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INTERVIEW WITH ILYA PONOMAREV March 24 - April 2, Moscow
Ilya Ponomarev is a director of the Information Technological center of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and an organizer of the Youth Left Front which is in a stage of development. Formerly he was a Chief Information Officer of Yukos Oil Company and top manager in other leading Russian and transnational companies. I should add he's only 28. When he became a CPRF Information-Technological center director in early 2003, Ilya organized many provocative actions such as: releasing balloons with CP symbols over the city; the red flag over state Duma (a young activist infiltrated the state parliament and raised a red flag on the roof, replacing the three-color Russian flag, just when the communist demonstration was passing in front of the building on November 7, the anniversary Day of the October Revolution); the political flash mob (before the presidential elections in March, many young people went to the former house of Putin in Saint-Petersburg wearing Putin masks and T-shirts with sarcastic slogans about the misdeeds of his regime, and started to cry: "Vova (diminutive of Vladimir) go home!"); another flash mob of "NEO-communists" was organized when "Matrix.Revolution" movie hit Russian screens. Due to the efforts of Ilya Ponomarev the whole information and public relations policy of the communist party has been transformed and the http://www.kprf.ru site - which includes materials on new leftists, antiglobalism, and even Che-Guevara songs - became number one top visited sites of political parties, number of its visitors now overcomes the rest altogether. Under Ilya's curatorship two Forums of leftist forces (called "Future of the Left") were organized (in June and November 2003) with a broad representation of different organizations. When I first learned about his remarkable activities, I was experiencing a final disillusionment about the CP (though it's hard to say if it wasn't final before that) and had even written articles claiming that the CPRF was becoming not only compromised, but also spectacular (see first of all the Nettime contribution at http://amsterdam.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0311/msg00062.html). But something that happened made me change my mind. First of all, it was the installation of the computerized alternative system for counting votes - "FairGame" - for the December'03 parliamentary elections, which was initiated by Ilya and his colleagues in the CP Information-technological center. The FairGame system had revealed that approximately 3,5 million votes were faked during the elections, which made it possible for the Kremlin to discount two big parties because the faked numbers showed they were under the 5% minimum barrier for inclusion. Due to the data collected by the FairGame system, now we can more clearly understand and explain what current Russian politics is.
When Joanne Richardson came to Moscow in March, we had many discussions about antiglobalism, and what kinds of alliances antiglobalists should make and which blocs it is better to avoid. Joanne was telling me several stories about the refusal of alliances with what is considered the old "Leninist" left both in Romania and in Italy. For example, in Romania, anarchists are criticizing the inclusion of members of communist parties and even Trotskyites groupuscules in international demonstrations and forums, and in the preparation of the first Romanian Social Forum several individuals from different groups are protesting the inclusion of the Romanian chapter of ATTAK because its members are considered old-style Leninists who advocate hierarchical structures and ideological purity. During anti-war demonstrations organized by the Peace Institute in Cluj the Workers Party (the new name for the old Communist Party in Romania) were allowed to place some anti-war newspapers next to the PI's own newsletter (actually they were pro-Shaddam newspapers but no one from the PI had read them) and a local media scandal followed - in retrospect most people felt it was a real tactical mistake which compromised the demonstration. In Italy, the situation is more complex, as there is a growing debate about whether or not to unite all the leftist movements into a coalition led by Rifondazione Communista. Although many activists argue it is the only parliamentary chance for an opposition to Berlusconi in the next election, many others - especially people active in the centri sociali autogestiti (squats) and in the tactical media networks - want nothing to do with such a coalition. Even the voices among the alternative scene like Wu Ming, who initially supported Tute Bianche and their reorganization into Disobedienti, now criticize Disobedienti after their alliance with the RC.
So, when we had a chance to meet Ilya Ponomarev in Moscow I immediately suggested we talk to him about the recent changes within the CPRF and why many young people with an interest in new technologies, independent media and tactical street actions are choosing to join what seems to be such an archaic political organization. The interview touches really diverse issues from the fall of the USSR to the future of new technologies. For the convenience of reading, we divided the interview into two parts: COMMUNIST POLITICS and PR AND IT. You can also check Ilya's homepage (or at least his photo, for now) at http://www.kprf.ru/ponomarev - O.K.
OK: My first question is about a kind of a contradiction which maybe is not understandable for comrades from the West …
IP: Which contradiction?
stays a chief of the CP since its rebirth in 1993. During that time the CP under his leadership evoked disrespect and rage from the more radical elements it hadn't been justifying its high-tension rhetoric with any concrete actions. While protesting against Gaidar's reforms it refused to support street struggle at October'93, while anathematizing privatization it voted for the governmental budgets in Duma. Besides that, the party had inherited from its predecessors the very outdated image of an "old women's party" lacking any consciousness about youth, or about technologies, or whatever. However, under Zyuganov's leadership it managed to establish itself as the major opposition force. In 1996 Zyuganov lost presidential rally to Boris Yeltsin for a narrow margin; many people claim that he actually won the elections, but the results were stolen. Recently there were numerous proofs of this position.
