[this analysis was written for the Unz Review]
In a recent article entitled “China, Bolivia and Venezuela are proof that social democracy cannot thrive in the global capitalist order” my China-based friend and correspondent Jeff J. Brown asked me an exceedingly interesting and important question. He wrote:
Russia is a social democracy, with a large, successful people owned industrial sector and many social services for the 99% from the Soviet era. But, unlike Bolivia and Ukraine, it is avoiding the West’s color revolution poison pill, because since 1999, Russia has gone from strength to strength, under the inspired leadership of patriotic President Vladimir Putin. But like all social democracies, the problem is what happens if another Western whore Boris Yeltsin succeeds Putin, and returns Russia to its dystopian Wall Street rape of the 1990s? Then what? It only took Macri four short years to bring Argentina back onto its groveling knees. Without a 100% nationalized media, Russians had better be demanding that Putin & Russian Patriots Inc. work overtime to censor all the Western overthrow garbage that is put in Cyrillic ink and on the airwaves. I would love to hear what my good friend Andrei Raevsky thinks about this at The Saker (http://thesaker.is/), because let’s be honest: without China’s, Russia’s and Iran’s continued anti-imperial independence and socialist success into the 21st century, humanity can kiss its ass goodbye!
Let’s begin by deconstructing the assumptions and implications of Jeff’s question.
China and Russia *could* be separated
The first assumptions Jeff makes are the following ones:
- Russia is a social democracy
- The Russian media is not 100% state controlled
- A new Eltsin might succeed Putin
- The West is saturating the Russian information space with garbage
- That western propaganda can still strongly impact Russia
- China and Russia *could* be separated (hence the need to prevent that as the central thesis of Jeff)
And, finally, considering the above, Jeff offers the following compelling implication for the China-Russia-Iran triangle:
- Considering the above, China’s independence and support for Russia and Iran are vital for the sovereignty and freedom, if not survival, of Russia and Iran
Now let’s begin by looking into Jeff’s assumptions:
Russia is a social democracy:
Yes and no. If we define a social democracy as being a specific polity and system of laws, then Russia is a social democracy. However, if we define social democracy as a specific polity, system of laws and social culture, then I would argue that to the extent that Russia is, indeed, a social democracy, she is a rather weird one. What do I mean by that?
By that I mean that thanks to the nightmare of “democracy” under Eltsin and his US curators, and thanks to the recent explosion of “democracy” in the Ukraine, the Russian people have by and large come to consider the words “liberal” and “democracy” as four letter words. For example, the word “либерал” (liberal) has now given birth to a derived word либераст which takes the first letters of the word “liberal” and adds the last letters of the word педераст (pederast – a rude word for homosexual [yes, in Russian homosexuality and pederasty are not separated!]) which results in the new word “liberast” the closest to which in English would be something like “libfag”, hardly a compliment. In some interpretations, a “liberast” is also somebody who has been “f**ked by democracy“. Not much better… As for the word “демократия” (democracy) for years it has already been called “дерьмократия” (using the first letters of дерьмо (der’mo or shit) and the last letter of democracy to create der’mokratia or “shitocracy”. Finally, there is also the saying that “демократия, это власть демократов” (democracy is the rule of the democrats), which for a country which has undergone the 1990s and seen the Ukraine being comprehensively FUBARed is ominous; not funny at all. All this is simply to show that culturally the Russian society is not at all your typical social democracy. It is a sort of democracy in which the majority of the people do not believe in democracy. This is very important, crucial even, and I will address this issue later.
The Russian media is not 100% state controlled:
That is absolutely true! However, it misses an important point: the real profile of the Russian media which is much more complex than “state controlled” vs “free media”. To make a long story short, the main TV channels, while not really “controlled” by the state at all, are mostly pro-Kremlin. But here we need to get the cause and effect right: these channels are not pro-Kremlin only because they get state funds or because of the political power of the Kremlin, the main reason why they are pro-Kremlin is the terrible rating of those media outlets who took a strong anti-Kremlin position.
