Putin’s “Civilizing Mission”

The ideological concept of “Russkiy Mir” and the new foreign policy doctrine of Russian imperialism

By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 6 September 2022, www.thecommunists.net


On September 5, the Russian President signed a decree which approved a document called “Concept of the humanitarian policy of the Russian Federation abroad”. In this document, the Kremlin elaborates its new foreign policy doctrine. [1]

Despite the harmless title, suggesting a kind of soft-power approach, the document is an important codification of the cornerstones of the new foreign policy of Russian imperialism. So, when the document states that the concept was created "in order to define the tasks and main directions of the Russian Federation's humanitarian policy abroad", one can safely translate “humanitarian policy abroad” as “foreign policy”.

Below, we will summarise the most important aspects of the doctrine and discuss its background. Furthermore, we want to briefly deal with some consequential tasks for Marxists.


Russkiy Mir”: the ideological slogan of Putin’s imperialist foreign policy


The key ideological pillar of Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine is the notorious concept of the “Russkiy Mir”. Basically, this ideology claims the existence of a community associated with Russian culture based on a shared traditions, history and language. Such an ambiguous community is not restricted to Russia but includes Russians living abroad as well as people who are supposedly close to the Russian culture.

Hence, the document includes numerous phrases about Russia’s “rich history and cultural heritage”. The task of the state is the “protection, preservation and promotion of the traditions and ideals inherent in the Russian world.

However, the perceived task of the Kremlin is not restricted to the protection of spiritual values. The document also names explicitly the task “to protect the interests” of Russian “compatriots living abroad.” "The Russian Federation provides support to its compatriots living abroad in the fulfilment of their rights, to ensure the protection of their interests and the preservation of their Russian cultural identity."

This refers to some 25 million ethnic Russians who live abroad after the Stalinist Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In this context, it is of course worth noting that the existence of ethnic Russians in these countries is the result of the aggressive colonialist policy of the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th century. At this time, Russian settlers moved to the conquered territories in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. [2]

Another important aspect of the concept of Russkiy Mir” is the fact that Putin denies the existence of a separate Ukrainian nation (as well as of other “brotherly” nations) and considers them as connected to the Russkiy Mir”. [3]


A Russian version of the imperialist concept of “civilizing mission


We consider it as a key aspect of Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine that its explicitly mentions the “protection of the rights and interests” of its “compatriots living abroad“ as one of the tasks of the Russian state. Such “protection” has been the ideological legitimation for Putin’s military intervention abroad as we have seen in the Ukraine since 2014.

In fact, this concept provides an ideological legitimation for interventions in all independent states which where part of the Tsarist Empire (and later the Soviet Union) since “Russian compatriots” live in all these countries!

As we did explain in other works, the concept of “Russkiy Mir” is the key component of modern Great Russian chauvinism and an essential ideological basis of Russian imperialism today. [4] It is a shame that nearly all “Communist” parties in Russia – which in fact have nothing to do with authentic communism but everything with Stalinist revisionism – identify more or less with the concept of “Russkiy Mir”. [5] It is, by the way, not accidental that all these “communists” also either deny the imperialist character of Russia at all or they claim that it is a “lesser-evil” imperialist power. [6]

In contrast to such pseudo-communist social-imperialists, V.I. Lenin – the leader of the Bolshevik Party and the October Revolution – has always denounced Great Russian chauvinism and characterised the Tsarist Empire as a “prison-house of nations”. And M. N. Pokrovskii – the great Marxist historian of Russia’s history who dominated historical scholarship in the Soviet Union of the 1920s until the beginning of the Stalinist purges – has left us with a number of valuable works which demonstrate the reactionary history of the Russian Empire. [7]

In fact, Putin’s concept of the “Russkiy Mir” and Russia’s task to defend its culture and interests abroad bears strong similarities with another well-known ideology of imperialism: the so-called “civilizing mission”. Several Western powers used this idea as a pretext to build colonial empires in the 19th and 20th century. Just think about Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “The White Man's Burden[8] and the notorious concept of “mission civilisatrice“ which French imperialism utilized for enslaving the peoples of Africa and Asia. [9]

It is evident that Marxists have to renounce sharply the reactionary ideology “Russkiy Mir”. On can not be an anti-imperialist in Russia (and elsewhere) without combatting the ideological fundament of Russian imperialism! Likewise, one can not be a Marxist in Russia (and elsewhere) without combatting the military adventures of Russian imperialism and without siding with the oppressed nations resisting the torturous blessings of Putin’s “civilizing mission”!


