The Ideology of Russia's Rulers in 1995: Westernizers and Eurasians

By Bilenkin, Vladimir | Monthly Review, October 1995 | Go to article overview

The Ideology of Russia's Rulers in 1995: Westernizers and Eurasians


Bilenkin, Vladimir, Monthly Review


I

As Trotsky predicted in his analysis of Soviet society sixty years ago, the rejection of a planned economy has indeed resulted in profound economic and social regression on the territory of the former Soviet Union. The theoretical power of classical Marxism has been reconfirmed at a bitter price. While remaining a nuclear superpower, Russia has been rapidly sliding into the social, economic, and cultural pattern of a Third World country. To name just the most important aspects of this process:

- In the economy: the deindustrialization and the reorientation of the national economy toward a model largely based on the export of raw materials and import of manufactured products and food, and a growing dependence on foreign capital and its international institutions.

- In the social and political structure: an immense disparity in the distribution of wealth, with the majority of the population living in poverty, and the division of the dominant structure of Russian society into comprador and nationalist sectors.

This latter division has produced two competing political-cultural formations, usually referred to as "democratic" and "nationalist." Their respective ideological cores can be identified as "Westernism" and "Eurasianism," since the beliefs of both ideologies are articulated and legitimized through a contrasting interpretation of Russia's historical identified as "Westernism" and "Eurasianism," since the beliefs of both ideologies are articulated and legitimized through a contrasting interpretation of Russia's historical identity and its place within the international world order. The following is a very broad critique of these ideologies and some cultural practices imposed by them, with a focus on the relation between the national and global levels of their projections.

Westernism and Eurasianism have not appeared out of the blue. Since the 1970s they have been quietly cultivated within the scholarly and literary communities closely linked to the different cliques in the party and state bureaucracies, under the close but far from hostile surveillance of the ideological departments of the CPSU and KGB. In those circles Marxist thought had become "unfashionable" long before it was officially pronounced "dead" by the former obkom secretaries [regional party bureaucrats] and literary party hacks. Since then Marxism, as the potential practical answer to both the catastrophic social reality and the ideologies such a reality generates and is reproduced by, has been driven from all positions of power and entirely abandoned and denied by the privileged intelligentsia. It may well persist broadly and deeply as the past and future enemy of the ideologies discussed below, but has no powerful organized voice today.

II

The main tenets of Russian Westernism can be summarized as follows:

- The Russian Revolution and the Soviet period were an historical aberration from the "normal" path of universal history that has its end in liberal capitalism and its institutions as they exist in the West. Hence the strategic goal is to return Russia to the "civilized family of nations," hopefully as a partner of its northern centers of power.

- In their political economy and social theory, the Westernizers have gone back to Adam Smith and his conception of the self-regulating civil society, the macroeconomics of the Chicago School, and, on the extreme right, to the ideas of social Darwinism. Competition and self-interest are celebrated as "natural" or "normal" (the catchwords of Russian neoliberalism) motives of social behavior that eventually benefit society as a whole. And democracy is held to be unthinkable without the dominance of the free market and private property.

In short, Russian Westernism is a vulgar reiteration of the core premises of the social philosophy that in the 1980s inspired the so-called neoconservative "revolution" in the West. In Russia, its primary function has been to provide ideological legitimation and rationalization for the first stage of capitalist restoration ("primary accumulation") and the formation of a bourgeois society with its two protagonists: capital and labor. …

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