Written by J. Trefz exclusively for SouthFront; Edited by Desislava Tzoneva
Today many or most Eastern Europeans buy into the western liberal narrative, which the Atlanticist bloc promotes to them. It is a narrative characterised by the idea of constant value-driven progress toward greater liberty and by Russophobia – casting Russia as the self-justifying antithesis of liberal progress. Narratives, ideologies or ethos rely on their own implicity, invisibility, congruence with facts, as well as on a sound economic foundation. When any of these start to break down, so does the worldview. What is the outlook for western liberalism, and what are the ramifications for Eastern Europe?
In the western liberal narrative, the US and its closest allies or vassals are depicted as beacons of liberty, progress and democracy, while Russia is cast as the diametric opposite, the source of all backwardness and evil in the Atlanticists’ ideological morality-play. Flaws, failings and crimes, which the Atlanticists are themselves guilty of, are projected onto Russia, like meddling in other countries’ internal affairs. Russia’s flaws are magnified, while equal or worse flaws among the Atlanticists are swept under the carpet. Never mind Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, renditions, Snowden and Assange’s revelations, unjustified police shootings, racial and religious profiling, probable cause, media oligopoly, a draconian student debt regime, support for Israeli apartheid, support for Saudi Arabia’s global proliferation of Wahhabism, not to mention support for regimes like Pinochet, Marcos and Suharto. The narrative goes that the US and its Atlanticist bloc at heart believe in human rights, liberty and democracy. All of their flaws and outrages pale in comparison to Russia’s brief incarceration of Pussy Riot.
The narrative of victimised Eastern European states escaping from totalitarian Russia into the embrace of the liberal democratic value-driven Atlanticist bloc is an enticing story. It is, however, with Brexit, the rise of Orban and Poland’s Law and Justice Party and the failure of Ukraine’s Atlanticist-orchestrated Maidan to produce anything but decline, starting to break down into a mess of cognitive dissonance. Cracks are starting to show in one of the pillars of the liberal self-defining narrative, congruence with fact.
Not that the cracks haven’t always been there. Classical Liberalism was the ideology of black slavery, Amerindian genocide and of Dickensian conditions for the masses. The only principles it has ever truly held are the liberty of a property owner to dispose with his property (originally human chattel) without restrictions being placed upon him by a monarch; that is, unrestricted capital accumulation. Universal suffrage, civil rights and social welfare provisions like universal education, health care and limited work hours came entirely from the disadvantaged organising, fighting, and often dying in opposition to pure liberalism. Occasionally, liberal regimes, even those governed by the conservative faction within liberalism, pre-emptively instituted social reforms to avoid a violent overthrow from organised disadvantaged groups.
In the early 20th Century, industrial society was still young and the most effective way to manage it was unclear, as it arguably still is. With liberal regimes mired in brutal colonial exploitation, the great depression, continued Dickensian conditions and the inter-imperial Great War, it was arguable whether Liberalism, Fascism or Marxism-Leninism came out on top in a cost-benefit analysis. One thing was clear: through systems of exploitation maintained from colonialism (even up to today) and through the wealth of the New World, Liberalism far outstripped its opponents in funds and resources. The USA particularly benefits from being a virgin, temperate, continental country with impeccable state security, surrounded by oceans and weak neighbours. Not to mention wealth it brings in from neo-colonial exploitation via, for example, the Monroe Doctrine. Thanks to all this, the USA always commanded far, far more resources than even the vast USSR. It used these resources to intervene in the Second World War once it was clear that their hoped-for Nazi annihilation of the USSR would not happen and to establish a liberal empire in Europe. This involved not only expending vast resources in Marshall Aid, but also building institutions like Bretton Woods, the BIS, IMF and World Bank and those that became the EU and NATO. These institutions, vast transfers of colonial and New World funds (particularly via Marshall Aid), cheap oil and a fortuitous population structure allowed for the establishment of generous social welfare states, necessary to avoid social unrest and the spread of communism. The narrative goes that sound liberal institutions produce wealth. Rather, liberal institutions are predicated wealth procured from a legacy of seizing markets and resources through brutal colonialism, slavery and genocide. Rich societies are able to divide such vast wealth in ways where various elites and the masses are all satisfied with their piece of the pie, creating a stable social consensus and relatively low levels of conflict and corruption. It also allowed for the development of more complex, nuanced and invisible methods of social control, particularly mass-media distraction and consumerism. This vast advantage in wealth also allowed the liberal order to out-compete the relatively resource-poor ‘Second World.’ Despite an elite which appropriated relatively little wealth for itself, the USSR did not have enough resources to easily simultaneously provide a stable social consensus, ensure state security, and design a nuanced, invisible regime of social control. With the end of the USSR, Russia has become more flexible in its ability to approach these questions, but its relative disadvantage in resources remains.
