A Speech by the Founding President of the WPF “Dialogue of Civilizations” Vladimir Yakunin delivered at the Opening Plenary Meeting of the 11th Session of the Rhodes Forum, October 3, 2013
With a considerable degree of certainty it can be said that today we are participants and witnesses of what may be called, without any exaggeration whatever, tectonic changes taking place both in Man’s environment and in Mankind itself. I believe that everyone realizes that Man is an organic component of the ecological system of the Earth and of the very nature of our planet. It is quite natural that Mankind makes extensive and diversified use of the resources that Nature offers. However, in the epoch of the so-called post-industrial society (consumer’s society) in which consumption itself has become an ideology, the entire system of the social and economic development of the so-called western developed countries is based only on ever greater consumption. And it is only this element that is seen as the locomotive force behind the further development of the capitalist system in the form and shape that it has acquired today. However, strictly speaking, this form of capitalism differs sharply from its classic form as described by Karl Marx. More likely, it can be defined as the last stage of the development of American imperialism (N. Chomsky), or as a stage of international financial oligarchy (in our definition of that phenomenon (V. Yakunin). Without an abrupt sharp increase in consumption, this type of capitalism will wither away and cease its existence, as described in the book of the Russian economist, M. Golansky (“What lies in store for us in 2015”) published in 1992. In his book, he predicted the crash of socialism, the collapse of the USSR and the inevitable downfall of the existing capitalism system.
The paradigm of unbridled growth of consumption, as an ideology of the present-day society based on predatory consumption (if Man resorts to the extreme form of consumption – exploitation) leads to the point where human society employs the utmost form of consumption for satisfying his natural and artificially induced requirements by exploiting any and all natural resources within his reach. And this, in its turn, gives rise to a special kind of policy, and correspondingly, to a whole cohort of politicians who bend every effort to implement this policy. Such politicians have a mentality that was aptly described by Sir Winston Churchill as that of timeservers. What is more, in his opinion, such politicians cease being LEADERS who think in terms related to the time and space of generations, and who become politicians who think in categories pertaining from one election to another, i.e., they act in a most irresponsible manner in respect to future generations, and in essence, to the future of Mankind.
The results of this kind of “management” on Earth which belongs to the whole of humanity rather than to individual groups of the ruling elite are quite well known, and these results are indeed menacing by their very global essence.
Meanwhile, the contemporary person is accustomed to thinking in terms of continuity. He is preoccupied not only with mundane thoughts of the present day but rather with thoughts about the future. This means he thinks about matters pertaining to his generation as well as to generations that are to come after him. However, the ravaging of the Earth’s resource that is seen as one of the motive forces in the present-day paradigm of the global world leaves him practically no chance at all in order to fulfill his preordained mission. In our current history, this is not simply a manifestation of unlimited greed. In our day this is conscientious and merciless exploitation of our fellowmen. What is more, such exploitation bears the vivid and widespread traits of neocolonialism. For instance, all this clearly stands out in the following: the European Union, as it concludes contractual agreements with developing countries on deliveries of natural resources, simultaneously deprives them of the right to regulate tariffs and customs rates. Such economic bamboozling signifies, just as before, unconcealed prevalence of one’s personal interest over all other values connected with the need to attain general wellbeing for all. The absence of moral limitations inevitably leads to the point where a person no longer feels he is part of the society he lives in. Moreover, this is continuously being played up in western society where only personal and corporative interests are considered to be of value.
We are told that the almighty MARKET includes within itself all spheres of human life without exception, and is even capable of regulating public relations. However, all references to mechanisms of free market competition hold no water, when compared to the real state of affairs. And least of all, can such a mechanism balance out the inequality, the unfair distribution of benefits and possibilities. In the final count, such a mechanism is incapable of ensuring a well-balanced and forward advancement either at a local, as well as at a worldwide level. We must take into account that we have only ONE center for the emission of reserve currency. What does this mean? It means that we are actually NOT in a market of free relations and free competition. It means we are practically in a monopoly model of globalization of economies and finances. And it is simply impossible not to see this.
