The Third ‘Bloc’ That Never Happened: Tito and the Non-Aligned Movement

The idea of socialism outside of the Eastern Bloc has surfaced multiple times in history, perhaps most famously among the communist left, and later the followers of Mao Tse-tung or, to a lesser extent, Che Guevara. It will have undoubtedly intrigued many intellectuals and revolutionaries since the birth of the USSR, one of whom I will focus on in particular…

Josip Broz Tito, the Croatian-born leader of Yugoslavia did something both extraordinary and also somewhat reckless, which, I’ve decided, shall be the subject of this entry: he led the first state in Eastern Europe, then in the grip of Soviet influence, to become ‘socialist, but independent’.

Josip Broz Tito

What relevance does this have? Well, April is the month which, twenty-three years ago, saw the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On April 28th, 1992, Serbia (the last of the Yugoslav republics) became an independent nation, serving as the final nail in the coffin for the great communist federation of South-eastern Europe. This was a country fundamentally different to many others: it was among the first to have been liberated by the Red Army, yet to reject the USSR, and operated under the system that could have been described as ‘council communism’, where worker’s councils and unions would provide the basis for socialist transformation, which could be seen in contrast to that of the Soviet Union.

Yet equally interesting are the social and political ideas of international socialism Marshall Tito upheld, for he was an active member, and later leader, of the Non-Aligned movement. This is an ongoing organisation representing the interests of developing countries, with the founding aim of ‘opposing imperialism and neo-colonialism, especially from western domination.’ Such an idea was most apparent in the Cold War’s polarisation of political identities, with the desire to create an ‘independent pathway’ for these states so that they would adhere to neither the USA nor the USSR.

I’ll say this now: this entry is not an opinionated one; I won’t go into depth about my personal views on the subject or on the political views of Tito generally. Rather, I’m writing discuss this idea of an ‘independent pathway’, and its relevance to both communism and capitalism respectively.

The Movement's Member States

The Movement’s Member States

Coming back to the Cold War, it couldn’t have been a more interesting time to consider a third power arising in the world, combatting both the Eastern and Western Blocs with a newly-developed idea of proletarian internationalism. It would also provide an opportunity to oppose what could have been perceived as Soviet imperialism (a particular criticism which did gain a degree of popularity) whilst remaining true to the principles of communism. In other words, you would no longer have to bear the label of ‘Soviet sympathiser’ to consider yourself a communist.

In the latter half of the previous century, however, history seems to have had other ideas. The two ‘Blocs’, the great realms of power split Europe down the middle similarly to how the Triple Entente once calved Imperial Germany and its neighbours out of the rest of the continent, only such a division was far clearer easily distinguishable now that it adopted political connotations. Yet it was surely obvious that such a scenario, this is to say Europe’s division into a communist east and a capitalist west, could never have been a permanent situation, making the arisal of a third power bloc perfectly possible. Why then, in a climate of hate and tension, when a third way was definitely on the cards, didn’t this new union form?

I’ve been thinking, and here are the reasons I’ve managed to come up with:

Five Reasons as to Why the ‘Third Bloc’ Never Arose

  1. A lack of information of Marxist philosophy or communism as a political theory within these countries (especially in the less-well-developed nations).
  1. A lack of the necessary conditions for communist revolution due to the existence of less-advanced methods of production.
  1. The development of a view picturing both west and east alike as ‘similarly evil’ threats to these nations and cultures, without adequate consideration of the political climate, and thus the demand for the national sovereignty against the two powers compromising proletarian revolution.
  1. The division of these nations by the two powers, directing them against each other and against the respective power blocs, as the west and the east’s sphere of influence adapts the political climate of these countries to their immediate needs, an example of which would the United Kingdom’s influence over the former British colonies.
  1. The tendency of the division separating the capitalist and the communist world to polarise political thought worldwide, rendering the construction of a third power increasingly difficult.