OK: That you are a new leftist, an IT manager and IT activist and simultaneously a communist. A young, progressive man with advanced interests and knowledge and at the same time a member of the communist party with its traditional politics, like Zyuganov (CP head) and so on. Can you briefly say something about this contradiction?
IP: Well, frankly speaking I do not see much of a contradiction. There can be a contradiction of image of course, but there is no contradiction of real content because the communist party by its nature should not be a conservative force. When it was founded it was not a conservative force. And the ideology and programs to which the communist party is referring - they are by far not conservative. In Russia, because the current Communist Party has been viewed as a continuation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), it appears as a party, which is calling for a return to the past, so it appears to be a conservative force. And since the liberal right parties are calling for some future, at least for something that was not present during the Soviet era, they appear to be progressive. But although the Soviet Union was authoritarian and lacking democracy, the initial idea was very progressive - in fact much more progressive than what we see now. We are calling for a true democratic socialism and in the whole world to call for socialism means to call for the development of society, for the social progress. In all my working places I was working at the leading edge of modern technologies in IT and social management, so I feel absolutely natural inside the CPRF.
OK: How did you find your way to the communist party after first working for Yukos oil company and in different hi-tech industry and various top management positions?
IP: Everybody discussing my biography is always talking about Yukos. But it was just a small piece of the story! I actually got a chance to work in all different kinds of companies - from small software company, through a diversified transnational corporation to a largest company in Russia. I was running my own company, which was a relatively small size company specializing in interactive TV and decision support management systems, called Situation Centers, or "Mission Control Rooms", as we nicknamed them. Later it was acquired by IBS, the largest Russian IT company, so I worked there, supervising government relations. But always I was responsible for development new types of businesses in all my places of work; so I traveled to many countries in Africa, Asia, South America, and spent a lot of time in Western countries like US and UK. I saw how the same company like Shell worked in London, and how it operated, say, in Nigeria - and would say, one can hardly imagine is was the same company! And frankly speaking, to see how multinational oil companies are working across different regions, for me was in a certain way a more interesting experience, than working at Yukos, because there you can really see the first signs of new types of management structures, of network type, which are not hierarchical but decentralized and which use distributed "virtual" working groups, who can very easily and very quickly materialize in any part of the world. Working there you could get a call and then the same evening fly to another end of the globe to work on a certain project for a couple of days or weeks, and then return to another part of the world. In a certain team you might be the manager, and people who are otherwise higher than you in the corporate hierarchy, can report to you, while in another team you can report to your deputy because he has the necessary competence to run a particular type of project. So this was a very useful experience for me. And after this I worked for Yukos, which is the largest Russian industrial company, where certain of these approaches I was able to apply, and when I felt that my mission was completed, and started my own company. So now I feel that knowledge of different fields, of real production, trade business and high technologies, and different types of organizations, is one the biggest advantage I have. And the conclusion that was made after receiving this experience - to join the Communist party.
JR: Why did you decide to join the communist party only then?
IP: The idea to go into politics and to change the ways things in Russia were developing, was not a new idea for me. But initially I thought that it would be better if I would first work in business and create a certain financial basis, which would then allow me to go into politics and act independently from "sponsors". But later I came to a conclusion, that in Russia it would be impossible, and that I would not be able to express my real ideas because this "basis" would be the lever authorities would always use to control me. And besides I was really bored doing business in which I was involved, and began to have different interests. So I changed my mind - and it happened a couple of years ago. But that time I didn't yet have a party to join, because the Communist Party in 1990-es was deeply in a series of compromises with the authorities. On one side, it was claiming itself to be in opposition, but from the other side it was making alliances with United Russia in the State Duma, and was voting for budgets that were drafted by Yeltsin's government. And I didn't want to work within this kind of opposition, because it was not better than just become part of the Administration of the President. In latter case, be the way, you could be much more influential than the whole Communist Party! But then in 2002 things had changed, and there was a major shake up in the Duma, when CPRF was stripped of all management positions it had. And I saw that it was time for me to join, because now this party could become a real opposition, it was ready to talk about my ideas, and it was ready to return to what it was supposed to be when it was founded by Lenin hundred years ago. So I thought it was time to go to work.
OK: At first I was very astonished by the actions you've done within the Communist party because previously in the 1990s you could expect actions such as political flash mob for example or this red flag over State Duma only from the radical artists who I was among. How did you come to organize such actions within the Communist party?
