In Feature Articles, Russia

Statement by the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements (Moscow), Nov 4, 2016

We respond to an open letter to the Stop The War (STW) Coalition in Britain, published by Simon Pirani on his personal blog. His letter makes a number of demonstrably false charges, several since repeated by Andrew Gilligan in what is clearly a campaign to discredit the Stop the War campaign and reverse the clear parliamentary decision of 2013not to intervene militarily in Syria.

We do not enjoy lengthy internet exchanges. However, the nature of Pirani’s accusations call for a detailed response. His central theme is that STW has falsely presented Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements (IGSO) as an anti-war activist and organizer of anti-government protests, and should not allow the British people to hear him. He makes the following allegations which we deal with in order of significance: 1) Kagarlitsky is a paid agent of the Kremlin (2) Kagarlitsky has since 2014 become “a collaborator with leading ultra-nationalists and fascists” (3) Kagarlitsky is not an anti-war activist.

As STW’s statement clearly establishes, these are all false. To anyone familiar with the record and the views of Kagarlitsky, one of Putin’s most vociferous, clear, and consistent opponents, the charge of acting as an agent of the Kremlin is absurd. We urge our readers to verify Kagarlitsky’s positions by referring to his many works such as his 2015 speech delivered in Winnipeg, Canada, his interviews on the New Cold War website, and especially the forthcoming special issue and book on Ukraine to be published by International Critical Thought. (ICT)

This is an elementary journalistic duty. Pirani and Gilligan have either failed to undertake it or seek deliberately to conceal the actual record and views of Kagarlitsky and IGSO from their readers.

We now turn to the charges in detail.

The charge that Kagarlitsky and his organizations are funded by the Kremlin

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

The “lengthy article by an investigative journalist” begins with a 100% imaginary dialogue between Kagarlitsky and Vladislav Surkov which, according to the author, “just had to take place sometime and somewhere”. Investigative journalism at its finest. Pirani then goes on to cite a series of equally unsubstantiated gossip, none backed up with a single fact. Taking advantage of his audience’s unfamiliarity with the Russian language, he offers only one basis for believing his account, which is that his readers should trust him.

We beg to differ.

The cited article gets one single fact right — in its early days Rabkor.ru, which is supported and run by a small team also working at IGSO, gained help from Vadim Gorshenin, who provided technical support with hosting. Actually, Gorshenin was hosting a number of sites. Our relations with him were strictly professional. Moreover, since then we have had to change our hosting twice. On the first occasion, precisely because we wanted to make sure that we’d be able to keep our position as independent as possible. On the second occasion in 2014, our servers were hacked and wiped out due to our articles on Ukrainian crisis, since when we have switched to London as a location for our servers.

Gorshenin, it is true, is by no means a figure of Russian left. He may even support Putin … so what? The issue is whether there was a quid pro quo. In fact, Rabkor systematically attacked the Russian government and backed Anti-Putin protests in 2011-12. Gorshenin’s ‘support’ did not prevent the Russian police from searching Kagarlitsky’s flat in 2012and threatening him with being transferred from a witness status to the status of defendant in the trial against protestors of May 6th.

Pirani’s method dates from the McCarthy era: guilt by association. On the basis of his journalistic methods, what would he conclude from Gilligan’s job with Boris Johnson’s Spectator and his long-standing association with the UK’s foreign minister? Or for that matter, his stint with Iran’s PressTV? Do we detect the faintest whiff of double standards?

Kagarlitsky is used to charges of collaboration: unfortunately, they all contradict each other. He was variously accused of working for Western intelligence (Komsomolskaya Pravda in 1988), for KGB right-wing liberals (1991-92), for the Global anti-Russian conspiracy and the CIA (left.ru), and now for Putin (Sunday Times). All such charges have the same function: to prevent ordinary people making up their own minds by listening to what he actually says – to which Pirani makes no reference. The outcome is a suppression of the freedom of speech and of the right of the UK people to hear and consider the evidence for themselves.

Kagarlitsky began his collaboration with STW during the second Chechen war, when he was a vocal critic of Putin’s actions. Indeed since fascist sympathies feature widely in Pirani’s scattergun accusations, we should recall that the infamous Russian group “BORN”, whose members are now doing various terms including life-sentence for a number of brutal executions, terrorist attacks and murders, listed Kagarlitsky as one of the figures they’d possibly need to kill in their ‘white pride’ quest.

