arcadian

Scientific and political writing of Paweł Krawczyk (krvtz.net)

Germany's one time famous #Energiewende (energy transition) program has been blamed with gradually pushing the country into the hands of #Russia gas dependency, rather high CO2 intensity of German electricity generation (even while having one of the largest shares of #renewables) – and all that at extremely high electricity prices.

I won't go into the details of Energiewende timeline and criticism, as it has been sufficiently discussed elsewhere. I just wanted to look at one particular document, a foundational one, to see if an ideological bias of the program could have something to do with its failure.

The document in question is a 2011 report Germany's energy transition – A collective work for the future by Ethics Committee for Secure Energy Supply (original in German).

The report is a feasibility study of the Energiewende and one of the primary questions it attempts to answers is whether it's possible to still decarbonise the German electricity generation and phase out #nuclear power at the same time. The question was being raised based on a rather sober notion that removal of the only low-carbon and dispatchable electricity source that nuclear is, makes the decarbonisation much harder rather than easier to achieve.

The report's conclusion not only a firm “yes”, but also a recommendation to make that particular target binding:

The Ethics Committee is firmly convinced that the phase-out of nuclear energy can be completed within a decade by means of the energy transition measures presented here. This goal and the necessary measures should be a binding commitment on the part of society. Only on the basis of a clear timeframe can the necessary planning and investment decisions be made.

The primary challenge with removing nuclear from the grid is that it's dispatchable, that is produces electricity we need it, not when wind wants to blow or Sun wants to shine. By removing especially a dispatchable source you need to replace it with something else, also dispatchable, or you're risking blackouts.

The report's conclusion?

It is possible because there are lower-risk alternatives.

Are there? Well, there are no other dispatchable electricity source alternatives, neither in 2011 nor today. What did the report's authors have in mind back then?

Germany has alternatives: power generation from wind, sun, water, geothermal energy, biomass, the more efficient use and increased productivity of energy, and fossil fuels used in a climate-friendly way. Changes in people's lifestyles also help to save energy if they respect nature and preserve it as the basis of creation.

Note a very careful wording here: interests of nearly every interest groups have been captured here in a very inclusive way: renewable industry, farmers, but also fossil fuel suppliers (!) and even environmental and religious groups, who get a nod in the last sentence. The report is generally very conscious about the interests of the German businesses and scientific community:

The phase-out should be designed in such a way that the competitiveness of industry and of Germany as a business location is not jeopardised. Through science and research, technological developments and entrepreneurial initiative to develop new business models for a sustainable economy.

There's just one business and scientific community that is consistently vilified in the report:

The phase-out is necessary and recommended in order to eliminate the risks posed by nuclear power in Germany in the future.

The “risks” are mentioned in the report 33 times on 48 pages, so nearly on every single page, excluding list of authors etc. From the EC JRC (2021) report we know that all electricity generation technologies come with some risks and the risks of nuclear power are easily manageable, and from the UNECE (2021) report we learn that nuclear power comes with quantifiable lowest environmental impacts among all generation sources.

Environmental impacts by different sources of electricity (UNECE 2021)

When reading the Energiewende report it's hard not to feel that its largest bias (but not only one) was obsessive singling out of nuclear power as the most risky source, while even fossil fuels are not presented as such – even though exactly the opposite conclusions come out from reports on the impact of fossil fuels on human health and climate. And no, the report does not quote a single scientific publication to support this particular claim. It just seems to be an a priori assumption that all authors kept in their minds so hard that nobody even felt any need to prove it. Almost an axiom. It was so deeply embedded into the report, that it even impacted the writing style. Note the scare quotes?

The accident in Fukushima has shaken confidence in expert assessments of the “safety” of nuclear power plants. (p. 10)

The axiom is even explicitly mentioned in the report, which quite clearly explains its rather notable lack of any impartial and evidence-based discussion on “should we do it” or even “can we do it”. The report from the beginning was intended as a way to convince the lawmakers that it must happen, and the sooner the better:

The question is no longer “nuclear power yes or no?”, but rather the question of how to shape the phase-out, i.e. “phase-out sooner or later? (p. 10)

The report reaches deep into the religious origins of obligation of human towards the nature:

It is about the question of how people deal with nature and the relationship between society and nature. The Christian tradition and the culture of Europe result in a special obligation of man towards nature. Man's ecological responsibility for nature aims to preserve and protect the environment and not to destroy it for one's own purposes, but to increase its benefits and to preserve opportunities for securing future living conditions. (p. 11)

And there's nothing wrong with this postulate on its own, except the whole narrative is so extremely biased in its vilifying of nuclear power while whitewashing any other generation (including fossil), that its practical outcome is literally reverse of the intended: nuclear phase-out has resulted in increased pollution and human mortality.

Death rates from energy production per TWh

Most notably, on page 14 there's a whole long section on risk management, which is honest, professional and logical, with statements such as “there cannot be zero risk in large-scale plant”, “none of the energy options is risk-free” and calls for “scientific facts and jointly agreed justified ethical weighing criteria”. At the end it however it does literally the opposite: rather than actually looking at science and comparing the relative risks per units of energy, it simply jumps straight to a conclusion like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat:

It is easy to see why nuclear power plants can and should be replaced by lower-risk methods of energy production. This is because almost all scientific studies come to the conclusion that renewable energies and the improvement in energy efficiency entail lower health and environmental risks than nuclear energy. Moreover, from today's perspective, the economic risks of these alternative energies appear to be manageable and limitable. (p. 14)

This couldn't be complete without the mandatory nod towards Gazpromthe fossil fuel industry:

This also applies in a weakened form to the use of fossil energy sources, if the agreed climate protection goals are met. (p. 14)

The authors were unavoidably going to hit the conflict of removing a dispatchable low-carbon source from the grid and the targets of decarbonisation. They resolve it rather easily – you can't compare these!

The question of whether the climate problem is bigger or smaller than the problems resulting from nuclear accidents is answered differently, but basically there is no meaningful basis for comparison. (p. 20)

The next key controversy they faced is “security of supply”, or simply uninterrupted supply of electricity throughout the country. Their verdict?

In the next few years, a considerable increase in renewable energies will have to be achieved. This expansion is important in order to achieve the goal of climate-compatible energy production. Wind, solar thermal energy, photovoltaics (PV), geothermal energy and other innovative approaches, together with flanking measures for electricity storage, can thus tend to contribute to securing the base load demand. Today, biomass power plants are already capable of providing secure power. (p. 22)

Unfortunately, this statement is directly contradictory to the stated section topic: variable renewable energy (VRE) is called “variable” for a reason, and because it's weather dependent a better expansion would be “variable random energy”. Renewables do not improve supply security, quite the opposite – they cause insecurity by dropping supply at random moment during peak demand times, and by overloading the grid with unneeded supply during low demand periods. Especially talking about “renewables securing the base load demand” is an oxymoron, as “base load” is called “base” specifically due to its stable and predictable character.

Among all listed technologies biomass is the only dispatchable generation technology that actually exists in Germany – it provides ~14% of the electricity and is highly controversial as most of the “biomass” are trees imported from Siberia and Africa to be burned in German power plants. Electricity storage has been always the Holy Grail of renewable energy, as in theory it's the missing ingredient that allows to store the excess energy produced by variable renewables during their peak generation times to be released when they go down. But that's theory – in practice storage is tricky, with the only large-scale storage technology available being hydro pumped storage, which Germany has ~15% in terms of power (4% of annual generation), and an emerging technology is battery storage, which after 10 years of Energiewende achieved 4% of power and negligible generation.

Ultimately, the question of “how to replace phased-out nuclear capacity” is watered down and left without a definitive answer. That is, if we don't count this forecast – rather shocking in the context of postulated decarbonisation of the whole program:

The German Association of Energy and Water Industries even goes beyond this in its figures on the addition of power plant capacity: by 2019, around 50 power plants (wind, gas, hard coal, lignite, biomass, waste, run-of-river; also pumped storage, compressed air) with approx. 30 gigawatts would be built. (p. 22)

Wait, what?! Gas, hard coal, lignite? And no, no “approx. 30 GW of compressed air” power plants have been built, ever.

