What Is to Be Done About the Left?

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, the Western right is basically one big grift. One way or another you dupe middle class white boomers or frustrated 20-something NEETs into giving you money while ultra-rich individuals, think tanks, and corporations give you a platform with which to do it. There are many different forms of this grift, often rehashed with little variations here and there over the years. One such grift is the “I used to be a leftist!”

This is where the person claims (or in some cases they actually were) they used to be on “the left” until they were “driven away” by something, most often “political correctness” or some other vague bullshit. Now I’m not about to disparage anyone’s so-called lived experience here; I’m sure in some cases these people were actually truly believing leftists of some sort. It’s cultish to the extreme to dismiss this phenomenon by saying “they never truly believed” or that they never fully understood the politics. But these conversion stories always seem to me as highly dubious. After all, I can totally understand being fed up with a certain community on the left, but if you really held basic progressive core beliefs why would you go and join, or aid those who represent diametrically opposed values? Why not migrate to those among the left who you feel better represent those basic values?

But these days I find myself confronting a very unusual situation. What happens when you find yourself pushed away from the left, mainly because you want to avoid the far-right and with each passing year you see the former increasingly tailing the latterWhat about avoiding the mainstream radical left to avoid looking like an Infowars-level conspiracy crank at best, and associating with literal fascists at worst? This is quite a conundrum, but recently I’ve discovered on Twitter that I’m not the only person to notice this phenomenon.

One individual has taken a very harsh stance on the matter. Rather than specifically call out “tankies” or “red-browns” they have flat out accused “leftists” of being fascists, albeit with plenty of good evidence and logical arguments. I voiced my disagreement with this wording, because I believe that no matter how difficult it can be to communicate with some radical leftists from time to time, it is our responsibility to try to set people on the right path whenever and wherever we can. As sayeth Jesus in the scripture, it is not the healthy who need a physician but the ill.

That being said, I must concede this individual had one compelling argument for being so harsh on the radical left as a whole. Paraphrasing their words as best I can, they pointed out how next-to-impossible it is to convince leftists that they are engaging in fascist, racist, or anti-Semitic thinking simply because they identify as left. In other words, they are convinced that by virtue of being leftists, Communists, socialists, or whatever, their core beliefs could not possibly be contaminated by reactionary ideas. While I still disagree that this is justification for writing off the whole radical left there’s a compelling argument here, so much so that it bears devoting some time to developing a solution.

Since 2014 the danger of red-brown,or as one comrade eloquently put it, “bloody shit,” organizing has been rising exponentially. A lot of this, incidentally, has been thanks to Russian propaganda organs such as RT and Sputnik, along with lesser known websites like Fort Russ or Vinyard of the Saker. It is through these vectors that propaganda largely inspired by the fascist Alexander Dugin is diffused and distributed to different ends of the political spectrum. To the leftists is an anti-corporate, anti-globalization message, and the far-right receives a message promising “self-determination” in the form of national separation. The main purpose of all of this, of course, is to push the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals. It matters little whether the recipients think Ukraine is controlled by a neo-Nazi junta or a cabal of conspiring Jews- and Russian propaganda regularly insists both simultaneously- all that matters is that the recipient believes that Kyiv is the ally of their enemies and Russia has a right to intervene in Ukraine as it sees fit.

I do not plan to get into more details of current red-brown activity in this post. I have already done that some time ago, but for those who want to look into the matter further I recommend starting with this link. My focus in this post, which may become part of a much longer series, is to try to determine why the left continues to be vulnerable to far-right entryism and what can be done about it.

Acceptance

The sad fact is that a lot of the left is in denial about the red-brown problem. Some call it guilt by association. Others dismiss it as “horseshoe theory.” Some insist that if they happen to take the same position as fascists, they have completely different reasons. Others are still inexcusably ignorant about the problem entirely.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. In this case we need to identify the problem of red-brown activity and far-right entryism. Many veterans of the left may look at the attitudes of millennials toward socialism or the rise in popularity for movements like Democratic Socialists of America and decide this is a very positive trend. What they may be missing, however, is the fact that many of these young people have no idea what socialism is and they are merely reacting to the vagaries of so-called “late capitalism.” As such, their theoretical foundation is quite weak. Older leftists should welcome them, but also educate them. At the same time, we need to reevaluate our own values and rhetoric and ask ourselves if we are being consistent in our opposition to racism, imperialism, and so forth.

Many young leftists, and far too many old ones, seem utterly oblivious to the the idea that far-right organizations often seek out alliances with them for their own ends. This is by no means a new phenomenon. Alexander Reid Ross has written a comprehensive book on the subject (though it fails hard on Ukraine, ironically because at least one of the cited sources on that topic was himself a member of a red-brown Russia-affiliated front). The basic summary is that almost from the very dawn of modern socialism, there have always been attempts to appropriate some aspects of that movement and meld them with reactionary, right-wing values. And there’s an interesting thread running throughout this long history to the present day- it seems wherever red-brown activity has taken place, it is always the right that gets the most benefit, while the left is typically weakened. It doesn’t matter if we’re speaking of Germany in the Weimar days or today, where parts of the left and far-right sound almost identical on topics like Syria or Russia, yet it is the far-right that is in power and ascendant while the left still flounders ineffectually. There’s a powerful lesson in this- red-brown activity is poison for the left and a boon to fascists. 

Once we acknowledge how serious the threat is, we need to do something about it.

 

Educate

The most important thing is for leftists to understand that this is a serious phenomenon and it is not some centrist liberal horseshoe theory. This has a very long, well documented history and new activists need to be made aware of it.

Also, while teaching good theory can sometimes lead to disagreements and sectarianism, it can also sometimes act as a vaccination against typical red-brown tactics. A person who has a more robust understanding of capitalism and socialism is less likely to fall for the “anti-establishment,” “anti-globalization” rhetoric so often used by the far right entryists. But far more important than theory is a solid system of ethics. History has shown that by divorcing socialism from its moral imperative, all manner of atrocities and unprincipled compromises are possible.

Our moribund concept of “anti-imperialism” is a perfect example of this. So many leftists get so bound up in “opposing imperialism,” which is in their eyes solely Western if not American, that they willfully embrace outright reactionary if not fascist regimes (the Assad regime for example, is arguably fascist by definition). We must never lose sight of the fact that we must oppose all forms of imperialism, but never to such extent that we end up defending far right regimes and regurgitating their propaganda. This is precisely what much of the left is doing now, particularly when it comes to Syria, and in doing so they have literally joined the chorus of far right Assad backers such as the alt-right and old Nazis like David Duke.

Summing up this point, what is far more important than political labels are the values that motivate us to adopt them. Edgy teenagers and college students readily become “Marxists,” “anarchists,” or whatever because this often provides a necessary sense of solidarity and belonging.  But when organizations become nothing but a social circle or a club, cult-like thinking begins and there is pressure to go along with the group in spite of moral conflicts. One should adopt an ideology stemming from basic values. In my humble opinion, one should be a socialist based on values of true liberty and equality, not for social or aesthetic reasons. When you are guided by these basic values, you are less likely to make unprincipled compromises based on purely tactical reasoning such as the enemy of my enemy is my friend (probably the worst concept in political history).