It soon becomes clear that Mr. Pirani didn’t do his homework. For example, he says after a “right turn” made by Kagarlitsky, lots of people turned away from him, including the whole collective of CTU. That can’t be further from the truth as we still have a number of active ongoing projects. Also, Boris Kravchenko, who is the president of CTU, to this day serves as co-founder of IGSO.

But why does Mr. Pirani even suppose that the trivial fact of losing friends – a constant fact of political life, as Gilligan knows – validates a charge of being a Kremlin puppet? It’s true that IGSO doesn’t work with 100% progressive left organizations exclusively, since it has no constant funding and has to look for paid social research opportunities on the open market. If Pirani has any questions about our projects or colleagues, he’s always free to send us a message. Instead, he prefers to brand us as ultra-fascists with immense Kremlin resources at our command. Actually, as a non-profit organization, the only equity we have is reputational. Therefore, we always try to present our political views and social position as transparently as possible, to avoid any misunderstanding by our audience and potential partners. We have done our best to clarify on the issues raised by Pirani’s open letter but the simplest course is for his readers to find out for themselves by reading the material we have cited, visiting our site, and allow Kagarlitsky a fair hearing. Of course, if Pirani has his way, the British people will in future be denied precisely the opportunity to find out the truth for themselves.

The charge that Kagarlitsky collaborates with leading ultra-nationalists and fascists

The second claim goes even further. As we shall see, advocating the right to defend your life, land and family against murderous military and paramilitary attacks, for Pirani, equals “supporting war”. That’s hardly a correct interpretation, but Pirani has every right to promote it. Later we give our own view, which we have an equal right to promote. However, the charge of collaborating with Nazis and fascists is not a matter of interpretation but of fact. Collaboration with fascism is a very serious accusation – libelous, in fact – and needs to be rigorously backed up by data.

Mr. Pirani tells us that “Kagarlitsky has at least since 2014 collaborated politically with Russian ultra-nationalists and fascists”. To prove that he lists the following: “He was photographedsharing a meal and drink with Alexei Belyaev-Gintovt, a prominent member of Aleksandr Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement; Yevgeny Zhilin, leader of a far-right militia; and other ultra-nationalist politicians.”

If Andrew Gilligan were held responsible for the views of everyone he has shared a drink with, we doubt that anything would remain of his reputation. This ‘proof’ is undiluted McCarthyism.

Kagarlitsky was invited to the meeting to listen to Mr. Zhilin reporting on the recent events in Donbass. Zhilin was a leading member of Oplot group, which claimed to represent the Soviet tradition of Donbass and flew Red Soviet flags at their meetings. There is no doubt these people have confused views (which applies to most people subjected to completely unexpected military attacks in the absence of 20+ years of political experience): however where did Pirani get the evidence to call them “fascists”? The only reason is that Pirani thinks so himself. We have our own opinions about Mr. Pirani. But unlike him we try to base our judgment on something more substantial. In Pirani’s book it’s quite easy for a Ukrainian to qualify as a fascist — you just need to disagree with his political views.

Quite a few people were invited to the same meeting including nationalists, who worked neither with Kagarlitsky nor IGSO. Indeed, some of them may support Dugin, Putin, Adolf Hitler or even Ronald Reagan. Is simply sitting in the same hall with them enough to speak of “political collaboration”? In fact seeing these people sitting next to him Boris said: “now my leftist friends will accuse me of joining Russian nationalists, but on the other hand, nationalists will be accused of selling out to cosmopolitan lefties and Jews.” That was exactly what happened.

Pirani continues “The Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements (IGSO), headed by Kagarlitsky, co-organised a conference in Crimea in July 2014 with the extreme nationalist ‘New Rus’ organisation (which hypocritically called for ‘peace’ in Ukraine but made no mention of military action by the Russian-supported separatists).“

We indeed collaborated (in a true sense of this term) with New Rus Fund, organizing a social school in Belgorod and taking part in some of their events. Although we didn’t fully support their agenda, it was far from being an “extreme nationalist” one. Indeed, Pirani contradicts himself: if the said organization indeed was extreme nationalistic, why would it call for a peaceful solution to the conflict instead of overwhelming war? And why is Kagarlitsky some kind of fascist war criminal for working with an organization that calls for peace?

