Listen to the Episode — 105 min
Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Ex-Worker! This is our third episode offering an anarchist perspective on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and this one is also packed full of updates and analysis from a wide range of sources. While the previous two focused more on the situation in Ukraine, with a few statements from Russian anarchists opposing the war, in this episode we’ll focus in on the anti-war movement in Russia, anarchist participation in it and analyses of it, and how it can inform us elsewhere in the world in our solidarity efforts.
We’ll kick things off with an inspiring call to action for the March 6th day of demonstrations against the war; afterwards, we learned that protests took place in at least 56 cities across Russia, and over 4000 protesters were arrested over the course of the day. We’ll share a report from an anarchist collective on some of the militant direct actions that have taken place alongside the peaceful protests across the country. Next is a moving first-person reflection from a long-time anarchist in provincial Russia assessing how things have changed for anarchists over the years and what directions the movement should aim to go during this moment of crisis and possibility. Following that, we’ve got a translation of a podcast by Autonomous Action, strategically assessing the political prospects for Putin and the opposition by looking at the war over information, the international situation, and the motivations driving different groups to support or oppose the war. Next, we’ve got a live interview from an independent journalist who offers another take on the scene in Russia. He weighs in on the nature of the protests, police responses, migration and diaspora, censorship, the role of NATO, and lessons to learn from the invasion and the protest movement.
All of these materials focus on documenting and analyzing the anti-war resistance in Russia. To close out the episode, though, we’ll take the analysis in another direction with a fascinating piece written by a collective of Syria refugees. It discusses the lessons that international supporters can learn from their experiences in the Syrian revolution and civil war that can inform how we relate to the invasion of Ukraine. It echoes some of the perspectives we’ve share in the previous two episodes, but develops them from a distinct angle, with the passion and insight that comes from having confronted war, displacement, and revolutionary possibilities in quite different but very relevant circumstances.
As in our previous episodes, you’ll find a fair bit of variety and even disagreement in the perspectives expressed here. Some are surprisingly optimistic, others more pessimistic; there’s no clear consensus on the path forward or the most effective tactics to use. There’s no question that the situation is grim, of course for Ukrainians attempting to flee or to survive in a war zone, but also for Russians attempting to resist the war-making regime on the homefront. But there are a lot of stories of determined resistance that have made it through the Russian state’s efforts to clamp down on any hint of dissent. We’re inspired by them, and we want to amplify them as best as we can.
If there’s one theme that resonates through all of these accounts, it’s a very basic anarchist one: that representation is bullshit. The Russian state doesn’t speak for all the people it claims to rule; neither does the Ukrainian one, of course. This is true in military as well as political terms; just because some leftists support the Russian military and some fascists support the Ukrainian forces, that doesn’t tell us much about the overall character or goals of those forces. More importantly, no single force defines the potential of what these struggles could become. The point isn’t to identify two sides and pick one; the point is to identify the currents underneath states and militaries, full of people fighting for a different vision, a grassroots, horizontal vision of freedom that transcends borders and nationalities. This is what we’re trying to identify and support. As our Syrian refugee comrades call it, this is an “internationalism from below” that challenges all governments, armies, and borders, while recognizing that no struggle is pure. By listening to this episode, absorbing these perspectives, and helping to amplify these voices, you are a part of this current, too. There is no authority that’s going to create an internationalism from below for us; we’ve got to do it ourselves. It’s not going to be easy. But as some Black anarchists have taught us, the only way to freedom is through freedom. So let’s do everything we can to build towards that world in our solidarity with far-off struggles and in our daily lives here and now, wherever you are.
So on that note, let’s get to it. We’ll kick things off with a recording we found of a group of young Russian protesters, arrested and on their way to jail, singing the back of a police van. May we all have this kind of courage and grace in the struggles ahead.
PROTESTER’S SONG FROM A RUSSIAN POLICE VAN
You can listen to the song here.
SPRING IS COMING: MARCH 6TH CALL TO ACTION
Spring Is Coming: Take to the Streets against the War A Call from Russia for Demonstrations against the Invasion of Ukraine
The following call to action originally appeared in Russian on avtonom.org, the platform that emerged from the Russia-wide anarchist network Autonomous Action. CrimethInc. published an English translation on March 4th.
Our Russian colleagues report that, under a new law introduced this week, those who are found guilty of spreading misinformation about the invasion of Ukraine can be sentenced to years in prison. This apparently includes those who simply refer to the invasion as a “war,” rather than a “special operation,” as Putin’s government has insisted on doing. In this context, demonstrators show tremendous courage taking to the streets.
We’ll hear more shortly about how what happened on March 6th, but we wanted to share this call as well, to give a sense of how Russian anarchists are mobilizing people to take part in resistance to the war and the Putin regime. Despite the bloodshed and the severe repression, there is a determination, even hopefulness, that we find inspiring. Let’s hear what they have to say.
Spring Is Coming: Take to the Streets against the War
The Russian army has invaded Ukraine. Putin has lost his senses and his army is bombing cities, shooting civilians, and killing children. More than one million people have fled the country in order to escape from Putin’s “liberators.”
We refuse to submit to Russian military censorship. We say openly and clearly: this is war. This is a war of conquest and the Russian army is running it. With weapons in their hands, Ukrainians are successfully defending themselves from the invaders, but we, who are inside Russia, cannot stand aside from these events. We must show each other and the world that we are against this war, that only Putin and his gang need it. To be against the war is genuine anti-fascism right now.
March 6, this coming Sunday, is the general day of anti-war actions in Russia. Take the central square of your city! Decide and organize for yourselves, team up with your friends. The main thing is to get out on the streets.
The Russian authorities are panicking now. They have realized that they are losing this war. That is why they hysterically threaten anti-war protesters—with expulsion, or with dismissal, or with immediate conscription into the army, or with jail. Don’t be afraid of them. Ukrainians in their cities go out into the streets with bare hands to protest against the invaders. They are standing against solders with riffles, against tanks. How can one be afraid of the rusty machinery of the Russian police?
We demand an immediate end to the war. We demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. This is the main condition for any further action: the aggression of the Russian Federation must stop. We must stop the slaughter of people. Yes, Putin didn’t ask us when he planned the invasion—but we didn’t stop him in time. So it is important to do it at least now.
Of course, our main goal now is to stop the war in Ukraine. But we have to fight for the future of Russia, as well. There isn’t much time left for this deranged dictator. His small victorious war didn’t go according to the plan and now his removal is only a matter of time and concrete means. But what happens next, after Putin?
The lands of the “Russian Federation” are now at a historical crossroads. The collapse of Putin’s regime may trigger the process of liberation. Sure, they won’t lead to anarchist ideals immediately—but at least Russia will no longer be at war with the rest of the world and with its own population. In this wave of changes, there will be opportunities for serious changes in the political system towards greater decentralization—for example, the complete abolition of the presidency and the transition to a parliamentary republic, which we have been talking about for a long time.
However, there’s another possibility for “what comes next” after Putin: the regime transforming into a pupal stage, into an even more authoritarian regime—the complete closure of all borders and the cessation of international contacts. Blocking half of the Internet in Russia tonight is only the first sign. There will no longer be any forces left for aggressive wars, but this will not make it easier for the inhabitants: they will find themselves in a state reminiscent of North Korea. And there is absolutely no anarchist movement in North Korea. None.
Now, in the coming days and weeks, we all have a unique window of opportunity. Putin’s authoritarian regime has made a fatal mistake and is reeling. If the psychopath in the Kremlin does not press the nuclear button, he will not live long. And now everything depends on us, the inhabitants of Russia. If we remain silent, then the agenda will quickly be hijacked by isolationists and conservatives, who are in the majority in the upper levels of power. But if we are active, we will win. A rusted leviathan needs only to be pushed and it will crumble into dust.
Take the streets on March 6. If you can’t go out on March 6, go out on other days. If you can’t go out at all, protest against the war in other ways: distribute leaflets and posters, stick up stickers, write “no war” on medical masks, hang posters from balconies. Finally, talk to people. This is now more important than studies, more important than work, more important than anything else in the world. Now the fate of not only Ukraine, but also Russia is being decided. Our future is being determined—and only we will be responsible for what it will be.
