Russia is kaputt

If there is no future for the Russian national state, is there a future for post-national Russia? Cultural critic and philosopher Boris Buden on the premises of post-Soviet capitalism, and the enclosure of the past pursued by the Russian propaganda.


Source > Posle

“Oh, sacred struggle between the left and the right, on This Day and on the Day of Judgment, I stand on the far left, the very far left. Because, only a terrible cry against Nonsense can accelerate the whisper of a new Sense.”

August Cesarec, 1919, Croatian writer, executed by Croatian fascists in 1941

If the historical form of Nonsense in which we live today has to be summed up in one word, then that word would be “waste”. Its most striking manifestation today is Russia’s war on Ukraine, a massive waste of human lives, material, cultural and cognitive resources, moral capacities, political opportunities and, the worst of all, the waste of time. We know this for quite a while: if we fail to radically change the way we live — “we” meaning the humanity as a whole — the fatal synergy of planetary crises, from pandemics and inequality to the most urgent one, the global warming, will destroy the human life on earth. Our days are counted. The points marked on our timeline long ago — the “tipping point”, the “boiling point” or simply, the point of no return — will be reached soon, if they have not been already reached. And what are we doing? We are waging wars. For what?

Russia attacked Ukraine to occupy territory, of which it has more than any other country in the world. It did so in the name of protecting a fantasy it calls the “Russian world”, a normative identity block created to counter another identity block, the “West”. In fact, Russia only stoked an already smoldering world war of identities, thus accelerating the process of identitarian alignment on a global scale. What even some of the most prominent geopolitical experts in the West regarded as a highly problematic and potentially counterproductive security issue — the eastward expansion of NATO — is revealed now as the strategic move towards the final militarization of the western identity block. On the Ukrainian battlefields the West is waging today a proxy-war, which ultimately draws its frontier with the rest of the world. The public legitimation of its support for Ukraine, citing the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of nation states, belongs to an already obsolete language of the old international order that has been largely destroyed by the West itself.

However, the true mystery of this war is why Russia has so blindly accepted a constructive role in the final formation of the West, which is now upgrading its diffuse political, ideological, economic and military superiority, inherited from the colonial times, into a full-fledged, clearly bounded, combat-ready identity bloc? Why is Russia acting now so blatantly against the most vital interests of its people and, moreover, against the vital interests of the non-western “rest”? It behaves like a mass shooting sociopath who suddenly goes on a gun rampage with a go-pro camera on his helmet having previously uploaded its “manifesto”, composed of ideological trash about identity protection. In the Russian version it is even more stupid: Russia wages war to protect Ukraine and the whole world from Nazis.

 “The state was not only a midwife of the post-Soviet oligarchs, it has been their permanent caretaker, ensuring their survival as a class”

As it is well known, the restoration of capitalism in Russia and many other countries of the former Soviet Union brought about an overall devastation of social and economic life. Cleared of the socialist property relations, the space of the postindustrial wastelands offered one major option for the primitive accumulation of capital, the enclosure of nature as a resource for extraction. The lucky ones who seized this opportunity are called “oligarchs” today. Strong enough to form themselves into the ruling class at home, they were, and are until nowadays, too weak to compete with their far superior western counterparts on the emerging global markets. This is why they have had to rely on the state as the sole guarantee of their class privileges acquired through criminal privatizations. The state was not only a midwife of the post-Soviet oligarchs, it has been their permanent caretaker, ensuring their survival as a class. This, and not an endemically spoiled mentality, is the real reason behind corruption, which is intrinsic to the oligarchic rule, not only in the post-socialist countries.

But what about the state itself? Where has it found its raison d’être in the ideological void left behind by the collapse of socialism? It has found it in time, or to put it more precisely, in the past, the only temporal dimension still available in the post-historical wastelands of the former socialist societies. Where else? The future had gone with Communism; the present was even worse than the past. If, in terms of primitive accumulation, the post-Soviet capitalism has found its origin in the space, concretely, in the extractionist enclosures of nature, its midwife and life-long caretaker, the state, has ideologically rooted itself rather in time, now cleared of any traces of former history and reduced to the raw material of its one single dimension, the past. An identitarian enclosure of the past is the true ideological origin of today’s Russian state.