It is, therefore, quite apparent that the need for immediate changes in the order of things has matured long ago. In tackling the question of choosing a strategy of change, the evolutionary transformation of the existing paradigm looks considerably more preferable than all the rest of the variants. This is because the well-thought-out transformation program is a thousand times better than the revolutionary establishment of “the best order in the world” which more resembles the senseless whipping of the innocents for the noble purpose of “improving their life.” We are being pushed towards a big war today by those whose policy is based on the cornerstone of predatory consumption of the world’s resources and a paradigm aimed at achieving total domination.
In order for the evolutionary process to achieve positive result in the final count, it is necessary, first of all, to define and formulate a new idea for going over to a new paradigm. And the platform for such a transit, as we see it, must be a consensus adopted by the majority of the existing civilizations and countries. The recent diplomatic breakthrough (by Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov) seems to reflect the strong desire of peoples living in diverse social media – a strong desire of nations and civilizations to choose precisely such a path of public solidarity.
In particular, this is reflected in the fact that our Forum today is being attended by an ever greater number of very eminent world-level specialists in the fields of politics, economics, social sciences and representatives of different civilizations. Also participating in the work of our Forum are former and currently active politicians who are not indifferent to the future of the world. The timeliness and constructiveness of the Forum’s agendas already in the course of ten years have triggered genuine interest and a desire to join our open and unbiased dialogue on issues uppermost in our minds. After all, it is simply an illusion that the representatives of the dominating paradigm today constitute the majority of mankind. When today we speak about the political and economic elite, we understand that everywhere and in all societies, they – the elite – constitute no more than 10% of the entire population. That is why when someone starts shouting about their exclusiveness: “we are No. 1; we are the voice of the whole of humanity; we have the right and it is our duty to rectify and improve world order,” then in so doing, they are trying to take over something that does not belong to them. For the majority of mankind, the usurpation by certain individuals or special groups of people of the right to rule and manage the lives of others in all manifestations without exception is seen as an infringement on fundamental principles: sovereignty, dignity, historical memory, preservation of the race, cultural code, etc.
In the quest for genuine or true reality, we are obliged, first of all, to heed the opinion of the majority, rather than the opinion of the sophisticated, political-correctness of “the chosen few.” Proceeding from “political- correctness,” a European cannot doubt the “absolute fairness and absolute truth” which emanates from across the ocean, whether it regards the fields of economics, finances or social relations. In the final count, having embarked upon the path of “total obedience,” the European elite, by mutual consent, wrought havoc and destruction upon a most ancient country that was provoked by a tiny test tube containing white powder.
The sly, yet simple manipulation of public opinion, supported by a media hullabaloo, led to a prolonged tragedy for the Iraqi people and the death of thousands of American and European citizens who were only soldiers behind whose backs politicians had actually committed perjury and who escaped any kind of punishment.
One gets the impression that any public transformation that has been designed by the supporters of the currently predominating neoliberal world mind-set, as a rule, is fraught with general instability. Real life practice demonstrates that any change, any introduction of new forms and methods, renewals and even long-overdue transitions from one scientific-technological lifestyle to another always turned into periods filled with sufficiently serious differences in the world – differences which at times precipitated the use of force. However, it is time to realize that such differences and the use of force could have been avoided only by way of preliminary and fundamental preparations, by conducting an open and constructive dialogue as a vehicle to achieve such a goal.
Contemporary human society, that is, the people living on our planet, consists of historically formed entities that we call civilizations. There is a Chinese civilization, a Russian Orthodox civilization, an Anglo-Saxon civilization that is sometimes referred to as a European civilization, a Latin American civilization and so on. All of them are becoming centers of future regional build-up of a new paradigm, and it is this that determines the role and place of the World Public Forum in the whole system of elaborating the elements of a new world order. The significance of these regional communities that are coming into being by way of natural historical-and-cultural transformations is something that cannot be denied. Yet, we would especially like to point out that any active pushing, including by the use of force, or endless reformatting and fragmentation of the world into small and quasi-sovereign regions that can be conveniently ruled externally (Kosovo, the project of “a Big Middle East” and so on) constitutes a blatant and crude violation of all moral norms and international law.
