LEX  BATTLER

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The West and Russia:

A Dialogue between Alex Battler and Oleg Arin


Arin: Nice to see you here in Paris, Alex. This is rather unexpected; after all, you were living in Oxford for the past few years. What made you move here? You didn’t’t like England?

Battler: I will answer these questions, of course. But since we met, it makes sense to exchange opinions on other problems – in the way of response to current events in the world, so to say. I will take on the West on account of my belonging to that world; you take on Russia. I hear that you spent almost all of last year in Russia and even visited your native city of Astrakhan’.

А. Very well, I’m game. However, let’s do it without philosophical complications; many people I know tell me that your books are impossible to read without the help of the Philosophical Encyclopedia.

B. All right, no encyclopedias.

А. Let’s start with the West. So why did you leave the misty Albion?

B. As you know, I changed residences over 30 times by now; Paris is my 33rd. A certain pattern developed in recent years; I don’t stay in one place for more than four years. The main reason is this: once I have become familiar with new surroundings and new people, I become bored. The newness goes away; there is nothing left to learn. As for England, I would add one more reason: the country is peculiar in the extreme. Perhaps I would not be bored if I managed to turn into an Englishman.  However, I never learned to find pleasure in mowing lawns, growing flowers, conversing about the weather, brands of tea and the Royal family. I never figured this out: why do we grow grass so diligently – just so we can mow it all the time? My English neighbors find pleasure precisely in all these things. Such paradisiacal-philistine life is not for me. I felt as if I was forced to wear a carnival caftan all the time.

Besides, as I said already, I studied England well, and it ceased to interest me from the scientific perspective. I already posted my preliminary conclusions about England on your website. All I will add here is this: a parasitic brand of capitalism has become established in England, and the population ceased to think. The serious problems – and they are numerous – are to them but passing information which does not affect anyone. However, a gaffe made by some scion of the Royal family or the list of men with whom Princess Diana slept – that is different; whole pages of newspapers are devoted to these trifles, they are chewed on and savored. Or take the story of the nut who managed to cross all of England on bicycle while stark naked. The English are afflicted with smallness of topics, or rather smallness of life.

А. But what about the talk that the English are prospering, that their life is nonetheless better than in other European countries?

B. That is true to a degree, in the sense that England is ahead of, say, France or Germany in a number of economic and social indictors, for example GDP growth rate, unemployment rate, the intensity of social clashes, etc. There are a number of reasons for this which have no direct relation, though, to the market economy or democracy. Please note this circumstance, since Russian scholars and journalists from the bourgeois camp keep chirping precisely about these two factors. It does not occur to them for some reason that markets and democracy exist in most countries of the world, but for some reason their fruits are reaped only by the Magnificent Seven plus another ten countries in Western Europe. The rest are eking out a miserable existence despite markets and democracy. Take India – the world’s largest democratic country: about 90% of its people live in poverty. The situation is even worse in Bangladesh and in most countries of Latin America, not to mention the African countries, where, by the way, markets and democracy are likewise dominant (at least formally). Therefore it isn’t all about markets and democracy; they are not the condition of prosperity – something else is the reason. By the way, markets and democracy actually no longer exist in the countries of the Golden Billion. Their marketplace for a long time now has been controlled and managed by monopolies and transnational corporations. The capitalist state, meanwhile, is responsible for the “required” kind of democracy. One has to keep repeating these trivial things, even though they are constantly confirmed by practice and have been well described, for example by American economists.

In actual fact the prosperity of England and other countries of Western Europe is a myth that is perpetuated not only by your journalists, but also by the so-called scientists. How can one talk of prosperity in those same United States when a quarter of the population there lives below the poverty line. I repeat: a quarter of the population! Similar proportions are characteristic of other Western countries, with the exception of Japan (which is not even located in the West, by the way.)

А. It is precisely of this, by the way, that the left-wing press writes about in Russia. It asserts that the West will decline soon, especially the USA. I know one learned economist who keeps predicting with regularity in the newspaper Zavtra the financial collapse of the USA.

B. That is another extreme. In principle the political direction of many scholars from the left wing appeals to my spirit. At the same time I can’t help feeling sad about their incompetence, which is on a par with that of the supporters of the current regime. This is confirmed by the constant failure of their forecasts of various events, whether political or economical in nature. Apparently they fail to realize that the West has accumulated such a wealth of experience in dealing with economic crises that it is quite often capable of preventing them or at least mitigating their effect on the economy. Your nationalist-left flank looks rather laughable when it speaks and writes perfectly seriously of possible anti-Western or anti-American coalitions. They keep predicting that Europe (Germany and France) will supposedly unite against the USA, or that China, Russia and India are about to form an alliance against the USA, or other things in the same vein. These “if-only”-type forecasts (if only this or that comes to transpire, we will show them “the mother of Kuz’ka”) are in general a characteristic trait of the Russian frame of mind. Strangely enough, it manifests itself with particular obviousness in the thinking of Russian scientists – or those who pass themselves off as scientists. Take S. Belkovsky or A. Dugin – two personages known to you. I still can’t figure out: are they making like fools on purpose, or are they such in reality?

А. I suspect they really are “like that.” However, they are not the only ones who practice “if-only”-ism. Take Primakov: he spoke in this vein on many occasions. For example, when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, he raised the issue of the China-Russia-India triple alliance. Here is a recent ridiculous statement of his in the newspaper Argumenty I Fakty:

… First of all, Russia was and still is a world power on which the course of world events depends to a large degree. This has been demonstrated once again by the current situation – the problem of nuclear security in connection with Iran, the problem of peaceful resolution of the Palestine-Israeli conflict, the problem of a difficult exit from the dead end into which Iraq was driven by American policy. There can be no solution to any of these without Russia. Russia in modern conditions is not a “plank” but rather a strong bridge connecting different civilizations, preventing the elements from tearing the world into parts based this time on the religious principle, rather than the ideological one.