Another thing we need to be educating leftists about is something I’ve seen some Twitter folks refer to as unreality. Unreality is a somewhat novel concept that it is a bit more nuanced than propaganda. Unreality is a state where one bends reality to fit their political worldview. It goes beyond typical conspiratorial thinking in the sense that conspiracy theories become mandatory as a way to process events. For example, in order to maintain the fiction that Assad is the “least worst” option in Syria, one must not only ignore the indisputable fact that his regime and its backers have caused the vast majority of deaths in that civil war, but every particularly egregious atrocity, especially chemical attacks, are nothing but “false flags” designed to provoke a Western regime-change invasion that never comes. Once you can accept some of these claims, there’s no reasonable argument to refrain from going full on Infowars. Remember- when we give up a belief in objective truth we give up the core of our revolutionary theory.

Lastly, it’s time for leftists, especially Americans, to stop living in the Iraq War era where every negative comment by the presidential administration is treated like the run-up to a massive military invasion. One of the most idiotic things I see are claims that criticism of the Kremlin could lead to World War III. Turkey shot down a Russian military jet, one of whose pilots was killed as a result, and in a matter of months the their two dictators had kissed and made up. More recently, the United States wiped out dozens of Russian mercenaries and the Kremlin has been curiously quiet on the matter. If Russia is so volatile that it will launch a nuclear holocaust in response to criticism, that really says more about Russia than it does about the West. In any case, the militaristic rhetoric that has been a staple of Russian media for many years is far more confrontational than anything we see in the US media even in the midst of “Russiagate.”

No Platform

This one is pretty simple- do not accept a platform from the far right or any outlet the routinely gives them a platform. That means no RT, no Sputnik, and certainly no Tucker Carlson (he’s basically a full on blood and soil nationalist now). Do some research to find out whose behind the outlet offering you a spot for commentary or a job.  It is far better to keep your message pure and independent than to get a larger audience via a compromised platform. After all, a large portion of that audience is most likely diametrically opposed to your values anyway.

To be Continued…

I’d like to say there’s a conclusion to all of this, but the truth is that I am merely scratching the surface with this post. It is one thing to study historical phenomena and draw conclusions based on it; it’s another matter entirely when we are actually watching things evolve in real time. We may very well be living in an era of American proto-fascism, and I’m convinced that one of the ways we got to this point has to do with the far right doing a comprehensive overhaul of their strategy and tactics in the past few years. That process is ongoing as well. Among the main changes include things that were traditionally associated with the left, from pro-Palestine activism to opposition to Reagan-Thatcher neoliberalism and embracing Russia despite the regime’s overt display of Soviet imagery.

Since the far right is not bound by the kind of moral values which ought to guide the left, they can rapidly evolve and molt much faster than their opponents can respond to their tactics. As such we are playing catch up and there is precious little time. It is my hope that in the near future every prominent left organization will start taking the red-brown menace seriously. Otherwise we may not have an organized left at all.

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So You Live in a Dictatorship Part III: Impunity

So recent domestic news has compelled me to write another entry in a series I dubbed “So You Live in a Dictatorship” (see the category list on the side bar for previous entries). Since it’s been a long time since the last entry in the series, let me recap it’s purpose. Since the election of Donald Trump, many Americans seem to be reeling from the new normal of politics. Well what seems novel for you isn’t for those of us who have lived under real dictatorships. Therefore using my experience from living under the Putin regime, I decided to help my fellow Americans understand what to expect as the tactics of foreign authoritarian kleptocratic dictators become commonplace in American politics. You’re welcome for my service.

Given the nature of the news cycle these days and the sheer amount of idiocy it brings on a daily basis, you might have either missed this particular item or perhaps you heard about it, rolled your eyes, and braced yourself for the next scandal, still bracing yourself for the very real possibility that the nation will one day be faced with photographs of Trump’s dick.

footballman

Yes, this manufactured scandal was also in the news again this week.

Yet as eye-explodingly bad as that apocalypse will be, and rest assured it is almost certainly going to happen, you should not ignore the story about Trump’s pardon of whackjob conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.

Some of my friends consider Trump’s pardon of Arizona ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to be worse, but comparisons are irrelevant. What matters is a pattern here. Even if Trump cannot pardon himself, he can certainly pardon numerous passengers in the clown car he brought to Washington. This includes those would already pleaded guilty, like Michael Flynn, those under investigation like Paul Manafort, and those who are likely to get indicted like Michael Cohen.

The basis for Trump’s pardoning, regardless of whether the person was rightfully convicted or in D’Souza’s case, pleaded guilty, is that the courts were being “unfair.” Trump constantly uses this word “unfair,” like a little child whining on the playground. Yes, these days conservatives are extremely concerned about fairness, except when it comes to things like poverty or racial equality.

What does unfair really mean to these people? Well if they lose, in anything at all, then it was unfair. Someone cheated. It’s rigged. Moreover, it seems that the new permutation of conservative, particularly of the Boomer Tea Party variety, is that everyone they don’t like needs to go to jail, best exemplified with the campaign chant “Lock her up!” By the same token, if one of their conservative heroes is convicted of a crime or even if they plead guilty- it was “unfair.” If Hillary Clinton is still free, it’s because the courts and Justice System, including those officials appointed by Trump, are corrupt, as are those who prosecute or investigate Trump and other conservative figures. Yes, there’s a vast conspiracy against conservatives in America, and yet they somehow manage to control all three branches of government despite regularly getting fewer votes. Those poor souls.

Now obviously giving the president such powers to pardon was one of the Framers’ dumbest ideas, and certainly Democratic presidents have had their share of questionable pardons. But like previous Republican presidents, pardons usually came as they were leaving office, and they were not announced in such a way as to signal to supporters the way Trump has done by pardoning people like Arpaio or worse- D’Souza. Yes, I said D’Souza was worse because not only did he plead guilty to a crime, but he also had virtually no interaction with Trump until recently. In other words, Trump decided he likes D’Souza, so D’Souza was “treated unfairly” and deserves a pardon. What this will quickly lead to if it continues is a serious breakdown in the rule of law.

I guarantee you that if this kind of thing does not get nipped in the bud, any Republican president will use it almost constantly. I’d say the same of hypothetical Democrat presidents, except that in such a scenario I don’t really see one getting elected anytime soon. Once you are basically ready to abuse the justice system in this way, there’s virtually nothing to stop your minions from employing every dirty trick in the book to ensure your perpetual victory at the polls.

Of course abusing pardons would only be a first step towards a dictatorial system like that of Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey. Things tend to get really bad when prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement come under the control of a particular party. We can see how we are certainly moving in that direction with Trump, particularly in the judiciary and with law enforcement as well.

What all this leads to is more corruption and repression due to impunity. Impunity for those who engage in corruption or who support the regime against its opponents, and arbitrary harassment and suppression of dissidents. As one Russian friend of mine put it in a conversation about how this impunity works in Russia, the leadership sends signals to certain people that they can act against designated opponents of the regime and act in their own self-interests without any negative consequences. As a corollary, if anyone should push back against them, the system with its organs of legal violence will have their back. This kind of set up is why you never hear of something like Alexei Navalny decking some pro-Putin activist for trying to throw green dye on him. Navalny knows very well that in that case he’d be locked up for sure. In fact his whole organization might be rolled up and declared “extremist.”

Things don’t look too good right now, but there is a slight glimmer of hope. So far Trump’s only starting to complete one half of the equation- letting cronies get away with criminal activity. And even here he’s not entirely in control. For some reason he has not yet sacked Mueller, even though to the dismay of pussy hat-wearing wine moms everywhere, he almost certainly could without endangering his presidency. No, the shit hits the fan only when the dictator is able to direct the security services against enemies, either to convict them on dubious charges or simply harass and intimidate them. That’s the signal for open season on dissidents. Loyal self-anointed “patriots” will start doing the regime’s dirty work knowing that not only will they probably go unpunished or at most receive a slap on the wrist, but also that if their targets fight back, they will be the ones facing the full force of the law.

