May 22, 2015

The Return of the Komintern in a New Form

Reuters/Scanpix
People carry portraits of late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as they attend a gathering marking the 130th anniversary of his birthday in Stalin's hometown town of Gori, some 80 km (50 miles) west of Tbilisi, December 21, 2013.
People carry portraits of late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as they attend a gathering marking the 130th anniversary of his birthday in Stalin's hometown town of Gori, some 80 km (50 miles) west of Tbilisi, December 21, 2013.

On 22 May 1943, 72 years ago, Soviet leader Josef Stalin disbanded the Komintern, the Communist International. It was quite a noteworthy action because the Komintern had embodied the USSR’s two-faced foreign policy. What did that mean? It meant while the Soviet Union had tried to establish normal diplomatic relations with other countries ever since the October Revolution of 1917, communist canons envisioned something completely different: namely, the overthrow of capitalist states and creation of a worldwide communist international. Naturally it would be run from Moscow. But since other countries had militaries and borders, the Komintern did not deal with control and command – they tried to subvert and undermine. All the while, Soviet diplomats clinked glasses at receptions like any proper statesmen.

Stalin didn’t disband the Komintern out of love for the West, of course. World War II was at its peak then and the step was supposed to demonstrate the Soviet Union’s serious intentions in dividing up the post-war world, if it came to that. Basically, Stalin had decided to keep Eastern Europe and concede control of Western Europe to the other Allies. The Great Leader also believed that if the USSR disbanded the Komintern, the Westerners would do the same with its counterparts. The problem was that the West had no such organization.

It all seems very similar to the situation today, with the difference that there is now no Komintern. As a state, though, Russia’s thought processes have not changed since World War II. Moscow assumes that the West is constantly trying to undermine the foundations of Russian statehood. It’s like a mirror image of Soviet foreign policy of the 1920s and 1930s. That is, Moscow thinks that while US and EU diplomats go through the motions of civility at receptions, efforts are afoot to erode Russian influence in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet Union. The European Union and the US consider what they are doing to be spreading democracy.

And Russia itself is already openly pursuing Komintern-style politics. Russia enjoys diplomatic relations with most of the world’s counties; Russian diplomats participate in the courtly rituals of diplomacy along with the rest. Yet this doesn’t keep Russian pilots from flying with their transponders switched off, or the Russian media from spouting invective and incitation to international enmity.

Of course, the European Union should learn from this. If the EU were able to understand how Russia thinks on the state level, it would be a big step ahead. But understanding doesn’t mean making concessions. For adopting a Komintern-style game would mean that people’s own mindset in the countries in question would count for nothing. All processes are controlled from somewhere and differences of opinion can be solved by making deals. It would be even worse if the EU, too, were to decide to establish something Komintern-like. Then the EU would appear to be just like Moscow. Yet the essential difference between democracy and autocracy means that decision making power is vested in the people, and that their interests are considered, not just those of states.

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