B. Yes, this is indeed pure delirium. If I weren’t purposefully studying Russia, I would have had no idea that anything at all depends on it. Can’t they even wrap their minds around the recent failure of all talks with Hamas in Moscow? What kind of external role for Russia can you talk about when Moscow cannot resolve its own internal problems – in that same Chechnya, for example? This is insanity, plain and simple. When reading this kind of “reasoning,” one gets the impression that these people live in an imaginary world created by the sick imagination of the Russian cosmists.

А. Actually, it isn’t just Primakov – very many authors, especially those in the left-wing-nationalist-patriotic camp, believe that Russia is a great country exerting a huge influence on world development, or at least on world culture.

B. This is not surprising. Almost every nation believes that it is the source of world civilization. The French have this opinion about themselves, so do the English, so do the Chinese. The Russians, naturally believe that all culture stems from them, and that almost everyone in the world knows Pushkin.

That is all nonsense. In actual fact all civilization originated from the Turkmen. I read once a book by the Father of the Turkmen (I forgot his name); it says there that the whole world owes its development to the Turkmen. He convinced me, you know.

А. You mean the book Rukhnama by Saparmurat Turkmenbashi?

B. Yes, that’s the one, the Murat guy. As for Russians, this is what their influence is like… I don’t remember if I told you this story; it was in Vancouver in 1996. I was sitting in a Jacuzzi; opposite me three guys were arguing about something, and suddenly one of them demands of the other: “You are Russian, aren’t you?” (The context being: what are you, an idiot?) I asked them: why do you use the world “Russian” in this meaning? They respond: how can we not? We in Canada campaign for free education, Russians want paid education; we want free health care, Russians want paid health care; we tried never to give away an inch of our land to Americans, Russians give away whole republics. Can you say they are not idiots? – It occurred to me that they had a point. That is Russian influence for you…

А. Okay, many of those who speak of Russia’s greatness have little idea of the West. Primakov, however, traveled round the whole planet, and he also happens to be a Full Member of the Academy of Science – so he is supposedly a scientist.

B. Enough kidding already. You ought to know better than I how one gets to be an Academician in Russia. Name me even one Academician from the sphere of social sciences who had discovered some law, even a tiny little one; you can’t, because there aren’t any. Quite recently a piece of information passed through your press about thousands of fraudulent Doctors and Candidates of science. As for Primakov, it is silly to talk of him as a scientist.

А. What about him as a politician?

B. As a politician he is certainly has talent, if indeed this word can be applied to a politician. This evaluation is borne out by the fact that he is apparently the only man in Russia who has held high posts under each regime, almost like Talleyrand in France. The difference is that Talleyrand, for all his lack of principle and venality, at times did some good for France, especially during the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815). The political activities of Primakov, however, always proved detrimental to the USSR and later to Russia. You can look up his forecasts, the consequences of his official visits; these are all dust. For himself, however, he always did just fine.

А. Very well, let’s leave him alone. However, did not the USA really drive themselves into a dead end through their policy in Iraq? In Russia both the left-wingers and the patriots speak and write of this.

B. So they do, but it is more of the same wishful thinking. This appraisal exists in the West as well – in France in particular – especially among those same left-wingers and human-rights-defenders. The appraisal is erroneous, however, and it does not befit Academicians to reason on the level of journalists.

Let us sort out what this “dead end” is really like. True, over 2000 American servicemen perished in Iraq since the start of the invasion. This, however, is 40,000 fewer than the number of Americans who are killed in traffic accidents every year. This factor did not adversely affect President Bush’s approval rating. Democracy in Iraq, in the name of which the invasion was supposedly launched, did not work out; to heck with it, then. In actual fact no one was seriously considering installing democracy there. What they did install in Iraq is a pro-American regime. As a result all the oil of Iraq is in the hands of the USA, or, more exactly, in the hands of Bush’s team. This alone cancels out all sorts of minuses. Yes, there is practically a civil war going on in Iraq; so what? It is Iraqis killing each other; America will manage to survive it. Don’t forget that the war in Iraq delivered huge profits to the military-industrial complex in the USA and the UK (but not in Germany or France – hence the resentment from those two governments.) Even if the USA will have to withdraw from Iraq, which could happen, of course (more likely due to domestic reasons rather than external ones) - even in that case the cumulative pluses will exceed the summary minuses. It is the Arabs who are actually in a “dead end,” as they are incapable of repealing the American imperialists.

А.  Are you saying that neither the USA or the West as a whole have any particularly grave problems?

B. I’m saying nothing like that. You do have a Russian manner of understanding after all. I noticed this in Russia long ago: you speak of one thing, and you get criticized for another thing which you didn’t even say. I said that the US policy in Iraq is not in a “dead end,” as many of your patriots are convinced. As for problems, one can talk about them endlessly.

А. Nonetheless let us touch at least on some of them. You know that capitalist society has been rebuilt in Russia; not even the nationalist-patriots argue against that in principle. They only want this capitalism to be very Russian, based on Russian spiritual and religious values, so to say. The democrats and liberals of all stripes want it to be exactly like in the West, having in mind, obviously, the USA or the states of Western Europe. In other words, there are two visions of capitalism: Russian national capitalism and Western-type capitalism. Either one is assumed to be superior to the Soviet socialism. The patriots, of course, hate socialism for suppressing religion and traditional R-r-russian culture. The liberal-democrats condemn socialism for its totalitarianism, the absence of liberties and democracy.