IP: The idea was to attract young people and to identify new generation, who are ready to do something about their lives, and to start to circulate the new ideas about how to express our views, our ideology, or our life position, if you like. And since I had a very creative group around me here in Moscow, so we started to generate these events. It can be easily seen now that they are paying for themselves. We have done sociological surveys and discovered a very interesting thing. If you look at "liberal democrats" like Zhirinovsky (they are of course are not liberal and not democrats but more like Le Pen - in fact, very radical nationalists, but they are called liberal democrats), you'll see only very young people in the party and no old people; if you look at parties like Rodina or Yabloko there are, vice a versa, only old people, no young people at all; Union of Right Forces and United Russia are mostly middle age, latter party has also many pensioners. And only if you look at the age curve of the Communist party we see that traditional stronghold among old people is now significantly diluted by youngsters. And there are virtually no middle age people among those, who support CPRF. I consider this as a healthy sign - that we are witnessing a generation change of left ideas supporters.
OK: In the future do you think the party will be completely renovated and made up only of young people?
IP: I think that now there is a growing tension within the party because of this contradiction between fathers and sons, or I would better say grandfathers and grandsons, since as I mentioned, there is nobody in between. To what this tension will lead - I am not sure, because there is also an ideological difference between new generation and old party members, young people tend to be more left, while elders are usually conservative, some of them are nationalists. In the worst case it might lead to a split and separation into two organizations. But I really believe this scenario will not happen. At the end of the day, for our older colleagues, in just 5 years to run the party will be physically difficult. But all those processes inside the party can become unimportant, because I believe that the biggest problem that we have is that politics in Russia now is being significantly diminished, and maybe, we will not have these years to reform the organization. I am not so sure that there will be elections in 2008. And I think that the Kremlin administration will try to artificially create a fake, controlled opposition, making CPRF niche obsolete.
is an economist and one of the former opposition leaders. Never been member of the party, he was an active member of CPRF faction in Duma. He separated himself from CP in order to run for the parliamentary elections in 2003 with his own party, "Rodina". The commonly accepted political assumption is that this quasi-communist and nationalist party had been supported by the Kremlin in order to create a counterbalance to the CP for the elections which would deprive the CP of power in parliament. Rodina won 11% of votes which was an incredible success. But when Glaziev decided to run for the presidential elections in 2004, he became a target of the Kremlin administration which didn't want a counter-candidate in the elections who might challenge Putin. At the moment Glaziev is deprived of his leading role in Rodina and has been subjected to several public humiliations (the latest news is that he was given a deputy's room next to the toilet!) whose ultimate aim seems to be to remove him from parliament altogether. The leading role in Rodina is now taken by Glaziev's former partner, Dmitriy Rogozin.
OK: Like Glaziev?
IP: Like Glaziev, or probably they would use Rogozin for that - a so called "social democratic" opposition which is 100 percent controlled by the Kremlin. Competition of two controlled parties, United Russia and Rodina - one is of nationalist conservatives and another of conservative nationalists - a perfect choice for the country! Near United Russia bosses and some old CPRF leaders Rogozin will look like a young and energetic politician of a new generation. He will express messages of "social justice" that will be quite close to ours, but he will never dare to implement any of those ideas. That's why I am not sure whether we have the possibility to sit and wait. I think we need to do something about that right now - with all the limited resources that we've got.
OK: At least one historically important thing you have done with your colleagues is the installation of the FairGame system for counting votes - a system which showed how the December elections have been falsified. Can you tell how this system is working and what results it has achieved?
IP: The system is pretty simple. Its objective was to prevent electoral fraud which is quite common in Russia, unfortunately, as the country should be a "managed democracy". We know quite well the usual methods of falsification the results of the elections. There are two major ways: one is to simply throw in ballots for a certain candidate. This was popular at the beginning of the 1990s, because there was no stable electoral system in place. It still exists at certain places, but we are fighting against it by using vast system of observers. More usual now is a second way. Why to pay so much attention to such an unreliable procedure of throwing in additional ballots, when you can take the result sheet and correct the results there. It is much easier, there are much less people required and less risk - but you have to control electoral commissions, what is usually accomplished already by regional authorities and United Russia officials. What our observers usually can do, is to check, that there is no throwing in of new ballots, that the votes are correctly counted, that everything is put correctly on the result sheet at the ballot station, and then those result sheets are passed to a higher level in the counting hierarchy from the ballot station to the regional electoral committee. But between levels usually there is no control; and the person who is physically taking the result sheet from the counting station to the electoral committee is just changing the results sheet in the process, so at the regional level there are already different results. I'm simplifying of course, but in general this is how it works. So our system was very simple: all our observers at each ballot station could log into the internet or call in the phone number or send us a fax with the copy of the results sheet that they got at the ballot station. Our representatives at the electoral committees of all levels also got a copy of the results sheets. And then all the data went into the data base, which was organized identically to the date base of Central Electoral Commission. We made the calculations according the law, and we ran comparisons of all the numbers we got. And we found out what we'd expected to find out - that the results did not match. We found approximately 3,500,000 "extra" ballots - actually, it means that the votes were added to the results sheets without physically throwing in ballots. It is necessary to say, that according to Russian practice, during the elections authorities usually do not steal votes from the Communist party (because they know we have observers). What they are doing is they are adding votes to the candidate (or party list) whom they want to be the winner, so in fact reported percentage for all others is getting diluted. In absolute figures we have the same numbers, but as a percentage we have less. In these elections they did exactly the same. They left the percentage for CPRF intact, not changing anything, but they stripped votes from Yabloko and SPS (Union of the Right Forces) and added them to United Russia. It was very simple. And it was proven by our project.
