WITHOUT CAPITALISM OR COMMUNISM
If you can forget about MGS4 and I suggest you do – ideally forever – let’s take a moment to analyze the most politically-charged game of the series, at least in relation to the political ideologies shown in the narrative, which is MGS3. While MGS1 and MGS2 were highly political in their own way, their themes dealt heavily with sociological and philosophical issues that didn’t exactly touch the most important political and socioeconomic philosophies that shaped the 20th century; capitalism and communism. MGS3 was the first game in the series to be set in the Cold War, and the only one to be set exclusively on Soviet soil.
As we saw previously, we had certain characters MGS1 and MGS2 who gave us a glimpse into the USSR and the Cold War; Nastasha Romanenko, a Ukrainian military analyst who went to live to the US after the Soviet collapse, is the first character we interact with who was born under the Soviet banner (given we bother with calling her at all; if we don’t, this accolade goes to Ocelot). She’s portrayed as a heavy smoker and gun enthusiast, but her most prominent feature is being a survivor from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. This is fortunately not used as some kind of criticism of Soviet negligence or incompetence in order to make us sympathize with her background, but instead as criticism against nuclear weapons in general, showing the series’ focus and its lack of indoctrination, not falling for the political opportunism right-wing games stoop to. This already makes it different. This game also introduces the character of Revolver Ocelot, an ex-Soviet agent bent on rebuilding Mother Russia, but as we later learn, he’s not fond of the USSR at all and is merely an agent for the Patriots. Last but not least is Psycho-Mantis, one of the most memorable bosses, a psychic soldier of Soviet origin who used to work for the KGB. He however shows no commitment to political ideologies, being more interested in mass-killing and revenge. Following MGS1, the characters of Sergei and Olga Gurlukovich are introduced, the former interested in the revival of Mother Russia and the latter not one bit, but this later dissipates when thrust into the main narrative regarding the Patriots. The former Soviet soldiers that we fight are nothing but a façade to make us believe we’re fighting a common enemy of the West and make the “simulation” more palatable, when we’re fighting anything but. It should be noted that this is a double trick, as we the gamers are encouraged to believe so, and so is Raiden. It’s pure meta, and not political at all, at least, not in the typical “East vs. West” type of mission about saving the president from Russian terrorists as we are made to believe. The motives are beyond that.
While MGS2’s narrative manages to make us see through what we believe are normal politics, with democracy being staged and a committee of elite figures running a world where ideologies are merely part of the charade, the truth is that political ideologies cannot be neglected or treated as merely two sides of the same coin, as two factions feigning opposition but being run by the same system. Political ideologies, unless you’re a hardcore believer in an Illuminati type of shadow government, constitute a very real factor that you can see merely by stepping outside and bumping into a demonstration. Political philosophies of left and right have shaped the last two centuries heavily regardless of a shadow government existing or not, and most triumphs and victories for the lower and middle-classes, for civil rights and for social inclusion, have almost invariably been due to the left. I’m not trying to indoctrinate, but simply state a fact. Workers fought for their rights during the industrial revolution in a time when they worked long hours in terrible conditions, without even healthcare, safety conditions or insurance, more often than not without age or gender exceptions. These victories conquered by the workers eventually found a solid form and constituted themselves under communism, a response to the savage capitalism born under the industrial revolution. If you can divide the world between those who exploit and those who are exploited, then you have a right and a left, fighting for opposite beliefs, but each for their own benefit nonetheless. We could say this is the essential nature of the Cold War, the reason why the world was once split into two, with the US-led bloc and the USSR-led bloc fighting for what they believed was right, shaping the world according to their views with sheer force, and doing whatever was necessary to ensure victory.
