Russia Will Have Its Way in Ukraine

Russia Will Have Its Way in Ukraine

If Chomsky is right in his analysis of the geopolitics of the U.S. empire of client-states (or check out this article from the New York Times if you want a more mainstream view on this: notice the author is not denying that the U.S. Empire exists and is responsible for a lot of bad things around the world, he is simply arguing that its positive effects somehow outweigh all the negatives), this is how the conflict in Ukraine will turn out: Russia, who is already sending troops into the country, will try to get Yanukovich recognized up until the upcoming elections, and will crank up the military demonstrations and other manipulation devices in order to try to influence the result and get a pro-Russian government elected.

If that fails, Russia will move to dismantle Ukraine, first by declaring Crimea an independent state. That sort of makes sense both strategically, considering the entire Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed there, as well as on self-governance principles as Crimea is comprised mostly of non-ethnic Ukrainians, and historically the region was never associated with Ukraine before Kruschev arbitrarily decided to integrate it into Ukraine in 1954. After that, will Russia also carve a chunk out of Eastern Ukraine into some sort of puppet-state? Or will they carve out the whole Eastern half and attach it to Crimea as the Republic of Eastern Ukraine? Both are possibilities as long as Putin claims the right to intervene militarily in whichever part of the country is necessary to preserve the rights and interests of Russian citizens. And both options have been openly discussed by Putin before.

The point is, the West is not going to intervene militarily no matter what Russia will decide to do. Sure, there will be the standard threats and warnings, and maybe we’ll impose sanctions on Russia and even in the last extreme kick them out of international institutions like the World Trade Organization or, why not, even the UN itself. But that means nothing. Remember the powerlessness of the League of Nations throughout the 1930s as its numerous denunciations of various illegal attacks on autonomous states had no effects on the aggressor. The worst the League could do was to threaten to expel countries and impose meaningless sanctions. Looking back, we can’t say that the punishment dished out by the League had any deterrent effect on future aggression, to the contrary, it just showed the powerlessness of the League in the face of aggressive nations, which encouraged Germany and Japan to be even more aggressive.

In the current Ukrainian crisis, similarly, the West will not intervene militarily. Firstly, because in the current configuration of the U.S. empire of client-states, we never fight against an enemy who can match us. During the Cold War, we never fought against Russia or China head on. Instead we waged a war on North Vietnam and another one against North Korea, countries at a huge disadvantage against U.S. forces. We couldn’t even win those wars though, so the military leaders learned their lesson and since the 1970s we don’t even wage war against anybody who could fight back.

We were willing to intervene in Grenada in 1983, a country of 91,000 people defended by around 2,000 soldiers, or in Panama in 1989 where we already had a military presence there since the beginning of the century that was far superior to the local military forces. We were willing to bomb Serbia in 1999 because, hey, what can they do to us? Bomb U.S. bases in nearby Italy? Of course not, at that point NATO would wipe out their entire country, so Serbia was basically defenseless against U.S. aggression. Or Iraq in both invasions? In 1990 the war was pretty much over the minute U.S. troops landed in Kuwait. The Iraqi forces were defeated in a matter of days. And yet, Bush Senior was so terrified of Sadam’s army (and he had good reasons to be: we were the ones who sold him weapons and provided training to his officers) that he refused to march on Baghdad and depose the dictator.

But we were not willing to intervene in Iran in 1979 when the Shah, our loyal ally, was brought down. Iran had been a huge part of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle-East: it was considered one of our two Guardians in the Middle-East, the other one being Israel, so losing the country to a deeply anti-American fundamentalist theological elite was a devastating blow to U.S. interests. Yet we didn’t dare to send troops in. In recent years, especially under Bush Junior, we singled out Iran as one of our main enemies, yet a military invasion has never been seriously considered.

Iran is simply too big, too advanced and has a military that is just too strong to simply brush aside like the Iraqi army. During the Balkan wars in the 1990s, US troops were never on the ground while fighting was going on. They only came after, as part of the peace/stabilizing mission. The U.S. would never risk sending its troops against a well-prepared, well-equipped modern army like the Bosnian Serbs. Or remember Hungary in 1956 or the Prague Spring of 1968: these people were revolting against the Communist system that we were fighting against, they were fighting to have the right to essentially become U.S. client-states, and yet we did not dare to protect them in the face of heavy Russian military intervention.