While we’re at it, we may as well look at the collapse of communism in the Eastern Bloc as well:

Five Reasons as to Why the Eastern Bloc Fragmented

  1. The development of nuclear weapons west of the division, and thus the rising possibility that a war may result in apocalyptic outcomes, preventing the socialist states from military advancement.
  1. The general lack of evidence pointing to an improvement in the economic circumstances within the communist world, causing a lack of faith and enthusiasm for communist lifestyle and the idea of reaching ‘true communism’.
  1. The decline of ideological stability among the populace as what have been recognised as capitalist principles, e.g. corruption and inequality, became apparent in communist regimes.
  1. The development of western capitalism to a stage regarded as acceptable by many of the would-be exploited in the west, internally strengthening capitalist society and removing the strong base of proletarian support the socialist states could have relied upon for revolution, or at least sympathy, within these countries.
  1. The struggle for the stagnating autocratic regimes to maintain power over the populations of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the face of modernisation, coupled with the weakening of their authority in general.

I’ll finish with this thought: Tito is long dead, and Yugoslavia dissolved over two decades ago. Yet if such hadn’t happened, that is to say, if the political climate was such that the new state was able to arise, who knows what the result would be. Perhaps the proletariat of these nations would line up under Tito’s leadership, against the troops of the USA, the USSR, Great Britain, the People’s Republic of Poland, France and Hungary; perhaps the task of revolution would entail a struggle against not only the capitalist, but also the communist world.

It’s ironic, when you think about it, and fairly shameful for both sides of the Berlin Wall. Just imagine how Stalin, the man who is quoted to have said ‘I will shake my little finger and there will be no more Tito!’ would have reacted.

The Commercialisation of Communism

Best part about them: Made in China

Best part about them: Made in China

East German Postcard One

Cuban Revolution T-shirt

East German Postcard Three

Since everything I’ve posted so far is fairly dense, I thought I’d post something slightly more light-hearted. It would make a perfect opportunity, I’ve decided, to address an issue that’s been on my mind lately: if communism exists to dismantle the capitalist mode of production, and tear down every corporate empire on the face of the earth, then when and why has communist imagery found its way into the market?

The jokes surrounding Che Guevara T-shirts are an example of the extent to which this is happening, yet the printing and selling of these T-shirts, whilst perhaps so, well, blatantly wrong to have attracted attention, is not the only example. The market today is full of these products, from Commie Mints to Maoist messenger bags, and they’re not always where you’d expect. Whilst the postcards shown above were bought from the DDR Museum in Berlin, the T-shirt came from a village market in the south of France, the mints from a branch of the sweet shop Candy Hero.

The deliberate commercialisation of such icons is actually just the start, for images such as the red star have been sold in a subtler way, probably without deliberately selling the communist associations it has. It just goes to show the variety of meanings these images can posses, all depending on the person viewing them: even to the extent at which it becomes a corporate branding technique and an icon used by anti-corporatist revolutionaries.

San Pellegrino Bottle

Yet what really puzzles me is how the capitalist world can endorse communist imagery in such a way. Yes, it’s joked about, but not in a way that seems nearly sufficient given what the industry is actually doing. It also seems as if, by promoting the ideas of revolution, even in the shallowest sense possible, the capitalists are advertising the struggle against capitalism itself, yet I think the manufacturers (who would probably rather view themselves as someone simply building their own business and making a living, rather than a link in the global capitalist network) are probably too short-sighted to care.

In any case, I certainly believe that whoever has managed to pull this off deserves a reward. Nothing in the communist world, not even the Stalinist regime of terror and political repression, claiming to act in the interests of socialism – and thus humanity – has managed to get away with such blatant irony. Those behind the manufacturing of these products have exemplified something fascinating: they have clearly demonstrated capitalism’s remarkable ability to sell you absolutely anything, even the face of its greatest opposition.

The photo featuring the San Pellegrino bottle was provided by Фёдор Гусляров of Wikimedia Commons. Below is a link to the photo (first) and its license (second):

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SanPellegrinoBottle.jpg

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en

Islamic State From a Worldwide Perspective

In recent years fresh terror has arisen in the Middle East, as one of the most brutal organisations on the planet occupies vast areas in both Iraq and Syria. During 2014, recordings showing the decapitations of western journalists and reports highlighting the brutal treatment of local enemies began to stir tensions in the west. Now, as a great chunk of northern Syria and Iraq has fallen under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the organisation, such tensions are higher than ever.

