Norms and Values
Left vs. Right: Is Anti-Colonial Struggle Possible Under Right-Wing Conservative Slogans

How should Russia position itself in the current anti-colonial struggle, given that, quite obviously, the left-liberation discourse and left-wing values are by no means significant in Russia’s official internal ideological policy?

One of the topics raised at the recent Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club was the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle in the modern world; there was even a question at its plenary session. This topic has recently been increasingly in the focus of attention of Russian officials; the reasons are clear. At the same time, the key question that arises here is that the anti-colonial struggle has traditionally been waged on the basis of leftist ideas and values. And let’s agree that the values officially promoted by Moscow are by no means left-wing and are of a pronounced right-wing conservative nature. The question arises: can a right-wing conservative political regime, even if it is extremely revisionist in relation to the Western mainstream, work effectively in a field grounded in leftist values, or at least a leftist discourse?

Earlier, in the Soviet era, there were simply no such problems. The official ideology of the Soviet Union was Marxist-Leninist doctrine, which emphasised precisely the struggle against imperialism as the driving force behind world class struggle. In addition, support for the anti-colonial struggle flowed almost directly from Marxism (in its adaptation to the realities of the second half of the 20th century). Therefore, the Soviet Union did not have differences between internal and external ideology, there was no cognitive dissonance between the internal voice and what needed to be said outside.

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That is why the ideological and value support of the left-liberation and left-progressive movements around the world by the Soviet Union was absolutely sincere and did not require complex semiotic constructions or imitation simulacra. The USSR and its partners in the developing world spoke the same semantic language, and that is why the Soviet position in these countries enjoyed well-deserved prestige and popularity. Moreover, this emphasis on ideological values as the basis of the foreign policy of the USSR sometimes came into conflict with purely rational national interests. The significant financial resources invested by the Soviet Union in certain developing countries, as a rule, did not pay off. And from the point of view of political realism, it would have been more reasonable to use them for other purposes, at home.

But value-based policy, as we know, does not tolerate compromises. At the same time, a different approach would not necessarily be more efficient. The attempt to abandon this under Mikhail Gorbachev led to an almost complete loss of our country’s influence in the developing world. Changing course, to put it mildly, did nothing to help the political survival of the Soviet Union itself. But these are already our own internal political particulars. In general, let us emphasise once again that the USSR, in terms of its values and ideology, was a natural partner for leftist liberation movements in the developing world in their struggle first against colonialism as such, and later against neo-colonialism.

Now the People’s Republic of China speaks the same value language with the leftist liberation movements. The combination of Marxist theory with an understanding of the practice of the peasant war in revolutionary China is almost completely in line with the goals and values of the anti-colonial struggle in the developing world. In addition to this, modern Chinese assistance to third world countries also fits quite organically into the concept of counteracting Western economic neo-colonialism. That is why, among other factors, this Chinese strategy, on the one hand, enjoys prestige and popularity among partner countries, and on the other hand, is quite effective in practical cases. As a result, Chinese leadership in the developing world, which is already becoming obvious, is a natural consequence of these approaches.

The recent 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China confirmed and consolidated all these trends. The foreign policy component of Xi Jinping’s report at the Congress was largely devoted to precisely these issues and developed precisely these values. In particular, the report noted that China’s Belt and Road Initiative has become a global public good and a platform for cooperation. In terms of values, the congress is ensuring the guiding role of Marxism in the ideological domain.

In general, Xi Jinping’s report emphasised that, in the context of China’s overall strategy for “the development of a human community with a shared future,” China stands for true multilateralism, against hegemony and unilateralism. As a result, the congress approved China’s course to build a global network of partnerships and foster a new type of international relations. It is obvious that all these Chinese approaches are almost completely consistent with the values of the developing world.

In addition, it should be noted that the Chinese example proves the inaccuracy of the assertion, widespread both in the West and in Russia, that “socialism died” with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that there is no place for socialism in the 21st century. Therefore, China is the beacon of modern real socialism for a significant number of developing countries that remain committed to leftist values in their official ideological policies, as well as by many supporters of Marxist and left-wing progressive views in the West. Naturally, geopolitical contradictions may persist between left-Marxist countries, such as, for example, between China and Vietnam, but these are particularities in this case.