JR: And what was the goal, because it seems this isn't a major fraud which can change the overall results of the election?
IP: It's a major fraud because we have a so-called electoral barrier for passing into parliament, and this fraud puts Yabloko and SPS below the barrier, and their votes are just redistributed for the parties that passed the barrier. The direct consequence of this fraud is a constitutional majority for United Russia in Duma, which means Kremlin can change the constitution on their own without even consulting other political forces. They can rewrite anything, and if they want to put in a tsar they can do it tomorrow, without any opposition.
OK: What about the presidential elections?
IP: During the last presidential elections we also have observers, but frankly speaking I don't yet know the final results. I know only that the turnover was lower than it was reported by the Central Electoral Commission, but for probably only around 5 percent, so it is not so significant. Unfortunately I believe that the authorities helped our candidate Mr. Kharitonov to mobilize CPRF voters, because they needed to eliminate threat from Glaziev and they were afraid that Putin could get 90 percent of the votes and become a joke in the West. And they needed to show to the world's public opinion that there was a real competition. The only thing that they didn't achieve was that they wanted to give Mr. Putin a majority of the total Russian citizens. For that they needed to have 70 percent turnout with 70 percent voting for Putin - then 50 percent of the electorate in general would vote for Putin. They failed because even with this 5 percent addition only 65 percent came to ballots, so Putin only got 45 percent of support and in Kremlin this fact was considered a minor failure.
JR: There have been many different lefts and many different ideas about what a call for socialism could mean. Although there are some aspects of the Marxist theory that are still useful as a critique for how society is organized and how economic exploitation functions, to my mind Marxism as a solution for the development of society was a contradictory one to begin with. Marx thought dialectically that if the content of capitalism is transformed - if you put the means of production in the hands of the proletariat - but you preserve the form - centralization of production under the state, a repressive apparatus against the class enemy, and so on - the form will eventually transform itself and the repressive apparatus will wither away. A very long time ago Bakunin said that if you start with the first stage of communism which means centralization of the means of production under the state, there is the danger that you will never get to the second stage and you will only reproduce the state apparatus in a much more violent and bureaucratic way. For me although Stalinism was a deformation, there were sufficient deformations in the original theory. For most people in Romania today communism also has a similar negative association.
IP: Of course, this is quite common for all former socialist countries. I mean at least the Soviet bloc: Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and so on, except for Yugoslavia. You know, I hear this not for the first time, and what you are saying is a point of pending debate in Russia. But I always say that we should separate two issues, when we ask what Marxism is. First, it is an economic theory - without any ideology, it is just a way to analyze the world economy and society and to predict its future development. And this instrument for understanding the world economy is still actual, just because he has nothing to do with the political events that took place in the twentieth century, like hammer is not responsible for what has been done with its help. This instrument is definitely not outdated and can be applied to the current situation, using model of materialism as the basic approach for analysis. You know, I am a physicist by background so I am used to creating models that work in different situations. In one situation one model is working fine, in another situation another model might work better. They may contradict between themselves, but in different situations they can both be used. Like quantum or classic mechanics or Einstein or Newtonian physics. Leninism is not economical, but a political theory about how to reform society using a Marxist economic theory. And I think both of these theories are still very contemporary. Lenin was a genius in revolutionary tactics; he was able to analyze the current state of Russian society at the beginning of XX century, and to achieve his goals using the methodology that was contained in Marxist theory. But it doesn't necessarily mean that if we will blindly repeat what Lenin was doing a hundred years ago in modern society, then we will get to the same point. He was working during the transition from agrarian society to industrial society and now we are in the transition from industrial society to information society. The tactics of the left should obviously be different, because social formation has changed. And all these problems of mass repressions and violence - everything that we saw in the twentieth century - are, maybe, the result of Lenin being too successful in his tactics. He tried to establish a certain social order when the economics was not yet ready for that. But he quickly realized this problem, and responded by starting the New Economic Policy. It was considered a step back by many of his supporters, like Trotsky. But in fact he just wanted to put the state of economics and the productivity levels in harmony with the social and political system. I think today we should make a significant effort to figure out how to reapply Marxist methodology to the current state of economical development in Russia and in the world in general.
OK: My question is: why do you think the Soviet Union failed?
