It’s gonna be a short Cold War

One of the reasons for the decline of Russian opposition these days is that it’s hard to look at what Russia is doing and still say it’s on the road to ruin.  Of course if one actually lives in Russia and travels about, you’d see the same kind of decay you could see a few years ago, but most people don’t see that. What they see is Russian troops clad in their latest gear in the Crimea, and the territorial expansion of Russia, which may end up adding Eastern Ukraine as its latest neglected backwater region.  All the hysteria of a new Cold War is once again fueling the delusion that Russia is this rising power which will once again oppose the West as the Soviet Union did. I’m terribly sorry, but this is bullshit, and this recent story about Lithuania getting Gazprom to slash its prices is proof.

By itself it might not mean much, but it is indicative of a much larger problem facing Russia as various countries find ways to free themselves from energy dependency and competition for oil and gas rises. This is also why the new Cold War claims are extremely foolish. Yes, Russia is acting like a superpower and it may seem like this will lead to a new Cold War, but Russia is not the Soviet Union and that Cold War is likely to be short, predictable, and bad for the peoples of Russia.

What the Russian intelligentsia totally miss in their efforts to rework the Soviet Union into a second Russian empire, is the fact that the Soviet Union’s early successes against the worst odds were due to its internationalist, socialist ideology, something totally rejected by the typical pro-Kremlin ideologue these days. The Bolsheviks were a very small party who owed their success to their internal discipline and expertly crafted revolutionary theory and practice. Though not always successful, they reached out to oppressed peoples of the empire and if they could not secure their support, they could usually at least ensure that they would not support the Whites who wanted to restore imperial domination of their territories.  What is more, those were the days of a massive, militant international workers movement, and that movement played a major role in preventing the remaining imperial powers from supporting the White movement during the civil war.  During the Seattle general strike of 1919, dockworkers refused to load ships destined for Vladivostok to support the Whites. Similar strikes took place in Britain and France, forcing those countries to pull their intervention forces out as well.

Leaflet from the 1919 Seattle General Strike.

Leaflet from the 1919 Seattle General Strike.

The survival of the Soviet Union struck fear into the hearts of ruling classes everywhere. They would have liked to invade and destroy the country, but they realized that they’d have to rely on the workers in doing so, and the working class’ sympathy was either with the USSR, or at least dead set against destroying it.  During the interwar period, some Western politicians in Britain and France though it might be a lovely idea to encourage Adolf Hitler to expand eastward, turning Germany into a bulwark against Bolshevism which would inevitably get in a bloody conflict with its ideologically opposed neighbor thereafter.  Of course that didn’t pan out too well.

The Soviet Union also enjoyed widespread popularity after the Second World War, largely for its role in defeating European fascism.  This was bolstered by the country’s support for anti-colonial movements. While the USSR degenerated ideologically as the decades wore on, it still remained a symbol of anti-colonialism as it freely funded and supported people’s liberation movements. Brave North Vietnam was juxtaposed with a corrupt, failing South Vietnam which was run by people totally out of touch with the masses and subservient to foreign governments. Angola, with Soviet weapons and Cuban assistance, struck a massive blow at apartheid by defeating the South African Republic in battle. Anti-colonialism and anti-racism were inextricably linked to the Soviet Union and the teeth-gnashing rants of right wing extremists from the Cold War era confirm this.  In this case it makes no difference as to the realities of the Soviet regime or whether it eventually became a sort of empire itself. What matters is how it was perceived and the friendly attitudes it could count on abroad, because this was serious diplomatic capital.