Islamic State (IS), also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic Caliphate, formed in 1999, and shares its roots with the infamous al-Qaeda. Since then, the organisation has committed many despicable acts, both to locals and to foreigners. The decapitation of western journalists is one example, along with the fact that, according to the Moscow Times, the group has openly declared war on the United States and, in a video depicting a member sat in a military aircraft, threatened Russian president Vladimir Putin. The United States and Russia have had a bitter relationship for over half a century, and even after the end of the Cold War diplomatic relations are precarious, especially with the current crisis in the Ukraine. Islamic State, however, has taken the side of neither: they’ve even gone as far as to threaten both.

What does this say about the organisation’s politics? Well, we can determine one thing: the fact that they’ll always take their own side highlights both the incompatibility of their ideology with the political systems of the world’s powers, and for that matter, the rest of the world. No national military will fight alongside their armies, and yet Islamic State continues to commit despicable acts independent of any other regime.

The haunting flag of this 'rouge terror'

The haunting flag of this ‘rouge terror’

Because of the inhumane brutality employed by the organisation, their lack of any real justification for their actions, and their continuing hostility towards the rest of the world, this is an issue on which I feel the different powers of the world must put aside their differences to combat. Left and right, east or west, all states can share a common viewpoint on the organisation, and thus should all work to secure the safety of innocent civilians in Iraq, Syria, and the bordering states, alongside that of whoever Islamic State may threaten in their own countries.

I’ve made my point clear, but I’ll conclude the entry by addressing the leftists specifically: I feel that it’s essential to understand Islamic State in order to develop a rational answer as to how one should approach the issue, and so it must be made clear that the organisation is certainly not a socialist one, nor one fighting merely for justice or populism. This would seem obvious, but I imagine it would be easy for one to fall into the trap of believing that I.S. militants, existing in an area with a history of atrocities committed by multiple powers in the world (take the recent war in Iraq, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for examples), and one which exists within borders drawn up by the western world, are actually combatting imperialism.

It is definitely true that the area is subject to ongoing foreign mistreatment, including acts that could be considered disgraceful, and the fact remains that Islamic State exists as a militant organisation which opposes those who have treated the citizens of the region in such a way. This alone, however, does not mean that they fight to prevent these acts from being committed. It is essential to remember that amongst the beheadings of journalists, they have terrorised the local population in a similar way. To give an example, the BBC News’s website states that an activist claims they have abducted up to 285 Christians who were seized in the Hassakeh province in Syria, with reports initially placing the number at 90. The website also states that ‘some local 1,000 Assyrian families are believed to have fled their homes in the wake of the abductions.’  Even if other religions are taken out of the picture, their own religion and thus their central ideology (surely a community among which they would find solidarity) condemns Islamic State, showing that they have no true ideological ground to occupy, and certainly no justification for their actions.

This is the reason why this debate is not a political one; there is only a moral and an immoral side. It is an issue in which all sensible individuals, no matter where they stand on the majority of political issues, should chose the moral decision. Thus, discussing the question of Islamic State militarism, communists should come to the same conclusion as their capitalist opponents. It by no means requires an alliance with or respect for the capitalist world, rather the simple recogniton that this is an issue which everyone, from both political extremes, should be able to agree on. Military intervention, on behalf of all those Islamic State threatens, should seem the obvious conclusion.

Mao, Xi, and the Worst of Both Worlds

Thursday marked the Chinese New Year, and the beginning of the year 4713, making this an appropriate time to reflect on history and tradition, and a suitable(ish) time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for a while; the politics and the economy of modern China.

The country, being the world’s most heavily populated, is home to one of the largest armies, an ever-expanding economy, and a haven of science and technology. Nowerdays, it’s even become fashionable to argue that China will soon overtake the United States in terms of power and world influence. Yet there is another side to the country, this being the political philosophy that drives its leaders: communism.

