Saturday, September 5, 2015

An Earlier Russian ‘Turn to the East’ Didn’t Work Out So Well for Moscow or the World

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 5 – Ninety-five years ago this week, after suffering a crushing defeat in its invasion of Poland, Moscow “turned to the east” by convening the Fist Congress of Peoples of the East in Baku, but that meeting, as important as it was for many of the participants, didn’t work out the way the Soviet rulers hoped.

            But that is a lesson that Vladimir Putin and his foreign policy advisors do not appear to have learned as they make their current much-ballyhooed turn away from the West and toward the East at the present time, according to Kasparov,ru commentator Kyamran Agayev (

            That failure is especially noteworthy because one of the Soviet participants at the meeting, Nikolay Bukharin, told Vladimir Lenin on his return from the meeting that “we have awakened a monster,” implicitly suggesting that the East Lenin hoped to revolutionize for Moscow’s benefit could easily turn against the Soviet project.

            The Baku meeting took place in the Azerbaijani capital September 1-8, 1920. It attracted more than 2,000 delegates representing 44 different nationalities, ethnic and religious groups. Slightly over half were communists. Among the most prominent were Bela Kun, Ho Chi Min, and Mustafa Subhi. Bukharin, Karl Radek and Grigory Zinovyev represented Moscow.

            As Agayev notes, the meeting devoted itself to two main themes: “the struggle with exploitation and the capital of bourgeois countries” and “questions of the relationship of religion and especially Islam, and the communist movement in the countries of the East.”  Each of these had consequences.

            The Congress adopted a document entitled “The Shariat Project” which listed 15 ways in which shariat law corresponds to communist doctrine, a follow on to the declaration by Joseph Stalin that “communism and shariat law do not contradict one another.” Thus, communists and Muslims should work together against “the bourgeois West and above all the Anglo-Saxons.”

            Agayev argues that “the Congress of Peoples of the East organized by Russian Bolsheviks 95 years ago remains significant not only from a historical point of view but above all from a methodological one.” That is because it “laid the foundations of the division of the world into two ideological hemispheres,” dividing the West and East “not in a geographic but in social-political and worldview ways.”

            “In other words,” the commentator says, “a delayed action mine was laid which decades later along with the cold war led to the catastrophic collapse of the colonial system with shocking economic and humanitarian consequences,” one of which was “the unprecedented politicization of Islam and its transformation into a contradictory instrument of struggle both against the capitalist West and the communist East in the form of the USSR.”

            “The classic example of this was the war in Afghanistan against the ‘infidel’ Soviets and the present events in the Near East where after ‘the Arab Spring’ have appeared medieval monsters in the form of ISIS,” Agayev writes.

            Thus, “before accusing the West and above all the US as being behind what is now taking place in the Arab East, it would not be a bad idea to look deeper into history, to [the Baku congress] of 95 years ago.”

            “What Putin and his camarilla now are doing is nothing other than a banal repetition of Bolshevism with its eastern policy and search for the chief enemy in the bourgeois West,” something that makes Putinism “a confrontational, retrograde and reaction movement which leads only to the rejection of European values in favor of eastern despotism.”

            That is a path “the communists already pursued … and how it ended is well known.”

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