Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 26, 2018

Act and Punishment

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Kevin Coogan — louisproyect @ 3:55 pm


On August 22, 2012, my first article on CounterPunch appeared. Defending Pussy Riot against those on the left who supported the arrest of the three punk rockers who had been jailed for singing (or yowling) “Mother of God, chase Putin away” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, my article began:

Given the sharp divide on the left between those who consider the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) governments to be the first line of defense against Western imperialism and those who take the sides of the victims of such governments even when the U.S. State Department takes up their cause as well, it should not come as a surprise that the Pussy Riot trial has become a litmus test. Support for Pussy Riot is a sign that you are catching Christopher Hitchens flu or worse.

That was the first in a series of 243 articles appearing under my name at CounterPunch that comes full circle today with a review of “Act and Punishment”, a 2015 documentary on Pussy Riot that can now be rented on Amazon.

Continue reading


  1. Taking over the alter of a cathedral to sing “Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!
    Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!” is a hate crime. It would be no different for a Punk band to break into a synagogue and sing a antisemitic hate song.

    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 26, 2018 @ 4:33 pm

  2. Purcell, I don’t know to put this exactly but I am opposed to hate crime legislation. Period.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 26, 2018 @ 6:29 pm

  3. What they did is not ‘the same thing’, at all, as singing antisemitic songs in a synagogue. I hate these stupid false analogies. Look at what they did. if you decide what they did deserves being locked up you are a stupid, ignorant Fascist. If you look at what they did and support their cry against hypocrisy , or even just shrug and think, ‘let the people speak, and go their way , no harm done’, then, good. And it’s ‘altar’.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — January 26, 2018 @ 7:10 pm

  4. Pussy Riot stormed into someone else’s house of worship, occupied the alter and called them “holyshits”. I sure don’t see how that is any different.

    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 26, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

  5. Well, the leader of the cult whose house of worship they ‘stormed’, told his followers to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek. You are arguing on the side of the Putinists. You are wrong headed. What they did has nothing whatever in common with anti semitism of any kind. Full stop. And it’s ‘altar’, for Christ’s sake.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — January 26, 2018 @ 7:31 pm

  6. Matthew, why is trying to destroy the Jewish people any different than trying to destroy the Russian Orthodox people. From the Teutonic Crusades of the 12th century onward many genocidal wars have been waged against Russia. And I truly don’t see how your hatred of the Orthodox Church, is different in substance than antisemitism.

    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 26, 2018 @ 9:20 pm

  7. They were trying to destroy the Russian Orthodox people? Oh my God, you are far gone into nonsensical hysteria.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — January 26, 2018 @ 9:44 pm

  8. ‘The documentary demonstrates how radical the opposition to Putin was.’ Real radicals, who were met with thuggery, and imprisoned, and on the other side the Putin police and hypocrite ‘Christians’ (who ignore every word Jesus ever spoke it seems to me), whose side are you on anyway Gregory Purcell?

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — January 26, 2018 @ 9:55 pm

  9. I think it might be wrong to confuse Actionism with Fluxus. I associate Actionism with artists like Hermann Nitsch. To me Fluxus was much different and drew from people like Cage while Vienna was off in its own corner. I heard Nitsch talk, by the way, some years ago at Anthology Film Archive which showed one of his films. His trip is very different from Fluxus in my opinion.

    Whether one thinks Pussy Riot is great or Putin’s Best Friend who used them the way Nixon used hippies, I don’t think it’s right to identify them too much with Actionism, unless, of course, they self-identify with it. You could say they are recycling the neo-Dada trope but even here (as far as I know) neither Fluxus nor Actionism were very concerned with blunt political gestures. Nor was Marcel Duchamp come to think of it.

    I think the one huge exception was the “bed in” with John and Yoko that was very much an attempt to use witty Fluxus methods for a pretty anodyne political message about peace and love and war being no good. Yet they reached millions of people with what always struck me as the most successful (at least in mass impact) Fluxus event ever.

    But Fluxus struck me as not involved in politics, although in the 1960s everyone in the art world was anti-war just like today they all hate Trump. I just don’t think it showed up in their art since they all went through art schools who taught them that socialist realism and message art is really a Stalinist disease. I think Actionism was the same way although I’m sure they worried a good deal about being arrested by the cops for obscenity.

