Frankenstein’s monster

A couple hours ago I read that Francois Hollande has called for an end to the sanctions against Russia.  The reaction from some quarters was predictable. The Russian press will be overjoyed at the idea of the sanctions being removed, as this would prove that they don’t work. Then again, the same people also say that they spit on the sanctions, and that it doesn’t matter whether or not they are removed. Never mind them, for a moment. They’ll still be doing their mental gymnastics if we leave them alone for a bit. I’m more concerned with the reaction of the anti-Moscow pundits.

No doubt this will soon be portrayed as betrayal and appeasement. Somebody’s going to make a reference to Nevillle Chamberlain, I guarantee it. These will be some of the same people who warned us about all the influence Russia had bought up in the West in places Berlin and especially London. Russian money was the fifth column of Europe, so to speak.

Personally I can stand these narratives, which absolve the US and European governments of all responsibility. Their only failing was that they were too naive and trusting. Any attempt to point out a causal relationship between Putin’s current behavior and the tolerance shown to him especially by European governments will be labeled “whataboutist.” They will throw out accusations of “moral equivalency,” no doubt.

Well I’m terribly sorry but this radical leftist is going to keep saying “I told you so.” What Putin and his cronies learned over the course of 15 years, is that the neoliberal system is ripe for gaming. Western nations, especially the US in this case, declared the market supreme. Of course the long history of capitalism has taught us nothing it hasn’t taught us that the market is indifferent to things like human rights and democracy.  Everyone’s money is good in the market, and Russia’s leaders accumulated a ton of it thanks to high oil prices.

Essentially, Putin’s Russia today is a product of the neo-liberal triumphalism of the post-Soviet era. It began with the utter lack of concern Western powers showed over the fate of Russia in the 90’s- their lack of criticism over the crushing of protesters with tanks and armed troops in 1993. These people were supposed to embrace democratic values, yet nobody made any concerted effort to explain what those values were supposed to mean, or to make sure those who espoused these ideas knew what they were talking about. The most important human right, the one that mattered more than any other, was the right of private property and the profit derived from it. Nobody cared who got fleeced, only that there was money to be made.

After that, it continued with the acceptance of dirty money coming out of Russia, and the welcoming embrace of the first round of oligarchs.The very same men who made Putin possible were lauded as human rights crusaders living in exile. In the same period, Putin watched and learned many lessons from the US’ war on Iraq. He learned that when you’re powerful enough, you can impose your will as far as your army can reach. He learned that it was alright to take actions and declare whether or not they should be seen as setting a precedent or not. He learned that you could just make some flimsy excuse about protecting people to justify a war.

None of this absolves Putin and his circle of their responsibility for their actions, but any pundit, journalist, or intellectual who does not take into account all these enabling acts is engaging in rank hypocrisy and dishonesty. If Western nations don’t want whataboutist arguments and propaganda thrown in their face, they need to form a far more principled foreign policy, and this goes doubly so for the US. Putin’s cynical worldview draws its lifeblood from the failures of democratic regimes. If these regimes do nothing to improve their behavior, they have nobody to blame but themselves when they unleash monsters. Mistakes happen, but they need to be corrected. It’s called accountability.


10 thoughts on “Frankenstein’s monster

  1. Dimitri

    If America wants to lead, then it needs to remember that others will always be watching, and will mimic its behavior. Iraq was such a travesty because, even more so than Vietnam, it was so cynical in its engineering and execution and the way it was sold to the American people and the UN.

    Now America’s enemies will be able to accuse the US of hypocrisy for the next 20 years, and they’ll be right.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      They WILL do that, but I’m not sure how far that’s going to fly. Although Obama was a big disappointment, the country as a whole rejected Bush’s politics in 2008, 2006 to be sure. Bush’s administration has gone down as one of the most incompetent in recent American history. And lest anyone forget, Cheney keeps opening his fat mouth to remind people.

      Also I don’t believe that “leading” is a realistic option for the US anymore. It’s no longer a polar world- there’s a lot more balance in power. It’s still not ideal, because now we have all these regional powers vying for influence, but I think neoconservatism that characterized the Bush presidency has pretty much been utterly discredited even among the American elite.