Dependence on imports

Can you think of any other significant “supply security” aspects? Well, certainly there's dependence on foreign imports.

This aspect is represented in the report by... two paragraphs of rather vague analysis, listing “imports of oil, gas and uranium” as the key dependencies.

Yes, 100 tons of uranium and 100'000'000'000 of cubic meters of gas and oil are put in the same line and presented as equivalent. The only conclusion is to keep the imports “diverse”, and I have an impression that the authors either avoided the topic or simply dismissed it as too trivial to discuss any further.

Gazprom sends its compliments back to 2011

Electricity costs

Another important part of the analysis contains a forecast about estimated price rises as result of nuclear phase-out. And we have a forecast:

The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) concludes that the moratorium will only lead to minor electricity price increases for households amounting to a maximum of 1.4 percent. The DIW attributes the increase mainly to the rise in exchange prices of about 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour (six per cent).

The grim reality was that only 5 years after these words were written, Germany reached the highest electricity prices in the whole EU. In 2022 the billions of discounted gas from Russia came out to come bundled with a energy blackmail and €200 billion stabilisation package to help skyrocketing electricity prices.

Social consensus

I quite like that large part of the report is dedicated to achieving social consensus on the terms of the transition. As a matter of fact, large part of the document discusses that topic and I'm essentially skipping that as most of it is non-controversial to me. In any case, widespread discussion and consensus-based decision making is a key trope throughout the document:

Such a process of understanding is a viable path to a concretisation of the basic consensus. On this path, ideological divergences will always arise. They concern, for example, the extent to which protection against risks should take precedence over protection of the quality of life.

It's nice to highlight these unavoidable differences in opinions, and it's nice to wish to resolve them. But how do you resolve a conflict between those who want to build way more wind towers and PV farms in Bavarian hills, and those who want to preserve the hills for future generations?

Here comes DESERTEC

The section on actual technologies to drive the transition is long but surprisingly vague in terms of both concrete effects and especially their feasibility. I won't discuss it in details, but rather conclude that in general it proposes a lot of ideas that it's hard to argue with (“energy efficiency”, “modern insulation” etc) but in general it looks more like a result of enthusiastic brainstorming where random ideas are enumerated (“let's combine innovative products ... oh I've heard someone proposed electricity storage in refrigerator systems ... and here it goes in the report”) but contains zero actual analysis of their feasibility even on the highest level (“we need to reduce demand by X GW ... potential for reduction in residential buildings countrywide is Y GW”).

And then there's the whole section on “Renewable energies” (p. 31+) which bears exactly the same spirit as described above. But then I got to this:

In the medium and long term, solar thermal energy also offers great opportunities for energy cooperation with Southern Europe and Africa, which also has development potential in Africa. The “Desertec” initiative is a first important approach.

Ah, the DESERTEC! In 2009 the project, which proposed to build massive arrays of PV panels on Sahara and then export electricity over HVDC lines to Europe was massively advertised, with far-fetching forecasts it will produce “15% of Europe’s electricity requirements by 2050”. No wonder it just had to be mentioned in the 2011 report, and I remember any doubts on “but how do we...” was promptly dismissed with the magical “we'll have DESERTEC soon!” discussion-ending argument.

How do we replace 8.5 GW of the phase-out nuclear? Elementary: we'll have DESERTEC! By 2013 however DESERTEC was practically dead due to a mix of reasons: technical complexity, lower than expected capacity of panels, higher than expected prices, Arab Spring in Africa and many other.

Reality of PV on Saraha

I believe this section of the report is both representative to the spirit of Energiewende and symbolic to its failure: its authors pushed a hard time-bound decision to phase-out a reliable, low-carbon electricity source while placing all their bets on a future, prospective technologies with a very uncertainty of feasibility. Germany literally jumped head-first into a pool covered in a dense fog of future, hoping it will be full of clean, fluffy, modern tech just because “society wanted it”. One thing that was certain was the demand for electricity. As the expected technologies never really materialised, or were way less optimal than expected, but the German society of course expected 24/7 power supply, the pool came out to be actually filled with hard, dirty fuel of the past – coal.

And the fossil fuels were kind of guaranteed in the Ethics report already in 2011. The whole section “Fossil-fuelled power plants” (p. 34) starts with a righteous disclaimer (“phase-out of nuclear energy must not be at the expense of climate protection”) but it only plays the role of a fig leaf before what comes next:

The supply gap resulting from the phase-out of nuclear energy is to be closed primarily through the use of renewable energies and energy efficiency as well as through the use of fossil fuels, especially gas. They provide the security of a permanently available electricity supply. (p. 34)

Now, as we saw in the later years, the supply gas was not really closed “by the use of renewable energies and energy efficiency”, and that was kind of obvious due to the intermittency of the former.

The next few pages sound literally like an advertising leaflet from “Gazprom”, where fossil gas is “safely available”, new gas plants can be built in “three years”. Of course, “there is no reason to fear a lock-in effect”, and then comes the best: “natural gas is the fossil fuel with the lowest CO2 emissions”. They happily wrote this in 2011, when CO2 intensity of nuclear were estimated at 12 gCO2eq/kWh while from fossil gas – 490 gCO2eq/kWh, that is 40x more. At the end of the chapter, there's a mandatory nod to the coal industry, praising “modern, highly efficient coal-fired power plants”.

Gazprom sends its compliments back to 2011

I don't think the next paragraph will be of any surprise, after what we have read so far: the same attitude of “phase-out now, think about alternatives later”, and they certainly will appears because “of utmost importance”:

Creating electricity storage options will be of utmost importance. Due to grid integration and the state of research, solutions with hydrogen or methane as well as pumped storage, for example, are feasible in the future. New, unconventional infrastructural services will include the systemic storage of electricity. The electricity re-serve has a dampening effect on prices. The creation of extensive storage capacities is not a prerequisite for the nuclear phase-out. However, storage facilities of various types will be so important in the future that their further research, development and testing must be intensified today. (p. 37)

“Proliferation” and “nuclear waste”

The report contains further two sections, titled as above, which are an absolute mastery of vague and allusive style of writing. The topic of “proliferation” is a belief that where there are civilian nuclear reactors, there must be a bomb.

The authors do not even try to prove their point with any specific examples, they simply note that unspecified and that “international laws to contain and control proliferation have so far been of limited effectiveness”, which kind of completely ignores the fact that while there's 30+ countries with nuclear power, there's only 7 with nuclear weapons, and that club remains largely stable over the last decades. In addition, two countries (Israel, North Korea) allegedly have nuclear weapons but no nuclear power, which once again demonstrates that these two sets are largely independent.

The strongest argument used by the authors in this section is that “people increasingly have the impression”.

The section on nuclear waste starts with a demonstration of utter ignorance of the authors to the fundamental concepts of physics (“several millennia”), and ironically ends with a warning against “excessive optimism” about technology being able to deal with the waste, when the whole remaining parts of the report are one huge tribute to “excessive optimism” as it comes to all the technologies authors like and expect to magically appear to compensate for nuclear phase-out.

The myths and reality of nuclear wast

“Firmly convinced”

The report starts with a declaration that Committee “is firmly convinced” that the nuclear phase-out is not only feasible, but “can be completed within a decade”.

What follows is a mix of naive technocratic optimism about some magical technologies that will conveniently appear within only a decade (!) to happily compensate for the lost nuclear capacity, and cynical but calming “last resort option” of expanding fossil fuels capacity just in case the “magical” option did not happen.

What we saw in reality, was collapse of the naive renewables optimism (mostly driven by absence of any scalable storage) and prompt switch to the “cynical fossil option”, simply because it was the only option to keep the lights on in the country!

