Not much of a Victory Day
My family went through World War II. Lots of people died, some fought and never came back, a few survived — including my grandfather Gennady, my grandmother Rosa, and my uncle Roma, who was an infant during the Siege of Leningrad and barely made it through.
I thought about writing something about it today — on May 9th, Victory Day — but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s too depressing. This day been increasingly weaponized by the Russian state to prop up its power — deployed as a largely depoliticized collective traumatic experience that brings people together and focuses their attention on external enemies and old glories, all while legitimizing Putin’s corrupt and rabidly anti-Soviet patriotic security state oligarchy as the true defender of the Russian people. This time around, this schtick has gone into overdrive. Predictably, it’s being used to shore up support for Putin’s regime change war in Ukraine, with the state explicitly saying that this is World War II all over again. And from what I’ve heard from my people back in Russia, a big majority supports the whole thing and anyone who doesn’t gets called a “Judas,” a “traitor”…
So what the hell is there to celebrate or commemorate?
There has long been a movement in “the West” to do malicious state-sponsored revisionism around the Red Army’s victory, and to try to grossly equate the Nazis and Soviet Union — in what’s become known as the “double genocide” theory. Sadly, there’s some malicious rewriting going on on the Russian side as well. Today Victory Day in Russia has become little more than a state-sponsored exercise in historical revisionism that cheapens and degrades the heroism and bravery of the Soviet people in that war, including that of my own grandfather — who barely survived a shrapnel hit to his head while fighting off Nazis near the Estonian border. Now his memory is deployed for what? For Putin’s neoliberal czarism-lite nation-building project? Fuck that.
1945 to 2022? Huh? The Soviet Union’s been winning that long?
Instead of celebrating or remembering, I want to repost a bit of Evgenia’s great recent essay on the counter-revolutionary politics of Putin’s “Russkiy Mir.” She wrote it a month ago. It gives you a sense of why today’s celebration of the Soviet Union’s Victory Day is so ridiculous and so offensive.
What is happening now is not the reviving of USSR in any shape, it is not “1984” coming to life. Putin’s project is distinctly and openly anti-Bolshevik. If anything he is a counter-revolutionary — a counter-revolutionary former KGB agent. He evokes the images of the great empire of pre-revolutionary Russia, an empire that Lenin fractured because he created national “princedoms” (Putin’s words) with distinct borders. Recently at a huge pro-war rally that took place right next to my childhood home, Putin praised 18th century admiral Fyodor Ushakov, who supposedly never lost a war and is now canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. At the same time Putin evokes the victory over Nazis in the WWII to whip up the support and justify this war. And it works — his approval ratings went up and a majority of Russians does seem to believe that a reboot of the Great Patriotic War is happening right now, with another crop of satanic Nazis who need be destroyed and taught a lesson once again. The fact is that people so easily fell for it is also a consequence of the non-existence of politics in Russia. There is only the aesthetization of politics, which as Walter Benjamin noted is rooted in the fascist nature of a regime…
…Despite Putin’s parasitic weaponization of the memory of the Soviet Union’s WWII victory, at its core Putin’s project is not revival of the Soviet Union. It’s the rebuilding of “historic Russia,” as he proclaimed himself. His regime is hybrid — not very ideologically coherent, but overall distinctly anti-Soviet. And if anything, what is happening now will finish off the last point of pride related to the Soviet Union — victory over Nazis. So he is “denazifying” Ukraine and decommunizing Russia at the same time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d finally managed to bury Lenin’s body and get rid of the mausoleum.
Read the rest of Evgenia’s Welcome to the "RuZZkiy Mir.”