This is where things started to get really interesting not only for the franchise’s gameplay evolution, but for its narrative maturity. “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater,” set in the early 1960s during the Cold War right in Soviet soil, is where Kojima’s understanding of the world is made more apparent than ever. We’re not Solid Snake, but his genetic father, Naked Snake, the future Big Boss, and we’re sent in to secure a Soviet scientist who defected to the West, facing both KGB and GRU units. Plus, Snake’s mentor and former lover The Boss defects to the USSR, adding more weight to the existing tension. After an internal Soviet power-struggle is made apparent and the GRU attacks a Soviet base with US nuclear missiles, we’re forced by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev himself to infiltrate the USSR with his permission and terminate the threat to his faction and the world. The CIA also wants to eliminate The Boss as a sign of good will to the Soviets. The US agrees to this in order to clear its name and to bypass Soviet nuclear retaliation. Kojima illustrates the multi-faceted nature of global politics and how bitter alliances can change in the blink of an eye when there are important interests or more powerful enemies at the door, like in WWII.
The US and the USSR are no different in the eyes of Kojima. They are not fully evil but not precisely good either. They represent the world order of the Cold War, the era of peace through nuclear deterrence and everything it entails from a geopolitical standpoint. But I think that, more than anything, the US and the USSR represent industrial and military behemoths that end up absorbing smaller countries into their own spheres of influences as a form of imperialism, regardless of their diametrically opposed political beliefs. Japan itself was reduced to one of these countries after WWII with its nightmarish defeat at the hands of the US through sheer nuclear force. This is even more substantial and disturbing when considering that President Harry S. Truman only ordered the attack to field-test the new devastating weapon with real combat data and show the world – particularly the USSR – the immense firepower of the US. So as you can see, the USSR had, although indirectly, a role to play in the nuclear attacks on Japan, as the audience the US wanted to intimidate. However, Japan wasn’t exactly a good guy before or during WWII, as demonstrated by their own form of imperialism subjugating China and Korea in brutal forms, not to mention their infamous treatment of Unitedstatian POWs. If Kojima’s ideology is democratic and anti-imperialist, then I’m guessing he also regrets the actions of Japan as an empire and must be equally critical of his country’s dark history. Or at least, so as to not be hypocritical, he should be. All criminal actions by nations should be equally denounced and lamented. Kojima has a clear fondness for the heritage and culture of his own country and for the exported culture of the United States, granting the games a kind of bias towards these two countries while neglecting Russia and the USSR and putting it in the dark corner Western mainstream media has reserved for it, as an ambiguous antagonist and ever-present threat, but never as just a country with people, culture and heritage in the same line as the US or Japan. It’s to be understood that the audience of the games is largely Japanese and Western, but that’s no reason to fall for US clichés that are not even native to Japan.
To give an example, the US in MGS3 is portrayed as “the good guy” by our support team, who are a really nice and talkative bunch, and this depiction endures until the bitter end changes everything. On the other hand, the Soviet Union is basically portrayed as “the enemy,” which according to The Boss won’t always be, as alliances change constantly with the times. We are already feeling the pointlessness of loyalty to country and get a taste of Kojima’s anti-nationalist views. The USSR is “just one more of the superpowers” from Kojima’s point of view, the exact same thing as the US but from the opposite side of the political spectrum, as seemingly he sees both the US and the USSR as equally criminal in their expansionist policies, absorbing countries into their spheres of influence, handling of nuclear deterrence and the way they dealt with their ideological rivals through ruthless intelligence agencies as the CIA and the KGB. The Boss is quoted as telling Snake that she dreams of a world “without capitalism or communism,” which I believe reflect his own views.
There are also many details that can be interpreted as belonging to a “left-wing” worldview as seen in MGS3’s narrative. Real life politicians appear in the game’s cutscenes and even have conversations, or are referenced. First of all, Lyndon B. Johnson is fortunately depicted as the cynical man he was, although ever so subtly and right at the end, when he ceases applauding at Snake once he’s out of the room and angrily looks out the window. Kennedy seems to be the preferable choice for a president here, as his death triggers the crisis, and it’s also called a “tragedy” by the characters, suggesting a positive attitude towards him as a figure. Nikita Khrushchev is depicted as the stubborn hot-head that he was, although characters like Major Zero call him “a shrewd leader” and seem to prefer him over other Soviet General Secretaries. Khrushchev also acts “nobly” calling back to base the MiG-21s that chase Snake and EVA, although this may be a way for Khrushchev to be owed a favor. Real-life Soviet politicians like Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin are depicted as “hard-line” and rigid, reinforced by Volgin supporting them, and are made in the game’s ideology the would-be “bad guys.” In the game we’re first doing a typical US undercover mission behind enemy lines and we later see ourselves doing the US’ and the USSR’s dirty work. It’s a strange twist, but it’s the one that first makes us see the pointlessness of being a soldier, and how alliances can swiftly shift.
