The left’s cold war paradigm has long been obsolete

Russia’s open intervention in the Ukrainean conflict is yet another reminder that the left-wing forces need to think with greater complexity about the world

A post-Cold war element from the Berlin Wall hints at human life behind the division lines (source: PIxabay, CC0)

Russia’s open intervention in the Ukrainean conflict is yet another reminder that the left-wing forces need to think with greater complexity about the world

Bojidar Kolov

Bojidar Kolov is a doctoral fellow in Russian Studies at the University of Oslo and a master’s student in Religion, Politics and Democracy at the Stockholm School of Theology. His interests lie mainly in the interplay between religion and politics as well as in psychoanalytic political theory.

The article was written a short time before the Russian recognition of the two separatist republics in Eastern Ukraine, but the events somehow proved its message.

In the midst of the information war and looming conflicts between the West and Russia, the pressure on every politically active person to “position him/herself” is increasing tremendously. Public discourse is polarised, rigidly fixed camps are formed, nuances are lost, any attempt to complicate the issue is read as (counter-)propaganda in favour of one side or the other in the conflict of totalising narratives. 

Against this backdrop, a disturbing trend is emerging on the left – not only in Bulgaria, but among many on the left around the world. Left-wing anti-imperialism – directed primarily (and quite legitimately) against the expansionist policies of Western capital – unfortunately often suffers from incoherence. By focusing their efforts on sophisticated critiques of NATO propaganda, denouncing the long hand of the US military-technical complex, and pointing to the toxic presence of the far right in Ukrainian politics, a sizable portion of the left seems to remain blind to the Kremlin’s unambiguously neo-imperialist policies. In their desire to oppose the well-oiled propaganda machine of Washington and London, they often completely ignore the Putin regime’s atrocities against the poor, pensioners, queer people, ethnic minorities and smaller nations in the so-called “near abroad,” Eastern Europe, Syria and in Russia itself. Resistance to the neocolonial policies of Western capital often seems to miss the fact that Russian capitalism is one of the most oppressive in the world, that Moscow’s foreign policy is textbook imperial (following the “brightest” European examples), that the left in Russia and the countries under its influence is almost completely marginalised, and that Putin and his friends in and outside Europe have long embraced the far right. 

By essentializing imperialism as (essentially) Western, the Left often finds itself in the position of justifying Russia’s neo-imperialist policies by presenting them as a form of resistance to the expansive West. This position, however, ignores the fact that “defending Russia’s legitimate interests” and “ensuring its security” are often at the expense of a number of small nations with whom we should be in solidarity. By becoming hostage to geopolitical power games (between Western and Russian capital) the left often fails to consistently resist all forms of violence and oppression. 

How exactly are these leftists in Europe and the US any different from liberals who justify any Western intervention in the world on the basis of ‘defending human rights’ when they legitimise (at least by their silence) its aggression in Ukraine and Georgia by ‘defending Russia’s right to be independent of the West’? Russia, unfortunately, has not been independent of the West for a long time, but is deeply subordinated to its capital and its model of development. Russia’s domestic and foreign policy is characterised by the most vicious oppressive practices of Western neo-imperialism, often in an even more perverse and violent form (which does not excuse Western capitalism or make it “good” because it is “more acceptable”).  

As much as we might not like it, sometimes the mechanisms of one imperialism can serve to emancipate us from another imperialism. The emergence of the modern Bulgarian state, by the way, is a product of just such a dynamic. But the immediate necessity of rejecting one tyranny does not mean embracing another. In the complex dynamics of oppression and emancipation, the left is not entitled to simplistic narratives and “bipolar positioning.” In a context of deepening polarization, it is the left that is tasked with complicating the public conversation and resisting all struggles for supremacy between elites, the victims of which, in the end, are always the most oppressed, the poorest and the most marginalized. 

Photo: Both the real world and “the TV screen” that show is are bound for devastation. Left needs to upgrade its lenses so that it could see how to bring change in an ever more polarised social life (source: Pixabay, CC0)

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