Therefore, even ignoring the rhetoric of value-driven liberal progress, at present, it is logical for Eastern European populations to support a turn to the liberal, Atlanticist bloc based simply on the availability of wealth. EU funding has provided many Eastern European states with various institutional and infrastructural advantages. But submission to the Atlanticist bloc, driven at heart by the old liberal drive for exploitation of property and capital accumulation brings its own dangers. It has not all been smooth sailing for the rich liberal bloc. To maintain economic growth after the war and fend off the real danger of a repeat of the Great Depression, rail and tramways were dismantled and wartime production was turned to the auto industry. Consumerism in various forms – lifestyle marketing, artificial consumer needs, planned obsolescence, highly refined advertising techniques, and above all, consumer credit were developed. In order to afford social welfare and consumerism, levels of private and sovereign debt constantly rose, particularly after the oil crises of the seventies. Meanwhile, much of the source of real wealth, the production of real commodities, was moved from Europe and America to countries without organised labour unions or environmental protection laws. This allowed the liberal elite to deny organised labour higher pay and improved conditions, it but offered workers cheaper products on a stagnant income. Rather than production, sovereign and private debt became the key drivers of growth in advanced capitalist counties, inevitably leading to the 2008 financial crisis. The tool used to address this crisis, money printing on a massive scale, was made possible by Nixon abandoning the gold standard in 1971. This, however, has not produced any meaningful effect. There is therefore, combined with the global exhaustion of easily accessible hydrocarbon resources, every reason to believe that another crisis larger than that of 2008 is coming. Meanwhile, the end of the Cold War brought the collapse of the organised left in the west, deeply flawed as it was, removing any threat of an organised violent overthrow of the liberal order by disadvantaged social groups. This has opened the way for a rollback of all the reforms this movement achieved and to a gradual return to the Dickensian conditions of Classical Liberalism via austerity and neoliberalism. Altogether, therefore, cracks are starting to show in another of the pillars of the liberal self-defining narrative, its economic foundation.
The liberal Atlanticist elite insists on complete and unhindered control over the former USSR’s markets and resources, painting any opposition to this drive as an illiberal authoritarian outrage. NATO provokes Russia into defensive actions, which are then painted as aggressive. Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia led to Russia’s comprehensive defeat of the small country, though, rather than choosing to occupy all of it, Russia chose to withdraw to the break-away republics. Former US Secretary of State, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has outlined plans to create a situation in Ukraine where any reaction Russia could make would lead to a serious loss. Victoria Nuland was recorded appointing Yatseniuk as the Ukrainian Prime Minister. There can be no question of the deep Atlanticist involvement in the Maidan. Although Yanukovich announced elections in Ukraine, which the opposition would surely have won, Atlanticist-backed far-right celebrants of the Volyn genocide organised the shooting of protesters, which were blamed on the authorities and an unconstitutional coup d’etat took place. Two days later, in contravention of international law, regions were denied the right to use their own languages in administration and education. The Russian-speaking Donbas spontaneously rose up to defend its rights. The conflict is highly complex, with elements of civil war between east and west Ukraine, which do not and cannot share a self-defining narrative, conflict between elites within Ukraine and among factions in Ukraine and Russia, and a strong element of geo-politics, as described in America’s aggressive Wolfowitz Doctrine. These pretexts, together with a nonsensical citation of an Iranian missile programme, are used to aggressively build up NATO forces and missile systems on Russia’s border, increasing the likelihood of miscalculation and accidental or intentional conflict. There is no reason that sane, mature and independent Eastern European statesmen could not maintain amicable relations with Russia as Finland has since the war. But the US, through manipulation of elites and the proliferation of a faulty liberal ideology, ensures that Eastern Europeans remain as Russophobic as possible, against their own interests.
Eastern Europe is caught in a race between two eventualities. The first is that they continue to buy into the liberal narrative and benefit from the funding, social consensus and relatively sound institutions which the vast wealth of the Atlanticist bloc predicate, while participating in NATO provocations until an opportunity arises for NATO’s conquest of Russia’s markets and resources. This will likely involve a war in which Eastern Europe will be the front line. It would also lead toward either a unipolar world under the hegemony of an elite driven only by capital accumulation or to global nuclear winter. The other possibility is that a major crisis occurs in the debt-saturated, money-printing-based advanced capitalist bloc before it has an opportunity to fully subjugate Russia, a country eager to cooperate with the west if given security and sovereignty guarantees. As non-renewable resources, particularly hydrocarbons, have been over-exploited and as environmental degradation is reaching advanced stages, the opportunity to recover from such a crisis will be limited. This will likely lead to a chronic degradation of liberal institutions and the fantasy of their value-driven march to ever-greater liberty and progress. It will become harder to paint the erstwhile liberal bloc as institutionally far superior to ‘illiberal’ states like Russia. Various factions of western elites will start to compete for limited resources, resulting in the conflict, corruption and inefficiency seen today mainly in those countries which have not benefited from colonial or new-world exploitation. This implies the crumbling of the third column supporting the liberal self-defining narrative – its invisibility, implicity and appearance as natural fact. This would make it far less certain from which alliances Eastern Europeans can best benefit in the geo-political game.