Foreign policy shift to the East


A practical conclusion of the “Russkiy Mir” concept in Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine is the proclaimed goal to establish close collaboration with Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the separatist “republics” in the Eastern Ukraine (the so-called DPR and LPR). It is likely that Moscow plans to officially incorporate these regions into the Russian Federation in the near future.

The document codifies also Russia’s shift towards from the West to the East. The document says that Russia should increase cooperation with “Slavic” nations, China, and India, and further strengthen its ties to the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

Such a shift is only logical since the inter-imperialist rivalry has dramatically accelerated in the past years and China – the strongest Great Power rival of the U.S. – is Moscow’s most important ally. [10] Likewise, India is also becoming an important ally of the Putin regime.

It is noteworthy that the document speaks about Russia’s desire to build closer relations with the “Slavic nations”. Of course, such a rapprochement can hardly be a peaceful, fraternal process since, as is well-known, quiet a number of Slavic people are very hostile to Russian imperialism. One just has to think about the Ukrainians, the Poles, various Balkan people, etc. The very formulation “Slavic nations” draws on the tradition of Pan-Slavism which was a key ideology of the Tsarist Empire and its foreign policy aimed at expanding its spheres of influence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Hence, we can conclude that Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine shall serve as justification for Russia’s expansionism not only in the Ukraine but also in other Slavic countries.

The document also notes that Russia is “striving for the creating of a multi-polar world." This formulation confirms once more that the concept of a multi-polar world” is a code word for the desire of Russian (and Chinese) imperialism to break up the hegemony of U.S. imperialism and to play a strong role in world politics. Shamefully, the concept of a multi-polar world” has become a positive point of reference among large numbers of Stalinist and Bolivarian parties around the world.

As the RCIT has emphasized many times, Marxists fight against all imperialist powers – those in the West as well as those in the East. We oppose U.S. imperialism, but we do not advocate “equality” of imperialist powers as the concept of a multi-polar world” suggests. One is not better than the other and Marxist must not support any of these! In addition, any idea of peaceful cooperation of imperialist Great Powers in a multi-polar world” is a reactionary utopia. The existence of rivalling Great Powers must inevitable result in conflicts between these and, ultimately, world war.


Ideological alternative?


Another interesting aspect of Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine is the attempt to present Russia, respectively the Putin regime, as a global ideological alternative to Western imperialism. It warns about the threat to the identity of cultures due to "globalization processes". It also claims that the Kremlin would be a “guardian” of traditional values. “The Russian state abroad is increasingly perceived as guardian and protector of traditional spiritual and moral values, the spiritual heritage of world civilization.”

In other words, the Putin regime reaches out to potential allies in the Western imperialist countries who are alienated by their governments and the economic and social decline of their societies. The Kremlin is helped in this effort by the fact that the U.S. and Western Europe are obviously powers which represent a decadent and decaying civilisation. These states are incapable to overcome the deep social and economic crisis, they parasitically live from cheap commodities produced in the Global South as well as from super-exploited migrant labour. Their claim to defend the values of “democracy and freedom” is totally hypercritical as they closely collaborate, at the same time, with various dictatorships (e.g. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and the racist Apartheid state Israel). Likewise, these “models of democracy” have not hesitated in the past two years to impose authoritarian bonapartist policy at home under the pretext of a pandemic. [11]

However, it is evident that Russia’s alternative of obscure spiritualism (based on the close collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church), blatant chauvinism (the Ukrainian, Chechen and Syrian people as well as the Central Asian migrants in Russia make daily experience with the tyranny of Great Russian chauvinism!) and reactionary hatemongering against the equality of women and LGBT+ people is definitely not a superior model to the decadent West! It can only attract disgruntled middle class supporters of Trump and Salvini but not the popular masses.


The task of Marxists


Putin’s new foreign policy doctrine codifies the aggressive orientation of Russian imperialism. The RCIT considers is as a key task of Marxists in Russia (and elsewhere) to oppose the ideological concept of the Kremlin’s document as well as its political consequences. Revolutionary socialists in Russia need not only to reject the reactionary concept of “Russkiy Mir”. They should also advocate the defeat of Russian imperialism.

