The 109th NZ issue has two topical sections and a number of stand-alone articles included in our regular columns. The two sections – despite their subjects being seemingly different – are linked by a major topic that is the existence of Marxism as a worldview, an existential system of everyday human life, as well as an ideological basis for the existence of a state. It is the state – by which, of course, we mean the USSR – that we first turn to in this summary.
August 2016 saw the 25th anniversary of the so-called “August Putsch”, which made it impossible for the USSR to continue to exist. Not only did the events of 19–21 August 1991 put an end to the USSR, but they also became the starting point for the post-Soviet period of the history of Russia, and its aspects would be impossible to understand without taking into account the historical and social characteristics of those events. This is the subject of the first topical section, “August 1991: The Half-Forgotten Beginning of New History”. An article by Andrey Ryabov outlines the current perception of the events of 25 years ago and the way they have subsequently influenced the nature of Russia's society and powers that be. Today's attitude towards the failure of the August Putsch is further examined in Alexey Makarkin's survey “The State Committee on the State of Emergency: Assessments and Views 25 Years on”. One of the most interesting questions related to August 1991 is the way the dramatic events that took place in Moscow and Leningrad are perceived in other parts of the USSR, first of all those where the subsequent collapse of the USSR led to violent conflicts. This is the subject of Sergey Markedonov's article “August 1991: The Caucasus Dimension”. The section concludes with a piece by the American political scientist Michael Mandelbaum “Coup de Grâce: The End of the Soviet Union”, a broad look at why the putschists lost, capturing both tactical reasons and general ones, defined by the most serious crisis of the entire Soviet system and by the situation that immediately resulted from Perestroika. This selection of topical articles is complemented by an interview with LSE Professor of History Vladislav Zubok, whose new research project is titled “1991: Russia Destroys the USSR”. The conversation focuses on important historical facts and details of what happened in August 1991, not only in Moscow, but also in Russia's regions and Soviet republics.
Socioeconomic and cultural and political consequences of the collapse of the USSR are considered in the sections Culture of Politics and Politics of Culture. The former contains “Rent and Social Estate Transformation of Russian Society”, an article by Viktor Martyanov analysing the influence of the mechanisms of post-Soviet Russian economy, quite special in their character, on society; let us also note that the “gas and oil economy”, deliberately shaped in this way, began to emerge back in the Soviet times, in the 1970s. Mikhail Pavlovets surveys one of the hottest issues of Russian life today: school education. His article “School Canon as a Battlefield: A Font with no Child” develops a topic introduced by the author in the NZ pages, that of the formation and transformation of the “school literary canon”. The first of these pieces, “School Canon as a Battlefield: Historical Reenactment” (2016. № 2(106)), talked of the historical development of the school canon since the middle of the 19th century. The second one focuses on recent events: the way the school literature curriculum – and with it, the list of compulsory books – has turned (not at all unexpectedly) into a mirror of the “protective-conservative line” currently taken by the Russian authorities.
The second topical section, “Marxism: Victim Theories, Survival Practices”, considers Marxism as a special way of thinking, a certain type of individual and social conscience. Ksenia Kapelchuk analyses a particular “victim discourse”, which in her view is typical for Marxism (initially based on the protection of the main victim of capitalism, proletariat); her analysis refers to the Marxist theoretical tradition from Karl Marx to Walter Benjamin. Dmitry Skulsky, on the other hand, makes an emphasis not on theoretical discourse, but on the immediate existential praxis of contemporary young Russians, to whom Marxism provides a way of rationalising their own existence (“Marxism as an (Ontological) Safety Method: Marxist Practices in the Post-Ideological Era”).
Finally, another important theme of this issue is Western political philosophy under the current crisis of democratic institutions. One of its manifestations is the growth of populism of a nationalist and xenophobic variety that has been observed in Europe and North America over the recent decades. Many even talk of the crisis of political elites, no longer guided by their values, and of the moderate liberal multicultural project becoming less attractive. This process is analysed by Alexander Kustarev in the next instalment of his column Political Imaginary. Titled “Demos and Establishment: «Referexit»”, his essay refers to the UK referendum on the exit from the EU (Brexit). The theoretical basis for Western political philosophy, now under threat, is the subject of two interviews by Richard Marshall, who talked to two European historians of philosophy. The first of them, David James, a lecturer at the University of Warwick (UK), talks about the ideas of Rousseau and Fichte in the context of liberalism and socialism. The other, Johanna Oksala, of the University of Helsinki, refutes the popular view that treats Michel Foucault as an “enemy” of individual freedom, whose paradigm implies that a subject's autonomy is only possible in the political sphere.
The theme of individual freedom and autonomy – as much as they are possible in the current political situation when governments are able to watch people online and through personal correspondence via various media – is considered in the second part of the section Culture of Politics. These issues are discussed by Gerhart Baum, the former German Federal Minister of the Interior, a human rights lawyer, and the author of the book “Save Citizens' Rights: Freedom or Security. Polemic Notes”. An extremely important issue that is the confidentiality of private correspondence under the “war on terror” is covered in Yulia Schastlivtseva's article “Demand for Privacy in the Era of Messengers and Terrorists: The Practice of European Court of Human Rights”.
Other pieces of 109th issue that have not been included in its topical sections are also worth mentioning; first of all, the second part of Vladislav Degtyarev's detailed essayistic study “High Mechanics, Hideous Architecture”, which talks about the notion of the “hideous” in the aesthetic theory and practice of Europe and North America, mainly in the 19th century. The subject of regional and cultural separatism that has gained significance in the recent years is considered in “The Prospects of Catalonian Separatism: Politics and Law”, an article by Miguel Beltrán de Felipe. In his interesting piece “«I Have Forgotten the Word I Wanted to Say...»: Barak Obama on the 1915 Armenian Genocide” Suren Zolyan has analysed semiotically the way the US President's speeches on the genocide of Armenians have changed in their vocabulary and rhetoric.
The issue also features regular NZ columns: by the editor Kirill Kobrin (Old World Chronicles), as well as by the sociologist Alexey Levinson (Sociological Lyrics). It concludes with the Russian Intellectual Journals’ Review (by Alexander Pisarev) and New Books section which contains the British scholar Catriona Kelly's reply to the criticism levelled at her by Owen Hatherley, the author of the book “Landscapes of Communism”.