Cui Zhiyuan, «Comparing Bannon and Dugin»

Por • 11 nov, 2022 • Sección: Opinion

Cui Zhiyuan, “Comparing the Ideas of Trump’s Former Advisor Steve Bannon and the Legendary Putin Advisor Aleksandr Dugin”[1] February 23, 2018
Introduction and Translation by David Ownby
Cui Zhiyuan (b. 1963) teaches Public Policy Analysis and Comparative Politics and Government at the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University in Beijing.  He is a well-known member of China’s New Left and has published extensively—in Chinese and in English—on intellectual and practical alternatives to neoliberal capitalism.  As one measure of his activism, Cui took a leave from his Tsinghua position to serve associate director of State Asset Management Committee of Chongqing government from 2010 to 2011 to be part of Bo Xilai’s 薄熙来 (b. 1949) “Chongqing experiment.”  This experiment was widely celebrated at the time as representing a successful “third way” between capitalism and socialism.  One of Cui’s discussions of the Chongqing experiment (and a good example of his style of writing and thinking) is available here.
The text translated here was initially published on Cui’s weekly “Experimental Government 实验主义治理” WeChat channel, and then subsequently reposted on Cui’s Aisixiang page, a major platform for establishment intellectuals, on February 23, 2018.  Although Cui’s style is often somewhat febrile, the awkward repetitions and unclear references in this text suggest that it was written very quickly; the text has an “oh my God it’ Friday and I still have to write that blog post!” feel to it, and I will take it for what it is.
The argument Cui is working toward is that populism and economic nationalism represent a worldwide movement against neoliberal capitalism, and the success of that movement opens up a greater space for China’s “One Belt-One Road” initiative.  But what fuels the text is clearly Cui’s fascination with former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, and to a lesser degree Aleksandr Dugin, a supposed member of Putin’s brain trust, because both men, like Cui, are searching for alternatives to the current neoliberal order. 
Bannon is Cui’s chief focus because, unlike the rest of the American elite, he recognizes China’s importance, both in economic and geostrategic terms.  Of course, in the United States, Bannon is seen as a China hawk and a proponent of American and Western strategies that will constrain China’s rise, but this seems to be of no concern to Cui.  Cui’s presentation of Dugin is sketchier.  Dugin appears to be an ultranationalist, but Cui manages to praise him for suggesting that Russia  “must establish a unique Russian model.”
As is often the case, this text reminded me just how present the details of American (and to a lesser degree, European) political and intellectual life are in the thoughts of Chinese intellectuals.  Cui is clearly free-styling here, but he is following the West more closely than Western intellectuals could possibly follow China (this is partly linguistic, but mostly ruled by power dynamics—the best and the brightest of the Western world rarely do Ph.D.s in China).  I also had the sneaking suspicion reading Cui’s text that he would really like to be Xi Jinping’s Steve Bannon (and avoid being fired).  
A Critical Understanding of Bannon and Dugin Will Help to Perfect the China Dream