IP: Although many managers of different industries were quite strong specialists in their areas, the system in general was very inertial. Inflow of energetic and young people who could make new initiatives, promote new ideas and technologies, was very limited. While soviet society could be characterized by a strong system of vertical mobility - virtually everybody can achieve top positions in the country - to accomplish that you should slowly climb the hierarchy, so your potential could be fully unveiled only at your older ages. And when you have seventy+ year old people making decisions it's not good. So I think it was one of the major reasons. But of coarse, important role played economic laws that USSR leaders sometimes tried to ignore. The Soviet Union always tried to create an economy which was closed and had no connections with the rest of the world. It was possible at the beginning of the twentieth century. But the globalization processes started because of the technological changes and scientific revolution. The number of people who needed to live on your territory to make the economy self-sufficient was increasing at a higher rate than the actual rate of the population. For a certain time the Soviet Union suspended a possible collapse by expanding to the Soviet bloc, but with additional innovations brought with the computers, there should have been a next step in the expansion of the population. Without that expansion the economy failed to be self-sufficient and had to be opened. This is what Gorbachev wanted to do, it was why he started the reforms - he simply had no other options. But he just opened the market before any internal reforms in the economy and two systems couldn't cooperate with each other. If he would have went with the Chinese model - the Chinese also opened the market but first they reformed themselves, and they have a very large population and were protected by that - maybe it would have worked. And last but not least -Soviet Union was always focused on heavy industries, erecting giant factories and plants, building most advanced arms and weapons, developing rocket science. And nobody paid any attention to everyday needs of people - there was no small business, and choice and quality of consumer goods and food was very poor. Not a surprise, that word "socialism" for many Russians is now firmly associated with queues and deficit.
JR: Do you think the Soviet Union would not have failed if it would not have entered the global market? Because it seems that it was at the moment when the Soviet bloc countries tried to reorient production toward a global market that their internal economy collapsed and this led to all the international debts which they undertook as a desperate measure to keep things going.
IP: Exactly, and it was because the price of money - hard currency - for our enterprises and for their Western counterparts was different. When Soviet Union accepted trading at world prices it destroyed all the competitive advantages that the Soviet economy had. So I think that was the reason for deterioration of domestic economics. We should first make internal reforms and reengineer the processes of managing national enterprises and then start to slowly and cautiously open ourselves. Very important was first to stimulate small business in the country without initially touching heavy industry at all. And only then, when we have successful entrepreneurs, and new hi-tech startup companies, then we can have more or less developed economic connections with the rest of the world, and only later we can start the processes of democratization - exactly like China did. Gorbachev wanted to do everything at once, and proved himself to be just a poor manager.
JR: If you look at Hungary, one of the reasons that it is competitive now in a global market is that it has reformed its technological infrastructure. The development of IT has been one of the strongest among the former communist countries, for instance.
IP: Yes, I agree. Russia did not go that way, because of our blessing and our curse - our vast natural resources. You see, it is very tempting to rely heavily on them, because it's indeed of our major competitive advantages. But these resources are very distant and located in places with a very hard climate and conditions, and in order to produce we have to have giant corporations to work there. Then, collected taxes should be redistributed in the interest of the Northern territories to support the cities that are there. It distracts government focus from hi-tech and consumes all investment resources into energy sector. So it's making putting IT in the spotlight a very long story. Also there is a problem that was the result of privatization process. In Russia it was not an economical, but a political process. It was a world record of giving away for a penny 80% of national wealth in less then 4 years! Its major result - creation of 22 oligopolies, which control roughly 50% of GDP. Unbelievable level of concentration of capital makes impossible to start small business; and makes the government dependent on the will of few oligarchs. Normally country starts privatization process, you can expect that it will either go the way Germans did - giving away bankrupt factories for free; or, vice a versa, make measures to raise enterprise value and sell it at the highest price possible. We went in between - making privatization process a game for few people, handpicked by old bureaucracy, creating extremely high corruption and making common people even more poor then they have been before. I will not comment, whether oil companies are more efficient when they are in private hands, or when they are in state ownership, but it is quite clear that all large corporations are completely socially irresponsible - especially in Russian context. Being cash cows, they are very attractive for investors, much more, then hi-tech. Pump your money and run away - this is a new principle of national bourgeois. Without elimination of oligarchy we will not be able to develop IT and hi-tech, it's my strong belief.
PR AND IT
OK: Once I was quite stricken by your expression that "opposition needs bourgeois specialists" - it meant the specialists in the field of PR. Only later you explained this in connection to the Civil War times when the Red Army had been reorganized with the help of the old regime professionals, and that gave birth to the slogan "revolution needs bourgeois specialists".
IP: PR stands for just "public relations", a way to communicate your ideas with public; it's nothing demonic, as many of my colleagues sometimes believe. When I said "we need bourgeois specialists" I meant that we need people who know how to communicate. In fact, they usually do not care what they are communicating; their profession is just to communicate. You create a certain idea and they should only distribute it as widely as possible. But that does not mean that we should not grow our own PR specialists, who possess the same techniques, but also completely share our ideas.