This remains unclear. One of the results of those events and conferences was the document which later became known as the Yalta Manifesto – which constitutes the actual political platform of the movement Kagarlitsky and IGSO are proud to associate with. We dare Mr. Pirani, Mr. Gilligan, or anyone else with an ounce of journalistic scruples, to find a single idea in that paper which can be labeled fascist or nationalist.

Next, we hear that “Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor.ru web site has regularly featured sympathetic reports of prominent fascists and ultra-right-wing mercenaries active in eastern Ukraine (recent examples here, here and here).”

Pirani thus cites three of our many articles. Again, he simply asks his audience to believe what he infers from them, knowing that most cannot read them. In fact, two of them describe the views expressed by Igor Strelkov, who, despite having some right-wing sympathies, is certainly not a mercenary. Never in the cited articles do we directly support him or his views. This is known as ‘reporting’, something neither Gilligan nor Pirani seem to be interested in. The third article is a report that our colleague made after having a trip to Donetsk on the 9th of May. She tells about her experience, the enthusiasm of Donetsk’s citizens and the beauty of the celebration she’d witnessed. Unfortunately Pirani doesn’t make it clear to a reader who doesn’t know Russian how all that can be considered a “sympathetic repost of prominent fascists”.

Feeling he has proved enough, Pirani concludes: “To my mind, Kagarlitsky’s links with people and organisations who support Dugin are truly shocking. Dugin is one of the most prominent advocates of “neo-Eurasianism”, a militarist and fascist-type ideology.” He then goes on to describe what a conservative monster Alexander Dugin is. Fascinating – but nothing to do with either Boris Kagarlitsky or IGSO. The only “link” between Kagarlitsky and “organizations who support Dugin” is a picture of Kagarlitsky in a restaurant near one of the guys who is said to be a Dugin supporter. On this basis, Kagarlitsky is a fascist collaborator. OK Pirani, walk around the restaurants of Europe, and you are going to find one helluva lot of fascists by these criteria. Last time we’ve checked, fascism was a very articulated set of beliefs and practices, not a respiratory illness you can catch by sitting near someone for a few hours.

Pirani continues finding “links” between Kagarlitsky and Dugin: “Kagarlitsky also writes on the site, which is full of militaristic imagery, and has commented approvingly about the movement behind Donald Trump there”.

The link he provides contains a banner depicting Alexander Dugin holding an RPG and an article of Boris Kagarlistky which is… reprinted from The Wire, and The Wire mentions that it was originally published on Defend Democracy Press. So, when somebody reprints an article that you write for somebody else, this is supposed to be proof of collaboration? Rabkor is thus granted X-men powers: we can turn Pirani and Gilligan into fascist pro-Putin hacks by reprinting their articles.

The same disrespect for elementary principles of reason and evidence pervade Pirani’s attempts to brand Kagarlitsky as a Trump supporter and bastion of American conservatism. He doesn’t mention that Rabkor.ru was the only Russian media organization that closely followed Bernie Sanders’ campaign and remains the only Russian media that constantly informs its audience about the work of Jeremy Corbyn as an elected Labor leader. Again, this misinformation can only work if Pirani succeeds in denying the British public access to our actual views.

Pirani ends this chapter by asking another question: “My question to supporters of STW is: it turns my stomach to see someone who claims to be a socialist collaborating with the likes of Dugin. Doesn’t it turn yours?”

Pirani needs medical help not just for his stomach, but for his imagination.

The charge that Kagarlitsky supports the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Pirani bases his charges on selective quotes from Rabkor.ru. He begins by quoting one of our editorials, claiming that: “When the eastern Ukrainian separatists took up arms – the vast majority of which were brought in from Russia – in May 2014, Kagarlitsky unequivocally greeted their military action. The editorial board of Rabkor.ru, a site of which Kagarlitsky is the chief editor, stated that there was ‘no way towards peace [in eastern Ukraine] other than resistance [to the Kyiv government]’.”

