Monthly Archives: July 2014

Off topic, sort of…

Recently I was reading this article on Gin & Tacos which brought up an issue I’ve often thought about in the past few years. In reality I’ve been thinking about it for at least a decade if not longer. Basically the author asks the rhetorical question as to what it will take before Americans stand up for radical change in their country. What will it take for them to turn off the propaganda coming from well-financed think tanks and the media outlets which broadcast their neo-liberal, uncompromisingly pro-business message, get out into the streets, and demand actual changes?

I had a feeling I would find a familiar answer in the comments and I was not disappointed.  The “answer,” and it is pretty much the same whether it’s coming from the far right or left of the political spectrum, is the following- Americans won’t stand up for radical change because they are too fat and happy and have too much to lose. They will only rise up when they don’t have any of that. They’ll fight when they’re starving. Based on this argument, the “revolution,” whatever that revolution is supposed to do, will happen only after that coming apocalypse. Yes, we’re talking about the Collapse of the American Empire(tm), after which organizations whose most visible activity consists of street theater at various demonstrations will suddenly transform into underground guerrilla organizations creating liberated zones and printing their own money.

America 20XX?

America 20XX?

I actually bought into the “No TV and beer make America go crazy and have a revolution” bullshit for many years, but as popular as the idea is I started questioning it in the past few years.

First, since we’re talking about America here, let’s consider the original American uprising, the American Revolution.  Economic factors did play a role in the American War of Independence, but it was far from a revolt of impoverished peasants with nothing to lose. On the contrary, the Founding Fathers were nearly all wealthy land owners or otherwise well-to-do citizens, and many of their soldiers were farmers who had their own land. These people weren’t in poverty, but they felt that the Crown was restricting their opportunities to enrich themselves further. It’s also worth noting that only about one third of the colonists actually supported the rebellion. Another substantial part of the population fought as Loyalist on the British side, and then there were those who didn’t give a shit. So despite plenty of apathy and open hostility, the American revolutionary movement succeeded, and those behind it weren’t hopelessly impoverished people driven to extremes.  And before you say “France,” keep in mind that France had to be convinced that supporting the American colonists was a worthy goal. Also France cannot explain how the victors managed to create a successful, expanding nation which has demonstrated remarkable stability over the course of its existence.

George Washington joined the revolution because he had nothing to lose. Except this house, the plantation which went with it, the slaves, all his stuff...But that was ALL he had!

George Washington joined the revolution because he had nothing to lose. Except this house, the plantation which went with it, the slaves, all his stuff…But that was ALL he had!

The next big American uprising was of course the Civil War. Again the ruling class of the South felt economically threatened, but they were by no means poor. Again quite the opposite, turns out using slave labor to harvest crops which are incredibly valuable at the time makes you incredibly rich! The next violent uprisings in America, including the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, were the so-called Coal Wars. Obviously these never really approached the intensity of the Civil War, but the struggle of the rebels was unquestionably superior from a moral standpoint. The uprising of the oppressed instead of oppressors.

The Coal Wars are extremely important in American history and the powers that be would prefer that we forget about them.  Conservatives would prefer that we don’t remember the labor struggle at all. Liberals want us to “remember” that one day really enlightened liberal intellectuals, politicians, and philanthropists took pity on the poor working classes and eventually granted them concessions out of the goodness of their hearts.  In reality the rights workers won in America came from blood spilled in the late 19th century through the 1930’s, plus a helpful little event called the October Revolution.

Obviously a factory worker or minder in the 1920’s had a horrendous life compared to the modern American equivalent today. Workers from that era might look at today’s Chinese factories as a worker’s paradise. As impoverished as those workers were, saying they rose up in militant struggle because they were so poor they had nothing to lose is simply ridiculous. Many of these workers had things far better than those in India, Africa, Eastern Europe, or Latin America. We know, for example, that in those days real wages steadily rose with productivity. Somehow this didn’t affect the willingness of workers to engage in radical, even militant action.