Secondly, remember what happened with Georgia in 2008. All of the European states and the U.S. “supported” Georgia morally, but didn’t lift a finger to help it fight off the Russians. And since then, the Russians, with complete impunity, have imposed their candidate into power and firmly reattached the country to the Russian block, and away from the West.

And Ukraine is much closer to Putin’s heart than Georgia is. Losing Ukraine from his orbit would be a tragedy for him both economically (loss of a market of 46 million people) and politically (loss of face for losing a client-country historically and culturally inter-linked with Russia for hundreds of years). He will do anything in his power to maintain Ukraine in Russia’s orbit, and the West won’t lift a finger to prevent him.

And this is why, at the end of the day, Russia will have its way in Ukraine. The only element of surprise remains the Ukrainian population. Will it mobilize along ethnic lines and start organizing militias in anticipation of a Yugoslavia-type descent into civil war? Or will it unite in supporting the integrity of the country in the face of foreign aggression? At the end of the day, it will be the regular people who will have to defend Ukraine from Russia, with no military support from the West.




Capitalism vs. Democracy

Capitalism vs. Democracy

A book came out in France a few months ago that sent shock waves through economics and political science circles: Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Author Thomas Piketty makes the seemingly outlandish claim that capitalism is inherently incompatible with democracy. Can this be?

Most Westerners have been indoctrinated their entire lives into believing that capitalism and democracy work hand in hand (for me it was only the last 24 years since I was born in a Communist state). Putting the indoctrination aside for now, let’s take a fresh look at the two notions of Democracy and Capitalism from the “think for yourself” perspective.

Democracy literally means “the rule of the people” or “power of the people.” So in a “real” democracy, the people have the power, that’s pretty simple. When looking at historic examples though, it immediately becomes clear that all of the people can never be included. Depending on the socio-economical and historical circumstances of the day, various democratic systems have excluded children, women, slaves, foreigners, mentally challenged individuals, criminals, etc… from having a say.

Athens during the Golden Age, for example, is sometimes presented as a near-utopian democracy. Well, if you consider a state that excludes nearly 80% of its population from the political process as an example of a vibrant democracy, the bar is set pretty low. A historical survey of democracies will show that the main concern of those in charge of setting up the system is who to exclude and who to include. While the concept of democracy as “power to the people” is a useful tool for indoctrinating the population and getting it to rally behind the regime, shrewd politicians have always been careful not to allow too much power to trickle down to too many independent-thinking people.

Since a utopian democracy is not to be found anywhere in History, we need to look at the level of meaningful political participation as the measure for how efficient a particular democracy is. What do I mean by “meaningful” political participation? I don’t mean simply giving a high percentage of the population the right to vote, or even the percentage of those who do vote. For example for U.S. presidential elections, the average turnout over the last century hovers in the high 50s%. On the face of it, this seems much better than the Athenians’ numbers and it would support, on the surface, the argument that the U.S. has a much higher level of political participation and is therefore a better democracy. But is this participation, as seen in presidential elections, really meaningful?

For example, here in California where I live, my vote has absolutely no bearing on the election result. Whether or not I vote, a Democrat will take the state. If I lived in Alabama, it would be the opposite result, regardless of my vote. In addition, I don’t feel represented by neither party. To push it even further, having lived in a number of democratic systems in Europe with much broader political spectrums, both the Democrats and Republicans look very similar. In many European countries they could safely sit in the Center and even merge, no one would find it strange, as their ideological differences are unremarkable. So, sure, I am allowed to vote in Presidential elections for one of two candidates, neither of whom I support, but my vote doesn’t matter anyway because of the electoral college system. Is this “meaningful” participation? I don’t think so.

If I disagree with the policies of the Government, I have to rely on my representatives and senator to carry my views. But most likely my vote in the elections that put them in power had no bearing either, as gerrymandering has made the majority of districts “safe” in the U.S. It is just another method of insulating those in power from popular pressures.

So under the U.S. democratic system, most of the population has the right to vote (let’s not forget that 1/3 of the people living in the US don’t vote: children, undocumented immigrants, and felons are excluded), but it is only a token right, since the political system has insulated itself from the popular vote.

This is exactly why I use the term “meaningful” participation. I define it as the percentage of the population who has an actual say in policy making. Simply being given the right to vote is not enough.

