The following is an excerpt from a recent essay by Andre Vltchek , originally published by Z Net. In it, Vltchek looks into various questions, notably those revolving around hegemonic post-Cold War reactionary rhetoric and internationalist identity. As always, reposting here does not imply endorse or affiliation.
“No one is forgotten and nothing is forgotten”. That is what is engraved in Gold on the granite stone, right behind the statue of the Motherland, spreading her arms in grief.
The Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery is in the city of St. Petersburg –186 mass graves and about half a million people are buried there, including most of my family from the maternal side.
During World War II, for 900 days (2 and a half years), the city of Leningrad stood firm, defying the most horrific siege in modern history. It stopped the advance of the Nazi troops, withstood constant aerial bombardments, bitter cold, hunger and the lack of all basic necessities. Almost half the population vanished, was burnt by bombs, frozen in trenches and in unheated flats, or was starved to death.
This cultural capital of Russia performed the ultimate sacrifice: rising in defiance and courage, playing an important role in defeating Nazism, and thus in saving the world.
All of this while most of the West, either collaborated with Nazism or tried to ‘appease’ it.
Naturally the USSR in general and Leningrad in particular, did not save the world that belonged to the white race; it saved the world of “non-humans”, according to the German Fascists, of exterminable beings: people from Indian sub-Continent, Africans, Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Slavs, most of the Asians and Arabs.
And by smashing Fascism, colonialism also received a decisive blow (as Fascism and colonialism are made of the similar stuff), allowing dozens of nations in Asia and Africa to gain independence, and freedom. At least for some time; at least until the Western nations managed to regroup.
This was, naturally, never forgiven in the European and North American capitals. The Soviet Union and all its ideals and principles had been dragged through the dirt and vilified. Although it saved the world from Nazism, it became common to compare it to Fascist Germany, and many progressive Western intellectuals adopted this twisted and insulting judgment.
As I sat on a bench near the Statue Of The Motherland, I was in the company of Artem Kirpichenok, one of the leading Russian historians; a Jew who lived in Israel for 15 years, but decided to return to his native St Petersburg after becoming disillusioned with racism and the institutionalized discrimination of the minorities living in the Jewish State.
“It is incredible that Western propaganda succeeded in making most people all over the world believe that Nazism and Soviet Communism are comparable”, I said. “Even some progressive intellectuals are pronouncing both ‘–isms’ in one single breath.”
“Nazi Germany, the same as England, USA and France, was based on racist and colonialist mindset, widely accepted principles among the Western bourgeoisie in the 1930s”, uttered Artem Kirpichenok. “Hitler was building his empire in Eastern Europe on the British colonial design in India. Nazi racial theories did not differ too much from the racism in the US South or from the racial theories of French, Belgian, British or Dutch empires implemented in the colonies. The collapse of the Third Reich hit hard on all those ideals of colonialism and racism. And the Soviet Union was mainly to ‘blame’ for that collapse. The ideological basis of the European dominance over Asia, Africa and Latin America had been damaged.”
That could of course never be forgiven.
During the siege, my maternal grandmother dug trenches on the outskirts of the city. She fought the Germans, and was decorated for her courage on several occasions. I have no idea how she did it, how she managed to fight and to survive – she was so gentle, fragile and very shy. Many years after the war, years after I was born, whilst she was reading me poems and fairy tales, I would find it very difficult to imagine her holding a Kalashnikov, hand grenades or even a shovel. But she did; she fought, and she was ready to die for what she then thought, was the epic battle for the survival of humanity. And she came very close to dying on several occasions.
She was an Orthodox Christian lady, but also a firm supporter of Communism, a rare combination. She married my grandfather, a brilliant Muslim man from the Chinese minority in Kazakhstan, Husain Ischakov, a linguist and a Commissar of Health and later for Food Supply (basically a ministerial post in the old days).
What followed was a fragment that appeared as if it had been cut directly from official Western propaganda. My grandfather fell out of favor with Stalin, was arrested and executed. In 1937, (the first earliest memory my mom had from her ‘childhood’) this tall and elegant man was bent over the cradle, lifting my mom in his arms, and pressing her against his chest, before being led away by the agents of the State, to oblivion and eternity. He cried as he looked at her face; he knew exactly what was ahead. He never came back.
