By Roger Annis, Dec 19, 2014
The dramatic drop in the value of the Russia’s currency prompted by the falling world price of oil and aggravated by economic sanctions against the country is an occasion to revisit the issue of what, exactly, is the character of the Russian economy and social formation.
It is broadly stated in much left discourse that Russia is an ‘imperialist’ country, even if there is little published study to back the claim. If it is the case, we should expect to find comparable economic difficulties to that of Russia occurring in the ‘other’ imperialist petro-states such as Canada, Australia and the United States as a result of the drop in oil prices. But nothing comparable is taking place in the latter group. The consequences to industry and government of declines in fossil fuel revenues and the decline in industry investment that is underway are by and large offset in the imperialist countries by boosts to manufacturing, transportation and agriculture afforded by lower energy input costs.
Ok, you say, but Russia’s capitalist economy and government are much more dependent on oil and other natural resource revenue. True enough, but that only begs the question of why that is the case. Is Russia a ‘special’ imperialist case, inevitably and unavoidably dependent on natural resource revuene? Or could it be that the characteristics of a country that is not (or not yet) imperialist is precisely that its industry, agriculture and public sector is relatively underdeveloped? Indeed, it could. That’s one of a half dozen or so measures I used in my June 2014 article of what does and does not describe a country and social formation deemed to be imperialist.
I hope the oil price shock will occasion more debate over the character of Russia. Too much of the current discourse is based on dogma or rote repetition of phrases. There is a lack of serious research and publication which could stimulate deeper debate. Hopefully, we may see some uptake. Surely the contrasting economic dislocation in Russia compared to what is (not) happening in the ‘rest’ of the imperialist world must give pause for thought.
While we’re on the subject of Russia, what to make of the complete absence of a Russian-led ‘NATO’-type military alliance that would stand up to the real-live NATO political and military offensive in Ukraine and eastern Europe? This is another of the key measures of imperialism that I made in my article is the essential and overwhelming role of military alliances in maintaining the imperialist order.
As a footnote, the following weblink contains statistics on the largest fossil fuel producing countries in the world by volume of production and by volume per capita. It turns out that while Russia is in the big leagues of production overall, its per capita production places it in a secondary rank, behind Canada, even. All the more noteworthy, then, the excessive dependence and vulnerability of Russia’s capitalist economy and government revenue on fossil fuels.