Tamás Krausz, founding editor of the periodical Eszmélet (Consciousness), a Hungarian journal for social critique and culture, talks to Attila Antal, editor-in-chief of Eszmélet.
Attila Antal: As we speak, there is a prolonged tension in European geopolitics, with the United States and the European Union and Russia in a major stand-off over Ukraine. How do you see the position the left should take in this situation?
Tamás Krausz: I think that the anti-capitalist left, no matter in which country, must start from the interests of the people in geopolitical matters, from the need to put a stop to the economic and territorial re-division of the world, because that means war, and we want peace. So, the fundamental question is not which great power you are on the side of.
Russophobia is a form of civilisational racism, and it links conservatives and liberals.
But we have to see that here in our neighbourhood Ukraine is just a tool in the geostrategic clashes of the great powers. This is not just about Ukraine, but about fundamental issues: what will be the fate of Russia? We can see from the break-up of the Soviet Union, what chaos and conflict would ensue from the break-up of Russia. Whenever we are confronted with what is happening in Ukraine or Belarus, or even Kazakhstan, we are confronted with Russia. Already during the period of regime change, US-strategist Brzezinski had concretely outlined that the way for Russia's 'normal' development was to be divided up. So, for the big capitalist corporations, Russia has always been an attractive area for capital accumulation, a kind of paradise.
If we look at the contradictions and conflicts of the whole new Cold War unfolding in the West and the response in the East, a more complex picture emerges. There is an economic and territorial division of the world system on a global scale. The current NATO-Russian conflict is part of a series of struggles to divide up the spheres of power in the Middle East and the Black Sea. The ethno-nationalist era brought to life by neoliberalism has also made Russia reflect on the fate of the 25 million Russians living outside its borders, above all the 17 million or so Russian minorities living in Ukraine. A tense factor in an era full of conflicts whose dominant ideological leitmotif is Russophobia, the demonisation of Russia in the name of these interests.
Russophobia is a form of civilisational racism, and it links conservatives and liberals. It is something that left-wing people cannot accept. This does not mean that every foreign policy moves or solutions of Putin, or of Russia, or the possible military occupation of Ukraine, should be supported or justified. Russia is a conservative, military world power, but it must be acknowledged that today Ukraine is a pro-Nazi regime from a leftist point of view. We should not be confused by the fact that it is supported by the “democratic Europe” and the “democratic” United States. Zelensky and his ruling apparatus are there in alliance with the far right. Zelensky is a geopolitical tool and puppet of the Anglo-Saxon-American-European, i.e., the 'collective West'. The joke of the world is that it matters speaking about Orbán that he is associated with far-right organisations, but it does not matter to Zelensky because he is the 'geostrategic lobbyist' of the West, and would of course turn his country readily into a NATO base.
It is clear to see that in the current situation of the EU, there is an approach, interpreting EU values in a nationalist framework, at the nation-state level, favoured by Orbán, and there is a Brussels waterhead, a liberal, neoliberal conglomerate. How would it be possible to develop a kind of critical position on the system between them?
If I start from our fundamental values, it is precisely because the European Union, especially in this COVID-19 period, wants to move the world from the position of big business to that of “humanist environmentalist” and “human rights activist” with immense unilateralism that we must criticise day and night. It is always the same old tune: private appropriation of profits by the few, while the loss is borne by the majority of society. This falls within the human rights, but not housing the homeless. Some people like it so, like our liberals. Is it possible to pursue a people-centred policy with the logic of big business? We cannot imagine it.
The whole environmental turnaround has not been properly thought through either, only the interests and considerations of big business are clear, that is to say, the profit motive. Nor has it even been clearly thought through what new environmental destruction the quasi-introduction of “green energy” will bring about, which is already clearly visible today, if we only look at the issues of the periodical Eszmélet. For example, the myth that electric cars are non-polluting. But yes, in a different way. Wind energy is also not the answer.
This does not mean, of course, that if you break the European Union into nation states again, the position of humanism will be stronger. Looking at the traditions of the Eastern European nation states, I do not see that the socialist-revolutionary, left-wing anti-capitalist movements would be in a better position there. On the contrary, we would be regressing towards the unrestrained reign of savage racism, as I have stressed before. These are very conservative nation states, terribly attached to the Nazi, far-right, anti-humanist aspirations of the past, heroizing Nazi collaborators.
I am of the opinion that the demise of the anti-capitalist left in every sense, whether we like it or not, is inseparable from the dismantling of the Soviet Union. However, we interpret the history, values and historical achievements of the Soviet Union, its dissolution is the complete marginalisation of the anti-capitalist, political and cultural force born of the October Revolution. There is no substitute for it in the absence of other broad, organised mass movements. This is one reason for its weakness, and another is that the new oligarchic capitalist regimes are authoritarian, they are all strongly closed toward a left, and only open to the right. Moreover, already Lenin saw that socialism could not be simply introduced, not only because of widespread illiteracy, but simply because “the Russian peasant cannot live without buying and selling”. This is a global truth that is still shared by the broadest social masses today. This small little remark is so profound that it contains the whole legacy of today's world civilization, the millennia-long process and experience of capitalist accumulation. In other words, the vast majority of the world's population cannot exist without this merchant civilization. These are the decisive reasons, but we could list many other reasons, which we only experience here in Eastern Europe. We have said many times that the left here is characterised by an emigrant syndrome. The anti-capitalist left, cannot escape from this situation by accumulating its sects on a global and national scale.