  2. Asehpe

    Here’s my problem: I don’t see how the democratic process, based on the opinions of the masses and their (lack of) desire to vote, will change any of that.

    There is in America a healthy streak of idealism (it’s one of the most endearing, ‘cutest’ features of the country) that really breaks my heart with their desire to improve things. But they’re a minority, and it’s not clear to me they know how to solve the problems they care about.

    What I see on the societal level is forces ‘conspiring’ (in an invisible-hand sort of way) to keep money as important as always, and philosophy always a second priority. Which means that, if your views are right, “monsters” like Putin are pretty much unavoidable and will keep on happening throughout the foreseeable history of Western democracy.

    I still think the Western system is the best (or least bad) of all available alternatives (certainy including the Russian non-alternative). But this problem seems to me so unsolvable, I wonder if some political philosophers somewhere shouldn’t start working on a better system, one without this kind of systemic flaw.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      One did- Karl Marx. The wonderful thing about Marx is that even if one does not like some of his followers’ answers, the questions are still valid, an if you understand the question that invisible hand becomes visible.

      The problem is that this left-wing movement has been destroyed in the US and many Western countries. It has degenerated into populism, conspiracy theories, anti-GMO/vaccine crap, and identity politics all rolled into one. It elevates structurelessness, decentralization, and lack of organization, then they are surprised when they can’t accomplish anything. These people probably actually COULD accomplish something via the ballot, if they bothered to find out how their local/state system worked. Or if they just organized, came up with a coherent message, and hammered it home.

      If we get a working class movement like we had in the late 19th and early 20th century in the US, we might see some real progress. Also people need to start looking into the work of the lesser-known writer Paul LaFargue, Marx’s son-in-law. I find him to be one of the best writers when it comes to the practical education of theory, but what is more his ideas about work have become very applicable in Western nations, to the point that they are being talked about by people who were never Marxists or socialists.

      On the flip side of the coin, these people must beware of false friends like Russia and its friendly regimes who masquerade as left-wing or socialist. These people use socialist imagery and names like a brand- KPRF in Russia does this, as did the KPU in Ukraine. I don’t buy Chavez’ “21st century socialism” bullshit either. It looks like smoke and mirrors to me.

      For me it is most interesting to see how Cuba opens up to the US. If they successfully maintain, possibly improve their current socialist system, we will have a very important first- a 20th century-founded socialist nation existing in harmony next to the world’s leading capitalist nation. This could be a real game changer.

      1. Asehpe

        I don’t know — perhaps because I’m Brazilian, and in Brazil communists were basically starry-eyed middle-class guys who didn’t have a clue about the world and how it works, I tend to have the impression socialism wouldn’t really work, not at least without a strong capitalist component. You can’t completely plan the economy and people’s needs and desires, etc. etc. etc.

        Chavez never really said much that made sense to me. I was in Venezuela for a few months, and was surprised how he could be there ranting endlessly about American opression in his weekly TV programme (every Sunday, for Christ’s sake) with the oldest clichés you could imagine — almost a living embodiment of Vargas Llosa’s (et al.) “Perfect Latin American idiot.”

        But I agree that Cuba and the US suddenly realizing they can be friends again is a very interesting historical moment. I certainly want to know what will come from that. (Some claim this was a move against Russia — let Russia forgive Cuba’s debt and then propose a deal to lure Cuba away from Russian influence, just to irritate Putin. Could it be?)

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Communists in many Western countries fit that description. There’s been a major break in the movement so that in most industrial countries you will always find them on university campuses much more readily. Again I think this goes back to a massive breakdown in theory and practice. A lot of people have to go back to the drawing board, so to speak.

      1. Asehpe

        I’m always looking for new ideas, and some of the things you said (I had never heard of LaFargue) sound like good targets for future research when I get some free time (maybe end February if I’m lucky…). So, as far as I’m concerned, feel free to step on your soap box any time!

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I recommend listening to this podcast too, because one of the speakers- Jason Pargin, almost literally stumbles into advocating possible full communist society without realizing it when he talks about a universal minimum income:

        He came back to the idea again in a more recent podcast.The funny thing is that he advocates the idea based on capitalist logic- i.e. for the economy to work, people must buy and sell.

        As for LaFargue, most of his stuff is online, but I recommend these:

  3. Lenora

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