The politics and the ideology of the conservative project
Within the present tense (and, hopefully, temporarily) political and ideological fighting in Russia, it would appear that losing sides have already been determined. This situation is completely normal for a recovering society. In my opinion, the losing side includes the view of the west as “Mr. Teacher”. But it has not completely lost quite yet (as we are not yet independent enough in our economic thinking) and we did not triumph over it with our own strength alone. The flow of history and the sorry state of the neo-liberal (destructive, neo-colonial) discourse both intervened. This simple discourse, by the way, was elevated by its Russian apologists almost to the level of a global ideology and developed no worse than Suslov’s dogmatism (Mikhail Suslov, Soviet statesman), which was challenged through the political revolution theory in the 1970s by the brilliant oriental scholar Nodari Simoniya.
The export of pseudo-revolutions, an integral part of any pseudo-revolution, has concluded with the Maidan. It appears that its participants and sponsors did a big favour to the rest of humanity.
The American efforts in their prolonged attack on Putin’s current presidential term have generated a resounding reverse effect as the president’s fourth term is at this point almost a guarantee. Another question altogether is how it will be organised.
Barack Obama (perhaps surprising even himself?) has truly done a great favour for Putin. And, perhaps, both presidents should joke about the matter in front of reporters – for example, after the meeting in the Livadia Palace for the 70th anniversary of the Yalta Agreements, or perhaps a similar meeting in Sochi. For now, however, this is but a hypothetical situation.
Meanwhile, the liberal Obama is fairly close to Putin in the spirit of his internal, socially-oriented politics. He is also no “hawk”, although he cannot be called a “peacemaker” after the aggression in Libya either. It would seem that, since that time, the foreign policy bloc has slightly shifted, but, alas, its Russian objective is still “upheld” by Madeleine Albright, her husband and her pupils like Victoria Nuland. For them, even Henry Kissinger and George Friedman are too “red”.
The understanding of this simple circumstance, as well as understanding the fact the Ukraine was the last ace in the game of subversion against Moscow that was initiated by these “brethren”, predisposes one towards a calm and optimistic outlook for the future. Firstly, this ace is now gone. Secondly, this reverse effect is threatening to outgrow the current bilateral relations and turn into a strategic catastrophe for the U.S. on the global arena. Time is working in Putin’s favour; he is at this time quite satisfied with a moderate foreign policy and is focusing instead on internal issues – now with a fairly long term in office.
Correspondingly, it is now time to think about important details in the conservative project, including within its political portion.
Let me begin in the distant past. In my opinion, one of the first conservatives in Russia was Aleksander Sergeyevich Griboyedov (Russian diplomat, 1795-1829). He had a reputation of being a patriot, an opponent of serfdom and a true democrat. In studying the life and work of Griboyedov (a spy, diplomat, scholar, translator and playwright) more closely, however, we find out that he dreamed of a truly Russian enlightened elite and saw most of his contemporaries as a “flawed class of half-Europeans”. The main character in his work complains in “Russian” Moscow of how the Europeans have “overrun the place”. One can only imagine what St. Petersburg was like in his time. However the capitals are not the only things that have switched places since then.
I do not know if Putin writes plays. Yet with the current state of thinking on this planet, his works (without even mentioning the screen adaptations) could bring the treasury a lot more than the $40 billion that sharp British reporters “claim” he has in his offshore Swiss bank accounts.
I will personally add that Griboyedov was also a scholar of Oriental studies. In my opinion, this layer of our society is the alternative to the half-Europeans and one of the most important pillars for the emerging politics. Oriental scholars have made a fairly good name for themselves on the foreign arena as our relationship with eastern nations is a lot better than with our western “partners”. They have learned many beneficial aspects from the political life of the non-western countries.
For example, during the unfolding of the Ukrainian crisis, why has none of its public commentators mentioned Thailand – a monarchy that is already significantly ahead of Ukraine in terms of income indicators, which is fairly reminiscent of Ukraine’s proportion of “local” and “other” residents while peacefully taking care of its government crisis? Why is a renowned politician from eastern Ukraine announcing the upcoming construction there of a Singapore as a step on the path towards Europe?
Why is all of our rhetoric still constrained “in the West” and both sides blame the other in “not being democratic”, “not being legitimate” and other such syndromes? Why do we still consider representative democracy the best form of government when within our current total cultural degradation (people in China were shocked to find out that a third of Russian people did not read a single book last year), this present form means defencelessness and sluggishness of the government before the electorate that has been made mindless by the television screen? After all, during the fall budget crisis in the U.S., Francis Fukuyama already brought up the issue that the system of checks and balances (the cornerstone!) is incompatible with the spirit of the times and the tremendous competition between nations. Why not state the issue in simpler terms – about how power should be convenient for citizens, firstly, and convenient for itself, secondly? And with it, why not point to the evident economic and political successes of the semi-authoritarian and neo-authoritarian regimes in East Asia? From this standpoint, the successes of the largest democracy in the world are not at all evident, where, by the way, they are also rambling about Singapore, yet while better understanding the difference between this idea and their real situation.