To make my point, I want to mention the rabidly anti-Kremlin TV station which is very well known in Russia (Dozhd’ – see here for the (predictably complimentary) entry in Wikipedia for this TV channel). In fact, Dozhd’ is just the best known of a fairly extensive anti-Kremlin media but, in reality, there are many more outlets which hold an anti-Kremlin pro-Empire line. However, as I explained in a 2016 article entitled “Counter-Propaganda, Russian Style” and then, again, in 2017, in the article “Revisiting Russian Counter-Propaganda Methods” the Kremlin has developed a very effective counter-propaganda strategy: instead of suppressing the Empire’s propaganda (like the Soviets did, most unsuccessfully), the Kremlin now directly funds that same propaganda! Not only does the (state-owned) Gazprom finance Dozd’ – the western and Russian liberal guests which ridicule themselves on Russian TV are also generously paid for each of their appearances. Even hardcore Ukronazi nutcases get invited regularly (when they truly overdo it they also get into fights, or get kicked out of the studios, which is all very much fin to watch and is therefore watched by millions). The truth is that at this point the AngloZionist propaganda in Russia has much more of a very healthy “vaccination” effect then the ability to convince anybody beyond the “traditional” 2-4% of folks in Russia who still think that the West is some kind of heaven on earth and Russia an ugly, vicious and freedom crushing “Mordor”.
This being said, there is one channel through which the worst of the western consumer-society propaganda still permeates Russia: commercials. Russian commercials are mostly absolutely disgusting; they basically vehiculate one crude and simple message “Russians must become US Americans”. That propaganda via commercials is, I think the single most toxic and insidious form of de-russification I can think of and it is far more dangerous than any other means of “defacing” Russia.
Finally, and to my great regret, media outlets like RT and Sputnik have decided to “go native” I suppose and they now cater to western tastes much more than to Russian ones. The quasi constant “reporting” about MMA fights, minimally clad ladies, sex in all its shapes and forms and Hollywood gossip – all of this just goes to show that the folks in charge of these media outlets have decided that catering the the lowest possible social common denominator is the way to promote Russia abroad. I am not so sure. What began with “Question More” and “Telling the Untold” now seems more preoccupied with trying to copy the yellow press in the UK than to challenge the Empire. I very much regret that state of affairs.
Unfortunately, there are also a lot of 5th columnists and russophobes in these media outlets (especially in their online, Internet-based, websites; the actual radio/TV shows are mostly better).
So all is not rosy in the Russian media scene, but its not all bad either.
A new Eltsin might succeed Putin
Here I can only completely agree, and that is very scary. Due to the lack of space, I will present my arguments in a short, bullet-point, list:
- “Russia” is still very much a “one man show” meaning that Putin himself, as a person, is still absolutely vital to the current functioning of Russia. Not only are most Russians still strongly supportive of him personally, but there are no credible candidates to replace him. Yes, there are a few potential candidates out there (in no special order: Ivanov, Shoigu and Rogozin would be the best known, but there are others, of course), but what makes it all worse is that historically, Russia, unlike China, has a very bad record of successions.
- The 5th column is still there and while it keeps a very low profile (current events favor the Eurasian Sovereignists), it is still there, literally in all branches of power and very much inside the Moscow elites who hate Putin for putting an end to what they saw as the “Bonanza of the 1990s”.
- There *is* a patriotic Russian opposition to Putin, and it is slowly growing, but it is poorly organized, has a lot of clueless nostalgics of the Soviet era and a lot of its criticisms are, frankly, naive or plain silly (along with very valid points too!). I don’t see this opposition capable of producing a strong and credible leader. But that might change in the future.
- Thus the cornerstone of “Putinism” is Putin himself. With him gone, for whatever reason, Putinism could very rapidly fade too. This might be a good or a bad thing depending on the specific circumstances, but the chances that this might be a very bad thing are higher than the opposite being true.
“Putin The Man”, urgently needs to be replaced by “Putin The System”, but that is truly a herculean task because that means reforming/purging most of the immense and powerful Russian bureaucracy and find somewhere a new generation of men and women who could be both effective and trusted. The problem is that in most cases when one man goes against a system, the system wins. Putin is the proverbial case of a very good man in a very bad system. True, he has successfully reformed the two branches of government which were most needed to make it possible for both him and Russia to survive the war the Empire was waging on Russia: the armed forces and the intelligence/security forces. Other parts of the Russian state are still in a terrible shape (the entire legal system for starters!).
