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Dayan Jayatilleka

Ph.D., Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Russian Federation

While a vast number of books on the end and the history of the Cold War have been published in the West, with widely diverse perspectives; of the Cold War seen teleologically, from the standpoint of how it ended, there isn’t a single major, recognized Russian work, even an anthology, in English—which for better or worse, is a quasi-universal language—on the same theme and topic. Thus, teleological western perspectives of contemporary history dominate if not monopolize, by default.

The conventional attitude to the West in the world as a whole is either that it remains the fount of all enlightened norms and values or that it is in irretrievable decline and decay, incapable of yielding anything of value. There is, however, a third possibility, namely that the West is in deep crisis and from within that crisis a surprising new development may arise which Eurasia and Greater Eurasia may do well to regard with objectivity and open-mindedness. The great surprise arising from the West is that in the USA, recent polls show that 50% of millennials regard ‘socialism’ as positive, and that the mainstream US Democratic Party has shifted to the Left. Similarly, in the UK, the mainstream opposition Labour Party is led by a leftwing anti-interventionist personality. Is this potential or latent transformation in and of the West, an essential component in the transition to a truly multipolar world?


In an interesting contribution to a valuable volume, Prof T.V. Bordachev of the HSE Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies makes a superbly insightful point: “Russia in Asia should play the role that France played in Europe at the dawn of European integration— the main intellectual engine of the new format of relations between the states [1] .”

In a period characterized by hysteria over alleged Russian intervention in everything from conflicts to elections, I would like to point out a deficit or indeed absence of such intervention in a vector it should, could and indeed must intervene: the intellectual vector. Just as the USA and France, Russia has been a seedbed of ideas and concepts during the period of Modernity, and still is, but with a difference. Unlike France and the USA, it has seemingly abandoned the vocation of the globalization of its ideas and concepts; of its very perspective.

In this brief note, I wish to spotlight a few thematic areas in which a Russian intellectual intervention is imperative and feasible. These are the Cold war and the clash of contending world orders in the 21st century, the phenomenon and problems of globalization and the Greater Eurasia concept/project.

The Battle of (Big) Ideas

While a vast number of books on the end and the history of the Cold War have been published in the West, with widely diverse perspectives; of the Cold War seen teleologically, from the standpoint of how it ended, there isn’t a single major, recognized Russian work, even an anthology, in English—which for better or worse, is a quasi-universal language—on the same theme and topic. Thus, teleological western perspectives of contemporary history dominate if not monopolize, by default.

The same is true of perspectives of the post-Cold war world. The ‘big ideas’ framing the future of the post-Cold war world came from the West, from Fukuyama and Huntington (and others with less impact, like Robert Kaplan). There is a dearth of ‘big ideas’ from Russia for and of the world, in the English language. Were there counters in Russia to Fukuyama and Huntington? Were there the counter-perspectives from Russia to neoliberalism and neoconservatism as paradigms or even as conceptual frameworks? Was there an ideology or doctrine from Russia that is a counter to both neoliberalism and neoconservatism? Did the Third Rome venture a Third Ideology, a Third Doctrine, not just for itself, but for and of the world—not only Russian versions/variants of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, of either Fukuyama or Huntington? There cannot be a third space in ideas globally without such a Russian intervention in ideology and political thought.

(If I may strike a personal note, I have ventured an alternative narrative and explanatory framework from the global South. The Fall of Global Socialism—A Counter-Narrative from the South | D. Jayatilleka | Palgrave Macmillan).

Eurasia, Greater Eurasia

In the aftermath of the important recent conference “5 years of the ‘Greater Eurasia’ concept : issues and accomplishments” held at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and the question that was posed at the conference "What is to be done?", I suggest that one of the intellectual tasks is to create a Eurasian/Greater Eurasian intelligentsia and a Greater Eurasian Idea, which I might add is not coterminous with the ‘The idea of Greater Eurasia’.