Winter is ending. Spring is coming.
ANARCHIST FIGHTER ON RADICAL ANTI-WAR ACTIONS
On March 5th, the collective “Anarchist Fighter” or “Anarchist Militant” released a short roundup of news about radical actions that took place in Russia over the preceding week. We’ve heard plenty of accounts of peaceful protesters herded off to jail merely for holding signs - and indeed we applaud their courage. But there’s another, spikier side to the anti-war resistance that’s equally important to convey. Radical Russians aren’t passive, and they aren’t just victims; they are taking active, militant action against the state and its capacity to make war and repress dissent. Let’s hear about some of the courageous direct actions that have taken place since the war began.
In recent days, there have been several attacks against the state. All or most of them are clearly spontaneous. But this radical element is an excellent environment for the activities of more trained fighters. Below is a brief summary.
During an anti-war rally on February 28, a car with the inscriptions “People, get up” and “This is war” rammed a police cordon on Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow. After the collision, the car caught fire, which suggests the presence of flammable substances inside the vehicle. The car was quickly surrounded by snowplows. The driver has been arrested, but the name is not yet known. In general, the security forces are clearly hiding information about this incident; only fragmentary details have become public. For example, on YouTube you can find a short video clip.
On the night of March 1, four young people tried to set fire to a police station in Smolensk. One hammer was thrown, a fire broke out. Unfortunately, the daredevils were detained. The official media are cautious about the political nature of the attack. According to them, the reason for the arson was “the increased destructive impact of Ukrainian intelligence on the Russian information space.” In the published video, the detainees give the necessary confessions to the security forces. The torture methods of obtaining such testimony are well known.
According to the Black Book of Capitalism, on the night of March 2-3 in Voronezh, an unknown person threw a Molotov cocktail into the military registration and enlistment office building. The security forces failed to detain anyone. We wish the partisan strength and good luck in new good undertakings.
Also, according to the Cheka, a 36-year-old man was arrested in Moscow, who threw two Molotovs towards the Kremlin wall and scattered anti-war leaflets. Now he is arrested under article 213 “hooliganism.” The name of this brave man is still unknown.
In St. Petersburg, 24-year-old bartender Zakhar Tatuiko was arrested. According to investigators, at an anti-war rally, he sprayed pepper spray in the face of garbage [“мусор,” the Russian word for trash, is also—understandably—a colloquial expression for “police officer”], and not an ordinary one, but the commander of a special regiment. We do not know whether Zakhar committed the act he is accused of, but the act itself certainly deserves admiration.
It should be noted that the controlled media are reluctant to report information about radical anti-state actions. The authorities quite rightly fear that the example will become contagious. It is possible that in fact there have been more attacks in recent days, we simply do not know about some.
May the spirit of the young hero Mikhail Zhlobitsky spread across the country. [Mikhail Zhlobitsky was a 17-year-old anarchist who died in an attack on the Arkhangelsk headquarters of the FSB, the Russian secret police who are widely known for torturing anarchists.] Today, all the security forces have become participants and accomplices of the fascist intervention, stranglers of freedom not only in our country, but also in a neighboring country. They must be treated accordingly. Join the resistance, organize it where organizational strength is needed. Take action.
As we go to press, we’ve got two more updates to share about creative resistance to the war machine in Russia.
First, an excerpt from a call for an Educational Strike on March 9-12: “Books Not Bombs.”
Demonstration is a well-known method of peaceful protest, often used by the student movement. However, as we saw on March 6, the authorities are in no hurry to listen to their own citizens when they take to the streets demanding to stop the bloodshed on the territory of Ukraine. Instead, we are driven around the squares and tortured in the police department. Therefore, we propose to recall another way of peaceful protest: a strike. By joining existing initiatives, we offer the kind of strike that we think best suits the university. From March 9 to March 12, we call on Russian students to release the curriculum and transfer it to self-government. The university exists not for administration or teachers, but for students. We suggest that we remind ourselves of this and, as an expression of our citizenship, take training into our own hands and focus it on resisting war… Knowledge does not recognize boundaries drawn because of one’s political ambitions… We are the future of the country and the world, the university exists for us. The university is not a barracks. We want to learn, not fight. #books_instead_of_bombs
Second: in Lukhovitsy near Moscow, a military registration and enlistment office was burned. An unknown guerrilla released a video and a statement. The attack is directed against Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. We welcome the sabotage of the war machine of the aggressors. We call on all awakened residents of Russia and Belarus to follow the example of a brave saboteur near Moscow.
An anonymous source reports: “The other day, I set fire to the military registration and enlistment office in the city of Lukhovitsy, Moscow Region, and filmed it on gopro. He painted the gate in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and wrote: “I will not go to kill my brothers!” After which he climbed over the fence, doused the facade with gasoline, broke the windows and sent Molotov cocktails into them. The goal was to destroy the archive with the personal files of recruits, it is located in this part. This should prevent mobilization in the district. I hope that I will not see my classmates in captivity or lists of the dead.
I think it needs to be expanded. Ukrainians will know that in Russia they are fighting for them, not everyone is afraid and not everyone is indifferent. Our protesters need to be inspired and act more decisively. And this should further break the spirit of the Russian army and government. Let these motherfuckers know that their own people hate them and will extinguish them. The earth will soon begin to burn under their feet, hell awaits at home too.”
MY DAYS IN RUSSIA
In this account, published by CrimethInc. on March 5th, a Russian protester describes the challenges that Russians are facing as they attempt to mobilize against the war under extremely repressive conditions. They reflect on how the situation for anarchists has changed over the years and the growing prospects for cooperation and revolutionary solidarity against war and dictatorship.
My days in Russia are tense.
Don’t get me wrong, the bombs aren’t falling on our heads. Yet we are watching bombs fall on people in Ukraine. My family repeat after the Russian TV: “Zelensky is hiding military in civilian urban areas—so they have to bomb them.” Talking to our families and people in the streets is of high importance—people do not really believe in war, but they often try to convince themselves that there is some justification for this war. They do not want to be accomplices of this nightmare. For that reason, a conversation in which people feel confronted and might get their feelings hurt—yet are able to relate and listen to what you say—could be very important.
Day-to-day repression is intense. Anyone, even little children, will be arrested for any kind of poster protest. These days, you cannot stand in the street and hold a piece of paper, no matter whether it says “war” or not—you will be arrested. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the police are beating people up. That does not seem to scare the people, though. Many people go out again, they look for ways to fight, they organize.
Starting today, March 4, it is a crime to protest the war or spread any information about the war that does not come from official Russian state sources. You can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for that. One newspaper reacted, saying that being a journalist is like working with explosives—you can make a mistake only once. The state prosecution office even created special units for targeting the anti-war movement in all the regions of the country.
Still, however hard things are, we are not in the position of facing military aggression. Here, one has a choice whether to fight against it or not. Maybe that is why armed resistance seems easier, somehow: one doesn’t really have a choice. Here in Russia, in order to resist the war, every person has to make a moral judgement and estimate the risks. It’s not really an option to remain idle, especially when this aggression is done in our name—or at least, in the name of our nationality, our supposed identity. Yet it is a choice one has to make. People in Russia are facing that choice now.
Until recently, I had been away from Russia for many years. Before I left, there was repression, but there were ways to organize political struggle openly, to go out to the streets, and we didn’t have to worry too much about arrests or fines. The ultra-right were a cause of concern in some cases; we always had to think about different aspects of self defense. But in 2012, you would not have to say to yourself something like “I am an anarchist. This means that I have to prepare myself for prison and torture.”
Now, our self-defense practices involve questions like “How do we avoid getting arrested for making a post on Telegram?” Speaking in these terms, today, our self-defense is not premised on defending our vision of culture, society, relations, and ideas—it is premised on avoiding repression, reacting to what the state does, preserving our individual freedom, staying out of jail. And this is a large flaw in our movement in Russia, when we consider it in a long-term perspective, because in fact, we don’t have anywhere to fall back to, no one can guarantee us anything. We cannot even guarantee each other that we will stand together holding hands, looking each other in the eye and knowing that whatever will happen, we will be comrades and we will continue the struggle. There is a lack of comradeship, a lack of resources, of infrastructure, a lack of an ideological perspective regarding how to struggle today and how to carry on that struggle through the decades to come. We lack the belief that the best thing you can do for your freedom, for your happiness, for your life itself is to struggle. We lack the belief that if you struggle, even if you die or go to prison, it is worth it and you made the right decision. It is this idea—that struggle is life and life is struggle—this philosophical vision, this feeling, that can enable you to bring yourself back to your senses and maintain morale in the most difficult situations.
