Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

                    Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot's

                             prison letters to Slavoj Žižek.


While they were still in provisional detention in Moscow, the independent Russian weekly the New Times published an interview with the prisoners. Nadya Tolokonnikova explained the essentially political aspect of her action, begged pardon of any believers whom she might have offended. She resolutely took to the philosophical terrain, quoting Socrates and Diogenes. She confessed: “I am currently reading an essay by Slavoj Žižek, ‘Violence’ … What Žižek writes is very important to us. According to him, the fundamentalist believers of each different religion emerge on account of their lack of true faith, not because of deep faith. I would really love to meet Žižek!”

Struck by this declaration of philosophical love, I wrote at once to Slavoj Žižek and proposed that he come to Moscow to meet Nadya. She was then still in the capital, awaiting the result of the appeal hearing. My plan was to publish their discussion in Philosophie Magazine, and Žižek quickly replied: “YES, of course!” I requested the help of Zoya Svetova, the New Times journalist who had published the interview in which Nadya voiced her admiration for Žižek and had access to detainees on account of her status as a prison visitor. While we were waiting for authorization, however, Tolokonnikova was sent from the detention centre where she had been held throughout the trial to camp PC-14 in Mordovia, thousands of miles from Moscow. It was unrealistic to imagine going there with Žižek: no one would ever have given him authorization to visit. So in December 2012 I proposed to Slavoj that he begin a correspondence with Nadya. He accepted enthusiastically, emailing me his first letter.

The exchange of letters took place as follows: We had Žižek’s letters translated from English into Russian, then sent them to Zoya Svetova. The Federal Penitentiary Service has an internal electronic messaging system, but Zoya, thanks to her prison visitor status, was able to send the texts to Nadya via a special access code. After being read and verified by prison officials, the messages were forwarded to the prisoner. Nadya responded, writing by hand on special forms. Her letters were then transcribed for the messaging system by the prison administration and sent to the correspondent—who pays for the cost of this service. The responses were also clearly subjected to censorship at the hands of the penal colony. Once Zoya received them and transmitted them to us, all that was left to do was translate them into English and forward them to Slavoj.

As an inevitable consequence of these various filters, the rhythm of the correspondence was very slow. Aware that prison authorities were reading her letters, Nadya avoided detailing her daily life in prison. In any case, she preferred to remain—as did her interlocutor—on the intellectual terrain. The result of their correspondence is in the image of these two personalities.

Michel Eltchaninoff


The True Blasphemy: On the Pussy Riot Sentencing

Pussy Riot members accused of blasphemy and hatred of religion? The answer is easy: the true blasphemy is the state accusation itself, formulating as a crime of religious hatred something which was clearly a political act of protest against the ruling clique. Recall Brecht’s old quip from his Beggars’ Opera: “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?” In 2008, Wall Street gave us the new version: what is the stealing of a couple of thousand dollars, for which one goes to prison, compared to financial speculations that deprive tens of millions of their homes and savings, and are then rewarded by state help of sublime grandeur? Now, we got another version from Russia, from the power of the state: What is a modest Pussy Riot obscene provocation in a church compared to the accusation against Pussy Riot, this gigantic obscene provocation of the state apparatus which mocks any notion of decent law and order?

Was the act of Pussy Riot cynical? There are two kinds of cynicism: the bitter cynicism of the oppressed which unmasks the hypocrisy of those in power, and the cynicism of the oppressors themselves who openly violate their own proclaimed principles. The cynicism of Pussy Riot is of the first kind, while the cynicism of those in power—why not call their authoritarian brutality a Prick Riot—is of the much more ominous second kind.


 If we understand cynicism as the ruthless pragmatism of power which secretly laughs at its own principles, then Pussy Riot are the embodiment of anti-cynicism. Their message is: IDEAS MATTER. They are conceptual artists in the noblest sense of the word: artists who embody an Idea. This is why they wear balaclavas: masks of de-individualization, of liberating anonymity. The message of their balaclavas is that it doesn’t matter which of them got arrested—they’re not individuals, they’re an Idea. And this is why they are such a threat: it is easy to imprison individuals, but try to imprison an Idea!

