programs. And I mean all parties — even the extreme market-economy liberals, like the people around Gaidar. They too speak of Greater Russia now, and of the need to defend great-power interests and protect Russian minorities in the other republics. That’s the consensus. And it’s no accident: every state has to have a basic ideological consensus, otherwise it can’t function. If the basic idea isn’t going to be state communism, then it has to be something else — say, bourgeois-democracy or bourgeois-liberalism. But in Russia, the situation is too unstable and too delicate, so some other integrating factor must be found, one that isn’t going to cost anything materially. That leaves only nationalism.
There are still intellectuals and small groups that reject extreme nationalistic ideas. There is still critique, for example, in a few liberal newspapers like Moscow News. But they only critique — they can’t suggest alternatives. Moreover, coming from them, the liberal critique sounds very strange. There’s an organization called the Antifascist Center, for example. It’s a movement that was started up by Yeltsin’s own Democratic Center. You can hear its members criticizing the far right on television and radio. But what they themselves propose as an alternative sounds really terrible: they say that “nationalistic demagoguery” and “class demagoguery” are equivalent, and that both should be banned by the state and prosecuted repressively.
So in our new constitution, there’s a point that says “social and national demagoguery” is to be “forbidden and prosecuted.” “Class struggle” is officially banned. Even a person like Gaidar. Shortly after the December elections, when the Zhirinovsky party got so many votes, Gaidar suddenly was explaining that we have to build an antifascist front. Gaidar — a leading antifascist? A man who makes Pinochet-istic prescriptions himself now wants to be considered an antifascist? Many people would say, “If he’s an antifascist, let’s be fascists.” So Gaidar is actually making propaganda for fascism instead of counterpropaganda.
Q: Has the new constitution, which forbids “social” agitation too, been used against the radical-left press?
Damier: Not yet. One reason would be that most of the radical-left newspapers aren’t officially permitted. These newspapers are published unofficially and only half legally. So it’s very difficult to get them around. At least I haven’t yet heard of any legal proceedings being brought on the grounds of “social demagoguery.” But then, this could also be due to the fact that these days the level of “social struggle” in Russia is very low.
Q: Let’s talk about the different nationalistic groups. Here in the West, criticism of the new nationalism and fears of a nationalistic Russia have mainly been focused on Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Judging from your accounts, it seems that he is only one of many and perhaps not even the most significant.
Damier: As I’ve already mentioned, nationalism is predominant in Russia today. That’s reflected even in the revival of heraldry. Russia has reintroduced its old tsarist coat of arms — and even the double-headed eagle with the crown. We call it the “crowned, broiled Chernobyl chicken.” But to Russia’s neighbors and the national minorities within Russia, this symbol clearly evokes Great Russian chauvinism. The tsarist flag is also valid today. There’s a wide range of extreme-right and openly Nazi groups. A great many of them developed out of the Pamyat6 movement — although the party of Zhirinovsky didn’t.
Zhirinovsky, who even describes himself as “crazy,” is popular — he got twenty-five percent of the vote in December 1993. You could say this was really only a protest vote, and it was. But out of all the possibilities for casting a protest vote, the people still chose him.
All told, however, Zhirinovsky’s party is not a fascist party in the true sense of the word. I doubt that Zhirinovsky himself has any real political convictions. He started out in his political career wanting to write the political program for the Social Democratic Party. Then he founded this “Liberal Democratic Party.” Its first program was oriented toward the market economy. Now he calls for more state intervention, but of course everything is capitalistic, market-oriented. His career doesn’t seem to follow any consistent principle. Besides, he still hasn’t got any storm troopers!
Q: Doesn’t he work with little extreme-right groups for that?
Damier: He’s pretty isolated politically. The Communists and Socialists don’t find him acceptable — after all, he once supported the politics of Yeltsin. He came out in support of that authoritarian constitution, the one that gives more power to the president. It’s even been said that if Zhirinovsky hadn’t supported Yeltsin, Yeltsin never would have gotten his constitution adopted. For this and other, personal reasons — he’s half Jewish — many nationalists don’t accept him either. One right-wing, nationalistic newspaper even wrote that he was a Jewish agent within the patriotic movement.
Q: What are we to make of this? On the one hand, he got twenty-five percent of the vote, which wasn’t only a protest vote but a nationalist vote. On the other hand, few of the nationalists will work with his group. Are you suggesting that these other groups are potentially more successful?
Damier: That’s hard to say. During the last election, many nationalistic organizations weren’t allowed to be on the ballot. Their constituencies boycotted the election, or else they voted for Zhirinovsky or the Communists in spite of everything. As for the attempts to produce a united nationalist-Stalinist opposition, Rutskoi finally initiated this at the end of May, and I think the majority of the nationalistic forces adhered to it. Not all the radical rightists came along, and of course, the boundaries between them are sometimes permeable.
Normally, however, these groups stand on their own and make their own politics entirely. They’re training themselves, getting themselves ready — although no one knows for what or when. But they are strong. Russian National Unity is estimated to have ten thousand men; other far-right entities in other regions are stronger still. It’s a good thing that these groups aren’t unified.