And if this doesn’t happen under Trump, rest assured that even Democrat administrations could pave the way for this kind of scenario in the future. In the past Democrats have often supported increased powers for domestic spying and crackdowns on whistle blowers and leakers, often for the most short-sighted reasons. In fact they have even done so under Trump, demonstrating how they are fully capable of moving the ball forward in that direction.

Thus, be on guard not only for actions in this vein coming from the Republicans and Trump, but also from their useful idiots in the Democratic party. Yes, we have these institutions that are supposed to prevent the scenario I have described here, but only a fool would put so much faith in institutions. Institutions are, after all, made up of people, and oftentimes those people care far more about their own power within those institutions than fulfilling the task for which the institution was originally intended.

 

Babchenko Voskres! (Babchenko has Risen!)

Well. This has been quite the day. I’d even go so far as to call it a historic moment. The scripture says Jesus died and rose again on the third day. Arkady Babchenko did it in less than 12 hours.

sbuop

Shalom, this was a special operation by the SBU!

Yesterday’s post now feels like part of some kind of bizarre psychological experiment- it was written when I and all of my friends (as well as Babchenko’s own immediate family) were certain that he had been murdered. As such, our tweets, our status updates, yesterday’s post- they are now like fossilized remains of a moment in history. A moment when for everyone who was watching, including the Kremlin lackeys who were immediately gearing up for another disinformation campaign about the latest “provocation,” Arkady Babchenko was the latest Russian dissident to be murdered.

For me it began with an alert from RIA Novosti that he was “alive.” I stared in awe and thought “Well this is a bold new direction for Kremlin disinfo.” Then the reports from more reputable outlets started coming in. And a few minutes later the whole Russia/Ukraine watching world lost its collective mind. Below is a short video presentation that serves as the perfect metaphor for the reactions on Twitter:

Of course it’s Twitter so people had to pick fights, even with people nominally “on the same side,” so today’s War of Takes boiled down to a spectrum of opinions between “SBU Did Nothing Wrong” and “Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think of Ukraine’s Credibility?!”

What I found most interesting was watching how many commentators’ position, including my own, evolved over the course of the day in real time as we all began to process the reality of what was happening. Team SBU Did Nothing Wrong was angry at many commentators, including veteran Ukraine correspondents, for being seemingly upset about the SBU’s credibility and wondering whether this would be a major boon to the Kremlin propaganda machine. Personally I was cautious. I acknowledged that there were ethical implications in this issue, but like many of my friends I was just happy to see that Arkady Babchenko was alive. If he had actually been killed, not only would it be another sign that the Putinist regime can kill with impunity beyond its borders, but his death would be accompanied by a flood of propaganda and multiple contradictory “alternative” explanations blaming the killing on anyone and everyone but the most obvious suspect. They were already beginning the whole process with their кому выгодно? (qui bono?) arguments online.

But things didn’t go according to plan. Unlike in the case of Litvinenko or the Skripals, when the perpetrators escaped (and in the latter case aren’t even known), the agent who ordered the hit on Babchenko, and who was allegedly planning several other hits on Russian dissidents in Ukraine, is in custody. I am still extremely skeptical towards the SBU, but this time they seem to have got something right, and what a thing to get right at that!

sbu2

“The SBU resurrected Babchenko so they wouldn’t have to investigate his murder.” Sickest burn of the day reminds us that the SBU still has a lot to answer for. 

And as for the “credibility issue” and claims that this will benefit Russian propaganda? Sorry but those arguments don’t hold water. If anything would have helped their propaganda narrative it would have been if they’d murdered yet another dissident abroad, then flooded the information space with more conspiracy theories, all accompanied by “a knowing smirk and wink,” as Mark Galeotti put it.

Knowing what I know about Kremlin propaganda, I’ll ask you to forgive me for being skeptical about any upcoming paradigm shift in Russian propaganda thanks to this stunt. Yeah, I’ve already seen one of these pro-Kremlin dipshits try to claim that this “proves” the White Helmets staged chemical attacks, for example. So what? Claims like this are easily debunked and dismissed by pointing out that the reason we know this particular murder was deliberately staged is because less than 24 hours later all those involved called a press conference where they openly admitted the whole thing and explained how and why they did it. If the White Helmets ever do that in regards to any past or future chemical attacks in Syria, I’ll definitely start taking those conspiracy claims seriously. Only when that happens, and not a second sooner.

I’m very sorry to shatter some people’s hopes, but I don’t believe the Kremlin was about to come clean on the Skripal case, Nemtsov’s murder, or MH17 until the SBU dicked everything up and handed the Kremlin media machine a new argument. I am quite confident you will only get an admission on all that when the Putin regime is finally overthrown and the archives are once again opened much like they were after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So yeah, I’m sure you’ll hear Putin’s peanut gallery bring up Babchenko from time to time, but they’ll sound just as idiotic as they always do. And as past research has shown, most Kremlin propaganda does not convert people. It tends to appeal only to those already inclined toward it. If it does influence anyone not already on board, I suspect it just makes them apathetic and ambivalent to “both sides.”

I’d say the worst take on the whole credibility issue comes from Reporters Without Borders, who condemned the operation saying that “Nothing” could justify such deception. Yes, nothing. Not even saving a life, or several lives. I suppose if a journalist in German-occupied Poland had the opportunity to avoid identifying a source as Jewish they should have told the truth because nothing could ever justify breaking the rules of journalistic ethics. Goddammit these people betrayed the news! The neeeeews! 

Seriously though, they seem to forget that Babchenko wasn’t participating in this as a journalist, but as someone whose life had been threatened. Babchenko had received death threats for years until a particularly vitriolic wave of threats initiated by a state-sponsored hate campaign against him in late 2016 finally drove him from his home country. There are ethical concerns and then there are priorities.

Lastly, the reader might wonder if this new development changes anything I wrote yesterday, when I justifiably lashed out at fake, self-proclaimed “infowarriors” and “patriots” who act like tweeting rambling nonsense punctuated by words like “dezinformatsiya” and “kompromat” puts you on the front line of the New Cold War. Nope. Not a chance. Non, je ne regrette rien! Okay maybe I regret that I discarded nearly all the jokes I wanted to put in the post before hearing about Babchenko’s then apparent murder, but apart from that, why change a thing? This episode just drives home the point I was trying to make even further.

Yesterday I used Babchenko’s apparent murder as an example of the most extreme consequence for truly opposing the Kremlin regime, not on Twitter or a blog, but in real life. By the same token, finding out someone you and many of your friends personally knew got murdered for their real world dissent is par for the course for those who live this life in Russia or Ukraine. Obviously finding out he wasn’t dead is ultimately a huge relief, but the trauma, depression, and rage many of us experienced for a barely a day was totally real. Worse still is that after the initial shock, my first thoughts turned to who among my friends would be next- several immediately come to mind as prime targets. I’m absolutely certain I wasn’t the only one thinking that either. And those rapidly evolving positions I alluded to earlier? That’s people who have been on an emotional roller coaster reeling from the shock and struggling to adjust to the new reality. In a way it’s like mock execution by proxy- indisputably better than actual mock execution but still a shock to the system nonetheless.

Everything that has happened in the past 24 hours reaffirms what I wrote yesterday about what this part of the world does to people who’ve lived it. There’s the darkness, the pain, the fear, the hopelessness, the paranoia, the depression, the fury, and then…there’s the sheer thrill of it. You hate it with every fiber of your being until you’re out of it and you’d do anything just to get back over there like a moth drawn to the flame.