Russia, on the other hand, does not have this. Russia really has little to “sell” besides oil and gas, two things it will not be able to rely on forever.  There is a huge difference between the people who “support” Russia from abroad today and those who supported the USSR back in the interwar period.  In those days, you had masses of organized people who actually wanted to overthrow their own oppressors and adopt a form of the Soviet system. These days support for Russia is rarely anything beyond the old “enemy of my enemy” principle, sometimes coupled with some bizarre romantic ideas about the country. The kind of ideology promoted by the Kremlin and its media is extremely caustic and negative, which is unfortunately because in the big cities you often see the same vibrant, casual, open-minded social life that you might see in any European city. In the political arena, however, it’s all authoritarianism, obscurantism, and demands that the Russian people learn to submit and obey.  In politics you can pretty much choose any side so long as it is right wing and reactionary. If some of these groups are against Putin, it is only because they see him as not authoritarian enough, and of course Russians need a strong leader to run their lives for them.  While RT can easily find left-wing intellectuals to comment about the junta in Kyiv, few among them have any illusions that Russia is holding aloft the banner of anti-fascism.  Many of those militants in Ukraine who express solidarity with Russia or a desire to join Russia clearly espouse fascist views. As I’ve said before, the program of Ukrainian extremist parties like Svoboda or Praviy Sektor would be quite popular among these people or many people in Russia if one simply changes the text relating to Ukraine and Ukrainians to references to Russia.

This also means that a lot of Russia’s most enthusiastic support from outside the country tends to come from right-wing social losers who can’t cope in their own society and thus look to Russia as a sort of promised land, one in which they might actually, some day, possibly get laid. The problem with attracting social rejects from the West, is that they aren’t good for much in propaganda combat. Typically most of their countrymen readily grasp that these are in fact bitter losers, and therefore they aren’t convinced by their arguments. What you want in a propaganda war are figures who are successful or at least very talented and articulate. The Soviet Union, for example, could count on support from Paul Robeson.  What is more, in Robeson’s day, the Soviet Union sincerely believed and promoted its internationalist ideology. There were a few African Americans who actually settled in the USSR and their descendants actually live in Russia today.  Obviously attitudes changed dramatically over the decades and of course after the fall of the USSR, but in Soviet times it was possible for foreigners to live in the USSR and actually be treated as though they were a part of it.  Today that’s quite different, so American Mr. “My Great-Great-Grandfather-was-half-Czech-or-maybe-Polish-ergo-I-am-Slavic-ergo-Russian” moves to Russia and decides to take up the cause of Russia in the “information war,” he’s never really respected by his nationalist “comrades.”  They are people who routinely preach the importance of blood and your native land, the land where you were born. They have nothing but the deepest contempt for “traitors” of any kind. So our hypothetical American can tell us all about how he’s “assimilated” and “practically Russian,” but deep down his new friends see him as a traitor without any roots, good only for propaganda value.  Ultimately, they are not embraced by their own countrymen back home, nor their new Russian masters. Dance, American traitor monkey! Dance!

Coming soon to Moscow! Watch for his new show on RT.

Coming soon to Moscow! Watch for his new show on RT.

What Russia needs is a diverse spectrum of successful people, both financially and socially, moving to Russia or spending time there. And I’m sorry but Stay Puft Marshmellow Man’s stunt double, Gerard Depardieu, just doesn’t cut it. It shouldn’t just be washed-up celebrities and people with shit-tons of cash who can afford to live like Russian millionaires, i.e. totally isolated from the people.  You want a thriving expat community like Prague, or what the British have got going in Costa Del Sol. That allows for cultural exchange, and not the typical government-approved propaganda which always calls to mind the image of some bearded man hysterically stamping his feet and bellowing, “Traditional values! Patriotism! Obey! Strong leader! Bleaaaaargh!!” This kind of shit has been the norm in Russia for over twenty years now, and not only is it not working out, but it’s also not fooling anyone who actually lives in Russia. When people around the world see normal people routinely visiting Russia and spending time there, they are more likely to pay attention when these people say positive things about Russia. Unfortunately this situation does not currently exist, or at least most of us normies aren’t visible in the Russian media.