My grandmother fought. She was decorated. But nonetheless, after the War was over, she was arrested and thrown into jail for ‘marrying an enemy of the State”. She spent years in prison, while my mother went through hell, virtually an orphan. When my grandma was released from prison, she said to my mother: “It was so terrible that I thought; two more weeks and I would hang myself there”. But she never betrayed my grandfather: all she had to do was to sign that she ‘regretted’ marrying him. She never did. Obviously, her loyalty was more important to her, than her own life.
She left that jail, still an Orthodox Christian, and still a Communist!
My grandfather’s name was eventually ‘cleared’; he was made a ’hero’ again posthumously. Books were written about him, and my mother was allowed to study architecture.
What happened to my family was of course brutal and terrible. And to claim that the USSR was some paradise on Earth would be insane.
But we are talking about 1930s and 1940s. And in that context, the USSR was definitely more humane than Western Europe or the United States. To dispute that would be to deny the most basic statistics.
“Let us compare”, I was repeatedly told by the greatest Southeast Asian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who was nominated countless times for the Nobel Prize for literature but never received one because, unlike Solzhenitsyn, he was imprisoned in the wrong – pro-Western – concentration camps. “Let us remember that everything occurs in some historical context.”
Western propaganda managed to put to work some tremendously effective lies, half-truths and outright fabrications, that could not be checked or disputed (not that most of the people would even try): the number of victims in the gulags were exaggerated, and were regularly combined with the numbers of both political and common criminals (in the Stalin era, everybody convicted of any crime was put to work, in some sort of labor camp with terrible conditions, as the country was still poor. Many prisoners never returned).
Some members of the Soviet intellectual and military elites (including my grandfather) were executed. But was it just because of ‘Stalinist terror’? Many analysts (Russian, Chinese and others) now claim that the Nazi spy apparatus thoroughly infiltrated Soviet intelligence. Germany wanted to get rid of the most talented, loyal and tolerant Soviet leaders and Generals. They identified them, and then began injecting and spreading the most damaging, but fabricated information about their disloyalty. My grandfather was, for instance, executed on the charge of ‘spying for Japan’, a ridiculous but somehow ‘logical’ charge as he was a linguist, and spoke several Asian languages.
On top of that, Stalin and those around him, had plenty to be ‘paranoid’ about: the hostility of the West towards the young Communist state was apparent. The USSR was attacked by the US, UK, and ravaged by brutal Czech Legions and other invading forces.
Anyone with a drop of objectivity would have to admit (unless he or she would be set on denying the basic principle of humanism, which declares that all people are equal, regardless of their race and or nationality) that the Communist Soviet Union committed much lesser amounts of crime than the Western countries under the banner of ‘constitutional monarchies’ or ‘multi-party democracies’.
While the Soviets were busy pulling tens of millions out of poverty (and we are talking, for instance, about the Muslims of the Middle East, the areas where the standard of living eventually reached that of the European parts of Russia, as well as the other countless minorities inhabiting this enormous country), in approximately the same era the Belgians managed to kill around 10 million people in Congo, chopping off their hands and burning women and children in their huts alive.
The Germans committed a monstrous genocide (or call it Holocaust) against the Herero tribe in Namibia, for no other apparent reason than because they seemed to dislike their members. The first concentration camps on earth were built by the British Empire in Africa, and the French colonial onslaughts are well documented in Southeast Asia, in West and North Africa and elsewhere. The Dutch plundered, raped, killed and enriched themselves on a great archipelago that is now called Indonesia.
The genocides, mass murder and terror that were spread by the West, in the rest of the world, have been countless, but of course under-reported, as ‘foreign aid’ for education and the media, managed to train and discipline collaborators in the poor world, securing that the truth about the past would be generally omitted.
Even the end of World War II did not bring to an end, the bestial treatment of ‘the natives’ at the hands of the European and North American colonialists. One should recall the treatment of the people of the Middle East, by Winston Churchill and other glorified British leaders. All this is of course well documented, including in the books written by Churchill himself, but hardly mentioned by the disciplined and reliable mainstream media and academia, in both the colonizing and colonized nations.
