The Just War theory, originally Just War theology, correctly refused to deduce the just or unjust character—and thereby the legitimacy—of a war solely from the fact of who attacked first. Similarly, the patriotic character of a war cannot be deduced from whether or not a state is fighting on its own soil. If Russia is the intended target, then the war assumes a patriotic character which is not negated by its preemptive or preventive nature.
What Russia faces now is the second edition, the 21st-century edition of the Great Patriotic War.
The U.S. is experimenting with a new model of warfare, an upgrade of both the Vietnamization model and the hybrid war model. Economic extermination; over-the-horizon presence; no boots on the ground; supply of force multipliers and real-time battlefield intelligence to local forces; and a spectrum of conventional, mobile and guerrilla modes of combat.
The West is waging a political-military war of total or absolute character against Russia. This total or absolute character must not be obscured by the fact that the political and military roles involve a division of labor and that the military component itself is hybridized, where actual combat operations are conducted by the Ukrainian forces while weaponry and intelligence are provided by the West.
When Newsweek magazine recently interviewed ranking U.S. experts about the possibility of U.S. drone strikes on Russian military targets in Ukraine, its intentionality revealed that in the Western military mind the line is blurred and Russia is regarded as the target.
The goal of the political-military war is total and absolute: destroying Russia’s material base and attacking the economy, livelihoods and social fabric of the Russians, thereby bringing the country to its knees and forcing it to install a puppet leadership which will turn Russia into a vassal state of the West.
Russia is being punished by a sanctions regime that was never imposed on apartheid South Africa. The sanctions against and divestment from Russia is so massive that it could be described as “shock and awe” intended to create a global system of economic and cultural apartheid, which isolates, marginalizes, and suppresses Russia.
Russian culture and arts have been ‘cancelled’ as a component of Western culture and civilization, while Western arts and culture have been pivoted away from Russia.
Any TV channel now shows that the West, at the level of its political and opinion-making elite, is filled with bloodlust against Russia and Russians. The West is openly using Ukraine as a proxy to inflict a death of a thousand cuts on Russia. As never before, the conversation in the mainstream is about inflicting casualties on Russian forces and maximum damage on the Russian economy and society. The Western official discourse at the highest levels is about cutting the “main artery” of the Russian economy—oil and gas exports. These actions and language indicate collective punishment and sociopathic rage towards Russia.
Such sentiments were hardly absent in the West, starting with the urge to strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle (Churchill) to Radio Free Europe during Hungary 1956, to the Santa Fe document. But these sentiments were held in check and retained at the margins, by the reality of the existence of the USSR. With the implosive collapse of the Soviet Union and the birth of a unipolar moment, these sentiments, though unexpressed in public, shaped the actual bipartisan agenda as was seen in the destruction of Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya and, above all, in the successive waves of NATO expansion.
The West has changed, and Russia must change in order to survive and prevail over the West’s triple H behavioral symptoms: hypocrisy, hysteria, and hatred.
The West will not even be satisfied with a return to the compliant and wretched 1990s because it knows from experience that the Russian spirit could cyclically produce another strong leader. Instead, it will want permanent satellization of Russia, its turning into what the West calls a “normal” country, i.e., a larger version of one of its Eastern European allies.
If this new model of warfare succeeds, then, as its inherently self-expansionist logic dictates, it will be repeated on Russia’s rim, on Russia’s soil. Therefore, Russia has to solve a complex equation: prevail so decisively in Ukraine that the model of warfare fails, a lesson is administered, and the effort is not repeated. But Russia must do so without getting into an Afghanistan-type quagmire, a trap of the sort Brzezinski set for Moscow in 1979. The approaches of such military thinkers as Tukhachevsky and BH Liddell Hart, as well as Cuban tactics in Angola and the Ogaden now assume great relevance.
While no one is privy to the thinking of the Russian General Staff, logic indicates that the Western trap of turning Ukraine into a quagmire for Russia could perhaps be avoided by evading the focus on seizing territory and cities, and privileging the doctrine of the greatest military mind of the post-WWII era, Vietnam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap who urged a counterforce strategy, or in his words, “the annihilation of the living forces of the enemy,” that is, the liquidation of the adversary as a fighting force.