Comrades, we are the only ones who can mutually provide that for each other.
Now, in my town far away from Moscow, just to go out with posters and shout slogans, we have to hold a whole day-long meeting to think through our strategy, to come up with tactics and measure risks versus gains versus urgency to do whatever we can immediately. I can hear anxiety and fear in my comrades’ voices. This suppresses the imagination. In these moments, we can feel how, if we can’t imagine our victory, we can’t win. Now, we are struggling even to imagine ourselves organizing and fighting.
This is the difference that I see here, now, returning to Russia after some time away. This is the development that has taken place here over the past ten years. Now, everyone has to consider what we are ready to put on the line, both individually and collectively.
We can see now how we have to work hard to prepare and organize during the quiet times, not only the moments of urgency. Because now, there is no structure, no experience to pass on, there are few people willing to take responsibility and put themselves on the line because it is worth it. There is no organization to make proposals, just confusion, fear, anger, and a feeling of helplessness.
I have noticed one thing, though. I am wondering whether I see this because I am anarchist and I wish to see it, or if I am seeing it because it is happening in reality—but it seems that people feel that Putin has crossed the last fucking line. They see how their government is denying everything while videos circulate showing Ukrainian cities being blown up with rockets and civilians torn to pieces. It feels as if we have passed some sort of point of no return and people are waking up. Everything is still confused, but the noise is too loud and too present to remain asleep for long. People seem to be waking up more and more each day.
The questions of victory and defeat have always been complicated for us as anarchists. Now, if we are to imagine the defeat of Russia, it is a good idea to ask ourselves what that would mean. On one hand, civil wars do not usually open up possibilities for liberation or lead to social revolution—on contrary, usually, they drown everyone in the blood of the participants. A purely military victory will never be a victory for anarchists. What we would consider a victory for anarchists will require generations of revolutionary effort and development in society, involving many fronts of struggle. Military engagement is only one piece in the puzzle of self-defense; it is not possible without a larger social fabric and social relations that provide a meaning and purpose for self-defense. On the other hand, the political and military defeat of the Russian state and its ideology, whatever that would look like, might open cracks, fault lines, gateways to forms of revolutionary social change that have been unthinkable for people in Russia, the “Prison of Nations,” for about a hundred years now.
For some people in Russia, this time it is now or never.
In that regard, I see a tremendous potential in the feminist movement in Russia. Right now, I see the participants in this movement doing the best they can to organize and bring their perspective to the streets and to the people. When it comes to presenting a vision of self-defense that draws together many forms and meanings of struggle into a concrete philosophy, I believe that anarchists and feminists can do better than anyone else. Especially when it comes to armed struggle—and sooner or later, in one way or another, it always does, because that is a part of self-defense—we must carefully listen the perspectives of our feminist comrades in Russia and all around the world, reflecting on their input and making sure there is space for them to organize autonomously. We could benefit from the perspectives of women and trans and non-binary people who have experienced the organizing and struggle in Rojava; this could give us insights into revolutionary processes that are difficult to come by otherwise.
It is possible to imagine two scenarios evolving in this situation. Either we will see the rise and strengthening of an authoritarian state in a way that our generation has not experienced yet, or the events will develop towards a freer tomorrow, with Putin’s regime falling apart and our society finally being able to work together to make changes and confront the conservative right-wing elements that won’t abandon the dream of a Russian world.
Hope alone won’t suffice to make the latter scenario a reality. We will have to put hard work towards it right now, using all the foundations that remain from the past decades and every model that the preceding generations of older comrades left to us.
For us, there is a difference, though: in the midst of such uncertainty and instability, now is the time to start thinking about the long term, to imagine where we want to be in ten, fifteen, or twenty years. We can count the steps we need to take backwards all the way from the future we want to reach to the situation we face now in order to identify what steps we need to take today. Of course, there are many things we can’t predict in advance. But this exercise is above all about approaching struggle as a life-long commitment, understanding repression and the state governments that currently impose it as serious foes, yet also as episodes in a much larger historical struggle that has gone on for a long time, which others will carry on after we are no longer around. In this way of understanding ourselves, we live on in this struggle and the ways that it develops—through the legacy that we leave for generations to come.
As repression intensifies in Russia, understanding things that way might help us to survive what is coming, to be able to stand our ground in the times ahead. It may also help us to define our relationships with the comrades we fight alongside and the comrades that we haven’t met just yet. And there might be many coming up—this situation cuts through the whole of our society, changing the landscape.
This way of thinking could serve to create cooperation and solidarity where they were not possible before, and to connect us as anarchists with other people we could work with to create a better world. The people around us are all we have, and we must understand the current fault lines in our society well. It is time for bravery and persistence like never before—and it is now, when it is hard to imagine what’s going to happen next week, that we have to act in such a way that whatever comes in the next months and years, we will be able to be honest with ourselves and be able to look each other in the eyes with pride, love, and smile.
THE KREMLIN’S FATA L MISCALCULATION
This is a translation of the transcript of the March 6 episode of the podcast from the anarchist media platform Autonomous Action, which grew out of the largest Russian-language anarchist and anti-authoritarian network.
The Worst-Case Scenario
The beginning of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine came as a complete surprise even to supporters of the recognition of the so-called “people’s republics” who had been calling for the introduction of Russian troops into their borders.
The Russian authorities did not carry out any intelligible propaganda preparation for initiating hostilities throughout Ukraine, since all this time, they have only been talking about “protecting Russian citizens in the Donbas.” Various analysts considered a full invasion unlikely: a worst-case scenario.
Therefore, when they woke up on the morning of February 24, many Russians were stunned and confused, including those loyal to the authorities. Instead of a mass “patriotic” frenzy comparable to the early days of 2014 [when Russia seized the Crimean peninsula and helped instigate the civil wear in Donbas], fear of the future became the prevailing mood in Russia. The worst forecasts were already being made, including the beginning of a third world war—in other words, a nuclear war.
Losing the Information War
The first reports of Russian losses and prisoners did not come from the Russian Defense Ministry, but from Ukrainian sources, social networks, and, later, from individual Ukrainian mayors. At the moment [this was published early on March 6], the Ministry of Defense has acknowledged almost 500 people dead and more than 1500 wounded, which is many times different from the figures publicized by the Ukrainian side.
No, of course, full-time Russian propagandists began to carry the usual nonsense about Ukraine having been “captured by Bandera” [Stepan Bandera was a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist who worked with the Nazis]. A few days after the beginning of the so-called “special operation,” a symbol in the form of the letter Z and the hashtag “We do not leave our own” appeared in Russian media. Teachers receive orders to conduct propaganda lessons. In the Kuban, they are trying to oblige schoolchildren to wear St. George ribbons until May 9 “to express solidarity with our troops.” On March 5, the news spread about the action of supporting Russian troops by patients of the children’s hospice in Kazan. On the same day, Putin assured us that Russians can calmly protest about what is happening in Ukraine—it is only there, in Ukraine, that protesters are shot. (And who, exactly, is it that shoots them?)
But by the time the “special operation” began to advance in the Russian-speaking world, there were already more than enough messages and videos from Ukrainian cities and villages to make it clear what was happening. A large number of people living in Russia have relatives, acquaintances, and other connections in Ukraine, with whom they have been trying to keep in touch since the beginning of events.
It is clear that the official messages of the Ukrainian side are inevitably, among other things, military propaganda. But while Russian propaganda considered it enough to repeat the words “denazification” and “demilitarization,” in the eyes of residents of many countries and even many Russians, the messages from Ukraine looked much more convincing; they “sold” better in the information market.
