Soviet Union

The Futurists

Epcot07The science – or some would say the art – of futurology emerged as an academic or semi-academic discipline in the 1960s under the influence of writers like Herman Kahn, Dennis Gabor,Wendell Bell and Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the Dymaxion House and the Geodesic Dome. In the 1960s and 70s “futures studies” – based on the analysis of possible futures and their causation patterns – became fashionable both in the United States and in Europe. While the American branch of futurology tended to focus mostly on practical projects – Stewart Brand’s Buckminster Fuller-influenced counter-cultural Whole Earth Catalog being one of the most notable – in Europe there was a tendency to prefer theoretical speculations about the long-range future of humanity and the Earth. Although nowadays futurology is a term that – in a Western context, at least – mostly belongs to a bygone era, the term “futures studies” has survived, and still represents a considerable body of scientific, pseudoscientific, sociological and historical research associated with ecology and sustainable development.

In the Soviet Union futurology developed along rather different lines, and was mainly associated with government-controlled national economic, industrial and defence projects. Even today, more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the study of military futurology is alive and well in Russia, where it provides an underpinning and rationale for the current large-scale modernization and expansion of the country’s military and defence capabilities. A glance at the website of the Russian Armed Forces broadcasting company Zvezda reveals a wide range of documents and videos devoted to the subject of Russia’s place and role n the world, while journals like Voyennaya Mysl’ (Military Thought) and Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kur’yer present many articles and links to material of a more detailed kind.

As Stephen Blank points out in a recent Eurasia Daily Monitor article, the central task of institutions like the Academy of Military Sciences is to predict and assess military and other threats to Russia, and to elaborate ways of reacting and responding to them:

For Russian writers and officials, not only will contemporary and future war be a war of high-tech precision-strike complexes, it will also encompass a broad range of information warfare or even attempts at creating major economic disasters through conventional, non-nuclear, high-tech, precision strikes. This involves war from earth (or in the case of submarines underwater) to space to the digital realm. Indeed, Russia plans to create cyber warfare units by 2017 (RIA Novosti, January 30). Similarly Russia’s long-range aircraft will start using foreign airfields in 2014 to perform their missions (Interfax-AVN Online, January 22). Furthermore, writers like Konstantin Sivkov, First Vice President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, call for imitating the United States’ move to a global strike capability using non-nuclear missiles. This capability is ostensibly for use against terrorists, but clearly also encompasses major theater war (Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kuryer Online, January 22). Colonel Sergei G. Chekinov (Reserve) and Lieutenant-General Sergei A. Bogdanov (Ret.), prominent writers on information operations, even argue that “non-traditional forms of armed struggle will be used to cause earthquakes, typhoons and heavy rainfall” that can damage not just the economy, but aggravate the overall socio-psychological climate in any targeted country (Military Thought, October–December 2013).

Putin and the Past


As some observers have recently pointed out, the Putin government’s new strategy concerning Europe, the U.S. and the West in general bears some similarities to the tactics that were employed by the fledgling Bolshevik government in the decade that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917. While the parallels are still very approximate, I think they do help us to understand where Russia is going at present, and what the future may hold.

When in the initial years of the new regime the hopes of a pan-European revolution failed to materialize, and the attempt to spread Communism by force of arms fairly quickly lost impetus, Soviet Russia fell back on a policy of “peaceful coexistence” with Western capitalism. This did not mean that the Bolsheviks abandoned their goal of world revolution – on the contrary, their aim now was to play off the capitalist nations of the West against one another: to unite with Germany against Poland, to support Britain against France, to befriend nationalist Turkey and to oppose and overcome the growing anti-Bolshevism of the United States.

By the summer of 1920 it was clear that the period of coexistence was likely to be prolonged: this was underlined in particular by the Soviet defeat in the Battle of Warsaw, which crippled the Red Army; by the failure of Western left-wing movements to follow the Bolshevik example, and by the parlous state of the Soviet economy. This situation led to an appraisal of future strategy which had three basic strands: 1) an acknowledgement of the Soviet Union’s weakness, which required an extended period of social and military calm, in which the Soviet government would need to advocate international peace and establish friendly relations with capitalist states; 2) an exploitation of the greed of Western capitalists, and an effort to promote and aggravate rivalry between capitalist groups and nations; and 3) a prolonged and far-reaching campaign of propaganda and subversion aimed at encouraging and inspiring revolutionary activity everywhere, both in the developed West and in the colonial and semi-colonial countries of the world. As Lenin put it: “We do not for a moment believe in lasting trade relations with the imperialist powers; what we shall obtain will be simply a breathing space [peredyshka].”

Some of the early effects of the new Soviet policy could be seen in movements like the Britain’s “Hand Off Russia” movement, which questioned the wisdom of conducting what left-wing circles portrayed as an undeclared war on Russia. As early as February 1920 Britain’s Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, gave a speech to Parliament in which he asserted that the best way to restore order in Russia was by means of trade, not military force, and that the key to Western success was “to fight anarchy with abundance”.

