Socialism and the crisis in Ukraine

Paolo Sorbello explains why the Eurasian Union’s fellow travellers will never see the ultimate triumph of their post-capitalist ideal.

Russian Air Force Star. Image by Mboro.

Russian Air Force Star.
Image by Mboro.

Samir Amin, a renowned Marxist author and the director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, wrote a short piece for Monthly Review in March, suggesting that the “people” – i.e. the socialist public that reads his leaflet – support “the policy of Russia as developed by the administration of Putin to resist the project of colonization of Ukraine”. His arguments, in the short and bullet-pointed piece, are scattered and typical of a confused leftist who tries to justify some aspects of the past, make parallels with the present, and spite all that is not socialist; although, all the great figures that the contemporary intellectuals cite from the past, did not go back in time themselves to find their raison d’être. Times have changed, I guess.

The bottom line is, there is no need to talk about the USSR in relation to the current situation in Ukraine. Unless, of course, there is a background agenda. And in this case, there are two.

Most of the Western press tries to picture Putin as the imperialist/soviet leader who is trying to rebuild the Russian empire. Their agenda, as Amin points out, is to justify legally and morally their intervention, the “Euro/Nazi putsch” as he calls the recent developments in Kiev. The “Triad”, as Amin calls this phantasmal union between the US, Europe and Japan, is supposedly guided by one interest: spreading capitalism in the name of democracy. This statement, which is probably true in a general and inarticulate sense, misses the importance of the collaboration between all capitalist players in the picture. Albeit different, both the “Triad” and Russia use the common “capitalist interface” to establish their relations: one clear example is the intense trade between Germany and Russia, Europe’s reliance on Russian energy exports, and recently, the growth of US-Russia trade, in spite of the Ukrainian crisis.

The piece is “Written from Moscow”, which perhaps unveils the poorly hidden agenda of the author. His idea is to spread anti-capitalism from the quasi-capitalist Russian “alternative”. A system that is corrupt, based on the export of natural resources, and welfare-oriented, therefore is not “capitalist”. An equation that cannot be balanced, even by a good mathematician. But Amin goes further, as his own agenda seems to hint Stalinism was not such an evil after all. In point 2) and later in point 4) he refers to his inability to “define” in a few words the Soviet system, before proceeding to state: “after Stalin that state socialism moved towards becoming state capitalism”. The “after Stalin” discourse is a very dangerous one, as it prevents a judgement of the pre-1953 Soviet system. If you say “after Stalin” it all went south, you’re implying that before then it was all gravy.

Most importantly, however, Amin misses the point of the Eurasian Union. His point is that only because it is rooted in neoliberalism, it is bound to serve the interest of the Triad. However, praising Putin’s Eurasianist effort (forgetting Nazarbayev’s input, probably because of ignorance on the topic) as anti-capitalist is a big mistake. True, the “Baltic experience” should not be repeated. But a “Eurasian community independent from the Triad” is not necessarily a good thing for the left, because it’s not necessarily anti-capitalist.

Furthermore, the noted “international” character of Russian policy is not “internationalist”, not “people-oriented”, not “favoring the working classes”. What Amin in the end defends in his piece is the “independence” of Russia’s actions in the international arena, which echoes closely all of Putin and Lavrov’s speeches in the last ten years. In the same paragraph, he goes on to address the necessity of “re-establishing state control over the movements of capital” as the only recipe to avoid the “disastrous alignment of the ruling economic oligarchy to the demands of the […] Triad”. Because it’s now clear: for Amin, the answer is state capitalism.

In turn, the Eurasian project, based on the sanctity of sovereignty, is more of an emergency exit after the decline of Soviet state capitalism into the dissolution of the Union and the regular financial crises emerged after the privatizations. The newly independent states were sinking in an economic swamp after the dissolution of the Union and sought to recreate a multi-national organization as a lifeboat for their crippled economies. With the new international environment occupied by the Triad, China catching up, and several rising powers (India, Brazil, South Africa…), Russia and the post-Soviets found themselves in need for a revival of a kind of union: to paraphrase the protest song by the Inti Illimani, “el grupo de autócratas, unido, jamás será vencido” (the group of autocrats, united, will never be defeated), they think. But they’re wrong, because it’s precisely the lack of “pueblo” (people, in the original lyrics) in the Eurasianist chant that makes the new project as hideous as its opponents.


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