The panic of those in power—displayed by their ridiculously excessive brutal reaction—is thus fully justified. The more brutally they act, the more important symbol Pussy Riot will become. Already now the result of the oppressive measures is that Pussy Riot are a household name literally all around the world.

It is the sacred duty of all of us to prevent that the courageous individuals who compose Pussy Riot will not pay with their flesh the price for their becoming a global symbol.

Slavoj Žižek. August 7, 2012


The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj

Slavoj to Nadya, August 26, 2012

I cannot tell you how proud I am to be in contact with you. Your acts are well thought out, and based on deep insights into how oppressive power works, how it has to rely on a hidden obscene agenda, violating its own rules. But more than that, you show all of us the way to combine these right insights with simple courage. Against all postmodern cynics, you demonstrate that ethical-political engagement is needed more than ever. So please ignore enemies and false friends who pity you as punk provocateurs who deserve mere clemency. You are not helpless victims calling for sympathy and mercy, you are fighters calling for solidarity in a struggle. From my own past in Slovenia, I am well aware of how punk performances are much more effective than liberal-humanitarian protests. My dream is, when all this mess is over, to have a long talk with you about all these matters.


It may sound crazy, but although I am an atheist, you are in my prayers. Prayers that you will soon see your family, children, friends. Prayers that you will at least have some time to read and reflect in peace while in prison!

Slavoj to Nadya, January 2, 2013

John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote back in 1900 about radicals: “They are really always saying the same thing. They do not change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their own cause, fanaticism, triviality, want of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of consistent radicals. To all appearances nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honored pitch is G flat.” Is this not a fair description of the effect of a Pussy Riot performance? In spite of all the accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear as if nobody is following you, but secretly they all believe you, they know you are telling the truth—or, even more so, that you stand for the truth.

But what truth? Why are the reactions to Pussy Riot performances so violent—and not only in Russia? The vacillations of the Western media are indicative here: all hearts were beating for you as long as you were seen as just another liberal-democratic protest against the authoritarian state. But the moment it became clear that you also reject global capitalism, the reports became much more ambiguous, with many now displaying a new-found “understanding” for your critics. Again, why?

What makes Pussy Riot so disturbing for the liberal gaze is the way you reveal a hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.


No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot makes us all uneasy—you know very well what you don’t know, you don’t pretend to have fast and easy answers, but what you are also telling us is that those in power don’t know either. Your message is that, in Europe today, the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that, after witnessing Napoleon entering Jena, Hegel wrote that it was as if he had seen the World Spirit riding in on a horse, you, sitting there in prison, embody nothing less than the critical awareness of us all.

Nadja to Slavoj, February 23, 2013

One time, in the autumn of 2012, while I was sitting in pretrial detention with the other Pussy Riot activists, I came to your house for a visit. In a dream, of course.

I get what you’re saying about horses and the World Spirit, about Chapman’s “buffoonery and irreverence,” and more to the point about how and why all of these are so forcefully bound up with one another. Pussy Riot has wound up on the side of those who feel the call to critique, to creation and co-creation, to experimentation and to the role of the unceasing provocateur. To put it in terms of the opposition Nietzsche set up, we’re the children of Dionysus, floating by in a barrel, accepting nobody’s authority. We’re on the side of those who don’t offer final answers or transcendent truths. Our mission, rather, is the asking of questions.

There are architects of Apollonian equilibrium in this world, and there are (punk) singers of flux and transformation. One is not better than the other: “Mamy raznye nuzhny, mamy raznye vazhny.”1 Only our cooperation can ensure the continuity of Heraclitus’ vision: “This world has always been and will always be a pulsing fire, flaring up accordingly, and dying down accordingly, with the cycling of the eternal world breath.”

We count ourselves among those rebels who court storms,2 who hold that the only truth lies in perpetual seeking.