JR: I think their profession is not to communicate ideas but to sell a product to a target audience, which seems a little bit different to me.
IP: We want to communicate our ideas of desire to build a political system that will bring the country to the prosperity of our people. And the job of PR specialists is not to correct our ideas in a way that these ideas are more saleable, but to communicate our ideas as they are, as efficiently as possible. So this is different than selling a product. We are not bringing in people who decide on what and how to present -creative directors - from the outside. We think that we ourselves have the ideas and we don't need copywriters - people, who will rethink them for us to make them easier to "sell". We need technologists, people who know how to speak to journalists, who know how to make a better appearance on the TV, who know what size of article should be in the newspaper, and in what particular newspaper, and when it should be published… we need people who know all these gimmicks and tricks that help to get our ideas through. We do not need people to correct our ideas.
JR: Does that mean you don't want people who can simplify your idea into a slogan?
IP: I think the slogan is a very important thing. The slogan should be ideologically pure and verified. When Lenin was communicating the idea of the great October socialist revolution he was using the slogan "land to the peasants, factories to the workers, peace to the nations." And we need to make slogans as efficient as that to communicate our ideas. To achieve full efficiency and secure ourselves from mistakes, it does not hurt to test some of them during specialized sociological surveys. This is also a part of the task.
OK: What I find very evident is that a new generation of people has appeared whose consideration of PR is very… say, postmodernist. They assume that anything can be done with PR and that PR can be used for any means. But PR and IT as well teaches us how society is developing and what happens to society. So what are we learning from them? How we can use technologies for our aims - aims which are opposite of control and surveillance? What from the IT field and from PR can be used for the long-term profits of the leftist movement?
IP: You know, even the Russian term for IT has this second meaning: any PR-specialist in Russia says: "I'm an information technologies specialist". They use "PR-specialist" term just rarely.
OK: Now they more often say "humanitarian technologies", or "communication technologies".
IP: They do, but still for the PR people information technologies are usually associated with their profession and not with IT - I have noticed it many times. And even when the Information-Technological center of the Communist Party was founded it was meant to deal with everything connected with information, including information transmission (telecom), Internet projects, as well as information exchange with media, like radio, TV, and printed press, not in the sense of IT - in other words, with all kinds of Public Relations and information management. In general, IT in modern world are like Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction - they are solving Problems. The more society develops, the broader range of tools to solve its problems it has. Consequently, the more tools are used - the more perfect and up-to-date these tools become - the more reality transforms into virtuality. And that's what we see. And the hardest social conflicts, to my mind, will happen where the gaps between reality and virtuality are getting more prominent. It's best seen on the example of today's power in Russia. We have a virtual president whose image absolutely does not correspond to his true content. Bush in this sense is a much more harmonic president because from his very look everything is clear - his IQ, his position and views, his future actions. You see what is evident: a cowboy is a cowboy. Some people like it, some don't, but the debates are about the real politics and a real person, not about the image. Therefore the electoral battle between Bush and Kerry will be incomparably stronger. But in the case of Putin we encounter a real person's actions but the virtual person's image. Therefore we have a constant distraction to some invalid object. I believe there will be an explosive reaction as soon as this gap is realized and passes a certain threshold.
OK: When I was saying that PR and IT teach us something I meant they teach us to understand that any action takes place within conditions of high complexity and therefore our actions have to be as complex, as multilayered, as measured, and as gradual. I wonder if the structures, strategies and frames of that kind are in the stage of elaboration? Or is the movement still about the one-dimensional slogans?
IP: Slogans are the concentration of ideas. They are the messages or the signals directed towards society. The messages have to be transmitted through a certain carrier. This carrier is the people that are coordinated through an organization that we are supposed to create and maintain. And contemporary technologies are the main factor for achieving a true efficiency of this carrier. They offer us an opportunity to leave the traditional hierarchic structures which from the point of view of mathematics make the signal transmission more difficult. They multiply the average number links in the chain which the signal must pass through on its way from one point to another. With the help of modern information technologies we can move to the distributed decentralized network structures where the political organization can have no clear center as such, and where management is separated from leadership.
OK: This is like what you've been saying about your experience of working in transnational distributed companies: once you report to a person, the next time he reports to you, because your positions differ in different parts of the same project: once you're superior and he's inferior, the next time, the opposite?
IP: Absolutely. At the same time the nodes in the system can be formally unequal in rights while executing same functions. But this system is in constant movement, changing itself, so that the nodes which are now most important the next time become less important, depending on challenges the organization faces. The whole management and communication paradigm changes, and from a hierarchical pyramid it becomes a network sphere - the average time of signal transmission is significantly diminishing. I'm sorry for such mathematical-geometrical details of course…
JR: A couple of years ago I did an interview with Stefan Merten from the group Oekonux in Germany, who tries to reapply Marxism to the contemporary situation of software production. Stefan is free software coder, and in his analysis the conditions for Marxism have only become ripe now in our information society. According to him it is free software production - as a form of non-alienated labor that relies on international, decentralized networks. That is achieving a form of society no longer based on exchange because each programmer is contributing according to his ability, and each is taking according to his needs (of course, this is a very restricted segment of society). What do you think about this?
