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We have made today's Frankenstein with our own hands

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When communism ended, Russia’s people wanted democracy. Instead, they got the market and neoliberalism. Now, it appears, some of them want revenge.

Maxim Kantor
29 September 2014

East v West

Russia regards the West as the enemy and is preparing for a great war. Perestroika expressed a desire to join Western civilisation, and has ended in bloodshed; after years of learning from the West, Russia has decided that her road lies eastwards.

For Russia, today's war is real, though not declared. Tellingly, war with Ukraine is just one episode in a huge worldwide war; in fighting Ukraine, Russians consider they are fighting America. The West has come too close to Russian borders and must be stopped.

This conviction is the result of both propaganda and disillusionment with Western civilisation, of which Russia (in the eyes of the populace) became part against her will.

The aggression towards Ukraine is revenge on the West. Russians feel that, in deciding to become part of Europe, Ukraine has betrayed the 'Russian world' (the Russian-speaking world). Separating Ukraine from Russia signifies the true end of the Russian Empire. Russia's military response to Ukraine's political demarche is the only result of perestroika. There is no other.

The aggression towards Ukraine is revenge on the West.

Donbas

Just look at the appalling war in the Donbas – Russia wants to cut itself off from external influences, and Russians have to seize this territory to show that the 'Russian world' is confronting the Atlantic. The war has no other purpose.

Absurdly, 10 different contradictory reasons are employed to explain the killing. Some say they are fighting the Ukrainian oligarchs in the name of socialism – but these people are taking their wages from Russian oligarchs. Socialism within a capitalist empire is as impossible as managed socialism. Moreover, the forces of a capitalist empire are not going to start building socialism in another country. Marx has had no hand in this. The head of the self-declared government announced that he shares White Russian ideals and is fighting for the Russian Empire; another leader is fighting for the idea of a Eurasian empire; yet another for a Cossack government.

Members of Ukraine's right-wing paramilitary Azov Battalion, currently fighting for the Kyiv government.

Members of Ukraine's right-wing paramilitary Azov Battalion, currently fighting for the Kyiv government. via Forum.omsk.com

Towns and their citizens have become hostages of a brutal villainy: sometimes the people shooting at others say they are fighting for the right to speak Russian. No one has banned Russian, but surely it would be better to speak Swahili if that meant that children did not have to die? This logic is sadly missing. 

The Russian government meanwhile has announced that the basis of life in Russia is patriotism.  Not people's better feelings, the law or justice. Patriotism.

New fascism

The imperial troops, which are wresting the Donbas from Ukraine are regarded as liberators; Ukrainian troops are called fascists. 

The application of the word 'fascism' to Ukraine was a considered policy decision, aimed at engendering hatred of Ukrainians. Today, everything is topsy-turvy: the imperial idea is presented as republican, the rebels in Donetsk are described as liberators and socialists; and the Ukrainian government, which has no military in it, is called the 'junta.' The Russian state, on the other hand, ruled by a security services colonel, does not call its government a 'junta.'

Endlessly shifting meanings reflect total confusion in the Russian minds of today.

Endlessly shifting meanings reflect total confusion in the Russian minds of today. Democracy promised freedom but has resulted (as Russians are regularly assured) in economic slavery; the Empire promises slavery, but people are now longing for the freedom they think it will bring. 

The paradox is that today's fascism really is based on the precepts of free society and liberalism. The difference is that the new experiment to mutate liberalism was scientifically designed. The plan to implant a liberal market to replace the discredited socialist planned economy has resulted in an upsurge of nationalism, both in Russia and Ukraine. As a general rule, the two sides in a conflict reflect each other – war is thus a kind of social mirror. Ukraine has in many ways repeated all Russia's mistakes but Russian society is bigger and stronger, so the changes are more obvious.

Ukraine and Russia are by no mean unique in their lurch towards nationalism and fascism: Hungary, Greece and France all have their own versions. It is as yet unclear how the world will deal with this problem, which is more serious than 20th century German fascism because today's version has the support of people disillusioned with democracy. Their support makes it invulnerable to criticism. 

The virus of fascism was overcome by democracy, but that virus has mutated and adapted.

The virus of fascism was overcome by democracy, but that virus has mutated and adapted. The only antibiotic we have is out of date and there is, as yet, no new medicine.

'Russian spring'

The years of capitalism in Russia did not result in large-scale capitalist construction; on the contrary – the country bankrupted and effectively destroyed its industry, and built up its economy by speculating on natural resources.

Two beggars sleep in front of Lukoil's headquarters, 2010.

  Two beggars sleep in front of Lukoil's headquarters, 2010. CC Sergei Dorokhovsky

For Russians, all the problems of the economy stem from the loss of imperial status and territories. Ukraine simply detonated the explosion, which had been in preparation for a long time. What some people called 'Slav Reconquista' is already under way: the empire is regaining lands, which it lost during perestroika. In the 1930s, Stalin restored Catherine the Great's empire, which had been lost in the socialist revolution, to its original size; the same is happening now.

