'The heavy price of conquest' War in a world that stands for nothing

The so-called oligarchs in Russia and other ex-communist countries are a bourgeois counterpart to what Marx called the lumpen-proletariat: an unthinking cohort susceptible to political manipulation because its members have no class consciousness or revolutionary potential of their own.
'The heavy price of conquest' War in a world that stands for nothing


NEW DELHI: Unlike the proletariat, however, the lumpen-bourgeoisie who emerged in these countries from the late 1980s onward control capital – lots of it – thanks to wild “privatisation” of state-owned assets. An exemplary case is Rok Snezic, a collaborator and friend of Slovenia’s right-wing prime minister, Janez Jansa. An “independent tax adviser,” Snezic helps Slovene companies redomicile in the lower-tax jurisdiction of Republika Srpska (the Serb part of Bosnia and Herzegovina). He apparently has no private possessions, and he has erased his own past tax bills by declaring bankruptcy.

Yet Snežic also cruises around in new luxury cars and has the means to pay for jumbo billboard ads. He is officially employed by a company owned by his wife, where he receives a monthly salary of 37,362 euros ($40,346) in cash.

But “normal” capitalism also generates a lumpen-bourgeoisie. Snežic is not so different from Donald Trump, who similarly thrives precisely because he stands for nothing, motivated solely by money and the trappings of material wealth. Market values have also determined the contours of Russia’s war in Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appears to have had a crash course in how global capitalism and democracy really work. Since the start of the war, Europe has sent Russia almost $40 billion in payments for oil and gas, prompting his observation that Western countries are more concerned about rising energy prices than Ukrainian lives. The capitalist market – the one that has been fuelling the Russian war engine – has forsaken Ukraine.

Ending this bloody trade would require governments to abandon their reliance on market mechanisms and start organising energy supply directly, as would addressing the global food crises that Russia’s war is generating. (In addition to being two of the world’s biggest wheat exporters, Russia and Ukraine are also major sources of chemical fertilisers for Europe.) Paradoxically, only measures recalling the newborn Soviet Union’s “war communism” can save Ukraine and preserve Western power. After all, Russia is coordinating with China not only to challenge the West geopolitically but also to depose the US dollar and the euro as global currencies.

Given that Western solidarity is limited by economic interests, the Ukrainians will have to accept that “defending Europe” is not enough. Ukraine is also defending the Russian people from the self-destructiveness of their president, Vladimir Putin, and his lumpen-bourgeoisie.

In a recent commentary published by the Russian state-owned news agency RIA News, Timofey Sergeytsev presents the full scope of the Kremlin’s genocidal project in Ukraine. The basic premise is that Ukraine needs to be “denazified,” and thus de-Europeanised, because “a significant part of the people – most likely the majority – has been mastered and drawn into the Nazi regime in its politics. As such, the hypothesis, ‘the people are good, and the government is bad’ does not work.” Sergeytsev not only equates Ukrainian politics with Nazism. He also claims that “ukronazism” poses an even greater threat to the world and Russia than Hitlerite Nazism did. Even the name “Ukraine” must be eliminated. So, Russia plans to do with Ukraine what Bertolt Brecht describes in his 1953 poem “The Solution”: dissolve the people and elect another.

By reading Sergeytsev’s mad ravings alongside Putin’s claim that Lenin invented Ukraine, we can discern the current Russian position. Ukraine has two fathers: Lenin, who invented it, and Hitler, who inspired today’s “ukronazis” to actualise Lenin’s invention. What, then, does this imply for Russia’s geopolitical situation? According to Sergeytsev:

“Russia has a high potential for partnerships and allies with countries that the West has oppressed for centuries, and which are not going to put on its yoke again. Without Russian sacrifice and struggle, these countries would not have been liberated. The denazification of Ukraine is at the same time its decolonisation, which the population of Ukraine will have to understand as it begins to free itself from the intoxication, temptation, and dependence of the so-called European choice.”

In other words, Russia must radically reorient, breaking its links with the West to forge new ties with all those countries that were brutally exploited by Western colonial powers. It is Russia that will lead a global process of decolonisation. Western imperial powers’ brutal exploitation of the Global South is a truth that must never be forgotten. But it is strange to hear such talk from Russia, with its long history of such behavior. In the eighteenth century, Catherine the Great conquered southeastern Ukraine and territory from Siberia to Alaska to Northern California. Now, we are told that Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine will be “decolonised” by way of…Russian colonisation. Territories will be liberated against the will of their people (who will have to be re-educated or otherwise dissolved).

If a new world war is to be avoided, it will be through a “hot peace,” with massive military investments sustaining a fragile new balance of power. The fragility of the situation stems not just from conflicting economic interests but also from conflicting interpretations of reality, which is not just about settling facts. But simply trying to prove that Russian claims are false misses the point made by Aleksandr Dugin, Putin’s court philosopher: “Post-modernity shows that every so-called truth is a matter of believing. So we believe in what we do, we believe in what we say. And that is the only way to define the truth. So we have our special Russian truth that you need to accept.”

Faith, it seems, overrides knowledge. According to the “special Russian truth,” Russia’s soldiers left behind no corpses of brutalised civilians in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities and towns; Western propagandists supposedly staged those atrocities. Given these circumstances, Westerners must stop proposing that Zelenskyy meet with Putin to negotiate a peace settlement. That is a fool’s errand. Any eventual negotiations will have to be conducted by lower-level bureaucrats. Putin and his inner circle are criminals who must be ignored as much as possible. Ultimately, a significant share of the Russian population must see this. In Russia, the suffering population is compensated not with banknotes but with cheap patriotic pride. And in the West, we allow the market to dictate the strength of our commitment to human rights in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Slavoj Zizek is Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate SchoolProject Syndicate

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