On Reality Asserts Itself, Prof. Aleksandr Buzgalin says the West doesn’t like Putin defying the American world order, but this does not make Russia a progressive country – with host Paul Jay.
This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced July 25, 2018.
PAUL JAY: Welcome to the Real News Network, I’m Paul Jay. It’s Reality Asserts Itself, and we’re continuing our conversation with Aleksandr Buzgalin. Thanks for joining us again. And Professor Buzgalin is the director of the Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. Why does the West, at least the Americans and many Europeans, the British certainly, and it seems much of the Germans and others, the French- why do they hate Putin so much? They say because he’s a dictator and all this. First of all, we know they love lots of dictators. Nobody can say they hate dictators and love the Saudis.
And the list of dictators the Americans have loved over the decades is more than probably one hundred, and who knows where that list ends. So, it’s got nothing to do with him being a dictator. As you said in the previous segment, for the- Putin wanted to be in the World Trade Organization and have the Russian economy more integrated into global capitalism. And that was the great thing about the horror of the Soviet Union, really was- again, they don’t care about dictatorship- Soviet Union wasn’t in the global capitalist system the way they wanted it to be. Well, now that they got it, so what do they hate about it? Why such a fervor about “the Russians are coming?”
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN: First of all, I think that partly this is artificial phenomenon created by artificial methods. I mentioned that modern capitalism is a world of simulacrum, we are buying not jacket, we are buying label. We are buying not real commodity, we are buying symbol. The same in political life. Putin is a symbol of something bad because it’s necessary to have symbol of something bad. It could be not Putin, it can be anybody else. But this is only one element of explanation. There is another element which I think is important. And finally, Putin himself, maybe, I am not Putin- subjectively, thinks that he is continuing the logic of Soviet Union.
PAUL JAY: In what way? “Make Russia Great Again?”
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: “Make Russia Great Again” to defeat Western aggressive intentions, to protect poor people in the south from world imperialism. I think he thinks that in Syria, he is defending poor Syrian people from aggressive U.S. imperialism.
PAUL JAY: But how-
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: “I can do the same,” yeah.
PAUL JAY: Bombing and slaughtering cities cannot be protecting poor people, right?
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: This is another question. It’s like Stalin. Subjectively, he was absolutely sure that he is building communism putting millions of people to the Gulag.
PAUL JAY: But you can say, as criminal as that was, there was free health care and free schools and this and that. There’s the actual- I’m talking inside Russia.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: But the idea is if not Russia now in Syria, it’s not my opinion, but- I will move back my bit to Syria very briefly. In common space in Russia, Russia mission in Syria is very simple, to protect modern power in Syria, because if this power will be destroyed, not democracy but terrorists will have power in this country.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think that was the logic. In fact-
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Well, let’s forget about this.
PAUL JAY: No, no. Let’s not forget about it, because I think when Putin originally goes and props up the Assad regime, it’s mostly to stop the victory of ISIS and the terrorists and the potential of that spilling even more into Russia. And I don’t think the Americans were so against it. Obama, they needed- Putin saved Obama’s bacon with that deal on getting chemical weapons out, and so on, and defeating this kind of hyper- terrorist activity. One can see the logic, and of course also what you were saying earlier, standing up to NATO, even though I think to some extent, the Americans and NATO, at least in the early stages, wanted Russia to play this role. But let’s go back, the-
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, let’s finish. You asked why Putin became so dangerous for Western leaders, and I want to summarize, maybe one more aspect which is important. He personally looks very sympathetic for ordinary people, and he has image of strong, brave, and at the same time, kind, polite. He really loves kids, animals, he makes something to protect them. And it’s visible that he is doing this not artificially, not as, I don’t know, actor. And Western leaders feel that he is popular. But one very important aspect. We hadn’t very liberal government. And in Russia, you asked, why so big popularity? It was game, but smart game. Terrible from the point of view of reality, but smart to show that government is making all bad and Putin is making all good, yeah? When it was increasing of pension, it was because of Putin. When it is decline of budget for education, it is decision of government. And even smart people said, “Government is terrible, Putin is very good.” It’s old story, good king and bad barons, yeah? But when Putin again gave status of prime minister to Medvedev, who was before and rebuilt again all these neoliberal leaders and all ministers, now I think the popularity of Putin became much less, much less.
PAUL JAY: I’ve often thought, and tell me if this is true, that at the end of this decade of the nineties and the free-for-all grabbing of assets by the oligarchs and the rise of the Russian oligarchy, that the Americans, who certainly supported Yeltsin and had a finger in this- I’m not saying the decisive finger, but certainly their hand is on the scale- they thought they were going to wind up with more of these assets and more of the direct ownership and more of direct control of the financialization, the finance sector. And as this Russian state starts to emerge with Putin, they don’t get an open field day in Russia. The state pushes back on that. And is that sort of the underpinnings of this antagonism?
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, it’s also a very important aspect. Yes, you’re absolutely right. And why, in Russia, we don’t have support to liberal opposition? First of all, because nobody believes that they will bring real democracy. For majority, it will just be blah, blah, blah. And we didn’t discuss, by the way question, what is democracy in modern Russia? It isn’t absent here yet, but maybe quickly. First of all, you are right. Modern state protect, more or less, interests of Russian capital. And this is one of the reasons why West doesn’t like Russia. And this is one of the reasons why people feel that he is not so bad for Russia. I mean, not Putin himself, but the whole system of his power, or power which is led by Putin, better to say. And finally, I want to say that in Russia, we have also in some aspects, positive critique of capitalism under the slogan of critique of Western style of life. We have anti-Western propaganda, but in some aspects, this is anti-liberal and anti- capitalist propaganda. So, this is also aspect why it is popular. And finally, maybe a few words about political situation-
PAUL JAY: Well, let me ask the question.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, of course.
PAUL JAY: So, we talked a little bit about who the opposition is. And I’ll ask again, why isn’t there a more of a sort of a progressive, social democratic opposition, and to what extent is the lack thereof because of political repression and certain candidates aren’t allowed to run, or fear? I don’t know. Why isn’t there a more- not a pro-Western, liberal opposition, but a domestic, indigenous opposition to the oligarchy?
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, first of all I want to ask all people who are watching us, listening us, why in the United States you don’t have Social Democratic opposition?
PAUL JAY: Oh, there is. No, there is. You know, the Sanders phenomena, it has its limits, but it is a sort of a progressive, Social Democratic opposition. We’ll see whether it ever gains any real power, but there’s something there.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: But yes, it’s relatively new, but again, let’s look on the results of the next-
PAUL JAY: And in Europe, you’ve had different attempts at it, labor party in the U.K. and so on. They exist.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but okay. Yes, there are some more or less left in some countries among opposition, but generally speaking, more or less, better less, more than less left Social Democratic opposition as faction in the parliament exists only in Germany, Die Linke.
PAUL JAY: And the U.K.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In the U.K. the Labor Party is not left.
PAUL JAY: Well, Corbyn’s section is.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Even Corbyn’s section is not relatively influential. Let’s hope.
PAUL JAY: There’s something there, and that’s-
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: In Russia we have something also. We have Communist Party of Russian Federation, with fifteen percent of the seats. And we have every month intentions to introduce law devoted to the increase of spendings for budget, to have progressive income tax, to increase spendings for education from the budget, to introduce a progressive income tax, to change labor culture, to support labor-owned enterprises. So, Communist Party is doing this all time. We have governors who are members of Communist Party in regions, and they are trying to do something, with very restrictive potential, but still. So, such type of opposition we have. And we had fifteen percent of quasi-businessmen, quasi-left person in last presidential elections. It’s not nothing, and if elections will be more or less democratic, even according to Western standards, he can have thirty percent.
PAUL JAY: And are they? To what extent does the Communist Party have freedom to operate and compete and contend?
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: It’s, I think the potential, the possibilities are more or less the same like in the United States and less than in Europe. Because in the United States, we can have such debates in Real News, but I don’t know if we can have such debates in main T.V. channels of United States.