B. Generally speaking, this is all puzzling. Why doesn’t it occur to anyone to analyze: what problems did this capitalism resolve in principle, why should people pray to it? First of all, it should be reminded that capitalism already existed in Russia once before, with Tsar the Father and with priests. It did not take root, however; must have been for a reason. As for capitalism of the Western type, it will not take root in the Russian soil precisely because the soil is different, non-Western. The liberal-democrats fail to understand for some reason that if in the West the temperature went down to at least -20˚C in the winter and up to +30˚C in the summer on a regular basis, there would have been no capitalism there. When such temperatures do occur here in the West from time to time, it is treated as a disaster: the airports are closed, the roads are unusable, the schoolchildren stay at home, the old folks croak, and so on. I expect a possible counter-argument: what about Canada? Well, in Canada 99% of the population is in its southern part, where it is warm enough.

А. Excuse me, I will interrupt. You asked me about Astrakhan’, so then, a few words about climate. I was there in August of last year, intending to stay for a week at least. On the first day I woke up at 8 am; the thermometer outside the window was showing +33˚C in the shade. At about noon a friend dropped me off in the downtown; I was intending to check out the bookstores and visit some acquaintances. In no time I was sweating rivers; I could hardly see, and short of breath. The temperature must have hit +50˚C by then. I ducked into an autoline car (this is how Russians call route taxis these days.) There were several old ladies inside – not sweating at all. I asked them: “Aren’t you hot?” – “Are you kidding, son – what heat are you talking about? Now a week ago, it really was hot.” – “You mean to say that a week ago it was +60˚C?” – “We don’t know how many degrees it was, - the old ladies admitted truthfully, - but it was really hot.” I decided that the day’s heat was more than enough for me, had the flight date changed and escaped from Astrakhan’ on the very next day. Had I not done it, I would have suffered a stroke for sure. The residents of Astrakhan’, however, take it all in stride - the heat and the capitalism. Just like in Africa, with the same result. Had the West ever experienced for just one summer the kind of heat Astrakhan’ has (not just for one day, but for the entire summer season), there would have been nothing left of the West.

B. That’s for sure. When three years ago the temperature in France stayed just above 30˚C for a few days, several thousand old men and women died. However, even leaving aside climate, territory and history, let us consider the modern highly advanced capitalism, whether in the USA, England or France: what problems did this over-ripe capitalism resolve? – None at all. Poverty and inequality remain, and these problems are even growing more acute. Crime did not disappear, the level of crime isn’t even going down; health care for the population as a whole is worse than in the times of the Soviet Union, education is definitely worse than in the USSR. Morals are in total decay; the family is disintegrating, children are murdering their parents and each other. Religion has arrived at the phenomenon of gay priests. Freedom and democracy are fairy tales for idiots. Let’s not forget unemployment, etc. What did capitalism resolve? Nothing.

А. Of all the problems listed, which is the most problematic one?

B. Actually, it’s not in the list: it is the problem of immigrants from Asian and African countries. I used to underestimate this problem until I encountered certain phenomena that are as yet not very visible. It seemed to me before, like to many others, that the main problem is the incompatibility between the cultures of the immigrants and the white aboriginals. There are indeed lots of conflicts on these grounds, especially in England, by the way, and in France; there are fewer of these conflicts in Germany – I don’t know why. However, the most important thing (which has not surfaced yet) is this:

The encouragement of immigration to the West started when the white population, having increased their well-being through robbing the Third World, started refusing to take the menial low-paid jobs. Immigrants started filling these positions (service industry workers, nurses, supermarket clerks, taxi drivers, junior clerks in state offices, etc.). They gradually filled the production sphere as well – in those places where industry still exists in principle. The white population became concentrated in the tertiary sector (banking, education, top management, etc.). That is, the white population (for the most part, that very same middle class) has removed itself from the immediate production sphere. Many of them make their living from transactions in stock exchanges, banks and other such structures.

The result was unexpected. Firstly, Third World representatives became established in the Golden Billion countries, creating there whole enclaves of that Third World with their own subcultures, mindsets, religions and other attributes. This created the soil not just for culture conflicts, which I mentioned already, but also for class conflicts. For it is understandable that the residents of the enclaves are the poorest part of the population. The “secondly,” however, is more interesting. Since the Third World both abroad and within their countries took over the production functions, the white population turned into pure consumers, having totally lost the skills of reproducing itself. This manifests itself not only in the obvious fact of the shrinking of the white population, but, most remarkably, in their loss of the skills needed to service themselves on the simple everyday level. Take my own experience in England, for example: when the average Englishman needs a fuse replaced or a new oven plugged in, he calls a tradesman who often turns out to be an Irishman, but more commonly a Pole or an Indo-African. I discovered the same phenomenon in France, to my surprise. All the time while we were arranging our everyday life (electricity, heating, plugging in the TV set, connecting the telephone, etc.) we were dealing with those same Poles and Africans. That may not seem like a big deal, but in fact it signifies the process of degradation of the average Western man. He is losing the skills for taking care of his needs; he is losing the habit of producing things.

Added to this is another factor – the factor of the “post-industrial” society. What does this mean? It means that 70-80% of the country’s employable population is employed in that same tertiary sector (banking, commerce, service industry, etc.). Work in this sector is not particularly strenuous. Take, for example, the salespeople in the top-echelon shops for the rich: they are bored to death most of the time. In the numerous markets thousands of sellers are waiting, yawning. There are hundreds of thousands of loafers in the banks and in the service industry. And many of them enjoy shortened workdays, workweeks, work months. Capitalism has given birth to millions of idlers who are devoting most of their life time to recreation: skiing, golf, the beaches, etc. Many are simply wasting time in cafes and restaurants – this is particularly evident in France. They sit there for hours on end, often just by themselves, with a glass of wine for company, staring into nothingness. There is no meaning at all to their actions and their appearances; they represent a social vacuum.