We will have phased out nuclear energy by 2022. We have a very difficult problem, namely that almost the only sources of energy that will be able to provide baseload power are coal and lignite. Naturally, we cannot do without baseload energy. Natural gas will therefore play a greater role for another few decades. I believe we would be well advised to admit that if we phase out coal and nuclear energy then we have to be honest and tell people that we’ll need more natural gas. (Angela Merkel, Speech at 49th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos on 23 January 2019)

By 2021 energy crisis we saw Energiewende turn into its parody, with Germany, which now has 120 GW installed capacity in renewables, is forced to turn to the most hard-core version: new coal (!) and gas plants, while the soon-to-be-closed nuclear fleet has been desperately spared for unspecified period thanks to appeals of thousands of scientists and engineers, with with fierce opposition from “Greens” who would rather keep “safe coal”.

I think the best demonstration of the bias of the reports is that Energiewende is still being presented as “leading program for decarbonisation”, while Germany's CO2 emissions intensity routinely 5-10x higher than its mostly nuclear neighbours!

Germany CO2 intensity vs mostly nuclear countries

Narratives about the war in #Ukraine inside #Russia are very much different than in most of the world – as a matter of fact, most Russians are expected to believe the full-scale invasion is merely a “special military operation” and legally banned from referring to it as “war”.

Russians are also expected to accept ever changing objectives of the war (as demonstrated in my article On the Kremlin's ideas of “denazification” and “Russophobia”), and generally frequently changing frame of reference seems to be the new standard of political thinking in Russia these days. This is an “old new”, as it bears strong resemblance to Soviet “dialectical thinking” (see Marxist dialectics as a instrument of self-delusion for details).

For the sake of a discussion with a friend inside Russia, who plainly rejected any idea that Putin's narrative about the war has actually changed, I have compiled a list of official statements from the period preceding the war, and early into it.

“Speaking of invasion just makes everyone nervous”

First suggestions that Russia may be preparing an invasion into Ukraine appeared in October-November 2021 based on unusual concentration of armed forces right on Ukraine's border with Russia and Belarus. These were interpreted by most experts as an intimidation campaign, even as US and EU intelligence insisted that Russia plans actual invasion. Russian officials of course denied any such suggestions:

Ministry of Internal Affairs [of Russia] called US announcements about Russian army amassed at the Ukraine's border “a campaign of fakes” (3 November 2021, lenta.ru) В МИД назвали заявления США о войсках России у границ Украины фейковой кампанией

Kremlin dismissed data of risk of armed invasion into Ukraine as “empty threats” (12 November 2021, rbc.ru) В Кремле сочли пустым нагнетанием данные о риске вторжения на Украину

Putin: “Look, they've been talking about possible entry of Russian troops into Ukraine since the beginning of the year – as we conducted “Zapad-2021” exercises – but that never happened” (30 November 2021, kremlin.ru) Путин: “Смотрите, о возможном вводе российских войск на Украину говорили еще в начале года – мы проводили учения “Запад-2021” – но, как видим, этого не случилось”.

Please note these are exclusively official statements, which tend to be rather balanced in wording and tone, while state media were in full spin of sarcasm and literally laughing off these concerns. The campaign of denial continues, in spite of increased concentration of Russian troops on the border:

Remember history: Peskov of possibility of the war. Russia never invaded anyone first (26 December 2021, vesti.ru) Вспомните историю: Песков о возможности войны. Россия никогда первой ни на кого не нападала.

Lavrov: You claim we are planning to invade Ukraine, even though we explained many times that it's not true. (21 January 2022, youtube.com) Лавров: “Вы утверждаете, что мы собираемся напасть на Украину, хотя мы уже многократно объясняли, что это не так.”

“Our own troops on our own territory”

The denial continues in February 2022, weeks and then literally days before the fatal date of 24 February.

Putin: Movement of our own troops on our own, I want to reiterate, our own territory, is being presented as a threat of Russian invasion – in this case, into Ukraine. Allegedly this also threatens the Baltics and other countries who are our neighbours. On what basis – it's unclear. (8 February 2022, kremlin.ru) Путин: “Передвижение наших войск по собственной, хочу подчеркнуть, территории представляется как угроза российского вторжения – в данном случае на Украину. Якобы в опасности себя чувствуют и страны Прибалтики, и другие государства – наши соседи. На каком основании – не очень понятно”

Please note the “movement of our own troops on our own territory” argument, as it was used by top Russian for a number of times, for example in December 2021 (interfax.ru) and February 2022 (iz.ru). In the latter Dmitry Peskov said:

We are not ready, and we will not accept complaints about how we move troops on our own territory. This is our sovereign right, and we are not intending to discuss that with anyone. Мы не готовы и не будем воспринимать претензии относительно того, как мы перемещаем Вооруженные силы на территории нашей страны. Это наше суверенное право, и мы не намерены его ни с кем обсуждать.

This argument is important as the whole narrative of “Russia feeling threatened” that was widely discussed in 2021 was based specifically on actual or imaginary movement of armed forces of Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe. Russia clearly did not grant other countries the same “sovereign right” as it reserved for its own military, and unfortunately many Russia's friends in the West empathically accepted that logic.

Days before the invasion top Russian officials switch between the “none of your business” and “haha what invasion” narratives:

“So what, invasion doesn't happen?” – Lavrov smirked on insisting journalist's question (15 February 2022, pravda.ru) “Так что, вторжения не будет?” — Лавров ответил мимикой настырному журналисту

Putin: We believe, and I want to highlight this, that all disputes will be resolved in the course of negotiations between current Kiev authorities and leadership of these republics (22 February 2022, kremlin.ru) Путин: “Мы рассчитываем, и я хочу это подчеркнуть, что все спорные вопросы будут разрешены в ходе переговоров между киевскими сегодняшними властями и руководством этих республик”

The last comment was published a day after Putin voiced Russia's recognition of “LNR” and “DNR” as independent states, and two days before the armed invasion. For all that period an intensive artillery shelling continued in Donbass, which war presented by Russia as coming from Ukraine into the Russia-occupied territory. However, OSCE Special Monitoring Mission painted a completely different picture for that period:

  • complete withdrawal of artillery from the frontline on the Ukrainian side, as required by previous ceasefires, with cannons physically confirmed by the SMM to be in storage;
  • lack of withdrawal of artillery units on the Russian side, with cannons physically seen in field and firing;
  • numerous civilian casualties and buildings destroyed on the Ukrainian side as result of incoming artillery fire;

Russian officials and media therefore presented a completely inverted picture of the reality on the Donbass frontline, presenting Ukraine as violating ceasefires, while it was the Russian side that continuously shelled the Ukrainian side throughout the period directly preceding the invasion. In Russia however, this didn't matter as OSCE is widely presented as “biased”, even though Russia is member of the SMM and frequently used its influence to soften the reports from Donbass.

A number of border provocations also happened during that week and were widely covered in Russian media with the intention of amassing popular anger of the “Ukrainian escalation”. Ukrainian and Russian military experts being rather uniformly critical of the sloppiness of these provocations did not matter, as they were intended for popular audience that seems to be completely devoid of any critical thinking skills.

“We are not occupying anyone”

Finally, in his speech on the day of the invasion Putin said clearly:

Our plans do not include occupation of Ukrainian territory – we are not imposing anything to anyone by force (24 February 2022, youtube.com) Путин: “При этом в наши планы не входит оккупация украинских территорий. Мы никому и ничего не собираемся навязывать силой”

This statement can be confronted with May and June announcements of creation of “Kherson People's Republic” on the occupied territories in the south of Ukraine, and its planned annexation into Russia. And it's important, since Kherson area was never before occupied by Russia, unlike Donbass, formally recognized as “LNR” and “DNR” by Putin.

Such statements can be used to point out Putin breaking his own promises or change of plans, but in reality they will cause zero consternation inside Russia. Russian audience is fully conditioned to accept any change of plans and breaking of any earlier promises, be it about pension age or invasion of other countries.

