Even by his own very high standards, this is John Laughland on glorious form:
Perhaps the most revealing remark made during the crisis over South Ossetia was that by the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who attacked Russia in very strong terms for having reverted to “a 19th century approach to politics”.
Milliband’s hatred of Russia is built into his political DNA. His grandfather, Samuel Miliband, was a Warsaw-born Communist who famously fought in the Red Army but who then left the Soviet Union for Belgium when Stalin became top dog in Moscow. As a lifelong Trotskyite and supporter of world revolution, Miliband was disgusted by Stalin’s decision to create socialism in one country alone and by his de facto restoration of Great Russian nationalism.
Samuel’s son, Ralph, the Foreign Secretary’s father (born in Brussels), became a noted Marxist political scientist. His son David’s embrace now of the neo-conservative project of creating a unipolar world based on American power and the ideology of human rights is therefore a typical illustration of something of which I have written on many occasions in the past, namely the way in which true Marxists find their natural political home in the project of “global democratic revolution” proselytised by George W. Bush.
Indeed, the Foreign Secretary’s remark about Russia reveals more about the speaker than about the matter in hand. Of course the remark is notable for its hypocrisy. Miliband, after all, is a member of a government which has invaded two countries which have in the past been classic destinations for the British troops in the heyday of Empire, Afghanistan and Iraq, and which has also energetically pursued the extension of Western influence into another part of the world famous for being the focus of Great Power rivalry in the 19th century, the Balkans.
But the remark is mainly notable for the mindset it reveals. From Miliband’s point of view, Western policy over the last fifteen years has not been a matter of brute force. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the bombing attack on Yugoslavia have not been military invasions, but instead selfless acts inspired by a desire to promote democracy and human rights, and therefore not even political acts in the classic sense of that term. Instead, they are (he believes) acts carried out in the service of humanity, acts which no reasonable person could oppose. Anyone who does oppose them is probably an enemy of humanity itself.
By contrast, continues his reasoning, Russia’s decision to protect South Ossetia from the Georgian attack on the night of 8 August is a cynical exercise of brute force designed solely to extend Russian power into the Caucasus. Indeed, although Moscow actually did react to human rights abuses and war crimes committed by the Georgians when they attacked Tskinvali, the language coming out of the Russian capital has tended to focus more on the country’s national interests and security, and less on appeals to universal principles of human rights. This is what Miliband cannot stand. When George W. Bush gave the order to invade Iraq, by contrast, there was of course a certain amount of talk about America’s need to protect herself from external attack (a threat which was purely invented). But the centre of gravity of the American arguments in favour of that war lay in universalist and unpolitical claims about democratising the Middle East and advancing the global democratic revolution.
The great and controversial German jurist, Carl Schmitt, famous adopted Proudhon’s dictum that “Whoever speaks about humanity is trying to deceive.” It’s a good one-liner but the remark is incorrect. Precisely the danger of the Miliband-Bush vision of politics is that it is not based on a conscious desire to deceive others but instead on self-deception – on a genuine belief in the rightness of the universalist and almost Messianic mission which they embrace. Like the liberal imperialists of the, er, 19th century, these people do really believe that what they are doing is selfless and essentially non-political.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union – an artificial political creation based on a negation of Russian history and reality, on bogus internationalism, and on an allegedly universalist political creed which was supposed to embrace the whole of humanity – Russian politicians have long since abandoned any pretence that their own country has any such universal vocation. When I met President Putin last September, he specifically said that Russia had suffered greatly from having adopted Lenin’s universalist creed of communism. (“Vladimir Ilyich Lenin-Ulyanov said at one point: Russia matters nothing to me; what matters is to achieve world socialist revolution.”)
Not so the United States and Britain. The neo-conservative project of creating a unipolar world based on human rights and democracy (embraced energetically on both the Left and the Right of the American political spectrum, as the recent nomination of Joe Biden as Barack Obama’s running-mate sadly emphasises) does require brute force to implement it. Developments like the “independence” of Kosovo grow only out of the barrel of a gun. But the project is supported in London and Washington by people who have utterly deluded themselves about its truly political nature.
It is because the West still deceives itself on this matter, and because post-Soviet Russia no longer does, that East-West relations are a dialogue of the deaf. Both sides are speaking a language the other does not want to hear. The Western vision, based on self-deceit, is extremely dangerous; the Russian vision of politics is far more realistic. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the reassertion of a Russian presence on the international stage will force the Milibands of this world, obviously against their will, to realise a basic fact about the human condition. It is that the world has been divided into different states ever since the collapse of the Tower of Babel, and that politics consists therefore not in fantastic projects to construct a new tower in its place, but instead in making the best job one can out of the bricks which remain.