As for the past 48 hours, it was messy, it may raise ethical questions, and the SBU’s still got a lot to answer for, but for now Arkady Babchenko’s alive, and the man who tried to arrange his murder (and possibly many others) is behind bars. The good guys won today.

Catch your breath and get ready. The week’s not over yet.

Keyboard Commandos vs. Real Life

 

I have to warn you ahead of time that this is going to be a very serious post. I initially planned it to be somewhat serious with some jokes thrown in to lighten the mood a bit. That was all before this afternoon, when I first saw the news that Russian dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered outside his apartment in Kyiv. So the jokes are out, but because this tragic event only reinforces the original point I wanted to make, I have to write this piece.

Just for full disclosure, Babchenko and I were never close friends; we were acquaintances at most. I met him once in Moscow, possibly twice but I don’t remember as it was always with a group of people. I do have a number of friends who were closer, however. I’m just getting this all out of the way because the significance of this will be made clear a bit later. Thus let’s move on to what would have been the beginning of this post.

As some of my Twitter followers already know that last night I came under attack by the Dipshit Duo of Eric Garland (or someone reasonably claiming to be him) and Louise Mensch, as well as a number of their moronic wine mom fans. Because these people possess the communication skills of a third-grader drunk on Robitussin, it took me a while to figure out what had suddenly drawn their attention to me. After all, both Garland and Mensch have blocked me almost from the very get-go back in 2017.

From what I was able to piece together using Google Translate for Dumbass-to-English, it seems they were upset by this tweet.

Apparently one of the cretins took this as a personal threat or challenge, because these are essentially delusional people who think they’re the protagonist in their own blockbuster spy thriller, so of course it had to be about them. In reality, while this tweet was indeed inspired by some of these people, it is simply a prediction about something that will inevitably happen if this kind of behavior continues to spread. In fact it really doesn’t apply so much to people like Garland or Mensch because neither seem to exist outside of Twitter. They have largely been shut out of the natsec and Russia/Eurasia sphere because nobody takes them seriously. Even the major media networks figured out their grift fairly quickly, which is why you no longer hear them mentioned despite all this 24/7 Russiagate coverage.

No, those two simply aren’t in the tier of jackasses who are most likely to get popped in the face at a networking event because they called the wrong person a Russian agent. If someone like Garland even managed to find and get to such an event, he’d probably be rapidly escorted out by security when they notice him nervously stuffing his pockets with sugar packets.

But there are people who both engage in this behavior and do actually leave their house and mingle in the same circles, and I was merely predicting that some of these people may one day face a real life backlash for their online attacks. It’s not a threat, it’s not posturing, it’s a statement of fact that is often forgotten these days, when so much of life is lived online and not in reality.

Now having said all that, I do have a burning-hot hatred for all of these people, including Garland, Mensch, and their fan club, and there is very good reason for this. Whether it’s someone with at least some credentials like John Schindler or someone who has no idea what they’re talking about like the aforementioned Twitter stars, all of these people routinely give an air of immeasurable unwarranted self-importance. They style themselves “patriots” and defenders of the republic, and their fans go even further. The way their fans tweet, you’d think that they’re sitting in a foxhole manning the last line of defense between American liberal democracy and Putinist tyranny. If they’re not labeling other people as Russian trolls, bots, and agents, they’re calling them “keyboard commandos,” which is rich because that’s precisely what these people are.

I think few Westerners, in particular Americans, have any idea of what it’s like living under Putin’s regime or having to cover it as a journalist. It’s hard to describe, but there’s a very noticeable difference between when I talk to someone who’s “been there” and someone who hasn’t. With the former we have a shared language, with the latter there is a clear disconnect, sometimes so much so that I might as well be explaining Russia in Japanese.

Sure, it’s never all bad. I can talk about good times- the discoveries, the parties, the friendships. But I’ve noticed even as far back as 2008 that every conversation inevitably turns dark. The topic of corruption is brought up. Then there’s the stories of journalists murdered with impunity. Rigged elections. Veterans of the Second World War freezing to death in their flats. Side-stepping a corpse on a metro platform. You don’t consciously want to talk about these things; they just come up.

Then you add more years. You get into journalism and suddenly it is now your job to know about all those horrible things. The worse it is, the more important it is for you to find it. And you’ll have no trouble finding it because it turns out the same year you get into the business is the same year the regime loses its mind and starts the largest war in Europe since Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. I remember well how many of my first stories all included body counts. I remember having to slowly and diplomatically explain to an editor how the reason why the body count in a mortar attack in Donetsk had to be updated with one more killed is because wounded people sometimes succumb to their wounds, thus moving them into the killed category.

Seeing the war in the Donbas up close was just like pouring gasoline on a fire. It begins simple enough- you see towns in formerly Russian-controlled territory like Kostantynivka or Slovyansk, you see how dilapidated and impoverished they are, and you understand that this is very much the fault of all previous governments of Ukraine going back to 1991. You very quickly learn to distinguish battle damage from decay that took decades, and your thoughts turn to how the Kremlin saw these people as a prop to justify a war of naked aggression for the sake of imperialism and neocolonialism.

In order to “save Russian speakers” who were never under threat from anything but rampant corruption and organized crime, the paranoid delusional regime forced those same “Russian speakers” to shelter all night in basements in cities like Avdiivka. You walk through residential areas of the city and see sagging stairwells and a steel door bowed outward from a shell that exploded inside the flat. You eat dinner at a restaurant that lost three of its staff when a Russian shell hit its outdoor grill. You meet a woman who now lives in the hospital she works at because her flat was destroyed in the shelling. Putin saved that Russian-speaker from home ownership, apparently. In the morning you see the people coming into the city hall to get free plastic sheeting to seal up the windows that got blown out in the night. They’re almost all elderly. One old man stares, mouth agape. He looks like he could have survived the Second World War, and if so he almost certainly would have felt self-assured that in spite of the harrowing sacrifices that victory in that conflict demanded, his generation secured lasting peace, if not prosperity. Putin’s artillery ended that peace.

I could go on, but some readers might have already noted I’m mostly recalling things I personally witnessed back in 2015. My experiences are in many ways just the tip of the iceberg. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have spent far more time at the front, both as journalists and veterans. Some of them risked their freedom or even their lives investigating events in Russia. Among the former are many who have spent more time with internally displaced people and refugees. Just as my job was once to monitor the worst of Russia, theirs was to do the same in Ukraine, and they can easily match any story about injustice in Russia with one in Ukraine. Pre- or post-Maidan, your choice.

Of course I know plenty of people who aren’t soldiers or journalists, but ordinary people living in Russia or Ukraine. Apart from one unpleasant encounter I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the wrath of the FSB. A friend of mine who had nothing to do with journalism or activism of any kind was far less fortunate, and ended up getting threatened and tortured for nearly 12 hours by FSB who he believes were involved in some kind of criminal activity. I have other friends who were forced out of Russia because they fell afoul of the regime which robs and persecutes its own people so that a tiny minority can enjoy the most lavish luxury the West has to offer.  Collectively we have all witnessed the humiliation and brutalization of both the peoples of Russia and Ukraine by this sociopathic, kleptocratic regime.

And this one guy I knew…he just got shot today.

So that’s how we come back to Babchenko in all of this. Arkady Babchenko was, by any definition, the real deal. One friend of mine who knew him better than I said that Babchenko probably received more death threats than any Russian journalist he knew. Eventually someone made good on their threat, in Kyiv, no less.