Russia also has an economic disadvantage that distinguishes it from the USSR. Whereas in the USSR, particularly in the Stalin era, a lack of economic parity with the other industrial powers could be explained away by the backwardness from which the country started out.  The economic achievements in the Soviet era may not seem like much to us today, but you have to realize that in the USSR you had engineers and scientists whose own parents were raised in dirt-floor huts. Deficiencies after the war could be explained by the war itself. Of course by the 70’s and 80’s the difference between the standards of living in the USSR and European states had few excuses left.  Looking to more recent history, Russia suffered a major embarrassment over the Euromaidan movement, because when it initially appeared Russian propagandists could do little but scream about gay people.  What could they offer Ukraine? Gas. The problem is that you have Ukrainians who have traveled through Europe and the US, perhaps even China, and then they also have seen Russia as well. Obviously the idea that an association agreement with the European Union would turn Ukraine into Germany is simply ridiculous, but at the very least it makes sense; it’s coherent. Say it again if you don’t believe me.  What does Russia have to offer Ukraine? Gas. Hmmm…Isn’t that the same shit Russia’s been giving Ukraine for the past twenty years, with no measurable improvement in the country.  Therefore we see how Russia couldn’t even woo it’s own “brother nation” because it has nothing to offer.

So with no positive ideology to garner international support and no real allies other than countries which either have no choice like Belarus or which have a beef with the US like Venezuela, Russia isn’t holding even half the diplomatic capital the USSR had.  What they have is oil and gas, and that’s not going to be much leverage in the near future.  This is the main problem with the Russian government, not that it’s some kind of “totalitarian” dictatorship with its foot on everyone’s neck, but rather that it is squandering the one thing which could totally transform Russia if properly invested. This is a goose that will stop laying its golden eggs one day, and unfortunately most of those eggs are going into the pockets of a few powerful individuals.  This oil and gas wealth needs to be used properly to prepare the country for that time when it can no longer depend on those resources, and that time appears to be fast approaching.

What can explain the ridiculous overreaching of the Kremlin today? My biggest fear is that the government, and perhaps Putin, the “smartest man in the room”, have come to believe their own propaganda. They may have convinced themselves that they have actually achieved the same state as the Soviet Union, obviously discarding the crucial ideological factor. All this means is that if there is to be another Cold War, it’s going to be shorter than the last one and it will once again end badly for Russia.  It basically amounts to fighting the last losing war with the same strategy, yet with none of the advantages the USSR possessed. They’re going up against veteran diplomats and intelligence services who have already played this game before, or they can read the works of those who did. While it’s obvious that economic investment in Russia has severely hobbled and embarrassed the West in this fight, they’ve got the economic foundation to play the long game, Russia does not.  The best way for Putin to turn this around is to stop listening to pseudo-intellectual hacks who got their jobs due to nepotism. Vladimir, if you’re reading this, stop listening to their sweet lies and embrace the bitter truth. Promoting right-wing populism is easy, and might seem effective, but when everything goes to shit, you want the populace to be full of progressive-minded people, with values like compassion, tolerance, etc. You especially want those values to be widespread if there’s a chance you lose power to them one day.  Moreover, that kind of society is attractive to the world, and presents a positive image.  The more Russia tries to “kill the world with kindness”, the more absurd the US and Europe will look for hysterically picking on her.  Time is running short, so it might be a good idea to consider what Russia has going for it other than gas and oil.

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7 thoughts on “It’s gonna be a short Cold War

  1. gunlord500

    From what I understand, though, many African-American intellectuals were somewhat ambivalent about the USSR. Richard Wright had a fantastic essay about this–“I tried to be a Communist.” Artists like Wright in particular didn’t take well to creative constraints the party tried to place on them.

    Reply
  2. Estragon

    So Russia doesn’t have communist ideology to sell anymore. What do you think about “Eurasianist” ideology (Dugin et al)? Or about the idea expressed by the likes of Pat Buchanan, that Putin is “one of us” (i.e. social or traditional conservatives)?

    Reply
    1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

      One of these days I’ll probably have to get into an analysis of Eurasianism, but part of me doesn’t want to give it so much attention. The “movement” is FAR more popular on the internet than in real life, and sometimes organizations or publications conceal their connection to the Eurasianists. From what I see Eurasianism is nothing but political huckstering. By definition it is fascist, but the mental gymnastics of its adherents would take all the gold at the summer Olympics. Dugin preaches mystical bullshit, because mystical bullshit can’t be checked or measured. This or that breach of someone’s rights is fine and good because…RUSSIAN SOUL!

