Putin and Russia’s Turn to Capitalism

For the longest time Vladimir Putin has assumed the role of an Ian Fleming super-villain in the imaginations of both liberal and neoconservative pundits. Like one of those well-worn set pieces in a James Bond novel, he sits opposite our British super-spy in a chess game with the world hegemony awarded to the winning side. Or in the case of a draw, multipolarity.

Any book on Putin and Russia that departs from these stereotypes would be most welcome. When it turns out to be a first-rate Marxist analysis, it should be added to your must-read list for 2019. The good news is that book has arrived in the form of Tony Wood’s Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War, a ground-breaking study that departs from the lurid personality-driven narratives that are the stock-in-trade of MSNBC or the Washington Post. Additionally, for those on the left whose ideas are shaped by Stephen F. Cohen’s pro-Putin apologetics, the book will serve as a wake-up call to return to a class rather than a chess analysis. If Rachel Maddow is for the chess-master playing white, there is no reason to uncritically root for who is playing black. In keeping with the palette analogy, it is worth recalling Lenin’s citation of Mephistopheles’s words from Goethe’s Faust in his 1917 Letter on Tactics: “Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.”

Wood’s title communicates his basic thesis, namely that Russia must be understood as a product of a…

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