Putin’s rationalism as ideology of transition
In recent days, the fundamental and irreversible changes have taken place in the system of international relations preceded by ideological crises and fundamental changes in interaction between ideas and real politics. All those changes will result not only in changing course of the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine supported by the West and in deepening of the global economic crisis, but inevitably will also lead to changes in governments and ruling elites in many states.
Let’s start with changes in the system of international relations.
Disruption of the world order and legitimization of conflict of civilizations
More than a year ago, at the beginning of 2021, I started writing about oncoming division of the world into macro-regions or civilizational blocs that would generate fundamental restructuring of international relations on the basis of strategic interests of the main world civilizations.
In December 2021, after negotiations between the leaders of the United States, Russia and China, I wrote that these negotiations launched the process of creating new architecture of international relations that will be built on the basis of equal participation in governance of the world by great civilizations, before all Western, Russian, Chinese, Indian and those that developed potential allowing them to influence world relations, among them the Latin American, Arab and Turkic civilizations that are actively going through consolidation, trying not to be late for the «moment of truth».
However, there was no information supporting my ideas about new architecture of international relations in official documents, statements and government reports. My opinion was questioned by political commentators and politicians in the West and in Russia, and those who agreed with me, considered my opinion as one of the possible options that was yet to find its confirmation and legitimization.
On June 15, 2022, on the birthday of Xi Jinping, the creation of the new system of international relations was confirmed and became the historical fact.
On that day, the telephone conversation that was initiated by Xi Jinping took place between the leaders of China and Russia. In the official report, the Kremlin announced that Russia and China act from common or very close positions and «are striving to build a truly multipolar and fair system of international relations.»
For its part, Chinese state media also reported that Xi Jinping during that conversation with Vladimir Putin, stressed that China is working with Russia to build «more just and rational international order and (system of) global governance.»
Two days after this telephone conversation, Putin spoke at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where he stressed that the era of unipolar world is over, that fundamental changes are the natural course of history, since “the civilizational diversity of the planet, the richness of cultures is difficult to combine with existing political, economic and other patterns…»
These were the first clear statements by the leaders of the two great powers and world civilizations, that ideological and moral standards, rules and, as Putin put it, “norms of business interaction and international relations” do not work if they are “imposed by one center of power». The existing system of international relations that allows one civilization, «albeit a strong power with a limited circle of associates,» to impose «norms and patterns» on other civilizations, including the world’s leading powers, is «definitely unsustainable.»
From Putin’s point of view, this system cannot work effectively, because «the flaw lies in the very idea » on which this outdated system is based. Consequently, new system of international relations should be formed on new idea that takes into account “that over the past decades… new powerful centers have been formed on the planet. Each of them is developing its own political system and public institutions, implements its own model of economic growth and, of course, has the right to self-protect and to ensure its national sovereignty.”
Analyzing these statements by Putin and Xi, we can identify several main pillars of the new approach to creation of new world order by the «group of rebels»:
- The unipolar world order is inefficient, it ceased to suit Russia, China, India and other world civilizational centers that refuse to develop according to the ideas, rules and «patterns» of the West and use their right to develop their own socio-economic systems that take into account and are based on cultural wealth, historical traditions and ideological basis of each of the civilizations.
- Western civilization, led by the United States, is still the most powerful in the world, but it can no longer impose its views, rules, “patterns” and interests on other world civilizations that have become centers for the development of alternative systems, cultures and ideologies and that have made joint decision to uphold the right of everyone to sovereignty.
- Western civilization is invited to abandon mentality of colonial empire and to sit down at the negotiating table to develop new system of world governance and new principles of international relations. If the West continues to refuse this offer and try to maintain its dominance, Russia, China and those who have joined or are going to join them are ready to establish their own alternative system of international relations, including trade, economic cooperation, finances, and to defend this system and their sovereignty and rights by all possible means, including economic, financial and military.