This is where an extremely serious problem has started to emerge. The problem of entertainment is no longer just economical – it has turned into a social problem, tackled by serious scientists. How can one gratify oneself? Normal human entertainments have become boring. They are being replaced with perversions that could not even be imagined just ten years ago.

In other words, total degradation of the white race is taking place in the developed countries of the West. All advantages of capitalism in its initial and middle stages have been exhausted by now, and it has entered the stage or real decline, which manifests itself externally in utter idiotism in the sphere of culture (it suffices to take a look at the modernists’ works in the Pompidou museum), in “sexism” in the moral sphere. This problem is more destructive that all those listed above.

One should keep in mind that the white race is not only deteriorating – it is decreasing in numbers. The relation between the average lifespan (ALS) and population growth is very seriously distorted. ALS is in principle the main indicator of a society’s development. However, if there is no population growth, after a certain historical time the ALS will no longer have any importance. That is, the disappearance of the clan (tribe, nation) will cancel out the individual’s long lifespan. It is very important to have optimal proportions between these two indicators. In the capitalist West they are distorted.

Oh well, enough about the West. Tell me, what goes on in Russia? Our press is full of articles saying that your President is strangling democracy and recreating an authoritarian regime. What is happening really?

А. Such appraisals prove yet again that the West is not competent to appraise the realities of Russia. The degree of freedom enjoyed by the Russian mass media is no lower than that in the West; it could even be higher. A whole lot of newspapers keep criticizing the President and his team, not to mention his Ministers, with no concern for language. It isn’t just the “left-wingers” who are doing this, but also the “right-wingers” who are supposedly starved for democracy. Naturally, official propaganda exists as well and trumpets the successes of the current President’s rule. They practically control all of television, which indeed has become impossible to watch without retching.

About authoritarianism: what authoritarianism are you talking about when the regime is incapable of controlling anything? The President says one thing, but the outcome is, naturally, “same as always” or worse. No, the real problem is exactly the opposite: Russia does not have a supreme authority; it is governed by officials and criminals (and there is in fact no difference between the two.) The officials are for the most part incompetent, including those at the very top. They remind me very strongly of the officials of the Tsarist era. Those officials back then had no brains, and those of today don’t understand anything either. The only thing both Tsar’s and Putin’s officials do well is line their pockets. The upper echelon of authority consists of utterly uneducated people who have no experience and no special knowledge. The picture wasn’t this bleak even in the times of the witless Brezhnev.

B. The economy is growing, however. The Economist reports that between March 2005 and March 2006 GDP grew by 7%, industrial output grew by 4.4%.

А. The marionettes on Russian television also love to announce such figures. They forget to say, though, that this increase is due to higher prices for oil and gas (i.e. industrial output is not really growing). Then consider inflation. The official figures on inflation have nothing in common with reality. I experience inflation every time I pay for utilities. Consider also this fact, which many do not grasp: even if there was real growth of the economy or GDP as a whole, I would not be likely to experience improvement of my well-being. In capitalist countries, especially the peripheral ones, it is only the upper strata who benefit from such “increases.” Those at the bottom of society get nothing, as is the rule. In Indonesia, for example, the GDP was growing at 10% to 17% p.a. for a stretch of almost 15 years, while the population was becoming poorer; it is this discrepancy that prompted them finally to overthrow President Sukharto. It is even worse in Russia: even according to official statistics, the income of the top 10% of the population is 15 times the income of the bottom 10%; in Moscow the difference is a factor of 40 (according to some data, it is more like 60.) Officials keep repeating that scientists’ salaries have been increased recently. That is yet another lie: as a Doctor of science and Chief research associate (that is the highest position in the research institute system) my salary over the last ten years was just below 3,000 rubles (my record of employment is proof of this.) Moscow City Hall has this information: the average monthly pay in Moscow is 17,365 rubles, while the subsistence minimum is 4,200 rubles. My doctoral salary, therefore, is 1,200 rubles below the subsistence minimum. After this, how can I trust the nonsense of official statistics, including the data on the growth of the Russian economy?

B. Tell me, what is considered the criterion of the country’s “development” in Russia? Judging by the press, it is all about GDP growth. Don’t they understand that this indicator has become obsolete? The main criterion of development is the individual’s average lifespan in optimal proportion to population growth.

А. I understand what you are talking about. You mean the “life delta” as the criterion of progress – you wrote of it in your book Dialectics of Force: Ontóbia.

Firstly, the producers of official statistics are not likely to have read your book. Secondly, should even they read it and embrace your conception, they won’t implement it in their output – for perfectly understandable reasons. Even the Minister of Health was forced to admit that Russia is currently in 136th place in the world in average lifespan of men. The country’s population is decreasing by about a million people per year (in reality – by much more than that.) I will abstain from repeating here the sad forecasts by the UN and by the Russian State Committee for Statistics about the dramatic decline in the country’s population by the end of the century. Therefore what use do they have for your indicators? It is obvious that from this perspective Russia is in deep trouble.

B. The population is dying out, you say? Don’t you know that you no longer have problems with rebuilding population?

А. You mean advances in medicine?

B. No, nothing like that – I mean the method for resurrecting the dead!

А. Very funny.

B. I’m not pulling your leg. Recently (March 19) I saw a program on your TV channel RTR. A lady with two higher educations announced that she herself had resurrected her deceased relatives. So where are they? – was the question. – Abroad, on a special mission! The number of people eager to have their relatives resurrected is so great that their “guru,” or teacher, makes $25,000 per night. There are some seemingly intelligent people among those standing in line to get help from him.

А. So you have an idea of the kind of obscurantism that is gripping the country’s population. When all sorts of “scientists” speak of the materiality of thought, what can you expect from the simple folk? When I talk to people here I often get the impression that I am in the darkest of the Dark Ages, somewhere in the 6th – 8th centuries.