Nikolai Berdyaev wrote in Self-Knowledge: “Truth as an object which intrudes itself and wields authority over me—an object in the name of which it is demanded that I should renounce freedom—is a figment: truth is no extraneous thing; it is the way and the life. Truth is spiritual conquest; it is known in and through freedom.” “Christianity itself is to me the embodiment of the revolt against the world and its laws and fashions.” “From time to time a terrible thought crossed my mind: what if obsequious orthodoxy is right and I am wrong? In that case I am lost. But I have always been quick to cast this thought from me.” All statements that might have come from Pussy Riot just as easily as from Russia’s great political philosopher. In 1898, Berdyaev was arrested on charges of agitating for the Social Democrats, indicted for “designs on the overthrow of the government and the church,” and exiled from Kiev for three years to the Vologda Gubernia. When the World Spirit touches you, don’t think you can walk away unscathed.

Intuition — and this is where your blind leading the blind comes in — is of stunning importance. The main thing is to realize that you yourself are as blind as can be. Once you get that, you can, for maybe the first time, doubt the natural place in the world to which your skin and your bones have rooted you, the inherited condition that constantly threatens to spill over into feelings of terror.

That’s something Laurie Anderson sings: “Only an expert can deal with the problem.” If only Laurie and I could’ve had the chance to take those experts down a peg! And solve our problems without them. Because expert status is no portal to the Kingdom of Absolute Truth.

Reasonable minds at last are seeing how truth can come from the mouths of innocents. It’s not in vain that the Rus’4 so esteems its holy fools, its mad ones. In the beating, political heart of civil Russia’s capital city, at the site of Pussy Riot’s January 2012 performance, at the base of Red Square, stands St. Basil’s Cathedral, named after Russia’s beloved Basil Fool for Christ.

Cultural competence and sensitivity to the Zeitgeist don’t come with a college diploma or live in an administrator’s briefcase. You need to know which way to point the map. “Humor, buffoonery, and irreverence” might turn out to be modes of seeking truth. Truth is multifaceted, its seekers many and varied. “Different but equal,” as another good antifascist slogan had it.

I think Plato was pretty much wrong when he defined human beings as “featherless bipeds.” No, a person does a lot more doubting than a plucked cock does. And these are the people I love—the Dionysians, the unmediated ones, those drawn to what’s different and new, seeking movement and inspiration over dogmas and immutable statutes. The innocents, in other words, the speakers of truth.

Two years for Pussy Riot—the price we owe fate for the gift of perfect pitch that enables us to sound out an A, even while our old traditions teach us to listen for G-flat.

How can we resolve the opposition between experts and innocents? I don’t know. But this I can tell you: the party of the innocents, as in Herod’s time, will exemplify resistance. We’ll find our own basket and Pharaoh’s daughter to help us. Those who keep a childlike faith in the triumph of truths over lies, and in mutual aid, who live their lives entirely within the gift economy, will always receive a miracle at the exact moment they need it.

Slavoj to Nadya, April 4, 2013


We should not be ashamed to evoke here, as you do, the tradition of the “fools for Christ.” Is our position utopian? I am more and more convinced that today’s real utopians are those pragmatic-rational experts who seem to believe that the present state of things can go on indefinitely, that we are not approaching the moment of an apocalyptic choice. If nothing in fact changes, then all of a sudden we will find ourselves living in a much darker society.

You are right to question the idea that “Only the experts can solve our problems.” Maybe there are certain kinds of problems they can solve, but what they cannot do is to identify and formulate the true problems. Experts are by definition the servants of those in power: they don’t really THINK, they just apply their knowledge to problems defined by the powerful (How to restore stability? How to crush the protest?, etc.). So when, dear Nadya, you ask: “How can we resolve the opposition between experts and innocents?”, my first answer is that, in a way, it has already been resolved by contemporary global capitalism. That is to say, are today’s capitalists, especially the so-called financial wizards, really the experts they claim to be? Or are they not rather stupid babies playing with our money and our fate?


