The Black Hundreds march in Odessa in 1905
Without socialist reform, every capitalist country is primed for civil war – including Russia
by Phil Hall
Russians are good chess players, but life is not a game of chess. It is far more complicated. Putin and his confreres correctly identify the real challenge they face – and that faces all the representatives of criminal capitalist oligarchies around the world. Vladimir Putin’s real enemy, and the enemy of the class he represents, are his own people. Any socialist worth their salt understands this. The spectre of class warfare is ever-present in every capitalist society: in the USA, China, the UK, Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil – in every capitalist country in the world.
In his speech, given during Wagner PMC’s attempted mutiny, the Bonapartist Russian president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, compared the attempted insurrection to the Bolshevik Revolution which caused the capitulation of the Russian regime to Germany in 1917. His speech was hardly an endorsement of egalitarian, internationalist, communist and socialist ideals.
Every capitalist country in the world is faced with intense internal contradictions arising out of increasingly accentuated class conflict, with greater and greater wealth accumulating in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Unless wealthy elites and corporations reform and sustain enlightened social democracies in every capitalist country, civil wars are primed and ready to be unleashed. We saw evidence of this in France over the pension reforms and now there is rioting over the brutal behaviour of the police -mainly towards migrants. The riots have now spread to more than one European country.
To understand the limitations in the analysis of Russian strategists and game players, one must understand the following: Russia has always been relatively insular. It is hard to govern as a whole because of its great size. Despite all the many achievements of Russia’s literature, art, science and technology, the majority of the country is rural and socially and culturally backward.
For example, Russia, in the time of the USSR, did not undergo the same cultural transformation in the 1960s that much of the rest of the developed world underwent. The increased tolerance, equality and individual liberty promulgated by young people in the 1960s was regarded as bourgeois decadence by the government of the USSR.
The USSR was not an advanced communist society, although it possessed some aspects of an advanced socialist society. On the whole, the communism of the USSR was a distortion and a sham. The USSR inspired the Orwellian idea. The dictatorship of Stalin installed a vacuous and frozen ideology into the Soviet educational system. It crammed this ideology into the heads of every school child. Any questioning of this ideology resulted in being blacklisted and marginalised. The government by the Soviet communist party was pharaonic, pyramidal and tolerated no opposition. After an initial period of hope, the USSR ended up being the exact opposite of the original ideal; that of a country governed by people’s Soviets. The people did not govern in the USSR.
Unscrupulous real-politick kept the nomenklatura in power. But when the moment came to transition to capitalism, the ‘communist’ nomenklatura was ready. It had absolutely no compunction or hesitation in seizing state assets. Yes, these were the personable ‘тунеядство’ that the African, Asian and Latin American socialists hob-knobbed with uncritically; grateful for the intelligence received, for Soviet jeeps, Kalashnikovs and SAMs. When it came to a critical evaluation of Soviet society, they looked away.
Since 1990, Great Russian chauvinism has raised its troll-like head. These can sometimes be very unpleasant people. Many of us had the experience of being cornered in a bar at an airport or in a hotel by some hard-drinking Russian in the 1970s or 1980s in the USSR. He (because it was always he) would then tell us how much he hated black people and Soviet Jews and how much he liked Apartheid South Africa and, oddly, Israel.
I lived and worked in the USSR. First in 1984 and then between 1990 and 1991. The slugs of the nomenklatura, who paid lip service to socialist ideals, then morphed into monster slugs in the 1990s. After 1991, the Black Hundreds were back on the march in the Russia. They became an acceptable part of the political mix.
Ukraine has the Banderites, but Russia has the new Black Hundreds. Pamyat are reactionary, monarchist ultra-nationalists. The current ruling elite rejects any of the progressive elements it may have inherited from the time of the USSR and, instead, takes care to reaffirm the older traditions of Russian autocracy, obeisance and pre-revolutionary religious bigotry. All the Russian empire’s greatest authors lamented Russia’s extreme backwardness during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and if people like Chekhov and Tolstoy and Goncharov were alive now, they would still be lamenting it.
Turning to those who shout and tout uncritically for Russia, we see people among them who say they are socialists. These so-called socialists are the same people who punch down at immigrants and transgender people, and at the usual targets of the national socialists of the 30s, including homosexuals. They are demagogues with no respect for democracy who quickly turn into reactionary nationalists and supporters of Russian and Chinese nationalism. The loud-mouthed, demagogic narcissist George Galloway is a good example of one of these anti-democratic faux socialists. He plays to the ultra-right crowd.
Chavez, Lopez Obrador, Morales, Bolsonaro, Trump and Duterte. These are all populists who either bypass democratic institutions or traduce democracy when they achieve power. Demagogues pop up in lieu of anything better. They are political opportunists; flotsam and jetsam. They conveniently forget what Russia actually is and who controls it. They ignore the fact that the Russian people might actually hate their own oligarchy. These Europeans and Americans side with the Russian oligarchy and have the cheek to call the Russians who oppose their oligarchs ‘traitors’.
Whipping up nationalism is a useful tool to manipulate the masses of people. Nationalism binds societies together into a bundle perforce, into a fasci. The war on Russia for its resources by NATO, and the great Russian nationalism of the Putin government that opposes it (acquiring its neighbour’s territory in the process) binds Russian society together in its support of a Bonapartist-like leader. If some of the humblest Brits hanker for the glory days of empire and look admiringly at the pink on the old the maps, then so do some of the humblest Russians.
Nationalism is a temporary unifier. We have seen this trick before so many times, now. We should be wise to it. How does it go? Forget inequality. Forget exploitation. Forget injustice. Rally round. Rally round the billionaires: billionaire Putin, billionaire Sunak, multi-millionnaire Ramaphosa, multi-millionnaire Biden.
It is an unfortunate truth that wars and economic crises precipitate social chaos. But they also catalyse social change and revolution. Or, as Putin explained it, ‘stabs in the back’. Putin equated the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 to a stab in the back. Putin and his oligarchy would deserve it! Just as Sunak would and so would Biden. Socialists, what may be coming, what may be precipitating out is not a world war, but a world revolution of sorts – and a chance to eliminate an especially vampiric form of corporate capitalism.
A footnote: Despite all appearances, don’t count European social democracy out of a multipolar world. With our immigration policies, with the egalitarian education of our young, with Europe’s embrace of human rights, with its regret for past colonialism and nationalism, with its partial avoidance of fratricidal wars, European society has become advanced and comparatively tolerant. Tolerance and multiculturalism are precisely the values that recidivist nations like Russia reject. If any society is prepared for a multipolar world, then it is European society, not BRICS.