Conclusions that can be drawn from the analysis of Russian communications in the period preceding the war:

  • Russian statements, demands and declarations have little value in terms of predicting or correlating with Russian actions. Detailed analysis of Russian officials' wording, tone and “reading between the lines” is a pointless exercise. Therefore, as of June 2022, any statements of Russia on annexing or not annexing specific territories, or allowing specific goods to be exported, or humanitarian corridors, cannot be taken at their face value.
  • The best predictor of Russian actions are Russian position on the ground and intelligence on its planned actions. If Russia cannot physically annex a territory due to its inability to exercise military control, it won't. If Russia can do it, whether it will depends on its internal costs-and-benefits analysis, which may be however based on biased premises or perceptions.

The first few months of Russian invasion on #Ukraine saw a rapid transformation of the concept of “denazification” which was from the beginning fundamental to the ideological and moral justification of the war. One important thing to remember is that Russian propaganda efforts are largely targeted at its internal audience in #Russia, where it's being propagated by means of highly emotional and literally shouted TV shows. Such channels neither imply nor require logical or factual consistency, and as result the message is short of both. Attempts to rebuild some kind of logical skeleton behind it are only undertaken opportunistically, when needed – for example when even moderate allies raise brows after being confronted with the Kremlin narrative. And over the last few months we saw just that.

“Anti-Soviet equals Nazi”

An insight into the Kremlin's understanding of Eastern European “Nazism” was given by Medinsky in March in an RT interview where he commented the progress of peace talks with Ukraine:

On denazification the situation is quite strange because our Ukrainian colleagues, from the the other side of the negotiation table, believe that there's no Nazi parties in Ukraine, and that modern Ukraine in no way supports this direction. I personally believe they are not paying enough attention to things that worry the whole world, such as activities of the #Nazi paramilitary groups which are allowed in Ukraine, their symbols, their training, their ideology; on activities of neo-Nazi and extremist organizations; and finally on the fact that in Ukrainian towns streets and squares are officially named after criminals who fought against the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition.

Note the last rather convoluted sentence – “criminals who fought against the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition” – where merely a mention of Stepan Bandera would be sufficient to make the point? Unrolling that, what Medinsky says is because Soviet Union fought against Nazi Germany, therefore anyone fought against Soviet Union is a Nazi. Of course, this argument is ahistorical and illogical – Soviet Union was a key supporter of Nazi Germany in 1939-1941, and in all Eastern European countries invaded by these two in 1939, the local resistance was directed equally against Third Reich and USSR. The latter only joined part of anti-Hitler coalition after 1941, and joined it rather forcibly, after being attacked by Hitler. There certainly was some collaboration with Germans in all territories but that included Soviet Union (RONA, Vlasov army) just as well as Ukraine, whose infamous SS-Galizien was much smaller than its Russian counterparts. Collaboration of guerilla groups (such as Ukrainian OUN or UPA) was much more complex, as they entered ceasefires and made tactical deals with both German and Soviet troops during various stages of war. This is precisely why the argument of the resistance groups such as OUN being “German collaborators” is quite a far stretch – they perceived both Germans and Soviets as occupiers (plus, Bandera himself spent most of the war in German concentration camp). Soviet propaganda took just one piece of this puzzle – “fought against Soviets” – and made it a whole case for anti-Soviet resistance being “Nazi”. How absurd that went can be especially well demonstrated on case of Poland, which, having no collaborator government or army at all, saw trial of Witold Pilecki and Trial of the Sixteen, where Polish resistance Home Army leaders were charged with “collaboration with Nazis” while they were consistently fighting Germans since 1939 when Soviet Union was still happily fueling Nazi invasion on Europe! Conclusion: this way of the “Nazi” designation simply follows the Soviet propaganda trope – if you're against Soviets, you're “Nazi” because Soviets at some point switched sides and joined Allies. Absurdity of this argument can be easily demonstrated when we repeat it with other Allies in mind – for example, arguing that “anyone who is against Great Britain is a Nazi”, which logically makes USSR itself a “Nazi”. There's nothing in it but rather simplistic Soviet-time cliche.

“Asymptomatic Nazism”

April saw a widely commented article by Timofey Sergeytsev “What Russia should do with Ukraine?”. The author freely roams between neo-imperialist, colonial and contemptuous points of view, completely denying Ukraine and Ukrainian people any subjectivity and simply looking at the war in Ukraine as some kind of suppression of a slave mutiny. However, he also speaks of “denazification”, and in a very interesting way:

A particular feature of Nazified Ukraine is its amorphousness and ambivalentness, which allows for the masking of Nazism as a desire to move towards an “independent” and “European” (Western and pro-American) path of development, (in reality – towards degradation), while insisting that Ukraine “doesn’t have any Nazism, only private and singular excesses.” There isn’t, after all, a single important Nazi party, no Fuehrer, no fully racist laws (only their curtailed variants in the form of repressions against the Russian language). As a result, there is no opposition and resistance to the regime.

The striking honesty of this analysis needs to be fully appreciated: the author notes lack of evidence for any Nazi symbols, programs or parties... but insists on the classification of the whole country as “Nazi” as if the word “ambivalent” simply replaced any need for evidence. It's not an original invention by Sergeytsev: in Soviet Union, when the authorities struggled to find a specific criminal code article to prosecute dissidents, but they still wanted to prosecute them, they came up with a very similar concept of asymptomatic or sluggish schizophrenia. Conclusion: an evidence-based diagnosis in case of both “Nazism” and a disease would start from having a defined set of symptoms and then matching these against a case. What we see here is an opposite: you very much like the idea of X being a “Nazi” or “schizophrenic”, so you simply assign the label and resolve the issue of missing match by simply prefixing your diagnosis with “amorphous” or “asymptomatic”. Of course, this way anyone, including the person making the diagnosis, can be a match too, and the whole concept of diagnosing is reduced to simple shoe-throwing.

“Russophobic Russians”

Alexander Dugin has been always in the avant-garde of Kremlin imperialism and his arguments can be best characterized as “flexible”: if it doesn't work one way, he just tries another, and he always finds some followers. This way he Gish-galloped through “geopolitics”, “sacred geography”, “political pragmatism” and now ended up as one of the leading Russian experts of “Ukrainian Nazism”. The latter is especially entertaining granted that in literature Dugin is “known for views widely characterized as fascist”. In a May publication for “Nezygar”, on the topic of “denazification” Dugin did correctly note that Russia's arguments about “Nazi Ukraine” aren't widely accepted (to put that lightly), in the absence of any Nazi parties. He also noted Sergey Lavrov's rant, where he practically equated Israel with Nazis as “strange and convoluted”, but blamed that on the topic having “complex political science” context. Is it lack of evidence to blame? Not at all:

These questions cannot be convincingly answered by Russia, regardless of hard we try. (...) Who is an antisemite is determined by Jews and the state of Israel, and also various international Jewish organizations who hold a kind of “monopoly” on determining who is an “antisemite” and who is not. (...) Moscow is today not in a position to push its own definitions in this sphere.

Dugin honestly admits the failure of Russian propaganda on making the slur of “Nazi Ukraine” even remotely convincing due to lack of evidence. With his usual flexibility Dugin proposes a solution:

To explain what we mean by “Nazism” in modern Ukraine and justify the denazification as the objective of the special military operation, we must equate the Ukrainian Nazism with Russophobia. And in this field nobody can object and claim we incorrectly assign the label, because just as Jews determine what “antisemitism” is, it's only Russians who can answer “what is Russophobia?”

Simple? Yes. Consistent? No. Dugin's proposal is rather infantile, granted that since 2014 Russian propaganda has ridden the “Nazi” argument, suddenly turn on your heel and say “yeah, maybe there were no Nazis, we just meant Russophobes”.

But then, the whole “Russophobic” argument is also terribly inconsistent if we ignore the “Nazi” prehistory. Dugin defines it in the following way (and proposes making a law of it):

Russophobia is hatred against Russians for being Russians, building a politics on this hatred, and performing specific actions, including violent ones.

