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<nettime> Interview with Ilya Ponomarev, Moscow
Oleg Kireev on Mon, 26 Apr 2004 19:39:29 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Interview with Ilya Ponomarev, Moscow



INTERVIEW WITH ILYA PONOMAREV
March 24 - April 2, Moscow

Ilya Ponomarev is a director of the Information-technical center of the
Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and an organizer of the
Youth Communist Front which is in a stage of development. Formerly he was
an IT-manager of Yukos and other leading Russian and transnational
companies. I should add he's only 28. When he became a CP
Information-technical 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) come home!"). Due to the efforts of Ilya Ponomarev the whole
IT-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 among the top 10
visited sites of political parties. Under Ilya's curatorship two Forums of
leftist forces 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 CP 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-technical
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 Trotskyist 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 ATTAC because its members are considered old-style
Leninists who advocate hierarchical structures and ideological purity. 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.


>> COMMUNIST POLITICS

OK: My first question is about a kind of a contradiction which maybe is
not understandable for comrades from the West …

IP: Which contradiction?

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 is not 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 not
conservative. In Russia because the current communist party has been
viewed as a continuation of the communist party of the Soviet Union, it
now looks like the party is calling for a return to the past so that it
appears to be conservative. And since the liberal party and right parties
are calling for some future which 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 happening now. We are
calling for socialism and in the whole world to call for socialism means
to call for the development of society.

OK: How did you find your way to the communist party after first working
for Yukos oil company and in different high industry and high IT
management positions?

IP: Everybody when asking about my biography is always talking about
Yukos. This is just a small piece of the story. I actually tried working
in all kinds of companies. I was running Maron company, a medium size
company specializing in interactive TV. When this was acquired by IBS, the
largest Russian IT company, I worked there, also in IT area. Before that I
worked as the person responsible for business development in large
multinational corporations and traveled to many countries in Africa, Asia,
South America, and also to Western countries like US and UK. I saw how the
same company like British Petroleum worked in London, and how they worked
in Nigeria - and would say these are not the same company. To see how oil
companies in Venezuela are working was for me a much more interesting
experience than working at Yukos because in multinational corporations you
can really see the first signs of new types of management structures, of
network structures which are not hierarchical but decentralized and which
use distributed working groups who can very easily come together in any
part of the world. You can 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 hierarchy can report to you, while in another team you can report to
your deputy because he has the necessary competence to run another 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, and
then started Maron. So I can say that I tried many different fields and
different types of organizations, which means I have quite a broad view on
how things are working. And after all this, I decided 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 how things in Russia are
developing was quite an old idea for me. But I thought that it would be
better if I would first work in business and create a certain platform
which would then allow me to go into politics. Then I realized that in
Russia this would be impossible and that I would not be able to express my
real ideas because this platform would be the place where authorities
could always control me. And then I would already begin to have different
interests. So I changed my mind, but I didn't yet have a party to join
because at that time the communist party was in a real compromising
position with the authorities. On one side it was claiming to be the
opposition, but from the other side it was making alliances with United
Russia and the State Duma and it was voting for budgets that were created
by Yeltsin's government. And I didn't want to work within this kind of
opposition, because if I did then I might as well just become part of the
administration of the president and I would be much more influential than
the whole communist party. But then in 2002 things changed and there was a
major shake up in the Duma when the communist party was stripped of all
management positions. And I saw that it was time for me to join, because
now this party could become a real opposition and that it was ready to
return to what it was supposed to be and to how it was when it was created
by Lenin a 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 whom I was at that time among. How did you
come to organize such actions within the communist party?

IP: The idea was to attract young people and to identify young people who
are ready to do something and then to start to circulate the new ideas
about how to express our views, our ideology, or our life position, if you
like. And since there was a very creative group here in Moscow, we started
to create these events. I see 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) … there are all young
people in the party, virtually zero old people; if you look at parties
like Rodina or Yabloko there are only old people, no young people at all;
if you look at Union of Right Forces there are only middle age, ok some
young but mostly middle age and there are virtually no old people; if you
look at United Russia there are no young people; if you look now at the
age curve of communist party we see a significant inflow of young people
but of course a very significant number of old people and virtually no
middle age. This illustrates that the communist party is less and less a
party of old timers.

OK: In the future do you think the party will be completely renovated and
made up only of young people?

IP: I think so, already now there is a significant tension within the
party because of this contradiction between fathers and sons, 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. In the worst
case it will lead to a split and separation. But because our older friends
and colleagues are really old … in 5 years time they will not be
physically able to run the party. But the bigger issue is that politics in
Russia now is being significantly diminished and maybe we will not have
these 10 years or even 4 years on our side. I am not so sure there will be
elections in 2008. I think what the Kremlin administration will try to do
now is to artificially create opposition.

OK: Like Glaziev**?