It should be noted that the “Khrushchev vs. Brezhnev” plot was actually a real-life event where in 1964, Khrushchev was peacefully deposed by Brezhnev after he convinced the Politburo of the failure of his economic and foreign policies. The Cuban Missile Crisis also did much to diminish his power. Eventually, Brezhnev became the new General Secretary of the CPSU while Alexei Kosygin succeeded Khrushchev as Soviet premier. It should be explained that Khrushchev’s attitudes and political ideas were insufficiently “communist” for many communists worldwide, especially for those who thought that the East and the West could never cooperate, and that actively seeking to undermine capitalist influence was the way to go. Che Guevara, Enver Hoxha and Mao Zedong were prominent “anti-revisionists,” meaning they were against deviations from Marxist theory as originally fleshed-out by Marx and Engels. Thus, to socialists and liberal leftists, Khrushchev was right in his anti-Stalinist policies, while to hardline communists like Mao Zedong he was a traitor. It can be assumed that Kojima agrees with the “revisionist” interpretation of these events. The way MGS3’s plot is structured follows the classic “Khrushchev is good and Brezhnev is bad” attitude many leftists and socialists have, with Khrushchev being a proponent of peaceful coexistence with the West and being a useful partner for Kennedy, while Brezhnev is characterized as the most “hard-line” politician who, like Lyndon B. Johnson, scores poorly because of his political rigidness. Brezhnev was responsible, among other things, for the priority of industrial militarization over the much-needed consumer industrialization in the USSR, causing economic stagnation and hardship, and for rolling back the liberalization and anti-Stalinist policies of Khrushchev creating a more repressive climate, while Lyndon B. Johnson was a military expansionist and staunch anti-communist who justified his genocidal and destructive decisions any way he could, escalating the Vietnam War through a possible false-flag operation. Kennedy and Khrushchev were political partners who could have done much in terms of international cooperation between the two superpowers, and many theories surrounding Kennedy’s assassination involve this as a possible cause, since “peace” is not profitable, and in any case, Kennedy had vowed to disband the CIA because he loathed it, which gives further reason to believe in a possible covert assassination from his own government. Believe what you will, Kennedy’s assassination was a good thing for hawks in the US government to keep the anti-communist agenda, and to also deprive Khrushchev of political power and relevance in his own turf through the loss of a useful diplomatic partner abroad.
Besides real world politicians, there are a lot of interesting fictional secondary characters in the MGS3 world too that further give the player insight into aspects of the former the USSR and the current Russia. The main antagonist, Colonel Volgin, is the apotheosis of Stalinism. Having participated in the Katyn Forest Massacre, Volgin is established as a cruel and sadistic character who genuinely enjoys violence and torture. Many NKVD heads like Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrentiy Beria were in real-life, sadistic torturers and murderers, as well as sexual deviants.
