the inevitable escalation

Image: Wendelin Jacober


Putin does not want to end the West, let alone capitalism

“The war never left, son. Wars are like the seasons of the year: they are suspended, ripening in the hatred of small people” (Mia Couto, The Flamingo's Last Flight).

In recent days we are witnessing a war that, even if it is still localized, should change the course of the geopolitical scenario in the coming years, perhaps decades. In fact, the “war of demarcation” of the new Russian borders against Ukraine goes far beyond the concreteness of the horror of the images. It is also symbolic, in the sense of sending a message to the western world about its limits and desires. Not because the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin wants to go back to the past time of the former Soviet Union (USSR).

He knows, more than anyone, that it will not be possible to reconnect to the former paradigm of the state system of centralized governance that Russia imposed on its satellite countries in the so-called “iron curtain”. China itself, today the greatest economic power on the planet and claiming to be the greatest world power in the near future, does not demand this feat. At least for now.

So what is Putin's real intention? It's hard to say for sure, but we can get some clues from the teachings of some theorists. The first of these is Robert Kurz (1943 – 2012). This German thinker, a staunch critic of capitalist modernization and its fetishist system of commodity production, suffered harsh criticism from his peers when he pointed out the exhaustion of what he called “barrack socialism”, which became the Soviet state model (1) .

Robert Kurz said: “There was never so much ending. With the collapse of real socialism, an entire epoch disappears and becomes history. The familiar constellation of world society in the post-war era is dissolving before our eyes with frightening speed” (ob. cit., p. 13).

Thus, for Kurz, the disintegration of the Soviet Union occurred much less because the West had won the battle of its system as a whole - political, economic and social -, but because of the internal contradictions generated by an alleged "dictatorship of the proletariat". , which began to spread the ideas of individual ownership and market economy based on competition. It is for this very reason that he asks himself, prophetically, whether the West was really aware and self-aware of what it did, after it proclaimed itself the winner of the conflict between the two ideological systems in force in the post-war world.

In this sense, for Robert Kurz, the West itself was surprised by the implosion so fast of the complex real socialist system, precisely because it was not concrete Western political actions that led to this decline, but rather “the dramatic failure of its functioning mechanisms internal” (ob. cit., page 15). For him, what happened was a kind of historical collapse, where two of the most powerful forces in human society, namely the State and the Market (the other is, without a doubt, Religion), cannot serve as a basis primeval ontology of humanity. Therefore, it is the crisis of the working society, which we will not focus on in this article, which is behind his metacriticism of the collapse of socialist countries.

Now, if Kurz understands that the category of work is nothing supra-historical, this is nothing more than the exploitation of man by man, or rather, the economic exploitation of human labor power and nature by a few owners of the means of production, with the sole motivation of generating incessant profits. It is precisely at this intersection of profit, surplus value or surplus value, whatever you want to call it, that the dilemma between the two hegemonic systems of the modern/contemporary era is summarized. In other words, if in the (neo)liberal capitalist system profit is retained by a few fortunate people, with the State serving as a foreman for the elites, in “barrack socialism” it is the State that appropriates this surplus value, with companies state-owned companies being dominated by a single party group that plans the market, according to the interests of the most prominent members of that party, the oligarchs.

At this point, it is possible to highlight that Putin is the most important and imposing member that appeared in Russia, after the deblace of the Soviet bloc. No wonder he has been in power since 1999. He is the maximum representative of the party oligarchy that survived the fall of the Berlin wall and the loss of the vast majority of countries that gravitated around the capitalist state model of the so-called “real socialism”. Putin knows that the fundamental flaw of this model was, precisely, its failure to oppose contemporary capitalist society (post-modernity, for some).

As Robert Kurz says: “From the beginning, real socialism could not suppress the capitalist society of modernity; it is itself part of the bourgeois commodity-producing system and does not replace this historical form by another, but only represents another phase of development within the same epochal formation. The promise of a post-bourgeois society to come and unmasked as a pre-bourgeois and stagnant regime of transition to modernity, like a fossil of a dinosaur belonging to the heroic past of capital” (ob. cit., p. 25)

Therefore, Putin does not want to do away with the West, let alone capitalism. On the contrary, what we can apprehend so far from his already long “reign” is that he really plans to match the capitalist model of China, that is, he projects a Russia strong enough to exercise, that is, growing influence. in the surrounding countries, without, however, absorbing them. It is likely that he will take over the reins of Ukraine in the next few days, but not to run it personally, but through some puppet president of his. Like the dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko. However, for such a desire, he cannot allow the United States, through NATO, to reach his door: in this case, Ukraine.

Thus, Putin strikes! He attacks not to avoid neoliberalism – he himself has already declared these days that he does not want Russia out of the global compensation system called “swift” -, but to keep it within its borders, in accordance with its interests and those of its friends, or accomplices, if you like. The same old friends from the former East Germany, during the “cold war”. It is here, in the presence of this half “Putinian”, half “Muskian” neoliberalism, that is, the physical part (Putin) that allows the exploration of the bodies of each being-in-the-world and virtual part (Elon Musk)[I] that no longer guarantees the metasocial exchange of goods, all of them, in whatever stage they are – solid, liquid, gaseous and invisible –, that another thinker emerges: Dany-Robert Dufour. For this French philosopher (2): “Exchanges are no longer valid as guaranteed by a superior power (of a transcendental or moral nature), but by what they directly relate to as commodities. In a word, today market exchange tends to desymbolize the world” (2005, p. 12).

