“We screamed from the horror of it all”

Eyewitness accounts of the conflict in Georgia

Elena Zaseeva, 43, a widow from Tskhinvali

"When the conflict broke out, after midnight, the explosions were deafening. It felt as if all the shells were hitting our house. Then one huge shell did hit our house. We were screaming, crying and praying. The entire house shook, the room on the ground floor filled up with smoke. We screamed from the horror of it all.

"My eldest son ran outside and when he returned he said that the first floor of the house was destroyed. 'They want to kill us,' I remember thinking. 'Why aren't the Russians coming?'

"During a quiet moment our neighbours came running and told us to join them in their basement. We spent two days in the basement, in complete darkness. I put my 12-year-old son on one of the shelves that lined the walls of the basement, amid jars of home-made compote. Even though the shelf was uncomfortable, he was so exhausted that he slept all night and all day.

"Then the Georgians entered Tskhinvali. Some Ossetian guys came by in a car, we grabbed some documents, ran outside, and without any possessions we tried to leave the city.

"When we got back to Tskhinvali from Vladikavkaz, I found my house partially ruined. A house opposite mine burned down. Everyone is crying non-stop. There were many funerals. A woman I know had to collect the bits of her son's body into a box - he was hit by a shell. She buried him in her garden.

"Russia protected us from Georgia's aggression. If they hadn't come, we would not have survived such heavy shelling. But I have many friends among the Georgians. I feel sorry for those who had been killed. I worry a lot about them."

Leo Kachmazov, 41, an Ossetian from Tskhinvali

"The Georgians shelled peaceful people who were asleep. It was direct artillery fire from 80, 100 and 200mm guns. They entered Tskhinvali in their tanks and killed women and children.

"I am in a Jewish part of town at the moment. Everything is ruined and destroyed. Tears are coming to my eyes. There is nothing left from the house where my friends used to live. There are tea kettles scattered around, and the metal beds are burned and twisted.

"I would like to ask Saakashvili what he wanted from this small piece of land of ours. Why did you come here, at high speed, with your weapons? Almost everyone here is a Russian citizen. Our state language is Russian. We have nothing to do with Georgia."

Lubov Volkova, 37, lawyer, Moscow

"In Russia people believe what the mass media says 100 per cent. The television here talks about the conflict as a result of the United States' anti-Russian policies.

"I found out that the Russian army had bombed Georgia from independent news sources. They showed the decomposing corpses of Georgian soldiers but I couldn't watch this stuff, I changed channels.

"This is Putin's victory. He wanted everyone to think: 'You don't mess with Russia.' This is exactly what we are thinking now."

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2008 issue of the New Statesman, How to survive the recession

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times