I think that the risk of an Eltsin-like prostitute coming to power is real, even if the bulk of the population would not necessarily approve of it (or be divided about it). Long-term historical stability of a huge country like Russia cannot come from a man. It can only come from institutions. And just as Peter I destroyed the traditional Russian monarchy, so can one man destroy the current “new Russia” (for lack of a better descriptor), especially if this “new Russia” has only one man as its cornerstone.
Finally, history teaches us that every time that Russia is weak or disunited, the western powers immediately pounce and intervene, including with military means. The Poles are still dreaming about yet another chance to prove Churchill’s diagnosis about Poland true and pounce on both the Ukraine and Russia if given the chance.
The West is saturating the Russian information space with garbage and western propaganda can still strongly impact Russia
As we have seen above, these are both at least partially true, but they are also not that much of a big deal. This is clearly a source of potential concern, a danger, but not a threat (a danger being vague, a threat specific). To the extend that this is a bad thing, this is mostly due to the hyper-materialistic consumer culture which currently competes against a much more traditional, Russian culture. It is hard to say which one will win. The former has much, much bigger financial means, the latter one has a strong ‘home turf advantage”. Only time will show which will prevail. So long as many Russians will think “western propaganda lies” (which most understand) AND are attracted to western-style commercials (which are, in so many ways, an even much more effective and insidious form of propaganda), the jury will remain out on who will prevail should instability return to Russia.
China and Russia *could* be separated
This is probably the most important assumption made by Jeff. First, since this is completely hypothetical, and since we are not future-seeing prophets let’s first agree to never say never and not dismiss this possibility out of hand. This being said, I would like to remind everybody that Russia and China have gradually changed the labels which they applied to the other side. The latest (as far as I know, Chinese speakers please correct me if needed!) expression used by Xi and other Chinese officials is “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for the New Era“. There is a lot to unpack here, but let’s just say that this does not sound like the Chinese came up with that concept lightly or that they have many misgivings about the future of the relationship with Russia. As for the Russians, they have now openly used the term “ally” on many occasions, including Putin. In Russian that word “ally” (союзник) is a very strong one and contrasts sharply with the cynical and disgusted way the Russians always speak about their western “partners” (which often shocks those who don’t speak Russian).
And it is not all sweet talk either. The Russians and the Chinese have had many and major joint military maneuvers, they have practiced the Russian equivalent of the US/NATO “Combined Joint Task Force” concept (see here for details). Thus, while not formal allies, Russia and China do all the things which close allies do. I would even argue that the “informal symbiosis” between Russia and China is far stronger than the NATO alliance.
It is my opinion that what Putin and Xi have done is something which has no previous equivalent in history, at least as far as I know. Even though both Russia and China have been empires in the past, I strongly believe that both of these countries have entered a “post-imperial phase” in which the trappings of empire have been replaced by an acute sense that empires are extremely bad not only for the nations which it oppresses, but also for the nation which hosts it. Both Russia and China have paid a horrendous price for their imperial years and both Russia and China completely understand that the people of the USA are also amongst the prime victims of the (transnational) Anglo-Zionist Empire, even if that is all too often forgotten. Not only do they not want to repeat their own mistakes, they see the USA dying in the quicksands of imperialism and the last thing they want is to jump in and join the US.
I believe that the relationship between Russia and China is a symbiosis, which is much stronger than any alliances because while the latter can be broken, the former typically cannot (at least not without extremely severe consequences). I also believe that Putin and Xi both understand that the fact that Russia and China are so completely different is not a problem, but a tremendous asset: they fit perfectly, like Lego or puzzle pieces. What Russia has China does not and vice-versa. And, just to clarify for the logically challenged: both sides also understand that they will never get from the other side by war what they could get by peaceful exchange. Yes, the silly Polish dream of having Russia invaded by China several times (an old Polish joke of sorts) is only a reflection of the ancient Polish inferiority complex, not of geostrategic realities :-)
Of course, in theory, anything could happen. But I personally see no chain of events which could be sufficient to threaten the Sino-Russian symbiotic relationship, not even a collapse of “New Russia Putinism” (not elegant, but functional for our purposes) or the kind of chaos which a Eltsin type of comprador regime could try to reimpose on Russia. At the end of the day, if Russia collapses then China will hold truly immense financial and economic power over Russia and will therefore be able to impose at least a China-friendly regime. In that extremely unlikely case, Russia would, of course, lose her sovereignty, but not to the West, but to China. That is not quite what Jeff had in mind.