So, if it’s actually the case that China is not only experiencing great economic and military prosperity but has managed to achieve such through the means of a communist economy, is China not a perfect example of a utopian socialist society?

If you’ve been reading my comments on China in previous entries, you’ll know that the answer is, in my opinion, no. Finally, I have the oppertunity to explain why…

To start with, let’s look to the Chinese revolution, an act that would transform the country and the world, changing the shape of East Asia dramatically. The second independent communist state followed a similar path to Russia, its northerly neighbour: First the monarchy was overthrown by popular revolt (the Boxer Rebellion, or, in Russia’s case, the February Revolution), then the bourgeois by communist takeover (the Revolution of 1949, or the October Revolution) all with the help of an invasion from another imperialist country (Japan, or Germany) in the midst of an international war (World War Two, or World War One). Soon after, strict economic policies (the Great Leap Forward, or the Five Year Plans) were to be introduced, which would transform the economically-backward peasant nations into giant industrial powers, at the cost of millions of lives. After the result was achieved and the chaos healed, relaxations in the policy followed, (the thaw under Deng Xiaoping or Nikita Khrushchev), and the two nations progressed respectively from then onwards. One major difference exists between Sino and Soviet communism, however: the latter collapsed whilst the former did not.

As I stated in my last entry, the period of thaw under Khrushchev gradually saw the withering away of the socialist state, setting the Soviet Union on a one-way road to its eventual dissolution. Strict economic regulations appeared to thaw after Mao’s death, too, yet these reforms didn’t lead the state to its downfall, only to the adoption of very relaxed, market-orientated policies, allowing China to succumb to what can only be described as ‘sort-of socialism’. In other words, unlike the USSR, which collapsed honestly, openly rejecting the philosophy it was founded upon, communist China retained its superficial character whilst the regime suffered internal destruction. To understand what this actually means for the Chinese people, we must examine conditions in China today, sixty-six years after the People’s Republic of China was declared, under the leadership of Xi Jinping…

The initial problem ‘sort-of socialism’ presents in the case of China is the fact that the socialist state is really nothing but an emerging capitalist one. Today, China is home to HSBC, Sinopec Limited, and many other brands, corporations and features we would regard as a central or vital aspect of the capitalist world. Whilst ‘Made in China’ may remain printed on the majority of everyday accessories, ‘Designed in China’ is becoming an equally suitable one. It’s evident that, from what Xiaoping referred to as ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’, corporate empires have emerged, and thus the Chinese bourgeois, a class to whose elimination Mao dedicated his life, have been reborn.

It’s not only the owners of production, however, that profit from the situation, for China has a severe problem in deciding who, as a nation, it works for – the liberal, capitalist west may frown upon their record of human rights abuses, yet it’s this region of the world which exploits the labourers of nations such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and, unfortunately, China too; many workers produce iPads, iPhones, and iPods for little wages and long hours, under a government claiming the moral stance when it comes to justice for the proletariat, and a merciless stance when it comes to capitalist exploitation. In the country whose underdogs fought a bloody war to have their voices heard in the name of communism, children toil in factories which have begun the process of installing giant nets outside the buildings to prevent successful suicide attempts, and in which workers are paid $1.50 per hour.

The Clean Room of the Seagate Factory, Wuxi, China

Astonishingly, the aspect of the Chinese society which still exists according to socialist principles, the communist leadership, simply allows both atrocities to occur. The Chinese Communist Party is perfectly capable of writing these wrongs; if he chose to, I’m completely confident that Xi Jingping could rid his nation of the such oppression, and ensure that no factory worker was ever subject to the demands of international ones again. If they were truly devoted to the cause, I don’t doubt that the party could even ensure a consistent, sufficient income for even the hardest-hit labourers.