Nadya to Slavoj, April 16, 2013

You really think “today’s capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalizing normality”? I say maybe it hasn’t—maybe it just really wants us to believe it has, to accept that hierarchization and normalization have been exceeded.

You mention places where the legal rights that limit exploitation are suspended in the name of the world capitalist order. At this very moment, I write to you from a Special Economic Zone. Seeing it with my eyes, feeling it on my skin.

As a kid I wanted to work in advertising. I had a whole romance with it. So now I know how to evaluate advertisements and commercials. I get the finer points. I even appreciate the things that by definition they have to keep silent about.


Modern capitalism has a deep interest in seeing that you and I believe the system runs completely on principles of free creativity, limitless growth, and diversity, and that the flip side—millions of people enslaved by all-powerful and (take it from me) fantastically unchanging standards of production—remains invisible. We have an interest in exposing this deception, which is why I insist on unmasking the static, centralized, hierarchic basis of what advertising will later sanctify as a product of unbridled creativity alone.

That’s why I take exception to your distrust of thinking that is posited within the frameworks of binary oppositions, and even insist on the use of such binaries as a heuristic—one that is situational and, when it must be, even burlesque. This is exactly how I deploy the opposition between Apollonian equilibrium and Dionysian flux. And given the broad expansion of fundamentalist tendencies in politics and economics, I’m sure we can’t yet write off the suggestion of militant workers that economic growth and ecological conservation must be antithetical.

With regard to the techniques that the global economy’s intellectual and ad-industry core has developed for escaping static identities of subjugation, my feeling is that we need to find a way of joining this game without checking our beliefs at the door. We can definitely profit from the ping-pong being played between an egalitarian-emancipatory “deterritorialization” and the postmodern, capitalist one. But we have to stay brave, energetic, and stubborn—we can’t walk away from the fight. Sparring is how you build endurance, how you learn to be quick on your feet and develop a sense of humour. Unlike the old Left, we can’t just reject capitalism out of hand—we’ll get further by playing with it, teasing till it’s been perverted. Perverted, I mean, in the sense of being turned to face us, enlisted into our cause.

Slavoj to Nadya, June 10, 2013

Let me begin by confessing that I felt deeply ashamed after reading your reply. You wrote: “Don’t waste your time worrying about giving in to theoretical fabrications while I supposedly suffer ‘empirical deprivations.’ ” This simple sentence made me aware of the falsity of the final turn in my last letter: my expression of sympathy with your plight basically meant, “I have the privilege of doing real theory and teaching you about it while you are basically good for reporting on your experiences of hardship” … Your last letter abundantly demonstrates that you are much more than that, that you are an equal partner in a theoretical dialogue. So my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched male chauvinism can be, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other’s suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue.


What can be done in a situation where demonstrations and protests prove to be of no use, where democratic elections fail to make any difference? According to Berardi, only withdrawal, passivity, and the abandonment of illusions can open up a new way: “Only self-reliant communities leaving the field of social competition can open a way to a new hope.” I, of course, do not follow him here, but I do share his scepticism about chaotic resistance. I am more and more convinced that what really matters is what happens the day after: can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but are also able to offer the prospect of a new order?

I think that Pussy Riot’s performances cannot be reduced to being just subversive provocations. Beneath the dynamics of your acts, there is the inner stability of a firm ethico-political attitude. Pussy Riot does not propose merely a Dionysian destabilization of the existing static order—in a deeper sense, it is today’s society that is caught in a crazy capitalist dynamic with no inner sense or measure, and it is Pussy Riot which de facto offers a stable ethico-political point. Pussy Riot’s very existence communicates to thousands the fact that opportunist cynicism is not the only option, that we are not totally disoriented, that there still is a common cause worth fighting for.

Nadya to Slavoj, July 13, 2013

Let me start this letter out by drawing a distinction I find crucial to avoiding the pitfalls of universalization stemming from the imagination.