Given that the Ukrainian military are a quasi-NATO machine, certain parallels could be less than fully relevant, but it may be useful to recall the contrast between Russia’s and America’s failures in Afghanistan and the success of Vietnam in its Cambodia operation and Cuba in Angola.
To face the economic siege machines of the West, Russia must reach into its past when it was determinedly blockaded by imperialism. The restoration of some form of economic planning will be necessary. Russia has experience of many models of planned economy, ranging from that of Nikolai Bukharin to Lieberman and Prof Kudratsyev to Yuri Andropov’s idea of a fusion of planning and cybernetics.
This perhaps will have to be combined with a return to Stalin’s emphasis on heavy industry, including self-reliance in the manufacture of machine-making machines (the capital goods sector or the so-called Dept I).
My experience tells me that Russia has in its economic research institutions, all the brainpower necessary for a creative policy to face and overcome the sanctions. Cuba survived the sanctions and the collapse of the Soviet Union and has gone on to produce two anti-COVID vaccines of its own.
Much depends on the actual dynamics of the system of decision-making in Russia. If it is bottle-necked, then matters will be more difficult. Russia has a power-bloc which may now have to be reformatted to handle the existential challenge of a state of global siege, which is part of the strategic offensive by the West. The war against Russia cannot be defeated solely by the state. In the extreme historical situation facing Russia today, it will take a united front of Russian patriots, Russian statists and Russian communists; of traditionalists and modernists; conservatives and radicals; romantics and realists to resist and prevail against its adversaries.
The Great Patriotic War could not have been waged successfully if not for the new instrument, the Communist Party, which was at one and the same time a vanguard party and a mass party, functioning as a “transmission belt” (in Stalin’s terminology) between the people and the state. It was also a party capable of linking the deep patriotism of the Russian people with a broad international appeal. In Soviet Russia, among the top academicians were also members of the Communist Party. The Communist Party of China is a meritocratic Confucian mandarinate with a mass base and is therefore a filter and elevator for the best brains and talent.
The biggest error that the Russian state could make is to think that the situation of conflict and blockade could be faced without a united front with the Russian Communists. No tendency or tradition in Russia has the doctrine and experience of facing and waging a political-military-ideological war on a world scale against Western imperialism than Russian Communism has. When the Communist Party of the Soviet Union lost its way, it was the Russian Communists who broke away, reconstructed the party, and fought ideologically against the appeasement of NATO and the neoliberal economic reforms that were aimed at liquidating the state. No other political force has greater experience in fighting ideological war internationally.
The incorporation of the Russian Communists in the ruling bloc would also cement ties with the Communist parties of China, Vietnam, and Cuba—most crucially, of China.
Russian Communists have a more robust tradition of ‘agit-prop’ than any other political force. They also have a history of rallying international solidarity for Russia, which purely nationalist-statist appeals cannot. As the repository of the memory of Soviet Russia, Russian Communists can be helpful in keeping social support, especially of the Russian working class, high.
The thirty-five countries that abstained during the UN vote on Russia and those few who voted with Russia did so not only because of the current relations with the Russian Federation but also because their leaderships, governing parties and publics had a residual memory of the USSR which made them relatively devoid of Russophobic reflexes. That, together with the memories that these countries have of Western hypocrisy, have given them a certain skepticism and agnosticism. That was not a memory of tzarist Russia but of Soviet Russia. These countries, mainly Asian and African, are the embryo of a multipolar world order.
The broad global front that Russia could count on, based on state sovereignty, is fissured by the fact of secessionism and the master-theme of state sovereignty is itself turned against Russia by the West. There is only one doctrine that reconciled the state’s leading agency in the struggle against imperialism with the right of nations and peoples to self-determination, and that was the Lenin-Stalin tradition.
Russian statist-patriotism gives an imperative depth but not breadth; it is national, not global; it is definitionally and inherently self-limiting.
Russia needs to reach into its own political and intellectual history for a doctrine that has a dimension of universality. The only one that contains a universal dimension is Russian Communism. It cannot and must not be a substitute for Russian statist-nationalism, but it is an existentially and grand-strategically imperative supplement.
Nobody has a better fighting tradition than the Red Army and nobody has a better culture of political combat than the Russian Communists. To cope with the extreme challenge Russia is facing today, the red banner may be required alongside with the red-blue-and-white banner.
