FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In Defense of Pussy Riot and the Russian Punk Movement

by CHRIS RANDOLPH

Yesterday CounterPunch printed an ignorant defense of the pending imprisonment of Russian female punk band Pussy Riot by economic columnist Mike Whitney.  I choose the word “ignorant” carefully; Whitney seems genuinely uninformed about the decades-old Russian punk movement and the Russian social conditions they navigate.

Once upon the time the Left was in favor of free speech, feminism, and confrontational protest, and simultaneously suspicious of authoritarian predatory privatizers, misogynist clerics and prudish censors.  From the many articles and comments like Whitney’s in the (putatively) left of center blogosphere, we learn that the American Left is now quite alright with misogynist religion, censorship, rigged trials and the like just as long as the oppressing government is a foreign policy foil of the United States.  This turns so-called progressives into just another group of intellectually dishonest bigots.

The first logically erroneous and morally indefensible position of the Pussy Riot-bashers is the notion that because Vladimir Putin sometimes has decent (and self-interested) foreign policy positions, it should not nor could not be possible to criticize him for any other reason.  Potable water is a resource of which our planet has shortages; wrongness unfortunately is in abundant renewable supply.  It’s entirely possible to be critical of American foreign policy and Russian internal repression at the same time, and none of the champions of the Pussy Riot prosecution have even attempted to explain their impossible and ridiculous implication that the two are mutually exclusive.  It becomes intellectually dishonest on the part of Whitney and others not even to attempt to make any such case.

Putin and the very rich thugs who run Russia – the new 1% of that country – came to power in the climate of privatization pushed by American economic hatchet men such as the vile Larry Summers.  They have been stripping Russia of natural resources through former state-held utilities and other newly private companies and the economic growth this has spurred has been very poorly distributed, by design ending up in the pockets of well-connected oligarchs.  In the first ten years of an independent Russia, a small number of people became rich while the average life expectancy for a male dropped a shocking three years.  This led to the new sardonic Russian aphorism that “Everything they told us about communism was a lie and everything they told us about capitalism was true.”

Just a few months ago Putin backed a harsh austerity regime titled Strategy 2020 for Russia’s poor, indistinguishable in its detail from the sort being imposed in Greece, Spain or here in the United States.  Putin is raising the male retirement pension age by five years for men and eight for women, which, given Russian life expectancy, will effectively rob many poor Russians of any retirement at all.  Putin is also shifting the burden of funding pension funds, which had been 100% the employer’s responsibility, to workers themselves, now planning to get workers to fund up to 15% of those funds from their already meager salaries.

Strategy 2020 also calls for renegotiating the salaries of public workers downward, and for cutting social spending across the board.  While the Pussy Riot critics in the US like to paint Putin as the second coming of Fidel Castro, he is in fact more accurately compared to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Against this backdrop of unfettered crony capitalism, the Russian state has maintained a repressive attitude toward the right to speak and protest, most viciously launching repeated brutal police attacks upon gays and lesbians attempting to hold peaceful marches for basic civil rights.  These marches too have also upset the patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, a hypocritical church – if this is not a redundant phrase – which has managed to make peace with any human rights-denying power structure in the country for several decades somehow without noting any evident sin.

It was my understanding that the Left was fine with upsetting vicious old men who lie about a special relationship with God in order to oppress women.  Pussy Riot detractors have a responsibility to tell us how and why this has changed.  I don’t believe they will because I don’t believe they can.

The less said about the alleged popularity of Putin the better.  In 1984 Ronald Reagan scored a crushing victory over Walter Mondale among that portion of the population who bothered voting.  I have no recollection of the American Left at that time declaring that criticism of Reagan, his policies, or the religious charlatans who supported his administration therefore became inappropriate or somehow invalid.  We have regressed several decades, if not centuries, if it becomes necessary for anyone to defend the act of criticizing a politician who wins an electoral victory.

The United States badly needs an angry group of young women charging the altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and denouncing the many crimes of Barack Obama.  Shame on us as a society for not yet producing the same.

Whitney and others commit lazy, craven and inaccurate libel against Pussy Riot and their millions of supporters within Russia with the claim that they are “useful idiots.”  These critics place themselves in general agreement not only with elders of the church but with Russia’s neo-Nazi skinhead movement, both of whom have denounced Pussy Riot for being misbehaved little girls.

Punk has been a major influence in Russian (and Soviet) counterculture since the early 1980s.  It is not as if these ladies have taken up something new nor something that’s just landed in Moscow last week, courtesy of American intelligence.  This isn’t NSC or CIA money; these people are real artists steeped in Russian counterculture and they want better lives for themselves and their fellow citizens.  The band members have been pulling stunts like this since their teens, their most infamous previous stunts include filming themselves kissing subway police and a media-invitation public orgy.

It would be refreshing if for once Americans, even and especially ones labelled progressives, could imagine that non-Americans have some agency in their own lives and societies.  It would be refreshing if not every action of foreign residents were assumed to be for the benefit of Americans.

I became aware of Russian punk in the late 1980s through issue #59 of the essential American hardcore punk zine MaximumRocknRoll, which focused upon the brave bands of the former Soviet Union, people who faced prison time and police beatings for their songs and haircuts.  By that time the controversial Yegor Letov and his band Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense) were major figures and influences in underground arts and politics in Russia, and had been for several years.  I still have a cassette the band sent me me for the princely sum of US$3 when writing to their listed address.

Whitney and others would do well to use the internet to delve into the 30 year indigenous history of Russian punk, not only Grazhdanskaya Oborona but classic bands such as Va-Bank and Naive, the latter having met by chance in the same Soviet tank corps.  Through old guard communism, perestroika and now the oligarchy, Russian bands have taken heroic stands against bigotry, censorship, and abuse of power.  The bravery and intelligence of these groups can not be overstated; Pussy Riot is their rightful heir.

There is one vital question the American cavalier Pussy Riot critic needs to answer.  If they are “useful idiots,” what variety of idiot are you?

Chris Randolph lives in Philly and can be reached through his blog.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail