Jul 16, 2022Liked by Branko Milanovic

Although disturbing, the text boldly hits the center and opens many questions. Eric Hobsbawm's concluding thoughts in his book on the "short twentieth century" certainly come to mind first. And, yes, it is a big and important question, who are the intellectuals who betrayed the idea of freedom and equality for the sake of popularity or lucrative motives. Once again, great writing!

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I think you are overly pessimistic here. Historically many countries have been swinging between reforms and stagnations, nationalism and internationalism etc

I do not know much about Eastern Europe, but in Russia current ideology is quite obviously a capitalist reincarnation of late Brezhnev era, with its focus on defence spending, imperial ambitions and utter lack of ideological zeal among the rank and file. So for me - it’s a purely generational phenomenon. Even those born just a decade later than Putin (eg premier Mishustin or Moscow Mayor Sobyanin) seem to have rather different worldview and are quite pragmatic and problem solving in their attitude. In many ways they resemble Deng (although Putin has very little in common with Mao).

So my point is: at least in Russia time should be playing against imperialism and conservative part of those in power. Younger generation of the current apparatchiks are well aware that Russia will not make it in the next arms race.

Even supposedly nationalistic Navalny, when pressed about his ideal for the Russian future, spoke about a “metaphysical Canada” rather than the United States. Canada! So much for imperialism.

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Ngā mihi for this article - it's very interesting! I was wondering if you are able to expand on/ give an example of what you mean by 'In the former Third World, the victory of the West led to the reinterpretation of the struggle against colonialism'; and also who is someone that would be one of the 'triviallists'. thank you :-)

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Unfortunately, it seems that on a very high level the discussion, if you can call it that, between Hobson (Imperialism) and Lenin (imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism) has been won by Lenin. Until recently I held an opposite opinion, since Hobsons analysis is much more scientific and granular. However, given recent events, it seems that Lenins main push that Imperialism is indeed a regular and natural development of capitalism has found new empirical confirmation.

As you noted in this piece, the Western reaction to the end of cold war was expansion. The mode of this is expansion is imho indistinguishable from what Hobson described - both institutionally and in its consequences. the only big difference being China. And Russia, having become capitalsit, quickly made it to imperialist stage of its own.

For me the hypothesis that the period from 1918 to 1991 was just a deviation in capitalist development brought about by the presence of a strong competitor is gaining more and more currency. And what is scarier - the same logic that describes Imperialisms gestation within capitalism also automatically predicts a new world war. It's really rather mechanical and unavoidable.

I do hope I am wrong.

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"Russia understood it as the end of the ideological competition between capitalism and communism: Russia jettisoned communism, and hence it was to be just another power alongside other capitalist powers.

The origin of today’s conflict lies in that misunderstanding."

As always you simplify to tell a story

Katharina Pistor https://socialeurope.eu/from-shock-therapy-to-putins-war

---Let us recount the sequence of events. In November 1991, the Russian Supreme Soviet (parliament) gave the then Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, extraordinary powers and a 13-month mandate to launch reforms. Then, in December 1991, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved by the Belovezh accords, which created the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine declared respect for one another’s independence.

Surrounded by a small group of Russian reformers and western advisers, Yeltsin used this unique historical moment to launch an unprecedented programme of economic ‘shock therapy’. Prices were liberalised, borders were opened and rapid privatisation began—all by presidential decree.

Nobody in Yeltsin’s circle bothered to ask whether this was what Russia’s citizens wanted. And nobody paused to consider that Russians might first want a chance to develop a sound constitutional foundation for their country, or to express through an election their preference for who should govern them.---

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I believe the bad effects of neoliberalism you state are overstated. Yes the Western world has economic problems, but those are not due to neoliberalism and are not solved by higher taxes or nationalization. We need to talk more about monetary and land use policy, because those have great effects on our lives without most people realizing it.

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Professor Milonovic, absolutely agreed that Russia Ukraine conflict has roots in expansionist policies of NATO. However, as the conflict unfolded France and Germany who had to fund Ukraine membership to EU had trivialized the conflict through their actions where Prime Minster of Ukraine want more active support to defend the country against Russian army. It took a while to curtail Gas supplies to Germany, France and Holland from Russia that is funding the conflict. It is the US, the epitome of liberal democracy, that has assisted Ukraine militarily and through billions of dollars of loans. If that wouldve have been an outcome where Putin is not giving up after nearly 6 months of military assault on Ukraine while a limited help is coming for the country from Europe, NATO should have been more considerate to the demands of Putin. After all Russia as intrinsic and historic ties with the Europe and had it not been the accusation of Russia in 2016 US elections, Putin and Russia could have been at a far better position to achieve a balance between imperialism and nationalism. First lesson of diplomacy is that war is never a solution and post war, the adversaries have to come on the negotiation table. However Ukraine Russia war is different because it is associated with the grave risk of possible nuclear war. Every day press in the uS and Europe writes about how Putin and his generals are loosing the war and on the other side, Putin is increasing the number and strength of Russian army. NO one is conceding and it is a popular view that this is a long war that is happening in the back yard of Western Europe that just makes it more pronounced and detrimental to world peace.

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'IMO, Russia is going to lose in the long-run'

I ask out of genuine curiosity, because you're an intelligent man: why do you think Russia will lose in the end? To be clear, I'm not Russian and am currently based in the UK, and used to have to report on global risk, including military affairs. And I'm not seeing the inevitability you see. To be reductionist ---

[1] Obviously, Russia can supply its own food, mineral resources, and other needs, besides being one of the world's biggest exporters of these things. The only thing it can't provide for itself are high-end chips, but China now has its own 7 nm. fab.

'China seems to have figured out how to make 7nm chips despite US sanctions'


[2] Simultaneously, Russia has technological military superiority over US-NATO, though this doesn't seem to have been realized in the West. More specifically, it looks like Russia has achieved a minor RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs.

The most commonly referenced figure in discussions of RMA theory was/is Andrew Marshall, head of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment from 1973-2015 --


For background (again reductionist) Marshall's most recognized innovation was to call in the 1980s for the same 'smart' computerized guidance systems that were developed for nuclear weapons to be installed in non-nuclear battlefield ordnance, with the results seen in the 1990 Gulf War in Iraq. In the 21st century, in his last years before he was forced from power, Marshall argued that "foundational weapons of the armed services — the tank, the aircraft carrier and short-range fighter jets — are doomed to obsolescence because of advances in missile technology. That has made him an unbeloved figure among some U.S. generals and admirals, who view him as an unrealistic radical and a threat to conventional military strategy."

See: - https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/pentagon-weighs-future-of-its-inscrutable-nonagenarian-futurist-andrew-marshall/2013/10/27/f9bda426-3cac-11e3-b6a9-da62c264f40e_story.html

Fairly obviously, Marshall was right. How can the US and NATO implement a ‘no-fly zone,’ for instance, when with any of a large range of non-ICBM missile types that travel at speeds of up to 25 Mach and may have ranges of 1,700 miles, the Russians can target immensely-expensive manned planes whose pilots will black out if 4-6g speeds are maintained for more than a few seconds? In 2022 in the Ukraine, manned aircraft — and tanks on the battlefield, increasingly — no longer constitute offensive assets, but slow-moving, vastly expensive targets (along with the highly-trained crews necessary to man these high-ticket weapons platforms).

to some extent,

This applies to the Russians too, so they’ve been sparing in their use of conventional air power, given Ukrainian-NATO-US missile capability. Historically, though, the Russians were the first to use rockets on the battlefield with the Katyushas deployed against the Nazis in WWII; they were the first to send a satellite and a man into orbit on top of rocket launchers; they developed the Sunburn/Moskit carrier killer by the early 1970s; Russian launchers carried US astronauts to the ISS in the years when the US launch industry died with the shuttle program; and Russians rockets have overwhelming operational preponderance now —


This summer, meanwhile, Americans have been flocking to see Tom Cruise’s Maverick: Top Gun, and many in DC doubtless believe that that movie's fantasy is some kind of vaguely realistic representation of US military power. It seemed to me a situation comparable to the ignorance of military reality of the WWI generals (re. the machine gun) and the French aristocracy (re. the long bow) before Agincourt .

Sorry to go on overlong. But you're an intelligent man, and, as I say, I wonder what you're seeing that I'm not.

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As a russian I do not agree that current developments in Russia have yet much in common with eastern european nationalisms - it's more like bureaucratic great-power posturing with nationalist overtones only maybe paving the way for subsequent real national awakening a la Poland or Ukraine. Russians as a nation are still in coma following the huge trauma of self-imposed communist experiment. And when and if the coma will be terminated, situation can become worse.

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Why do you call them 'trivialists'?

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So, what could be Putin's end-game for Ukraine (and any other State on Russia's margins)? I wonder if he'd not just depopulate such a region but make it uninhabitable if he cannot have it.

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I usually say that the new left, the cosmopolitan left, in third world countries, advocates the ideology of "sustainable underdevelopment". There is no more interest in diagnosing or operating the economic problems from the ground up, just anesthetizing for the labor pain of the brave new world. The sense of the common good becomes something like "the next generation will get used to not having expectations of social care or a national strategy to understand our place in the world, the old one will forget what it is, and we will naturalize these artificial imponderables."

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