- The old system of managing international affairs, which assumes the management of the world by one dominant civilization that imposes its ideologies, priorities and rules in the economy and politics, education and culture, must be replaced.
- G7 is outdated and unsustainable. Only major powers that are the civilizational centres can become members of the new Super Group to govern the world. Smaller states have to remain as, in Putin’s words, «circles of associates» and join one of the civilizational regions to participate in world governance indirectly.
- New system should be based on the equality of major civilizations, guarantees of their sovereignty and equal strategic security.
- From now onwards, new system is in operation, and China and Russia by the statements of their leaders, initiated new stage in the history of mankind.
The split in the world was manifested in the world division into two groups of countries: the first one includes those that imposed tough sanctions against Russia, the second one includes those that refused to impose sanctions. The population of countries that did not impose tough sanctions against Russia exceeds the population of the countries of the Western bloc that imposed sanctions, by six times.
Russian and Chinese ideologies in the period of transition
The absence of ideology that rebel civilizations could offer to replace or counter the existing ideas and theories of social and economic development that were created in the West and have dominated the world for the past three centuries, is still considered their main weakness.
For at least three centuries, powers like India, China and other rising civilizations lived under colonial subordination, or like Russia and Turkey that were under dependence on the West in the field of culture, science, education, theories of social and economic development. They have accepted and reconciled the ideas of Western democracy, liberalism, competition and market capitalism, democratic socialism, Marxism and other theories, often believing that by doing so they embark on the true path of development and progress. This was arbitrary or voluntary imposition of ideological dependence and subordination by the elites on themselves and on their peoples in aspiration to follow those who were at that time considered more developed, effective and progressive.
The contradictions that arose in civilizations between traditional forms of social life and main provisions of Western theories were resolved by denying, rejecting, suppressing, transforming or destroying traditional forms of social and economic relations, religions, folk traditions, rules and norms.
As the result of self-rejection, the hybrid social forms and systems of political governance and economic life emerged that created and accumulated further contradictions until the moments when ineffectiveness of imported Western ideologies, models of the future or theories of development became visible and realized.
However, when contradictions led to social explosion that destroyed outdated and unjustified theories and models of development, the elites, while remaining convinced of the progressiveness and superiority of Western civilization, imported new theories and ideas that the West produced as if on an assembly line.
In China and Russia, the subsequent rejecting of the Western ideas, including democracy, liberalism, social democracy and traditional Marxism, came to its final stage at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries.
In Russia, the hybrid system created by crossbreading of Western Marxism and Russian civilization, — for example, the original Russian system of local Soviets (Councils) with the system of Western parliamentary democracy, its direct election of deputies to Parliament on a party basis, or the subordination of Russian traditional communal system of ownership, production, local administration and governance to the class theory of dictatorship of proletariat that led to the subsequent concentration of power in the hands of the communist party bureaucracy that ruled on behalf of the proletariat and established dictatorship of the communist bureaucracy and special services, — began to be rejected from the end of the 1940s, when Stalin, not seeing the future, not understanding where the USSR was going , demanded «creation of a new theory», «development of ideology» and stated that «without new theory we will be dead.»
In the early 1980s, that realization of the failure of the hybrid system created in the USSR was reflected in the article by Yuri Andropov, who came to power in 1982, and who wrote words that expressed the ideological confusion of that time: “We do not know what we have built and in what society we live».
In the mid-1980s, after Gorbachev came to power, the Russian communist elite, degraded by and with the degradation of that hybrid system, stopped trying to create new version of Marxism and decided to abandon Marxism and destroy the USSR.
It was the Russian fraction of the Soviet communist elite, with the ease and readiness inherent in the Russian mentality to take losses, to throw away and get rid of unnecessary, old and dilapidated, that led to the collapse of the USSR. That part of elite didn’t want to bear responsibility and burden of supporting other republics and other nations. The «Soviet communist» bureaucracy that had lost its roots in the Russian civilization, but did not acquire the ability of Western democracy to compete within the framework of laws and regulations, that enthusiastically exchanged communist ideals for the opportunity to privatize people’s wealth and state property and turned the republics of the USSR into criminal «lawless fields».