The sad truth is however that Russian armed forces are (and have been since 2014) mostly killing Russian-speaking population in Ukraine – that includes Ukrainians and ethnic Russians, dying under bombs in largely bilingual central and predominantly Russian-speaking East part of Ukraine. And it's largely Russian-speaking and ethnically Russian soldiers in armed forces of Ukraine who are defending their country against the invasion. They are not fighting them because the invaders are Russian, but because they are invaders. The “Russophobic” argument is incorrect because Russian armed forces are fighting mostly Russian and Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, and the ethnicity is not a distinguishing feature here. The main disagreement between the fighting parties is Russia's allegiance to one particular political movement that assumes superiority of not only Russian ethnos, but also a very specific authoritarian political system represented by Putin. Conclusion: it's a classic “no true Scotsman” fallacy – Kremlin only chooses to recognize as “Russians” those who uncritically approve Putin and his model of a state – therefore those who don't, are automatically classified as “Russophobes” and “Nazis”, even if they are Russians themselves.

“Whatever works”

As noted in the beginning, Kremlin's approach to ideology seems to be largely instrumental – unlike in Soviet times, there's no carefully constructed ideological system with its saints and scriptures. Instead, it's a casually picked mix of various ideological tropes taken from Soviet, Russian Orthodox and Russian Empire, based on their perceived attractiveness for the audience, even if ends up with an Orthodox icon with Jesus and atheist Stalin all in one picture. Application of these is opportunistic – if the story works for the target audience, they'll just go with it because why worry for details if you can spend the “saved” budget for a holiday in Emirates? If it doesn't, they'll simply invent another one – this is how we ended up with the “firehose of lies” in so many stories, such as MH17 or Bucha. Does it work? Clearly not with Western audience, which, even among its most forgiving representatives, seems to be listening to Kremlin's statements made at different times and actually trying make sense of it, and is often left puzzled by the contradictions and basic nonsense. Dissection of these is rather trivial – you don't really need excellent analytical skills, it's usually sufficient to compare Russian officials statements at some month apart to capture striking inconsistencies. All these publications, when watched over a longer period, make an increasingly depressing impression of rather desperate attempts to justify the biases of its authors rather than attempts at actual analytics.

In late 1910's the Western views on the #Bolshevik Revolution in #Russia were, as usual, divided. Criticism from anti-communists was quite predictable, while people with broadly socialist views at minimum saw it a chance for an actual social change and watched curiously, granting it the benefit of the doubt, even if a bit concerned about its violent character. Reports about Red Terror atrocities were well-known in the West, but if you believed in the revolution, it was easy to dismiss them using popular fallacies such as “but both sides are violent” or “but violence is just a transitional step in the eradication of the bourgeoisie”.

The more respect should be paid to the voice of Bertrand Russell, who being an active member of British socialist movements, produced a painfully honest record of what he saw during his 1920 trip to Soviet Russia (there was no #USSR yet). His position is not anti-communist at all, quite the opposite – he openly declares he's “one with Bolsheviks” as it comes to their goals, but their political reality he saw, and the impression of the leaders he had, seem to be both largely repugnant to him.

Russell also avoids the trap of many anti-communist intellectuals, that is tribalism: while seeing the whole “cruelty, perfidy or brutality” of other, predominantly capitalist countries, he doesn't allow himself drift into the instinctive position of defending Bolsheviks as the only major political force able to oppose them, which was one of the primary forces driving pro-Soviet denialism in the West through 20th century.

For start, Russell makes one more interesting observation: he describes Bolshevik's approach to #Marxism as “religious”, if not “fanatical”, including “elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures”. Oh, irony – one of the most anti-religious movements in history is being described as yet another quasi-religious one:

Bolshevism is not merely a political doctrine; it is also a religion, with elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures. When Lenin wishes to prove some proposition, he does so, if possible, by quoting texts from Marx and Engels. A full-fledged Communist is not merely a man who believes that land and capital should be held in common, and their produce distributed as nearly equally as possible. He is a man who entertains a number of elaborate and dogmatic beliefs—such as philosophic materialism, for example—which may be true, but are not, to a scientific temper, capable of being known to be true with any certainty.

There's another fragment that perfectly combines two observations: that Soviet communists have already moved (we're talking about 1920!) to a “life after life” mode of justification of their miserable choices and methods; and that the Western communists, left with Soviet propaganda as primary source of information, are much more inspired by the Bolshevism than the people on the ground there:

The effect of Bolshevism as a revolutionary hope is greater outside Russia than within the Soviet Republic. Grim realities have done much to kill hope among those who are subject to the dictatorship of Moscow. Yet even within Russia, the Communist party, in whose hands all political power is concentrated, still lives by hope, though the pressure of events has made the hope severe and stern and somewhat remote. It is this hope that leads to concentration upon the rising generation. Russian Communists often avow that there is little hope for those who are already adult, and that happiness can only come to the children who have grown up under the new régime and been moulded from the first to the group-mentality that Communism requires.

And then this rather outright criticism on hypocrisy of Western communists justifying Soviet methods:

Western Socialists who have visited Russia have seen fit to suppress the harsher features of the present régime, and have disseminated a belief among their followers that the millennium would be quickly realized there if there were no war and no blockade.

Russell also dismisses a popular (even today) argument that the Bolshevik violence was somehow provoked by opposition of the “White” supporters of the Tsar, and by the Allied intervention in Russia:

The expectation of such opposition was always part of Bolshevik theory. A general hostility to the first Communist State was both foreseen and provoked by the doctrine of the class war. Those who adopt the Bolshevik standpoint must reckon with the embittered hostility of capitalist States; it is not worth while to adopt Bolshevik methods unless they can lead to good in spite of this hostility. To say that capitalists are wicked and we have no responsibility for their acts is unscientific; it is, in particular, contrary to the Marxian doctrine of economic determinism. The evils produced in Russia by the enmity of the Entente are therefore to be reckoned as essential in the Bolshevik method of transition to Communism, not as specially Russian.

It's also worth placing the Allied intervention in a context: when it started, the rightful government of Russia was pluralist Russian Provisional Government, which was recognized internationally, and it was that Government, not Tsar (who abdicated earlier), that Bolsheviks have overthrown in October Revolution, and then left Allied forces fighting Germany. Therefore the Allied intervention was intended primarily on preventing German return to power by strengthening the “White” army who at the same time was fighting Germany and Bolshevik on the orders of the government perceived as rightful government of Russia.

Most importantly however, Russel in that paragraph made a fundamental observation about the type of people that most revolutions bring to power:

A condition of widespread misery may, therefore, be taken as indispensable to the inauguration of Communism, unless, indeed, it were possible to establish Communism more or less peacefully, by methods which would not, even temporarily, destroy the economic life of the country. If the hopes which inspired Communism at the start, and which still inspire its Western advocates, are ever to be realized, the problem of minimizing violence in the transition must be faced. Unfortunately, violence is in itself delightful to most really vigorous revolutionaries, and they feel no interest in the problem of avoiding it as far as possible. Hatred of enemies is easier and more intense than love of friends. But from men who are more anxious to injure opponents than to benefit the world at large no great good is to be expected.

About the delusional perception of Western supporters of Bolshevik he has to say this:

Friends of Russia here think of the dictatorship of the proletariat as merely a new form of representative government, in which only working men and women have votes, and the constituencies are partly occupational, not geographical. They think that “proletariat” means “proletariat,” but “dictatorship” does not quite mean “dictatorship.” This is the opposite of the truth. When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he means the word literally, but when he speaks of the proletariat, he means the word in a Pickwickian sense. He means the “class-conscious” part of the proletariat, i.e., the Communist Party.

Just remember, Bertrand Russell wrote these words in 1920, less than three years after the October Revolution, already predicting the direction in which the Soviet system was heading, as well as its ultimate collapse.

Russian government has quietly informed US embassy in Moscow it will postpone the ban on employing Russian staff that it introduced with a lot of hype as a reprisal for “unfair” expulsions of Russian diplomats in response to GRU activity on the ground and on the Internet.

