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Commentary :: International
The Russians in the Market
27 Jan 2017
The title of this essay refers to a 1998 song written by the British musical trio “The Tiger Lilies”. The song is an emotional musical narration, describing the humiliation that befell the Russian people after the demise of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the nostalgic lyrics paint a vivid picture regarding the complete disintegration of the social fabric in post-Soviet Russia.
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“Anyone who doesn't regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains”.
Vladimir Putin

The title of this essay refers to a 1998 song written by the British musical trio “The Tiger Lilies”. The song is an emotional musical narration, describing the humiliation that befell the Russian people after the demise of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the nostalgic lyrics paint a vivid picture regarding the complete disintegration of the social fabric in post-Soviet Russia. This was a period in Russian history marked by the nearly irreversible collapse of all public institutions, when every private individual was left to fend for him / herself and everything was up for sale, as people struggled to survive amidst a situation of generalized political, social and economic chaos. This humanitarian catastrophe was by no means the inevitable product brought about by the inherent “backwardness” of residual soviet structures. Nor was it a natural consequence of the lack of democratic experience and of civic virtue innate in the popular Russian psyche. The process of transition from panned to market economy, involved not only the radical change of the prevailing mode of production, but also the assertion of a new system of command, fully integrated in the unequal distribution of power reproduced by capitalist hierarchies on a global scale. The transition to market forms and capitalist social relations, was not “spontaneous”, but instead was carefully planned and managed by the International Monetary Fund, which took it upon itself to oversee the violent breakup of any last vestiges of a collectivist mode of social existence and to promote the systematic imposition of the process of marketization upon Russian economy and society as a whole. The aim was not simply to demolish any institutionalized social controls that functioned as a counter-weight to the free interplay of market forces and could prevent the market from becoming the sole instrument for the allocation of scarce resources in the social process of production. Marketization also presupposed the active dismantling of existing international networks of exchange, the planned scaling back of industrial output and the overnight privatization of the strategic energy sector, real estate, minerals, etc.[1]
“Transition” in these terms was rather a euphemism for the creation of conditions of absolute dependency and subjugation and Putin was right to point out in his 2005 address to the Russian people that, “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama”. [2] Russia was relegated overnight to the status of a Third-world nation. The average life-expectancy declined sharply, as if the country was in a state of war and Russians were transformed into a nation of beggars and alcoholics.[3] The integration of Russia into the internationalized capitalist division of labor as a vassal state, entirely dependent on the Transnational Elite (T.E.), presupposed the enormous concentration of economic power inside Russia into the hands of a kleptocratic elite directly dependent for its newly amassed wealth and privileges to “external” sources of power. That is, power-centers which lay outside Russian society. This might also explain why Russia is probably the only country of the former Eastern bloc where the ownership of the means of production did not pass directly into the hands of the former nomenclature of the Communist Party, but, instead, it was usurped by a small clique of shady individuals with unusual and apparently limitless access to the centers of political power.[4]
It is hardly surprising then that Russia’s catastrophic experience with forced “democratization” from above and violent economic restructuring oriented towards the global market, which together resulted in extensive political and social decomposition, would give rise to an anti-liberal and anti-globalist political current which would come to dominate the effort for the post-Soviet reconstruction of Russian society. In this connection, one cannot help but be reminded of Third-World nationalism and of the national liberation revolutions which exploded in the underdeveloped periphery of the capitalist system in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, some academic studies of the period of de-colonization, have contended that socialism and popular revolution in the Third World, was the only available course of action that could guarantee the modernization of the decrepit productive mode of peripheral nations and establish the basic contours for a rapid industrialization and economic development.[5] Revolutionary socialism, albeit in a statist form, was the necessary political form of this social transformation because, a) development presupposed a policy of complete rupture with the system of internationalized market economy, which by virtue of its internal dynamics and function, reproduces the existing capitalist hierarchies associated with different levels of wealth, development and economic power, b) because a program of radical social transformation cannot be brought about without the existence of a corresponding antisystemic strategy necessary to overcome and suppress the resistance of dominant elites and of privileged groups who are in control of the system itself.
As a matter of fact, during the initial stages of capitalist transition, Russia attempted to make use of its comparative economic advantages, in accordance with the logic of neoliberal orthodoxy, in order to promote economic growth within the institutional framework of the market system itself. However, the limits of this systemic strategy of development became apparent when the expansionist activities of the Russian flagship company Gazprom were confronted with overt hostility by the European branch of the T.E., who unapologetically declared their intention to suspend market rules and deploy their political power so as to contain Gazprom’s emerging hegemony in the international energy sector.[6] Moreover, this strategy of “containment” abroad, was supplemented by the attempt to transfer ownership of the major Russian energy corporations to foreign capital directly affiliated with the T.E., thereby divesting the Russian elites from their motor of systemic economic development and ensuring their continuous subjugation as regards their relationship with the T.E. indeed, one might safely assume that one of the main reasons which prompted the Russian state finally to take action against oligarchs such as Khodorkovsky and Berezovsky, was their willingness to negotiate the takeover by foreign antagonistic corporations, of the companies they had “inherited” from the Soviet state.[7]
In view of the above, one might claim that there are certain dimensions of the immanent Russian political and economic strategic vision which are “progressive by default”, if only because of their opposition against the objectively regressive aspects of the process of political and economic globalization. This progressive and emancipatory aspect of Russia’s strategy, cannot be attributed to the inherent characteristics of the regime of “sovereign democracy” established by the United Russia party.[8] It emerges primarily from Russia’s geopolitical role as an alternative pole of the global system of governance. As a focal point of opposition for all state agents and popular movements that have adopted a principled antagonistic stance against globalization and against the class divisions and inequalities that it generates within the context of each heteronomous social formation. So far, this process is driven more by the strategic requirements associated with Russia’s geopolitical needs, than by any radical ideological conviction on the part of Russian elites. However, the subversion of the globalist neoliberal paradigm both inside and outside of Russia, emerges as an objective strategic necessity, if the Russian ruling class is reluctant to accept the role ascribed to it by the T.E. as a dependent entity, occupying an inferior position compared to the network of transnational elites exercising effective sovereignty within a globalized environment. Even as regards the project for the creation of a new Eurasian Union, which would provide the Russian Federation with a much needed political and economic strategic depth in its conduct of world affairs, the founding principles and underlying institutions of this Union cannot simply replicate those of existing neoliberal regional blocs, such as the EU and NAFTA.[9] More importantly, it would need to foster an alternative concept of collective interest based upon a notion of guaranteed sovereignty and self-determination of the members, and away from integration in the repressive structures and of the internationalized market economy. Otherwise, it would only be a matter of time until the global capitalist hierarchies will re-assert themselves in the economic space created by the Eurasian Union and for Russia to relapse into a subservient position vis-à-vis the advanced market economies of the capitalist center.
In any case, we should neither romanticize, nor demonize the role that the Russian regime is playing in world affairs. To counter globalization’s pernicious effects on the economy and its deleterious effects on the social body, the Russian elites are, by the force of things, obliged to turn towards policies of economic self-reliance and internal social cohesion. If globalization is anti-social by its very nature, since it relies on the relentless expansion of the process of marketization to include every sphere of organized social life, which in turn implies the replacement of all organic social bonds by impersonal market relations, disengagement from the global market would seem to presuppose the reversal of this process of marketization and the promotion of an alternative social paradigm based on the strengthening of organic, collectivist social relations. And if Russian elites are serious about maintaining their autonomy and political independence towards the T.E., Russia will be obliged to use its political, diplomatic and military power to struggle against these global geopolitical structures which, by virtue of their existence and function, reproduce the class supremacy and domination of the T.E. and of the affluent social strata of the advanced market economies, over the vast majority of the population of the rest of the globe. And it has to be prepared even to overthrow them, as it did in Syria,[10] if it is serious about defending Russian sovereignty and self-determination.