I would like to note right away that the “die-hard patriots” are even worse than the “half-Europeans” (at times, they are just a subdivision of the half-Europeans). They are not only embarrassing with their outer appearance: it is odd seeing the larger than life city “Cossacks” who are able to crush the spine of a Vladimir heavy draft horse with their weight. Yet it is equally peculiar hearing and seeing the endless discussions about the “Russian Realm” whose ideologists were reactionaries, not conservatives. Griboyedov and Tyutchev (Fyodor, Russian poet, 1803-1873) stand together within Russian culture, but they stand apart in Russian history and politics. The latter is unthinkable without the east, and thus it cannot be supported only by orthodoxy and the later Slavophils, neither in its domestic nor foreign policy.
At the same time, why, then, is the brilliant and later theory of Eurasianism in such a bad state? Why are we inventing new school textbooks when we have Writings on Russian History by Georgy Vernadskiy? Incidentally, he believed Mikhail Grushevskiy was an Eurasianist as well. Yet has anyone at the Maidan ever read either of them?
Finally, let us ask the most currently relevant political question in simple terms – is Ukraine a Eurasian nation? The answer is two-fold: many Ukrainians are, while their authorities are not. They are clear half-Europeans, while within their masses, the younger population is now known for their terrible knowledge of the Russian language (especially written). Are the younger brethren planning to instead use the convenient Russo-Chinese dictionaries created in China in constantly updated electronic format? Or are they expecting the Chinese to learn Ukrainian? Is Kiev trying to cut her children and grandchildren off from their Eurasian prospects? After all, they will still need to work for the Chinese in Europe and with the Chinese in Russia, if one is to simply extrapolate from the current global trends.
Why then are we still shamefully afraid of Marxism-Leninism? After all, it’s not a dogma but a manual for action. Why was the Culture Minister in that same Singapore (George Yeo Yong-Boon) stating at the end of the 20th century that in the 21st century, his country will need to adapt to this ideology, while combining Marxism with Confucianism. This honourable representative of his city-state saw the strength of Confucianism in the fact that its rules (ethics) stand above the law. While we’re still here talking about “legitimacy”… Why not “legality”, the word is even shorter?
The other day some woman called me to ask if I was going to the “primaries” in the election for the City Duma, even calling the event by its English name while otherwise speaking to me in Russian. So I answered her in English and she, naturally, did not understand me. Why do I need the “primaries” if there is not even a telephone number or email where I can direct my inquiries?
A friend of mine from Ukraine told me that a monument to Lenin was recently torn down near her. When I replied to her that Ukrainian schools were opened directly through an order issued by Lenin himself and that a monument to him is still peacefully standing in Finland, she was shocked. She was even more shocked when I told her that there are two official languages in Finland, while the country has less Swedes than there are Russians in Ukraine. But what can she do if all of her schooling after the third grade was done in Ukrainian?
The crisis in Ukraine also harks back to our recent past (was 1998 any better in Russia?) as well as our possible future (in the worst-case scenario). We cannot renounce Marxism or truly liberal values. Historically, we need a new authoritarianism, like the one in Eastern Asia but better, one of our own that is already currently emerging. Liberalism in government just needs to turn to the side of democratic capitalism, the kind Lenin wrote about, while turning against Octobrist capitalism (semi-feudal, “comprador”-esque). All we need to do is to think and to act clearly, while taking concrete recipes for action from practice. From Lenin, from Deng Xiaoping. Or, even better, from Putin and Griboyedov.
We need to at least read (and teach) modern Russian sociologists who understand, like Mayakovski, the historical scale, the colossal working capacity and the absolute relevancy to the present day of a leader of a real revolution, and I mean, for example, the collection Lenin Online (2010). Then we need to ask ourselves a simple question: will China renounce Marxism-Leninism? What if our “Russian Realm” together with its illiterate currently rioting cousins truly proves that Lenin was a German spy and the executioner of the Ukrainian people? Should we not, then, listen to the advice of the former Singaporean Culture Minister?
After all, the conservative fork in the road is simple – either renaissance or reaction. There is no third choice.
Alexander Salitsky, Ph.D. in Economics, chief research fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences, professor at the Institute of Oriental Countries, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.