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Art and Politics in Russia in a Time of Crisis

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Just as photographs are snapshots of memories, so are art pieces can portray symbolic events, movements or feelings and thoughts. The article touches base on the symbolism of the socioeconomic factors of Russia and the relationship to democracy. Conspiracy theory shows that propaganda being portrayed on the news, the painting itself includes news reporters with blank stares on their face. This may be symbolic of fear and suspicion that is evoked by such media hype due to the Kremlin crisis factor. Russia’s crisis (both financial and political) resulted in panic which was illustrated in the bold colored painting of people running in a chaotic state. Political forces which have resulted in “managed democracy” result in a mismatched, confused identity painting which correlates to the uncertainty of the economics of society.

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Just as photographs are snapshots of memories, so are art pieces can portray symbolic events, movements or feelings and thoughts. The article touches base on the symbolism of the socioeconomic factors of Russia and the relationship to democracy....

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Ilya's article raises fascinating issues of the general role of culture in societies. His description of Kremlin culture wars has, as he mentions in passing, uncanny U.S. parallels. In Russia, he writes, "Kremlin strategists, supported by the ruling elite, appropriated the American term 'silent majority' to categorize hard-working, religious, patriotic Russians resentful of the attack on their values and stability by the smug, self-proclaimed 'best.' It is well known that the term was taken up to facilitate the replacement of social contradictions with cultural ones and to create a new type of conservative union binding the governing elite and the masses."

In both Russia and the U.S., wealthy minority elites have sought to hoodwink broad swathes of their populations into believing the elite's interests are identical with their own. In Russia, this powerful minority is the current government, terrified by recent “non-parliamentary opposition from the street” and their “preoccupation with the specter of regime change.”

In the United States, hugely wealthy elites have also worked very hard to convince electoral majorities that far right-wing ideology is in their interests, as against the supposed “smug, self-proclaimed 'best:'” coastal-dwelling, arugula-munching, snobby Democratic oppressors. The right's first great victory along this path was the Republican “Southern Strategy,” the racist backlash to the Civil Rights Movement. The second was the conversion of the American Midwest from fiery Prairie leftism to Red State conservatism.

Early in the 20th century, the American Midwest was a hotbed of socialism and leftist populism, hallmarked by “Socialists like Eugene Debs, fiery progressives like Robert La Follette” and the anarchist IWW. There were once “Socialist newspapers in Kansas and Socialist voters in Oklahoma and Socialist mayors in Milwaukee, and...radical farmers across the region forever enlisting in militant agrarian organizations with names like the Farmers' Alliance, or the Farmer-Labor Party.” (Thomas Frank, What's the Matter With Kansas?) My own grandmother, named the Milwaukee Socialist government's Factory Inspector in 1911, was given the power to arrest labor-law-breaking factory owners and sweatshop bosses!

How did the flaming-leftist American Midwest flip to today's Red State conservativism? At least part of the answer is that the U.S. right wing used culture wars, with the same appeals to religion and conservative “family values” Ilya describes for Russia: anti-gay, against women's right to chose an abortion (and in the U.S., against all gun-safety regulations).

In reality, the 99% has very little common interest with the superrich 1%. So the only way to try to convince the 99% otherwise is via culture.

Perhaps the most powerful U. S. cultural force over the last decade in particular has been secretive organizations of billionaires (of whom the Koch Brothers are leaders, but by no means alone), revealed by Jane Mayer in her recent Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. While the billionaires have created an electoral Frankenstein with the current rise of Trump, they've more lastingly affected American culture. They've founded and funded with hundreds of millions of dollars so-called “public interest” foundations, think tanks, talk radio, and other tools that have moved the entire public political discourse in the US far to the right. What used to be “centrism” is now labeled so far left as to be unAmerican; what used to be considered right wing radicalism is now normative. Perhaps most disastrously, the billionaires have convinced the American majority that climate change isn't happening during the very years we might have rallied to save the planet.

It's also interesting in this context that the Koch Brothers have donated millions to the arts (including American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art). They use the glories of art to camouflage what they're actually busy doing behind the scenes with their think tanks and foundations. This echoes the “big projects” art-funding Ilya describes in Russia.

Another US/Russia parallel is the “oppressors” as identified by elites in both countries: “the smug, self-proclaimed 'best'...the liberal beau monde,” as Ilya writes. In the U.S. this characterization has been pasted onto the left by the right, not adopted by the left itself, as Ilya describes for Russia. I'd love to hear more from Ilya about how this process has unfolded in Russia, how and why the 2012 protest movement chose this route, which appears to be self-defeating.

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Ilya's article raises fascinating issues of the general role of culture in societies. His description of Kremlin culture wars has, as he mentions in passing, uncanny U.S. parallels. In Russia, he writes, "Kremlin strategists, supported by the...

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Discuss (2) Print