War in the Russian Information Space
The response of the Russian authorities to losing the information war was convulsive repression. A number of official Ukrainian resources and media have been blocked, including the “Look for Your Own” website created by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense about Russian prisoners of war. Next, the Kremlin decided to conduct a “special operation” against Russian independent sources of information. The law on “spreading fakes about the Russian army” including administrative and criminal penalties up to millions of rubles in fines and imprisonment of up to 15 years passed all three readings in the State Duma in a single day on March 4, receiving the approval of the Federation Council and the president’s signature.
The extra-judicial blocking of independent media and resources had begun even earlier; this is already a firmly established practice in Russia. For daring to call the “special operation” a war and talking about the prisoners and the dead, there were reprisals not only towards such major opposition media as the Dozhd TV channel and the Ekho Moskvy radio station, but also striking those who did not have any special reputation as opposition media, including taiga.info, The Village, Tomsk channel TV2. On the night of March 4, this list expanded to include the Russian service of the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Liberty, Meduza, and the world’s largest social networks, Facebook and Twitter.
After the adoption of the law on “military censorship,” it became clear that the “special operation” against independent media, at least at first, was more successful than the “special operation” in Ukraine. One by one, the media management began to announce the suspension of activities, the closures of outlets, the liquidation of resources, the closing and emigration of offices. Out of the largest opposition media, only Novaya Gazeta has so far announced that they continue to work under “military censorship,” removing some of the materials. A number of independent resources, bloggers, and ordinary users of social networks who are not registered as mass media began to clean up their materials and delete their profiles.
A certain number of journalists, activists, bloggers and simply non-pro-government Russians have already left Russia or are going to do so in the near future.
Law enforcement has not yet begun to enforce the new “military” legislation. So far, those detained at daily anti-war actions, the number of which throughout Russia is approaching 10,000, are mainly applied to the “traditional rallies” articles 20.2 and 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. [In the twelve hours after this was published, Russian police arrested at least 4419 protesters in 56 cities.] Criminal articles with vague wording, under which any journalist, activist, blogger, or commentator on the Internet and even a random person can be imprisoned for a long time, have existed in Russian law for many years, but so far, relative to the total number of potential targets, the prosecution has been of a targeted character.
Whether this situation will change, and how exactly the “law on military censorship” will be applied, will become clear after March 6, when mass actions are scheduled in different cities. In the meantime, the authorities have found yet another delusional justification for persecuting activists: on March 5, searches and detentions were carried out in St. Petersburg at about 50 addresses of human rights activists, activists, and municipal deputies in connection with a criminal case under an article about bomb threats.
”Putin’s Majority” and the Dream of Stability
Personal communication, polls, and social networks show that a certain number of Russians, having recovered from the initial shock, supported Putin’s war against Ukraine. It is too early to judge the exact percentage of support, especially considering the practice of conducting official polls, cheating via online bots, and the audience of each specific venue where electronic voting is held. But, to our deepest regret, there is some kind of support for the war now.
It seems to us that the many years of loyalty of some Russians to the Kremlin authorities is explained by their dream of stability, predictable lives, and relative prosperity after Perestroika and the “dashing 1990s.” And it is difficult for many “Putinists” to admit that, as a consequence of Putin’s adventure, they are going to lose all this. Therefore, until these loyalists personally feel the catastrophic consequences of the Ukrainian “special operation,” they will console themselves with propaganda tales about the fact that “everything will end” soon and the authorities will handle the sanctions.
The Kremlin also needs to end the war as soon as possible. And preferably with as small as possible a contingent of the army as possible. If martial law and general conscription are introduced in Russia, they will lose the support of a significant part of the couch patriots, who have now begun to put the symbol of the “special operation” on their avatars in social networks.
But while preparing to invade Ukraine, the Kremlin clearly misjudged both the situation in that country and its inhabitants, who “for some reason” do not greet Russian tanks with flowers, but fiercely resist them. Therefore, it will only be possible to quickly end the hostilities with the withdrawal of troops, but by no means with a victory.
Imperialism and USSR 2.0
Situational loyalists have been divided in their attitudes to the “special operation,” including all sorts of Stalinists and other leftists who had a positive attitude towards the USSR. One part of them supported the “denazification” of Ukraine, hoping that after the victory of the Russian troops it will be possible to start building the “prerequisites for socialism” in the “union of fraternal peoples.” Unlike the overwhelming majority of Russians, they are even ready to “tighten their belts” for the sake of such a great mission.
Another part of the pro-Soviet left understands that the Kremlin’s adventure will do nothing to advance the “preconditions for socialism” or the “union of fraternal peoples.” They rightly call the invasion an imperialist war and blame all these events on the collapse of the USSR.
It is clear that both the Soviet Union itself and its collapse gave rise to many problems. But the naïve and often subconscious desire of a part of the post-Soviet people to “return the USSR” have turned out to be exclusively useful for justifying Russian imperialist expansion and the bloody massacres associated with it—and a significant increase in right-wing and far-right sentiment in all of the countries affected by the conflict. It is no coincidence, by the way, that the most unconditional support for the supposed “denazification” of Ukraine appeared among Russian neo-Nazis from the organizations “Sputnik and Pogrom,” “Black Hundred,” “Men’s State,” and so on.
The International Position
In addition to all of the above, the Kremlin also miscalculated its imperialist “weight category.” Consequently, the reaction of different countries around the world to its actions has not been comparable with the reaction to the same NATO military actions in former Yugoslavia and Iraq, which were also accompanied by mass protests on a global scale. Now, after actively participating in escalating the situation around the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Western leaders can convincingly portray indignation at the actions of the “crazy dictator,” earning ratings in their countries and successfully expanding imperialist influence in Eastern Europe. As a bonus, against the backdrop of a new world villain, the topic of massive human rights violations under the pretext of fighting COVID-19 and mass protests against the restrictions have faded into the background.
Judging by the fact that significant reserves of the Central Bank are still outside of Russia and many industries cannot work without foreign supplies, Putin clearly did not expect sanctions on such a scale. Even the holy of holies of the Russian commodity economy—the export of oil and gas—is under threat.
Probably, the Russian authorities counted on the support of China. However, at least for the moment, the Chinese ruling class clearly does not consider the Kremlin such a valuable ally as to stand up for them in the international arena: we hear “calls for dialogue” between Russia and NATO, but according to the resolution on Russian aggression in the UN Security Council, China abstained, and Chinese state-owned banks are in no hurry to settle accounts with Russian ones, fearing that they might experience sanctions themselves. The blockade by the “collective West” will lead Russia more quickly to the fact that the countries that agree to deal with it will be able to dictate almost any conditions to it.
This explains the lack of unconditional support for the Ukrainian “special operation” among the Russian ruling class and their servants. The oligarchs Mikhail Fridman, Oleg Deripaska, Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Tinkov, and the board of directors of Lukoil have already spoken in favor of a “peaceful solution to the conflict.” Some Duma deputies are trying to justify themselves in the spirit of “voting for the recognition of the people’s republics, I wanted Donetsk not to be bombed, not for Kyiv to be bombed.” Propagandists from Russia Today quit. And the list of rebels will expand.
In short, the Russian authorities miscalculated, overestimating the “pro-Russian sentiments” of Ukrainians, the “patriotism” of Russians, and their own importance in the international arena. All together, it is one big snowball of fatal miscalculation—for which many human lives are already being lost.
But the more people understand all this, the more chances we anarchists will have. We do not link the struggle against capitalism and imperialism with the restoration of the “Soviet” system. Join us or fight on your own.
For our freedom and yours!
INTERVIEW WITH DMITRII OKREST
The Ex-Worker: Hello, and welcome to the Ex-Worker! Can you introduce yourself?
Dmitrii: Hello, everyone. My name is Dmitri Okrest. I am an independent journalist. I’ve worked in Russian media for the last ten years. I write about society and politics, and usually I work for independent media outlets - some of them are banned now in Russia because of the war and the anti-extremism law. So yeah, I know something about the protests in our country since the attack of Russian troops which started some days ago.
The Ex-Worker: Can you tell us about your relationship to anarchism and anti-fascism in Russia? How has the anarchist movement developed in recent years?