Both Bannon and Dugin, the subject of today’s discussion, are economic nationalists and political populists.  Economic nationalism and political populism are reactions against neoliberal globalization, and are a world movement.
Examples of the impact of this movement include the recent failure of Merkel’s coalition government in Germany, an occasion that marked the first time since 1945 that a right-wing party in Germany crossed the 5% threshold, below which entry into parliament is not permitted by German law.  Brexit in England is still facing the unresolvable problem of the Irish border.  All of these issues are closely linked together, because before becoming Trump’s advisor, Steve Bannon had many close links with conservative parties in England.  He also has a website that broadcasts his personal opinions (Breitbart News), and he set up a branch office of Breitbart in London for the specific purpose of championing Brexit.  “Economic nationalism” and “political populism” are a backlash against “neoliberal” globalization, and are also part of a world movement, as reflected by the failure of Merkel’s coalition in federal elections and the difficulties in the Brexit negotiations.
The “China Dream” and “mankind’s community of common destiny,” proposed by China, are closely linked.  The community of common destiny is not the same as neoliberal globalization, and the globalization of economic nationalism and political populism are not the same as the China solution 中国方案.  For this reason, as we continue to develop and perfect the China solution, deepening our critical understanding of the viewpoints of Bannon and Dugin is crucial.    
Bannon’s Theory of “The Error of the American Elite” and the “China Model”
What is the Error of the American Elite?
After Bannon left the White House in August of 2017, many commentators argued that his influence had not in fact diminished, but perhaps increased, because now he could speak his mind.  My feeling is that China’s leaders take Bannon seriously.  Last month made a speech in Hong Kong, following which Wang Qishan 王岐山[2] (b. 1948) sought him out to have a talk.  Bannon subsequently gave an interview in Japan, and the Japanese journalist asked him what he had talked about with Wang Qishan.  Bannon replied that the talk was private and he could not disclose the contents of the discussion, but he did note that they discussed the question of populism.  This, he disclosed, and populism is very worthy of discussion. 

People of Kong Zong’s 孔总 [??  reference unclear] generation are perhaps extremely familiar with Russian history and have certain feelings about it, and they will be aware that the Decembrists, including Tolstoy, said that they were populists, meaning that populism in Russian history only circulated among the people.  Even Tolstoy said that the word was not pejorative, as it is today.  And it is true that today we tend to give it a pejorative meaning.  In fact, I think the question is more complicated.  The basic meaning of populism is to be opposed to the elite.  Bannon argues that the American elite has always been wrong.  He argued that “Xi Jinping’s speech at the 19th National Party Congress should be a wake up call to America.  By 2035, China will be the world’s largest economy and before 2050 will lead the world.”
Bannon believes that in the Nixon era, the American elite made a serious error in not correctly understanding the link between China’s economic growth and freedom and democracy.  He further insists that the error of the Clinton and Bush eras was “bringing China into the world, giving China most favored nation treatment, bringing China into the WTO.” “The norm-based post-war international order was built by the Americans and their allies after the war.  But the real world structure, the real international order, came with the collapse of Communism, and China will become a very dynamic part of that.”  This is Bannon’s viewpoint.
In Bannon’s view, the China model is still the so-called “Confucian commercial authoritarian model.”  “Trump believes that the current rivalry with China is a result of the error of the American elite.  This was not a minor error but a basic strategic error, which put America, the West, as well as Japan and America’s Asian allies, at a genuinely huge disadvantage.”  Bannon particularly emphasizes that political populism and economic nationalism are a world movement.
China is the Link between British and American populism
At present, the world movement of economic nationalism and political populism is gaining momentum.  Bannon said “In 2013, I was in London for something, and sensed the direction that the Brexit experiment was going.  At the time I thought that, in terms of American politics, the situation in England was like a canary in a coal mine, in the sense that at England began to prepare for Brexit, what we were seeing was something very much like populism.”  Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, on the day after the Brexit vote, said to the BBC that if there were no platform in London to circulate pro-Brexit opinion, then Brexit would go nowhere.  Here he is talking about the important platform that Bannon’s website represented for England.