IP: Like Glaziev, or probably they would use Rogozin** for that - a social
democratic opposition which is 100 percent controlled by the Kremlin. Two
parties competing, United Russia and Rodina, this is very good, and
Rogozin will seem like a young and energetic politician of a new
generation and he will express a message that will be quite close to ours
but he will never dare to realize these 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 now.

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 manageable democracy. We know quite well how the result of the
election is usually falsified. There are two ways: one way is just
directly throwing in new ballots for a certain candidate. This was popular
at the beginning of the 1990s because there was no system in place. Now
everything is much simpler, they are not paying too much attention to
throwing new additional ballots, they are just taking the result sheet and
correcting the results there. It is much easier and there are much less
people required and less risk. What our observers are doing is checking
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 hierarchy from the ballot station to the regional electoral
committee. Usually at this stage the person who is physically taking the
result sheet from the station to the electoral committee is just changing
the result sheet on the way to the electoral committee, 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 to
the phone number or send a fax with the result sheet that they got a copy
of at the ballot station and our person who is the observer at the
electoral committee also got a copy of the result sheet. And at all levels
there were just simple comparisons of the numbers. And we found out what
we expected to find out - that the result is not the same. Approximately
3,500,000 ballots were thrown in - actually this means that the votes were
added to the sheet and not that new ballots were physically thrown in. In
the elections other parties are not stealing votes from the communist
party because they know we have observers, so our votes are usually
intact. What they are doing is they are adding votes to the candidate who
is next to ours, so that in percentage he gets more. In absolute figures
we have the same numbers, but as a percentage we have less. In this
election they did exactly the same. They left the percentage for the
communist party 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 this was what was illustrated by our
observation.

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. So as a result there is a constitutional majority for
United Russia which means they 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: In the presidential elections we made an observation, but frankly
speaking I don't yet know the exact results. I know only that the turnover
to the ballot station was lower than it was reported by the central
electoral committee but it was probably only around 5 percent and not so
significant. Unfortunately I should admit that for this election the
authorities helped our candidate Mr. Kharitonov a lot because they needed
to eliminate Glaziev and they were very afraid that Putin could get 90
percent of the votes. And they needed to show to the world society 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 whole population of
votes, they wanted to make it 70 percent voter turnout with 70 percent of
those people voting for Putin - that means that 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 vote, so Putin only got 45
percent of the population and for them this was considered a 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 is Marxism.
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
very actual and has nothing to do with the political events that took
place in the twentieth century. This instrument is definitely not outdated
and can be applied to the current situation as a model. 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, but maybe in
another situation another model is working. They might be contradicting
each other, and the first model might say that the second cannot exist,
but in different situations they can both be used. Like quantum physics or
Newtonian physics, if you understand what I'm talking about. Leninism is
not economics 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 and to achieve his goals
using the methodology that was contained in Marxist theory. But it doesn't
necessarily mean that if we will repeat what Lenin was doing a hundred
years ago in modern society that we will get to the same point because he
was doing it during the transition from agrarian society to industrial
society and now we are in the middle of a transition from industrial
society to information society. The tactics obviously should be different
because society is different. And all these problems of mass repressions
and violence - everything that we saw in the twentieth century - is maybe
the result of Lenin being too successful in his tactics. He tried to
create a certain serial organization when the economics was not ready for
that, and I think that he himself realized this problem. By creating the
New Economic Policy, which was considered a step back, he wanted to put
the state of economics and the level of production in harmony with the
processes in society and with the political system. I think today we
should make a significant effort figuring out how to reapply Marxist
methodology to the current state of economical development in Russia and
in the world.

OK: My question is: why do you think the Soviet Union failed?

IP: The managers of the different industries were quite strong specialists
in their areas. But the system in general was very inertial - there was a
very limited inflow of energetic and young people who could make some new
initiatives. In general in the Soviet Union the system of vertical
mobility was strong but it was tending toward later ages, and when you
have seventy year old people making decisions it's not good. So I think
this was one of the major reasons. Also it has to do with economic laws.
The Soviet Union always tried to create an economy which was closed and
had no connections with the rest of the world, which was possible at the
beginning of the twentieth century. But the globalization process started
because of the changes of technology and this meant that the number of
people who needed to live on your territory to make the economy
self-sufficient was always increasing at a higher rate than the actual
rate of the population. At first the Soviet Union suspended a possible
collapse by expanding to the Soviet bloc, but with these new changes in
technology with the introduction of 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 it had to be opened. This is what
Gorbachev wanted to do, it was why he started the reforms, he had no other
option. But he just opened the market without any sufficient internal
reforms in the economy and the 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.