[1] T. Fotopoulos, The Catastrophe of Marketization, http://democracynature.org/vol5/fotopoulos_marketisation.htm.
[2] Annual Address to the Federal Assembly to the Russian Federation, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/22931.
[3] J. Stiglitz, The Ruin of Russia, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/apr/09/russia.artsandhumanities.
[4] Almost none of the Russian oligarchs that rose to prominence during the Yeltsin era was an official member or had any affiliation with the Communist Party of the former USSR.
[5] See for instance, Alternative development for Africa and the Third World, United Nations University, http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/uu32me/uu32me0g.htm.
[6] Gazprom gaffe sets anti-protectionist Brown a challenge, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/2940741/Gazprom-gaffe-sets-anti-prote & Europe Rejects Gazprom’s Ultimatum, http://aussiethule.blogspot.gr/2006/04/europe-rejects-gazproms-ultimatum.
[7] Promising Whispers, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/node/2073072 & Arrest and Detention of Khodorkovsky Cools the Anticipation of Merger, http://www.paneurasian.com/yukosmerger.html.
[8] “Sovereign Democracy” was a term coined by the former deputy Prime Minister of Russia Vladislav Surkov to describe the type of politics and government espoused the modern post-Soviet Russian state.
[9] S. Karaganov, From East to West, or Greater Eurasia, Russia in Global Affairs, http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/pubcol/From-East-to-West-or-Greater-Eurasia-.
[10] J. Landis, America’s Failure – and Russia’s and Iran’s Success – in Syria’s Cataclysmic Civil War, http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/americas-failure-russia-irans-success-s.

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