Tag Archives: geopolitics

The Worst Idea Ever

“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” 

-Ulysses S. Grant, describing his feelings immediately after formally accepting the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

Yesterday I wrote on the topic of geopolitics as a theory, and I must say that when one comes to understand the theory and the role it has played in 21st century Russian politics it leads to a sort of Usual Suspects-style epiphany. Suddenly a lot of things that seemed nonsensical or even absurd begin to fit together and make perfect sense. Of course people like Peter Pomerantsev, Mark Adomanis, Daniel Kennedy, myself, and many others have covered the topic of the Kremlin’s bizarre post-modernist narrative which is rife with contradictions. For me however, understanding the role of this theory says something about the people creating and maintaining that narrative. It’s not that they don’t care whether there is any coherency; incoherence is the goal. They actually believe that this works, and their theory is what tells them so.

As if fate itself had decided the matter, the following morning I discovered a blog entry about a conference held in Moscow last December called “The Right of People’s to Self-Determination and a Multi-polar World.” Present at the conference were several American leftist groups such as the International Action Center and the United National Antiwar Coalition, both of which are supposedly linked to the Workers World Party. Also present were representatives of various European fascist movements as well as American neo-confederates and other white nationalists. Just like with the phony “election observers” in the Donbass, I have to wonder if any of these leftists found it odd that they were at a conference frequented by a much higher proportion of far rightists.

The event was organized by a group known as the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. While the author of the blog post does not draw a direct link between the AGMR and the Eurasianist movement of Russian fascist Alexander Dugin, they do note the participation of Eurasian Youth Movement members in the conference and point out that members of both organizations have worked together in the past. Based on my knowledge of politics in Russia I would say the distinction is entirely unnecessary. Judging by the group’s rhetoric it’s obvious that this is just another government-financed front organization, just like Dugin’s own parties and organizations. One must understand that to these people, the specific organization is unimportant. New groups or parties can be launched overnight. All that matters is the message.

What this tale represents is the extreme danger Russia poses to the global left. It is a right-wing, authoritarian state backing right-wing movements beyond its borders, often with real, concrete means either in the form of cash or propaganda. Groups like the AGMR pay only lip service to left-wing causes like equality, social justice, and socialism. Unfortunately much of the Western left is so ideologically bankrupt that it falls for these slogans every time without considering that their solidarity is a one-way street.

The left suffers from the common problem of political illiteracy; it knows very little about what other people believe. As such, many leftists just assume that people on the far right would never associate with them or join with them in activism movements because they wouldn’t willingly do the same when it comes to right-wing causes. While it’s true that Communists don’t go to Tea Party rallies and mainstream conservative Republicans don’t go to antiwar marches, far right-wing populists happily go to both. Their ideology, very compatible with geopolitical theory, teaches that the ends justify means and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is why neo-Nazis are happy to infiltrate antiwar marches, Occupy protests, or anti-WTO actions just as easily as they would visit a Tea Party or anti-immigration rally. Sure, they may secretly hate more of the people they march with at a pro-Palestinian rally, but you have to remember these are people who are forced to conceal their beliefs on a daily basis in a world where overt racism is socially unacceptable. What’s suppressing your hate a little more when you’re “doing it for the cause?”  Moreover, many of these far rightists have grievances with mainstream conservatives as well.

Most leftists never examine far right ideology and thus they never expect that their movements or coalitions could be infiltrated by fascists or manipulated by them from without,especially if the fascists use carefully worded slogans that appeal to them. These are especially effective considering the mainstream left’s poor understanding of globalization, its strengths, and the actual problems it creates. Ask a leftist if they’d attend a rally against globalization organized by fascists and they’d most likely give you a categorical refusal. Ask a fascist if they’d attend an anti-globalization rally put on by Communists and socialists, and they’re likely to say something like, “Anything that weakens the system is good.” It seems that the only leftist faction which has demonstrated any consistent competence in detecting these fascist influences on both sides of various issues such as Maidan and Ukraine have thus far been the anarchists. That most Communist movements all across the spectrum have utterly failed to do the same is a stain on their record and this represents a serious theoretical degeneration on their part.

i have said before that on the whole, Russia is not a threat to the capitalist world. Putin and his ideologues believe they are being clever but in the end the strategy of piling lie upon lie will bring about the collapse of the whole rotten structure. This means that those who are most threatened by his regime are the citizens of Russia themselves, as well as some countries around Russia’s periphery. As a socialist, however, I am quite convinced that Russia’s post-modernist geopolitical theory is a dire threat to the global left and the struggle for human liberation. This is not simply because Russia is an authoritarian, quasi-fascist state; that would only affect Russians. No, it is because in the attempt to preserve its oligarchical regime, the Russian state is pumping poison into the veins of the global left, distracting and confusing our activists, supporting our enemies, and getting our people to do their bidding for nothing in return.