At the beginning of your letter, you caught yourself in a moment of male chauvinism. But I’m inclined to think you and I and our whole conversation are susceptible to a more justified — and so heavier — charge: that of a colonial perspective. What I mean is that we haven’t so far been accounting for regional differences and quirks in the operation of the economic and political mechanisms we’re discussing. This omission, this silence, feels suddenly shameful. Seduced by your arguments, I fell unreflectingly into the classic trap of exclusive and discriminatory universalization. And in the end, like anyone toying with unfounded universals, I excluded and discriminated against myself.

The difference I feel a civic duty to stipulate is between how what you call “global capitalism” works in the US or Europe, and how that same capitalism works in Russia. From where I’m sitting as a political activist, not to address and problematize this distinction would amount to intellectual cowardice. I know that comparing Russia with a hypothetical “West” will always yield more questions than answers, and I guess that’s why, even though I would’ve loved to, I didn’t get into the distinction in my last letter (which I had to jot down quickly while at my sewing machine). I’d never have time to say as much as I was thinking, sitting here in jail in one of those Special Economic Zones, the zones of institutionalized exploitation.


Again, I insist that even the most developed capitalist formulation presupposes hierarchization, normalization, and exceptions. You quote Marx saying that “constant revolutionizing of production [and] uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions … distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” Agreed, we see upheavals in all social relations, but they don’t cancel out exploitation and standardization. Instead, the outsourcing you often criticize comes into play. Antiquated techniques of discipline migrate to the Third World, into countries like mine, rich in raw materials.


And then, Marx adds: “all that is holy is profaned.” In a country where even a passing mention of religious images, ideas, and understandings might carry with it the threat of three years’ hard labour, this characterization of the “bourgeois epoch” (made in 1840!) can’t but elicit nervous laughter.

My idea’s pretty simple: I think it would be helpful for Western theorists to set aside their colonial Eurocentrism and consider global capitalism in its entirety, encompassing all regional variants. Maybe then some of them will come around to my perspective that the “mad flux” of “late” capitalism is in fact one of the most successful and far-ranging maneuvers in the history of humanity. I’m in no way suggesting that anti-hierarchic trends don’t exist.


Very seductive, an idea like “hyper-dynamic deterritorialization.” From time to time, I succumb to its charm. But I guess I’ve been saved from overindulging, and from the kind of depression Guattari suffered, by living in a country that over and over again confronts me with palpable evil, staggering in its enduring, deep-rooted corporeality. I think I know exactly “what body, what mind is going through transformation and becoming” (Berardi) as I serve my “deuce”1 (Putin) in lockdown.

Savoj to Nadya, December 12, 2013


In short, global capitalism is a complex process which affects different countries in different ways, and what unites the protests in their multifariousness is that they are all reactions against different facets of capitalist globalization. The general tendency of contemporary capitalism is towards further expansion of the reign of the market, combined with progressive enclosures of public space, sweeping cuts in public services, and a rising authoritarianism in the functioning of political power. It is in this context that the Greeks protest against the reign of international financial capital and their own corrupt and inefficient clientelist state increasingly unable to provide basic social services; that Turks protest against religious authoritarianism and the commercialization of public space; that Egyptians protested against a corrupt authoritarian regime supported by the Western powers; that Iranians protested against a corrupt and inefficient religious fundamentalist rule, etc. What unites these protests is that they all deal with a specific combination of (at least) two issues: a more or less radical economic one (from corruption and inefficiency to outright anti-capitalism) and a politico-ideological one (from demands for democracy to demands for overcoming the standard multiparty democracy). And does the same not hold for the Occupy Wall Street movement? Beneath the profusion of (often confused) statements, Occupy Wall Street incorporated two basic insights: 1) a discontent with capitalism as a system—the problem is the capitalist system as such, not any particular corruption; and 2) an awareness that the institutionalized form of multiparty democracy is incapable of holding back the excesses of capitalism, i.e., that democracy has to be reinvented.

There are, of course, many traps awaiting those engaged in these struggles. Let me take the case of Turkey. The motto that united those who protested in Taksim Square was “Dignity!”—a good but ambiguous slogan. The term is appropriate insofar as it makes it clear that protests are not just about particular material demands, but about the protesters’ freedom and emancipation.