Perhaps the thorough transformation of the Chinese economy akin to that of the Great Leap Forward would not be possible, or not without another several million deaths for the authors of the Black Book of Communism, and all their sympathetic readers to wave in the face of Karl Marx and all his. After all, modern-day China has evolved this way, and their system of governance has moulded as a capitalist one, and therefore I’d argue that communism could no longer be reached without proletarian revolution. However, if the CCP wished to eliminate child labour of any sorts, or to ensure justice for the workers who toil in the factories producing products to be sold globally, I’m confident that this would happen. Businesses would lose out in this scenario; China’s economy may shrink; the western corporations (whom the Communist Party undoubtedly claim to despise in the first place) would lose a chunk of their colonial overseas supply of workers, yet China could try and occupy a marginally-better position on the international scale of morality.

We must keep in mind remember that Mao Tse-Tung, or Chairman Mao fought long and civil war, introducing ruthless policies to combat counter-revolutionaries, and revolutionised the Chinese economy for a reason. I do not necessarily support such actions, and nor do I defending them, but if Mao was alive today, I’d be intrigued to see what he thought of modern-day PRC. Would he tolerate the exploitation currently in existence? Frankly, I can’t imagine him doing so. I’d like to that that if nothing else, under Mao, the achievement of a proletarian dictatorship would have been wholeheartedly attempted.

Mao Tse-Tung Portrait

Yet, as many critisize Mao as authoritarian, it’s important not to be deceived by the idea of a thawing China, for whilst Mao’s legacy may have come to an end, authoritarianism, or perhaps even totalitarianism, has certainly not. The period of thaw consisted of an ever-expanding economy’s construction, or, in other words, the destruction of the socialist one Mao tried to achieve during the Great Leap Forward, yet politically, China remains a highly-censored and autocratic state. You only have to take a look at the persecution of those who practice Falun-Gong (a form of yoga) – something that would appear entirely unrelated to communism, capitalism, or any issue which may concern the CPC -, to be sure of the degree to which the Chinese people are tyrannised.

This is the reason as to why I believe the People’s Republic of China is an embarrassment to socialism: it appears that the climate has been altered in one major way since Mao’s leadership. That is to say that on the issue of achieving a true, communist society, the state appears to have given up trying, leaving a country in which only the red flag, the party logo, and the second ‘C’ in the party’s name indicate a socialist society. Despite this, however, it is clear that the autocratic bureaucracy has not shifted with the economic climate, leaving nothing more than an authoritarian and tyrannical state which, whilst claiming a party name so untrue it would almost appear sarcastic, governs a country under the shackles of the new bourgeois, leaving China with the worst of both worlds. Top put this into context, In Russia, ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ soon gave way to regular dictatorship. In China, on the other hand, the former has managed to transform itself into ‘Dictatorship of the Bureaucrats and Those who Happened to Benefit From Various Relaxations of Economic Policies, Partially Responsible (Alongside Foreign Exploitation Which the State Appears to Condone) for the Exploitation of the Chinese Workers.

So there you have it. ‘Sort-of socialism’ is simply capitalism under the existance of an autocratic regime. No matter how hard they try, the Chinese Communist Party cannot justify their actions, or not, at least, in the name of communism. China’s political history, from Mao Tse-Tung to Xi Jinping is a history of injustice, tyranny and, despite the great industrial and technological advancements the country has made, failure.

The photograph depicting factory labourers was provided by Robert Scoble from Wikimedia Commons. Below is a link for the photograph (first) and its licence (second):

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

If it Wasn’t for Yeltsin…

Today, (Friday 13th February) according to HISTORYNET (http://www.historynet.com/today-in-history) was the day that Konstantin Chernenko, the second-to-last Soviet leader was selected as the successor of Yuri Andropov, as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, in the year of 1984. To mark the thirty-first anniversary of this date, I thought that rather than focussing on a particular news story I’d write about the past, specifically the last days of the USSR, making it an appropriate time to address an interesting question: what would have become of the USSR if it wasn’t for its 1991 dissolution?

Even after the events of Christmas Day 1991, communism, in the minds of many, hasn’t seemed to have departed. The current president is a former KGB agent, who referred to the Soviet Union’s collapse as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the century. Almost every city has a street named after Lenin, and whilst comparably insignificant to the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation remains strong and active.