This forgets one fact: the military confrontation was initiated by the Kiyiv government. Its “anti-terrorist operation” began on 14th April 2014, when Alexander Turchinov, acting as a president of Ukraine, signed the relevant papers. On what basis? An illegal and (by the way) violent coup, known as Maidan, which overthrew a legitimately elected president and ushered in a government that imposed extremely hostile neoliberal policies on the working masses of Ukrainians. Since there was no democratic basis for the military action against the people of Eastern Ukraine, who had been deprived of any influence on what later would become a new Ukrainian government, we opposed this action. Despite Pirani’s claims, at that time the people of Donbass neither expressed any strong separatist views, nor had sufficient weapons to protect themselves from the vicious attacks of Kiyiv’s government.

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

“Novorossia” is not a nationalist name of any kind. It was used in 18th century under the Russian Empire to describe a number of lands located close to what we call Donbass nowadays. Pirani provides no proof for his claims about the actual views of the said rebels and volunteers from Russia, who felt the need to support locals in their struggle for democracy. If you look deep enough, you can find nationalists, fascists and even simple thugs in any major conflict. But to say that “most of volunteers” were led by fascists and ultranationalists is simply wrong – and again, supported by no evidence. As with everything else that Pirani says, we must believe it because he says it.

We have a different basis for belief: it’s called evidence. In the summer of 2014 IGSO, together with New Rus fund, organized a social school in Belgorod, welcoming hundreds of people all over the Ukraine. We provided education on the major economic and political issues of the day, held discussions related to the future of their homeland and, most importantly, organized a number of polls, so they could express their views and have them recorded. The results were published in our magazine “Left Politics”. These social activists, personally engaged into the raging conflict, expressed very moderate social-democratic views, saying they’d need a significant increase in social spending, progressive labor laws and wiping the oligarchs from the public politics. Hardly a “fascist” or “ultranationalist” agenda. Our judgement is based on hard data collected in close participation with grass-roots Ukrainian activists during intense and lengthy teaching sessions.

A detailed study, based on the results of the Belgorod survey, was done by Russian sociologist Anna Ochkina (who also happens to be our colleague) for ICT. It shows that the views of people protesting in East Ukraine were mixed and often confused, in fact strikingly similar to the views of people who voted for Brexit in 2016. This similarity was analyzed in a Rabkor article “Brexit and Novorossia”. In contrast, Pirani’s logic is simple: everybody who opposes the Kyiv régime is fascist or Russian nationalist by definition.

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

This enduring conflict destroyed many lives and reliable estimates are way higher than 9000. All accounts however agree that the overwhelming majority of lives lost were inhabitants of the Donbass. How can these people be simultaneously victims and originators of the same conflict? Either the 6 million people of Donbass are nationalist pro-Russian fascists and deserve to die, or they are victims of Russian aggression: to say they are both at the same time defies all known laws of logic.

The conflict was a disaster unheard of in the modern history of Eastern Europe. The problem for Pirani’s reading, as we’ve shown above and as well-documented reports show, is that it was not the rebels and citizens of Eastern Ukraine who started the war. They joined the local militia in order to defend themselves. The war was provoked by a frontal military attack organized by the Kyiv government in concert with paramilitary forces such as the Azov Battalion whose fascist sympathies we need not speculate about, since they openly boast of them.

Under any definite conditions, to be “against war” one must ensure that the terms on which the war will end can guarantee a stable peace. Our views on that are clear. The ‘side’ we support are the people of the Eastern republics, in common neither with Kyiv nor certainly the Kremlin. Clearly we don’t expect Pirani to agree with this but it is a legitimate view that deserves to be heard. But there is a further point: Pirani says nothing about Kiyiv’s own role in the war. At the very least, if there is to be peace, the Ukrainian government needs to stop attacking the people of their own country. It needs to acknowledge the rights of people of Donbass, and all other regions of Ukraine, to be in charge of their own fate. It needs to introduce its promised – but long-delayed – legislation guaranteeing regional autonomy, and withdraw its troops. As for Britain, it should be playing no role in stirring up this dangerous conflict and should cease training Ukrainian Troops – a point to which Pirani, who lays claim to a committed anti-war stance, makes no reference. This is indeed a programme to Stop The War in Ukraine, and neither Pirani’s, nor Gilligan’s, nor Johnson’s campaign of misinformation should dupe the British people into yet another war in a place they have no business being.

*****

EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

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