In the 18th century, General Suvorov repressed the Polish uprising; Brezhnev sent the tanks into Czechslovakia; Crimea has been annexed, and now it is the turn of Donbas. The paradox of this restoration of territory, the 'Russian spring,' is that it is accompanied by talk of freedom. Thirty years ago, perestroika began with curses heaped on Stalin's gulags and a passionate desire for Western-style democracy. Today, Stalin has been virtually rehabilitated and democracy is associated with the capitalists' plunder of Russia; and cursed accordingly. 

Democracy and the market

Some quarter of a century after the destruction of the imperial police state, the project to resurrect the Russian Empire became supremely important for the population; a new wave of autocratic ideology spread over the country – with all its bans, insinuations, persecution of dissidents, and catcalls from the crowd. At that point those who called themselves liberals and democrats suddenly became obvious victims.  

Until then the liberals were cock of the walk. For 20 years, the Russian government had been associated with democracy, and only gradually moved away from democratic principles. The challenge to democracy came first and foremost from the market, and this altered the social contract.

Democracy was said to need a liberal market, and links between democracy and the market were considered natural. In reality, however, the liberal-corporate world became the substitute for the social contract. This should be unalterable and the relations between the citizen and society should be limited by mutual responsibility. But the market knows no limits and has little inclination to consider it has any responsibilities. 

The market has replaced democracy, which for some time failed to notice the substitution.

The market has replaced democracy, which for some time failed to notice the substitution. The people, however, noticed the change quickly and instinctively. The 'rabble', as the liberals called them, hated the democrats for having impoverished them. They saw Russia' s devastation as caused by the principles of human rights.

The liberal intelligentsia was hated for its easy money and arrogance. Liberals were receiving big salaries in publishing for doing not much; industry was bankrupt yet here the corporations were spending enormous sums of money on publicity to convince people that the ruination of the country was an essential step on the way to freedom. Unfortunately, the age of liberalism in Russia came to an end, leaving behind no monuments or achievements to its name.

And what about the vast sums of money, I hear you ask? No hospitals for the poor were built, and there was no attempt to educate them either. It went towards columns in glossy magazines, outright attacks on Stalin, ridiculing supine Russians, and instilling the idea that the only criterion for human fortune is market success.

Twenty five years ago the socialist barracks were knocked down in the rush of progress (they liked that word then), and ordinary Russians were robbed. Not that they were particularly prosperous before then. But suddenly there were legal ways of taking away whatever remained to people, and speculation became a worthy occupation. At that point life was just ballast for the market, and anything that did not fit it died the death. The new rich became the flagship of change; bourgeois tastes became the criteria of justice and beauty; they had, after all, successfully proved themselves in the market.

New realities

Consciousness was changing before our very eyes: now everything had its price.  In Soviet times it was a compliment to say that someone 'could not be bought.' While the market ruled supreme only someone who could name his own price was deserving of praise. The combination of the liberal market and democracy was fatal for the democratic idea: the market dislodged the idea, though the legal terminology remained.

The nouveaux riches ripped up our totalitarian country with delight, as if consciously attempting to dispose of Russia's stagnant past: victories, tradition, history and religion were all denied. Everything was an unsuccessful rough draft of Western history. Many Russians came to hate that history as the cause their humiliation. 

Everything was an unsuccessful rough draft of Western history.

It is natural to oppose neoliberalism, and take the part of the deprived. Neoliberalism has nothing to do with classical liberalism. The market mantra was introduced using the words of liberal economists: if 30m Russian peasants cannot be fitted into the market mould, what is to be done with them? It sounded like a justification for depriving them of their rights. Russian culture was discredited, and replaced by fashion and glamorous success.  

Who is to blame?

Now the liberals are in disgrace, war with the West is regarded as inevitable, and the people separated by the market have banded together. The masses hold the liberals responsible for all the problems.

Bloodthirstiness – there is no other word – has taken hold: let retribution come! People are told they are fighting to recover what the market took away from them. They have been forced to believe that it was not their own immediate bosses who stole from them: it was the ideologists, the market theorists, foreign advisers, not our own feudal lords. The blame lies with the intelligentsia who handed power over to these lords.

People are told they are fighting to recover what the market took away from them.

This is, of course, all lies. It was indeed the feudal lords who plundered, and who today are sending soldiers for slaughter in the battle with other countries.

But ritual humiliation of this kind was bound at some point to provoke explosions of hatred, and so, adducing the most inept arguments and with no concern to demonstrate any real grounds, preparations were made to go to war. People now think that by subjugating their neighbours they themselves will become free. In their fever of hatred it seems to them that it is the West, which has caused their deprivations; actually they are fighting their own rapacious history as embodied by Ukraine, which wants democracy and freedom. In fighting Ukraine, they are taking revenge on themselves. 

