Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

The Shadow State and Capitalism: A New Cold War?

Luke Harding's book SHADOW STATE:MURDER, MAYHEM AND RUSSIA'S REMAKING OF THE WEST was published just as the West accused Russia of trying to steal information from pharmaceutical companies developing a Covid-19 vaccine in a series of cyber attacks. The timely accusation by Western politicians gave substance to Harding's central claim that Russia reaches out to corrupt, undermine and destroy Western capitalist institutions.

Harding, the GUARDIAN's foreign correspondent, was recently interviewed on James O'Brian's LBC show, where he has been reporting on Putin's Russia for several years. He said that the Kremlin's constant attempt to subvert Western capitalism and its institutions came out in the Mueller inquiry, Western intelligence reports and his own meticulous journalism. Russia, he said, even supports fascist and nationalist groups in the same way as the USSR used to support political parties and groups on the capitalist left. Russia, too, has its aggressive nationalism and cult of the leader. Putin is a ruthless thug, dominant in Russia and a powerful force in world politics.

Harding's book claims to show how many of the political problems currently facing the capitalist West flows from Putin's Russia. The book gives a detailed and comprehensible account of geo-political rivalry. Russian capitalism set out to destabilise the West for its imposition of sanctions, expansion of NATO, its support of Ukraine, and a host of other interests damaging to Putin, like the release of the Panama Papers showing the size of his plundered wealth.

Harding takes us through the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, the hack of the Democratic National Committee servers in 2016 and the strange relationship between Trump and Russia. Harding says that Russia operates a "Shadow state" of intelligence operatives against Western capitalism. All cloak and dagger stuff culled from the pages of one of John le Carre novel.

However, Russia has not been successful in everything it has managed to do. It was rumbled on a number of occasions. In 2018 four Russian agents were caught trying to hack into the international chemical weapons watchdog's headquarters in The Hague

As Harding notes:

"An agency known for its ruthlessness and professionalism during the cold war now gave way to the impression that it was incompetent".

Not that the Western intelligence agencies fared any better. None, including the billion dollars funded CIA, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union. Neither, for what it is worth, did the KGB; then an employer of one Vladimir Putin. For all its power and resources the Stasi was unable to prevent the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The sordid machinations of capitalism are all par for the course in a world split into warring, violent and competitive nation states. The media refers to an "International community". It is anything but a benign "community". Each country pursues its own interests even if it means war. Even the so-called "special relationship" between the US and Britain is nothing more than the relationship between a pimp and its street-walker. Look no further than when Trump ordered the UK to drop the Chinese technology giant Huawei (OBSERVER 20 7 2020). "Jump" says Trump. "How High?" responds Johnson. Cyber attacks, spying and espionage, ensnarement and blackmail, buying politicians and journalists all form part of the dark arts of the intelligence services.

Harding claims Putin has engineered Trump's presidential victory in 2016, the Brexit election the same year, the rise of nationalist and popularist parties in Europe and so on all in order to bring down "liberal capitalism", humiliate the egregious Hilary Clinton, and end the politics blocking Russian expansion. This conspiracy theory has been echoed by OBSERVER writers like Nick Cohen to account for the hollowing out of liberal politics. On Saturday 11th July, Majid Nawez, on LBC, spent an hour defending the conspiracy theory that "all our problems" derive from Putin's Russia. And there are periodic editorials in the OBSERVER against Russia and its menacing President attempting to undermine Britain capitalism's "democracy, politics and security" (19. 7. 20).

While there is some truth in Russia's reach into Western European politics, like the 2014 funding of Le Pen's National Front, and more recently its meddling in US and British elections, the all powerful Putin at the centre of a Moscow spider's web smacks of a conspiracy theory of almost biblical proportions. Such a conspiracy theory lets the political failure of Western capitalism off the hook.

Capitalist countries are in constant competition with each other. They all use dirty tricks. Look at the Cold War where Russia and the US used proxy governments to wage hot wars, engineered coups and imposed violent dictatorship. And are we supposed to believe that the capitalist West is not interfering in Chinese politics in Hong Kong or in Russian politics in places such as Georgia and the Crimea?

And it is not new. In the Nineteenth century, British and Russia Imperialism took part in "The Great Game". "The Great Game" was a political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the 19th century between the United Kingdom and Russia over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories in Central and South Asia. Britain was fearful of Russia invading India to add to the vast empire that Russia was building in Asia while Russia did not want British capitalism to expand commercially and militarily towards its borders. This "Great Game" was highlighted in the fictional book Kim by Rudyard Kipling, set shortly after the Second Afghan War. The story unfolds against the political conflict between Russia and Britain in Central Asia. It was a very ugly and brutal politics.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western capitalism was triumphant. They had won and the USSR had lost. The rise of Globalisation was going to lead to a Utopian capitalism of untold wealth, wealth trickling down to the poor; a world patrolled by supra-nationalists institutions underpinned by the United States. A New world order, it was called.

Then came 9/11 and the "war on terror" followed by one of the worse economic crises in capitalism's history. The 1% became increasingly wealthy and the poor died in their millions. If you were unemployed in Northern England, filling-up your day with recreational drugs, alcohol and petty theft would you need Russian intelligence to tell you to vote Brexit from a fake news web site instead of a demagogue from Ukip or the Tory Party blaming immigrants and a "liberal elite" in London for all your problems? The capitalist class has been using divide and rule as a tactic to split the workers for centuries. It does not need Russian help.

Today, the "progressives" in the Remain camp, who thought their politics reflected the "moderate majority", remain powerless and marginalised as a national, native and aggressive populism has taken hold. And they want someone to blame. And Harding’s book feeds into this blame culture. Russia becomes this all powerful political puppeteer controlling Western politics. This is a convenient excuse to justify their failed politics.

Why did Trump win an election? Why did Brexit Occur? Why did nationalist movements win power in Europe? Is not the real reason the failure of capitalism to meet the needs of the working class? Under capitalism poor housing, degrading jobs in the gig economy, ill health and poor education is the fate of millions of workers.

Does not the rise of an alternative capitalist politics, based on populist leaders and nationalism, tap into the desperation of millions of powerless non-socialist workers who then become prey to simplistic political ideas and beliefs around immigration? Surely the scapegoating and blaming of migrants is a politically more powerful recruiting sergeant to gain non-socialist working class support for Brexit than anything that could be concocted in Moscow.

Socialists have no interests in the global disputes of nation states. We do not take sides. We leave grand conspiracies to the powerless. Workers have no country, they have nothing to defend or fight for. But they have the potential strength and resolve to replace capitalism with socialism. The problems facing the working class can only be solved by themselves, democratically and politically, through their own effort as socialists. The intrigue of international capitalist politics is of no interest to the working class but the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of all society in our interests. We have a world to win.

SHADOW STATE is a get out of jail free card for a failed politics of globalisation which promised a capitalist utopia. It just could not deliver. But neither can Trump, Post-Brexit Johnson and the populist politicians in Europe. Capitalism is not kind to politicians and governments. In the end it destroys both.

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