By now I hope the reader is beginning to grasp why I have such a white-hot hatred for these self-appointed defenders of the republic. These people sit behind their Twitter accounts and lecture people on Russia issues with zero grounds to do so, and when they get called on their bullshit, their legions of gullible, unhinged morons defend their heroes by labeling the critics as agents of Russia or, most stupidly of all from a technical standpoint, bots. These people are essentially playing an online role-playing game in order to escape the boredom and utter pointlessness of their insignificant lives.

Gaming is the perfect analogy because essentially, what these people are doing is the equivalent of teenage Call of Duty gamers lecturing and ridiculing actual combat veterans. “I’ve got top kills on this map dozens of times, bro. I defend this country! What do you know about war, coward?” That’s basically it right there. Now imagine that gamer kid is 18 or 19, and he mouths off like that to the veteran in a bar. What do you think is going to happen? Who would you blame?

The grifters, both the total failures like Garland and Mensch and those who achieved modest success like Schindler and McKew, are portraying themselves as warriors defending democracy from the machinations of Putin, and yet they have never had to experience what that regime actually has to offer. They live lives of comfort in the West. At most, they’ll get trolled online, maybe by an actual paid employee of the Internet Research Agency if they’re really lucky. They won’t get that knock on the door late at night. They won’t get their heads bashed in by “cossacks” or have chemicals thrown in their face. They won’t be interrogated for hours on end by security services or charged with “extremism” because they liked a social media post or wrote online about finding a Pokemon in a church.

They won’t answer their door one evening and get shot.

 

 

 

 

Guest Op-Ed: Ukraine Should Open a Hell Portal in Russia

By Very Serious Journalism Man 

First I’d like to thank the owner of this blog for allowing me to guest post my thoughts about what Ukraine definitely needs to do before this year’s World Cup Championship in Russia. As some of you might have already read, Russia recently opened up a road bridge to the illegally occupied Crimean peninsula. The gauntlet has been thrown down, and if Ukraine wants to prove that it’s a real country and not a cucktry, it needs to respond in kind.

How should a country respond to a foreign aggressor building an illegal bridge? Simple. You escalate. They build a bridge in your country, so you use advanced wormhole-creating technology to open a literal gate to hell in their country. As Sean Connery said with his horrible impression of an Irish accent in The Untouchables, “That’s the Chicago way!”

I’m pretty sure Ukraine has scientists. They had the Chernobyl disaster and they managed to fix that somehow. You don’t do that without scientists. A lot of them. With US backing, and perhaps the help of genius entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, it’s not at all unrealistic for Ukraine to create some kind of device which will be able to open a portal to the dark underworld somewhere on the other side of the Russian border.

Let’s see Putin smirk about not having any troops in Ukraine when literal demons are slaughtering people in the streets of Moscow! Hybrid warfare? How do you like interdimensional warfare, Ivan?!

Ukraine needs to do this before the opening of the World Cup, otherwise it’s a little chicken country and has no friends. But if it mans up and pulls it off, the US should support Ukraine wholeheartedly in this endeavor. The current US administration is wholly capable of handling any consequences from such an operation, but it won’t have to because there won’t be any.

I am a serious journalism man.

 

 

Schindler Jumps the Shark (Safe for Work Edition)

Christmas came early this year, folks. For quite some time, John Schindler was riding high as the King of the Russia Grifters. This is because unlike McKew, Mensch, Dworkin, or Garland, Schindler actually has a background in intelligence. Sure, someone like Eric Garland can tweet about “This is America” being a Russian propaganda video with subliminal coded messages in the background and there will be no consequences because everyone outside his personal audience of #Resistance wine moms knows that he’s always been a batshit buffoon with zero background knowledge. But a guy like Schindler, who’s taken seriously by other ex-spooks and mainstream media outlets? He’s got a reputation to maintain, right?

observer

Wrong.

Let me tell you, dear readers. When it rains, it pours, and today was a goddamned Biblical flood.

Of course griftshark Molly McKew smelled the blood in the water and had to chime in.

mckew2

Yes, the idea of a plane crashing at a poorly-equipped airfield in bad weather that had already diverted one plane that day in Russia, a country with a notoriously bad air safety record at the time, seemed “impossible.” This woman has testified to Congress.

So what actual evidence does veteran intelligence operative Schindler come up with? Well not much, as it would turn out. I’m not going to go through this line-by-line but I’ll provide the highlights.

“From the outset, right-wing allies of the fallen president smelled a rat—a Russian rat, that is. Poles know their neighbor well, and Kaczyński had no illusions about Vladimir Putin’s thuggish regime. It seemed beyond suspicious that Poland’s government died in a disaster on Russian soil—particularly when the Kremlin is led by a man who came of age in the KGB, the very same people who executed and covered up the Katyń massacre.”

In case you’re not familiar with Schindler, he’s very much inclined to the right. In fact a lot of the stuff he writes sounds like the kind of stuff you hear from American paleoconservatives who tend to love Putin. I get the feeling that Schindler’s only beef with Trump is the Russia ties. But as for the people he’s talking about in Poland, keep in mind these are the same people who claim that Lech Walesa worked with the secret police.

Also, like any good conspiracy theorist, Schindler misrepresents the “official story.”

“However, investigators determined that the crash occurred due to a chain of human errors and could be explained without nefarious mystery. Russian and Polish official inquiries into the disaster, both published in 2011, were not in complete agreement, yet they broadly concurred that pilot error was to blame. Both reports asserted that Smolensk, a military airfield lacking modern civil navigation aids, was shrouded in dense fog that fateful morning and, on the approach, the pilot (who was overtaxed by managing the landing and radio contact with the Smolensk tower simultaneously) misjudged the glide slope and flew the Tu-154 into a forest a half-mile short of the runway. After hitting a birch tree with its left wing, the aircraft spun and flipped on its back, hitting the ground with sufficient force to kill all passengers on impact.”

Here there is an important detail Schindler is leaving out, one which is substantiated by audio longs from the cockpit recorder. It seems that the possibility of diverting to another airport due to the low visibility may have been discussed in the cockpit. The crew decided not to, presumably out of fear of angering the president after a similar incident in 2008. Now I suppose you can doubt that was a factor, but you shouldn’t leave it out because it is significant.

Next Schindler talks about the handling of the investigation on the Russian side:

“Even more embarrassingly, the Kremlin was remarkably slipshod in its handling of the dead. Sent home in sealed coffins, many of the bodies had been swapped or misidentified. In 24 cases of reexamination in 2016, half of the coffins opened contained the wrong remains. Even the coffin of President Kaczyński included the remains of two other victims. Such carelessness inevitably led to questions about what else the Russians had mishandled—or worse.”

First of all, a lot of this can be explained in two words- It’s Russia. They don’t have a great record on handling accidents and disasters like this. It’s amazing Schindler doesn’t take this into account. I mean he seems to realize that Putin is a dictator presiding over an extremely corrupt authoritarian society, right? That kind of society naturally leads to things like bodies being mishandled and investigations getting botched.

Do I think Russian authorities may have deliberately held back some things? Of course. Even though relations were better back then, Putin, his inner circle, and his security agencies still had a paranoid mindset. No doubt they saw this as a source of potential embarrassment and probably suspected that if they turned over certain evidence the evil Americans would use it to concoct some kind of “provokatsiya,” as they like to call everything. So by holding things back they may have risked looking guilty of hiding something, but in their minds they denied their enemies some major propaganda material.