Dmitrii: My last project is about history and the history of social movements, so the anarchist movement is one of my topics. I wrote two books about post-Soviet space in Russia and in the ex-Eastern Bloc and ex-Soviet republics. There is a lot of academic interest in anarchist and anti-authoritarian movements. I recently made a book in memory of our comrade—Alexei Sutuga—he was anti-fascist skinhead who was killed one year ago. It’s a book about the anarchist and anti-fascist movement in Russia over the last 10 years. It’s not a very big movement, but in a case of self-defense it sometimes looks very active. This movement is mainly in big cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg, and there are a lot of common links with people from Belarus and Ukraine. So for a lot of people from Moscow and St. Petersburg, this war was very common to us because we have a lot of friends, comrades, relatives in Ukraine. So that’s why we know a lot about it. Now, anarchist and antifascist movements are in a crisis because of repression. The most famous is the case of “Network.” It’s a so-called terrorist organization, and after it the Russian state police decided to make more and more use [of anti-terrorist laws] against anti-authoritarian leftists. And now a lot of people who tried to support these people from the Network case were also arrested, and now they are spending time in prison, unfortunately.
The Ex-Worker: Where did this wave of anti-war protests come from? Does today’s anti-war movement have roots in previous movements (peace, anti-war, anti-authoritarian, others), or is it entirely new?
Dmitrii: Well, you know, it’s more spontaneous. I think the Russian government really didn’t think that it would be so big; but on other hand, it’s not so big. About 13,000 people were arrested over the last ten days [in fact, 13,910]. But Russian [civil] society doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to protect itself and be against this regime. So I think that it will stop maybe in few days or in a few weeks. There are no big connections with any political movement which existed before. It’s more spontaneous, because people were really angry. At first they were really sad and apathetic; they didn’t know what to do, because it looked like the Russian state would just steal our future. As I said before, Ukrainian people are very familiar to Russian people; we have a lot of relatives and we understand each other’s language, so it’s not a big problem for us [to understand each other]. It’s like if the US were to attack Canada, for example; it could be something similar, because they’re both English speaking countries in one place with a long history of communication. Now I think we have the same situation functionally. This movement is not very ideological, because the main idea is that people are just again the war; they really want it to stop because at first, they were really sad and they didn’t know what to do. So going to the streets was the first emotion about what people can do, what people want to do, because we don’t have a lot of opportunities to show that we do not agree [with the regime]. I think that people mostly understand that. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything more; if you’ve been arrested twice, after the third time, you will go to prison. And a lot of people, after their first time being arrested, now have to pay a [fine] that can be as high as one month’s salary or something. Sometimes it’s much more! And in other cases they can go to prison for 30 days. But that’s not so bad; if you are arrested in your third demonstration, you’ll go to prison for a few years at least. So yeah, for a lot of people, their best [option] is to try to emigrate. For example, people from Russia move to another post-Soviet state, Georgia, or Armenia and the Central Asia states. About 25,000 Russian citizens moved from Russia to Georgia over the last few days. People are voting with their legs because they don’t want to have any communication with the Russian state government and Russian state’s politics.
The Ex-Worker: Can you give us a summary of the anti-war resistance so far, from first demonstrations through to the March 6th day of action?
Dmitrii: Well, at first there were many more people, but there still are [a good number]. The first important thing which I wanted to say is that there was torture last week. Police beat people and spoke very pro-state [views]; they said things like, “It’s okay to beat you, motherfucker, and Putin will support us now, so don’t try to protect yourself. If we want to, we can kill you.” Policemen became more and more cruel than they were in the first days. But on the other hand, one of my friends who was arrested said to me that some policemen were also very shocked [by this], because they were not riot police, just typical police in the criminal affairs department, and they don’t want to have to deal with it. [They were being forced] to go to work for 10 days [in a row] without any weekend. So they they also don’t want to have any communications with these problems, and they tried to look more human than usual. It depends, it [varies] from one police department to the next, but I think it’s a really interesting tendency.
What else? Today was the 8th of March, so which the demonstrations were linked to International Women’s Day. So a lot of women, and men also, went to streets to show that women are against the war. It was successful because they had the opportunity to show that they are against this fucking War. But most of them were arrested.
Another interesting thing is that a lot of people from the Russian diaspora, Russian immigrants in different cities and different states, they went to demonstration in their new states to show that they are against this war. I think it’s like a good point to communicate with people in every state because Before there was not any big community in another state.
The Ex-Worker: What can you tell us about the composition of the protests? What kinds of people and groups are participating? What role have anarchists in particular played?
Dmitrii: As I said before, the anarchist movement now is not very big. So they tried to play a part in Moscow and St. Petersburg. They tried to [use art]; for example, some of them [wore] a “mask of death” [to create] a more surrealistic situation to show that war is only death. But for most people–okay, as I said, the main thing which usually people from West don’t understand is that we don’t have any [liberal democratic] policy or political [activism] at all. For most people, there is no big difference between [different] liberal democracies, because they don’t have any opportunity to choose. So for them, sometimes the worst democratic system looks very interesting, because they haven’t have any of this stuff for all their lives. So if you ask these people, usually they’ll say that they support liberal democratic policy, but in fact, they really don’t know a lot about this. The main reason is because we don’t have any public [political culture] at all. So sometimes people are against all the evil things and they want something better, and that’s the main thing they can say. Now, the biggest evil in our state is this war that we—not we, but our state–started, and people just want to stop it.
The Ex-Worker: In the Western media, we read about lots of censorship and repression of information about the war, the economy, and anti-Putin resistance in Russia. How extensive is this crackdown on information? What forms is it taking? How are people responding to share and get information about what’s going on?
Dmitrii: Well, yes, most independent media are now banned for Russian citizens, so they don’t have any opportunity to read [independent news]. The main reason why they were banned because they called this “military operation” a war. The Russian state [claims] that it’s not war, that it’s a “[special] military operation.” They say that it’s an “antifascist action,” that they just want to kick out Nazis from Ukraine; and a few days ago, the Minister of Defense in Russia said that he wanted to do an anti-fascist congress. But, you know, it’s totally bullshit. What can I say? So we have censorship, and a lot of people try to go out from the state. We have a lot of power in the hands of the Special Service office, and no one can understand what will come next month.
Well, if you’re interested in Russian politics, I think that there are two media [outlets] that can show some perspective, some opinions. It is Open Democracy Russia, and Meduza.io. They show some points, and it’s for Western audience. I think it’s the best opportunity to understand what can be and what Russian people think and feel now. Yeah, maybe it’s a good position to understand what is our political [situation] now.
The Ex-Worker: There are some people in the US and Europe who suspect that all of this is mainly an excuse for NATO to bring more troops and weapons into the region. What would you say to them?
Dmitrii: Well, I can agree with them sometimes, and it looks that could be true. But in fact, now, Russian troops are in Ukraine, the Russian army is bombing Ukrainian cities, and people from Ukraine have become refugees. These are the facts. It’s a really interesting to discuss a lot of things in the topic you mentioned, but [right] now there is a war. The war is in a very nearby place. I’d prefer to speak about this topic when there are not any such active conflicts, but unfortunately, there are. And for me, it’s more important to stop this war immediately, and after that it will be a good chance to discuss it.
And another thing. I have a lot of questions for Ukrainian state. Yeah, there are a lot of Nazis. Economic policy most of the time is against labor rights. There is a really big problem with censorship. So there are a lot of problems in Ukraine. But now, the main problem is that there is a war, there are a lot of refugees, etc. So people who tried to defend themselves, like people in the anti-fascist movement in Ukraine, people in the anarchist movement in Ukraine: now, they don’t have any opportunity to solve these problem around, [for example], anti-Roma actions, or trying to support labor. There is no such opportunity because the main problem is the Russian army in Ukraine. And the worst thing is, I think that for a long time, anarchist, leftist, and anti-fascists will not have any opportunity to show themselves, because when the Minister of Defense in Russia says that he’s “antifascist,” most people in Ukraine will say, “We don’t want to side with antifascists.”
The Ex-Worker: What message would you like to send to people in Ukraine right now from Russians who are against the war and Putin’s regime?