 “The tragedy of the past is not repeated as a farce, but is extracted as a fossil”

If not earlier, this has finally become obvious with the war in Ukraine. Already at the time of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, on the streets of Moscow one could see cars with stickers in various designs but all sharing a common message: “1941—1945: We might repeat it”. Behind the delusional desire to repeat a past historical event, one could clearly detect the pompous cult of Soviet victory in WW2. Yet, the truly morbid character of this cult is revealed when one asks about its nature and content. Not only has  Russia privatized the whole glory of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, which it originally shared with others in the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine; in a gruesome parallel to the practice of its extractionist capitalism, Russia is today pumping those seas of blood with which, fighting fascism, millions of Soviet citizens once soaked the soil of the European continent. It is pumping this blood as a fossil fuel so as to power its war machine. The tragedy of the past is not repeated as a farce, but is extracted as a fossil. This is why Russia has not only already lost its war on Ukraine, it is losing the Second World War too. This became clear when we were left with no other choice but to feel empathy and respect for the men with Nazi tattoos taken prisoners of war in Mariupol. They were defeated by those worse than them. Instead of presenting Russia’s victory over Nazis, the Moscow propaganda showed Russia moving the Nazis onto the good side of history. In Ukraine, Russia has not defeated Nazism for the second time, it has created its human face for the first time. This is, of course, unforgivable, but gives a good lesson to all those who turn to the past so as to repeat it. They too cannot escape the transformative power of historical contingency.

Is there any way out of this nightmare? Yes, it is, but first, one must admit the total defeat. Russia is “kaputt, in the sense Curzio Malaparte used this German word to describe Europe in the catastrophe of World War II. It means: broken, finished, gone to pieces, gone to ruin. Malaparte started to write the novel Kaputt in 1941 as a war correspondent in Ukraine, not far away from today’s frontlines. He saw the war from the perspective of those who were to lose it, witnessing their moral collapse and senselessness of their violence, driven by fear and weakness. But he did not know that he was writing about today’s Russia doomed to lose its war on Ukraine. History, however, does not repeat itself. There can be no assurance that Russia, after having gone “kaputt”, will sooner or later recover, like post-war Europe and Germany. Moreover, we should not even wish for such a recovery, because it is exactly what the status quo wants.

“Russia or the West, is a wrong question imposed on us by the Nonsense. However we answer it, we will go kaputt”

What looks like typical western political correctness, namely, the noble attempt of western publics to clearly differentiate between Putin and Russia so as to personalize the responsibility (“it is Putin’s, and not Russia’s war”), has in fact its origin in a deep fear of radical consequences of this war that might go far beyond a “regime change” in Russia. “Putin” is much more than a person, it is the name for a temporary aberration from the rule. Speaking about “evil or mad Putin” tacitly implies an originally unspoiled, authentically good core of Russian identity that will sooner or later prevail and return things to normal – a dream of Russia realigning itself back into the orbit of the West, rediscovering all advantages of the liberal democracy and pursuing a benevolent and pleasant capitalism that secures stable growth and benefits the vast majority of citizens. In short, this is a fantasy of Russia as a quiet and friendly neighbor of the West and NATO, and a devoted admirer of the liberal democratic capitalism.

But what if the only outcome of this war truly worth pursuing is not a Russia without Putin but a Russia without Russia itself, a vision of people liberating themselves from the identity cage in which they have been locked-in by their nation state and its intrinsically nationalist ideology, a toxic amalgam of nation’s own territory, language, history, culture and religion? What if there is a life after and beyond national identity, with Russia becoming a site of its discovery, a place on earth where humans stop wasting their time, reconcile with nature and finally do something for the future of their children?

There is nevertheless a hope in Russia’s going “kaputt”, as well as a certain advantage in being the first to reach the point of no return. What after all would be the sense in Russia’s resuming its never ending race to catch up with the West? In fact, it has already performed quite well in this post-historical genre. In destroying the existing international order, redrawing borders, invading foreign countries, militarizing and arming its own society, imposing its will and interests on the weaker and poorer, fueling the megalomania of becoming great again, mobilizing xenophobic, racist, and fascist resentments, in all this Russia does not lag behind the West. It has even launched, as the western dirty unconsciousness tells us through the mouth of a former president of the United States, “a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.”

Russia or the West, is a wrong question imposed on us by the Nonsense. However we answer it, we will go “kaputt”. This is why we should reject it with a terrible cry and whisper a new Sense beyond both.

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