In my opinion, the period of thaw under Khrushchev, whilst marking the height of the Cold War, paved the way for the collapse of communism. I’d see this as a result of (I’ll apologise in advance for any Stalinists) Stalin’s reign, which brought famine, terror and repression of a scale incomparable to that under Lenin, the Provisional Government, or tsarism. And given that this is Russia we’re talking about, a country with a long and bitter history of autocratic rule, it definitely says something. Whilst the dismantling of Stalinism did not directly result in what is recognised as the ‘Fall of Communism’ (which, given what Stalinism actually implemented, was likely for the better) I believe it left behind a regime which was naturally inclined to thaw after Stalin’s departure, eventually leading to its collapse.

Additionally, I believe communism is not only dead for the present; it’s remained dead for a significant period of time. The fall of the Soviet Union shortly led to a return of capitalism in its constituent states, proving that communism only survived in the area through the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and thus did so as an idea rather than an actuality. Even Yugoslavia, a country independent (both nationally and politically) of the USSR, fragmented shortly after its dissolution, leaving behind only a select handful of communist countries scattered around the globe.

The coloured states constituted what was recognised as the communist world at its height. Today, only a fraction of red states remain

The coloured states constituted what was recognised as the communist world at its height. Today, only a fraction of red states remain

But what if such hadn’t occurred? What if Gorbachev proved to be unsuccessful in the Soviet Union’s dissolution, say, if the 1991 coup d’état managed to achieve socialism’s preservation? Would there still be an Eastern Bloc, an Iron Curtain, and firm alliances binding the first and second world into militarist organisations? During the extra twenty-four years, would the communist world not have declined but expanded?
To give an answer rather less-dramatic than the question suggests it should be, I think not.

The way I see it, as I’ve already said, the Soviet Union had not seen socialism for a long while. The population may have caught a glimpse, in 1917, of where it may lie, but the efforts to reach it soon translated into bureaucracy, later totalitarianism. This resulted only in an illusion of socialism. In other words, if it weren’t for Boris Yeltsin’s government, I believe that any further efforts made by the Communist Party would be simply buying time. By the 1990’s, the once-so-tightly-enforced infrastructure had grown so fragile that protests and demonstration occurred in Latvia, the fears of the capitalist world so weak that Gorbachev was able to announce the policy of ‘Glasnost’, and still retain power. If a new leader had decided to repress these Latvian demonstrators, or to preserve the hostility with Western Europe, I can’t imagine the population tolerating it for long.

I’ve read that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation now promises Russia ‘Chinese socialism’, highlighting how desperate their situation really is.
In my entry on Cuba, I made it very clear what I believed Chinese socialism, alongside Vietnamese socialism to be: capitalism. If the leading communist movement in a country which was once the world’s first socialist state is resorting to watering down its philosophy in order to obtain votes, I don’t think I need persuading that communism has failed in Russia, and, in this particular format, is not likely to make a return anytime soon.

I conclude on this inglorious note by quoting a cropped version of the poem ‘Goodbye Our Red Flag’, from Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s book ‘Don’t Die Before You’re Dead’.

Goodbye our red flag.
You slipped down from the Kremlin roof
Not so proudly
Not so adroitly
As you climbed many years ago
On the destroyed Reichstag
Smoking like Hitler’s last fag.

Goodbye our red flag.
You were our brother and our enemy.
You were a soldier’s comrade in trenches,
You were the hope of all captive Europe,
But like a red curtain you concealed behind you the Gulag
Stuffed with frozen dead bodies.
Why did you do it, our red flag?

Goodbye our red flag.
Lie down.
Take a rest.
We will remember all the victims
Deceived by your sweet red murmur
That lured millions like sheep to the slaughterhouse.
But we will remember you
Because you too were no less deceived.
Goodbye our red flag.
Were you just a romantic rag?

Goodbye our red flag.
Pry open the fist
That imprisoned you
Trying to wave something red over Civil War
When scoundrels try to grab
Your standard again,
Or just desperate people,
Lining up for hope.
Goodbye our red flag.
You float into our dreams.
Now you are just a narrow stripe
In our Russian Tricolour.
In the innocent hands of whiteness,
In the innocent hands of blue
Maybe even your red colour
Can be washed free of blood.