      It’s hard to say how much Putin is actually culpable for this. Obviously these people render a great service to the government by drumming up support(albeit often confused) abroad or more importantly, neutralizing the youth, but personally I think Putin is not getting his money’s worth. In other words, these people are giving him an inferior product which can’t stand the light of scrutiny and their polemics look as though they were written by, at best, bookish 17-18 year old males. Putin can’t possibly give a shit about this ideology because he knows what he has done right(integrating Russia into the global economy and attracting investment) and he knows what will hurt him(isolation of Russia, capital flight, investors going elsewhere). If the Eurasianists declare that it’s fine that foreign investment is fleeing Russia, Putin, living in the real world, knows it is a serious problem. One friend of mine who knows Dugin and the Eurasianists even better than I once wondered if Putin even knew who Dugin is. Even if yes, it’s doubtful he’s actually read anything about his ideology. I’m quite certain he doesn’t know anything about Pat Buchanan and he has little reason to care.

      In short I’d say that Eurasianism is something like the libertarianism of CATO or the more radical Austrian school intellectuals, all funded heavily by rich individuals and corporations. Libertarianism appeals to the “middle class” and rails against big corporations, spreading the notion that monopolies and corporate control are due to the state(when is it NOT the fault of the state when it comes to libertarians?). This seems to make sense to high paid workers and small businessmen, because it seems unfair and against the spirit of “competition” that is supposed to be a part of capitalism. What they cannot perceive is that from a billionaire’s perspective, it’s perfectly fair. If I make billions of dollars, so much that I can’t possibly spend it as fast as I make it, why would I NOT use some of it to make sure the state is favorable to me and my business interest? The small business owner can gnash his teeth and cry about how unfair it is all he wants, but I run things, not him. So what is the purpose of the libertarian ideology then, if it is actually funded by those same individuals who got their fortunes from government perks, tax breaks, contracts, bailouts, etc.? The main thing is that it serves as a phony political alternative which is actually more in favor of “free market” solutions and sees the state as the supreme evil. Sure it preaches against lobbying and money in politics, but nothing gets done on that front. There’s only more tax breaks, deregulation, etc.

      Eurasianism is like that. The Eurasianists say what they have to say to get people on their side, even if this means sometimes going through great lengths to cover up who they are or the more reactionary, fascist aspects of their ever-changing, chimerical philosophy. Trying to nail down their positions is like trying to nail jello to a wall, but that is similar with many Kremlin apologists. If Russia has an advantage over America in some aspect(e.g. paid vacation, maternity leave), then they compare Russia to America. But bring up Pussy Riot and suddenly Russia is compared to Saudi Arabia. One minute they say that Putin “raised Russia from its knees,” but bring up some glaring problem and suddenly they trot out the 90’s excuse. When it suits them, Putin vanquished the “Wild 90’s,” but if necessary, he’s still struggling with them. Sources which report bad news are obviously CIA fronts and disinformation, unless they say something positive about the Russian government, in which case you can trust them. Nationalism is the bond of any people, but Ukrainian or Chechen nationalism is bad, of course. Eurasianism isn’t imperialist, but it openly seeks to create a Russian empire.

      In short- Eurasianism seems to be based on the principle of saying whatever you need to say to win that particular argument, and when backed into a corner just start babbling about national souls, spirituality, and other bullshit that can’t be observed, measured, or compared.

      Reply
  3. Estragon

    Thanks for the interesting response. I’ve only scratched the surface of Eurasianism, so I can’t say how accurate your take is. But it does give me something to think about.

    Your entertaining analysis of Tim Kirby reminds me of something. Speaking of Team Russia, have you taken notice of Mark Sleboda? An American who emigrated to Russia because he believes in “Eurasianism,” or something like that. He frequently shows up on RT, usually on Peter Lavelle’s talk show. I would love to read your take on some of these guys.

    Reply
  4. Big Bill Haywood Post author

    If you’ve only scratched the surface, there’s a long rabbit hole to tumble down. Half the time they say shit you know they don’t even believe. For example, they don’t give a shit about self-determination of other countries, only when it suits their geopolitical goals. If tomorrow the population of Crimea decided to hold another referendum in favor of leaving Russia, they’d happily justify its suppression by the Russian military.

