Stop calling warmongers “anti-war activists”

An open letter to the Stop the War coalition

Dear friends,

This is to ask you to think about your organisation’s alliance with Boris Kagarlitsky, the Russian political commentator who supports war in Ukraine.

In a statement of 19 October, the Stop the War Coalition (STW) described Kagarlitsky as an “anti-war activist” and a “leader and organiser” of anti-government protests. The statement, responding to an inaccurate article in the Sunday Times, acknowledged that organisations Kagarlitsky works for are funded by the Kremlin, and claimed that this amounted to only “one grant for research”.

The statement is wrong. It is full of untruths, half-truths and obfuscations. In reality, (1) Kagarlitsky is not an “anti-war activist”, but a supporter of war in eastern Ukraine. (2) Kagarlitsky has been involved in anti-government protests, but since 2014 has become a collaborator with leading ultra-nationalists and fascists, and is reviled by Russian and Ukrainian anti-war activists for that reason. (3) Kagarlitsky has accepted funds from the Kremlin via various channels since at least 2009, and probably since 2005 – not “one grant for research”, but many grants.

I write as a lifelong participant in the labour movement and, for the last 25 years, a researcher of Russian and Ukrainian history, politics and economy. I have no interest in supporting the Sunday Times and its witch-hunts against Jeremy Corbyn. But witch-hunts have to be fought with the truth, and your organisation is not telling the truth. Here are some details on the three points mentioned.

  1. Kagarlitsky is a supporter of war in eastern Ukraine

When Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, Kagarlitsky claimed that there were “no insidious schemes or imperial ambitions” involved. He denounced those in Russia – such as the Open Left alliance who called the annexation a “classic act of imperialist intervention” by the Russian state – for acting “in the name of the west”.

When the eastern Ukrainian separatists took up arms – the vast majority of which were brought in from Russia – in May 2014, Kagarlitsky unequivocally greeted their military action. The editorial board of Rabkor.ru, a site of which Kagarlitsky is the chief editor, stated that there was “no way towards peace [in eastern Ukraine] other than resistance [to the Kyiv government]. If the Russian government is presently supporting this resistance, then this must be used. Never mind that this support is completely inadequate and not especially genuine”.

This statement, headlined “The emptiness of pacifism”, described the flow of armed volunteers from Russia into eastern Ukraine – most of whom were led by fascists and ultranationalists, or organised by the criminals and thugs who rule the Chechen republic – as “the self-organising movement of solidarity with Novorossia [the Russian nationalists’ name for south-eastern Ukraine] on the territory of Russia”.

Kagarlitsky’s writing style is rambling and convoluted, and it is sometimes hard to tell which side of an argument, if any, he is taking. But his support for military action in south-eastern Ukraine has been unambiguous. His implicit criticism of the Russian government – which has provided diplomatic, financial, material and most likely military support for the separatists – has been for not supporting this action strongly enough.

In January this year, another leading author on Rabkor.ru, Vasily Koltashov, published a key strategic statement that argued: “For Russia’s development, and to raise the living standards of working people, what is needed is not peace with the west, but victory over the west in Eurasia. In Ukraine what we need is not a ceasefire, but the liberation of the country and its unification with Russia [i.e. war].” Kagarlitsky declared publicly that he was in “full agreement” with Koltashov.

Analyses of Kagarlitsky’s pro-war view of Ukraine were published in English in 2014, by the Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Zadyraka here and the Polish writer Marek Zbigniew Kowalewski here.

Do you really think it is OK for the so-called “Stop the War” campaign to work with a commentator who has so clearly supported one side in a military conflict that has visited ruin on working-class communities and claimed more than 9000 lives?

  1. Kagarlitsky collaborates with leading ultra-nationalists and fascists

Kagarlitsky has at least since 2014 collaborated politically with Russian ultra-nationalists and fascists. He participated in a meeting of the “Florian Geyer” club, headed by the rightwing Islamist Geydar Dzhemal and frequented by Russian fascists. He was photographed sharing a meal and drink with Alexei Belyaev-Gintovt, a prominent member of Aleksandr Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement; Yevgeny Zhilin, leader of a far-right militia; and other ultra-nationalist politicians. The Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements (IGSO), headed by Kagarlitsky, co-organised a conference in Crimea in July 2014 with the extreme nationalist “New Rus” organisation (which hypocritically called for “peace” in Ukraine but made no mention of military action by the Russian-supported separatists). Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor.ru web site has regularly featured sympathetic reports of prominent fascists and ultra-right-wing mercenaries active in eastern Ukraine (recent examples here, here and here).