What is strange, though, is that this aggression has not done away with liberalism, democracy or corporate consciousness. Improbable as it may seem, democratic principles are being ostentatiously preserved – the electorate has rallied behind its leader. But, excuse me, is it a foreign government that has been robbing our people all these years? Was it American capitalists that cut your pensions and took your oil? The logic of the insulted and injured is different – people were humiliated for a long time by being shown their plump, satisfied neighbour as an example. So now this neighbour has to be struck down. 

Masters and men

Yesterday I supported the people – today I find their enthusiasm repellent. 

What difference did it make telling the crowd that their neighbours were fascists? Is there more freedom? Is life better?  People have become freer because they have been given licence to bully their weaker neighbour, whose stupidity is evident, and highlights their own privileges. 

Instead of the market, we now have war. But war too is a market opportunity. This cannot be said too often. All too frequently we are told that war is the continuation of politics. But right now the world has got no politics other than market politics. War is the continuation of the market, a simple devaluation of the workforce.

Today it seems that the government and the people are as one. It is when these people are being sent into battle – which is what happens when the government is completely paralysed, and has no other plan for enriching the country – that solidarity between the herd and its master arises. The price of the workforce equals the price of life, which is nothing. 

The price of the workforce equals the price of life, which is nothing.

The government holds the last card: it can go over the heads of the oligarchs and the small fry second-class thieves to appeal to the crowd. ‘Brothers! The bad masters have stolen everything, but we are the good masters – go to war and resurrection will follow.’

I support the deprived, but not the dumbed down.

Stalin

There was a time when I argued against the anti-Stalinism, which had replaced the true study of history. Russian liberalism was attributing all the country's problems to Stalin's legacy.

Generalissimus Joseph Stalin's legacy continues to loom large in Russian society.

Generalissimus Joseph Stalin's legacy continues to loom large in Russian society. CC US Government. I disagreed: it was not Stalin who distributed Russian resources to the feudal lords, nor empowered the robber barons and their clans. To be fair to the late tyrant, he was responsible for the death of millions, but not for today's humiliation of the Russian people. 

Now I think I should take my words back, because it seems that the liberals might have been right: Stalin has not gone away, the generalissimus is always with us. Nationalists and supporters of empire have waited for this day, and are delighted to take their revenge for the humiliation of their idol; people used to pronounce the executioner's name with fear, whereas today it is uttered with pride. Imperial consciousness has supplanted liberal ideology. But who in Russia is the main symbol of the imperial spirit? Not Catherine the Great! The crowd is humming like a forest fire: ‘we have serried ranks, we are one people, we are ready to go to war again!’

Stalin has not gone away, the generalissimus is always with us.

What for? With whom, for goodness sake? ‘Our enemy is Atlantic civilisation! We are victims of an alien doctrine and the country is back on its feet!’ In this parlance what 'back on its feet' really means is suppressing all dissidence inside the country. 

The classic route

The logic is unanswerable: the market corrodes democracy, and in its absence the fruits of the market are up for grabs by tyrants. Tyranny creates the illusion of democracy. It appeals directly to the people over the heads of the market magnates (the pillars of democracy). This is what breeds fascism. 

Tyranny creates the illusion of democracy.

I still think that neoliberalism was not good for Russia. But now the people I criticised are themselves being persecuted: events have developed in such a way that they have fallen victim to an even more terrible evil. The neoliberal doctrine destroyed democracy and created maximally fertile ground for fascist doctrines.

Our society has gone the same way, the same classic way, which Plato described in the eighth book of The Republic: from weak, light-fingered democracy to unprincipled oligarchy and from there to tyranny. This is not the first time it has happened, but the lessons have not been learnt.   

For 25 years, we have enjoyed so-called 'freedom,' and played with words like 'liberalism' and 'human rights,' but today's liberalism has little to do with human rights, rather more with property rights: democracy was an adjunct of the market. 

Rapid movement

You will ask yourself, as I do: is it only Russians who are to blame for the topsy-turvy state of Russia? The sudden transition from glamorous liberalism to a nationalist empire has brought us to the beginnings of fascism. But it happened very quickly. 

We have made today's Frankenstein with our own hands.

We have moved very rapidly into the world of the police state because people were disillusioned with the ideal, which was meant to replace it. But is the same process not going on throughout the Christian world? Our liberal-market efforts have produced a bankrupt civilisation. There was nothing there – liberalism has disappeared like the flu, dispersed like smoke, leaving nothing behind except resentment. 

The structure of society today is a mafiocracy living by bandit laws. Mafiocracy can easily turn into fascism but the democratic idea is no opposition for today's new fascism, because democracy has devoured itself. Worse – market democracy is implanted, as it were, inside the new fascism. 

To overcome this new fascism we need to rethink democratic ideals and institutions.  Everything that has happened to us and to liberalism came about because we deserved no better. We have made today's Frankenstein with our own hands.

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