To begin with, Yezhov was a bisexual just like Volgin, aside from a genocidal sadist; he viciously beat his predecessor himself and humiliated him before he was executed. Beria did the same with Yezhov. Unlike Yezhov, on the other hand, he was what some may describe a serial rapist and murderer, kidnapping women to rape and then disposing of them. Stalin himself wouldn’t trust Beria his own daughter and recommended her to stay away from him. These characteristics can be found in Volgin and his lover Raikov, who despite looking girly and effeminate as a way to ridicule MGS2’s Raiden, is an extremely tough character and very abusive towards his underlings, which is also a common army practice in the former USSR and the current Russia called “dedovschina,” “rule of the grandfathers,” where high-ranking veterans are allowed to abuse their inferiors and beat them viciously for as long as they wish. When you dress as Raikov, you discover that EVA wasn’t bluffing and that you can actually get away with punching people literally in the face. That’s how much they fear him. This in turn is perhaps used by the game’s plot to make a visceral revulsion to hard-line Sovietism and particularly, Stalinism. Needless to say, in real life, the Stalinist system was particularly harsh on its bureaucrats and it derived in deviant practices and excesses like the ones the heads of the NKVD committed. Perhaps it’s also a way for the game to illustrate ideological zeal and its human consequences.
Other characters, also based on real life Soviet figures, give grounds for somewhat more emotional and moral quirks we can relate to; Sokolov, for instance, is the archetypical Soviet defector tormented by guilt, cowardly in nature but still noble, defiant and stubborn, but willing to change countries and leave everything behind so as to not keep developing weapons of mass destruction. He runs from his responsibilities and even though he may express bravery against difficult odds at times, he’s ultimately a weak and tormented individual, destroyed by a skill in high demand in this era, and as such exploited by his government. Granin, Sokolov’s rival working for Volgin’s faction, is depicted as strong-willed, self-assured, melancholic and upstanding Soviet man, proudly showing his Order of Lenin to Snake. In true Russian fashion, he’s also a bit of a drinker too, although we may assume that like Sokolov, he’s also tormented by his conscience, choosing to betray Volgin by helping Snake. The essential difference between both men is that Sokolov is willing to live in another country, while Granin cannot bring himself to, and also he mentions he truly believes in communism as the superior system. Funnily enough, both men end up being killed by the same man, Volgin, in the same way; tortured and beaten to death. (Portable Ops revealed Sokolov survived, but for some reason this game is never taken seriously by the community, and Sokolov is never mentioned again during Peace Walker).
Another characteristic displayed by both is their friendship with men from the other side of the Iron Curtain; Granin is friends with Huey Emmerich, Otacon’s father, while Sokolov is friends with Major Zero, a theme which shows that friendship prevails even in the Cold War, despite national or ideological enmities. I always thought of Granin and Sokolov as representing the Soviet defectors and patriots in the USSR’s Design Bureaus, with men like Mikhail Kalashnikov, Mikhail Mil, Nikolai Kamov, Artyom Mikoyan, Mikhail Gurevich and Sergei Korolyov being some of the proudest Soviet patriots and greatest arms, vehicle and rocket designers, while men like Igor Sikorsky chose to flee to the US and ended up developing helicopters knowing well that, in all likelihood, were to be used against his nation of birth should a war erupt. It’s however very apparent, especially when studying Eastern bloc defectors to the Western bloc, that most armament designer, engineers and physicists chose Granin’s side, while there were very few Sokolovs. Andrei Sakharov, the most prominent Soviet nuclear physicist, responsible for the USSR’s first true hydrogen bomb, and later an outspoken nuclear proliferation critic, is the only Soviet dissident who comes to mind, and he never defected, on the contrary, he tried to better his country from the inside even been victim to arrest. Sokolov is most likely based on him. Granin, however appears to be based on Igor Kurchatov. Igor Kurchatov, one of the “fathers” of the Soviet atom bomb, was against nuclear tests later in his life and advocated for the peaceful use of nuclear technology, feeling deep resentment at the destructive power of, particularly, the hydrogen bomb. He however didn’t express such passion against nuclear weapons as Sakharov became notorious for. He was extensively decorated like Granin and wore his awards with pride, and stayed in the USSR dying what some would call a hero’s death; in Chelyabinsk-40, in 1957, after an accident that many cite could have been worse than Chernobyl in matter of deaths and contamination, Kurchatov stepped right into the central hall of a damaged reactor unit to save uranium and reduce plutonium losses. The gases inside the unit clearly shortened his life-span, and he died three years later after a stroke. It could be said that Granin resembles Kurchatov, as he’s resentful of his deeds yet refuses to leave the USSR and wears his awards with pride, hinting at heavy patriotism. In Russia and the USSR before it, displaying state awards is always considered a sign of siding with the state and its ideology. That’s why Sokolov isn’t seen wearing awards, like Sakharov.