By this point I’ve no doubt tripped the mental alarms of many leftist readers. “Are you saying the Russia is a bigger threat than US imperialism,” some may be thinking.  Yes. Yes I am saying exactly that, because if the left does not start to develop some theoretical integrity and totally purge the Kremlin’s crypto-fascist propaganda and outdated “anti-globalization” geopolitical poison from its system, there’s simply no point in talking about fighting capitalism in the West. We will be tied down, unwittingly fighting for a corrupt, capitalist, wannabe imperialist state which will ultimately collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions and leave the Western capitalists just as triumphant as they were before. The left has nothing to gain from the continued existence of Putin’s regime and none of the time and resources spent doing its bidding will ever be reciprocated.

I realize that this still puts a bad taste in the mouths of many so-called “anti-imperialist” leftists. They’ve fallen for the foolish false dichotomy that calling out the Russian regime or any regime that boasts “anti-American” credentials is somehow siding with their own capitalist governments. If they would only look back through history, they would see that Communists of all stripes and sometimes even anarchists allied with more progressive regimes against reactionary ones. Russia promotes a fascist theory which says that ideals don’t matter, only the constant struggle between empires matters. Is this somehow better than Western regimes which preach democracy and human rights yet often fail to live up to those standards?

What about Western support for Saudi Arabia? What about Ferguson? What about austerity?  Indeed, what about, what about? Ask yourself this. When someone tells you that the liberal democratic nations have a moral superiority over a corrupt, oligarchical capitalist state that promotes a neo-fascist domestic ideology, why is it you bring up all those stains on those nations’ human rights records? You do it because the ideals are real, even if the governments’ belief in them isn’t. Western governments fail to live up to the standards they preach because of the internal contradictions of their capitalist systems, not because those ideals are nothing but a ruse to secure more power.  Those ideals are what cause you to feel outrage when you see your government engaging in wrongdoing. In Russia, these ideals are invoked to condemn US meddling in Iraq and Libya, while totally discarded when supporting a bloody war in Ukraine for no other purpose than to prop up Putin as a great leader of a Russian chauvinist superpower.

More importantly, rejecting outdated, failed “anti-hegemony” politics and purging Russian geopolitical poison is not siding with US or other Western imperialists. On the contrary, the time and energy which is currently spent on defending dictatorship like Russia and its ever-shrinking circle of allies could be used more effectively on activism against our own governments. More importantly, as long as leftists allow themselves to be duped into coalitions with fascists and assorted cranks in defense of corrupt dictatorships, the system’s own ideologues will always manage to outflank, outwit, and outfight them on a moral level every time. Indeed, that’s what they’ve been doing over and over again.

What is more, a real leftist movement can influence future Maidan-like movements and steer them away from Western-funded NGOs and far-right nationalist organizations instead of outright condemning them as tools of the NATO and the IMF. The far right and the capitalist-funded think tanks take action and get involved, why shouldn’t the left?  Then again, that takes work. Sitting at home drafting “hands off dictatorship X” statements is a lot easier, and RT will even interview you about it!

In conclusion, I generally believe that movements should be judged by their results, but there are times when their goals need to be considered as well. Geopolitics is an inhuman theory that serves fascist imperialists and has nothing to offer humanity but endless war. It is wielded by the Kremlin to preserve the oligarchical rule of Putin and his cronies as they oppress the peoples of Russia and Ukraine. By contrast, the values of liberal democracy and human rights are not in themselves flawed. It is the contradictions of the system as a whole which prevents governments from realizing those values. Those contradictions also lead these states into making pacts, alliances, and concessions to right-wing regimes like that of Vladimir Putin.  To believe that the left has a champion in Moscow is fatal to the left. It leaves us confused, distracted, renders our campaigns and blows ineffective, and leads us into league with our mortal enemies. The blood must be purged of this poisonous notion.

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Ideology for Nihilists

Today I was fortunate enough to catch one of NY Times correspondent Andrew Roth’s tweets with a link to this highly informative article about geopolitics and the role this theory plays in Putin’s Russia. I talk a lot about “geopolitical experts,” but my area of expertise is their fascist beliefs as opposed to the actual theory of geopolitics, which is something I can’t say I have much knowledge about. Apart from their far right-wing populism, I simply judge self-proclaimed “geopolitical experts” on their output. This article on the other hand, tackles geopolitical theory itself and I found it immensely educational.

In particular I was quite intrigued by this excerpt:

Geopolitics is not strictly speaking an ideology itself. It is, instead, a great leveler of ideologies, a rebuff to any claim to historical privilege or exceptionalism. Geopolitics teaches that states must be judged based on their behavior, not their principles, because principles are not part of the ontology of statecraft. Any claim to ideals is at best a self-delusion, at worst a calculated effort to camouflage real goals.

Bingo. Ask yourself if this sounds familiar. “Western states don’t really believe in human rights. They are just using this as an excuse to further their own geopolitical interests by smearing Russia.” This is the daily refrain from the Kremlin’s propaganda mills and that description of geopolitics hits it right on the head.