    The roots of the ever chimerical ideology are broad and deep, but they can be traced at least in modern times to the so-called European New Right, which rejects Enlightenment values and prefers magic. Yeah they don’t call it magic, they call it folkish spirit, national idea, tradition, or half a dozen other things, but in the end it’s just a hodge podge of stuff you can’t measure nor observe. In other words, magic. See when someone insists that they have a better society, and that better society also happens to involve people sacrificing their freedom to some kind of leader or new aristocracy, they need to give good reasons for this. New Rightists don’t have any, so either they claim that the modern world is on the verge of collapse(no, it isn’t), or they resort to magic. Sure! Norway may look like a technologically advanced, incredibly healthy wonderland, but it’s bound to collapse one day because the government doesn’t force the people to adopt the Norwegian spirit, whatever the fuck that is! Just you wait! Any day now Norway is going to collapse!

    Unfortunately it’s hard to explain this particular strain of right-wing populism because one usually only becomes familiar with it via reading the movement’s literature over many years. Off the top of my head, one of the most thorough debunkings of a new offshoot of this ideology can be found here: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/10/20/the-anti-reactionary-faq/

    Obviously I’d have a bone to pick with some of the author’s points about leftist movements, but I think part of the problem is his definition of “progressivism”, which is hard to define as he is forced to use his opponent’s term. In any case, Eurasianist claims, much like neo-reactionary or New Right claims about how the West is collapsing, simply don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.

    If I may say another thing about Eurasianist and other anti-liberal ideologies, there’s a quick test you can do to see if their theories hold water: Look at nations which are fiercely “traditional,” particularly where that tradition is actually enforced by the state or state-like bodies. Now look at very non-traditional, very modern nations. You’ll probably notice that the more fiercely traditional a country is, the poorer and more backward it is. Even exceptions like Saudi Arabia are excepted mainly because they possess massive amounts of oil, which only made them rich due to the demand of all the modern, industrialized countries. Now that’s not to say that traditional values makes those countries poor. It’s really the opposite; those countries are very traditional because they are poor, and traditions evolved as survival mechanisms. They are not imprinted on particular nations(since those nations and their identities evolved over time), nor are they some kind of sacred, higher wisdom. People did things in a certain way to survive, and some of those practices live on in one form or another. There is nothing inherently good about them. If they serve society, then they have some value.

    Lastly, about that theory about the West degenerating and collapsing because it turned its back on “traditional values” or whatever. Guess what- Russian nationalists were predicting that would happen to the US back in 1991. Actually other right wing intellectuals were predicting it in the early 20th century as well, possibly late 19th century. The West was crumbling due to liberalism, and the only thing that would save it was a rising…you guessed it- Russia. That didn’t exactly work out now did it? Now since 1991, we’ve had roughly 23 years and for all the problems of the EU and US, they’re doing a lot better than Russia. That’s not something I’m happy about. I’d like to see Russia catch up, one way or another. But the Eurasianists don’t want that. They don’t want to address Russia’s problems so they either deny them or point people to an example of the same problem in another country and say “Look! It’s the SAME!”

    As for your question about Sleboda, yeah, I’m very familiar with him. I have a lot of theories about that guy, but they are only spoken in conversations.

    Reply
    1. Estragon

      “they don’t give a shit about self-determination of other countries, only when it suits their geopolitical goals”

      Without meaning to go all “whataboutist” on you, you’ve just described the foreign policy of any powerful country.

      I agree with your overall point about “traditional values,” but my understanding is that there is actually a useful strain of Russian conservatism, embodied in figures like Stolypin, Soloviev and Berdyaev, and *at his best moments*, Putin seems to be aware of this and values it to a certain extent. Also he has stated his admiration for de Gaulle, and I think Adenauer, who picked their shattered countries off the floor and made them strong again. But I don’t know enough about this to say for sure.

      Reply
      1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

        Yes, that could describe any major country, but Eurasianists are a bit different because they openly call for an empire. These types of Russians gleefully imagine taking over Eastern Ukraine, or even all of Ukraine, and then the Baltic states, etc. until they have their Third Rome empire or CCCP 2.0, as an offshoot calls it. Obviously that’s not what the government has in mind, but people believe in that. They love telling Ukrainians how they had it so good when Ukraine was part of the USSR; it’s actually true, except that the way Russians say it you’d think that it was all just handed to Ukraine by Muscovites. They are so quick to forget that Ukrainians built,fought for, and died to create the Ukrainian SSR and defend it, not to mention defend Russians.