As a consequence of such an approach they have to defend the Ukrainian people against Putin’s invasion [12] as well as the Syrian people. [13] Likewise, they need to support the right of national self-determination of the Chechen people [14] (and other national minorities), including the right to form a separate state. Furthermore, they should fight for full equality of migrants (coming mostly from Central Asian countries). Of course, we are fully aware that spreading such ideas under the current conditions is only possible via the means of illegal propaganda.

The RCIT is proud that its new comrades of “Socialist Tendency” have a record of defending such principles of consistent internationalism and anti-imperialism! [15]

Socialists in Western countries should strongly oppose all “left-wing” forces which advocate the policy of open or concealed support for Russian imperialism. Such forces are reactionary agents of a class enemy.

At the same time, the RCIT considers it as obligatory for socialists in Western countries to equally oppose their “own” ruling class. Socialists should denounce the ideological deception that the Western powers would defend the values of “democracy and freedom”. They need to side with oppressed people under attack by Western imperialism and its allies (like Afghanistan and Iraq in the recent past or the Palestinian and the Yemeni people today). Likewise, they should oppose all forms of Islamophobia and fight for full equality for migrants.

The RCIT comrades in Western Europe and Occupied Palestine have pursued such a policy in the past decades. They have always advocated the defeat of “their” ruling class and took the side of the oppressed people. [16]

We conclude this article by emphasizing that such a program of consistent internationalism and anti-imperialism is the strong and principled basis for unity of revolutionaries in East and West. And such unity is highly urgent in our common struggle against the imperialist monsters in Moscow, Washington, Beijing, Berlin, and Tokyo!

[1] http://en.kremlin.ru/acts/news/69285; The document can be downloaded here: http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202209050019; For English language excerpts of this 30-page document see: RIA Novosti: Humanitarian policy decree establishes Russia’s openness on bilateral cooperation issues, September 5, 2022, https://newsunrolled.com/world/94378.html; Reuters: Putin approves new foreign policy doctrine based on 'Russian World', September 5, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/putin-approves-new-foreign-policy-doctrine-based-russian-world-2022-09-05/; Sky: Vladimir Putin backs foreign policy doctrine to 'protect ideals of Russian World', 5 September 2022 https://news.sky.com/story/vladimir-putin-backs-foreign-policy-doctrine-to-protect-ideals-of-russian-world-12690969; Putin approved the Concept of Russia’s Humanitarian Policy Abroad. It talks about “traditional values”, culture and the Russian language, September 5, 2022 https://russianfreepress.com/2022/09/05/putin-approved-the-concept-of-russias-humanitarian-policy-abroad-it-talks-about-traditional-values-culture-and-the-russian-language/; TASS: Putin approved Concept of Russian humanitarian policy abroad – decree; September 6. 2022, https://tass.com/politics/1503075; J. A. Allen: Putin approved the “concept of the humanitarian policy of the Russian Federation” abroad, September 5, 2022, https://then24.com/2022/09/05/putin-approved-the-concept-of-the-humanitarian-policy-of-the-russian-federation-abroad-in-it-russia-is-the-custodian-of-traditional-values-and-does-not-interfere-in-the-affairs/; all quotes from Putin’s foreign policy document are from these sources.

[2] On Russia’s expansion as a colonial empire see e.g. Dominic Lieven: The Cambridge History of Russia, Volume II. Imperial Russia, 1689–1917, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2006; Jane Burbank, Mark von Hagen, and Anatolyi Remnev (Eds.): Russian Empire. Space, People, Power, 1700–1930, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2007; Alexei Miller: The Romanov Empire and Nationalism. Essays in the Methodology of Historical Research, Central European University Press, New York; Hugh Seton-Watson: The Russian Empire 1801-1917, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1967; Michael Khodarkovsky: Russia's Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500-1800, Indiana University Press Bloomington 2004; Valerie A. Kivelson, Ronald Grigor Suny: Russia's Empires, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2016.