In new Russia and in most other post-Soviet states, the ideological void was filled with veiled Western ideas of democracy, free trade and market, which in turn showed their failure to Russian elites at the end of the 20th century, when it became clear that the new pro-Western model of modern financial global capitalism was producing in Russian civilization, not so much good and wealth as corruption, lawlessness, crime, boundless dependence on state power and bureaucracy. Such a system was unable to survive. It was then that the first attempts by the Russian elite to find their own new ideology began.
China watched the events in Russia and the West and, with slowness and attention to detail that are characteristic of Chinese civilization, acted rationally, avoiding its own collapse. China has concentrated on economic development, preserving existing foundation of the socialist system based on state ownership while developing other economic forms that have proven its effectiveness in practice at particular time and in particular spheres and industries. Marxism has become the Red banner neatly placed on stage, the portraits and busts of the founders of Marxism and the leaders of the Communist Party, and behind all that Beijing used new rational approach to solving problems in politics and economics.
In Russia, attempts to find new ideology seemed at first, an empty undertaking. The theories of “sovereign democracy”, “democratic sovereignty”, “deep conservatism” and similar ideological “miscarriages” put forward by the Kremlin amateur theorists and professional manipulators, did not take root and were not taken seriously by anyone. With disappointment, the elite was forced to admit that it failed to create new theory of Russian sovereign social development. As Putin once put it, “there was no Russian Mahatma Gandhi” in the Kremlin or nearby …
However, life in Russia and the world did not stop. Vladimir Putin inherited a rotten country that lost its bearings and turned into “outlaw field” after ten years of criminal lawlessness, bloody internal wars and division of wealth created in previous eras, battles for land, natural resources and most importantly, for power.
From 1991 to 1998, in Russia in criminal fights and battles, according to official data from the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, on average, 36 thousand young men died annually, three times more than the Soviet army had lost in 10 years of the war in Afghanistan… That was the number of those who were recognized as killed in battles between gangs, and there were also internal wars, political squabbles and purges, disappearances, professional assassinations and murders for political reasons that were not included in the reports of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs…
Problems grew, crises were replaced by periods of development that quickly ended up in crises. The elites split into clans that seized «profit lawns», industries, property, markets, state structures and services, banks, flows and streams of taxes and state budget. The clans fought with clans, criminal gangs with criminal groups, political parties and groups fought in between for everything and constantly…
The ideological field was also transformed into «outlaw field» and sometimes looked like a dead garbage dump. What seemed right and advanced turned out to be mistake and had no perspective, incapable of development. What seemed weak and unreliable suddenly matured and began to work. Authorities, including Western advisers, spoke and wrote what they once learned or heard and borrowed, while reality showed otherwise.
At the same time, it turned out that the Western ideas of democracy, liberalism and the capitalist markets could not offer anything in return for the communist ideals, ethics and images of the future thrown out together with Marxism. Deprived of moral support and ideals, the peoples on the territory of the former USSR turned to lawlessness, to religions and to nationalism.
It was in those years that the heyday of nationalism began, which was the only ideology that cemented the new independent states that never existed before and appeared after the collapse of the USSR. The ideas brought into Russia by the West, were useless to elites that were mired in corruption, dividing the Soviet wealth.
Throughout the history of the USSR, most of the republics existed and developed at the expense of donor assistance from Moscow. Of the fifteen Soviet republics, only two were donors — the Russian Federation and Belarus, the rest, including Ukraine that enjoyed the highest living standard in Soviet times and was downgraded as one of the poorest after 30 years of independence, existed and developed on subsidies from the state budget of the USSR.
The emerging nationalism of the former republics of the USSR separated them from Russia, slowly but steadily turning them into the enemy belt encircling Russia. However, nationalism turned out to be dangerous disease to Russia itself that comprised of a hundred of nations and nationalities. It was necessary for the Kremlin to get out of the crisis of interethnic relations, and it had to be done quickly, using military force and special services, when it was difficult to find another way out.