        See the thing about European and American imperialism, and the latest crisis over Maidan supports this, is that they don’t give a shit what your government believes, preaches, or what language you speak, so long as your policies are conducive to their trade interests. It’s not like these guys got together and decided that a pro-EU Ukrainian government should include neo-Nazis and fascists. If it had consisted mostly of social democrats(in name at least), they would have supported that too. Just look at the Orange Revolution, much smaller nationalist presence there.

        With Russia it’s a different story. Chechnya and the Central Asian republics provide a good example. In the case of Chechnya, Russians today hate Chechens and constantly complain about them when they live in Russia. They are, thanks to a bloody war which robbed thousands of young Russian men of their lives, Russian citizens after all. But ask one of these people who complains about Chechens if it would have been better to let the country go and many will say absolutely not. Even though they don’t want to go to Chechnya, and they don’t want Chechens in Russia, it’s very important that Chechnya be a part of Russia. It’s a desire to dominate other peoples, possibly a natural reaction to the unsolved problems of the 90’s and the humiliation Russia went through. In the case of the EU and US, imperialism is just business, plain and simple.

        Now as for conservatism I’ll be quite honest. I see no value in “conservative” values by definition. Unless there is a good reason to maintain a particular practice, there is no reason to keep doing it if a better way presents itself. Obviously if people start suggesting cannibalism or pedophilia as acceptable new practices, hell yeah I’m going to be “conservative” by definition. But as far as ideologies go, conservatism of nearly all stripes tends to be based on the almost-always false claim that “it used to be better.” Anyone with a real knowledge of history knows this simply isn’t the case 99% of the time. Most of the time it used to be fucking horrible. I’ve noticed that in recent years American liberals have also been guilty of the “it used to be better” line. That should always raise an eyebrow any time you hear it.

        As for Stolypin, he is a sacred cow of various right-wing movements(not necessarily Russian either). Basically people latch on to Stolypin because he was assassinated, therefore one cannot say for sure exactly why his reforms would have done. Supporters use this to make a leap of logic and claim that he would have turned Russia into a superpower on par with Germany or the United States. If only were it not for that pesky little World War, which Russia enthusiastically leaped into(in fact partially caused if you’re keeping score). Basically what I know of Stolypin’s reforms, that is the meat of the issue, is that Stolypin wanted to break up the mostly communal farming in Russia to create more private landowners. Competition would mean that some would succeed while those driven out of business would be forced into the cities to serve as the new working class(I gathered from reading Robert C. Allen’s Farm to Factory). The logic is sound and the process has its analogs in history, but one major problem is that this process tends to be very violent and bad for the masses of peasants who end up with no land. Think of the enclosures in English history.

        The war makes predictions hard, but Allen has amassed solid evidence that Russia certainly would not have come out better had the revolution not happened, making any Stolypin alternative history a moot point. Stolypin’s reforms could have led to disasters on par with that of collectivization in Ukraine, perhaps, especially considering that the reason for the Russian empire’s booming economy was high grain prices, a price boom which ended around the early years of WWI. When that boom ended, grain producers were hit hard, and Russia was a grain producer.

        As for DeGaulle and Adenauer, it’s good to keep in mind they had the Marshall Plan. It would also be good to compare Germany and France to Russia today. Russia suffered a lot due to the collapse in 1991, but it was nothing compared to Germany or possibly even France. Hell it doesn’t compare to the USSR after the war, which was forced to rebuild virtually everything it made during the 1930’s. Also if one argues that Russia hasn’t had enough time, keep in mind that West Germany, actually formed in 1949, was competing with the US economically by the 1970’s. So Germany got on its feet in roughly 20-30 years, max. Ditto for Japan. It’s important to remember that the final year of the 90’s is now 14 years away. Soon it will be 15, then 20, etc. So that excuse isn’t going to fly for much longer.

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