B. By the way, I experienced a similar sensation in some heartland areas of the USA.

ОК, so we agree that in general everything is bad. But what about the particular? They tell us that in particular everything is well. I heard that in private enterprises all necessary conditions have been created for productive labor and good pay. For example, the metals combine “Norilsk Nickel” is now developing much better than it used to during the Soviet era.

А.  I could present a wealth of examples of the catastrophic situation in Norilsk and in other factories “managed” by today’s oligarchs. The matter is, they have different ideas from ours as to what is good and what is bad. Their main indicator of success is profit, preferably super-profit. They care nothing at all about what happens to the laid-off workers, about social guarantees, etc. And they are right in the sense that under capitalism the criterion of “development” is profit, their personal income. Forbes magazine recently published its annual rating of these workplace-creators. In the past year the number of billionaires in Russia increased by seven and reached a very Russian figure: 33. Together these 33 knights (or, rather, 32 knights and one dame) “earned” $172 billion. Let us not forget the 88,000 US$ millionaires in the land. The growth of their visible wealth is shocking. It is impossible to convince them that they are thieves and criminals. In such “disputes” the only argument is force; and force is for the time being on their side.

B. In the West they write, though, that the oligarchs are experiencing much heat. They point at Khodorkovsky, naturally, and sympathize with him. Even the newspaper Zavtra spoke out on his behalf in some articles. They say his jailers won’t allow him to write his Candidate of science dissertation in prison. Regular monsters, those jailers.

А. I can appreciate your irony, but Khodorkovsky’s defenders here can’t. Of course it is ridiculous to demand that kind of conditions in prison. Nonetheless the man is indeed in the “hoosegow.” That does not mean much, though. Of course, Khodorkovsky became poorer since he was arrested; he now only has about $500 million left. The rest of the oligarchs are prospering, though. What happened is simply yet another redistribution of the economic pie in favor of those who are closer to the Guarantor.

B. What do you think is their principal harm to society?

А. The principal harm is their very existence, which is only possible because millions of people were robbed. This is speaking on the fundamental level, so to say. Speaking of the Russian version, it is becoming perfectly obvious to many that these people will never strengthen the economy. From the production-management perspective, they are zeroes. It is silly to say that a guy like Abramovich knows anything about production. The oligarchs made their billions with no effort through machinations involving the government, and they share their wealth with the state very generously, of course, and on all levels. Their harm, however, is starting to manifest itself already in another sphere: their lifestyle, which can only be called parasitic (verminous). Russian-style luxury for display and equally obvious spiritual poverty distinguish this small yet very tightly-knit group. “The wider our mugs, the closer our ranks,” – this phrase is not made up; I actually heard it in the office of a high-ranking official in the Kremlin. It is of these mugs that their “glamour” press writes with such lick-spittle admiration.

B. Somehow I didn’t pay attention to this.

А. Well, perhaps they do look “normal” compared to your British or Canadian billionaires, but compared to normal Russian faces they look like degenerates.

If only you could hear what they talk about. There are usually just two topics: first, who got hold of which top-model or other such insect; second, where to go on vacation, which are the best hotels, which restaurants are best for throwing a party. There are no more topics because their knowledge is clearly divided into two unequal-size shelves: the small one is for money-making following standard algorithms, the bigger one is for recreation and women. This recreation of theirs takes a third of the year as a minimum. And I don’t condemn them for this. You know why?

B. No. I would condemn them.

А. It’s useless. They have no moral sense. They would sincerely fail to understand you. All their morality is about money, pardon the banality.

B. Actually, this also applies to the rich here in the West. To them, too, spending their money is a veritable problem. The recreation industry stands at the ready to help. The problem is clear: how to spend huge amounts of money. Offers weren’t long in coming, and the “glamour” lifestyle has surged out of bounds: the rich rent whole islands, stage orgies, outdo each other in perversions. Parasitism is parasitism no matter where – it is always a sign of dying. Perhaps it is best to let them frolic – they will die out all the soonest. Already they hardly produce any children; in another couple generations no revolutions will be needed to get rid of them. They will simply die out as a dead-end branch of evolution. So many such branches have died out already throughout the history of mankind!

А. And how many people did they cause to perish in the course of that same history? In our case the problem is that the young people are adapting their lifestyle. The young see those scum wallow in luxury and imitate them on their amateurish level. The girls long for sunning on white-sand beaches with their rich lovers and dream of becoming prostitutes; young men wear tails awkwardly, sleek down their hair and light up cigars in a showy manner; this is all an infection.

The recreation industry for this amateur stratum has developed its own forms: Friday and Saturday night concerts on Russian television hosted by the ultra-vulgar “nightingale of Russia” and a young lady who mumbles words. Crazed masked clowns jerk in frenzies that suit their two brain cells. Let them rave in their homes all they want, but we are talking here of the standard for state-owned television. This is the face of Russia, this is how you ought to live – such is the message coming from the screen.

There is another problem here. Let any number of them act affected on stage, pretending to do singing or comedy. The problem is that the public rewards these “artists” with tumultuous applause. That is, everyone in the audience is similar in their esthetic and ethic level to these “brilliant” and “luminous” ones. Take a closer look now at the audience – who are they? It is the cream of the Russian society: oligarchs and officials, all of them together in the same company. I now – and you just told about it – that similar processes are taking place in the West, but here in Russia it has all reached the level of absurdity, of marasmus.

B. Oh well, we’re quite clear about these parasites. But what about the patriotic front? The nationalist-patriots appear also to be opposed to the current regime, judging at least by the criticisms posted in the Internet. It bothers me, though, that they are all crazy about religion. I watched the Winter Olympics and saw that every time your athletes won any kind of medal, they started praying fervently and kissing their pectoral crosses in public. This certainly looks disgusting to a casual observer.