Bannon mentioned a book that has just been translated into Chinese–Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance.  This is an important book for understanding the popular base behind Trump’s election.
Hillbilly Elegy explains the sociological basis of the Trump revolution, explaining that the wages of America’s lower classes have been declining over the past few decades  The book points out that “The link between British and American populism is China.  Chinese manufacturing has defeated and destroyed the British industrial center in the Midlands, and has destroyed the American Midwest.  The elite pretends not to see what is happening, but the workers see where the plants are going and what is happening with jobs.”
The MIT economist David Autor analyzed 2971 American counties to test the relationship between Chinese imports and the percentage of the population voting Republican, and found that there was indeed a positive correlation.
American policies are decided by the elite, but the workers pay the consequences.  Now we can understand how, after Trump came down the elevator in June of 2016 and gave his speech at Trump Tower, he leapt to the number one spot in popular opinion by promising to do all in his power to make America great again.  Research by the 2015 Nobel prize winner Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case revealed that between 1999 and 2013, the death rate of non-Hispanic white middle-aged men in the United States increased significantly.[3] This is a very important reason for the dissatisfaction of the lower rungs of the white working class or middle class. The cause of death included lung cancer and many suicides.
Three Important Points about Trump’s Policies
In Bannon’s overview, there are three important points to Trump’s policies.  The first is to stop large-scale illegal immigration to the United States, the second is to bring manufacturing jobs back to America—this is also the point of Trump’s recent tax cuts—and the third is to limit foreign wars.  The United States needs to review and make decisions about these wars that they have been fighting for 15, 16, 17 years.  This is what the Thomas J. Watson Research Center called the 5.6 trillion dollar wars.  And it is not only a question of 5.6 trillion dollars, but of the huge opportunity costs entailed.  This is not just a question of money, but also the 7,000 dead and 52,000 injured young Americans.  This is how Bannon understands the characteristics of Trump’s three key policies.  Whether Trump can in fact carry them out is another question, but the articulation of the policies has already had a certain impact.
One Belt One Road Integrates Three Regional Political Factors
Bannon argues that America’s hawks have always blindly believed in “America first,” and have not paid enough attention to China’s rise, which is the greatest crisis America is facing at the present moment.  What is especially interesting is that Bannon has his own understanding of China’s One Belt-One Road strategy.  In his view, there were three threat regional political theorists in the 19th and 20th centuries, who shaped the lay of the land for two centuries:  Sir Halford John Mackinder (1861-1947), Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), and Nicholas J. Spykman (1893-1943).  He argues that the boldness of the Chinese strategy is to combine the regional elements of the theories of these three.
As Bannon sees it, One Road accords with the theory of Mackinder and One Belt with that of Mahan.  Mackinder believed that whoever controlled the Eurasian heartland controlled the “world island,” and whoever controlled the “world island” controlled the world.  World conquerors like Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hitler, and Peter the Great all understood this point. 

Bannon points out that “One Belt” is a product of Mahan’s theory, the basic of the strategic plan of the British Empire and later of the United States, which consisted on linking important harbors along important routes together.  Whoever controls the neck of the world island—the harbors—controls the world.  China was the first to bring together the theories of Mackinder and Mahan.  Not many people know of Spykman’s theory, but in fact it is even bolder; his theory was to establish lines of communication from the ocean to the inland to keep the aggressor outside the country.  What China is doing in the South China Sea with its strategy of constant refusal to submit means that the United States and Japan cannot mount a large-scale invasion.
The Fate of America is in the Hands of the Little People
Bannon believes that “The fate of America is not in Trump’s hands, not in my hands, not in the hands of any famous politician or great person, and especially not in the hands of Jeff Sessions (the American attorney general) or those of his colleagues.  The fate of America is in the hands of the little people, those who have been forgotten, the silent people.  Because they have suddenly understood that with the advances in high tech, the Internet, and communications technology, the grassroots movement will no longer be silent.” 
Dugin on the “Russian Model”
Getting to Know Dugin:  The Maturation of Putin’s Brain Trust
In 2012, Dugin was widely identified, inside and outside of Russia, as part of Putin’s brain trust.  He played a role in the recent Crimea incident and the East Ukraine incident.   But it is still not clear that he is Putin’s advisor.  Putin never gave him a formal post like the one Bannon had.  Yet beginning in 2012, after Putin used terminology associated with Dugin in a television address, and especially after Dugin published works such as Putin versus PutinLast War of the World-Island, and Eurasian Mission, he was widely recognized, inside Russia and out, as a behind-the-scenes advisor to Putin.  This kind of informal standing might give Dugin more flexibility in his writing and publishing work, giving him greater freedom of movement.
I feel that we still do not understand Dugin well.  I just bought one of his books published in 2017, which discusses the four great fates [?] of Russia since 1989.  In 1984, when Dugin was 22, he was expelled from an aeronautical school because of his criticism of the former Soviet system.  Everyone who has been to Moscow knows Gorky Street, which is like Wangfujing in Beijing, where there is some relatively high-end housing.  When he was 22, Dugin went to a party at a friends’ parties on Gorky Street, where he met the daughter of former Party Secretary of the Moscow municipal committee.  They subsequently lived together without getting married. 