Yes indeed, the world today has become globalized largely due to the turbulent development of the means of communication, the high speeds of people’s movements and deliveries of cargoes, due to the unlimited possibilities offered by various transportation means to enhance people’s mobility, as well as by the mutual exchange of technologies and so on. But when globalization comes to us in the form of unification, when there is talk about the universalism of values of one particular civilization then this automatically triggers rejection. And correspondingly, this leads to regional tensions that quite often acquire the form of local conflicts. The latter may swiftly flow into a phase of protracted international contradictions.
And the world very quickly found itself sliding into such a scenario of development, as the Syrian conflict unfolded. It was only the stand taken by China and Russia that helped to reach a consensus with the USA and Europe on the road to a peaceful settlement of the situation and Syria’s giving up possession of chemical weapons.
(At this point, I would venture to question an assertion voiced by the highly respected Ayatollah Mohammad Khatami who, as we all know, is one of the initiators of the idea to promote a dialogue among civilizations. It is very important that he draws a distinct line between “an alliance of civilizations” and “a dialogue among civilizations.” Here, I would like to point out that in my personal opinion, he has made a practical mistake: he considers that within the framework of the United Nations which is primarily an amalgamation of states, and is not a union of civilization communities, it is possible to implement the principles of a dialogue. Formally, states that find themselves in a space of international relations are, to quite a sufficient degree, standardized institutions whose task it is to uphold their own national interests. Diplomats hold negotiations. Such talks are conducted in accordance with those directives that they have received from this or that state, i.e., from the ruling elite. Civilizations, however, are much broader cultural-and-historical communities which can include within themselves one or even more states. That is why trying to press civilizations into standardized categories is practically an impossible endeavor).
It is precisely because of this that the initial idea behind the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” envisaged that civilizations would recognize each other and get to know each other, and then to interact in the process of an open and unbiased dialogue. So, we did not err in making our choice of format to conduct the work of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations.” And since it is not simply citizens of this or that country who meet here to discuss vital issues facing mankind, but rather representatives of this or that civilization who want to get to know each other better, to understand each other better and who are ready to work together on an agenda that concerns all of us.
It is quite possible that as time goes by, the ruling elites will come to realize that the vitally important principles of human existence dictate the need to bank on the historically-rooted and unswerving civilization peculiarities of civil society. I would suggest calling the emerging world order not a paradigm of mankind’s survival, but rather a paradigm for the steadfast stable development of the whole of mankind.
As a Russian I would venture to say, using the terminology of the writer, Lev Gumilev, Russia has but one, although substantially withered element of movement, inner energy, inner passion for transforming the world which the world itself needs so much. In spite of the mass of challenges that Russia faces, our historical spirit which has not been exhausted in Russia, is continuing to resist the rampage of brazen mercantilism. Russia has always generously shared its science, philosophy, its religious feelings, stoicism, benevolence and its rich culture with the rest of the world. We would like to hope that the world needs our passionarity that shall always counterpoise the practice of domination, the cult of exclusiveness, the evil of terrorism, the spirit of waging war and attempts to rekindle colonialism in any form.