Dmitrii: Well, I as I wrote to some of my friends, at first I was shocked and second, I was angry. So I tried to support people. A lot of my friends, when they started emigration from Russia, they tried to help Ukraine refugees. They tried to take part in different humanitarian caravans. So yeah, there’s not a great deal that we can do. But another thing we tried to do is to show the Russian people that this is a real war against civilian people, that it’s not a military operation against Nazis as the Russian state [is claiming]. But during this interview, I understood that, fuck, I said too much information, because now we have a problem not only with censorship–it’s like, it’s okay–but another thing is that there is a new criminal article about supporting Ukraine, and another criminal article about state treason. So when you say that this is war, you can go to prison for the next 15 years; and if you support the Ukrainian troops or state in any way, you can go to prison for the next 20 years. So yeah, it’s not so good. It’s like the situation with terrorist criminal articles in [previous] years, which were used against anarchists and anti-fascists in Russia, including the case of “Network” as I said before.
The Ex-Worker: Does Putin’s position seem strong or weak right now? What do you think will happen with the political situation in the aftermath of the war?
Dmitrii: So Putin was prime minister, then he became president. He became president again. Then he became prime minister then he became president, president, and again president. So I think that he has a lot of power now. But this system is not very balanced, so probably we have a small chance to change. But I can’t be a really big optimist, because, you know, we have a really big army - it’s like the second [largest] one after the US. We have a lot of policemen, a lot of a lot riot police departments. We have a really qualified special service, and we have a lot of oil to sell it and to have a lot of money to put them towards this Army, special services and police. so I can’t be really optimistic. But I don’t want to be pessimistic because I see that Russian society tried to protect their future and to show that the Russian state’s [policies] are not [supported by] all people in Russia.
The Ex-Worker: What impact do you think the protests will have in shifting public opinion among ordinary Russians or helping to stop the war?
Dmitrii: I don’t know, really. The day before the war started, me and most of my friends thought that this war would not start because, you know, it’s too stupid. No one in Ukraine, or most people in Ukraine, will not support this new occupation. Probably, most people will not support the Russian troops. We thought that economic benefits would not be so good for Russian troops and the Russian army. So a lot of journalists, scientists, and most people around me thought that economically, the war would be not effective, so there is no reason to start it. But when it was started, people were like, wow, what the fuck? So now, when we discuss this with friends, we don’t know what will [happen] next week. Because before it was like, you know, a few months from now, maybe I can know what I will do. But now, I don’t know what will happen in April. So that’s why we don’t have any thoughts about what we can [predict] even next week.
The Ex-Worker: What kinds of protest do you think will be most effective to help stop the war, either by people inside of Russia or across the world?
Dmitrii: For me, the main thing is to show that people are against [the war], and I can’t recommend how, what is the best [way to do that]. I think that at first, the Russian state decided that there [wouldn’t be] any problem with Russian army in Ukraine, and mostly Ukrainian people would be happy to meet them. But it’s fake. The Russian state decided that most Russian citizens would be happy with this war, with the result of this war. But no, it’s fake. So no one knows what will [happen] tomorrow or next week, and no one knows which activity can bring the best result. But for me, it’s interesting to see this activity. I just called my friend - she’s also a journalist and we try to help each other - and I said that for me, it’s like a historic time now, because every day we have so many historic situations. So yeah, it’s really interesting to see. But we try to not to read news like every hour because it’s too stressful. We don’t know which action will be the best for to stop this war. So, yeah, I don’t know. Sorry.
The Ex-Worker: What kind of support do people in the region need now?
Dmitrii: Well, the main thing I really need to say is that I think the Western world really needs to support refugees from Ukraine, and also to try to support people from Russia. Because I think there will be more and more immigrants from Russia, unfortunately, because the Russian state will be more and more aggressive against pacifists, dissenters, oppositionists. So I think that people from the West really need to support Ukrainian people, and Russian people also, because, unfortunately, we will have more and more problems, especially after the war stops. (I hope that it will be stopped.) And after it, I think there will be more and more repression, much more than now. That’s why people will try to escape the Russian State. And another big problems that, for example, with Visa and MasterCard, they canceled all Russian credit cards. So now we can’t use them when we try to escape from Russia. Another problem is that there are no longer any airplanes from Russia to other states. So it’s a really big problem to get out of the state. I think that now we’re in the trap. Mostly political and economic sanctions against Russia - it’s not like sanctions against Russian State, Russian oligarchs or Russian businessmen or something like that. Sometimes it’s more and more against Russian citizens, and against Russian citizens who do not support the state’s policies. Another problem is that there are also a lot of [refugees] from Belarus, because there are a lot of Russian troops in Belarus, and they are going from the territory of Belarus to Ukraine. A lot of Belarusian citizens are also trying to escape this state. So it will be big problem with the Ukraine refugees, Russian refugees, and from Belarusian refugees. Most of them [are leaving] for political cases, for political reasons. Some for economic reasons, too, because I think that the economy in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia will be in ashes in a few weeks, I think.
The Ex-Worker: Anything else you’d like to share?
Dmitrii: For me, the main positions that people in every state need to understand is that war can be started immediately, and people need to understand how they can try to stop it, or at least to show that they do not agree. As I understand it, people in Ukraine and Russia were not really ready for this problem, but now they are trying to survive. I think it’s a very interesting perspective, which people from other states and other communities really need to research and try to understand what’s wrong, what’s good, and what were mistakes. So or me, it’s a good chance to understand how you can do another activity to stop a similar war somewhere else.
WAR IN UKRAINE: TEN LESSONS FROM SYRIA
War in Ukraine: Ten Lessons from Syria Syrian Exiles on How Their Experience Can Inform Resistance to the Invasion
In March 2011, protests broke out in Syria against the dictator Bashar al-Assad. Assad turned the full power of the military against the ensuing revolutionary movement; yet for some time, it appeared possible that it might topple his government. Then Vladimir Putin stepped in, enabling Assad to stay in power at a tremendous cost in human lives and securing a foothold for Russian power in the region. In the following text, a collective of Syrian exiles and their comrades think through how their experiences in the Syrian Revolution can inform efforts to support the resistance to the invasion in Ukraine and the anti-war movement in Russia.
So much attention has been focused on Ukraine and Russia this past month that it is easy to lose track of the global context of these events. The following text offers a valuable reflection on imperialism, international solidarity, and understanding the nuances of complex and contradictory struggles.
Ten Lessons from Syria
We know it can be difficult to position yourself at a time like this. Between the ideological unanimity of the mainstream media and voices that unscrupulously relay Kremlin propaganda, it can be hard to know who to listen to. Between a NATO with dirty hands and a villainous Russian regime, we no longer know who to fight, who to support.
As participants in and friends of the Syrian revolution, we want to defend a third option, offering a point of view based on the lessons of more than ten years of uprising and war in Syria.
Let us make this clear from the beginning: today, we still defend the revolt in Syria in all the ways that it was a popular, democratic, and emancipatory uprising, especially the coordination committees and the local councils of the revolution. While many have forgotten all this, we maintain that neither Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities and propaganda nor those of the jihadists can silence this voice.
In what follows, we do not intend to compare what is happening in Syria and Ukraine. If these two wars both began with a revolution, and if one of the aggressors is the same, the situations remain very different. Rather, drawing on what we have learned from the revolution in Syria and then from the war that followed, we hope to offer some starting points to assist those who sincerely espouse emancipatory principles in figuring out how to take a stand.
- Listen to the voices of those immediately impacted by the events.
Rather than experts in geopolitics, we should listen to the voices of those who have lived through the revolution in 2014 and lived through the war; we should listen to those who have suffered under Putin’s rule in Russia and elsewhere for twenty years. We invite you to favor the voices of people and organizations that defend the principles of direct democracy, feminism, and egalitarianism from that context. Understanding their position in Ukraine and their demands to those outside it will help you to arrive at an informed opinion of your own.
Taking this approach to Syria would have elevated—and perhaps supported—the impressive and promising experiments in self-organization that flourished across the country. Moreover, listening to the voices coming from Ukraine reminds us that all these tensions started with the Maidan uprising. However imperfect or “impure” it may be, let’s not make the mistake of reducing the popular Ukrainian uprising to a conflict of interests between great powers, the way some people intentionally did to obscure the Syrian revolution.
