Next year will be the centenary anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The absolute best study was done by Tibor Szamuely, although one can also place the work of Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest and Dominic Lieven as representing the finest scholarly accounts. Given the centenary, I’d suggest The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I & Revolution if only to highlight the lonely demanding spade work performed in distant archives that this book embodies.
How does it help clarify western policy toward ‘The Long War’.
It helps place Islamic Civilization within the framework of Russia during the lead up to the Bolshevik coup. At the time, Slavic civilization was static, its main political regime was monarchy. The social status of Russian civilization was goaded into receiving new forms of political intercourse a monarchial regime couldn’t handle. The collapse wasn’t presaged in any one distinct encounter, although World War I brought the entire edifice down where a hardened group of committed fanatics reaped the position of leadership from an exhausted transition out from monarchy toward representative democracy. We must remember how the Bolshevik coup unfolded; leadership was violently wrought out of the hands of parliamentarians. The strength of a ‘dark horse’ won and with it, the collapse of Russian society into the hands of ideologues who unleashed The Great Terror in the hope of demoralizing any opposition. (Read Iraq and the Obama doctrine of strategic patience.)
We learn that social, political institutions matter. Sound governance matters. From the challenge embodied in a failed Russian state we learn that civil society matters, hence the relevancy of noting the symmetry between Russia pre-1917 and contemporary Islamic Civilization.
As Toynbee wrote throughout his epic twelve volumes A Study of History, when contact is made between two divergent civilizations, the weaker one is militarized. This helps explain the rise and mnemonic presentation toward violence as policy with Islamic terror. Nevertheless, given the propensity to seek permanent influence in client states abroad, nation states that seek to dominate the ‘near abroad’ must remain mindful of the social, political impact of their intercourse.
A perfect example of volatile trends is the emergence of multi-party democracy in Africa, although it flourished immediately after the end of the Cold War, it is destabilizing African regimes unfit to manage abstract challenges of governance.
Since 1994, when South Africa held elections ending apartheid electing Nelson Mandela, the rising tide toward social democracy favored the end of autocratic regimes tinged with Marxism. Many, if not most of Africa’s ‘Big Men’ were swept away. Mangiest Haile Mariam fled Ethiopia in ’91; Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) was gone in ’97; in ’98 Sani Abacha of Nigeria died in office. It looked as if Africa would be the powerhouse of emerging economies.
Currently, democratic transition has stalled throughout the African continent. Institutions are fragile, rule of law is weak, inflation and economies are tied to weak export lead regimes that cannot withstand permanently weak commodity prices.
Freedom House ranks 59% of sub-Saharan countries ‘partly-free’, although down from 71% in 2008, many nation states are hampered by governance issues that cannot easily be surmounted.
For Africa to thrive it needs statesman and women who embody principles of virtue, who seek to tie their respective output to other nations. As 2016 has witnessed, the demise of Jacob Zuma and Zambia (one of the first African nations to undergo democratic transition) are failing.
Free societies and free economies reinforce each other; and America needs to lead. Nevertheless, diversification isn’t something the World Bank or the IMF seek as they engage these nations. This drought of leadership only harms the social base of many African regimes, especially ones composed of multi-ethnic coalitions like Nigeria. The immediate political need will be for decentralization, variegated polities and federalism.
Africa today is at a crossroads in its growth trajectory. It can no longer abide by the Keynesian outlook that dominates the professorate of international lending bodies. We need indigenous, independent institutions that seek to serve emerging nation states, not crony capitalist ventures that seek to surmount progressive tax regimes.
Can the west begin to lead? Can it rediscover the moral foundations of liberty?