I think arguments such as “that was a long time ago,” and “there was no mass media like today,” don’t fly either. Obviously when we look at violent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, there are many among the rebels who are indeed extremely poor and don’t have access to things like internet, or reality TV. It would be arrogant and patronizing, however, to imagine that these people simply live in mud huts and have nothing more than a couple goats and the clothes on their back. These people do have mobile phones and internet access. Many of them could be sitting at home on Facebook if they wanted to. They’re not exactly wealthy plantation owners growing fat off money derived from slave labor, but many of these people certain have things in life to lose.

Maidan is an even better example, because as bad as things have been in Ukraine you wouldn’t really know it in Kyiv. I’ve been there four times myself and I can honestly say that an unaware person could come to believe that Ukraine is better off than Russia based on a visit to Kyiv.  And yet here there was an uprising where rather than disperse, people were willing to engage in melee combat with police before graduating to Molotov cocktails and finally whatever firearms they could scrounge. These people had iPads, iPhones, PS3’s, fast food, televised sports, internet, clubs, porno, pizza, gluten-free products, Western brands, in short, they had all those things which supposedly make Americans too fat and happy to get out and “do something” or “rise up” despite the fact that the same Americans complain about virtually everything, all the time.  Russia’s opposition rallies could serve as a control subject. Yes the situation in many ways is better in Russia from an economic standpoint, but not so much from a political standpoint. Ukraine actually had contested elections and Yanukovych was democratically elected. Russia’s opposition movement wasn’t just far more mild, it was downright passive. Aside from a few incidents, most protests obtained permits legally and demonstrators mostly observed the rules. Two very similar peoples in very similar situations, obtain very different results.  What explains the difference, and how does this relate to America?

I’m writing this not so much to say I have the definitive answer to the question of why certain populations don’t “rise up,” but rather to debunk the “we’re too fat and happy” argument which is so insanely popular in the developed world.  I think that handful of historical examples I provided should be more than enough to falsify the claim based on a “black swan” standard, but the reader can probably imagine many, many more cases. The claim that people in a modern society will only rise up against the state if they are deprived of all their modern conveniences and entertainment is demonstrably false.

I can, however, hypothesize as to the possible reasons why Occupy while Maidan drove the sitting president out of power. I don’t mean to sound like Tim Kirby here, but ideology plays a big role. Rebels in Syria have the Salafist ideology, Maidan’s ideology is a nationalist narrative which cannot survive without a Muscovite opponent. In the American Coal Wars it was socialism and anarchism.

Obviously the radical left isn’t the only faction which claims it’s pushing for serious change in America, but I’m going to focus on that segment because I believe that it is the only side which could possibly effect it. Groups like the Tea Party and the radical movements they associate with are notorious for sucking down all manner of propaganda from a particular segment of the ruling class and you don’t get radical change by accepting an ideology that is so obviously beneficial to the existing power structure. Also when one looks back at right wing radicalism in the 90’s vs. the 2000’s under Bush, one notes a rapid decline. I come from a very conservative state and I used to frequent gun shows and I can tell you the tone towards the government made an abrupt change. The reason I read, and I find this quite sound from experience, is that once Bush got elected, many conservatives no longer felt the need to be so radicalized. Conservative media also switched from offense to defense; this was not the time to be anti-government because Republicans controlled the White House and Congress for a period of time.  So I’m not just focusing on the left because I support that side, I just don’t believe anyone else is going to do it.

Having said that, I think the main problem with American politics in general, but especially leftist politics, stems from the horribly mistaken ideas of the New Left in the 1960’s. These ideas, often associated rightly or wrongly with the so-called Frankfurt School, put forth the idea that capitalism, “the system” if you will, requires conformity to survive. It needs you to be obsessed with “stuff” and acquiring more “stuff.” It needs strict rules and boundaries to make sure you conform because this will somehow also lead to you buying more “stuff” and those keep corporations profitable. By not conforming, people would somehow be less obsessed with stuff. Then you can go one step further and reject stuff! Don’t buy crap from corporations! Buy from local businesses! Buying the right things will show what a non-conformist you are.  Right there the logic of capitalism is reproduced. You are a powerful individual, a consumer, in the market, and you can effect change via buying the “right” products. As the authors of The Rebel Sell pointed out, none of this was subversive. As it turns out, capitalism doesn’t need conformity to survive. On the contrary, it thrives on diversity, or more specifically a society wherein every consumer is constantly striving to differentiate his or herself from the masses.

