With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the West – led by the American empire – has tried to press for a belligerent solution to the crisis, speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime only through the language of sanctions and weapons. Refusing to address Moscow’s security concerns regarding the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the core capitalist countries of the Global North have chosen to portray Putin’s government as an ideological pariah that needs to be excluded from the international diplomatic community. This has entailed characterizing the Russian ruling dispensation as “fascist” – an accusation that instantly delegitimizes negotiations with the entity that carries that label.
Western denunciations of Russian fascism are incorrect because they fail to understand the complexity of Putin’s regime. After the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia entered a severe economic crisis. Boris Yeltsin – the man who conducted a coup against the Soviet Union – became the favored puppet of the US and sold off the wealth of his country at ridiculously low prices to a group of oligarchic cronies. The legalized robbery of the nation’s social wealth reversed many of the gains of the USSR. Life expectancy rates dropped, Russian military power suffered drastic setbacks, and economic sovereignty got compromised through privatization, which converted Russia into a playground for Western capitalists.
Yeltsin’s brutal destruction of the Soviet Union was domestically propped by two different factions of the ruling class. State capitalists (insiders) controlled large-scale industry – natural resources, energy, metallurgy, engineering – while private capitalists (outsiders) dominated banking, consumer goods, the media. In “Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War,” Tony Wood notes: “One group tended to own physical assets, the other financial wealth. For much of the 1990s, economic conditions favored the ‘outsiders’: industrial production was crippled, and those with access to large reserves of cash had the edge.”
On top of economic advantages, the outsiders benefitted from the political changes that accompanied the downfall of the USSR. In the words of Wood: “Insiders, as their name suggests, tended to be better connected to the regional and national government apparatus, often through informal ties forged in the Soviet era.” The dissolution of the Soviet Union unleashed chaos in the state bureaucracy and disrupted the connections of the insiders. This allowed the outsiders to penetrate state institutions and forge business links. However, the politico-economic dominance began to falter with the rouble crash and debt default of 1998.
The crash meant: a) the disappearance of the economic privileges of the outsiders who owned financial wealth; and b) currency devaluation, which improved Russian domestic production by making imports more expensive, strengthening the insiders who had assets in manufacturing, agriculture, food processing and distribution, etc. “The surge in raw materials prices after 1999,” writes Wood, “hugely accelerated the reshaping of the Russian elite that began with the rouble crash. In 1997, only a few of the top ten oligarchs had interests outside banking or the media. After the turn of the century, almost all of the top ten owed their wealth to metals or mineral resources”.
With the revival of domestic industry and the increase in energy prices, the balance tilted in favor of the insiders, who used their growing economic power to prevent private capitalist interests from accessing state power. Putin represented this shift in class forces, pushing forward a state capitalist agenda that involved recentralizing power in the state and curtailing the political ambitions of outsiders. Unlike Yeltsin’s compradorized system, this kind of statist neoliberalism possesses political and administrative coherence as it is based on the existence of a solid bureaucracy whose consolidated institutional capacity allows it to gain profit from exploitative ventures in extractive sectors.
The relative stability of this arrangement has meant that Putin’s system has a margin of diplomatic leeway in its relations with the West. This leeway has been utilized by Russian rulers to make the country a regional power. In this way, geopolitical power has been used as a way to deal with citizens’ anti-neoliberal sentiments and restore their national pride. As Ilya Budraitskis comments, “Putin’s rule… [is a] kind of amalgamation of neo-liberal practices and pro-market ideas with the spirit of the so-called patriotic opposition to this market transformation.”
Putin’s geopolitical project of reinstating Russia’s international position is driven by the following logic: “to survive, Russia can only be a strong state, that is, a great power abroad, and a quite uncontested regime at home. For that, it needs law and order, unity more than diversity, respect from foreign countries and its own citizens, and a renewed sense of honor and dignity.” These ideological imperatives are satisfied by “anti-Western and antiliberal attitudes, Soviet nostalgia, and a classic, state-centric vision of Russia.”
As is evident, Russia does not have fascism. Instead, it pragmatically operates according to multiple ideologies that can challenge the legitimacy of the US-led world order and thus, help combat imperialist attacks against Russia. Western observers have accused Russia of being fascist because they overemphasize the conservative and authoritarian elements that compose Putinism. What they overlook is the fact that these ideologies are said to be against the excessive liberalism and globalism of the West. Thus, what matters for Putin is a sovereignist position against the West, one that uses patriotism against an interventionist Western liberal order.
The hegemony of patriotic opposition to imperialism means that the normative core of Russian ideology is not genocidal hatred against an Other and a will to create a new xenophobic culture, all of which are essential ingredients of fascism. Rather, the Putinist worldview utilizes notions of Russian uniqueness – whether it be in the form of national history and culture, illiberalism, or Soviet nostalgia – to undermine the current West-centric world system. Far from resulting in fascism, the perspective of a distinct Russian civilization has shown itself capable of acknowledging the country’s multinational and multiconfessional character.
The Duma has repeatedly rejected bills that ask “for the recognition of ethnic Russians as having rights superior to those of citizens belonging to ethnic minorities”. Further, on the international front, the Putinist narrative is accepts “a Herderian perception of the world, according to which each “civilization” or “culture” represents the diversity of humanity and should be celebrated for its uniqueness—hence the active role played by Moscow in any international project based on the notion of a “dialogue of civilizations.”” To conclude, Putin’s geopolitical opposition to the American empire – materially rooted in neoliberal statism – has given rise not to fascism, but to Realpolitik that deploys ideological plurality to contest the West’s hegemonic narratives.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
Biden, at the time vice president, right, speaks to Putin, then the Russian Prime Minister, second left, during a meeting in Moscow, March 10, 2011. The two are now face each other as presidents of their respective countries. | Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
I want to start this critique of Biden’s developing foreign policy by stating clearly and unequivocally that his $1.9 trillion rescue plan deserves total support from everyone in our country. It is nothing less than a dramatic disavowal of the right-wing era launched by Ronald Reagan some 40 years ago.