In developing a Greater Eurasian Idea, the future work requires both institutional and intellectual thrusts. The institutional work simply means that in a situation in which there seem to be no academic institutions, be they universities, think tanks, or centers of Advanced Studies, dedicated explicitly and specifically to Greater Eurasia or at least Eurasia itself, these should be created. A network of such institutions will be the material basis or substructure of the creation of a greater Eurasian intelligentsia.

But still more important is the Greater Eurasia Idea, which goes beyond the idea of Greater Eurasia, and develops an idea of a greater Eurasian perspective and world outlook. One of the most important means of a Greater Eurasian idea is that of excavation. By this I mean an exploration and auditing of the ideas of thinkers (including political leaders) past and present, of and from Greater Eurasia, about the existing world order and a more desirable world order. I refer not only to the ancient wisdom from this area, but much more importantly, the thinking from the period of Modernity, encompassing personalities such as Sun Yat-sen (China), Rabindranath Tagore, MN Roy (India), Renato Constantino (Philippines) and Soedjatmoko (Indonesia).

Such an audit can take the form of a multivolume anthology of writings and speeches, but would need to be extended to tracing the alternative models of a world order that was suggested by thinkers from Greater Eurasia, resulting in a conceptual reconstitution or ‘holographic projection’ of such an alternative world order.

The crucial questions concerning Eurasia and Greater Eurasia are those of architecture and organization. At the heart of such questions is that of the all-important ‘Primakovian’ triangle the RIC, i.e. Russia, India, China, which Lenin in his last published writing of March 1923, said would determine the direction of the world’s destiny. What are the structural relations that are possible in the ensemble R-I-C? Should or should not other powers be included in it? Should the architecture of Eurasia and Greater Eurasia be one of concentric circles and what criteria would determine which circle which power is in—or would that change situationally?

The history of the Russian Revolution of 1917 demonstrated the crucial strategic importance of organization exemplified by the two models or types: Menshevik and Bolshevik. The organizational or architectural question—though the two terms may not be identical—can also be used in the international arena. Decades after the Bolshevik-Menshevik split, the pith and substance of the Bolshevik organizational philosophy was summed up by Lenin in his later writings, with the phrase “Better Fewer, but Better”—meaning quality over quantity.

In today’s global context it will mean grappling with the problem that the Chinese Communists raised in the early 1960s, namely "friendly and fraternal", which they posed as a choice "do you support the friendly or the fraternal states?" Thankfully in today's context, such a zero-sum game is not necessary, but the question remains of priority and hierarchy. Should the relations ship between those states which face a military strategic, and in some cases, existential, threat from a common source, have a relationship of a qualitatively higher level than those who do not, however powerful and friendly the latter may be? Should a new global architecture or a new global policy privilege such relationships, especially in a context of real or attempted global encirclement of Eurasia?

The complex problem is made slightly easier when one recalls that the tighter and looser, qualitative and quantitative, Bolshevik and Menshevik organizational models were in fact merged in the 1930s formula of the Anti-Fascist Popular Front, which had a national and broader international version. Does the thinking of Stalin, Dimitrov, Gramsci and Togliatti have an international relevance and applicability today in the face of a project of global encirclement, grand strategic offensive to preserve unipolarity and wage globalized hybrid war? What would a global united front or bloc against unipolarity, war and intervention look like in the current context?

State, the Nationalities Question and Terrorism

The theoretical, strategic and policy questions that await a perspective by Russian and Eurasian thinkers are at least three:

  1. How to reconcile the contradiction between state sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity on the one hand and the right of self-determination of nations and nationalities on the other. What are the limits of state sovereignty and of the right of nations to self-determination, respectively? Where does one stop and the other start?
  2. How to reconcile the contradiction between the need for strong sovereign states, and forms of autonomy or regions and peoples? What are the non-federal forms of autonomy that can be designed for states in which federalization is strongly felt, for historical reasons, to be fissiparous?
  3. What are the universal criteria by which legitimate struggles of resistance and for liberation can be distinguished from terrorism? Is it not possible for a global consensus reflected in a universal charter to be signed which unconditionally rejects the intentional targeting of unarmed civilians as a legitimate tactic of struggle, and registers this as the defining criteria of terrorism , irrespective of the causes involved, however legitimate, and while remaining agnostic of the issue of armed resistance/armed liberation struggles as such?