Q: Is there also a so-called “New Right”?
Damier: Russia has become the Mecca of the “New Right.” In Moscow there’s a journal called Elementi that shares the common project of the “New Rightists” in other countries. It publishes the writings, for example, of Alain de Benoist.7 The largest opposition newspaper in Russia, Sabra, is produced by “New Rightists.” Whereas previously the rightists were inflexible and made statements against the youth culture, for instance, and said rock music was Satanism and so on, they’re now trying to establish a “rock resistance,” a purely Russian rock music. They’re advancing the repulsive idea that all oppositionists, all radicals, whether left or right, should work together, since all are against the capitalist system.
Q: Do you have allies with which you can do antifascist work, ones who have earned this name?
Damier: The moderate leftists, the Party of Labor, have made an antifascist effort. They’re oriented toward social democracy. . . . This past spring, this group, some individual social democrats, and a few people from the Communist Party got together to found a League of Internationalists. They can do some things together, at least propaganda, but only in a limited way. They’re oriented toward the state, saying, “Nationalism is bad, patriotism is good.”
Q: You said that you are very few in number. Two years ago, a May 1 demonstration organized by the KAS (Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists) looked much more promising. A few hundred people marched under the black flag through the city, and even Western TV took note of the new anarchists. What’s happened to them?
Damier: At that time, KAS supposedly had about a thousand members. Probably that’s an exaggeration. What happened was that in those days not everyone who called themselves anarchists really were anarchists. It’s a paradox: Normally we’re told that it’s very difficult to be an anarchist in a country with such statist traditions as ours; but then in a crisis situation, when movements emerge and struggle for more freedom, it can go the other way. During those times, many people can find anarchism, or at least antistatism, to be appealing — without entirely sharing the concepts of anarchism. So among these kinds of people there were a few who later became businesspeople and today call themselves anarcho-capitalists.
For young people, that time was the beginning of their political careers. A few started out in KAS and then went into the social-democratic or even bourgeois parties. Some young people went along with anarchism and KAS out of fashion — like the punk movement. It was easy to go along then — there weren’t any membership dues to pay or anything. . . .
Since then the situation has changed. Being an anarchist is riskier, and under such circumstances, only those continue who are able and willing to do systematic work. Now several small groups remain — they quarrel with each other pretty often and often take strange positions. I’m not speaking of the anarcho-capitalists but of the majority of today’s KAS (which in the whole former USSR has only about a hundred members). They’re seeking to achieve a market socialism without a state, in the sense of Proudhon.
Q: Are you saying that they want to bring in the free market economy?
Damier: It looks like it. Every factory would belong to the workers who worked in it. It would belong to them as property — not as an object of their management, but as an object of their profit. What they produce, they are to exchange on the free market — with other factories or with consumers. Everything is to run totally according to the laws of the free market — that is, with prices, profits and so on.
These KAS members call themselves collectivists, but that’s wrong. They understand “collectivism” not as distribution according to the products of the workers’ labor but as collectivism on the basis of shared workforce property. They understand “equality” only as equality of opportunity — that is, in wholly bourgeois terms.
Q: I’d like to come back to the question of ecology, which was also your personal starting point. The concept of “social ecology” comes from Murray Bookchin, which he closely integrates with an ecological society with little or no domination. In Russia, there’s a Social Ecological Union. Does it have anything to do with Bookchin’s ideas, and if not, what’s it all about?
Damier: The Social Ecological Union emerged wholly autonomously. The ecology movement was actually the first and largest social movement to appear in the former Soviet Union, although only a little remains of it now. The SEU is the largest ecological organization that still exists from that time. It still organizes people today, even people who live outside Russia. Its founders, who used and still use the idea of social ecology, had no notion of Bookchin’s ideas. They were pure conservationists. Only over time did they come to understand that you can’t just protect nature, you also have to solve the social problems that lead to the destruction of nature. This last point sounds like Bookchin, but first you have to decide what you mean by social change. German Social Democrats also propose the “ecological reconstruction of society,” but they aren’t social ecologists in Bookchin’s sense either.
In the early days, the Social Ecological Union wanted to be an ecological organization, not a political one. They wanted to influence policies through lobbyists. They didn’t actually do this themselves, though. Many people from the left tried to work with them and push them in a radical-left direction. But they didn’t know anything about Bookchin’s ideas at that time either. Instead, they strongly oriented themselves toward the Green Party in Germany. Only one of those who initiated the SEU, I think, is still active, but he’s very influential — Sergey Fomichov from Nizhni Novgorod. At the moment, he is co-chair of the League of Green Parties, a Green association that we have. He belongs to the activists of a militant ecological organization and he’s publisher of the anarcho-ecological newspaper Third Way. The League of Green Parties and the Party of the Greens, however, have both clearly become our local realos.