А. That is a special topic. Indeed, today’s patriotism is leavened on two ingredients: anti-communism and the Orthodox faith. It is perfectly obvious that either ideology is leading into a dead end; this is all the more true when they are joined together. Anti-communism is in principle a pathological form of degradation of personality, a form of mental illness. It is not based only on ideological and economic foundations. Obviously, any capitalist is by nature an anti-communist. However, the problem of ignorance also factors in. Not one of them knows the sources of communism, not one of them has ever read Plato or Thomas More, or Francis Bacon, not to mention the pro-communist philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

B. Pardon me, I will interrupt. This applies to the Western anti-communists too, by the way. Recently I made an abstract of Robert Nizbet’s work on Progress. He writes of Marx that his theory of progress is allegedly built on the ideas of St. Augustine, i.e. on a religious basis. Obviously this author hasn’t read a single line by Marx.

А. No doubt. You, however, must know that the works of Marx and works about him are among the best-sellers in the West among political and economic literature, as even The Economist was forced to admit grudgingly – that advance-guard institution of capitalism.

B. Even though I haven’t read about it, I can confirm that in any large bookstore – in London, for example – whole sections are dedicated to the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

А. We digressed from our patriots. So, firstly, the majority of them are anti-communists. What does this mean? To them it means that when the Bolsheviks took power, they allegedly interrupted Russia’s rapid ascension and therefore set the country back. Naturally they hate the leaders of the Bolsheviks and the Soviet period. Once again, we see here a manifestation of utter ignorance. They either don’t know or don’t want to know that before the Bolsheviks Russia was practically a semi-colony, a country with an illiterate population and an average lifespan of 30 years (about 15 years less than in Europe.)  They refuse to admit that it was under the Bolsheviks that Russia became the most dynamically developing country in the world and turned into a superpower. The common reply to that is: yes, but at what price? The patriots don’t understand what was at stake: at a minimum – the survival of the state, at a maximum – flourishing in the areas of education, science and technology, consistent growth of the standard of living and, most importantly, in just 30 years the average lifespan increased to 64 years combined with steady population growth. The reply to that is again: what about Stalin, the terror, etc.? It is useless to explain to them that this terror was provoked to a large degree by the West, and by the East as well (Japan and militaristic China.) Being ignoramuses, they believe in the figures (describing the terror) provided to them by Solzhenitsyn, by A. N. Yakovlev or by that total paranoiac, the Anglo-American Robert Conquest, who copied figures from the Nazi press of Germany and the fascist press of the USA (Randolph Hearst’s press.)

I think, however, that their Orthodox faith is an even greater problem. It is much more difficult to combat religiousness.

B. Is it necessary to combat it? I know quite a few young people who are quite revolutionary-minded in the anti-globalist vein, yet believe in god, albeit, naturally, without showing off their faith, unlike your people.

А. Religiousness in the West is cardinally different from religiousness in Russia. In the West one’s faith is a strictly personal affair. There is a reason why television never shows President Bush going to church or making the sign of the cross, even though he is a believer. In the West religion is in most cases an element of tradition, of culture. In Russia religion is a reflection of both economics and politics. The economy is involved because the situation of most people has worsened to such a degree that trusting in god is the only thing left to them. This is why religion is “the last refuge of the oppressed creature.” The second aspect has to do with politics. It is curious how differently it serves the ruling class and the nationalist-patriotic opposition. To the former, religion is a political tool for enslaving the majority of the masses, for turning them into servants of god. To the latter religion is, on the contrary, rather like the national idea that can elevate Russia and turn it again into a Great state. If you are not an Orthodox Christian, you are supposedly not a patriot, and not even a Russian. Another thing the two parties have in common is the manner of putting their religiousness on display. Pectoral crosses are worn to be seen, public prayers and kissing of the cross are performed to be seen. Both parties are obviously unfamiliar with the Bible, unaware even of its origins. Try asking them a question about the content of the Bible – they won’t be able to answer it. The conduct of the Orthodox in Russia is perfectly contrary to all the commandments contained in the Bible. These people demonstrate total ignorance of the faith they supposedly confess.

B. Let’s suppose you’re right. Yet a certain opposition charge does exist among them, no?

А. Not at all. They only have this charge until they obtain for themselves some cushy position under the current regime. Give such a character a position in the government, and he becomes right away “law-abiding.” This even applies to the young people among them. They keep hollering: God, Russia… However, as soon as they secure some profitable spot for themselves, the hollering comes to an end, and they start behaving just like the personages against whom they used to rail.

B. Just look at you rail against them. No wonder they call you a Russophobe.

А. Indeed they do. For example, one patriot wrote in his response to my remark about the ridiculous utterances of V. Kostikov (who used to be a Soviet journalist in Paris) that even my mentality is Russophobic, and that I don’t believe that the Russians can master the market economy. Please note: all these patriots speak a mangled American-Russian slang and write in Russian with horrific errors. Just read what they call “postingi”, for example in the Argumenty I Fakty. My impression is that all these patriots have crawled out from some boondocks. Their ignorance is complete, darker than dark.

B. No surprise there. Take Russian scholars; I read your scientific literature on a regular basis. I used to think that the Western social scientists cannot be outdone in stupidity; it turns out I was wrong. I recently came across an issue of a philosophy magazine from Russia. To my amazement, I learned from it that the social system in the USA is – what do you think it is?

А. What is there to think? It is capitalist, of course, or, as some of our “scientists” say, post-industrial.

B. Wrong you are. It turns out that the system in the USA is… socialist. (?) This “philosopher”’s arguments are impossible to reproduce. The man is either mentally ill or reached Abraham’s age.