The contemporary history of mankind from the primeval phase to the period of homo sapiens has passed through various stages of the development of society. This process may be visualized in the form of a pyramid based on a material foundation of economics, i.e., economic relations. At its pinnacle we see Man and his spiritual values. As its material base develops and expands thanks to scientific progress, the above-mentioned pyramid undergoes change, namely it splits into two ideological models (matrixes) opposing each other. With the onset of the 20th century, we witnessed the formation of a model of a society of free competition – a capitalist society. Standing opposite this society was a model of a world of general brotherhood or a communist paradigm. But in order to bring about such a split, it was necessary to reformat man’s consciousness. As a result, there appeared a new paradigm in which spirituality was squeezed out by political objectives or motives, thereby turning the pyramid upside down. In this case, politics becomes the basis of society’s further existence. In such a society everything becomes subservient to corresponding goals of the ruling elite such as ideology, education, economics and all spheres of life in such a society. At this moment, the unstable or shaky state of such a pyramid has become quite apparent. Therefore, this means that the task, at the subsequent historical stage, is the following: it is necessary to return the social pyramid to stable position at a new level of understanding the social essence of Man. However, we are not in any way calling for a resuscitation of the past. What is needed here is to simply return to the norms and values that were elaborated by mankind down through the ages: solidarity, justice, observance of Man’s dignity and recognition of his rights for a dignified life today and for ever in the future.
The cornerstone of the contemporary model of western society rests on absolute individualism, and allegedly absolute freedom of the individual person. I hold that in a social framework there cannot be any absolute free entities because if this is an aggregate of absolutely independent, interrelated, mutually irresponsible entities, social and public ties are ruptured and such a social framework falls apart. In this case, I believe the end result is quite apparent: those in power lose the ability to manage or govern the fragments. And this means those in power cease to exist as such. Perhaps some of those players who are steering international politics today see some sense in such an outcome? After all, the neoliberal paradigm presupposes excluding the state not only from sphere of economics, but also from the sphere of regulating social relations. This therefore gives rise to the following question: why then is the ideology of sexual minorities being implanted so aggressively? Things have gone so far that in Denmark, for example, and not only there, in daycare centers, children are forbidden to say: “I am a boy” or “I am a girl”! In my opinion, it is high time to found a new worldwide organization to protect the most rightless minority – CHILDREN!
Actually, what we are now witnessing in the western world demonstrates that the cultivation of extreme individualism has had a most destructive impact on the foundations of consolidating society. If “I” and “mine” are the most important then why should “I” care for anyone else? Let us recall what Fyodor Dostoyevsky had to say on this account: “…even all the treasures of the world are not worth a single teardrop of a child.” Today the results of public opinion polls clearly testify to the return of such a term as “collectivism” in our every-day conversations concerning values. And I would even venture to say that this is “a good thing” if we proceed from the direct meaning of the word “society.”
When we speak about “the survival of mankind” we must bear in mind the need to resolve the problem of practically worldwide demographic degradation of human society. It is common knowledge that signs and indications of a demographic tragedy are evident not only in European countries and not only in Russia. Such signs can be seen also in countries with a relatively favorable demographic picture such as India or the countries of the Arab East where during the past decade the birth rate has fallen by one-half.
The real development of the contemporary global community may be ensured in only one case, namely not when the sum total of individuals is stratified, but rather when we strive to create a society in which the principles of moral responsibility for “how” and “what” a person does not only for himself but for others become the main principles. And herein lies our answer to that question.
When I spoke about the predatory nature of the existing model, I had in mind not only, and not so much, the question concerning surplus-value which Karl Marx defined as the element forming profit, which all serious economists agree to. Here I had in mind not profit as such. Neither did I set out to label any particular political system with some kind of negative tag or brand. I had in mind the predatory and rapacious nature of the unbridled consumption of everything and all, without look back at the baneful impact of such a tenet on all the basic elements of our habitat: nature, the social sphere, culture, education, economics and politics. Here I would like to point out that in this sense western society has been able to significantly advance in the matter of creating social benefits. It is noteworthy that from the practical point of view the western economies have established social security systems, in large measure, due to the struggle of the two social ideologies. What is more, it is quite apparent that without such tense rivalry between these two ideologies, the West could hardly take pride in its present-day social achievements and relative calm in their countries.