Identity politics and intersectionality also still hold sway in American progressive politics despite their utter failure in comparison to civil rights movements and struggles which weren’t led by enlightened jargon-spouting Tumblr bloggers with Masters degrees in Performance Art. These “social justice warriors” themselves often imply, if not explicitly state that conditions for their particular, incredibly specific identity group are worse than ever, and yet they’ll look at the progressive struggles of the 30’s, 50’s, or 60’s and shit all over them because those poor, foolish souls didn’t understand privilege theory.  It seems any mass leftist movement that pops up will, given enough time, inevitably be set upon by the social network-based defenders of social justice. Turn out Occupy doesn’t fully cater to their specific identity group, and don’t you know it turns out that this makes it even worse than the system! I mean with “allies” like these, right? Meanwhile right-wing populists don’t spend all their time swapping jargon-laden polemics about the semiotics of intersectional disadvantaged identities with the interplay of influences of privilege in modern pop culture. Therefore they sweep in with their “End the Fed,”  “international banker” bullshit and turn these movements to shit.

Don’t get me wrong, Occupy had a lot of problems, but it also had potential. That potential was squandered because the so-called American left is largely divorced from reality and still clinging to this highly individualistic, failed philosophy which tacitly accepts the basic tenets of the capitalist system and sees the epitome of subversion in denouncing every single progressive movement in history that actually achieved concrete results. They safely criticize from the sidelines, finding excuses as to why they can’t get into the streets, where the rest of the world can observe them and judge their results.

Conclusions? Well, Karl Marx, contrary to common belief, did not reduce every issue down to class struggle. What he saw is that when you want to understand how human society progresses and changes, especially when a revolution leads from one mode of production to another, after considering all other factors one should consider the opposing classes in the particular society one is examining. In short, class struggle isn’t the determining factor of everything; it but it is the determining factor in political change, particularly of the radical variety. No ruling class has done more to suppress class consciousness than that of the United States. Part of it is due to the role the US played as the leader of the Cold War; another part may be related to the fact that the US was actually mostly agricultural for much of its existence or the fact that from 1820 till about 1970 real wages steadily and consistently rose along with productivity.  The New Left with its identity politics and its phony concept of individuality is nothing but a poison pill which has faithfully served capitalism for many decades. Nonsensical ideas like post-modernism merely continue this service in a society which cannot resort to religious coercion.

And what of Russia? Why didn’t its citizens rise up? It’s definitely not the iPad’s fault. The main problem is that Russia is far more atomized than the US. Early on in my tenure here I learned that caring about major social issues was seen as a concept from Mars, that is until that particular social issue personally affects you. In that case you should start a political organization exclusively dedicated to that one problem. In recent years this trend toward looking at the big picture seems to have made a modest improvement, but from my personal observations of opposition rallies in 2011 I wasn’t impressed. Many groups merely attempt to copy things they see in the West, and the results range from poor to tragically hilarious.  This is the “cargo cult” of Eastern European politics.

Navalny's liberal, progressive friends.

Navalny’s liberal, progressive friends.

 

Of course it doesn’t help that Western NGOs and outlets like Radio Free Europe beam an over-simplistic, ridiculously one-sided and sometimes downright dishonest torrent of propaganda into these countries.  This helps lay the foundation of the main misconceptions which hobble the Russian opposition, i.e. Putin is the cause of Russia’s corruption, if only Putin weren’t president Russia wouldn’t be so corrupt, and so on.  There has been some debate lately as to the elitism of the Russian opposition toward people who live outside of Moscow. I generally lean towards these arguments, but to be fair I’ve seen plenty of “office plankton” types recently turn into patriotic “vatniks” in light of recent events. Again, smartphones, PCs, and vacations in Barcelona fail to explain this phenomenon.  The ideological bankruptcy of the Russian opposition movement sounds like a far more likely culprit.