In this context, the question arises of how Russia should position itself in this anti-colonial struggle, given that, quite obviously, the left-liberation discourse and left-wing values are by no means significant in Russia’s official internal ideological policy. The promotion of right-wing conservative values plays a much more significant role. Is it possible, under the banner of Solzhenitsyn, Danilevsky, Ivan Ilyin and other conservative Russian thinkers, to become an attractive example for the anti-colonial struggle?

Naturally, it is easiest to say that all this is just another imitation simulacrum, and that Russia’s openness to the anti-colonial movement is dictated exclusively by strategic objectives. There is an argument for this. But on the other hand, the situation may not be so simple and unambiguous. As cynical as it may be to point this out, many political forces, parties and movements in Africa and other regions, which grew out of the left-wing anti-colonial struggle of the 1960-80s and remain in power, have since then significantly changed their real positions. To some extent, all of them have “succumbed to stardom”, and the tasks of maintaining power and effective control over society, which they face in the first place, almost naturally require them to pursue right-wing conservative real politics, despite maintaining left-wing rhetorical slogans.

In an even greater number of countries, there are political regimes that lack even a hereditary connection with the Marxist movements of the past era. For them, the message of anti-neo-colonialist rhetoric is quite understandable, and at the same time their own policy is purely right-wing conservative. They do not need left-wing revolutionary slogans at all; moreover, they pose a threat to the internal stability of these regimes. Finally, there are examples, albeit rare, of a fundamentally anti-leftist anti-colonial struggle — this is Eritrea. There, a nationalist war of independence was waged against the erstwhile left-wing Marxist regime in Ethiopia.

In all these cases, paradoxical as it may seem at first glance, Russia’s approach coincides with the interests of the ruling elites of these countries. This is a combination of right-wing conservative rhetoric aimed at consolidating the domestic political regime with an anti-colonial approach to foreign policy. The cynicism of realpolitik is often just that.

This, however, does not cancel, in our opinion, a number of challenges that may face Russia in this regard. The first of these is a challenge to openness to the left-liberation discourse, which, despite all the specifics described above, is the main one for the anti-colonial movement. Even as a disingenuous tactic, it can strengthen the voice of Russia in this field. The second challenge is much larger, and it refers not only to Russia itself, but also to global processes as a whole: is it possible to synthesise non-systemic left and right ideas, whether there is cooperation, at least tactical, possible between non-systemic left and right wing political forces.

A few years ago, the Valdai Discussion Club published a series of reports on the phenomenon that our authors called the “rightist revolt” concerning the modern neoliberal mainstream. Even at the time, we raised the question of the “synthesis of two revolts” as a possible necessary condition for their success and effectiveness. However, it is clear, both from historical examples and from the present, that this is a solvable albeit extremely difficult task. Traditionally, the far left and the far right have always been in principle at odds with each other. This mutual hostility has not disappeared anywhere today. In addition, the general rule is that the political forces that are in opposition traditionally pay more attention to the ideology and the value purity of their political line. However, when they come to power, some of them make unprincipled and cynical compromises, abandoning their former ideals. Therefore, an attempt to synthesise non-systemic left- and right-wing movements is extremely difficult. Moscow’s attempts to do this in previous periods sometimes led to diametrically contradictory results. An example is the World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi a few years ago, a traditionally radical-left anti-imperialist forum in terms of ideological values. In our subjective opinion, there was no synthesis of left and right, but two practically parallel and non-intersecting agendas — one left-revolutionary from foreign co-organisers, and the other right-wing conservative in the sections organised by Russia. Only time will tell whether a parallel situation awaits Russia’s current call for an intensification of the anti-colonial struggle.

Finally, the main challenge that is now facing Russia, in terms of its ambition to lead the anti-colonial movement, is how its own actions after February 24 will be perceived as successful and effective by the countries of the developing world. In the meantime, judging by the restrained and expectant position of many of these countries, one can perhaps say, using Marxist language, that their assessments are of a dialectical nature.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.