The first person in the Green milieu to make himself familiar with Bookchin’s ideas was actually me. I read his writings in German, then summarized and translated articles written by him that later became familiar in the Social Ecological Union. Since the end of last year they’ve aroused more and more interest, because the SEU has had enough of traditional “politics.” Yeltsin had an ecological adviser who worked with older members of the SEU. In the fall of 1993, during the election, they tried to organize an ecological list with the Party of the Greens (the farther to the right of the two parties), but this effort failed. Afterward, the SEU concluded that the Party of the Greens had brought them too much into politics, so at present they’re opposed to becoming politicized in the sense of “participation in power.” The more the SEU comes into contact with Western environmentalists, the more it discusses alternative theories.
In March 1994, the eco-anarchists held a discussion conference with the SEU, and they drew up a declaration of principles for an alternative society. The draft called for the creation of a federation of parks for the protection of nature, alternative factories that operate along ecological principles and communes. Social experiments and ecological experiments would be brought together, on condition that they involve “no destruction of nature.” This formulation was acceptable both to the eco-anarchist participants and to the representatives of the SEU.
As for the base of the Social Ecological Union, it’s hard to determine what their influence is, since the membership is so varied. You can scarcely develop a united strategy there. There are members who are Cossacks, whose orientation is nationalistic and right-wing, and there are radical conservationists, who want nothing to do with politics at all.
The SEU has been working closely with an American environmental group [the National Toxics Campaign Fund], which has given them computer technology, modems and so on, so that now the magazine Third Way can be more widely distributed.
Q: Can you say something about the praxis of the Social Ecological Union or the ecology movement as such?
Damier: Unfortunately, things have changed a great deal here, too. Previously, ecological actions were massive. One of the goals of the radical ecology movement was to include the population of each place in their action. But now what happens is that activists from different cities come to a place and hold their action or protest day; the population supports them only passively, and then the activists go away. That’s not so good, of course, because it precludes the development of consciousness, which must be an essential goal of such actions. Also, if the local population doesn’t actively support the action, then the question arises of whether the activists are behaving responsibly.
Q: In closing, I’d like to ask what message you consider most important to convey to Western radical leftist.
Damier: It’s important for people in the West to understand the real situation in Russia, because very little is understood now. In Russia, nothing has actually changed in the constella-tion of forces. The old ruling class has, for all intents and purposes, remained in power — that’s very important. I don’t know whether that’s true in the other countries of the old East Bloc, but it’s true with us. The bureaucracy has merely changed its face. The bureaucracy can make an alliance with speculative capitalists and mafia capitalists. The methods of exploitation may change, the methods of profit maximization may change, but the old class remains. Right now there’s no question of a real democratization among us, or of a real development toward freedom. Neither of the parties that are struggling for power now should be supported. What really must be done is to construct a radical-left initiative toward freedom. ¤
1 Address: Trotzdem Verlag, Postfach 1159, D-71117 Grafenau, Federal Republic of Germany.
2 Alexander Rutskoi, former Afghan war hero, was Yeltsin’s vice-president before September 1993. Along with Ruslan Khasbulatov, speaker of the parliament, he led the Communist, nationalist and other parliamentary deputies who opposed Yeltsin in the summer and fall of 1993. From September 21 to October 4, fifteen hundred deputies holed up in the White House and refused to leave; they claimed to elevate Rutskoi to the presidency instead of Yeltsin. On October 4, at the climax of the two-week confrontation, Yeltsin’s government troops fired machine guns and government tanks fired 125-millimeter shells into the seventeen-story White House. In two days of fighting, 193 people died and 600 were wounded. Rutskoi, Khasbulatov and other deputies filed out of the building and were arrested. The two leaders were convicted and imprisoned, but in the spring of 1994 Rutskoi was amnestied. — trans.
3 A Chechen is a person from Chechnya, a region in the Caucasus Mountains on the border with Georgia that announced its secession from Russia in 1991. Khasbulatov is thus not an ethnic Russian. — trans.
4 On October 3, the day before the storming of the White House, Rutskoi urged a crowd of ten thousand supporters around the White House to continue the struggle against Yeltsin’s government by seizing the mayor’s office and the Ostankino broadcasting center, which is the national media center and the government’s link to the rest of the country. Two thousand armed protesters seized the media center with rocket-propelled grenades and temporarily knocked programming off the air, forcing government spokespeople like Gaidar to appeal for help over a makeshift radio. A hundred elite government soldiers armed with machine guns took the media center back; twenty-one died in the battle. — trans.
5 As of mid-October 1993, when the ruble’s value fell precipitously, the exchange rate is 3,000 rubles to the dollar. — trans.
6 Pamyat (“Memory”) was the major Russian far-right group in the 1980s, when it had the extreme right end of the political spectrum mostly to itself. Notable for its anti-Jewish campaigns and patriotic cultural events, it blames a conspiracy of Jews and Masons for Russia’s social and moral decay, crime, weakened family ties and alcoholism. In 1989-90 it shifted its political loyalty from the Communist Party to monarchism and the Russian Orthodox Church — but its anti-Semitism remained firm. — trans.
7 The leading thinker of the French Nouvelle Droite. See Wolfgang Haug, “Pogroms Begin in the Mind,” Green Perspectives 26. — trans.