So, back to Turkey, is it only this type of dignity that the protesters want, tired as they are of the crude and blatant ways in which they are cheated and manipulated? Is their demand merely: “We want to be duped in the proper way—at least make an honest effort to cheat us without insulting our intelligence!” or is it really something more? If we aim at more, then we should acknowledge that the first step of liberation is to dismiss the appearance of false freedom and openly proclaim our un-freedom. The first step towards women’s liberation, for example, is to reject the appearance of respect for women and openly proclaim that women are oppressed—today’s master more than ever does not want to appear as the master.


Just as I was finishing this letter, I learned that Nelson Mandela died—was he an authentic master? In the last two decades of his life, Mandela was celebrated as a model of how to liberate a country from the colonial yoke without succumbing to the temptation of dictatorial power and anti-capitalist posturing. In short, Mandela was not Mugabe, and South Africa remained a multi-party democracy with a free press and a vibrant economy well integrated into the global market and immune to hasty socialist experiments. Now, with his death, his stature as a saintly wise man seems confirmed for eternity: there are Hollywood movies about him; rock stars, religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification.


If we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should thus dispense with the celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to. We can also safely surmise that, on account of his undoubted moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life aware of how his very political triumph and elevation into a universal hero was itself the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is but a sign that he didn’t really disturb the global order of power—which certainly cannot be said of Pussy Riot.


“When you put on a mask, you leave your own time”

Nadya to Slavoj, March 11, 2014


Slavoj, it wasn’t too long ago that you suggested it might be a good idea for Masha and me to speak our minds about Edward Snowden. This is no simple thing to do when Snowden is living in your country under the protection of the same intelligence services that have ordered and overseen physical violence against you and your friends. At the same moment that we two were in prison, Edward Snowden was finding himself in quite an awkward situation—a fighter for the free dissemination of information, he found himself in Russia, where, like it or not, his presence inevitably conferred legitimacy on the Kremlin’s information policy.


Once in an interview you said that you wanted to write an essay criticizing Pussy Riot for our inordinate conservatism. I think I know what you were getting at, but it would be inordinately interesting all the same for this essay to see the light of day.

Pussy Riot is a mask: a simplifying, modernizing mask. Prison, confinement, these are also masks, different masks, ones that help people of our generation to shake off cynicism and irony. When you put on a mask, you leave your own time, you abandon the world in which any sincerity will be mocked, you move into the world of cartoon heroes, where Sailor Moon and Spiderman, those consummate modern role models, can be found. Somewhere in that world our other role models live on, too: Kazimir Malevich, Dziga Vertov, Wassily Kandinsky.

Pussy Riot has proved so effective that its promise—simple to the point of impossibility, minimalist to the point of indecency—rings loud and clear. The masks that members of Pussy Riot wear hold, if any, a therapeutic function: yes, we belong to a generation raised on irony, but we also put on masks to reduce that impotent irony. We go out in the streets and speak plainly, without varnish, about the things that matter most.

The most penetrating speeches, writings, and actions are born of modernist condensation, of the modern age. True crises—imprisonment, war, the crisis of democracy that you have described in which people grow alarmed, stop trusting the elites, and realize that it is now truly up to them alone—catalyze the emergence of such historic periods.


By the way, the modernist and zealous declarations of today are being used far more successfully by Russia’s officially sanctioned journalism establishment than by the independent or opposition media. The mouthpieces of state propaganda, I’m forced to admit, have learned a lot from the early Soviet avant-garde’s methods of agitation. Sharing Pierre Bourdieu’s slogan “Pour un savoir engage,” I would like to see more combustion and personal, emotional involvement in the statements and gestures of those who today rise up against unfreedom, social corruption, humiliation, and lack of prospects for a decent life in Russia.

It is impossible not to sympathize with the passionarity of the Ukrainians involved in Euromaidan. The perseverance, the courage, and—sure, I’ll say it—the heroism with which Ukrainians, from the lowliest workers to the upper echelons of management, have defended their political interests comprise, without question, an utter miracle. As surely a miracle as the turning of water to wine for the Marriage at Cana.