As we recall social rivalry and the obligatory need for an alternative, we are guided not only by theoretical analysis, but also by the tremendous social practice emanating from the rivalry between capitalism and socialism in Soviet times. We simply want to point out that as soon as a constructive alternative disappears, development comes to a halt. I firmly believe that it is precisely from such a standpoint that we must assess the contemporary socio-economic system. I am intentionally trying my best to avoid the term “capitalism” because what we are observing practically everywhere today is no longer capitalism. What kind of capitalism can we speak of when capital has been torn away from finances and from labor? This, in my humble opinion, is an absolutely new phenomenon in social life – one that must be defined in an absolutely different way. As I have been using the term “predatory rapacious” time and again, I would like to draw your attention to a new, and so far, nameless phenomenon that is characterized by total irresponsibility. And this is by no means the irresponsibility of business within the framework of national boundaries. Today I believe it is necessary to analyze what is taking place in the global community and in the global economy, in order to get an adequate picture and understanding of what is actually going on. Towards this end, figuratively speaking, it would be useful to think about how these or those global decisions influence, for example, the lives of Peruvian peasants.
Let us begin with what is quite simple and obvious: the world is undergoing a fundamental shift or fault that liquidates alternativeness per se (as such). For the past 20 years the theory of neo-liberalism has been in the fore; it has suddenly become the dominating theory at the present stage of development of western society, western economics and the western state. Essentially, at the present day an alternative model has been preserved only in China.
And so, we have received a new dominating logic. The previous dominating logic or dominating world mindset was based on property and the interaction of labor and capital. But today they have been separated, torn apart; more than that, capital has been cut away from the financial component. That is why we have every right to say that de facto, an absolutely new structure of the state and society is coming into being. In the period of perestoika which means restructuring, Russia embarked upon the recommended direction, pushing aside the ideology of communism and giving up the principles and values that had been formulated during the 70 years of the USSR’s existence. We had “to arm ourselves,” so to say, with something that could be called a state doctrine. So, we “armed ourselves” with an ideological model that is, in full measure, typical of the western world today.
However, the sacred and fully western principle of competition is an absolutely necessary element of the alternative. So, if there is an alternative, there is also a struggle for choosing strategy. This can be a struggle between ideas, any other type of competition because, after all, competitive development has always been present in the world. What concerns future prospects, reliance on “predatory ravaging” as the basis for moving forward in conditions when some are engaged in consumption at the expense of others dying of starvation cannot guarantee the emergence of a positive trend in mankind’s development. Neither now, nor in the foreseeable future.
It is quite another thing when we speak about civilized interaction as a form of international communication and cooperation. I consider that here we must place at the basis clear-cut pragmatic goals or what we may call “pragmatic yardsticks” that will help us to foresee, ahead of time, the possible consequences of implementing decisions affecting the entire community. And only after that it will be possible to determine who precisely will become the potential recipient of the political or economic benefit from the implementation of these decisions.
For example, it is my firm conviction that today in order to enhance the competitive possibilities of the West and its ability to get “a second breathe,” so to speak, it would be an absolutely natural intention NOT to ignore proposals tabled by Russia; on the contrary, it would be viewed as an absolutely natural desire on the part of the West if it tried to bring the positions closer together, if it pooled its efforts with those of Russia in order to work out a positive and reliable strategy for really changing our common present-day, as well as for our common tomorrow with fewer conflicts, and unburdened with senseless disputes. Without a doubt, such a vector headed towards a more stable development in the future will yield a manifold energetic effect in such spheres as economics, utilization of natural resources, human, cultural, educational and any other area of interaction for the wellbeing of the peoples inhabiting the vast region called Eurasia.
In conclusion, I would like to offer you the following example of “real politics”: at the last UN General Assembly session China’s Foreign Minister devoted two large paragraphs of his report pointing out that a dialogue of civilizations was not simply a cross-cultural exchange – he emphasized that this was the basis of China’s foreign policy. Here we have before us precise confirmation that the idea of a dialogue of civilizations is winning the minds of practical people – people who are wise to the benefits of well-thought-out, calm and careful reformatting of obsolete paradigms of development.