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 currency was different. The
Soviet Union accepted trading at world prices and this destroyed all the
competitive advantages that the Soviet economy had and also added an
element of competition from the Western countries. So I think that was the
reason. We should first make internal reforms and rearrange the processes
of the internal economy and then start to slowly and cautiously open
economically and to stimulate small business in the country without
touching heavy industry at all. And only then, when we have small
businesses, when we have more or less developed economic connections with
the rest of the world, only then we can start the processes of
democratization. Gorbachev was 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 understand. But this is a bad example for comparison because
with Russia we have our blessing and our curse and this is our natural
resources. They are very distant and in very hard climate and conditions,
and in order to produce we have to work there, and the taxes should be
redistributed in the interest of the Northern territories to support the
cities that are there. So it's really a very long story. But now there is
no way back because of privatization. As I said first there should be
small business like in the Chinese model. Only after that you should start
to privatize, very carefully, certain large enterprises. I do not disagree
for example that oil companies are more efficient when they are in private
hands but it is quite clear that they are completely socially
irresponsible - especially in the Russian context, and it is quite clear
that they are very attractive because it's very easy to get money out of
them, and it is quite clear that they are the last things that should be
privatized in the country … absolutely the last.


NOTES FOR THE FIRST PART:

* Gennadii Zyuganov stays a chief of the CP since 1993. During that time
the CP under his leadership evoked disrespect and rage from the more
radical elements. All that time there was an evident gap between the CP's
high-tension rhetorics and concrete actions. While protesting against
Gaidar's reforms it refused to support street struggle at October'93,
while anaphematizing 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 understanding of
the problems such as youth, technologies, etc.

** Sergey Glaziev is an economist and one of the former CP leaders who
left the 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 counter-party 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,
Dmitrii Rogozin.



>> PR AND IT

OK: Once I was quite striken by your expression that "opposition needs
bourgeouis specialists" - it meant the specialists on 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
bourgeouis specialists".
 
IP: PR is just public relations, a way to communicate your ideas, it's
nothing demonic. When I said we need bourgeois specialists I meant that we
need people who know how to communicate. In fact, they do not care what
they communicate, and their profession is only to communicate. You are
creating a certain idea and they should only distribute it as widely as
possible

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 and we want to create a political
order that it will bring the country around to a general prosperity. And
the job of the specialists is not to correct our ideas in a way that these
ideas are more saleable but to communicate our existing ideas as
efficiently as possible. So this is different than selling a product. We
do not want to bring in creative directors from the outside. We think that
we have the ideas in ourselves and we don't need copy editors. We need
technology people who know how to speak to journalists, who know how to
make an 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 get your ideas through, but we don't need people to correct our
ideas.

JR: Does that mean you don't want people who can simplify your idea into a
slogan?
 
IP: No, actually I think the slogan is a very important thing, but the
slogan should be ideologically verified. When Lenin was communicating the
idea of the great October socialist revolution he was using the slogan
"land to the peasants, peace to the soldiers, factories to the workers."
And we need to make slogans as efficient as that to communicate our ideas.
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: In general: technologies are about how to solve the question.the more
society develops the broader is the range of tools it has. We store more
and more reserve. The human gets more and more degrees of freedom as he
attempts to affect reality and to engineer reality. Consequently, the more
tools are used - the more perfect and up-to-day these tools are - the more
reality transforms into virtuality. The PR techniques will keep developing
further and now there're already "convergent" - it's a term broadly
circulated between the information workers that means merging of mass
communication methods and information technologies methods. 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-maker the information technologies are
usually associated with his profession and not with IT - I have noticed it
many times. And even when the Information-technical center of the
Communist Party had been appearing it was meant to deal with everything
connected with information including information transmission (wires
etc.), radio, TV, and press, not in the sense of IT - in other words, with
all kinds of Public Relations. In general, technologies are about how to
solve questions. The more society develops the broader is the range of
tools 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 be happening where the gaps between reality and virtuality
will be getting more evident. That's for example a problem 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
harmonical president because it's very clear from his very look that he's
not a person with a high IQ. You see what is evident: a cowboy is a
cowboy. Some 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 vs. 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.

OK: When 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 condensation of opinions. They are the messages or the
signals directed towards society. The messages have to be transmitted
through a certain structure. And contemporary technologies are the main
factor here. 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, in other words, they multiply the
links in the chain which the signal must pass through on its way from one
point to another. With the help of information technologies we can
transfer to the distributed net structures where the political structure
can have no clear center as such.

OK: This is like what you've been saying about your experience of working
in international informational 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 some current functions. But this system
can be turned so that the nodes which are now important the next time
become less important. The paradigm changes, and from a pyramid it becomes
a 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 wanted to speak about. If we are transitioning
to the information society then the most active and most progressive
social class should be different and should be the core of the movement
for this society. I think we are now witnessing the birth of a new social
class which are the workers of the information area, journalists and
programmers, maybe programmers and journalists. And they are the new
proletarians because they meet the definition, they don't own their means
of production and they are the most advanced social layer or class -
although they are not yet a class because they do not yet understand their
commonness, but they of course are already a significant layer ...