Globalization

As Marx made clear in the Communist Manifesto, capitalism was a globalized and globalizing system (which Immanuel Wallerstein was to call a 'world system'). What then is new about 'globalization'? "Globalization" refers to the collapse of an alternative and parallel socialist system, and the incorporation of Russia and China in the world economy, which is essentially capitalist in character; a capitalist world economy. The problem, indeed the root of the crisis today is not globalization per se, it is the specific form of globalization which can be summed up as neoliberal globalization at the economic level and unipolar globalization at the geopolitical and geostrategic level. That is what I call asymmetric globalization.

The contradictions arising from these two specific forms of globalization has resulted in a hydra-headed reaction which threatens globalization itself. Therefore, globalization has to change if it is to survive and resume its pace. The dangerously false choice of “globalization or no globalization”, “globalization or de-globalization”, should be reframed. Thus, the question should be, what kind of globalization and who benefits from it? The search must be to define a model that is not an alternative TO globalization but an alternative model OF globalization. My own view is that the real choice must be framed as ‘neoliberal and unipolar globalization or Alt-globalization?’ as I call it, or ‘Asymmetric Globalization, Anti-Globalization or Alt-Globalization?’

Multipolarity

There are two conceptual problems which have to be cleared up regarding multipolarity. The first is the increasing tendency to either conflate multipolarity and multilateralism and or to surrender the project of multipolarity and settle for multilateralism. The second problem is the question of how to arrive in a multipolar world. As for the first problem, it should be clear that a multipolar and multilateral world order is the desirable goal, but that these two aspects are separable and the multipolar aspect is more important than the multilateral one. In the post-Cold War period, the western liberals used multilateralism in service of the unipolar project, while the neoconservatives did so only exceptionally or hardly at all, but the essence was the same: a unipolar hegemonistic policy. Multilateralism is an institutional pathway which is preferable to unilateralism, but the central issue is not the institutional aspect of the world order, but the politico-military aspect of the world order; the aspect of power. The (Leninist) question is “which will prevail?” The unipolar project or the multipolar project will prevail?

The second problem area concerning multipolarity is that of the transition. How will we get from here to there? From the unipolar project to a multipolar world order? As in the old question of the transition from capitalism to socialism, there are the mechanistic and evolutionary interpretations; the ones that say that the transition will take place inevitably and inexorably, as a result of the working out of the process of historical change; indeed, as an evolution. A Realist interpretation would hold however, that the transition will involve a protracted struggle along all vectors, taking place over an entire historical period, and which will involve a tipping of the scales in favour of Greater Eurasia with Eurasia as its core.

The West

The conventional attitude to the West in the world as a whole is either that it remains the fount of all enlightened norms and values or that it is in irretrievable decline and decay, incapable of yielding anything of value. There is, however, a third possibility, namely that the West is in deep crisis and from within that crisis a surprising new development may arise which Eurasia and Greater Eurasia may do well to regard with objectivity and open-mindedness. The great surprise arising from the West is that in the USA, recent polls show that 50% of millennials regard ‘socialism’ as positive, and that the mainstream US Democratic party has shifted to the Left. Similarly, in the UK, the mainstream opposition Labour Party is led by a leftwing anti-interventionist personality. Is this potential or latent transformation in and of the West, an essential component in the transition to a truly multipolar world?

Russia’s intellectual intervention in these and other areas of contemporary concern is imperative and needs to be globalized, in order for Russia to fulfil the role of the ‘intellectual engine of the new format of relations between the states’ (Bordachev, 2019).

***

These are the purely personal views of the author.

With the election of a new President in Sri Lanka, this writer’s tenure as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation concludes at the end of this year.

1. ‘What Russia can give to Asia?’, Russia in the Forming Greater Eurasia, Problems of Geography, Volume 148, eds. VM Kotlyakov, VA Shuper, Moscow Kodeks Publishing House 2019, p. 71


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