Without a theory, without understanding where to go, what may result in development and what will come to dead end and die anyway, it was difficult for Putin to make political decisions, choose paths, determine who should be supported and who should be sacrificed.
Life took care of decisions itself. Clans decided their fate in struggle and battles with each other.
In that situation, Putin chose the role of an arbitrator, someone who was above the fight, who allowed everyone to move and fight with everyone. He gave others responsibility for their own future.
The task of the head of state — the arbitrator, was to observe what was happening without interfering and wait for the moment when it would be possible to understand whom to support, who could bring benefit to the state. It was necessary to directly intervene only when the fundamental interests of the Kremlin and Russian state demanded definite action. And, the interests of the state and the benefits to society were determined by the Center of Power, the arbitrator himself.
Putin relied on his clan, small team of those he knew, trusted and controlled. He and his clan formulated several principles that were to be strictly observed in Putin’s Russia, such as: «Do what you want, but don’t create a problem for the Kremlin.» There were also more rigid and cruel principles. Those who violated these principles were severely punished.
Surprisingly, believing that it has not yet been possible to create a new ideology in Russia, that there is no one to create an ideology, Putin and his inner circle developed new ideology themselves, exactly the one that turned out to be working quite effectively in huge and rotten country, fragmented by clans and growing nationalism, mired in corruption, the country that had just survived the criminal revolution and civil war of the 1990s.
This ideology also turned out to be quite effective in the period of growing chaos in world relations, in times of elites degradation, when Western ideas turned into fetishes and dogmas that were rejected by the peoples of Russia, the peoples of the former USSR and the third world.
Rationalism became the ideology that subordinated to the interests of the Power Center of the State system — the Moscow Kremlin.
The ideology of Rationalism presupposes support of existing groups, forces, projects that have already proven their ability to bring guaranteed or highly probable result sought by the Center of Power.
The ideology of Rationalism requires rejection of any action that does not guarantee desired results and consequences. Rationalism requires waiting, restraint and caution in case of ambiguity or uncertainty, excludes adoption of any hasty decisions and actions, including those that may bring negative or unknown consequences. It is better to do nothing than to shoot aiming at enemies, but risking of hitting yourself.
The ideology of Rationalism requires long and quiet study of options and plans for solving problems and involves careful preparation of all possible options and consideration of consequences.
The ideology of Rationalism requires slowness, secrecy and silence until the moment when it is possible and necessary to show result already obtained.
The ideology of Rationalism makes it possible to avoid as much as possible ideological errors, taking actions to achieve impossible or unnecessary, unviable. Rationalism minimizes efforts, losses and avoids risks.
Since 2000, rationalism as state ideology has allowed the Kremlin to focus on real interests, achievable goals and results and to begin slow recovery of Russia in the interests of, first of all, the ruling clan and the clans of “associates”. It allowed subsequent growth in the well-being of the population that returned stability to the state and society. Rationalism allowed quiet and efficient revival of the military-industrial complex that subsequently allowed Russia to regain its position as one of the world leaders.
However, as it turned out, rationalism as state ideology also has negative sides, carries negative potential that under certain conditions can bring unacceptable damage.
First, rationalism does not guarantee protection from making erroneous decisions and mistakes. Decisions made from the positions of rationalism depend almost entirely on information received, on sources of information and system for selecting, supplying and admitting information to the Center of Power. Limitation, interference or incorrect selection of information leads to taking erroneous decisions.
Secondly, decision-making appears to be subordinated to and limited by the interests of the clan that is in power and the clans that comprise, in Putin’s words, “circle of associates”. Interests of the majority of population being left beyond attention of the Center until there is a clear threat of social or political indignation. Thus, a vast field of social and economic tensions is created outside the zone of close control by the Center of Power.