2: Beware of over-the-counter geopolitics.
Certainly, it’s desirable to understand the economic, diplomatic, and military interests of the great powers; yet contenting yourself with an abstract geopolitical framing of the situation can leave you with an abstract, disconnected understanding of the terrain. This way of understanding tends to conceal the ordinary protagonists of the conflict, those who resemble us, those with whom we can identify. Above all, let’s not forget: what will happen is that people will suffer because of the choices of rulers who see the world as a chessboard, as a reservoir of resources to be plundered. This is the way that oppressors see the world. It should never be adopted by peoples, who should focus on building bridges between them, on finding common interests.
This does not mean that we should neglect strategy, but it means strategizing on our own terms, at a scale on which we can take action ourselves—not to debate about whether to move tank divisions or cut gas imports. See our concrete proposals at the end of the article for more.
3: Do not accept any distinction between “good” and “bad” exiles.
Let’s be clear—though hardly ideal, the reception of Syrian refugees in Europe was often more welcoming than the reception offered to refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, for example. Images of Black refugees turned away at the Ukraine-Poland border and comments in the corporate media privileging the arrival of “high quality” Ukrainian refugees over Syrian barbarians are proof of an increasingly uninhibited European racism. We defend an unconditional welcome for Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war, but we refuse any hierarchy between refugees.
4: Be wary of the corporate media.
If, as in Syria, they pretend to espouse a humanist and progressive agenda, most of these outlets tend to limit themselves to a victimizing and depoliticizing portrayal of the Ukrainians on the ground and in exile. They will only be given the opportunity to talk about individual cases, people fleeing, fear of bombs, and so on. This hinders viewers from understanding Ukrainians as full-fledged political actors capable of expressing opinions or political analysis regarding the situation in their own country. Moreover, such outlets tend to promote a crudely pro-Western position without nuance, historical depth, or inquiry into the driving interests of Western governments, which are presented as defenders of goodness, freedom, and an idealized liberal democracy.
- Do not portray Western countries as the axis of good.
Even if they are not directly invading Ukraine, let us not be naïve about NATO and Western countries. We must refuse to present them as the defenders of the “free world.” Remember, the West has built its power on colonialism, imperialism, oppression, and the plundering of the wealth of hundreds of peoples around the world—and it continues all of these processes today.
To speak only of the 21st century, we do not forget the disasters inflicted by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, during the Arab revolutions of 2011, instead of supporting the democratic and progressive currents, the West was mainly concerned with maintaining its domination and its economic interests. At the same time, it continues to sell arms to and maintain privileged relations with Arab dictatorships and Gulf monarchies. With its intervention in Libya, France added the shameful lie of a war for economic reasons disguised as an effort to support the fight for democracy.
In addition to this international role, the situation within these countries continues to deteriorate as authoritarianism, surveillance, inequality, and above all racism continue to intensify.
Today, if we believe that Putin’s regime represents a greater threat to the self-determination of peoples, it is not because Western countries have suddenly become “nice,” but because Western powers no longer have quite as many means to maintain their domination and hegemony. And we remain suspicious of this hypothesis—because if Putin is defeated by Western countries, this will contribute to giving them more power.
Therefore, we advise Ukrainians not to count on the “international community” or the United Nations—which, as in Syria, are conspicuous in their hypocrisy and tend to lure people into believing in chimeras.
6: Fight all imperialisms!
“Campism” is the word we use to describe a doctrine from another era. During the Cold War, adherents of this dogma held that the most important thing was to support the USSR at all costs against capitalist and imperialist states. This doctrine persists today in the part of the radical left that supports Putin’s Russia in invading Ukraine or else relativizes the ongoing war. As they did in Syria, they use the pretext that the Russian or Syrian regimes embody the struggle against Western and Atlanticist [i.e., pro-NATO] imperialism. Unfortunately, this black and white anti-imperialism, which is purely abstract, refuses to see imperialism in any actor other than the West.
However, it is necessary to acknowledge what the Russian, Chinese, and even Iranian regimes have been doing for years now. They have been extending their political and economic domination in certain regions by dispossessing the local populations of their self-determination. Let the campists use whatever word they like to describe this, if “imperialism” seems inadequate to them, but we will never accept any excusing of the inflicting of violence and domination on populations in the name of pseudo-theoretical precision.
Worse still, this position pushes this “left” to relay the propaganda of these regimes to the point of denying well-documented atrocities. They speak of a “coup d’etat” when they describe the Maidan uprising or deny the war crimes perpetrated by the Russian army in Syria. This left has gone so far as to deny the Assad regime’s use of sarin gas, relying on an (often understandable) distrust of mainstream media to spread these lies.
It’s a despicable and irresponsible attitude, considering that the rise of conspiracy theories never favors an emancipatory position but rather the extreme right and racism. In the case of the war in Ukraine, these imbecile anti-imperialists, some of whom nevertheless claim to be anti-fascist, are the circumstantial allies of a large part of the extreme right.
In Syria, inflamed with supremacist fantasies and dreams of a crusade against Islam, the far right already defended Putin and the Syrian regime for their alleged actions against jihadism—without ever understanding the responsibility that the Assad regime had for the rise of jihadists in Syria.
7: Do not ascribe equal responsibility to Ukraine and Russia.
In Ukraine, the identity of the attacker is known to everyone. If Putin’s offensive is in some ways a response to pressure from NATO, it is above all the continuation of an imperial and counter-revolutionary offensive. After invading Crimea, after having helped crush the uprisings in Syria (2015-2022), Belarus (2020), and Kazakhstan (2022), Vladimir Putin no longer tolerates this wind of protest—embodied by the toppling of the pro-Russian president in the Maidan uprising—within countries under his influence. He wishes to crush any emancipatory desire that could weaken his power.
In Syria too, there is no doubt as to who is directly responsible for the war. The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, by ordering the police to shoot, imprison, and torture the demonstrators from the first days of protest, unilaterally chose to start a war against the population. We would like it if those who defend freedom and equality would be unanimous in taking a stand against such dictators who wage wars against the people. We would have liked it if this had been the case already, in reference to Syria.
If we understand and join the call to end the war, we insist that we must do so without any ambiguity as to the identity of the aggressor. Neither in Ukraine nor in Syria nor anywhere else in the world can ordinary people be blamed for taking up arms to try to defend their own lives and those of their families.
More generally, we advise people who don’t know what a dictatorship is (even if Western countries are becoming more overtly authoritarian) or what it is like to be bombed to refrain from telling Ukrainians—as some have already told Syrians or Hong Kongers—not to ask for help from the West or not to want liberal or representative democracy as a minimum political system. Many of these people are already clear on the imperfections of these political systems—but their priority is not to maintain an irreproachable political position, but rather to survive the next day’s bombings, or not to end up in a country in which a careless word can land you twenty years in prison. Insisting on this sort of purist discourse demonstrates a determination to impose one’s theoretical analysis on a context that is not one’s own. This indicates a real disconnection from the terrain and a very Western sort of privilege.
Instead, let’s listen to the words of Ukrainian comrades who said, echoing Mikhail Bakunin, “We firmly believe that the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than the most enlightened monarchy.”
8: Understand that Ukrainian society, as in Syria and France, is crossed by different currents.
We are familiar with the procedure in which a ruler designates a serious threat in order to scare off potential supporters. This includes the rhetoric about “Islamist terrorism” that Bashar al-Assad used from the first days of the revolution in Syria; likewise, today, the “Nazism” and “ultra-nationalism” Putin and his allies have brandished to justify their invasion of Ukraine.
If, on the one hand, we recognize that this propaganda is deliberately exaggerated and that we must not legitimize it at face value, on the other hand, our experience in Syria encourages us not to underestimate the reactionary currents within popular movements.
In Ukraine, Ukrainian nationalists, including fascists, played an important role in the Maidan protests and the ensuing war against Russia. Moreover, like the Azov Battalion, they profited from this experience and became a legitimate part of Ukraine’s regular army. However, this does not mean that the majority of Ukrainian society is ultra-nationalist or fascist. The far right won only 4% of the vote in the last elections; the Ukrainian, Jewish, and Russian-speaking president was elected by 73%.