Although Biden deserves praise for his domestic policy so far, his characterization on national television of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer” was just another indication of what is, unfortunately, turning out to be a dangerous trend in the foreign policy he is pursuing.
While his domestic policy radically departs from what we have seen in the U.S. over the last 40 years his, foreign policy—executed by stalwart representatives of the old establishment—is failed business as usual. And the unfortunate reality is that a continuation of the policy of military domination of the entire world will sooner or later require turning away from progressive domestic priorities.
As Biden begins his presidency, we are in a different and new world, one that did not exist in the Reagan-Bush-Clinton days of neoliberalism. The planet is in a very real climate emergency and is reeling under a global pandemic. Super recessions and depressions are crippling many countries economically. The wealth gap is growing day by day, and corruption in government, which has always been a problem, is even worse now, with scandals happening in almost every country in the world. Also worse than ever are the attacks on democracy happening in nations that have previously prided themselves as beacons of freedom.
Solutions for these unprecedented problems will require unprecedented international cooperation. This is not the time then for the president of the United States to be calling the president of Russia, the second-largest nuclear power on earth, a “killer.” There are indeed plenty of killers running plenty of countries these days, as there have been in the past, including in our own. But the crises of today require cooperation between the two largest nuclear powers.
Calling Putin a “killer,” however, reflects some real and far more dangerous trends in U.S. foreign policy. It reflects the control still being exercised by the old foreign policy establishment that played such a big role in bringing us the world-wide mess we have today.
The U.S., thanks to the old foreign policy establishment, has almost 800 military facilities around the world. The new domestic and worldwide realities of today require dismantling of that network of bases. That will require changing the thinking about what constitutes national security. That shift will have to be as big if not bigger than the change we have seen from the Biden administration when it comes to domestic policy.
For starters, the U.S. will have to stop military adventures around the globe, including the confrontational ones on Russia’s borders. Calling Russia’s leader a “killer” while the U.S. threatens that country with our troops along its frontiers is hardly helpful to the cause of re-ordering our priorities.
Likewise, U.S. military confrontation with China in the South China Sea will not be at all conducive to the necessary reordering of priorities. There is no real indication yet that Biden is moving in the direction of ending confrontation with either Russia or China.
In Afghanistan, the United States has been at war for more than 20 years. Trillions of dollars have been spent on that war. Many have died. Biden is now signaling U.S. troops will stay there beyond the date which Trump had claimed American forces would pull out. What amounts to institutionalized warfare, it seems, is something Biden is willing to continue. There is no hope of getting back what has been lost in Afghanistan. The only prudent course is to get U.S. troops out of there.
Biden, during his campaign for the White House, promised to revive the Iran nuclear deal he helped negotiate when he was vice president. He promised to also bring back the constitutional role of Congress in declaring war. But he instead ordered the bombing—over the objection of Democratic senators who called it a violation of the War Powers Act—of what he said was an Iranian-backed outpost in Syria.
In addition, he has delayed removal of 900 U.S. troops who are uninvited occupiers in Syria. He is maintaining troops in a sovereign country against its will and has ordered a bombing in that same country’s territory.
Biden said he is reviewing our drone policies, but so far, that review has resulted in more focused targeting and no indication that use of killer drones will be ended.
He is continuing U.S. support for regime change by continuing inhumane sanctions against Venezuela—sanctions clearly intended to overthrow its government. To no avail, the UN has called on the U.S. to end its cruel blockade tactics that deny medicine and food to the Venezuelan people.
And back to Russia, Biden is ratcheting up dangerous confrontation with that country. In the next few weeks, Biden said, in answer to a question on national television, that “we will see” how he retaliates for last year’s SolarWinds hack of U.S. cyberinfrastructure—for which Russia was allegedly responsible. Knowledgeable sources say the administration will approve still more sanctions on Russia and clandestine cyber actions against Russian state institutions.
Such an escalation is likely to trigger more and worse cyberattacks by both sides. Is that what we really want right now? In the long term, that will do no good at all for either the American or the Russian people.
On China, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has called relations with China “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century,” with the administration making a show of not just confronting China economically but also militarily in the South China Sea. U.S. naval maneuvers there continue.
As the administration does this, the Republicans put forward continued accusations in public congressional hearings that the “Chinese Communist Party” is responsible for both the pandemic and for economic problems in the U.S. resulting from the pandemic. Such anti-China rhetoric inflames the international situation while also fueling domestic anti-Asian hate crimes and attacks.
The United States cannot focus on and help solve the climate crisis, the pandemic, and worldwide economic disasters, including inequality and the wealth gap, by continuing institutionalized warfare, regime change, threats of military action, and maintaining 800 bases around the world.
No one pretends that the foreign policy of the U.S. can or will be radically changed overnight. The hope is there, however, that based on what we see happening in domestic policy, the Biden administration may yet begin to move in a better direction when it comes to foreign affairs.
You can start, Mr. President, by not grandstanding against the Russians. That’s so old, and it gets us nowhere.
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
Republished from Peoples World.
As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.