Putin wants to guarantee the public territorialization of his private affairs. In other words, he knows that to guarantee enough power to leverage his personal interests, and that of his closest fraction of the class, he must be ahead of business. And more. There needs to be solid ground and people to applaud you. Hence Ukraine's strategic position is a stimulus to violent excesses. Thus, with the inviolability of Russian territory guaranteed, and surrounded by strategic barriers to prevent the West from approaching, Putin will be able to move on to phase 2 of his inevitable escalation: the totalitarian influence that Russia lost more than 3 decades ago in the Soviet dismantling.

However, the totalitarian influence that Putin seeks, in addition to the technological devices that guarantee his military supremacy in the region, and overcoming this small incident (for him) of needing to invade another country, is in the symbolic order of the values ​​he defends. Dufour says that men/women are being urged to strip themselves of all the symbolic overloads that the exchanges carry in themselves. Only the monetization of exchanges will remain, in its most dramatic appeal: money (be it physical, less and less; be it virtual). Nothing matters more to the ultraliberal society than expanded and unrestricted circulation. Neoliberalism does not stick to ideologies such as fascism, Nazism or socialism. Not even the old liberal capitalism of the XNUMXth century until the end of the two great world wars. Neoliberalism wants to manufacture a new man.

Dufour says: “But the great strength of this new ideology in relation to the previous ones concerns that it did not start by targeting man himself through programs of re-education and coercion. It contented itself with introducing a new status of the object, defined as a simple commodity, waiting for the sequence to take place: that men would transform themselves on the occasion of their adaptation to the commodity, promoted since then as the only real. The new montage of the individual takes place, therefore, in the name of a 'real' to which it is better to consent than to oppose him: he must always appear sweet, dear, desired, as if it were entertainment (examples: television, the advertising)". (ob. cit., page 15)

This is exactly what Putin wants for his countrymen and newly conquered peoples. Human beings alien to what happens in the political arena, accepting what comes from the Kremlin as faithful followers of a new religion: that of merchandise. To her alone must all praise be given. Matters pertaining to the direction that Russia should take should be the sole responsibility of the members of the group chaired by Putin. It is the Russian version of the historic path of mixed government, where the many, the multitude, elected the excellent few to govern. The path from this mixed government of the modern age to the contemporary form of party representative democracy is well known. What changes even today, from country to country that takes refuge behind elections, is how this ghostly figure – democracy – is handled by those in power.

Indeed, Putin seems to bet on a world without limits, psychotic, borderline. A postmodernity in which the neurosis of everyday life must be undone in the face of neocapitalism that produces the new acculturated and nihilistic subject. The ancient Athenian radical democracy, which provided the human animal with the only true experience of popular participation, has been transmuted into a subjective democracy, in which the great institutions of history (political, economic, social and religious) are being dissolved by the progressive autonomization of individuals. , in relation to the new desires authorized and stimulated by the market.

Now, if, as Dufour says, “man is a substance that does not derive its existence from itself, but from another being” (ob. cit., p. 27), and if this other being is no longer capable of provide the guarantee of existence for the “your-other”, your neighbor, your countryman, then society as a whole loses the ability to recognize itself by its fellow man, that is, the living are no longer equal, citizens themselves, within a particular region or a border.

Putin's bet is that this incompleteness of the other, which permeates the capitalist society that produces priceless goods, will end up pressuring the West not to grit its teeth in the face of a new resumption of part of the former Soviet power. I say part because it is not clear where Putin himself is going. In my opinion, if he is smart enough, he will cease hostilities once he has completed this invasion. At least for the time being, the double-headed eagle, a symbol on the Russian state coat of arms since the XNUMXth century, will be satisfied and safe.

Which is by no means to say that Putin will remain paralyzed forever. On the contrary, as the very title of this text indicates, I believe, like the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, that the rise of capital is inevitable. Consequently, there is no longer any sphere where it has not penetrated human society. If before the Industrial Revolution, politics commanded the actions of all countries, with the passage of time and technological progress, nations were submitted to the dictates of the economic-financial order, up to the current stage of complete submission. Thus, and as capital is known to be amoral, inequality among all, between the few (the elites) and the many (the crowd), only increased. Both internally, between classes, and externally, between nations.

Says Mbembe (3): “Once everything has become a potential source of capitalization, capital has become the world, a hallucination of a planetary dimension, producing subjects who are simultaneously calculating, fictitious and delusional on a larger scale”. (ob. cit., page 73)

In this tune, capital took on a life of its own, became flesh, as Mbembe says, claiming for itself all the institutes of life that was previously only human, and now redefines priorities according to its own interests of systematic reproduction. The unthinkable for the generation before ours is happening, namely, human life, and by extension that of other living beings, has become a mere detail, an inadequate inconvenience for the new world of digital computing. For Mbembe, postmodern “technolatry” is a metaphysical ghost that haunts the three ratio – economic, biological and algorithmic (ob. cit., page 74). It is, therefore, the end of the substrate, of corporeality, of materiality itself, in the name of the artificial and autonomous power of machine-brain language.