А. The state of science in Russia is a disaster. I wrote of this many times; recently I received some unique confirmation. A good acquaintance of mine from IWEIR gave me a brochure titled Strategic Horizons For Russia (Foreign Policy And Military Aspects – the Year 2078). It is a forecast for the future, executed by a forecasting specialist (most importantly, he was paid for this work a sum that is decent, in his opinion.) I never held in my hands a more ridiculous text. The man writes (makes predictions) about China, even though he clearly hasn’t read even one book about that country. The same is true of his predictions about the USA and Japan. He forecasts, for example, a Russo-Japanese political alliance directed supposedly against China, the disintegration of China into several states, and other incongruities in the same key. The man totally doesn’t understand what globalization or integration is, what the “APR” is. He practically has no knowledge of any of the problems he touches on in his brochure. He is, by the way, a Doctor of technical science, a professor at the Economics and Management Department of the Moscow Institute of Aviation, President and Vice-President of some organizations, etc. What shocks me most is that the people who ordered and bought this work from him have to be on the same level. What kind of moron one must be to take this nonsense seriously.

B. A couple words about the “APR,” by the way. You know that Vitaly Tret’yakov, a journalist known to you, decided to launch a special column dedicated to the “APR” in the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti, of which he is now Editor-in-chief.

А. I read about it, of course. I can imagine what he’s going to write about that non-existent region. Here is one of his pearls: “It is known that the opinion is rather persistent and widespread today that by the middle of the 21st century the center of world politics will gradually shift to the Asia-Pacific Region (APR).” Tret’yakov clearly hasn’t read anything on this topic, otherwise he would have discovered, to his surprise, that already 25 years ago the Japan and China specialists all around the world were writing and saying that the center of world politics will shift to the APR… by the start of the 21st century. Didn’t happen, though. I explained in my book The APR: Myths And Reality why it will never happen. Tret’yakov, however, following the lead of some so-called “scientists,” writes of the potential five superpowers, which supposedly include “the USA, China, the European Union and India” – and, God willing, Russia may become able to join their club.

This journalist (one of the most gifted ones, by the way) doesn’t understand that the European Union cannot be regarded as an integral unit (and thus one of the superpowers.) Firstly, the countries included in this organization have divergent notions on many directions of domestic and foreign policy. Most importantly, they don’t have a single policy like a sovereign state does. Secondly, if the European Union is recognized as an international integrity in the capacity of a subject of world politics, then many other regional organizations should be recognized as similar integrities, for example the APEC which is located in the non-existent “APR.” Next item: India – what superpower characteristics does it have? Its GDP is under $600 billion. In that case Brazil, Mexico and other countries with GDP in the range of $500 to $1,000 billion also qualify as superpowers. If the economic indicator does not work for this purpose, name some other one. Population size? That is definitely a minus, in India’s case. Possession of nuclear weapons? In that case the UK, France and Pakistan also qualify. The same questions arise with respect to Russia. Tret’yakov, like many of the “scientists,” doesn’t really understand the meaning of the term “superpower.” These people don’t know the difference between the “poles” of the world and the “centers of power.” Not one of them can say what the foreign-policy potential of that same India is; they don’t even know how to calculate it.

Tret’yakov calls the space that used to be part of the Soviet Union “Russian Asia.” These states are supposedly still very important from the perspective of Russia’s national interests. This is the same as if an American said: “American Russia,” since Russia is important from the perspective of American interests.

The problem is, journalists cause a lot more harm than scholars for one simple reason: hardly anyone reads what scholars write. Journalists, however, have lots of readers, and they plant totally distorted notions of the country and the world in the heads of the population.

B. Oh well, aren’t there any real scientists among the “scientists”? I am familiar, for example, with the works of Sergey Kara-Murza. I don’t accept everything he says, yet it seems to me that he is a true scientist.

А. I am not familiar with his work as a chemist; in that area he is a Doctor of chemical science. As for his political writings, they certainly contain a lot more science than the works of any political scientist from the bourgeois camp. Nonetheless, ideology has pride of place in his works, too. I’m not saying this in condemnation; there is no such thing as a political text devoid of ideology. I mean that I regard him as a brilliant ideologue of the left wing, way superior in intellect to the theorists of the Communist Party of Russia or other similar organizations. As for the concept “scientist,” I endow it with a different content from anyone else, namely: a scientist is someone who discovers laws of nature and society. There are hundreds of thousands of people working in science; they are just that – scientific workers. Only a very few individuals manage to discover laws; they are the scientists.

As for analysts in the spheres of politics, history, economics – they do exist, I know several among them. They write brilliant articles and monographs. Unfortunately, there are so very few of them, just a handful. This is perhaps only natural; dilettantes always outnumber professionals by a large margin.

B. And what is your attitude toward Putin? I mentioned already that a lot of articles are being written about him these days; he is allegedly the main suppressor of democracy in Russia. On the other hand, judging by your ratings, he is valued rather highly in Russia; the people love him, the “creative intelligentsia” worships him. I read somewhere that at a recent book fair more books were offered on Putin than on Yeltsin. Why are the folk so fond of him? They are dying out, yet still reverent of their tsar.

А. I am not acquainted with the man. I couldn’t find any books written by him; I did read several silly articles signed by him, but I doubt that he wrote them. (There was a report in the press recently that Putin’s Candidate of science dissertation was plagiarized from some American economists’ websites.) Therefore I am in no position to make judgments about his intellect or his personality. I am in a position to appraise his policies, or rather the policies of his team. This team is attempting to change the balance of power in the system of state-oligarchic capitalism in its favor. That is, the oligarchs are not disappearing – they are merely losing their dominant positions in the economy and in politics (which they enjoyed under Yeltsin) in favor of the monopolistic state-owned structures. And Putin’s bureaucrats are the state. From the historical perspective this version is preferable to the preceding one; it is easier to proceed from this stage to the next one: socialism. That is, if anything is left of the people by that time.