Rationalism limits zone of effective operations within the state administration system, subordinating the entire system to «manual control» from the Center, including judicial, legislative, economic, information and local administration branches of State governance.
Rationalism is subordinated to the interests of the Center of Power and is concentrated on the interests of the ruling clan. Rationalism is limited by mental and intellectual qualities of the leader, of arbiter, and his close circle, by their abilities to receive information, assess emerging situations and ongoing processes, perceive and correctly respond to ideas, including those that open up broad prospects. The appointment of successor can become very difficult problem and create crisis in the state system.
Rationalism severely limits ability of the Center to properly respond to ideas that offer non-standard solutions and actions.
Rationalism practically excludes vision of far distant future, limiting to short-term and to medium-term perspectives. It sharply reduces information and propaganda opportunities, assigns secondary roles to education, as well as culture, morale, art, creativity, putting them in subordinate positions.
Rationalism shows least effectiveness in the times of stability and prosperity. Rationalism as state ideology demonstrates its effectiveness in times of conflict, tensions, unrest and external threats.
This explains the fact that many Russian people consider Putin as indecisive, constantly late in taking decisions, too soft and even weak as a leader. When there are threats to Russia and tough decisions are being made in the Kremlin aimed at protecting Russia’s interests, the popular support for Putin in Russia rises sharply.
Back to the Future
At the St. Petersburg World Economic Forum, Vladimir Putin was followed by the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who spoke very openly on major international issues and problems, including on war in Ukraine. Speaking about contradictions between the right of nations to self-determination and the principle of inviolability of state borders, Tokayev said that Kazakhstan stands for the principle of inviolability of borders, and therefore cannot recognize the independence of “quasi-states in the Donbass.”
He said this in the presence of Putin and leaders and representatives of these very pro-Russian “quasi-states”, the Donetsk Peoples Republic and Lugansk Peoples Republic. For most of those present, this was very unexpected and shocking statement, but not for Putin.
Photo: Vladimir Putin and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in St. Petersburg, 17 June 2022
In fact, there was nothing surprising in that statement. On the one hand, Kazakhstan seeks not to violate the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia in order to avoid unnecessary confrontation with the West. On the other hand, Kazakhstan helps Russia to resist the Western sanctions and overcome consequences of sanctions pressure. The trade turnover between Russia and Kazakhstan since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine has increased by 40%, and is increasing furthermore, and Tokayev does not seek to irritate and provoke the West for no reason, realizing that these “quasi-states” will exist for a few months only and will be integrated into the Russian Federation following the results of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.
Rationalism has taken its place not only in Russia, but also in other countries of the former USSR, displacing nationalism that has become the dominant ideology in Ukraine.
Leaders in the countries of the former Soviet Union understand that nationalism poses outright threat not only to ethnic Russians in their countries, but also to Russia as the center of the resurgent civilization. Relying on nationalism as an ideological basis inevitably leads to transformation of countries into «anti-Russia», into «second Ukraine».
Tokayev, like most other leaders, does not want Kazakhstan to follow the path of Ukraine. He adopted rationalism as state ideology, squeezing nationalism of the Kazakhs that has grown during Nazarbayev’s rule. He does not need Ukrainianization of Kazakhstan.
In the photo: Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, young Soviet diplomat, at the USSR Embassy in Singapore, 1976
Tokayev understands that rationalism has to be accepted as state ideology throughout the post-Soviet space and that at present, there is no alternative to rationalism in political and economic affairs, that rationalism has to remain as state ideology of post-Soviet states until a new ideology appears and is accepted by the Kremlin, followed by Moscow’s allies and “associates” that have to comprise new «Russian» macro-region.
However, the words of the President of Kazakhstan about non-recognition of the pro-Russian republics of Donbass were not the most significant part of his speech in St. Petersburg. From my point of view, the most important was Tokayev ‘s designation of possible boundaries of the civilizational macro-region that was once called «the Russian world”, and I am sure that the borders he named were also agreed with Putin…
(To be continued)
Valery Morozov, 27.06.2022