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Reading glossy Maoist propaganda about the glories of the People’s Republic and the impending doom of the West, it was hard not to smile. The serene self-confidence of China Daily, and its anticipation of Xi as a new global leader, a figure around whom lesser figures will come and go, is less amusing.

How did we stumble into a world that sometimes appears more unstable than in Cold War days? Historians and commentators who tell you that it’s our own fault are two a penny, with their allegations of Western incompetence, greed, insensitivity and plain stupidity. There was never any lack of that, and there was always an element of hubris in the triumphalism of the Cold War winners.

Of course there were mistakes. Yet it would be another one to indulge in an orgy of puritanical self-reproach. As accusations of alienating Moscow or Beijing needlessly fly around, we should be careful whom we listen to. Not a few of the people who chastise the West for throwing away their victory are the same ones who found an exonerating word for Mao Zedong or the brutalities of the Soviet regime, frequently under the disguise of moral equivalence.

It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now: the West and the Soviet Union were never equally wicked, nor is the West as guilty as Russia for the new tensions. We underestimated the post-Cold War neurosis the Russians experienced as their empire disappeared around them and their country shrank, and we behaved clumsily over Nato, but that is far from explaining aggressive Russian behaviour today.

It is unfashionable to say so yet countries have characteristics, something like personalities, forged over time by their histories, cultures and experience. When Gorbachev was forced to dismantle the Soviet empire it did not mean that Russia had changed. It lost half its territory and much of its power, but its history remained what it had been, along with the qualities it had bred in its people and their leaders.

The uniqueness of Russian culture we know about, as we do the heroism of its people against the Nazi menace. Yet there is another, less uplifting history. Their experience of democratic progress, confined to a few years at the turn of the 20th century, was brief and unproductive. Next came revolution, when the legacy of Tsarist serfdom and autocracy were compounded by 70 years of moral and material squalor under totalitarian communism, and by Hitler’s ruinous invasion.

When you look at the cynicism, mendacity, corruption and official contempt for human rights characteristic of today’s Russia, don’t be surprised. The kleptocracy run for the benefit of its politicians, oligarchs and secret policemen has its antecedents, as does the absence of an effective liberal opposition: look at the historic failure of the anti-Bolshevik politicians in the October revolution. And as Putin casts about for foreign fall guys for his country’s domestic failings, political or economic, don’t be surprised either. Soviet Russia did the same.

You can argue that Western miscalculations since the Wall went down have helped to bring out the worst in the Russian psyche, but you cannot contend that the worst was not already present. And by “worst”, in essence I mean its chronic subservience to power, the strongman syndrome, and its chronic intelligence sickness.
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Julian Pardoe
May 1st, 2018
9:05 AM
This is really a question for GW. Is there a reference for the story about "Russian children maturing quickly"? I put it to an acquaintance who studies the history of the PCF and he was doubtful. It would be of interest to us both to have a date or some other way of verifying it.

Peter Kolding
April 1st, 2018
3:04 AM
The author warns against any nationalist tendencies in Western policy to counter the threat of Russia and China. Yet he ignores entirely that the strength of both these countries has always depended upon the unifying strength of nationalism. The Russians have always fought for Russia first, the Chinese have always been Chinese, the inheritors of the Middle Kingdom. The West, on the other hand, has dedicated itself to 'post-nationalism' and looks upon national loyalty in consumerist terms. (Look at Brexit, with all the rage centred not on the peace and tranquillity that democracy is supposed to promise, but economic advantage instead.) In short, the East is supported by a fundamental loyalty from its people. While the West, a mercenary contract. This is important because the East has retained its populations' loyalty even after suffering millions of deaths at its own governments' hands. The West, on the other hand, cannot even control its borders without being condemned and subverted by much of its own population, without the least concern for the interests of their countries. Worse, in response, their governments take the path of appeasement and slowly, but surely, lose territorial control. It is this loss of territorial control in the West, caused by the policies demanded by post-nationalist ambitions, that have provoked the imperialist designs of Russia and China into action. The argument of the author that it's the personalities of Putin and Xi that propels their actions, but it is the territorial weakness of the West that has allowed this. The West, and especially Europe, has built a society that for all intents and purposes is made up and designed for the exercise of power by an assortment of fifth-columnists-in-waiting. The signal for treachery is simply a refusal by the government to devolve territorial authority to them. Currently, these politically powerful identity groups are happy to allow a limited power of arbitration to the government. But with the example of Corbyn, we see them exercising a far more direct demand for mercenary power. It may be an archaic observation to the post-nationalist mind, but God is always on the side of the big battalions. And the West is determined to be ruled by small tribes and gangs.

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