[3] We have dealt with this reactionary myth in our pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: Putin’s Poodles (Apologies to All Dogs). The pro-Russian Stalinist parties and their arguments in the current NATO-Russia Conflict, 9 February 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/nato-russia-conflict-stalinism-as-putin-s-poodles/

[4] See e.g. RCIT: “Self-Determination for Donbass”: A Reactionary Slogan in the Service of Russian Imperialism. Theses on the historical, theoretical, and political reasons why this slogan is contrary to the Marxist program of national self-determination as well as to the interests of the current national liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people, 27 June 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-on-donbass/; see also Michael Pröbsting: Putin’s Poodles (Apologies to All Dogs). The pro-Russian Stalinist parties and their arguments in the current NATO-Russia Conflict, 9 February 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/nato-russia-conflict-stalinism-as-putin-s-poodles/; by the same author: A Revealing Document of Great Russian Totalitarianism. Commentary on an article published by the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, 7 April 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/ria-novosti-great-russian-totalitarianism/; The Program of Great Russian Totalitarism. On a revealing interview with Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, 11 May 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/the-patrushev-interview/; A Revealing Document of Great Russian Totalitarianism. Commentary on an article published by the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, 7 April 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/ria-novosti-great-russian-totalitarianism/

[5] See on this e.g. the pamphlets by Michael Pröbsting: Putin’s Poodles (Apologies to All Dogs). Putins Pudel. The pro-Russian Stalinist parties and their arguments in the current NATO-Russia Conflict, 9 February 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/nato-russia-conflict-stalinism-as-putin-s-poodles/; Servants of Two Masters. Stalinism and the New Cold War between Imperialist Great Powers in East and West, 10 July 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/servants-of-two-masters-stalinism-and-new-cold-war/; see also “Socialism” a la Putin and Zyuganov. On a telling dialogue between the Stalinist party leader and the Russian President, 13 July 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/socialism-a-la-putin/; Ukraine War: Stalino-“Trotskyist” Chamber of Horrors. On a recently held “anti-war” conference organised by some “Trotskyists” as well as Russian Stalinist parties, 29 June 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/stalino-trotskyist-chamber-of-horrors/; Ukraine War: The Outcome of the Stalino-“Trotskyist” Conference. On the official conference declaration in support of Russian imperialism and on some “Trotskyists” participants (IMT, OKDE Spartakos), 13 July 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/ukraine-war-outcome-of-stalino-trotskyist-conference/; Russia and the Theory of “Lesser-Evil” Imperialism, On some Stalinists and “Trotskyists” who formally recognize Russia’s class character but reject the political consequences, 28 July 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/russia-and-the-theory-of-lesser-evil-imperialism/;

[6] The RCIT has published numerous documents about capitalism in Russia and its rise to an imperialist power. See on this e.g. several pamphlets by Michael Pröbsting: The Peculiar Features of Russian Imperialism. A Study of Russia’s Monopolies, Capital Export and Super-Exploitation in the Light of Marxist Theory, 10 August 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-peculiar-features-of-russian-imperialism/; by the same author: Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and the Rise of Russia as a Great Power. On the Understanding and Misunderstanding of Today’s Inter-Imperialist Rivalry in the Light of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism. Another Reply to Our Critics Who Deny Russia’s Imperialist Character, August 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-theory-and-russia/; Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia/; Russia: An Imperialist Power or a “Non-Hegemonic Empire in Gestation”? (Reply to Claudio Katz), New Politics, https://newpol.org/russia-an-imperialist-power-or-a-non-hegemonic-empire-in-gestation-a-reply-to-the-argentinean-economist-claudio-katz-an-essay-with-8-tables/; Russian Imperialism and Its Monopolies, in: New Politics Vol. XVIII No. 4, Whole Number 72, Winter 2022, https://newpol.org/issue_post/russian-imperialism-and-its-monopolies/ (the same essay has been republished by International Viewpoint, 21. April 2022, https://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article7618); Once Again on Russian Imperialism (Reply to Critics). A rebuttal of a theory which claims that Russia is not an imperialist state but would be rather “comparable to Brazil and Iran”, 30 March 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/once-again-on-russian-imperialism-reply-to-critics/. See various other RCIT documents on this issue at a special sub-page on the RCIT’s website: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/