Today, there are differences – for example, instead of the context of a European war, there are the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. But’s not hard to detect echoes of the 1920s. There are the same attitudes taken by Western governments – their wait-and-see policies that put the interests of trade and commerce before any confrontation, even of a diplomatic kind, over issues of human rights and political repression. In place of the Western leftist revolutionary movements there are the campaigns by left-wing and libertarian groups conducting information-based attacks that are designed to cause maximum damage to Western military, security and economic interests, and the undisguised links of such campaigns with Russia itself, viz. the defection to Moscow of the spy Edward Snowden. And there are the activities of Western business interests and multinational corporations, which see in Russia a market of almost unlimited potential, and are determined not to let political or humanitarian issues stand in their way.

Ultimately, of course, the relative calm of the “breathing-space” period of the New Economic Policy was overtaken by events – the death of Lenin in 1924 and the intense power struggle that followed, with the ascension of Stalin and his rationalization of Leninist thinking and practice, exemplified in the massive reorganization and expansion of intelligence and secret police to cover almost every aspect of life. The conflicts and contradictions of the West’s interaction with Russia – the growth of the perception of the Soviet monolith as an unmistakable, dangerous and unambiguous enemy, and the blindness of  Western opinion-leaders and observers who allowed themselves to be duped about the monolith’s real nature – became increasingly pronounced as the 1920s gave way to the 1930s. An open military confrontation with the West might have occurred at any point, but for the special circumstances of European politics, which in the aftermath of 1914-18 were dominated by League of Nations pacifism and the sudden emergence of a National Socialist government in Germany.

What shouldn’t be lost sight of, perhaps, is the long-term approach of Russia’s political, military and security strategy. Its modern history has now extended for nearly a century, and is dominated by the interests of a powerful police and intelligence elite that has endured and shows no sign of weakening in its avowed purpose of defeating the West’s global hegemony.

Return to the Past

The re-criminalizing of “slander” in the draft law No. 3879 adopted by a show of hands in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada today is essentially a return to the law on anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, which was defined as:

propaganda or agitation with the purpose of undermining or weakening of the Soviet power or with the purpose of committing or incitement to commit particularly grave crimes against the Soviet state (as defined in the law);

the spreading with the same purposes of slanderous fabrications that target the Soviet political and social system;

production, dissemination or storage, for the same purposes, of literature with anti-Soviet content

The Soviet Trace

Writing in, Andrei Piontkovsky assesses the probability of a “Soviet trace” in the assassination of President Kennedy:

Официальная версия комиссии Уоррена – убийца, действовавший в одиночку, – не убеждает ни экспертов, ни, судя по опросам, большинство американцев. Слишком много фактов, начиная с убийства самого Освальда, косвенно указывают, что, скорее всего, он действовал не в одиночку, а был элементом разветвленного заговора. Между тем, полвека попыток независимого расследования убийства Кеннеди десятками конспирологов, ориентированных на версии правоконсервативного заговора, не привели к убедительным результатам. Версия советского следа с первых же дней после трагедии сознательно на уровне идеологического табу отвергалась в США как властью, не заинтересованной в новом острейшем кризисе в отношениях с Советским Союзом, так и леволиберальными media, жаждавшими дискредитировать своих традиционных оппонентов. Тем более что людей, ненавидевших Кеннеди, действительно было много и среди южных расистов, и среди ультраправых консерваторов.

Brodsky Anniversary

It’s exactly 50 years since the poet Joseph Brodsky was attacked in the pages of Vechernii Leningrad as “A Pseudo-literary Parasite”, in an article that led to his trial, imprisonment and exile.

Dead End

Having read the Kindle edition of Peter Savodnik’s The Interloper I’m left with a sense of  incompleteness – the book aims to show that Oswald was a far less mysterious personality than most accounts make him out to have been, yet in doing so it raises many more questions than it answers.

In particular, the author’s analysis of Oswald’s inner life seems to lead merely to a confirmation of just how blank and uninteresting that life was. While the study of Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union is well researched, it reveals a dead end: although it’s clear that while in Belorussia Oswald did come into contact with many representatives of the KGB, and was deeply involved with them, there appears to be no link between this fact and anything that might have led him to assassinate the U.S. President. Indeed, as Inessa Yakhliel, who knew Oswald, has recently pointed out, he “spoke about Kennedy very sympathetically. He said he was the only sensible president. Those were his words.”

Savodnik makes much of the ease with which conspiracy theorists have set out to present their own versions of what really happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and advances his own “simple” explanation – Oswald was angry about issues in his confused personal life and took it out on the president – as most likely to be near the truth. Yet this eagerness to promote the “lone gunman” theory also has its questionable aspect: for in the same way as the conspiracy theories can be used to promote particular political agendas, so can the supposed absence of a conspiracy.

The Kindle edition of the book contains a number of typographical glitches, most of which are unconnected with Oswald’s own idiosyncratic English spelling (in letter and diary passages quoted frequently in the text). In particular, Russian street names and words are sometimes presented wrongly, as in the often-repeated “Kalinina Ulitsa” for “Ulitsa Kalinina”, and there are some odd transliterations that lead, for example, to the Cyrillic letter “у” being rendered as uy. I haven’t seen the book’s print edition, but hopefully these typos have been ironed out there.