Russia in the Post-Cold War International Order
The prospect for Russia is to be progressively and rapidly overshadowed by its partner/ally. As China gets relatively stronger, and the West gets relatively weaker, how does Russia fit into this equation?
Stalinization is the crime that President Putin is accused of by The Economist, UK, in a recent cover story, illustrated by a photograph of a Russian tank with its ‘Z’ in place of the letter ‘z’ in the word ‘Stalinization’.
But what would Stalinization, not in its Western propagandistic sense but in its historical, strategic and conceptual sense, mean for Russia today?
For Russia, it would not be strategically realistic to base itself on the postulate that the West will eventually return to its senses. As Stalin said in a debate within the Bolshevik party under Lenin’s leadership, about the German revolution, “that is a possibility, but we cannot base ourselves on possibilities, only on facts.”
There was and still is a considerable debate about the wisdom of Stalin’s policies in the run-up to the 1941 Germany’s attack on Russia. It includes his strategy in Spain, the purge of the Red Army, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and the insufficient attention paid to Richard Sorge’s dispatches. Did Stalin buy time to move the industries beyond the Urals or did he lose time and allow Nazi Germany to become stronger? Whichever the case, we know that there was unpreparedness and shock when the Nazi attack came.
Yet what is vital today is the lesson of that time: the Russian people and army, as well as those the world over who understood the global and historical significance of the existence of Soviet Russia, buried all doubts and rallied round the State and Stalin’s leadership, despite whatever errors he may have made.
At a time when the European revolution expected by Lenin, Trotsky, and the majority of Bolshevik leaders was effectively blocked after the defeat in Poland, and the USSR suffered the shock of Lenin’s death a few years after, it was Stalin who gave the Russian people the perspective and the hope that they could build a strong country on the basis of Russia’s own resources and potential, even if the European transformation was indefinitely delayed. This was the famous ‘Socialism in one Country’ formular. Of course, he allowed the formular to lapse after World War II and the extension of socialism to Europe by the Red Army and, more importantly, the massive event of the Chinese revolution in 1949.
Stalin was able to recognize the necessity and possibility of building an industrial civilization, albeit on an alternative pattern (socialism), even in an isolated Russia. This gave the Russian people a perspective of hope and a concrete, even if utterly challenging, task.
In terms of global strategy, unlike other Bolshevik leaders, only Stalin, following the ambidextrous Lenin, was able to understand the potential of the East, from Iran (Persia) to China. When all eyes were on the European revolution, Stalin wrote in November 1918, an essay entitled “Don’t Forget the East” followed up the December 1918 essay “Light from the East.” It took enormous perspicacity and originality to do so at that time: “At a time when the revolutionary movement is rising in Europe… the eyes of all are naturally turned to the West… At such a moment one “involuntarily” tends to lose sight of, to forget the far-off East, with its hundreds of millions of inhabitants…”
He went on in this essay to list “Persia, India, China.” While this was five years after Lenin’s superbly unorthodox “Backward Europe, Advanced Asia” (1913), it was prior to Lenin’s last essay in which he placed his final bet on Russia, India, and China (providing the basis of the Primakovian perspective). Stalin was the author of the strategic and paradigmatic pivot to Asia and in that sense the first Eurasian strategist of modernity or of alternate (‘Soviet’) modernity.
Obviously, Stalin’s most famous contribution was recovering from his costly initial mistakes and giving political leadership of genius to the Soviet Union and the Red Army in defeating the Nazis, as well as negotiating the postwar order at Yalta and Potsdam. He also had a clear understanding of the West’s intentions in the first years of the Cold War.
Both in the domestic and international arenas, it was under Stalin that a new bloc was formed on patriotism, even nationalism, statism, and leftism; an amalgam that fueled the victory in the Great Patriotic War and helped Asia for half a century in its fight against Japanese and Western predatory imperialism.
While history recognizes the negative aspect of Stalin’s domestic repressions (and in that sense the criticism and relaxation from Khrushchev to Gorbachev were positive), his external policies proved to be less so.
In the overall historical balance, Stalin’s contribution was far more positive than negative, and that positive aspect is relevant to Russia’s situation in the world today and indispensable to Russia. The Western charge of Stalinization could, in a dialectical inversion (or judo throw), be an essential ingredient for Russia’s survival and success, as it once was. If the question facing Russia is “NATO-ization or neo-Stalinization?”, there can only be one rational and patriotic answer.