During that period, he read a lot of books that were very hard to find in the USSR, including works by Heidegger and Nietzsche.  After perestroika in 1985, the daughter of the former municipal activist became a very extreme opponent of reform, and the couples’ ideas developed in opposite directions.  At first, having been expelled from university, Dugin had no degree, but later on he managed to get a doctorate from small university in a republic a long way from Moscow.  Finally, in 2012, Moscow State University founded a conservative research center for him.    
Can we not thus see why Dugin is influential?  Even if Putin has said nothing clear about him, the process of Dugin’s maturation suggests that he might really have influence in Russia.  Dugin says some things more directly than Putin.  For example, on the question of Eastern Ukraine, Putin has always stated that Russia is not involved in military intervention, but is merely providing aid, while Dugin in his articles and books openly calls for Russia to send troops to the region.
Dugin:  Russia-Centered Eurasianism
In the 1990s, Dugin published a book entitled The Great War on the Mainland, which offered a detailed explanation of his regional political theories, emphasizing a Russia-centered Eurasianism.  The book earned him a great deal of attention.  In 2015, Dugin published Last War of the World-Island.  The reason I say that Bannon cites Dugin is that he noted Mackinder’s world-island theory and used it to explain China’s One Road strategy.  In his 2014 book on The Historical Mission of Eurasianism, Dugin pointed out two great trends in Russia:  one is Atlanticism, pro-American and pro-Western Europe, and the other is Eurasianism, and Russia should choose the second one.  He believes that Russia is not really a European country but rather a Eurasian country, and that Russia’s historical mission in this world-island is to chart a new path.
Dugin believes that NATO’s attack on Serbia was the beginning of a «planetary nightmare» which clearly revealed the true face of the West, as well as how Eurasia would be treated.  For this reason, Russia’s post-9/11 policy of détente with the West was a huge mistake.  Consequently, Russia and other Eurasian countries should have no illusions about cooperation with the United States, and should prepare their ultimate positions and choose appropriate strategies. 
Dugin believes that Russia is living in a cruel world, and has no way to escape this reality.  Russia has only two choices:  to struggle to survive in a multi-polar world, or to accept a unipolar world under US domination, which would lead to the eclipse of Russia.  In Dugin’s view, the contemporary world offers a number of regional political models. 

The first is the American model, which means absolute American control of the world.  The second is the European model, which is confined to Europe.  The third is the Islamic model, which has a certain universal appeal, but which lacks social and economic plans.  The fourth is the Chinese model, which is limited to China.  For a variety of reasons, Russia cannot become a part of any of these models.  Yet Russia can still become an “axis of friendship,” as in bilateral relations between Russia and Europe, Russia and the Islamic world, Russia and China.  The core of Dugin’s thinking is that Russia must establish a unique Russian model.
In summary, I believe that we must treat economic nationalism and political populism with great seriousness.  The Chinese solutions to globalization are the China Dream and the community of common destiny, not economic nationalism and political populism.  However we might deepen this research, I hope that we can share our results.
 [1] 崔之元, “川普前顾问班农和传说中的普京顾问杜金之思想比较,” February 23, 2018, .
[2] Wang Qishan is China’s Vice-President, and a major player in Chinese diplomacy and relations with the United States.
[3] Translator’s note:  Deaton and Case eventually published their research in book form in Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, Princeton, 2020.


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