Goodbye our red flag.
In our naïve childhood,
We played Red Army – White Army.
We were born in a country
That no longer exists.
But in that Atlantis we were alive.
We were loved.
You, our red flag, lay in a puddle
In a flea market.
Some hustlers sell you
For hard currency.
Dollars, Francs, Yen.

I didn’t take the Tsar’s Winter Palace.
I didn’t storm Hitler’s Reichstag.
I’m not what you call a “Commie.”
But I caress the red flag
And cry.

– Thanks to Yevtushenko

Russia, Crimea and Putin’s Intentions 

Have you ever considered the reasons behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

What drove Putin’s order for the annexation of Crimea?

Why did rebels in the east of the country attract Putin’s attention?

Why, when less than twenty-five years ago the Kremlin granted Ukraine its independence? Feel free to disagree, but I here’s how I view the situation: The old KGB agent Vladimir Putin is now the president of a once-revolutionarily-heroic, progressive and promising nation at a point when the country could be viewed as directionless. Putin enters the stage after the collapse of the hope communism once provided. Since 1991, though a great deal has probably improved, the country no longer even has a dream to hold onto.

I’ll be honest. When I began this entry, the title I had in mind was ‘Imperialism in the Russian Federation’. I was adamant that this entire issue was a matter of imperialist attitudes within ‘mother Russia’. However my viewpoint changed today, when I read an article titled ‘Ukraine and Crimea: what is Putin thinking?’ on ‘theguardian.com’ about an hour ago, explaining that ‘Some have seen Putin’s actions in the context of a post-imperial complex’, saying that ‘There may be a flicker of truth in this, but the reality is more complex, according to those familiar with the Kremlin’s decision-making over Crimea in recent weeks.’ This got me thinking…

I came to the view that, regardless of the purely ideological perspectives one may view these events from; regardless of whether or not they ought to be labelled as ‘imperialistic’, one thing can’t be denied: Putin needs Crimea for reasons outside the usual motives for occupation. The materialistic necessities for resources, the tactical necessities of territory to provide an advantage in battle, or perhaps the desire for the establishment of freedom or equality that drove the initial invasions of the Russian satellite states constituting the early Soviet Union – what could be seen as ‘usual’ motives for occupation, are not applicable to the situation.

It’s clear that a state of this size and capability does not require Ukrainian influence

What I can make from the events is this: Russia needs something to hold onto in the aftermath of communism. Alongside the desire to remind the west of their capabilities and their superiority, and a victory in Europe may provide a temporary solution to the air of dissatisfaction which has clouded the skies over Moscow since 1991. Obviously, without ever living in the country or having any real knowledge of the ideological perspectives within Russia, I can’t say for definite, but the obvious benefit of the ‘communist dream’s’ collapse seems to be the fall of the autocratic Communist Party. Since then, however, one autocratic regime has been replaced with another, yet I think it’s fair to say that the loss of an ideological dream has not been accounted for.

To provide a broader perspective on the situation, the article I’d previously mentioned mentions the internal events in Ukraine, and the fact that Russia’s influence on Ukraine was ceased by internal revolution, referring to one individual (Gleb Pavlovsky) who said that “Putin hates revolution, he’s a counter-revolutionary by nature.” In response to this, I’d say that obviously he wanted to re-establish his influence and did so by means of using and possibly assisting rebels (this is a matter open to debate), as well as annexing territory. I can’t comment on Putin’s own views on the concept of revolution, but I can say that I don’t believe the Russian influence in Ukraine is truly necessary to Putin, and that the measures he took to secure it are, whilst a response to recent events, driven by internal desperation.

This is the conclusion I’ve come to: In a Russia devoid of the hope socialism provided, but with a still-stormy relationship with the western powers, and the autocracy communism is so often blamed for preserved, Putin’s actions were rooted in his own desire to hold onto what he could. Thus, despite whether or not it was truly necessary in the long-term, his influence in that region was one he was not prepared to give up. I suppose, to see the truth (if we ever will), we’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out.

