Peoples' movements and protests




Kagarlitsky and
Political Apathy





Tord Björk



Can the arrest of the activist-intellectual Boris Kagarlitsky help us in creating awareness of the present political condition facing humanity? He is now in custody accused for terrorism due to his resistance against the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Many has acted against the war, at times hit harder by repression than Kagarlitsky. He is anyway of importance to highlight as a representative for all political prisoners in Russia and those harrassed. The reason for this is that he also address theoretically the roots of the war, the way it develops and what comes next in both political and socio-economical terms. His combination of theoretical understanding combined with political action in the midst of a historical conflict may be of more general interest for movements everywhere.

One of the problems facing movements today is political apathy, a tendency in many parts of the world from Argentina to Russia. Kagarlitsky have consistently been addressing this apolitical mood in Russia as an obstacle for social change. A similar mood among many at least in the West is to say that it is easier to envision the end of the world than the end of capitalism. What is needed is cooperation with corporations and other parts of the system to make incremental steps within seprate political fields. Radical change of the system is impossible for overseeable time.

Boris Kagarlitskij has dramatic tendencies in his thinking and acting. In some ways one of very few revolutionaries in our time in both political and socio-economic sense. This maybe led him to support the Antimaidan uprising in Donbass in the hope for this to catalyse also changes in Russia. He did see the problems within the uprising. When generally speaking he says: ”the inevitable inconsistency of any revolutionary process and sometimes even the presence of reactionary tendencies in it” while also saying this ”can always be used by the champions of the ideological purity of the movement as a kind of ideological alibi justifying their unwillingness to participate in practical struggle.” He saw Antimaidan as a socio-economic response to the aggressive neoliberal regime installed in Kiev in February 2014. When this proved to be wrong and Russia took more and more control of the self proclaimed peoples republics Kagarlitskij started to oppose the way Russia used the conflict in Ukraine for its own purposes. He became one of the most vitriolious critics of Putin and the oligarchs enabling with his socio-economical criticism to contribute to enlarging the opposition against the war. His focusing on the need to understand the political apathy of the ”toiling masses” in Russia made him change his position while inability of the system to change made expropriation of the wealth of the oligarchs a necessity. This to stop not only the war but also the socio-economic regime that made the war a necessity.

But Kagarlitsky might be of help to us also at micro level and not only a global macro level. Here we are confronted with a more advanced intellectual need to look at every situation were we are faced with a possibility to act from a position beyond dualistic thinking. Kagarlitsky sees the similarity in seemingly opposing positions between utopianism and reformism. He criticize both. ”The combination of highly moral utopianism with absolutely down-to-earth pragmatism, not even of “small deeds”, but of small momentary gains, predetermined the fatal impossibility of any strategy.”

”Belief in a utopia may sustain enthusiasm, but it cannot provide strategic guidance.” says Kagarlitsky and continues ”Revolt can be inspired by utopian ideas. On the contrary, politics begins only where utopia ends. Politics simply must be concrete and practical, because there is simply no other way of doing politics. However, this does not mean at all that politicians (especially those on the left) should limit themselves to the close horizon of petty and immediate tasks. The struggle to transform society itself opens up new perspectives. Only not through attempts to fulfill utopian desires or idealistic dreams, but through concrete work to solve specific problems, albeit very large-scale ones.”

Kagarlitsky make use of György Lukács to explain the core of the matter. Lukács assessed the discussion between the revisionists, who criticized Marxism, and the dogmatists, who defended it from any criticism, he did not see much difference between them: the desire to protect ideological purity from the "defilement" associated with the search for practical solutions "may eventually result in such desecration" , leads to the same departure from the comprehension of reality, from "practical-critical activity”, to the same return to the utopian dualism of the subject and object, theory and practice to which revisionism has led".

In the world of today we can talk about both ideological purity and utopianism as one important strand in the movements demanding the use of the correct words or that every action has to be an example of the new utopian society. On the other hand to give up every practical activity that is not limiting itself to incremental gains within the present institutions.

Thus we see how abstract theory and ”science” is separated from exchange of experience among movements. Science becomes a theoretical object produced in formal organisations separated from the practical subject supposed to use the scientific knowledge as if science can say how we can change society. This dualistic utopianism becomes especially contradictory among organizations defining themselves as left. On the one hand marxism is seen as a theory that better can explain the present socio-ecological condition than any else while at the same time left activists oppose antineoliberal demands as well as demands against the present military world order in the climate movement. They see no way to expropriate the capitalists in the foreseeable future nor uniting peace and environmnetal movement as an important task. Their strategy is reformistic within the compartmentalization of politics as it is organized in the present world order.

The way Kagarlitsky simultanously criticizes isolation in a pure ideological position or incremental steps within present institutions is of wider concern than only for the left. The compartmentalization of politics away from the experience of daily life may well be one of the reasons for political apathy, not only in Russia but also many other places in the world. Kagarlitsky have shown that it is possible to do politics beyond immediate concerns also under severe repressive circumstances. His intellectual understanding during his experience with truth to use an expression from Gandhi addressing the need for avoiding utopian dualism and separation of theory and practice may be very useful for others as well.



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