Lenin Lives! A Disorders Forum: Introduction

This post kicks off a short forum on Philip Cunliffe’s book, Lenin Lives! Reimagining the Russian Revolution 1917-2017 (Zero Books, 2017). After an introduction from Philip, we have reactions from Disorderite Jamie Allinson and guest author Alex Sutton, followed by a response from the author. You can see all the posts here.


Philip Cunliffe is Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, and editor-in-chief of the journal International Peacekeeping.  He is the author of Legions of Peace: UN Peacekeepers from the Global South (Hurst, 2013) and is currently working on a new book entitled The Twenty Years’ Crisis in the Twenty First Century.

 


Over a hundred years after the October Revolution in Russia, and a hundred years after the November Revolution in Germany – the failure of which would condemn Russian socialism to isolation and bloody involution – both revolutions are remarkably absent from public debate. While this absence became itself a matter of public debate, it was just as remarkable and much less justifiable that the field of IR/international studies largely let the centenaries of the Russian and German Revolutions pass with such little note.

Of course, historically speaking, in the discipline of IR the Russian Revolution was largely dealt with the through the prism of the Cold War. The October Revolution was the event that supposedly set in motion an ideologically-charged, geopolitical confrontation and nuclear stalemate that itself is now long since in the past. The German Revolution tends to be even more overlooked in IR, even though its consequences were no less momentous: Paul Mason reminds us that it was the German revolutionaries, not the diplomats at Versailles, who brought the Great War to an end. Yet the German Revolution was also indissolubly linked to the Russian Revolution – for it was the Bolsheviks’ withdrawal of Russia from the war that removed the rationale for the German war effort. Given that the German ruling class had won the labour movement to the war effort with the justification of countering a Tsarist invasion of Germany, the withdrawal of Russia from the war kicked away the justification for class compromise and civil peace – the infamous Burgfrieden – in Germany.

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Trump, Russia, and the Global Right: IR’s Difficulty with the Political Present

Christopher McIntosh is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Political Studies at Bard College whose published research examines the concept of war, “terrorism,” and the intersection of time and temporality in international politics. He most recently co-edited a volume called Time, Temporality, and Global Politics, and he is currently completing a book project entitled, Theorizing the Interim: IR as Study of the Present.

Given recent events in the United States and Europe, it appears IR scholars have fallen victim, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy (among others), to an ancient “Chinese curse”: “may [you] live in interesting times.” From my position as an American citizen writing in the United States, American politics—both foreign and domestic—appears completely consumed by Trump’s actions, the moves of his “administration,” and the role of Russia in the 2016 election and potentially beyond. Nationally televised Congressional hearings during the day and seemingly daily “bombshell” news stories breaking at night have made it appear as if the US polity is in a unique, ongoing crisis. As overwhelming as it sometimes appears, as IR scholars we cannot afford to look away, as much as we might like to do so. By all accounts, these are, indeed, “interesting times.” Trump’s rise and the rise of the global right potentially upends much of what we think we know and could create a series of natural experiments that confirm or disconfirm our theories.

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Fantastic Mr President: The Hyperrealities of Putin and Trump

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 21.56.56This is a guest post by Maria Brock. Maria is about to commence a postdoctoral fellowship at the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies and the School of Cultural and Critical Theory at Södertörn University (Stockholm). She has a PhD in Psychosocial Studies from Birkbeck and has perviously published on the role of negative affect in reactions to the case of Pussy Riot, and the status of memory objects and ‘museums of the everyday’ in the proliferation of post-socialist nostalgia.


In July 2016 – more than 15 years into his time in office – Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s approval rating was at 82%, a figure made all the more remarkable by the fact that the country is experiencing a palpable and lengthy economic downturn. Some commentators have favoured an explanation that treats this as proof that a larger-than-life president is more in line with ‘what Russians want’, as Putin “satisfied a yearning for a strong leader who could make the Russian family proud”. However, concretising a Russian ‘national desire’ is less than helpful if we seek to understand the reasons behind Putin’s continued popularity. Equating a historical past with an inherent propensity to follow strong-men is an exercise in oversimplification, as it treats nations and groups as essentially static, prone to repeat the same historical patterns over and over again. Similarly, a focus on the more overt parallels with the earlier ‘Cults of Personality’ neglects the fact that the underlying ‘conditions of possibility’ that produced the two phenomena are different. Such comparisons also fail to explain the appeal of similarly larger-than-life politicians in countries with a longer democratic tradition. Clearly, an emphasis on national psychological propensities is not productive. Instead, an analysis of the appeal of such leader figures that taps into less conscious mechanisms is worthwhile. By simultaneously looking at the phenomenon of Donald Trump’s remarkable rise, a number of parallels pertaining to the creation of their public personae become apparent. In fact, such an analysis can serve to illuminate overarching principles structuring the successful creation of their outsized public personae.

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The popular support these politicians attract demonstrates that they hold a kind of libidinal appeal that should not be underestimated, lest we render a large part, if not the majority, of a country’s population politically incompetent. While one cannot discount the real inequalities, as well as the real and imagined grievances that opened up the space for less established political figures to gain support, it is nevertheveless worthwhile to examine why these particular kinds of candidates hold such appeal. Their reliance on spectacle and well-orchestrated exploits which combine the hypermasculine with the hyperreal enabled them to set in motion processes of identification that transcend the need for a coherent, well articulated political agenda. Instead, while seeming unsubtle to the point of being crass, they simultaneously operate on a more subliminal level, remaining oblique enough to become conduits for the electorate’s personal hopes and grievances. While this piece centres on the representational mechanisms employed by Vladimir Putin and his team of PR advisers, it is possible to identify a number of parallels with other contemporary leader figures – chief among them Donald Trump – each of whom appears to rely on a kind of hypermasculine charisma to suture a political field that is otherwise characterised by cynicism towards established politics.

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Clinton’s World

As part of the Canada 2020 conference, Hillary Clinton will be giving a lunch-time talk at the Ottawa Convention Center on Oct. 6. The subject of her speech is yet to be announced, but I imagine due attention to “Canada-U.S. relations in a changing world” will be given. I also imagine the event will be sold out despite high ticket prices (495 Canadian dollars per person + sales tax).  The main reason is that the former U.S. Secretary of State—former front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, former U.S. Senator, and former First Lady—is also the most likely person to succeed Barack Obama as POTUS (according to the American and British bookies at least).

By my count, this will be her fourth visit to Canada’s national capital region, and the first since 2010, when she swung by to attend important meetings in nearby Wakefield, Quebec. But where exactly is my city in Clinton’s world?

To answer this question, I turned to Hard Choices, her second memoir published earlier this year, and I read it through the lens of Saul Steinberg’s 1976 New Yorker cover, “View of the World from Ninth Avenue,” a famous Manhattanite mappa mundi from the era when the Vietnam War was a fresh trauma and Jimmy Carter was making an unexpected splash in the Democratic presidential primaries.

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Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws: The Politics and Consequences of a Moral Panic

A guest post from Cai Wilkinson on recent LGBTQ developments in Russia. Cai is a Lecturer in International Relations in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University, Australia. Her research interests include critical approaches to security, fieldwork-based securitization studies, norm contestation and resistance, and genders and sexualities in International Relations. Her geographic focus is on the former Soviet Union, and she is currently working on projects about LGBT rights and human rights norms in Kyrgyzstan and Russia. She received her PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK, in 2009 for a thesis entitled Interpreting Security: Grounding the Copenhagen School in Kyrgyzstan, which drew upon seven months of fieldwork conducted in Bishkek and Osh in the aftermath of the 2005 overthrow of the Akaev regime. Her work has been published in Security Dialogue, Central Asian Survey and Europe-Asia Studies, and she has contributed chapters to volumes on securitization theory, statehood in Central Asia, and fieldwork-based research methods. Cai is also Chair of the International Studies Association LGBTQA Caucus.


Russia Gay Pride Putin

The issue of LGBT rights in Russia first properly came to mainstream international attention in March 2012, when the St Petersburg Duma passed a law prohibiting “public acts aimed at the propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism amongst minors“. The law provoked an international outcry, including calls for tourists to boycott St Petersburg, sister-cities to consider cut off ties with Russia’s “window on Europe”, and condemnation from the EU, with the European Parliament passing a resolution noting that it was “gravely concerned by developments which restrict freedom of expression and assembly on the basis of misconceptions about homosexuality and transgenderism” and calling on Russia and other countries considering the adoption of similar legislation to “demonstrate, and ensure respect for, the principle of non-discrimination”.

In actual fact, this was not the first “anti-gay” law to be passed in Russia; Ryazan Oblast’s Duma adopted an amendment to local legislation to outlaw the “propaganda of homosexualism” in May 2006, and Arkhangelsk and Kostroma Oblasts followed suit in 2011. Yet the passing of the St Petersburg law proved to be a catalyst for other administrations to introduce similar laws, with a further six subsequently adopting similar legislation and others considering it (so far only the Moscow Regional Duma has rejected legislation). Most significantly, these laws paved the way for consideration of a federal bill outlawing the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors”, which the Russian Duma passed on June 11 despite continuing international condemnation and the fierce opposition of local LGBTQ activists and their supporters, who frequently endured physical attacks and arrests while protesting against the law.

Despite being a long-time Russia-watcher, the swiftness at which anti-gay laws have spread and at the ferocity of both popular and state homophobia has been striking. This is not, I should add, simply the result of not paying close enough attention. As a queer undergraduate student studying Russian with a compulsory year abroad to plan for, I was extremely conscious of attitudes towards homosexuality and queerness and the stigma and dangers that local LGBTQ people faced (Laurie Essig’s Queer in Russia was an essential primer), and was extremely careful not to out myself to anyone who wasn’t definitely queer-friendly while living with families first in Krasnoyarsk and then Voronezh in 2001-2002.

At the same time, it appeared until the mid-2000s that slowly but surely Russia was becoming more tolerant. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993 without any notable opposition, declassified as a mental illness in 1999, and the percentage of survey respondents advocating for the “liquidation” of homosexuals fell from 31% in 1989 to 22% in 1994 and all of 5% in 2013 (although inevitably survey results are heavily contingent on the phrasing of questions and, as Alexander Kondakov demonstrates, attitudes to homosexuality are no exception). Attempts to recriminalise homosexual relationships between men failed in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Popular culture in the first half of the 2000s appeared to offer further evidence of the trend: Continue reading