It seems like Kremlin quickly stepped back as soon as US embassy said it will only offer services to US citizens and suspend issuing visas to Russians. Russian bargain position seems to be quite weak in such international sabre rattling, as it's still Russians that need to travel to USA more than Americans to Russia. Many wealthy Russians, including government officials, are investing their profits in USA or EU, while people from these countries investing their savings in Russia are yet to be seen.

Kremlin is making exactly the same mistakes it was making back in 20th century, which ultimately took it to a collapse of the whole country. Its power relies entirely on military force, which it certainly mastered. But military is expensive, and is developed at the cost of other branches of economy. The US suffers from the same problem, but the difference is US can afford it (if barely) while Russia cannot.

Russia's economy is still largely based on exports of hydrocarbons (~40%) and other natural resources (~20%). And because Kremlin couldn't resist from controlling and then weaponizing the exporters (as it did many times), everyone started considering it to be a cheap but unreliable partner. This led to a wave of diversification efforts among Gazprom customers – as of 2020 even Germany, largest importer of Russian gas in EU, only secures ~50% imports from Russia and the trend is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Russia's leadership certainly realizes the current model is not sustainable. This apparently results in perception of lack of safety, which in turn results in obsession of control, both internal and external. And Kremlin seems to understand only one tool in foreign policy – force.

Some of the Russian military interventions were clearly a desperate struggle for a few more years of gas sales (like in Syria, whose sole purpose was to prevent building a pipeline from Quatar to EU), most of them did not make any sense from the point of view of Russian economy. The war in Ukraine or Georgia made absolutely no sense from business point of view,it seemed to be mostly about turning some areas into military-controlled blackholes. Russia certainly is controlling the territory of DNR/LNR... and what?

And while many countries (US, but also France, UK or even Poland) took part in similarly stupid dick contests in 20th century, most of them simply could afford it in terms of their economic performance. They came out of these adventures bruised, at huge human and financial cost (Vietnam) but recovered. Russia, then Soviet Union, and now Russia again tends to end up in different outcomes.

Soviet dogmatism

Now, what was the point of 1979 Soviet invasion in Afghanistan? It was utterly pointless and stupid operation, that ultimately got USSR stuck there for 10 years and hundreds of thousands killed on both sides.

Now, if you think about the foreign policy of modern Kremlin, it's just repeating exactly the same steps.

Back in 1953 the East Berlin uprising was not about politics – it was about working conditions and Soviet-imposed work quotas. Same repeated in 1956 in Hungary, 1968 Czechoslovakia and 1981 in Poland.

All of these were suppressed by military interventions – just note, uprisings started not because they wanted to leave Eastern Bloc, but merely because they wanted better living conditions. And they were all suppressed, with hundreds of civilians killed.

What was the point of these interventions? None, apart from obsession of control and “teach them lesson”, in spite of all evidence clearly witnessing to the inefficiency of Soviet economy, which led to stagnation and then ultimately to a tragic collapse in late 80's.

Repeating the history

Back in 2000's Ukraine wasn't at all obsessed on joining NATO – mass protests (Orange revolution, then Euromaidan) had primarily economical background, which is understandable if you look at this:

GDP per capita PPP chart for Russia, Poland, Ukraine

Back in 80's, on the ground in countries like Poland, everyone understood we were part of Eastern Bloc. But the economic situation was so dire that reforms were required – and they were not at all directed at the “road to socialism” directed by USSR (and nobody really believed in it anywhere). The postulates of the strike committee in Gdańsk Shipyard in 80's were literally as if from a socialist party leaflet.

The expectation was that USSR will at least not interfere, because... it was simply unreasonable thing to do. When people can't feed their children, this is when revolutions break out.

So what did USSR do? Of course, they interfered, and suppressed the reforms – in 1953, 1968, 1981, and then on much smaller scale in each country separately, as protests broke out literally every 5-10 years.

Not because that would somehow hurt its economy or “road to socialism”, but out of the obsession of control, and “teach them a lesson”.

Exactly the same thing happened again in Ukraine in 2014...

Leaving aside the fact that Ukraine is a sovereign country whose independence is recognised by Russia, and it has the right to join whatever alliances it likes, back in 2014 Ukraine was not interested in joining NATO. It was merely interested in economic cooperation with EU – if you don't understand why, once again just look at the GDP per capita chart above.

Did it hurt Russia? Quite the opposite, as economic growth in Ukraine would only increase its trade with Russia.

The only thing it did hurt were the feelings of the Russian elites who believed that their Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was an actual alternative to EU. And as usual, instead of just proving that simply by being economically successful and viable alternative (which it wasn't), they chose to force the potential breakaway country into submission.

What followed was only a logical chain of consequences, with sanctions and counter-sanctions, and GRU operations in Sofia, Vrbetice, and sanctions for these.

Does the current Kremlin policy have any future?

Clearly not. The view that Russia has some kind of invisible “zones of influence” that must be respected is only present in Kremlin, and in some European capitals and I guess it's mostly out of kindness. I haven't met anyone in Russian province who would actually care if Ukraine or Georgia joins EU – if anything, they'd welcome it as EU would be then closer to them.

And now, as result of Russian intervention, Ukraine wants to join NATO.

And it wants to join NATO in the very same way as the whole of Eastern Europe promptly jumped into it after seeing what was going on in Russia in early 90's, with at least three further military interventions, KGB coup and numerous calls to “restore USSR in its previous borders”. Readiness to join NATO (which is otherwise quite costly) is proportional to the perceived threat from your neighbour...

Is there a way forward for Russia?

The problem is that any sector that gets successful in exports is immediately weaponized by Kremlin, either for bullying other countries (Gazprom, Rosatom) or simply for racket (Nginx).

If that goes away, and I think it's entirely doable, Russia has plenty of things to be proud of – Rosatom, Gazprom, highly competitive IT industry, new prospective hydrogen energy projects and many more. In most of its parts, Russia is a quickly developing and modern country whose potential is thwarted by a close circle of paranoid and backwards-thinking Cold War leftovers.

I'm pretty sure Putin's circle does realize that perfectly well. After all, most of them travel a lot and most have property abroad – usually in the same USA and EU that they officially condemn as “decaying”. It's not in their slightest interest to further close Russia and turn it into some kind of North Korea, and people in Russia won't allow it.

In the upcoming decade we will hopefully see Putin going away in a peaceful manner, with formal continuation of power preserved, and Russia opening up again.

There are two primary groups of people who talk about #China being a “communist” country and for both it had replaced USSR as the archetype country – an absolute evil of “central planning” for US neoliberals, and a modern “socialist utopia in making” for diehard communists.

The opinions I've see in discussions with the latter indicate quite clearly that the picture of China as “success of #communism” is being actively distributed by some left-wing activists. Just as in case of neoliberals, whose semantic confusion about socialism I discussed in the past, China – although formally ruled by a Communist Party of China – is as far from communism as practically possible.

State-owned-enterprises (SOE), which could be considered one way of “collective ownership of means of production”, are a significant part of Chinese economy and control strategic sectors, but in total they account for just 40% of GDP.[^1] The remaining 60% is output from a very broad spectrum of micro, medium and large private enterprises. It's hard to call a country “communist” if more than half of its enterprises is privately owned...

Second argument I've heard is that China maybe departed from communism in 70's but is now gradually nationalising its economy again, and thus is “on its way to communism”. Indeed, since then the People's Bank of China has gradually nationalised most of the private banks as they defaulted in wild-west economy. With entry of China into WTO however, banking market had been significantly liberalised and has a number of banks fully privately owned such as China Merchants Bank.

As an anecdotal evidence, do watch this Voice of China (posted by Channel 4 in UK, 2011) where students from China talk quite openly about what does work in their home country, and what doesn't:

China is facing difficulties internally, when people from outside look at China, they just see 8% growth, but people inside China see unemployment, inflation, increasing cost of houses.

Notably, under communist doctrine unemployment cannot even exist![^2]

Lastly, if the objective of communism is increasing income equality then China had departed from it by light years: Gini index for China is 0.385 (per WolframAlpha), only 7% smaller than... USA (0.414), a model capitalist economy. In 2010 income inequality in China peaked at 0.44, beating USA and Russia. For comparison, Czechia income inequality is just 0.249, but nobody calls it “communist”.