[7] A number of M. N. Pokrovskii’s works have been translated into English and German language: Russia in World History; Selected Essays, Edited by Roman Szporluk, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1970; History Of Russia. From the Earliest Times to the Rise of Commercial Capitalism, Martin Lawrence Limited, London 1931; Geschichte Russlands von seiner Entstehung bis zur neuesten Zeit, C.L.Hirschfeld Verlag, Leipzig 1929; Russische Geschichte, Berlin 1930; Historische Aufsätze. Ein Sammelband, Verlag für Literatur und Politik, Wien und Berlin 1928; Aus den Geheim-Archiven des Zaren. Ein Beitrag zur Frage nach den Urhebern des Weltkrieges, August Scherl, Berlin 1919; Vorwort des russischen Herausgebers, in: Otto Hoetzsch (Ed.): Internationale Beziehungen im Zeitalter des Imperialismus, Reihe 1, 1. Band, Verlag von Reimar Hobbing, Berlin 1931.

[8] Rudyard Kipling: The White Man's Burden (1899), in: Alice L. Conklin and Ian Christopher Fletcher (Eds): European Imperialism, 1850-1930. Climax and Contradiction, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 1999

[9] See on this e.g. Alice L. Conklin: A Mission to Civilize. The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1997

[10] The RCIT has dealt on numerous occasions with the inter-imperialist rivalry of the Great Powers. See e.g. RCIT: World Perspectives 2021-22: Entering a Pre-Revolutionary Global Situation, 22 August 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2021-22/; see also our book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/; see also the following works by the same author: “A Really Good Quarrel”. US-China Alaska Meeting: The Inter-Imperialist Cold War Continues, 23 March 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/us-china-alaska-meeting-shows-continuation-of-inter-imperialist-cold-war/; Servants of Two Masters. Stalinism and the New Cold War between Imperialist Great Powers in East and West, 10 July 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/servants-of-two-masters-stalinism-and-new-cold-war/; for more works on this issue see these sub-pages: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/ and https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-global-trade-war/.

[11] The RCIT has analysed the COVID-19 counterrevolution extensively since its beginning. Starting from 2 February 2020 we have published about 100 pamphlets, essays, articles and statements plus a book which are all compiled at a special sub-page on our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-2019-corona-virus/. In particular we refer readers to two RCIT Manifestos: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-a-cover-for-a-major-global-counterrevolutionary-offensive/; “Green Pass” & Compulsory Vaccinations: A New Stage in the COVID Counterrevolution. Down with the chauvinist-bonapartist police & surveillance state – defend democratic rights! No to health policy in the service of the capitalist monopolies – expand the public health sector under workers and popular control! 29 July 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/green-pass-compulsory-vaccinations-a-new-stage-in-the-covid-counterrevolution/; In addition, we draw attention to our book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, RCIT Books, April 2020, Chapter V, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-covid-19-global-counterrevolution/.

[12] We refer readers to a special page on our website where more than 100 RCIT documents on the Ukraine War and the current NATO-Russia conflict are compiled: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/compilation-of-documents-on-nato-russia-conflict/. In particular we refer to the RCIT Manifesto: Ukraine War: A Turning Point of World Historic Significance. Socialists must combine the revolutionary defense of the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion with the internationalist struggle against Russian as well as NATO and EU imperialism, 1 March 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/manifesto-ukraine-war-a-turning-point-of-world-historic-significance/

[13] The RCIT has published a number of booklets, statements, and articles on the Syrian Revolution that can be accessed on a special sub-section of this website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-the-syrian-revolution/.

[14] See e.g. RCIT: Solidarity with the Liberation Struggle of the Chechen People! Open Letter to the Oppressed Chechen People, February 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/solidarity-with-the-liberation-struggle-of-the-chechen-people/; Where does the RCIT Stand on Russia's Occupation of Chechnya? https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/russia-and-chechnya/

[15] See on this the website of Socialist Tendency (Russia), www.socialisttendency.com; see also: An Important Step Forward in Revolutionary Unity! Joint Statement on the Fusion of the Socialist Tendency (Russia) and the RCIT, 6 August 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/fusion-declaration-between-ct-russia-and-rcit/.

[16] We refer readers to a recently published essay by Michael Pröbsting: The Struggle of Revolutionaries in Imperialist Heartlands against Wars of their “Own” Ruling Class. Examples from the history of the RCIT and its predecessor organisation in the last four decades, 2 September 2022, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-struggle-of-revolutionaries-in-imperialist-heartlands-against-wars-of-their-own-ruling-class/.