What should the anti-capitalist left in Hungary do: should it enter politics or should it build a social base in other ways? It seems that in many respects one-sided solutions have been found so far.
It is to have, alongside the analysis, an independent socialist programme for the development of a multi-sectoral mixed economy in which the Constitution guarantees the population the possibility of free self-government and the free right of existence of communal property. As long as this is not demonstrated and recognised in the economic field by the Constitution, the political authority of the anti-capitalist left will not be restored in society.
An anti-capitalist left must take a clear and unequivocal stand on the question of property, on the methods of management, on the fundamental questions of freedom.
This is, of course, a combat issue. It is no coincidence that in 1989-1990, when the possibility of social self-administration and community ownership was introduced into the new Constitution under pressure from the Left Alternative, it was immediately thrown out by the first Parliament, to the shame of democracy. It is understandable that they threw it out, since the liberals stood and still stand with both feet on the ground of capitalism, whatever is the world order of capital. In this respect, they are no better than the conservatives: they will not give in to the sanctity of capitalist private property, however much the world system may be fraught with fascism.
An anti-capitalist left, if he wants to have an impact on society, whatever his organisation, must take a clear and unequivocal stand on the question of property, on the methods of management, on the fundamental questions of freedom. It is even possible to organise a party for this purpose. But dissolving oneself in flat bourgeois politics is not the task of the left critical of the system. Everybody who wants goes to the polls. The anti-capitalist left must not decide, must not focus its political image on the question of whether to choose one capitalist or another right-wing capitalist, because then we will discredit ourselves. We will not grow our social background, as the last 30 years have shown, but we will also lose those who have always recognised that a socialist alternative to capitalism is worth maintaining. This is true even if today it is expressed in a conservative way, mostly on a nostalgic level.
The well-known liberal crowd, many of whom were key neoliberal politicians and businessmen in the pre-2010 regime, has risen incredibly quickly around Péter Márki-Zay, the opposition candidate for prime minister. It has already been launched that austerity will certainly be necessary in the event of a possible change of government.
They will create an “Orbán regime without Orbán” here, if they go in that direction. There will be new elements, but not many.
In the end, they will be so “law-abiding” that they will “forget” to return to the legitimate old constitution, and all the crimes and illegalities committed will be incorporated as legitimate within the framework of civil democracy. If only I were not right! So, it is quite an incredible story: they pretend, they legislate, as if the Orbán regime were not an authoritarian system, but a system of error after error. No. It is a different type of political management from what the liberals talked about in 1989 in the traction of the imaginary Western model. They refuse to admit this, because then they would have to judge themselves, since they prepared the whole horror. And now they will use this free-market ideological bullshit again to justify why serious socio-political and important cultural changes cannot be made; instead returning to the old neoliberal dogmas and free-market illusions.
Does this not offer an opportunity for the left, critical of the system, to finally say: once and for all, the authoritarian form of semi-peripheral capitalism must be overcome, whether it is run by a neoliberal/neoconservative or a fascist regime?
It is both terribly difficult and a terrible risk that there is nothing but the transcendence of capitalism, because in the semi-periphery only authoritarian management works effectively: Poland, the Baltic States, etc. There is no other way of overcoming authoritarian regimes except by overcoming capitalism. But looking at the experience of state socialism, it is not certain, very much so. Either we are faced with a new type of socialist transformation, or there is no effective transformation position for us.
Perhaps capital, the press, can also denounce this, “you came out of Stalin's cloak, that's why you want socialism, you are Stalin”. It's no use saying that you were the first to “expose” Stalin in Hungary – it doesn't matter. Nothing counts, only the methods of discrediting you. And they will do so, as long as there is no social mass behind you.
Always prepare for acute crisis, because it always happens, from America to Ukraine to Kazakhstan. The crisis is very interesting because it is two-faced. Recall that Jenő Varga, who as an economist based at that time in the Soviet Union defined the global crisis of 1929 and argued that this was the time of the Communist revolution. Well, what the heck! As he was a brilliant analyst, he got it right, that a capitalist world crisis was indeed coming, but not that Fascism, the most savage form of capitalism, was able to exploit it, because the political conditions were not right. There is a great risk here, but there is no other way than to put the socialist alternative into the consciousness.
This is true in Moscow, in Berlin and in Paris. Many of our friends in the West and in the East confirm this. You just asked how to unite? You can do it by focusing on this position, for example. Unification is not a matter of decision; it is also a process... In this work we are part of both an international and a global movement. It is very important to see the main issues, at conferences, everywhere we go. We have to produce unity. For example, our Conference on Non-Capitalist Mixed Economies, 23-26 June 2021, demonstrated just that. If, however, there is no left alternative, resistance will be channelled behind the far right.
Originally published on the website of transform! europe's media partner Eszmélet (Hungarian, full version)