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: Exactly, they are not all proletarians. Proletarians are those who are
working for Microsoft, those working in the IT sector in Bangalore,
programmers in Russia outsourcing for Western multinational companies. And
I would say these people are proletarians even in their feeling, 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, so there is not
much freedom of imagination or creativity in the process and they are
working only on small pieces in the chain of production. So I would say
their experience is very close to being proletarian. And if we speak of
the dictatorship of the proletariat, if you look into the window even of
such an undeveloped society as Russia, you will see that the dictatorship
is there in terms of who has the potential to control the computer
networks … and whoever is controlling the computer networks is controlling
the means of management in society.

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 very inconcrete.
It moves in the right direction and declares that the country has to
develop an innovation economy, to stimulate high technologies and to
venture into programming, biotech and other components important in the
information age. But we also have many concrete elaborations in this
direction, like the organization of structures focused on national
development of high-tech, stimulating the export of high-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 a coercive nature, it's not like the state coming and
saying: "Do it that way and that way, and fuck off". All these measures
are intended to stimulate. And not to stimulate by privileging one branch
- because this will lead only to the import of vodka instead of the export
of software. We have a consistency of very concrete projects, for example
the organization of enterprises aimed at developing that branch of the
economy. I guess we have that bloc elaborated very well, because there are
analysts who deal with it. 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 his surroundings are large industrial structures
such as 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 tell 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 an incomparable situation now in Russia with IT,
from the point of the main preconditions of their development. There are
two aspects. I remember a quote from Mr. Dvorak - one of the computer
revolution ideologists, and a very well known American IT-publicist - he
said that Russia is lucky because it had bypassed the era of the mainframe
computer 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. This 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 refusal for something which has already happened
- the conversion to new technologies. If there are convincing arguments
why this and this equipment is necessary the enterprises won't have
reasons to react negatively. And from my point of view, this is a very
positive moment for new technologies. Besides this, there is also now a
definite economic improvement in the country which helps the growth of the
enterprises' feasibility. Many enterprises now have an interest in
entering the Western stock markets. For that they need to show how
transparent 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 Western clients 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 embeddedness of computer
technologies on the level of national economy. Even just technical things
such as norms for when technologies become obsolete. Now it's about 8
years, but can you imagine a computer in use for 8 years? They become
obsolete in 2. These are internal aspects. From the aspect of an external
use there's a common tendency toward outsourcing. The programmer's labor
in US and Western Europe is not profitable. Consequently, there is a need
to move the software and computer technics production to the countries
with the cheaper workforce.

OK: Bangalore.

IP: Yes, India had been the mostly well developed region for a long time.
But in the investors' minds there was a shift about two years ago. Because
Indians are very good in all senses - they're cheap, willing to work,
English-speaking, there's a permanent exchange with the US, no problem
with jobs - but India became a geopolitical instability zone. This threat
of a nuclear conflict with Pakistan affected everyone very clearly. 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, there's Iran nearby. 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 ofTrojan horses which will disable
computers. This apprehension can be heard in any talk. So they use China
for a certain production but they want to order less software and more
hardware. They really hesitate to order any strategic products from China
because they consider it dangerous. So then, Russia is left. It has a
higher cost of production than India and China but higher quality as well.
But we don't know how to sell it nor how to promote it, and our diaspora
in the US doesn't promote it in spite of its size. It doesn't work as a
fifth column unlike the Indian and Chinese diaspora - they prefer to keep
aside from their nation and conceal that they're Russians. And finally,
the 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 there are new structures called national technology
brokers - universal mediators between the high tech industry and the
potential IT consumers.

There's a number which I would like to mention but which people hardly
understand. Think about the arms market statistics. It's considered
strategic, the president himself is organizing it and the state companies
are working on it. In total the world armament market is approximately
20-25 trillion dollars from which about 7-8 trillion are being shared on
the free market. And the Russian export per year is about 3.5 trillion
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 offshore
programming market - the international contracts - is at the moment
approximately 120 trillions dollars. India's export is about 10 trillions
- it's one of the most significant national export components for India.
Russia is currently exporting (my figures are not so precise, they are
based on last year) about 300-400 million dollars. We can hardly reach
half-trillion out of a total 120 trillion a year. About 60 trillions
definitely can be ours! 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 issue in CompuTerra magazine dedicated to space programs
not long ago … there it said Russia is spending about 10-15 trillions for
space exploration.

IP: Space? I don't believe that. I think it's 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's 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 is connected to the
computer - 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, until one meter distance - 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 releases the human, the more his freedom
becomes a realized necessity. The more potential freedom a human being
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.
Conditionally, 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! This is where we're going to.




March-April, 2004

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