    Perhaps I am wrong but I don’t believe either Actionism or Fluxus was “political” in the simple-minded send-a-message way that Pussy Riot tried to be. Nor can I think of any American or European radical movement that held a demo in a sacred space so to speak. Billy Graham and company were big Nixon supporters but I don’t remember any of his rallies being disrupted. The only thing I can think of was ACT UP protests against the Catholic Church for its crazy opposition to condoms and such but that was a very specific cause. But I don’t think that even they disrupted mass.

    But however one evaluates the actions, I can’t see them as being linked either to Actionism or Fluxus in any serious way. But it may be that in Russia they just got a jumbled message of both Actionism and Fluxus so in their minds perhaps they saw a real connection. Also the sentences were ridiculous, not quite John Sinclair ridiculous or Tim Leary ridiculous but still ridiculous.

    Comment by Hylozoic Hedgehog — January 26, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

  10. My only point is that Voina emerged from the stew of performance art of the 1960s that was known as Fluxus internationally and as Actionism in Vienna. Nobody claims that Pussy Riot were as important or as sophisticated as Beuys. But they were part of the same general trend. In terms of the specific action that got them arrested, Nadya considered it a mistake and even admitted that in their trial.

    This article deals with the origins of Voina and other performance artists in Russia. It is surprisingly even-handed given the source:


    Comment by louisproyect — January 26, 2018 @ 10:15 pm

  11. Two years in prison for invading someone else’s house of worship to denounce and defile their religion, that sentence doesn’t seem excessive to me. In exchange Pussy Riot is now on corporate media and getting non stop paid speaking gigs and get to be millionaire martyrs for their role in the CIA’s war on Russia.

    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 26, 2018 @ 10:18 pm

  12. Interesting article from Sputniknews. But I have always questioned if putting a crucifix in a jar of piss is “art”… if so doing the same thing to the Koran could be called art. Throwing human shit at people could be called art.

    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 26, 2018 @ 10:35 pm

  13. First of all, Purcell, churches are public spaces. If you got up during a sermon in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and yelled out “Fuck Jesus”, you’d be escorted out by security. And that’s all. In fact, when a couple fucked inside St. Patrick’s as a stunt for the Opie and Anthony shock jock radio show, they were charged with disorderly conduct–punishable by a fine and that’s it. In terms of the CIA’s war on Russia, Pussy Riot are anarchists. They oppose the 1% in Russia just like Occupy Wall St. opposed our 1%. You should learn a little bit about Russian politics before embarrassing yourself again.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 26, 2018 @ 10:35 pm

  14. Well Louis you are correct that profane debasement of Churches in the West will only get you a slap on the wrist. But if you did those things in the West true high temple, the Wall street trading floor, you will get the book thrown at you. C

    And you think Putin, the guy who put the world’s richest man in prison, you think he is a friend of the one percent? Putin’s doctoral thesis was on why the Russian government must retain control of its oil gas and mineral resources and they must not privatized.

    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 26, 2018 @ 10:55 pm

  15. “Putin at the time of his appointment was already known as someone who believed in the importance of Russia retaining control of its energy resources. Indeed Putin had actually written a doctoral thesis on the subject (a partial translation can be found here), which since his emergence as Russia’s leader (and especially after the Yukos affair) has been the target of hostile commentary (see for example here). Almost certainly the fact Putin was known to believe that Russia should retain control of its energy resources was one of the most important reasons so many people within the Russian leadership in 1999 backed him for Russia’s President.

    Though the bitter hostility of the West to Putin has many causes, the anger caused by his role in closing Russia’s vast oil and gas fields to unrestricted development and exploitation by Western energy companies is in my opinion unquestionably one of the most important, and one that consistently gets underestimated…”


    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 26, 2018 @ 11:07 pm

  16. But if you did those things in the West true high temple, the Wall street trading floor, you will get the book thrown at you.