 The problem of the people’s survival is already much in evidence. I don’t only mean only the numerical shrinking of the population; the quality of the people needs to be discussed. That’s an unusual term there – the quality of a people. What are the criteria? Lev Gumilyov wrote of this to a degree (his conceptions of passionarity, etc.). I don’t want to complicate our dialogue with my own definitions (these will be presented in a special work.) Let me just offer two examples: the French at the start of the 19th century and the French in the middle of the 20th century – there is just no comparison. The former conquered nearly all of Europe; the latter surrendered their country without a fight. Another example: the Soviet people and the post-Soviet people. The former created a great superpower, having defeated the most powerful capitalist state of the time – Hitler’s Germany; the latter turned the superpower into a marginal state with a dying-out population. You see, criteria do exist.

So what do we see now? We see a population that is dying out and lost all reason, a population that has been dumbed down by television and propaganda. This is the kind of population that gives a high rating to the Guarantor. There is a part of the population that has turned completely savage. In the army they are the ones who practice hazing; in civilian life, however, there is even more of hazing. A substantial army of pure-form parasites has sprung into being: priests and other servants of religion. Then there are those who have found a spot at the trough (the oil and gas spigots.) They, too, support the Guarantor. Finally, there are the plain lick-spittles who write books about the Guarantor, in the hope that he will notice their efforts and give them a position in his entourage. The population as a whole exhibits obvious signs of mental serfdom. A servant of god is at the same time a serf of the state. Russia has indeed made a historical leap… back into the period of Ivan the Terrible. Today’s state capitalism has an admixture of dense feudalism.

B. Doesn’t anyone recognize the tragedy of the historical moment? Has everyone become moronized?

А. There are, of course, some people who recognize that Russia is in a dead end, that Russia is in a trap. However, they are not the ones who influence events. The majority are not only unaware of the tragedy; many actually believe that Russia, of all countries, is on the correct path. The Russians do have a peculiar mindset; they call the defeat in the Russo-Japanese war a victory for Russia. Some (that same Primakov, for example) even claim that we did not lose the Cold War. After the war in Afghanistan was lost, the numbers of generals and heroes just kept growing. In ten years they still haven’t managed to pacify the tiny Chechnya, but the numbers of heroes and generals keep right on growing. Interestingly, some find a way to interpret the victory over Hitler as a defeat. The Russians’ mode of thinking is irrational, it is “thinking in reverse.” Here’s a joke to illustrate this type of thinking: a Russian is hurt in a traffic accident. He is asked: how are you feeling? His reply: the legs and arms are broken, the spine is damaged, the brain is concussed; otherwise, everything is normal.

Let me mention here just one problem: “Ninety out of each hundred women giving birth in Russia are ill; every third infant suffers from inborn pathologies; one in a hundred dies. These are just the official data. According to practicing physicians, infant mortality in Russia is at twice the level of the official indicators.” This, too, is called normal by them. There is no gleam of hope in any single sphere of life. In spite of this, the patriots keep hollering “Glory to Russia!” - Glory to which Russia? The feudal-capitalist Russia? This is complete madness.

B. What about your friends – do they understand the situation? Are you even in contact with them? How are they doing?

А. What about my friends? They are doing like everyone else. You know the saying: he who lies with the dogs gets up with fleas. The general environment has crushed them, too. Some dived into obscurantism, found religion (these are Candidates and Doctors of science we are talking about, by the way.) Others turned to acquisition of wealth. Still others groan as they fail to realize why they have problems. And then don’t forget – they are Russians; and Russians have a peculiar notion of friendship. For as long as you drink vodka together, you are friends. On the very next day, however, all promises are forgotten, and no initiative will be shown until you give them a phone call. It isn’t because they are mean or ill-disposed toward you; it’s just the culture. Most of the time they are all to busy to communicate with you; to busy to make a phone call, or send an e-mail, or even just to respond to a message. They are all hustling and bustling, but if you ask them: what for? – there will be no answer. Only one of them ever reads my books. This used to puzzle me for a while; after all, when a friend makes me a present of his book, I read it that very same evening. My friends don’t. I quoted once to one of them a pronouncement by Marx who wrote to one of his companions-in-arms: “You do have, of course, the right not to read my books, but why then do you call me your friend?” My friend was ready with a lively response: that was way back in the 19th century, everything has changed since then. He fails to understand, unfortunately, that friendship is not a one-way relationship, but a two-way one; friendship, same as love, is built on mutual obligations, and it has nothing to do with time. These people are not really friends, of course, but rather very good acquaintances; perhaps I should better say pals.

B. You did say before that you do have real friends.

А. I did say that; even now there are two men whom I consider friends. I fear, however, that they are themselves of a different opinion.

B. That’s a depressing picture you painted. Is there anything at all in today’s Russia that is encouraging to you?

А. I used to say that the bright spot in Russia is that it has the most beautiful girls and women in the world, which is indeed true. The problem is, these beauties more and more often aspire to become prostitutes and emigrate to the West. I could present some relevant statistical data here; however, you already did it in your book On Love, Family and the State. Such grief we have come to. In general, I believe that a mass moronization of the population has taken place; the society has become perfectly sick, both in the physical and the moral respects. There are some islets of normalcy, there are some beautiful and intelligent people. On the whole, however, degradation dominates.

B. I don’t want to end our dialogue on this note; yet is time to wind it up. So here: an episode from our Paris life. My wife and I were at the Auchan supermarket. She spotted a couple speaking in Ukrainian and asked them: who are you? – We’re from Ukraine, they said. – So how is your life in Paris? – “Ta ne pohano (not bad),” they replied. Let us then wish to the Russians that they live “ne pohano.”

Alex Battler, Oleg Arin (Paris)

30/06/ 2006