China is certainly a country with high share of state enterprises in the economy, but this is no way a criterion of economy being communist or not. I have already discussed the postulates of communism in detail, and very few of these are even present in modern China.

[^1:] WEF How reform has made China's state-owned enterprises stronger, 2020 [^2:] USSR dealt with unemployment simply by... mandatory employment: everyone had to be employed somewhere by law. Housing on the other hand was “given for free” in a very Soviet way – they were neither given, as people were allocated as tenants in state-owned houses, nor for free, as they paid a basic rental. Families also could wait 20 years to get an allocation due to never-ending “temporary shortages”, and they could be kicked out of the state-owned flat if they engaged in opposition activity.

If you were ever wondering how it was even possible that well-educated people in Eastern Bloc countries for over a half century denied the basic facts about the reality that surrounded them and marched towards a predictable failure, the answer is Marxist #dialectics. It was an intellectual instrument designed specifically for that purpose.

As a philosophy “dialectics” has many definitions, some of which describe useful or at least interesting techniques of confronting arguments. In #Marxism however dialectics was used predominantly as a tool for blocking basic reality checks and logical constraints that every human being develops in order to survive in life. Dialectics allowed die-hard Marxists to believe they're just a few steps from communist utopia when everything around witnessed to the opposite, gave a helping hand in breaking all promises they made previously to themselves, and justified radical course changes down to its complete reversal.

At the base of the technique lie “laws of dialectics” invented by Marx and Engels and claimed to be fundamental laws of nature, remaining beyond even laws of physics. Some of the laws (words capitalised to indicate highest respect) include:

  • The Law of Transformation of Quantity into Quality
  • Everything is Unity of Opposites
  • Everything Changes

If these don't sound extremely innovative to you, that's because they aren't. Leszek Kołakowski in “Main currents of Marxism” rather brutally described these as a mix of “tautologies, banal and nonsense”. As used by Hegel to describe high-level evolution of abstract ideas, these certainly could make some sense. When applied by Marx and Engels to describe the physical world, they were effectively just another pseudo-scientific mysticism, not any different from mesmerism or homeopathy.

Just like homeopathy draws people with serious conditions away from actual life-saving therapies, Marxian dialectics had drawn its believers away from life-saving reality checks, sending them into a deadly spiral of delusion.

Ignore today, see into future

What was equivalent to denial of the surrounding reality, dialectical thinkers believed that the reality is not what you see around you, but what will be surrounding you in future, assuming of course the utopia materializes. The latter however was never doubted due to another set of “iron laws” called historical materialism.

Polish logician and philosopher Józef Maria Bocheński explained this thinking with the following example:

When you say: this is an old, badly painted wall, you judge it metaphysically, extract the instant state. When you say: this is a nice, shiny and new wall, you're of course wrong from current perspective, because the wall isn't like that at all. But from dialectical point of view you are right, because it will be made such tomorrow.

And then he moves to a more specific case of Soviet reality:

If you said Soviet people live in old houses infested with pest, you would be lying, even though this is usually the case. If you however say Soviet people live in new, shiny houses you're telling the truth, even though in reality very few actually live in such conditions. To see today what will be tomorrow – it's to see dialectically. Communists in the first place admit any lies are moral as long as it serves the Party, and secondly, they tend to see things “dialectically”, or to claim they are today what per their doctrine they become only in future.

This technique effectively prevents any learning process – if you always see things as they would be if your theory was right, any corrections in the course are obsolete.

Twisting words for the win

Philosopher Alexander Zinoviev introduces a much more popular use of the “dialectic technique” in Homo Sovieticus:

Do not even try to understand. There are things that by their nature cannot be understood. Just wait. And from many of such cases you will learn the habit of taking this specific position about current events. And you will be never wrong. The wonder method is called: Dialectics. Dialectics is a method of walking blind, in unknown empty space filled with imaginary obstacles, moving without a place to stand, without resistance, without aim.

What Zinoviev describes here is a habit fundamental for survival in Soviet society: don't ask, don't question, don't think and don't logically analyse. Simply accept what is said, including sudden changes of meaning of words and policy.

You don't have a political majority support? No problem (Kołakowski, “Main currents of Marxism”):

Because communists never had majority behind them, they claimed the majority they have is a deeper, dialectical concept: the latter can never be falsified as it's deduced from theory that claims that communism by its very nature represents the interests of humanity.

Want to prosecute a political opponent who hasn't broken the law? No problem (Tony Judt, “Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944–1956”):

The desire to grant all possible privilege to Stalin was based on complex, abstract arguments – the “dialectical thinking”. If Kostov pleaded guilty, then he was guilty. If he pleaded not guilty (which he obviously tried), then it proved the trial was fair and he was guilty anyway. In the same way, rationing of food in France was a “restriction”, but in [communist] Poland it was “widely accepted practice”.

Revolutionary dialectics uses the same trick as Scientology language – it tends to use terms that have well-established meaning, but redefines them in its own unique way.

Crude propaganda

At the end of this spectrum, dialectics has been used simply as a technique to obscure double standards and simple lies, yet another technique of propaganda and manipulation of ideas.

Arthur Koestler in “Scum of the Earth” describes his 1939 shock of learning that USSR, who so far presented itself as the main world's anti-fascist force, has just signed a pact with the Third Reich:

Next morning, August 24th, the news had spread from the third to the front page. We were spared none of the details. We read about von Ribbentrop’s lightning visit to Moscow and about his cordial reception—and I remembered what fun our Party papers had made of the ex-commercial traveller in champagne who had been promoted chief diplomatic salesman of Genuine Old Red Scare, bottled in Château Berchtesgaden. We learned all the picturesque details of how the swastika had been hoisted over the Moscow aerodrome and how the band of the revolutionary Army had played the Horst Wessel song—and I remembered the whispered explanations of the Party officials after the execution of Tukhachevsky and the other Red Army leaders. The official explanation (Version A, for the pious and simple-minded) stated that they were ordinary traitors; Version B (for the intelligentsia and for inside use) informed us that, although not exactly traitors, they had advocated a policy of understanding with the Nazis against the Western Democracies; so, of course, Stalin was right to shoot them. We learned of the monstrous paragraph 3 of the new treaty,1 a direct encouragement to Germany to attack Poland—and I wondered how this time the Party was to explain this latest achievement of Socialist statesmanship to the innocent masses.

Apparent contradictions, change of course? If you were a Soviet citizen, Zinovievs recipe applies – don't question, just accept. Koestler however was an European communist, and they demanded a more convincing argument. Dialectics to the rescue:

Next morning we knew it: Humanité, official organ of the French Communist Party, explained to us that the new treaty was a supreme effort of Stalin to prevent the threatening imperialist war. Oh, they had an explanation ready for every occasion, from the extension of capital punishment to the twelve-year-old to the abolition of the Soviet workers’ right to strike and to the one-party-election-system; they called it ‘revolutionary dialectics’ and reminded one of those conjurers on the stage who can produce an egg from every pocket of their frockcoats and even out of the harmless onlooker’s nose. They explained everything so well that, during a committee meeting, old Heinrich Mann, at one time a great ‘sympathiser,’ shouted to Dahlem, leader of the German Communists: ‘If you go on asking me to realise that this table here is a fishpond, then I am afraid my dialectical capacities are at an end.’

But Soviet leadership had a good teacher in dialectics. On 15 August 1857 no one else than Karl Marx himself chuckled in a letter to Engels about how he outwitted any possible criticism of this political analysis:

As to the Delhi affair, it seems to me that the English ought to begin their retreat as soon as the rainy season has set in in real earnest. Being obliged for the present to hold the fort for you as the Tribune’s military correspondent I have taken it upon myself to put this forward. NB, on the supposition that the reports to date have been true. It’s possible that I shall make an ass of myself. But in that case one can always get out of it with a little dialectic. I have, of course, so worded my proposition as to be right either way.