There are countless statues of Winston Churchill or the Belgian King Leopold II, all over capitals of Europe.
In the second half of the 20th Century, during the so called ‘Cold War’, the Soviet Union stood firmly on the side of the oppressed, on the side of the liberation struggles, for freedom in Africa, Asia and Latin America. One has to wonder how mighty has been the propaganda that has made it all to be forgotten?
While Europe and the United States (and their constitutional monarchies and multi-party ‘democracies’) cultivated despots in Iran, Egypt, the Gulf, the Middle East, South Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, Indonesia and so many other unfortunate places, the Soviet Union stood by the Cuban, Nicaraguan, Tanzanian and North Vietnamese revolutions, it supported the leaders, true heroes and liberators like Patrice Lumumba and President Salvador Allende.
And both of us – Noam Chomsky and I – came to the conclusion during our recent debate at MIT, that the standards of living in Riga, Prague or East Berlin were allowed to be significantly higher than in Moscow, while those of Tashkent or Samarkand were just marginally lower. The standard of living in the colonies and the client states of the West were ten, twenty, even a hundred times lower than those in Washington, Paris or London, often resulting in the loss of millions of human lives.
I calculated that some 55 million lives have been lost since World War II as a result of Western colonialism, neocolonialism, direct invasions, sponsored coups and other acts of international terror. I am probably grossly under-estimating the numbers, as there were lives lost to famines, terrible mismanagement, and the outright misery triggered by Western imperialism.
Tens of millions of lives were further lost as a result of the terrible seeds planted by imperialism and colonialism, the most obvious case being the Partition of the Sub-Continent.
I would suggest that instead of comparing Fascism and Soviet Communism, the Left and the entire thinking world would begin comparing what is truly comparable: the Fascism, Western colonialism and market fundamentalism (the most violent fundamentalist faith on earth today), served and represented by “Western multi-party systems” and “Constitutional monarchies”.
When I meet a new person, which happens with a great frequency, to me there is nothing more frightening than the most simple and natural question: “Where are you from?”
I don’t know what to say, I cannot answer and even if I could, the reply would be too blurry, too complex, and too philosophical. On top of that, unless I would opt for some long and detailed answer, the information I would give would be very inaccurate.
I am a dedicated Internationalist, but it is not taken as an identity by the majority of those that I meet.
My interviewers and reviewers often choose Prague, the former Czechoslovakia or the present day Czech Republic as my identity, but it is thoroughly false. Prague was never my home. Czechoslovakia was where I endured a hellish childhood, where during the winter, I had my shoes filled with urine and then the other kids would let them freeze outside the school or gym, one of countless punishments for my having an “Asian mother”. It is where I had to fight after each class, from the age of six for my life, simply because my mother was not just half Asian, but because she was also half Russian.
My true identity is truly spread all around: it lies deep and high in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes where I faced death on several occasions while covering the Peruvian “Dirty War”. It is in Chile, bouncing from the walls of the narrow, winding and often haunted streets of the coastal city of Valparaiso – it lies with Chilean poets and with the songs of fishermen at its coast. My identity is spread throughout that enormous body of water of the South Pacific Ocean dotted with tiny specks of land – now ‘island nations’ that were colonized and utterly destroyed by the traditional colonial powers.
My identity is from the Swahili coast of Africa and around the Great Lakes of the continent, in all those places that underwent the worst genocide in modern history, the genocide triggered by the European and North American political and economic interests. My identity also lies in the deserts of the Middle East, and if I knew the Sub-Continent in just a bit more in detail, it would be there as well. I am at home in Havana, Caracas, Buenos Aires, Onomichi, Beijing, Cape Town and Kuala Lumpur. And I also live in Japan, Indonesia and Kenya.
It is a total mess, I know, it is very confusing and I cannot explain it, but that’s how it is.
For years, even decades, my home was where there was a struggle for justice and independence; I have been writing books and articles, making films or getting directly involved in the struggle. I can hardly identify my race, culture or national identity, anymore and I don’t even try to. I go where I am needed. And at the end, also, as Garcia Marquez wrote: my home is where they read my books. […Read the rest of the article at Z Net]