    That’s true but St. Patrick’s and all major cathedrals are open to the public. If you weren’t such an illiterate Stalinist fuckwit, I’d advise you to read my review of Marcus Rediker’s book on the Quaker dwarf who used to create a public nuisance in Quaker meeting houses over their support of slavery.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 26, 2018 @ 11:17 pm

  17. The Duran? Why don’t you find some reputable publication to cite? Duran is a pig sty. I suppose you are so deep into your Stalinist horseshit, you’ve never read anything outside of your comfort zone. What do you do each day? Trawl Global Research, Duran, Moon of Alabama and 21th Century Wire for the latest conspiracy theory? Fucking knucklehead.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 26, 2018 @ 11:19 pm

  18. Anna Politkovskaya has described some of the ways that a corrupt oligarchy enriches itself in Putins Russia at the expense of the masses, nothing to do with peoples control of the nations assets. ‘The combination of violence, parody of commercial business practice and straightforward corruption of every state institution from the legislature to the judiciary makes you laugh in disbelief’ , – a reviewer of Politkovskaya’s ‘Russian Diary’ , noted. Putin is richer than Croesus one may be quite sure. Its not a coincidence he and Trump are such good pals who understand each other so well. The Duran, I just had a look at it, its full of articles today praising Trump at Davos. It does look like a pig sty.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — January 26, 2018 @ 11:49 pm

  19. Very interesting article. Thanks! Amazing that an art clown painting of a penis (how shocking!! . . . not) on a bridge by the FSB headquarters would get you an art award in Russia.

    As for Wall Street: In 1967, Abbie Hoffman and company did a Diggers’-inspired action by giving out free money in the Stock Exchange and got maybe a fine. Even he had to talk his way past the guards but it wasn’t difficult because he and his group were in suits and ties. Today, of course, it’s almost impossible but partly that’s because of better security technology in general and the fear of terrorism in particular. Still, it’s the most brilliant example of a conceptual political art project that I know of with regard to Wall Street and it justly remains famous, at least among some of the elderly. Again, I think it was most likely inspired by his meetings with the Diggers.

    Comment by Hylozoic Hedgehog — January 27, 2018 @ 12:09 am

  20. Speaking of shit:

    There was a well known underground “punk” musician named GG Allin who did throw shit at people during his performances. Of course, these same people paid to see him perform and knew what they were getting into, more or less.

    Mercifully, I never saw him in action. Nor did he get a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

    GG died of a heroin overdose in 1993.

    Comment by Hylozoic Hedgehog — January 27, 2018 @ 12:47 am

  21. To guys have won the fight in the West and on corporate media. In the West Pussy Riot are hero’s and Putin is called evil.

    But it doesn’t matter what you or I think about Putin or Pussy Riot. It really doesn’t matter what anyone in the West thinks about Putin, because if he has built a self sufficient economy where they produce what they need, the state keeps its thumb on the oligarchs and corporations by owning at least 51% of every important corporation, and the Russian people support Putin, then what you or I think doesn’t matter one bit.

    You can hold Pussy Riot up as heroes and obscure why they went to prison, but everyone in Russia knows they stormed into someone else’s house of worship to defile the altar. You can say whatever you like about The Duran, but Putin has prevented the privatization of the Oil and Gas sector. You can demand Russia becomes a anti religious secular state, but so what. Anarchist throwing shit has not won the Russian people over to your side. They are socially conservative, and economically socialist.

    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 27, 2018 @ 2:44 am

  22. It really doesn’t matter what anyone in the West thinks about Putin, because if he has built a self sufficient economy where they produce what they need, the state keeps its thumb on the oligarchs and corporations by owning at least 51% of every important corporation, and the Russian people support Putin, then what you or I think doesn’t matter one bit.

    You need to read Karl Marx. This blog is called the Unrepentant Marxist. If you are okay with capitalist society in Russia or the USA, piss off.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 27, 2018 @ 2:52 am

  23. Ivory tower Marxism doesn’t work. But Russia Iran Syria and China have formed a new axis of resistance to the corporate empire along the lines of traditional faith and socialism. Which side are you on.

    Comment by Gregory Purcell — January 27, 2018 @ 3:02 am

  24. The amusing thing with this drivel which behaves as if the Russian Orthodox Church and people are oppressed, and equates a protest against the dominant religion and nationalism as if its the same thing as Anti-semitism is that, in Russia, the people who go like this are, you guessed it, anti-Semites. But I see reading the comments thread that this Purcell chap isn’t worth engaging with. Where do these bizarre idiots come from?

    Comment by John Gamey — January 27, 2018 @ 10:36 am

  25. Gregory Purcell,

    As Bashar al Assad says whenever he can,,, You are either with me or with the terrorists.

    Comment by seaspan — February 1, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

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