IP: You touched something I myself wanted to speak about. If we are transitioning to the information society then the most active and most progressive social class should be different from workers class of industrial era. It should be the core of the new society. And I think we are now witnessing the birth of a new social class, which consists of the workers of the information area, journalists and programmers, maybe even better to say programmers and journalists - everybody that produce and work with information. And they are the new proletarians because they meet the definition: they don't own their means of production. They are supposed to be the most advanced social layer or class - although they are not yet a class because they did not yet realize their commonness. But if you look attentively, you see that both journalists and programmers already demonstrate signs of strong corporate solidarity. And of course they are becoming already very significant for the modern society.
JR: Are they proletarians? Don't many programmers and information workers own their own means of production - if we mean by this the technology they use and also the time during which they produce?
IP: Surely, they are not all proletarians - but the overwhelming majority is. Proletarians are those who are working for Microsoft, those working in the IT sector in Bangalore, programmers in Russia that do outsourcing for Western multinational companies, IT support engineers; proletarians are TV networks journalists and field stringers, reporters and staff writers. And I would say that these people are proletarians even in their feelings, because they sell their labor and they do not own anything and therefore they are completely dependent on the corporations they are working for. And the way they are working is still a kind of industrial production, a conveyer, where there is not much freedom of imagination or creativity in the process, and where people are working only on small pieces in the chain of production. By the way, if we assume these people are proletarians, and study the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, we see interesting things even in such an undeveloped society as Russia. You can see that the dictatorship is here already - who has the potential to control the computer networks and whoever is controlling TV networks is controlling the means of management the society in whole.
JR: How does the CP relate to this transition to an information society - does it have a concrete economic program as far as IT development is concerned?
IP: The present program of the party is very general and does not go into details. But it declares that the country has to develop an innovation economy, has to stimulate high technologies and ventures into programming, biotech and other components important in the information era. We also have many concrete elaborations in this direction, like the concepts of structures focused on national development of hi-tech, stimulating the export of hi-tech, an openness of the economy, and the penetration of new technologies into traditional industries. I can say that the basic principle is that the mechanisms we foresee are not of an enforcing nature, it's not like the state will come and say: "Do it that way and that way". All the measures we intend to use are to stimulate, not to restrict. And what is important - not to stimulate by giving different privileges to one branch (like tax vacations, etc.). We already experienced that such measures can lead only to the illegal trade under disguise of software exports. We have a pipeline of very concrete projects, like the organization of enterprises aimed at developing that branch of the economy. I guess we have that our proposals are well thought, because there were a strong analysts team who developed them. Some credit should be given to Glaziev for his work on that field, but the reason is his milieu rather than his deep understanding of high technologies. He doesn't even check email himself, but he's an economist and he is surrounded with large industrial and defense structures united in the League for the Support of the Defense Industry. But he's not like us; we're from the very plough in this sense… from the informational plough.
OK: Can you then say something about the field in which you're a ploughman - the IT field. How is the situation with IT now in Russia? What are the main problems, where do you think the main tensions are?
IP: I believe there's a unique situation now in Russia with IT, from the point of the main directions of their development. There are two aspects. Firstly, I remember a quote from Mr. Dvorak - one of the computer revolution ideologists, and a very well known American IT-publicist. He once said that Russia is lucky because it had bypassed the era of the mainframe computers and now there's no need to throw tons of this outdated hardware away. Everybody will just acquire advanced machines and up-to-date software. This was said on the eve of the 1990s already. Unfortunately this has not been true until now. For a long time the consumption of computers in Russia was limited because there were plenty of other problems - and lack of financial resources. It created an opportunity to face the newest technologies immediately. We don't have the heritage which needs to be thrown away. Since the cost of technologies is permanently decreasing, the barrier is permanently lowering. For this reason the Russian enterprises don't have a psychological barrier of abandoning something they created to make the conversion to the new technologies. If there are convincing arguments why this and this equipment is necessary, the enterprises don't have reasons to react negatively. And from my point of view, this is a very positive moment for new technologies. Secondly, there is also now a definite economic improvement in the country which makes national enterprises more modern and transparent. Many of them now have an interest in entering the Western stock markets. For that they need to show how up-to-date they are, and they need to be computerized enough and show that they are using Western software. When I was working in the IT field, I witnessed that about 50% of my corporate clients demanded software in order to show their counterparts that they have it, not in order to actually use it. This is a very important stimulating factor. But I believe there must be broader scale actions to stimulate the acceptance of computer technologies on the level of national economy. Even just technical things such as depreciation accounting norms - they indicate period when technologies become obsolete. Now they are 8 years; but can you imagine a computer in use for 8 years nowadays? They become outdated in 2. It can look like a minor issue, but it is really important for the national IT industry. And finally, there is a big challenge because of a common tendency toward outsourcing. The programmer's labor in US and Western Europe is not profitable, while in Russia it is. Consequently, there is a possibility to move software development to our country.