After reading that something immediately clicked, and the reason for the theory’s popularity among Russia’s elite totally made sense. First of all, this kind of cold pragmatism appeals to the mindset of a KGB veteran like Putin and his close friends. To their minds all this camouflage and subterfuge is right up their alley. More importantly, they can dismiss any outside criticism as nothing but a ruse to conceal less altruistic aims.

Second, constructing any kind of coherent ideology does not serve Putin’s regime. A truly conservative regime requires more actual devotion than most of Putin’s base wants to show. Moral degeneracy is the Kremlin’s secret ally in maintaining its power. Anything left wing is absolutely out of the question when your goal is to concentrate as much wealth as possible into an ever decreasing amount of hands. Wealth, I might add, which was actually stolen from the public.  Appealing to European fascists conflicts with the use of the Great Patriotic War as a domestic political rallying point, and increasing religious incursion into the state and conservative, authoritarian domestic policies turn away leftists abroad. Geopolitics solves all of these contradictions. Make the leftists think that sticking up for Russia and repeating its propaganda is in the interest of fighting American imperialism, while the rightists are led to believe that Russia is a bastion of moral values sponsoring like-minded culture warriors beyond its borders. Neither side is aware that they are being played.

Of course the most important reason I can see for the appeal of geopolitics is that it isn’t an ideology at all, as the author points out, and thus it fits the mentality of Russia’s elite perfectly. While many people struggle to figure out just what Putin actually believes in, they forget that at the end of the day Putin and his inner circle believe in nothing but their own enrichment and self-preservation via power. That’s what this has all been about since 2000. One gang of thieves drove out another. What these men believed in was luxury, riches, Mercedes, BMW, Maserati, mistresses, diamond-encrusted skis, vacation homes in the south of France and luxury flats in Moscow. Naturally the process of acquiring all these things and more was highly questionable to say the least, and thus the need to install an authoritarian system so as to avoid being held accountable. This is what dictates their actions, not any sort of actual patriotic, nationalist, or religious belief. Beyond preserving their own power, they believe in nothing.

In short, Vladimir Putin is the only thing Vladimir Putin believes in. No doubt the list of close friends he trusts grows shorter with time. Geopolitics fits Putin’s needs perfectly because it disregards the importance of ideals or principles in favor of cold national interest. Putinism disregards principles in favor of the cold self-interest of Putin and his elite. It’s a match made in heaven, but one which has condemned Russia to hell.

Multipolar Disorder

One thing the pro-Kremlin “geopolitical experts” can’t seem to shut up about is the need for a “multipolar world.”  Supposedly we live in a unipolar world, that one pole being the United States or the “Euro-Atlantic project.”  Russia is supposedly leading a struggle to balance this and create a multipolar world. They’re just precious, aren’t they?

Initially this theory of the unipolar world wasn’t exactly ridiculous. Plenty of respected intellectuals from a variety of different points of view acknowledged or still acknowledge that in the immediate aftermath of the USSR’s collapse, the United States became “the world’s sole superpower,” the one country that could still project military and economic power around the world. Of course as in all cases, Russia’s intellegentsia lags far behind, stuck in the Brezhnev era many of them grew up in. The reality is that we already live in a multipolar world today.

Why then, do the “geopolitical experts” keep babbling about this need for a multipolar world then?  My guess is because in this real multipolar world, Russia isn’t one of the poles. It’s still just a regional power with no ability to project its military might much further than its own borders and it has virtually no economic levers that it can apply to anyone other than former Soviet republics. The two other countries/entities one can consider “poles,” apart from Poland of course, are the European Union and China. The latter, of course, is even beginning to fetter Russia with its unequal trade agreements and loans.

I think this is a case of the delusions of people like Markov and Dugin rubbing off on their foreign acolytes. The world is only multipolar if Russia is one of those poles, an idea similar to their delusion about BRICS being some kind of alliance of states standing up to the same West that is actually their biggest trading partner.

The main problem with the multipolar theory is that this isn’t a desirable goal. The first incarnation of such a world gave us the First World War, which of course led to the Second World War, which in turn led to the Cold War. The First World War was a product of colonial imperialism whereby great powers divvied up the world and often tried to exclude their rivals from access to markets or resources. The Cold War, which is the era in which people like Putin and his ideological hacks were born, was a big different, but still involved two major superpowers carving up the world into spheres of influence. The results, of course, were numerous proxy wars, coups d’etat, assassinations, and terrorism, not to mention the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. That Russia’s neo-fascists think this is desirable is logical, but wholly unacceptable for the majority of humanity.

What humanity needs is a world without poles, without great military powers projecting their force around the world and angling for the interests of their ruling classes. This is precisely why working people must oppose regional Russian imperialism and its propaganda with the same tenacity they would Western imperialism. The truth is that Russia’s leaders see nothing wrong with imperialism, even a much more heavy-handed imperialism than that which the West commonly practices. The only problem they have with Western imperialism is that it’s Western and not their own.