In the revolt in Syria, the jihadists started out as marginal actors, but they took on increasing importance, thanks in part to external support, allowing them to impose themselves militarily to the detriment of the civil movement and the most progressive participants. Everywhere, the extreme right threatens the extension of democracies and social revolutions; this is the case in France today without a doubt. In France, this same extreme right attempted to impose itself during the Yellow Vests movement. If it was beaten then, it was beaten because of the presence of egalitarian positions and the determination of anti-authoritarian and anti-fascist activists, not by the tongue-wagging of pundits.
Take care that defending the popular resistance (in both Ukraine and in Russia) against the Russian invasion does not amount to being naïve about the political regime that emerged from Maidan, either. It cannot be said that the fall of Yanukovych resulted in a real extension of direct democracy or the development of the egalitarian society that we wish for Syria, Russia, France, and everywhere in the world. Using an expression that is well known to us, some Ukrainian activists call the post-Maidan a “stolen revolution.” In addition to granting an important place to the ultra-nationalists, the Ukrainian regime was reestablished by oligarchs and others who were concerned with defending their own economic and political interests and extending a capitalist and neoliberal model of inequality. Likewise, though our knowledge on this subject remains limited, it is difficult for us to believe that the Ukrainian regime has no responsibility in the exacerbation of tensions with the separatist regions in Donbas.
In Syria, the revolutionaries involved on the ground have every right to ferociously criticize the choices of the political opposition that is positioned in Istanbul. We still regret their choice not to take into account the legitimate claims of minorities like the Kurds.
A neoliberal regime and fascistic elements are ingredients found in all Western democracies. While these opponents of emancipation should not be underestimated, this is no reason not to champion popular resistance to an invasion. On the contrary, as we wish others had done during the Syrian revolution, we call on you to support the most progressive self-organized currents within the defense.
- Support popular resistance in Ukraine and Russia.
As the Arab revolutions, the Yellow Vests, and the Maidan have proven, the uprisings of the 21st century will not be ideologically “pure.” While we understand that it is more comfortable and galvanizing to identify with powerful (and victorious) actors, we must not betray our fundamental principles. We invite the radical left to take off their old conceptual glasses to confront their theoretical positions with reality. These positions must be adjusted according to reality, not the other way around.
It is for these reasons that in Ukraine, we call for people to prioritize supporting initiatives that come from the base: the self-defense and self-organization initiatives that are currently flourishing. One can discover that often, people who organize themselves can in fact defend radical conceptions of democracy and social justice—even if they do not call themselves “leftist” or “progressive.”
Also, as many Russian activists have said, we believe that a popular uprising in Russia could help end the war, just as in 1905 and 1917. When we consider the extent of the repression in Russia since the war began—over ten thousand demonstrators imprisoned, media censorship, the blocking of social networks and perhaps soon the internet—it is impossible not to hope that a revolution could lead to fall of the regime. This would finally put a stop, once and for all, to Putin’s crimes in Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere.
This is also the case for Syria where, following the internationalization of the conflict, far from resenting the Iranian, Russian, or Lebanese peoples, the uprisings of these peoples could make us believe again in the possibility that Bashar al-Assad will fall, as well.
Likewise, we want to see radical upheavals and radical extensions of democracy, justice, and equality in the United States, France, and every other country that bases its power on the oppression of other peoples or a part of its own population.
- Build a new internationalism from below.
While we are radically opposed to all imperialisms and all modern forms of fascism, we believe that we cannot limit ourselves to anti-imperialist or anti-fascist postures alone. Even if they serve to explain many contexts, they also risk limiting the revolutionary struggle to a negative vision, reducing it to reactivity, to permanent resistance without a path forward.
We believe that it remains essential to make a positive and constructive proposal such as internationalism. This means linking uprisings and struggles for equality all around the world.
A third option exists in addition to NATO and Putin: internationalism from below. Today, a revolutionary internationalism must call on people everywhere to defend the popular resistance in Ukraine, just as it should call upon them to support the Syrian local councils, the resistance committees in Sudan, the territorial assemblies in Chile, the roundabouts of the Yellow Vests, and the Palestinian intifada.
Of course, we live in the shadow of a workers’ internationalism—supported by states, parties, unions and large organizations—that was able to carry weight in international conflicts in Spain in 1936 and, later, in Vietnam and Palestine in the 1960s and ’70s.
Today, everywhere in the world—from Syria to France, from Ukraine to the United States—we lack large-scale emancipatory forces endowed with substantial material bases. While we hope for the emergence, as seems to be happening in Chile, of new revolutionary organizations based on local self-organized initiatives, we defend an internationalism that supports popular uprisings and welcomes all exiles. In this effort, too, we are preparing the ground for a real return to internationalism, which, we hope, one day will once again represent an alternative path distinct from the models of Western capitalist democracies and capitalist authoritarianism, whether Russian or Chinese.
Such a conception of what we were doing, in Syria, would surely have helped the revolution to maintain a democratic and egalitarian color. Who knows, it might even have contributed to our achieving victory. Therefore, we are internationalists not only as a matter of ethical principle but also as a consequence of revolutionary strategy. We therefore defend the need to create links and alliances between self-organized forces working for the emancipation of all without distinction.
This is what we call internationalism from below, the internationalism of the peoples.
Proposed positions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
Express full support for Ukrainian popular resistance against the Russian invasion. Prioritize support for self-organized groups defending emancipatory positions in Ukraine through donations, humanitarian aid, and publicizing their demands. Support progressive anti-war and anti-regime forces in Russia and publicize their positions. House Ukrainian exiles and organize events and infrastructure to make their voices heard. Combat all pro-Putin discourse, especially on the left. The war in Ukraine offers a crucial opportunity to put a definitive end to campism and toxic masculinity. Combat pro-NATO discourse by ideology. - Refuse support to those in Ukraine and elsewhere who defend ultra-nationalist, xenophobic, and racist policies. Permanent criticism and distrust of NATO’s actions in Ukraine and elsewhere. Maintain pressure on governments via demonstrations, direct action, banners, forums, petitions, and other means in order to enforce the demands of self-organized actors on the ground.
Unfortunately, this is not much, but it’s all we can offer as long as there is no autonomous force here or elsewhere fighting for equality and emancipation that is capable of providing economic, political, or military support.
We sincerely hope that, this time, these positions will carry the day. If that happens, we will be deeply happy, but we will never forget that this was far from being the case for Syria, and that it cost it dearly.
—The Syrian Canteen of Montreuil and L’équipe des Peuples Veulent
So that’s it for Episode 83 of the Ex-Worker. Huge thanks to Dmitrii for speaking with us, to our anonymous contributors, and to all the courageous protesters across Russia who are taking action against the war. For links to the text versions of these pieces, further background reading, contemporary news sources, the music we played, and lots more, plus the previous two episodes on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and all of our other back episodes and audio books and zines, check out our website at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Just a quick note before we let you go. Many of you may be encountering our podcast for the first time in the midst of this new wave of coverage. But for those of you who are long-time Ex-Worker listeners, we really appreciate you tuning back in! We’re sorry it’s been so long since we’ve been producing episodes consistently. Just so you know, we do plan to keep up the energy as best as we can, including beyond this particular crisis in Ukraine. In particular, we’ve been hard at work on a new audio book, which we hope to begin releasing later this spring, so keep your ears open for that. But in the mean time, as we get back into the flow of producing this show, we’d really like to hear from you about what you want out of the Ex-Worker, what you enjoy and what you think we should be doing that we’re not yet. You can contact us via email, podcast at crimethinc dot com, or on social media. Let us know what you think and what you want to hear.
We’d also like to remind those of you who don’t know that we are a proud member of the Channel Zero Network, an English-language anarchist radio and podcast network run by radical media makers. It exists to present anarchist analysis & context to deepen people’s understanding of our situation and broaden popular struggles. The projects involved share stories from the front-lines, lessons from history, and battle-tested ideas to spread revolutionary practices. Several other CZN participants, including The Final Straw Radio, Elephant in the Room, and This is America by It’s Going Down, have done their own coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so definitely check out those projects if you want to hear more. We’ve got links up on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Until next time, thanks for listening! Keep loving and keep fighting.