🤷🏻

There's an excellent Russian-language political podcast called “Атлас мира” (Atlas of the World). In the last February episode “Султан нервничает” (Sultan getting nervous) , journalist Mikhail Magid gives what I believe is probably the best description of the role the internal judiciary systems play in international relations Magid starts with the general introduction into the current state of affairs:

Right now Turkey goes through a severe economic crisis. Interestingly, most of the 18 years Erdogan has been quite positive in economic terms. Turkey managed to bring large foreign investments, establishing for example strong car manufacturing industry. At the same time huge amounts of money were invested into country's infrastructure, education and many Turks for the first time got access to modern medicine. This is what Erdogan's popularity was founded on.

So what happened?

Since 2018 this system started degrading. Mass-scale political repressions and arrests of tens of thousands of people turned courts into an instrument of repression controlled by the ruling party. This alarmed foreign investors, partially because the courts started to actually make judgements in favour of the party leadership and business close to Erdogan. This led to capital flight Turkey.

The core lesson here is that you can't make judiciary controllable just in one domain, like political. Once the law enforcement, public prosecution and courts are taken under control of politicians, demand to use it appears among all those who can. And they use it for any topics, including disputes between business partners.

This is precisely why Eastern Europe countries had to make an significant effort and laboriously work through reform of their judiciary in late 90's as a condition of their membership in European Union. Large investors don't really care about freedom of speech that much, as they care about the safety of their investments. But a side effect for us, citizens, was a massive improvement in the quality of law enforcement and decrease in corruption that we witnessed in

Arthur Koestler, “Scum of the Earth”, 1941

When, on August 23rd, I saw the inconspicuous Havas message on the third page of the Eclaireur du Sud-Est, saying that a treaty of non-aggression had been signed between Germany and the Soviet Union, I began beating my temples with my fits. The paper had just arrived. I had opened it while we were walking down to the St. Sébastien for lunch. ‘What is the matter?’ said G. ‘This is the end, I said. ‘Stalin has joined Hitler.’ He would,’ said G., and that was all. (...)

Next morning, August 24th, the news had spread from the third to the front page. We were spared none of the details. We read about von Ribbentrop’s lightning visit to Moscow and about his cordial reception—and I remembered what fun our Party papers had made of the ex-commercial traveller in champagne who had been promoted chief diplomatic salesman of Genuine Old Red Scare, bottled in Château Berchtesgaden.

We learned all the picturesque details of how the swastika had been hoisted over the Moscow aerodrome and how the band of the revolutionary Army had played the Horst Wessel song—and I remembered the whispered explanations of the Party officials after the execution of Tukhachevsky and the other Red Army leaders. The official explanation (Version A, for the pious and simple-minded) stated that they were ordinary traitors; Version B (for the intelligentsia and for inside use) informed us that, although not exactly traitors, they had advocated a policy of understanding with the Nazis against the Western Democracies; so, of course, Stalin was right to shoot them.

We learned of the monstrous paragraph 3 of the new treaty, a direct encouragement to Germany to attack Poland—and I wondered how this time the Party was to explain this latest achievement of Socialist statesmanship to the innocent masses. Next morning we knew it: Humanité, official organ of the French Communist Party, explained to us that the new treaty was a supreme effort of Stalin to prevent the threatening imperialist war.

Oh, they had an explanation ready for every occasion, from the extension of capital punishment to the twelve-year-old to the abolition of the Soviet workers’ right to strike and to the one-party-election-system; they called it ‘revolutionary dialectics’ and reminded one of those conjurers on the stage who can produce an egg from every pocket of their frockcoats and even out of the harmless onlooker’s nose.

They explained everything so well that, during a committee meeting, old Heinrich Mann, at one time a great ‘sympathiser,’ shouted to Dahlem, leader of the German Communists: ‘If you go on asking me to realise that this table here is a fishpond, then I am afraid my dialectical capacities are at an end.’

As of 2020 in the political discourse on social media there seems to be only two paths: “socialist” or “capitalist”. In reality, the true choice lies between pragmatism and dogmatism, but the line of division between these two is not exactly where most people expect it to be.

What can we learn from rise and fall of USSR?

There's little doubt that USSR was “socialist”, as it not only had “Socialist” in its name, but also, and most importantly, pursued policies of socialist thinkers, specifically #Marx, #Engels and #Lenin. In their socialist economy private for-profit trade was replaced by a transitional solution to #communism, still involving prices and money, but with state owned means of productions and central planning. For-profit private trade was actually a crime (of “speculation”), punished under article 154 of criminal code of USSR.

As result, #USSR experienced a fast growth, shortage of goods, strong industrial production, flourishing black market, free high education and public health, stagnation and secret loans from the “imperialist” powers it condemned in official propaganda.

An important checkpoint was the New Economic Policy of 1922, when Lenin decided to relax the ideological position of the Soviet state and allowed for-profit enterprises, specifically with the objective of stimulating economy.

That certainly was a pragmatic decision and it resulted in accelerated growth of agricultural and industrial production.

Then however #Stalin decided it was too much of a “compromise” and reintroduced harsh collectivisation and nationalisation in all sectors. This step marked USSR's return from pragmatism back to dogmatism.

Was USSR policies dogmatic? Certainly so, placing all private trade and production in criminal code was dogmatic. Was it sustainable? At the time of its dissolution in 1991 USSR owed over $70m to the Paris Club, and was unable to pay not only installments, but even salaries and pensions internally.

Capitalism... or what exactly?

While Marxism-Leninism was a very detailed, even prescriptive ideology that described both social and economic relations at every level of society, most definitions of “#capitalism” are based on presence of a few typical features: private ownership of means of production and for-profit trade.

There's however nothing in “capitalism” that precludes operations of other forms of economic activity: cooperative, state-owned, non-profit enterprises are all widespread and coexist along with private for-profit ones. Pragmatic “whatever works” approach seems to be at the very core of capitalist economies.

As result we have extremely diverse world of economies, that are very different in their social and political organisation, but all share the common features of capitalist economy: Russia, USA, France, China, India and practically all others.

Wait... communist #China? Yes, China is an interesting case because in spite of the country being run by Communist Party of China, it's hard to argue that a country with 60% of GDP produced in small and medium private for-profit enterprises is indeed “communist”. It just defies all postulates of communism, at least in the economic sphere.**

As result of this diversity, when talking about “capitalism” we need to be quite precise which one we mean: French, Russian, some other? Because all of these systems differ dramatically in their policies on income and inheritance tax, social welfare, social housing, public healthcare and dozens of other policies.

A frequent counter-argument here is that Western Europe was forced to introduce socialist elements as result of Soviet Union inspiring workers in the West. In the first place, it's not quite true as social policies predate Soviet revolution by a century.*** But even if it was the case, so what? These policies were introduced specifically because of the “whatever works” attitude and lack of any specific ideological rigidity as seen in USSR.

Dogmatism in capitalist economies

Make no mistake, capitalist economy can drift towards dogmatism just as well: US political discourse is the best example of it.

When people start talking about “#socialism” or “#communism” in response to any suggestion that barely mentions the word “public” (as in “public healthcare”), you know that they have abandoned the pragmatic approach and turned into ideology.

Now, if it's done against outcomes of process efficiency analysis (“ok, at this point having public healthcare might be actually cheaper”), then we are facing precisely the same bias that led USSR to ban private trade against all the experience that suggested otherwise.

This particular bias has its own name and it's called “#neoliberalism”.

Footnotes

  • * Nikolay Shmelyov “Credits and debts” (1987) explains in great detail the state of Soviet economy in mid-80's.
  • ** China started to abandon its hard Marxist-inspired economic policies starting from 80's, shortly after death of Mao. These changes were said to be inspired by Soviet NEP, and are a great example of economic pragmatism that made China the industrial power it is today.
  • *** In case of UK, first labour and what we would today describe as welfare laws were introduced in 18-th century. Public schooling and healthcare were proposed by no one else than Adam Smith around half century before Marx.

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