To my mind, Kagarlitsky’s links with people and organisations who support Dugin are truly shocking. Dugin is one of the most prominent advocates of “neo-Eurasianism”, a militarist and fascist-type ideology. (Academic writers on the Russian far right consider him to be fascist, rather than ultranationalist. See here.)

In 2014 Dugin famously called for the south-eastern Ukrainian separatists to “kill, kill and kill” their enemies. Just this month – in an article on one of his English-language web sites that featured Russian fascists doing military training – Dugin reiterated: “War with Ukraine is inevitable, but so far we have done only half of the task. […] We have united with Crimea, we have provided help to Novorossiya, but we didn’t liberate Novorossiya.”

Kagarlitsky also writes on the site, which is full of militaristic imagery, and has commented approvingly about the movement behind Donald Trump there (e.g. “the defeat of financial capital [i.e. Hillary Clinton], no matter who brings it about [in the US election], would open a new era in the development of Western society, inevitably strengthening the working class, and reviving its organizations”, etc).

Kagarlitsky’s dramatic turn to the right is abhored by most Russian anti-fascist, anti-war and socialist activists, and those who worked with him in the past now do not. For example your statement claims that his IGSO institute works most closely with the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (KTR). But friends who are active in the KTR have contacted me to say that there has been little contact since 2007; that from the moment in 2014 that Kagarlitsky declared support for Russia’s activities in eastern Ukraine they have broken off all contact with him; and that neither Kagarlitsky nor any other IGSO participant takes any part in the unions’ activities.

My question to supporters of STW is: it turns my stomach to see someone who claims to be a socialist collaborating with the likes of Dugin. Doesn’t it turn yours?

  1. Kagarlitsky’s organisations have accepted funds from the Kremlin not once, but repeatedly.

Your statement implies that the financial support given by the Russian state to Kagarlitsky’s organisations was a one-off. It was not.

In 2008-09, reports and rumours circulated among left-wing Russians that Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor.ru site was being financed by the Kremlin. A lengthy article by an investigative journalist showed that funding and support for the site was arranged with the help of Vadim Gorshenin, a Kremlin-connected media manager who ran (and still runs) the pro-government Pravda.ru.

I heard about these reports in March 2010. Having been acquainted with Kagarlitsky since 1990, and having in 2009 had contact with him after a long gap, I emailed him to say that “various people, Russians and foreigners who know Russia, have said to me that Rabkor.ru is financed by the Kremlin, that it’s a Surkov project [i.e. inspired by the leading Putin ideologue, then deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov], and so on”. I said that I didn’t believe rumours and wanted to ask him for his comments.

His answer started: “Rabkor is financed from money that IGSO has managed to raised from various grants. We received funds from the Rosa Luxemburg foundation, from the Ebert fund, and also from the Soyuz fund, which is considered to be pro-Kremlin. And in November 2009 we received a grant from the Civic Chamber, which we use to rent an office. We never hid this, and essentially the source of the rumours is speculation about evidence that we ourselves gave completely publicly. We receive the grants for research and publications or seminars based on it, and then we re-distribute the amounts. And a condition for cooperation with any funds, including foreign ones, is non-interference with the political line of IGSO and Rabkor.”

I kept the text of this email exchange (downloadable here). I also replied to Kagarlitsky that I believed that taking funds from such state bodies as the Civic Chamber – set up with the explicit purpose of strengthening government influence over civil society – was extremely problematic. His response, if I remember correctly, was to express disappointment that his organisations had not been better supported by their collaborators in the west, and that it was after all necessary to raise funds from somewhere. I thought that further correspondence was pointless.

The point about this now is that, when STW states that Kagarlitsky’s organisation “has received one grant for research into trade unions from a government body, but is an independent NGO”, this is not true. His organisations received money from the Kremlin since before 2005 (according to Stringer.ru); from some time before 2009 from the Kremlin via the state’s Civic Chamber and the “pro-Kremlin” (Kagarlitsky’s words) Soyuz fund (according to Kagarlitsky’s email to me); and in 2013-14 (according to the STW web site).

My question to STW supporters is: given Kagarlitsky’s support for Russian action in eastern Ukraine, and his closeness to the ultranationalist Dugin do you not think that STW should ask Kagarlitsky to clarify the extent of the Kremlin’s financial support for his projects? And don’t you think that it’s important to tell the truth about these things on the STW web site?

These are not side issues. The question of how the anti-war movement relates to the Russian state, and to the ultranationalists and fascists in its shadow, is central. If it doesn’t get this right, it is not an anti-war movement at all.

If STW supporters or anyone else want to discuss the issues, please email me at simonpirani[at]gmail.com.

Best wishes,

Simon Pirani.

26 October 2016.

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