OK: Like to Bangalore?
IP: Yes, India had been the most developed region in this sense for a long time. Indians are very good in all senses - they're cheap working force, willing to work, eager to learn, English-speaking, there's a constant people exchange with the US. But it looks like in the investors' minds there was a shift about two years ago. India became a geopolitically instable zone. Threat of a nuclear conflict with Pakistan affected everyone very clearly. And additionally, there's Iran and Afghanistan nearby, with all the recent hassle. All IT investments in India were cut off as India stepped on the nuclear war threshold. Microsoft, Boeing, Motorola didn't decide to remove anything but they intend not to do anything new. They just monitor the situation and diversifying their risks. The second region which had certain advantages is China. But for America it's a geopolitical competitor. Americans say very clearly that they are afraid of Trojan horses which can disable their computers under commands from Beijing. This apprehension can be heard in any talk. So they use China for a certain tasks but they intend to order less software and more hardware - at least, no strategic products from there because they might be dangerous. The alternative could be Russia. It has higher production costs than India or China, but higher quality as well. But we don't know how to sell or promote our services. Our diaspora in the US doesn't promote it also, in spite of its size. It doesn't work as a "fifth column", unlike the Indian and Chinese diasporas - Russians prefer to keep aside from their nation and conceal their origin. And finally, the Russian state misunderstands this sector's development in principle, which is a real obstacle despite the big willingness from below. The market is in the state of formation and it grows, but there's a lack of a supply management. In Britain, for example, as well as in many other countries, there are special structures called national technology brokers - universal mediators between the hi-tech industry and the potential IT customers.
There's a number which I would like to mention which people rarely realize. Think about the arms market statistics. It's considered strategic, the president himself is monitoring it and the state companies are working on it. In total world weapons market is approximately 25-30 billion dollars from which about one third is being distributed on the free market. And the Russian arms export per annum is about 3.5-4.5 billion dollars. It's the second player after the US. And the big part of this export is the barter of different sorts: from Brazil we get the palm oil in exchange, or sugar reed, or some other rubbish. And that's what president is organizing! It's all very serious! Then think about the statistics concerning the market of programming. The world programming market is at the moment approximately 120 billions dollars, with around 20 billions in the international contracts. India's export is about 10 billions - it's one of the most significant sources of national wealth. Russia is currently exporting (my figures are not so precise, they are based on last year) software and IT services for about 300-400 million dollars. We can hardly reach half-billion out of a total 20 billion a year. About 10 billions definitely can be ours, three times as much as from arms! We do just a tiny part of what can be done. Our state doesn't understand it, doesn't see it, and doesn't deal with it.
OK: There was an article in CompuTerra magazine dedicated to space programs not so long ago… It said that Russia is spending about 10-15 billions for space exploration.
IP: I don't believe it. I think it's much less. It depends also on how you count…
OK: Can you say something about the political meaning of IT? How long will it remain for us a source of information and a public arena for the exchange of opinions? Maybe this might be due to the whole paranoia about authoritarianism, but recently I began to suspect that the government can try to restrict the use of the internet or even close it down in the future…
IP: I don't believe that. There is a threat of course, but what's more easy to believe is the opposite case, that the internet can possibly become the main tool of authoritarianism. Of course, the internet originally appeared as a decentralized system, but it can also become a Big Brother who monitors everyone. When any microwave and any fridge are connected to the net - and this is very much real at the moment, wait just five years! - and there are e-books and e-newspapers now appearing when you download the content from the net, it creates the pre-conditions to control whatever you eat, whenever you go to the bathroom, which book you read, when you go to sleep, when you turn your lamp on and off, where you're situated, up to a centimeter precision - whatever is needed! Any technological progress means an increase in possibilities. But the more things people are capable of doing, the less free they are. I remember a maxim by Stalin during the USSR: "the class antagonism grows proportionately with an approach to communism". And the sarcastic people were saying: "we will all have to turn into bones just before communism". A methodic approach: if communism is an Absolute, everybody must die before it, since an Absolute is not achievable. The same is with the internet: the more technology makes the human being free, the more his freedom becomes a realized necessity. The more potential freedom a person has, the less real is his freedom, the more you're obliged to do what society dictates, because you have to keep in mind more social interests. When an individual has reached absolute freedom and absolute self-realization, it means he's in contact with the rest of humankind, it means he has to count everyone's interests.
OK: This is like in the brothers Strugatsky's "Monday starts on Saturday": a magician who has reached omnipotence could not do anything, because the last condition for omnipotence was that none of his actions can bring any harm to any being in the Universe…
IP: Yes, absolutely right! That's where we're going to.
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