Also, it’s very important to note that when the Russians are behind something, their standard tactic is to start putting out dozens of alternative explanations in order to muddy the waters. We saw it with MH17, with the Salisbury poisoning, and now with the Douma chemical attack. The fact that Russia’s actually stuck to the same story in this case suggests they might actually be innocent in this case (apart from having a dismal air safety record).

And speaking of stories, Schindler only tells us one version of Law and Justice’s assassination story, the one that involves bombs being on the plane. Now to be fair, his reasoning is that a veteran air crash investigator claims to have found evidence of an explosion inside the plane prior to the crash. However, that’s not the only theory that’s been floated. For example, one version seriously alleges that the Russians may have used “artificial fog” near the airport.

Throughout the article Schindler puts the term conspiracy theory in quotes. For you newbies out there, if someone is continually complaining about the hypothesis they advance being dismissed as a conspiracy theory, it’s quite possibly a conspiracy theory. And before we take this conspiracy theory apart, let me remind you that this particular theory alleges not only a conspiracy involving Russia, but also with the Polish government at the time. So yeah, it’s a conspiracy theory.

First let’s start with the problem of motive. I typically hate these qui bono arguments because they are as weak as they are incredibly easy to twist and manipulate. That being said, Russia had absolutely no reason to assassinate the president of a NATO country in 2010. Sure there was the Georgian War in 2008, but 2010 was well within Obama’s “reset,” rising American investment in Russia, and pre-Magnitsky Act. Putin had officially stepped down to become prime minister, making him look far less dictator-y than he would in 2011 when he announced his plan to return to the presidency after changing the constitution. This is also the era when visa-free travel to the EU for Russian citizens was being seriously discussed. The South Stream pipeline as in the works, Viktor Yanukovych was in power in Ukraine. The West was still happily accepting boatloads of dirty money from Putin’s cronies. Why screw all that up?

As I already pointed out, however, motive arguments are often weak, either way, so let’s look at the concrete facts. Dismissing the idiotic artificial fog machine claims let’s look directly at the bomb-on-plane version Schindler goes with. Schindler’s best evidence is that the guy saying he found evidence of an explosion prior to the crash is a well-known air crash investigator. That’s great but people with credentials get things wrong all the time. One of my personal role models, James Randi, has spent the better part of his life duping scientists or watching scientists get duped. According to Randi, there are several reasons why this happens, one of which is that people with expertise and a lot of experience often have trouble admitting when they made a mistake. For example, you could be a veteran member of some US intelligence agency, and then, possibly because it helps your career, start endorsing the idiotic conspiracy theory of an authoritarian, far right party led and supported by delusional idiots. It could happen.

Here’s a video of Schindler’s expert telling Polish authorities his opinion. It appears he’s giving his opinion based on what he was shown by them, and it’s not clear what exactly he was shown or how it was presented to him:

 

Whatever he saw, there are huge problems with the bomb theory. First of all, I’d imagine security for the Polish president is more or less as tight as it would be for any number of world leaders. Would the Russians seriously think they could get a bomb on the plane, undetected, in Warsaw?

More importantly, the weather around Smolensk was very crucial- you can’t have the president’s plane just exploding in mid-air on approach. Someone could catch that on a phone camera. Some eyewitness would talk. So how could the Russians be sure the visibility would be so poor at that airport at that time? Russia is known for having very unpredictable weather. Also, how did they know the pilot would not divert? How would they have activated the bomb then? If you claim it was on a special timer, how could they be sure the plane wouldn’t be delayed in Warsaw? Or that it wouldn’t divert to Moscow, or that it wouldn’t land quickly on its first attempt in Smolensk and then blow up on the ground in front of media cameras? The plane exploding in air, on the ground, or pretty much anywhere else except where it actually crashed would blow the whole thing wide open.

Also, we know very well that Russia has a much subtler way of eliminating opponents- poison. Wouldn’t President Kaczynski probably eat at some point in Smolensk? Poisoning would be a far safer bet. Oh what’s that you say? Poisoning would have led to suspicion? Well his fucking plane crashing in the fog led to a bunch of conspiracy theories so what’s the difference in that case?

A lot of Poles joined in that Twitter thread to drag Schindler for his antics, but being a veteran intelligence operative, he was able to fend them off using the finest tradecraft:

And of course there’s the time-honored rhetorical tactic that is definitely not used by conspiracy theorists:

Kremlin POV, “just asking questions.” Classic.

If I seem harsh on these people you need only to look at these two responses. See I spent some time living in a dictatorship where people who question the authorities are often accused of working for foreign intelligence agencies, where everything that goes wrong is a vast Western conspiracy, and where you’re told you can never really know what happened. In other words, I lived in a place run by John Schindlers, and it kind of sucks. It’s literally destroying that country and to be honest I don’t see too much hope for it.

Schindler, McKew, and all these other authoritarian grifters are basically building an American version of the paranoid Putinist mentality. And what’s worse is that decision makers just eat all this up because it’s exactly what they want to hear. Democrats losing all over the country? It’s the Russians! No need to change your weak-ass platform or campaign strategy! People upset about a pipeline or police brutality against black Americans? It’s just the Russians getting them riled up through Facebook! No need to actually engage with the American people and actually solve anything.

I cannot overestimate the danger of allowing this kind of paranoid, conspiratorial attitude to spread further than it already has in this country. Once you’ve lowered yourself to the Kremlin’s level, they’ve got you. That’s when they can tell everyone: “You see? They’re no better than us.”

That’s how they win.

Jacobin Strikes Out Again

I’ve written at length in the past about how Jacobin, like much of its Western leftist audience, just can’t get Ukraine. It seems the only time they get a voice that has actually been in the country, they choose one that tells them a story which confirms their personal prejudices- that Ukraine is overrun by right-wing fascists. It’s tempting to attribute all this to Russian propaganda, and it certainly played a large role, but the Russian propaganda machine didn’t need to expend much effort to cement their talking points into a large swathe of the Western left. All you need to do is show McCain on Maidan, talk about how the US is overthrowing a government to expand NATO, and many leftists’ brains turn to putty in your hands.

The over all thrust of today’s offending piece isn’t necessarily a bad one. It talks about how so-called decommunization in Eastern Europe has been used to justify authoritarian regimes both past and present. It also correctly points out how these laws are often hypocritical- claiming on one hand to criminalize both Communist and fascist symbols but with the ban on the later often poorly enforced. More on that later.

The piece starts off by describing the situation in Poland and Hungary. This is quite appropriate because Poland is currently ruled by an extremely nationalist, right-wing government that is so batshit insane they exhumed the body of their former president to “prove” Russia somehow engineered the plane crash that killed him. With its tireless vigilance against Muslim refugees who aren’t coming to Poland anyway, the country has in recent years become so associated with racist nationalism that it now rivals Russia as a…pole…if you will…for far right adherents worldwide.

Hungary just recently concluded an election in which the far-right Fidesz party and Viktor Orban won in a massive landslide. The past few years of his rule has been associated with a Putin-like crackdown on the free press and its conversion into a propaganda machine pumping out Islamophobic hysteria and conspiracy theories about George Soros.

And yet while those countries’ governments are currently in the solid grasp of their respective far right factions, guess which country Jacobin’s going to wail on in this piece?

Yep. Ukraine. The country where the far right does laughably poor in every election since Maidan. As soon as the writer starts in things go awry.

“In 2015, riding a wave of nationalist sentiment in the wake of conflict in the country’s east, Ukraine began an intensive process of decommunization.”