The Featured Image was provided by Kremlin.ru from Wikimedia Commons. Here is a link to the photograph’s licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en, and one to the photograph: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ceremony_signing_the_laws_on_admitting_Crimea_and_Sevastopol_to_the_Russian_Federation_1.jpg

Cuba: the World’s Last Attempt at Socialism

When the current thaw in U.S./Cuban relations made the news, it became clear that there were two sides to this debate. While many wanted to lift the embargo against the Cuban people, others undoubtedly wanted to starve the country’s autocratic regime. I opposed these sanctions, but for an entirely different reason: I wanted to preserve what may be the world’s last honest attempt at socialism.

On the opposite side of the globe, the Vietnamese Communist Party maintains firm leadership, yet what has truly become of Vietnam? A country, this is, where Coca-Cola is bought and sold as a consumer product – but it’s not alone. The changes which such a country has seen are comparable to those which have taken place in the People’s Republic of China, as within both China and Vietnam is a system driven and animated by force which seems to lie somewhere between communist pride and nationalism, and perhaps some petty statement of reaching ‘true socialism’ through the market economies they have constructed for themselves in socialism’s name. Given this is the world which the two nations have slipped into, will the current economic reforms concerning America’s embargo against Cuba have the same consequences?

Buildings in Shanghai

All I can say is that, given we’re awfully short of communist states, I hope not.

This will be a sensitive situation for many who lived under the repressive regime at the height of the Cold War, or even today, in a country where citizens have risked their lives to try and reach Florida, ninety miles away. The Black Book of Communism estimates that between 15, 000 and 17, 000 were killed under the regime, and (whatever the actual number) it’s hard to imagine many friends, relatives, or sympathisers of these victims supporting Barrack Obama’s decision to open the door to Cuba; I imagine they’d rather the United States continued to show no mercy and no remorse to the regime of what the Lawton Foundation of Human Rights called an ‘enslaved island’.

I’ll accept that, but despite all this, I still believe that socialism should be given a chance. Not an illusion of socialism, but a full-blooded attempt. If, as a result of welcoming the United States, Cuba substitutes its own attempt with an illusion, as has been the case with both China and Vietnam, which nations will remain to keep the red flag flying? Even if one took Marxist Economic Determinism – the theory of the proletariat inevitably leading the world to communism due to their own exploitation – for granted; even if one maintained the belief that communism is the final and inevitable truth, surely they’d accept that the sooner a nation such as Cuba may arrive at that truth, the sooner the same shall occur on a worldwide scale. If Cuba’s attempt, which may well be the last attempt remaining, is thwarted by these reforms, this cannot happen.

I also want to talk about not just what Cuba is capable of achieving, but what it has already achieved. When discussing communism with somebody opposed to the idea, they did remark that Cuba may be the only place where socialism has actually been partly successful. It is a country with free education, and not only free healthcare, but a healthcare system recognised internationally for its brilliance. According to the news source Al Jazeera, the infant mortality rate in the country is one of the lowest in the world, slightly lower than that of the United States, and life expectancy is over 77 years, (among the world’s highest).

View of Car in Havana

Now Al Jazeera also states that the system which exists in Cuba is on the decline, but if this is what the country have constructed from autocracy, and political repression, imagine what the socialist regime, if truly developed, could construct. Just because it is not at such a point currently does not mean that this shall continue to be the case, and it definitely deserves a chance. Thus, when the end product is the possibility of achieving true socialism, alongside the end of capitalist class-based oppression sooner, the current existence of the autocratic Cuban state can be justified in communism’s name.

Finally, it must not be forgotten that simply because the United States is no longer pretending Cuba doesn’t exist does not mean liberty will prosper. Whether or not you’d be prepared to support autocratic socialism is really irrelevant, because, whilst in one circumstance socialism shall exist and in another it will not, autocracy will remain regardless (at least for the foreseeable future). As Senator Marco Rubio, a Floridian Republican and a child of Cuban immigrants said: “This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people”.