Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Russian Must See TV

As I was channel surfing last night, I came across an English language presentation on the Russian elections from Russian television. It was filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing, but the techniques and the special effects were very interesting.

First there was an interviewer with an informal and pleasant working class British accent presenting election news and interviewing an expert who spoke accented English and pretty much said that all was going well, the people were supporting Putin because the economy was going well and even after the election, things would continue to get better because the economy was on a "sound rail."

Earlier there were a number of translated blips from opposition party leaders, starting with Zuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, who was made to sound like an angry buffoon, the leader of the so-called "Liberal Democratic party", a party well known for its anti-Semitism and national chauvinism,(whose leader usually acts like a crude buffoon, but not tonight on Russian TV) saying some insipid things about Putin, and Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of a bloc which, although it is favored by the U.S. and its major capitalist allies, got few votes denouncing everyone, but saving his greatest anger for Putin and "the Communists"( recycling in a comical way cold war ideology as he called all of the opposition parties save his own "satellite parties" of Putin and said that both Putin and "the Communists" were interested in suppressing those who disagreed with them, twin enemies of democracy.

But the fun had just started on what was this transparently pro Putin broadcast, as transparently pro-Putin as Fox News is today pro Bush.

A commentator who reminded me of my seventh grade social studies teacher because he referred to the Soviet socialist revolution as a "coup" by the Bolsheviks (which is exactly what my seventh grade social studies teacher said in explaining to us why we had to fight the Soviets and the Communists anywhere and everywhere on earth) presented a lesson in Russian Civics using Sesame Street methods. Information flashed on the screen as the speaker, resembling physically President Muffly in Dr. Strangelove, explained why everything that Putin was doing was advancing democracy, why making it harder for independents and minority parties to gain access to parliament and also participate in elections was creating "strong parties" that would build democracy, why he and his network could not under the new election laws back candidates and that was good for democracy (I think that Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street would have understood that this program was in Putin's pocket after a few minutes).

The program went on but I grew tired of it. Not that we in the U.S. have any right to consider ourselves exemplars of even capitalist democracy, given our electoral system. But I was struck by many of the similarities between contemporary U.S. news media and the Russian program, with the exception of the Sesame Street style political civics lesson, which would have been done with far more sophistication, so that viewers would not think that they were being treated like stupid children(at least on CNN, if not on Fox News).

It is also interesting, to follow up on a point made by Joe Sims on our blog, to compare this election with the referendum in Venezuela. Unlike Joe, no one in the U.S. establishment media is giving Hugo Chavez credit for graciously accepting the vote. While there were all sorts of propaganda stories before the vote attacking the Venezuelan government for "intimidating" the opposition, the election was held under conditions that were radically different from those that took place in Russia, genuinely democratic by any standards, and the opposition had its chanced and took it.

Most of the analysis of the Russian election is filled with Putin, Putin, Putin! Czar Putin or Commissar Putin? This, along with commentary that the rich are getting richer in Russia and this is "trickling down"(I swear this is the term used on CNN, the NYT, and other capitalist media venues) to the Russian masses, which, along with his dynamic masculine, crewcut JFK telegenic personality, becomes the explanation for Putin's victory.

If I was doing a civics lesson on "Must See Russian TV" which I have about as much chance doing as I do on "Must See American TV", I would say that the first line of defense for the Russian people is a strong and vibrant Communist party, one that presents itself to the working class as its defender and puts forward young and attractive activists and candidates from the top down who fight the New Russian power structure.

From my readings, part of Putin's success politically has been based on his ability to appropriate selectively part of the Soviet heritage, to portray himself as a leader who will stand up to the U.S. NATO bloc, which sees Russia as a region for colonial exploitation, once its military encirclement is complete. Only the Communist Party can answer this propaganda because only the Communist party has a vision and a program in which Russia will not be either a craven subordinate or an effective capitalist business competitor of the U.S., either a partial member or a full member of the Capitalist-Imperialist Club.

Russia today is incomparably weaker than it was even in the last days of the Soviet Union, its government has permitted former constituent Republics of the Soviet Union to become military pawns of the U.S. NAT0 bloc and compradores of U.S. corporations. A number of its former Warsaw Treaty allies now belong to NATO.

Unlike China, with a hugely greater population and far less natural resources, its civilian industries do not export significant amounts of goods to the U.S. and other developed capitalist countries. It has no economic leverage over those countries, as China, which is increasingly one of the world's leading creditor nations, has, except of course, to threaten to withhold its oil, gas, and other natural resources.

Economically, militarily and (this may sound like a strange term from a Marxist) psychologically (meaning the sense of confidence and self-worth of its people) it is, with all the glitter, bells and whistles in Moscow and the major cities, a much weaker state and society than the Soviet Union ever was, fear by some internationally, pitied by others, but really respected by no one. These in my opinion are the kinds of points that a revitalized Communist party should make to the Russian people, reminding them that the wealth of the country, its industries now privatized, its scientific and technological achievements, and its military power, were created with and though socialist labor, and what its present capitalist rulers call freedom is in reality theft.

--Norman Markowitz

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