Oh what’s this? There’s a “conflict” in Ukraine’s east? Well where did that come from? Here we see one of the most infuriating sins of the Western left, the inability to acknowledge when a country that is not the United States or one of its allies or clients engages in an act of imperialist aggression. These are often the same types who are totally on the ball when the New York Times tweets something like: “Dozens of Palestinians have died in protests as the U.S. prepares to open its Jerusalem Embassy.” (To their credit they did change the headline of the actual story.)

But if it’s Russia engaging in aggression, well, a “conflict” just erupts somewhere. One in which an unusually large quantity of Russian citizens fight on one side, serve as military commanders, receive all manner of logistical support from Russia, and so forth.

The funny thing about that sentence is that it almost answers the readers’ own question about how this nationalism, specifically some of the more extreme forms they discuss further down, became so influential in Ukrainian civil societies if not in the upper echelons of state power. Put simply, they capitalized on the war that the Russians started.

But before moving past this point I need to point out that while some forms of nationalism have increased their visibility and influence thanks to the war, it is inaccurate to speak about a rise of nationalism in Ukraine as though it is inherently right wing. Since Maidan Ukraine has seen a kind of cultural revolution where its national identity is beginning to develop more freely. This is not in any way limited to ethnic Ukrainians either. The Crimean Tatars have been experiencing a cultural revival, and due to the annexation of Crimea Ukrainian society has been forced to confront the fact that in the past it failed to fully appreciate the Crimean Tatar plight, something it is now rectifying. Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Jews, and even nationalities not native to Ukraine or even the former Soviet Union are embracing what some people call a civic national identity (based on citizenship rather than ethnicity). The government, in its ever ham-fisted and inefficient way, has also been promoting this trend.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is because if you are a person who’s actually familiar with Ukrainian politics and Russian propaganda, you will understand that Ukrainian “nationalism,” in this vernacular, often has nothing to do with actual nationalism and certainly not right-wing beliefs, but rather everything to do with acknowledging Ukrainian culture as distinct and supporting Ukraine’s right to self-determination against Russian imperialism. I’ve often had pro-Russian commentators label me a Ukrainian nationalist and fascist despite the fact that this is an obviously radical leftist blog where I have routinely criticized right-wing Ukrainian nationalism, Ukraine’s memory politics, aspects of decommunization, and so forth. The point is that words don’t mean anything to these people. If you oppose their designs in Ukraine you are a Banderite and a neo-Nazi. If you oppose them in Syria, you’re a Wahhabist terrorist or at least a sympathizer. The point is, the Kremlin would very much like people to see that people wearing vyshivankas and speaking Ukrainian are “nationalists,” as though Ukraine has no legitimate culture save for what Moscow deems acceptable. For some reason I get the feeling that Western leftists ought to recognize this concept, and not indulge in it.

Moving on:

“Since then thousands of streets and hundreds of towns have been renamed, statues of Lenin have been torn down in every corner of the country, and political parties which are deemed too sympathetic to the Communist past have been banned — including the Communist Party of Ukraine, which regularly received millions of votes.”

The street renaming has at times been kind of ridiculous, not just because of poor choices but the fact that there are streets that have been renamed for years now and yet you wouldn’t know by looking at the signs. I spent half of 2017 in Kyiv living on Kikvidze street, even though it was officially renamed after Mikhailo Boichuk at the time (on Google maps this has since been rectified).  As for Lenin statues, can someone give a legitimate reason for having hundreds of statues of a guy who has nothing to do with modern Ukraine  in prominent places throughout the country? Sure, he had a big influence on the country’s political development, and not all entirely positive as well, but as we rightly argued against defenders of Confederate monuments- just because someone played a major role in a region’s history doesn’t mean they should have statues everywhere. In 1917 Ukraine had its own nascent socialist government, and could have developed in an entirely different trajectory were it not for Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ imperialist and colonialist prejudices toward Ukraine and other non-Russian parts of the empire.

Lastly I find the comments about the Communist Party of Ukraine rather funny because they mention how it regularly received millions of votes. Totally ignoring the the party’s actual legacy of rampant corruption and far right politics for a second, what amusing here is that one reason for the CPU’s failure and banning was the Russian annexation of Crimea and occupation of part of the Donbas. In fact, had Russia not initiated either, decommunization probably never would have passed and the Western nationalists would have been even more marginalized. But of course Putin doesn’t care- a big part of his strategy is trying to force people to choose between him and some unsavory alternative. So from the Kremlin POV, the more actual “Banderites,” the better.

Even Volodymyr Ishchenko, a leftist with whom I have many core disagreements, saw the end of the Communist Party of Ukraine as an opportunity.** One thing I can agree with is the fact that the elimination of this party definitely opens the field for a real left to form- but that left will go nowhere with the capitulationist “both sides” rhetoric of people like Ishchenko. Furthermore, Eastern Europe is often plagued by parties that use Soviet or Communist symbols as a brand. Make your logo a red star or hammer and sickle, and you’re a Communist or socialist party. By banning many such symbols, A real left movement can attract people based on ideology and dedication rather than nostalgia or fetishism.

Naturally we’re talking about Ukraine (and not the countries literally run by strong far right governments), so we must bring up the Azov battalion!

“The legislation that Ukraine’s Parliament voted on wasn’t exclusive to Communism. Its text promised to combat celebration of both “Communist and National-Socialist totalitarian regimes.” But in 2015, as these measures passed, Ukraine’s government was in fact institutionalizing fascist militias into its armed forces. That summer the Azov Battalion, founded by members of the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly, was officially upgraded to a Special Operations Regiment of the Ukrainian Army. Its members celebrated with photos showing their SS tattoos, symbols which the government was supposed to have banned.”

It is correct to point out the fact that the law’s enforcement against symbols is very lopsided. For example, far more symbols are associated with socialism and banned (though plenty of exceptions exist), whereas when it comes to Nazism you practically have to name your party “The National Socialist German Workers Party” and fly the Nazi German swastika flag to get prosecuted under the law (apparently this has happened a couple times recently). The law has been roundly criticized by people both inside and outside of Ukraine, as you can read here, and here.

Again, while Poroshenko bears responsibility for approving the law and appointing Volodymyr Viatrovych to his post, this is just another example of someone taking advantage of Russia’s imperialist war and occupation to further their own ends. The reason this kind of thing goes over well in Ukrainian society regardless of people’s actual political views is because historically, and indeed to this day, Soviet nostalgia and symbolism is routinely used by Russian propaganda aimed at Ukraine, as well as by pro-Russian parties and organizations. And for many Ukrainians, this connection is also rightly associated with corruption and backwardness that has plagued the country since independence and the beginning of a neo-colonial relationship with Russia in 1991. It’s kind of dickish for millennial Western leftists who have never been to Ukraine to demand that people keep all these statues of a Russian guy around because this is somehow “progressive” or “leftist.”

But you came here for Azov, so let’s do Azov. Again. First of all there’s the claim of “institutionalizing fascist militias” into the armed forces. This betrays a woeful lack of understanding about what national guard/Ministry of Defense integration actually meant, and this is another one of those topics that I too misunderstood for a long time. The way a lot of people see it, there were these “fascist militias” and then the government said “Okay you’re official now! Here’s a shit ton of weaponry!” In reality the government was basically saying: “Great job, but we’re taking over now.” Commanders were replaced, what passed for military discipline imposed. The Azov Regiment is now firmly under control of the government, not Andrii Beletsky or neo-Nazi football hooligans. And one thing about integration that nobody seems to point out is that the offensive original logo was also changed after integration. Even a recent unusually sub-par StopFake article on this subject missed this point. Compare:

Azov_Batallion_logo

Original, very fashy logo.