Patriots try to create weapons to be used against enemies of their homeland, although as we see in Metal Gear, the weapons can quickly switch sides engulf the entire world in the process, used against our own homelands all the same. Sokolov was a man aware of that, but ultimately, running from his responsibilities and merely vaulting over the fence to the other side gave him the same fate as the upstanding and loyal Granin. Snake and Major Zero (the West) failed him in the same way his own country did. If Kojima is trying to tell us something through this, then it can only mean that giving ourselves to countries, any country, has disastrous results for ourselves and our loved ones. Soldiers are cynically expendable, even legendary ones as Naked Snake or The Boss were; and brilliant scientists share the exact same fate, to be abused and exploited, and eventually discarded.
This can be perhaps illustrated perfectly with Johnny, the pant-soiling Easter egg who first appeared in MGS1. Here he’s supposedly Johnny’s grandfather, and he talks briefly with Snake confessing that he once lived in the US and that he regrets being a part of the Cold War. It’s unclear whether he’s Soviet or Unitedstatian who defected to one side or another, but what’s important is that he used to live in the US and had a family there. When Snake asks him for help though, he immediately retreats and threatens with shooting him, thus proving the futility of friendship and good intentions in the battlefield, and the effect of “the times” in people’s lives. At the end of the day, Johnny wants to be in the US to take care of his family, but is held up by the Cold War. Just like Sokolov.
Nonetheless, Sokolov, like Sakharov in real life, deserves recognition for understanding the pointlessness of such devastating weapons and denouncing them outspokenly. In the US, nuclear physicists that worked closely on the atom bomb like Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer understood after the first explosion how they had created something awful which should never be used. On the other hand, bloodthirsty crusaders like Edward Teller, a US physicist of Hungarian origin who despised communism because of the Bela Kun revolution, were such adamant advocates of nuclear proliferation that he even recommended hydrogen bombs for all types of uses, from nuclear deterrence and substituting dynamite as a means to clear mountains to destroying incoming meteorites. Teller also was a favorite of Reagan for supporting the Strategic Defense Initiative despite strong criticism by US and Soviet physicists, who argued that it would only increase the chances of nuclear war as the Soviet Union would be forced to increase its nuclear stockpile to defeat the supposed anti-nuclear shield. Teller, a real-life person, was as influential as Sakharov, yet for all the wrong reasons. He first reached his influential position because of extreme anti-communism, and deposed Oppenheimer in nuclear research after Truman became seriously weary of Oppenheimer’s anti-nuclear ideas. Sakharov was constantly persecuted in the USSR because of advocating reforms and protesting the USSR’s political system, and thus even arrested and held in isolation. Yet he never thought of leaving. He died in 1989 before the fall of communism, so we can’t know whether he would have remained in Russia or left for a place like the US. His political activism and his passion for his country suggest otherwise, though.
The Boss’ speech at the end of MGS3, and her vision of a world “without capitalism or communism,” suggest perhaps a somewhat socialist or social-democratic view on Kojima’s part, reinforced by the structure of the game’s plot and its political outlook on real world events. Even though Kojima is obviously a capitalist and may be conservative regarding economic attitudes, his ideological views suggest a more progressive-leaning worldview. This, coupled with Peace Walker’s strong pro-Latin American and anti-US storyline and the classic attitude critical of pointless violence, guns, WMDs and US policies throughout the franchise, clearly point toward the “leftist” or better said, progressive ideals that the franchise is assumed to hold by the gaming community. Without a shadow of a doubt, Kojima is one of the most ideological-bound videogame developers out there, true to his ideals and philosophies, and he clearly speaks passionately and clearly through his creations.