Yes, Russia and China need each other. I would argue that they need each other. Vitally. And yes, the “loss” of one would threaten the other. But that is not just true for Russia, it is also very true of China (which desperately needs Russian energy, high-tech, natural resources, weapons systems but most of all, Russian experience: for most of her existence Russia was threatened, invaded, attacked, sanctioned, boycotted and disparaged by a long succession of western states, and she defeated them all. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but each time Russia prevailed. The determination and ability to resist the West is something which is deeply embedded in the Russian cultural DNA (this in sharp contrast with the rest of the so-called “East European” countries). Finally, and for all their very real recent advances, the Chinese armed forces are still far behind the Russian (or the USA for that matter) and in a one-on-one war against the USA China would definitely lose, especially if the USA goes “all out”. Russia, on the other hand, has the means to turn the US and Europe into a post-industrial nuclear wasteland (using nuclear and, most importantly, non-nuclear munitions!).
I would also add something Jeff did not address: Iran. I believe that both Russia and China also very much need Iran. Okay, that is not a vital need, both Russia and China could survive without an allied Iran, but Iran offers immense advantages to both countries, if only because thanks to the truly phenomenal stupidity of the Neocons the USA’s breathtakingly stupid policies in the Middle-East (here is just the latest example) have turned Iran into a regional super-power eclipsing both Israel and the KSA. Furthermore, if Russia has shown much more political and moral courage than China (which, lets be honest, has been pretty happy to have Russia taking the brunt of the Empire’s attacks), Iran has shown much more political and moral courage than Russia, especially concerning the slow-motion genocide perpetrated by the Zionist Entity in Palestine.
And this brings us full circle to the discussion of what kind of country Russia currently really is. Russia is not the Soviet Union. Neither is she pre-1917 Russia. But what is she really?
Nobody really knows, I think.
It is a moving target, a process. This process might lead to a new and stable “new Russia”, but that is by no means certain. Paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of Article 13 of the Russian Constitution say:
- In the Russian Federation ideological diversity shall be recognized
- No ideology may be established as state or obligatory one.
- In the Russian Federation political diversity and multi-party system shall be recognized.
In other words, not only is there no “no official ideology” in Russia, there is an explicit recognition for a multi-party political system (itself an ideological statement, by the way). These are all potentially very dangerous and toxic items in the Russian Constitution which already are hindering a true national, cultural, psychological and spiritual rebirth of Russia. Iran, in contrast, has succeeded in creating an Islamic Republic which is both truly and unapologetically Islamic and truly democratic, at least in the sense that, unlike western democracies which are mostly run by minorities and for minorities (or a coalition of minorities), in Iran the majority supports the system in place.
And since the vast majority of the Russian people do not want a single-party-system or a return to Soviet times yet don’t believe in (western style) democracy, Russian intellectuals would be well advised to take a very close and careful look at what I would call the “Iranian model”, not to simply copy it, but to see what aspects of this model could be adapted to Russian realities. Historical Russia was an Orthodox monarchy. That time is gone and will never return. Soviet Russia was a Marxist atheistic state. That time is also forever gone. Modern Russia can only find references, lessons and implications in her past, but she cannot simply resurrect Czarist or Communist Russia. Of course, neither can she reject her entire history and declare it all “bad” (which is what Russian “liberals” always do, which explains why they are so hated).
I don’t know what the future Russia will look like. I am not even totally sure that this new Russia will ever really happen (though my gut feeling is that it will). I hope that it will, but whether that happens or not will not be decided in China or by China (or any other country). To conclude on a famous quote by Karl Marx “the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves” (in Russian: “Освобождение рабочих должно быть делом самих рабочих”) which a famous Russian 1928 book turned into “the salvation of those who are drowning has to be the action of those drowning” (in Russian: “Спасение утопающих — дело рук самих утопающих”). Whatever version you prefer (I prefer the 2nd one), the meaning is clear: you need to solve your problems by yourself or with those who share that problem with you. In other words, Russians are the only ones who can save or destroy the Russian nation (I mean “Russian” in the traditional, Russian, multi-ethnic and multi-religious meaning of the words руссий and российский which in traditional Russian are both interchangeable or different depending on the context).
PS: I leave you with a photo which, imho, speaks a thousand words