Azov_symbol

Post-integration logo. Now 60% LESS Fashy!*                                           *Results may vary

 

This may seem like a minor issue and the regiment’s press service has a typical bullshit-explanation as to why they changed the logo, but I think the real reason is pretty obvious- It was fashy. If the regiment’s explanation that a less cluttered design was needed, why not keep the wolf’s h- Oh I’m sorry…I mean the “Idea of the nation“* symbol…upright as before? Nah. My money’s on the national guard or Ministry of Internal Affairs deciding that the unit needed some image polishing. Now it looks like a weird little Z.

None of this is to say that the regiment doesn’t certainly attract a fair number of far-right recruits based on reputation alone, but since integration it has become basically another ordinary national guard unit, albeit with a logo that’s still fashy. More importantly, this unit has been more or less confined to its barracks for years now. So if you want to talk about the threat of the far right, it makes much more sense to talk about organizations like C14 and various political offshoots associated with Azov such as the National Corps party; the regiment itself poses no threat to society, whereas those other organizations arguably do. In the past the state has often turned a blind eye to the street activity of these groups, but there is evidence that the Ukrainian government is starting to appreciate the threat these groups pose and is slowly starting to address these issues in their usual, ham-fisted, incompetent way.  This situation is by no means ideal, but it’s also not a fascist junta using heavily armed death squads to commit pogroms. It’s safe to say these groups are either criminal gangs or political projects designed to enrich their founders, and Ukrainian voters know this and steer clear.

Naturally the author goes into a lengthy rant about Bandera and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army which would be  perfect low-hanging fruit for a cultist like Viatrovych. I won’t get into details here because this piece has gone on long enough, but if you too want to fight OUN-cultists in Ukraine (forget the Canadian and American ones, they’re beyond all hope), you have to possess a deep knowledge of this not-too-accessible topic of Ukrainian nationalism. The cult has always benefited from their heroes’ obscurity. Most Ukrainians know almost nothing about Bandera or the UPA, so advocates fill their head with isolated factoids and canned arguments that become so laughably predictable I sometimes feel like I can actually control what an OUN-apologist is going to say next. If you demonstrate a much deeper knowledge on the topic than they have, it’s a lot easier to establish dominance. The truth is the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians don’t give a fuck about Stepan Bandera and a good portion, perhaps a majority, still see him as a negative figure. And that, mind you, is without several million people who now live under Russian occupation. Imagine how things would have been without the war.

Bandera in Ukraine is a talisman, a litmus test to see what side someone might be on, and to more sophisticated people, a meme, a joke.

Had the author been more focused and not got sidetracked telling horror stories about Ukraine, they might have come up with a better point. For example, it is certainly true that Ukraine’s current memory policies and the government’s poor record of reining in far-right activity ensures that said activity will persist so long as the war with Russia goes on. The Russia factor is also important because only a naive fool would think Russia’s intelligence services don’t have their tendrils in some of these groups, many of which share the same core values as their Russian “opponents” on the other side of the contact line. I’d also say that in Ukraine at least, decommunization is in many ways an thinly-veiled attempt to suppress leftist movements in service to Ukraine’s ruling class- the oligarchs and other business people. But on the other hand, it is a knee-jerk reaction to Russia’s typical propaganda tactic in the region of using Soviet symbols and history to promote its interests.

But there is one thing that the author does not ask at all, and it’s a question I had to struggle with a lot since 2014. One cannot ignore the very obvious fact that things such as anti-Semitism, xenophobia, clericalism, and radical nationalism have historically been much more prominent in the Former Soviet Union and former East Bloc than in Western Europe. There is a tempting delusion on the left, one which I was under for quite some time, that says this explosion of reactionary politics in the former “socialist” bloc was due to some kind of massive ideological upheaval where everything associated with socialism, even the good things, was demonized as evil and anything that opposed socialism, however bad, was suddenly rehabilitated and glorified. There is a kernel of truth to this formulation, but it is a fantasy.

Human beings are not robots that can be switched from one mode to another so easily. If socialist regimes really imparted to their populations progressive, universal values, it’s hard to believe we’d see things like the rise of neo-Nazism in countries like Russia, Ukraine or Bulgaria after the fall of the regimes. The fact is, however, that so-called socialist regimes were in fact quite conservative, and because they did not typically allow dissent, certain conversations and struggles didn’t take place. Since everyone was so happy in the Soviet peoples’ friendship, there was no need to address discrimination between nationalities, and when things go bad enough the only possible solution anyone could come up with was separation and often reactionary nationalism. The LGBT struggle never took place, so that today in Russia gay men are typically just referred to as “pedophiles.” In other issues, such as the history of Nazism and fascism, the state eventually portrayed them as evil simply because they were invaders and occupiers. State policy said not to identify Jews as a specific group targeted by the Nazis. In some cases, Soviet propaganda leaned on anti-Semitic tropes and images to support its domestic and foreign policy goals.

As for Ukraine the situation looks dim but if we’re talking about dealing with the far right I’d choose Ukraine any day over Hungary or Poland…or the United States for that matter.  In Ukraine the real problem isn’t so much an all-powerful right but rather an extremely weak left, and that is largely the left’s own fault for not preparing  or following false paths, and then not rectifying the situation when it was caught napping in 2014.

It’s also worth remembering that we’re all in the midst of a global rise in reactionary and far-right activity, and when you take that into consideration, along with the fact that Ukraine is emerging from a far-right neocolonial regime (Yanukovych) and fighting a defensive war against a colonial master that is also arguably outright fascist, there is little reason to single out Ukraine at all. The Western left will certainly not reach people there by regurgitating Russian propaganda while sounding completely ignorant of the situation on the ground, either in Ukraine or anywhere else for that matter.

So in conclusion:

YES- There is a far right problem in Ukraine.

NO- The main problem isn’t the Azov Regiment of the National Guard, but rather spinoff organizations and other far-right groups.

YES- Ukrainian memory politics under Volodymyr Viatrovych’s control is a problem. It is no better or worse than the situation in Poland or Russia in this regards. 

YES- Anti-Communist hysteria is often instrumentalized by regimes in Eastern Europe for self-serving purposes (duh!). That doesn’t mean there aren’t logical historical reasons why these policies succeeded or at least weren’t vigorously opposed. Much of that blame lies with the Soviet government and self-proclaimed socialist regimes. 

Everyone happy? No? Good- I did my job.

As for Jacobin- they really need to just get someone who has actually spent significant amount of time in Ukraine and who studies and investigates these issues with far more rigor than what I’ve seen so far.

Comrades, I’m available.

 

*The standard Azov boilerplate explanation of the logo is that similar designs were used on the standards of some Ukrainian cossacks and that the modern logo is formed of the letters I and N and stands for “Idea of the Nation” (Iдея Нації). The reason for the N being like our Latin N and not the Cyrillic Н is because supposedly this was the way it would have been written prior to reforms of Peter the Great. I’ve seen no convincing evidence of any of this. Azov’s founders claim their logo has no intended connection with the German wolf’s hook, but if that’s the case why didn’t they just go with something that is unmistakably Ukrainian. Like…I don’t know…Maybe the fucking national trident that you actually put on the first patch? Don’t expect logic from the far right though. 

**UPDATE: Apparently Volodymyr Ishchenko takes issue with my portrayal of his position in The Guardian article. I think his characterization of the party was more or less accurate but in the end he did say people should condemn the banning of the party.