So let’s go back to the Athens example and compare it to the US version of democracy. Certainly the US compares favorably to it when looking at raw participation numbers. But when digging under the surface, we begin to see why Athenian democracy is still held in such high esteem. For starters the Athenian model was based on direct democracy, not a representative one like here in the U.S. Out of the 30,000 to 60,000 of citizens who were actually allowed to vote, every single one of them was allowed to walk into the Assembly (their version of Congress) and participate in decision making. Every one of them was allowed to have his voice heard. Looked at it from this perspective, the 20% figure of citizen participation in direct decision-making is absolutely bewildering. To compare, in the U.S. today this percentage would be 0.002% if we took into account only elected officials, high-level executive officers and life-time appointed judges, who can all influence policy (I tallied all U.S. representatives [435], senators [100], state senators [about 1,000] and representatives [2510], federal judges [3,294], cabinet members including pres [24]=7,363).

The 0.002% figure though does not take into account the people whose interests the politicians cater to: the business community. And this is where democracy and capitalism interact:  under the U.S. representative model of democracy, the officials in power don’t represent the interest of the “people,” they represent the interests of those who control capital flows.

You probably heard before that the wealthiest 1%  of Americans control over 30% of the wealth in this country. But did you know that the top 10% control over 75% of the wealth? The official ideological line in the U.S. is that it doesn’t matter who controls the wealth for two reasons: because everyone’s vote counts the same (US egalitarian myth) and because everyone who works hard enough can make it big (the American Dream myth).

As far as voting, by now you should seriously question whether your individual vote has any weight at all in the political process. And as far as the rags-to-riches myth, it is simply not feasible for the vast majority of people. Sure there are your Mark Cubans and other wildly successful entrepreneurs who were not born in wealth. But the vast majority of the top 10%, and virtually the unanimity of the top 1%, was born into wealth. And this only makes sense: under a capitalist system, the more capital you control, the more capital you can acquire. Regardless of what the feel good/ self-help literature is telling you, it takes money to make REAL money. Of course a hard-working individual with 0 resources can make enough money for him and his family to live at ease, even luxuriously. But that is not the kind of money that matters when it comes to having a say in decision making at the societal level.

The role of ANY political system is to divest resources from the general population towards the elite group. The only difference between various systems is in how the elite group is defined, who is allowed in, and its permeability.

What I am getting at is that the undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system is not “natural,” it is not the only alternative possible. However, it is a natural outgrowth of the political organization of this country in the 18th century. Remember the Founding Fathers: they were not ordinary citizens, they were part of the socio-economic elite of their time: “Almost all of them were well-educated men of means who were dominant in their communities and states.”

They were the ones controlling capital in 18th century America. Therefore, it only makes sense that they set up the country in the way that best served their interests. That is what every political elite has always done, throughout History. And one of their main interests was not to allow the general population a say in politics, which could potentially lead to a divestment of important resources allocated to their group.

Of course, because of the huge imbalance in sheer numbers between the elite group and the rest of the population, the average people need to be kept in line, or all hell could break loose. Under authoritarian regimes, this is done mainly by force and somewhat through ideology (while ideological indoctrination is heavily handed in authoritarian states, the level of internalization by the population is never very high; in other words people understand they have to act in certain accepted ways and speak in certain accepted terms, but most of them only pay lip-service to ideology, they don’t actually believe it). In a democracy, this is done mainly through ideology, while the use of force is more covert (by the way, if you don’t think that the U.S. has used force against its own people, I would recommend you read up on the FBI’s Operation COINTELPRO from the FBI’s own website!!!!!). As long as they can lead you to believe that your vote counts, that the U.S. is a beacon of light among the nations of the world who supports Human Rights around the globe and who fights for individual freedoms worldwide, you are way more indoctrinated than any citizen of the former-USSR ever was.

In conclusion, under a capitalist economic system, “real” democracy cannot be achieved. By definition, the economic model favors those who can accumulate vast quantities of capital. Because the supply of capital is not infinite, by concentrating it, fewer and fewer people have access to it. Those who are able to successfully accumulate it over time become the elite. They will then fight tooth and nail in order to create and/or maintain ideal conditions for their continuing accumulation of capital. And the number one condition is to keep power concentrated in their hands, in order to be able to influence all other factors in the equation. Since in the long term “soft” control has proved much more adequate than control by force, democracy is the political system of choice for capitalists. It has nothing to do with the “rule of the people” and everything to do with the rule of money.

In the final analysis I don’t believe that simply because we call our system “democratic” we live in a Democracy in the true sense of the word, just like no one would argue that the Socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (also known as North Korea) is a democracy or a people’s republic. Rather we live in a “capitalocracy” and that is a scary thought.