PAUL JAY: Certainly not.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Ah. And in Russia, we can. Buzgalin was, during last half a year, maybe five, six times in first channel, in second channel- no, not in first. In second channel, culture, and some other channels of Russian T.V.
PAUL JAY: During the election campaign, even Bernie Sanders, who stays within the framework of mainstream politics, got very little television time and Trump got way more.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: So, yeah. And this is more or less normal for situation when capital, corporate capital has global hegemony. And this global hegemony of capital is not nothing, it’s true. So, we have some space for opposition, but this is very restrictive space. And typically, you can criticize neoliberal cause of the government, you can criticize model of economic system, even political system. But if you criticize directly, Putin, it’s possible to do only in two radio stations, which are very liberal, by the way, and not very good. Or in the Communist newspapers. We have Soviet Russian newspaper, and this newspaper is one hundred thousand copies, popular, national newspaper. And it is very critical about everything what is doing by leaders in our country.
So, it’s not nothing, but if you make something serious, you can be in the prison. And when we had demonstration of the protest in 2012, liberals and officials made two provocations independently. Liberals put all left young people in front and they honestly started to attack police. And officials created atmosphere, when it was open battle with police, and these young boys were punished for the attack on policemen. It’s necessary to see these guys and policemen, and so they beated police. They were four years in prison, only now liberated. So, that’s why we have big contradictions, of course.
PAUL JAY: We started this segment about why the Americans and much of the West hates Putin. It seems like a very convenient, morbid dance that serves both elites’ domestic public opinion, this antagonism between the U.S. and the Russians.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: I will add maybe one detail. You are right, we explained as much as we can, as much I can. But again, I think the main reason why in Russia we have support to Putin, and why among Western elites there is so negative relation towards Putin is foreign policy, or better to say the global system of hegemony of capital, which is based in, let’s say, Washington and Brussels. This Brussels-Washington union of transnational corporations with NATO forces, and all systems, including mass media, including Hollywood movies and so on, all this system had during twenty-five years, no obstacles. And no one was brave enough to say no to them and to beat them. So, first time it was when Putin made something definitely against them, and it was risk that he will be punished, that they will send, I don’t know, spy who will kill him, even though why not?
PAUL JAY: And I think I should add, I don’t think it’s just propaganda positioning here. The sort of fundamental American military doctrine after World War II was to have a single superpower world and a single nuclear superpower world. And they thought they had that with the fall of the Soviet Union, that they had now a single superpower world. And out of that chaos of the nineties, I think the West must have thought they were going to wind up with a subservient Russian state, a Yeltsin-type subservient state. And the fact they don’t get that, now they’re back- it may not be an economic competitor superpower, but it’s still got a nuclear arsenal of serious proportions. Big military.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: And in its local conflicts, Russia is strong enough to be their opposition to U.S. or NATO active military actions.
PAUL JAY: For the same reason they don’t like Iran. Iran’s just too big a player regionally, so they don’t need- it doesn’t have to be a global competitor, they don’t want regional competitors.
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yeah. Plus, if China, India and Russia together will create alliance, it will be enormously important global player. There is a big question mark for big debates, even theoretical debates.
PAUL JAY: Say that again, global debates?
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Is it good idea or bad idea for the left, for the progress to have instead of one killer cop, two killer cops?
PAUL JAY: Or three?
ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Or three killer cops. Yeah, this is big question mark. Of course, it’s better to have communist revolution everywhere, but it’s not solution of the problem today. And with Russia, this is big question mark, because Russia is not progressive country, and I’m not supporter of economic, social, political system in my country. I’m in opposition all my life. And maybe final fragment we will devote to the left opposition, the intellectual and political independent opposition. We are not big, but we are. We exist. And generally speaking, I think it is a topic for debates, if left can and must support not progressive, but maybe even reactionary, but opposition to hegemony of global capital. This is a big question mark, and let’s put question mark and ask everybody to react and to write us and to criticize us or support us, whatever they want, you want, listeners or people who are watching us.
PAUL JAY: So, thank you, and please join us for our next series of interviews with Professor Alexander Buzgalin on The Real News Network.