Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Political Uses of Nostalgia

The extraordinary January 9th issue of The Nation is worth reading not only for what three articles say about the twenty years since the Soviet Union was abolished, but for what their writers reveal about the little-known event and even more importantly, about nostalgia for what we could only see as a monstrosity.  This is important not only with respect to our misguided view of how the Soviet Union was experienced by its peoples.  It can be extrapolated to crucial current events in Syria and Iran, bearing in mind that the Shi'a have traditionally been the down-trodden in Islam.

Vadim Nikitin, a Soviet-born Russia analyst, quotes a book by Berkeley sociologist Alexei Yurchak “Everything was Forever Until It Was No More’, who writes: “An undeniable constitutive part of today’s phenomenon of post-Soviet nostalgia, is the longing for the very real humane values, ethics, friendships and creative possibilities that were as irreducibly part of the everyday life of (late) socialism as were the feelings of dullness and alienation”.  (A 17 year old describes a post-Soviet person as “one who is lost in this world.  He is totally naked - spiritually, materially, nationally”.)

According to a memoir of daily post-war life by Gorbatchev associate Valentin Tolstykh’s “The Way We were: The Soviet Person as He Is” (2008):”Though sheltered, naive and conformist, the Soviet Person was also trusting, communal and idealistic, qualities that find little scope of expression in Russia’s current cutthroat capitalist system. The essential traits of the Soviet Person: collectivism, internationalism, and awareness have been replaced by indifference.”

I’m especially indebted to Nikitin, because I’ve been trying to get across the notion that the rulers of Iran, Syria and Libya have had sincere followers among their people because their leadership, however brutal or corrupt, has been based on very real humane values. Nikitin describes these as ‘collectivism, internationalism and awareness’, while the Occupy movement and the revolts across the globe would describe them as cooperation, interdependence and respect for Otherness.

Right now, the airwaves are buzzing with warnings about Iran, and pundits exhibit a genuine incomprehension of Russia and China’s reluctance to support sanctions.  The reasons are the same that dictate these leaders’ interest in an international system of government. Naomi Klein describes it as ‘an alternative worldview’ in her recent exceptional article ‘Capitalism vs. the Climate’

Everything comes together for those who make connections rather than focusing on 'facts'.



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