It is plausible to think that Putin knows that the world as we know it will be changed after his invasion. He also knows that his future as a leader, and even as an individual, depends on success in this endeavor.[ii]. But he also knows that he could not stand still for much longer in the face of the siege to which he was being subjected, since NATO began to incorporate new members from its former zone of influence, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. Anyone looking at the military cooperation agreements established before and after 1997 on a map will see that Russia is practically surrounded. That is why Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine, notably in the Donbass region, Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.

Likewise, Putin knows that an all-out war would annihilate not just him and his country, but the entire world. Therefore, the total war of the contemporary era will be realized, paradoxically, in optical fiber networks, that is, through the internet. No wonder Russia is among the main countries that use “fake news” as a political weapon. There are, in fact, strong suspicions, to be conservative, of Russian interference in the election of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. This is just to mention the example of the American continent. The metaphysical ghost of science, as the driving force behind the new nature of the quantum world, is incarnated in the automated world.

But this world made indeterminate by invisible barriers also needs to find, after all, some kind of boundary. As Mbembe says: “The border is no longer just a demarcation line that separates different sovereign entities. As an ontological device, it now operates by itself and in itself, anonymous and impersonal, with its own laws. It is increasingly the proper name of the organized violence that sustains contemporary capitalism and the order of our world in general”. (ob. cit., page 75)

Putin knows that he cannot give up the territoriality of his future power, even if the future is not in visible territory.[iii]. The “frontierization” that Mbembe refers to is nothing more than the selection of vital spaces in which each human being can transit, depending on the interests of capital. Therefore, the assertion that the physical space will still remain as the locus preponderant of humanity for a long time. It will just be more selective, or restrictive for the undesirables of the new economic order. The human lives that will no longer compose capital's need will be crippled over the next generations, as capital itself does not need as many consumers for its automatic reproduction.

Therefore, if for those in power the more authoritarian and totalitarian they are, the greater the chances of survival, there remains the option of hunting those purged from the global system of governance. It is possible that we are already in the time when the society of security overcomes, in all its forms of oppression and pressure, the liberal society that had the freedom of individuals as its main motto. We are being watched even inside our home, in the ancient sacred home, where the minutiae of life were discussed without anyone knowing. As Mbembe says, the objective of this total control is not “to affirm freedom, but to control and govern the modes of appearance” (ob. cit., p. 83).

In this sense, Putin is only assuming a role that other “players” have already assumed through legal means (some not so much so), such as China and the United States of America itself. Like these, Russia also needs the dream of a (trans)lucid humanity, which justifies the myth of technology that liberates hearts and minds. As we have not yet experienced the future escape from Earth's soil for the colonization of similar planets, even though this is already being proposed for a tiny portion of the world's population, borders are still a matter of survival for any political-legal system.

At the borders, there is no longer any place for those condemned to exclusion, those displaced by small/medium caliber wars, as we are seeing in Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Palestine, among others. To reach the stars, first you have to dominate the earth. And to dominate the earth, first it is necessary to discover and absorb all the resources that come from it.

Having said all that, and without diminishing Putin's share of responsibility[iv], it is necessary to recognize the part that belongs to the western powers, the United States at the head, to move the capitalist war machine. If we do not want to take sides with any of the belligerent sides, it is imperative to remember Putin's own numerous appeals and requests for Ukraine not to join NATO.

Of course, Putin also has his capitalist motives for avoiding a westernized Ukraine. Therefore, it is not a question here of mitigating his guilt for the imposed horror. However, it seems evident that the main motive has always been a matter of national security, in the Russian view. Any country in the world would do the same if it found itself surrounded by external threats.[v]. The West has stretched the rope until it snaps. Now it's time to hope that the nodes can be assembled in the best possible way in the new geopolitical spectrum.

* André Márcio Neves Soares is a doctoral candidate in social policies and citizenship at the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSAL).



(1) KURZ, Robert. The collapse of modernization. Rio de Janeiro. Peace and Earth. 1992.

(2) DUFOUR, Dany-Robert. The art of reducing heads: On the new servitude in ultraliberal society. Rio de Janeiro. Freud Company. 2005.

(3) MBEMBE, Achilles. Brutalism. São Paulo. n-1 editions. 2021.



[I] An example could be given of any other of the same class, such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc.

[ii] This is so true that he seems to have sent his own family to a “bunker” in Siberia.

[iii] It is good to clarify that when we say that Putin knows all this, we are obviously referring to a group of people around him, a “staff”, who advise, guide and provide him with all kinds of information necessary for him to make the decisions which you find convenient.

[iv] Which, by the way, seems to have become evident throughout the text.

[v] Imagine the US surrounded by China's allied Canada and Mexico in the future. How would they react?

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