 Slavoj to Nadya, March 18, 2014

Let me first express my joy — I am glad that you are now free, and even more glad that your struggle goes on. You have, of course, my full solidarity with Zona Prava**. I also fully support Pussy Riot’s style of performance. What you wrote about masks reminds me of what Nietzsche wrote apropos Hamlet: “what must a person have suffered if he needs to be a clown that badly!” One should unconditionally defend the apparently irreverent and clownish attitude of Pussy Riot’s actions as the only appropriate reaction to traumatic and violent events—let me make an extreme example to clarify this point.


Let me address the rumour you mention that I intend to write an essay criticizing Pussy Riot for their inordinate conservatism. Frankly, I don’t know where this rumor originated—it is simply not true, and furthermore “conservative” is to me not necessarily a critical notion. From Marx on, the truly radical Left was never simply “progressist”—it was always obsessed by the question, what is the price of progress?


I did, however, make a remark about solidarity with Snowden, about the danger of becoming engulfed by the liberal human rights movement, and on this I have more to add. First, let me emphasize that I totally agree with your characterization of Snowden, the compromises he had to make, and the way he can be (and is) exploited by Putin. My only point is, what other choice did he have? He is exploited and manipulated in the same way (and much more so, undoubtedly) that human rights liberals try to manipulate Pussy Riot. This is why I think that it would be very important for Snowden, Assange, Manning, etc., to make it clear that they cannot be reduced to simple anti-Americanism. Snowden should be defended not only because his acts annoyed and embarrassed the US secret services. 12


When confronted with such facts, should not every decent US citizen feel like a baboon suddenly overwhelmed by the shame of its protruding red butt? Assange, Manning, and Snowden are exemplary cases of the new ethics that befit our era of digital control and communications. They are no longer just whistle-blowers who denounce illegal practices of private companies (banks, tobacco and oil companies) to the public authorities; they denounce these public authorities themselves when they engage in the “private use of reason.” We need more Mannings and Snowdens in China, in Russia, everywhere.


Constantly bombarded by such imposed “free choices,” forced to make decisions for which we are not even properly qualified or sufficiently informed, we more and more experience our freedom as a burden that causes unbearable anxiety. Unable to break out of this vicious cycle as isolated individuals, since the more we act freely the more we are enslaved by the system, we need to be “awakened” from this “dogmatic slumber” of fake freedom from outside, by the push of a Master figure.

This brings me back to my central point: it is absolutely crucial to insist on the universality of our struggle. The moment we forget that Pussy Riot and WikiLeaks are moments of the same global struggle, everything is lost, we have sold our soul to the devil.nomenklatura: in a couple of years, 80 percent of the Central Committee and Red Army Headquarters members were shot. Furthermore, one should also not underestimate the “totalitarian” potential, as well as direct outright brutality, of the White counter-revolutionary forces during the Civil War: had a White victory been the case,


1 A line from the popular Soviet children’s writer Sergei Mikhalkov: “Mums of all kinds are needed, and mums of all kinds are important.”

2 Tolokonnikova here is quoting from Mikhail Lermontov’s 1832 poem “The Sail,” a classic many Russians can recite from memory. The poem ends: “[The sail,] rebellious, courts a storm, /As though in storms it might find peace!” Tolokonnikova here is quoting from Mikhail Lermontov’s 1832 poem “The Sail,” a classic many Russians can recite from memory. The poem ends: “[The sail,] rebellious, courts a storm, /As though in storms it might find peace!”

3 An antiquated name for the earliest Slavic polities in the area of contemporary Russia; roughly akin to calling England “Britannia.”

1. In an interview for a TV special celebrating his sixtieth birthday on October 7, 2012, Putin, asked about Pussy Riot, said that the court had “slapped them with a deuce,” referring to the women’s two-year sentence. He then added, “I have nothing to do with this. They asked for it, they got it.”