I see many parallels here. In Russian or Ukrainian politics, you are totally accepted by one side or the other so long as you sign on for everything on that team’s checklist.  Don’t like the Russian government? No problem. Support Maidan, deny that it had anything to do with nationalism, but if someone points out the presence of nationalists tell them there’s nothing wrong with Stepan Bandera, or Svoboda. Support Georgia, NATO, privatization, Yeltsin, socialism was worse than Hitler…check…check…check.  Opposed to Maidan? Great! Here’s your checklist. Support a restored Russian empire! Orthodoxy as the state religion! Support Putin! Check…Check.  In America it’s another problem altogether, at least on the left, which as I already explained I see as the only actual “opposition” in the US.  There you can’t get more than three people together in a movement without someone complaining, possibly passive-aggressively via a blog, that this movement is worse than Hitler because the members of the organizing committee didn’t devote enough time to your pet project. The one that you never really told them about. Because you have been taught by society to keep silent. Plus you have like this mild OCD and the room temperature wasn’t right. Plus you could be borderline Aspergers. Oh well. Fuck them and fuck the entire left, with their endless micro-aggressions and lack of adequate trigger warnings for subjects such as raised voices!  As much as American liberals love to make fun of the Tea Party, those scooter-driving “gun nuts” have been running circles around the American left since the fucking 70’s, or rather their masters have.

So yeah, I went a little off topic today. It’s just that sometimes you hear these claims, such as this cliche about how we’re “too fat and happy” to rise up as a people and demand change, and you just accept it because you hear it from a wide variety of people all across the political spectrum. It sounds really intuitive, because it is true that satisfied people tend not to rebel, especially since it means sacrifice on their part. But the devil is in the details, especially in regards to what “satisfaction” actually means. I don’t think the poorest people could make a successful uprising without any kind of ideology, strategy, or theory to provide coherent goals and motivate them. By contrast, I can’t believe that Sony and Apple are to blame for the failure of Occupy. Yeah sure, they didn’t have Playstation or iPads during the Coal Wars or the Great Depression, but they did have another form of entertainment that was great for neutralizing popular opposition. It was called alcohol.  Worse  still, this “fat and happy” excuse actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. If people, even activists believe it, they will not devote any effort into building the kind of organization and theoretical foundations to change things.

Again, I’m not saying I have the answer to this question of why no revolution. What I am asserting is that the cliche of a docile, pacified populace being the explanation is bullshit. If the masses seem that way, then people haven’t been making sufficient effort to communicate with them.  Maybe it’s not the masses who are lazy and brainwashed.

 

 

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You’re doing it wrong

Lately as I watch the posts of Russian and Ukrainian friends on various social networks I have seen many examples of a common meme in Russia applied to the situation in Ukraine. The phenomenon is by no means recent, I’m just encountering it more and more frequently. Using Ukraine as an example, the meme goes something like this: Russian finds an example of far-right wing violence, discrimination, intimidation, racism, etc. real or imagined, taking place in Kyiv or otherwise coming from the side of pro-Ukrainian government or pro-Maidan forces. The Russian presents us with a photo or video and then some sarcastic quip about “democracy,” “freedom,” or in some cases “tolerance.” As we read it, we should imagine that the Russian author is rolling his or her eyes while making the “jerking off” gesture in the air. Actually we shouldn’t imagine the latter, because that gesture doesn’t really exist in Russia although it certainly should. Massive breakthroughs and advances in political, social, and economic fields could take place in Russia were she to appropriate that ever-practical gesture.

Now most of us in the English-speaking world are familiar with this concept, especially those who were adults during Bush’s invasion of Iraq.  Here’s a perfect sample of the idea, quite possibly originating in the United States.

Knock+knock.+Who+s+there+Democracy+that+s+who_a3b685_4268517Indeed, this particular photo could have been made by anyone, anywhere, but plenty of people in the US, including myself at the time, came to similar conclusions about Bush’s proclamations about bringing “freedom” and “democracy” to the world, and we openly expressed this exact sentiment.

There is a problem with most Russians appropriating and expressing this kind of meme, i.e. the lampooning of American administrations’ pretenses to being the guardians of democracy and freedom throughout the world.  There is a huge problem, in fact. I shall elaborate.

See the way this concept works is that the US government claimed to be freeing the Iraqi people and bringing them democracy when what it really did, as in a de facto sense, was bring them the inevitable tyranny of military occupation and sectarian violence. For the American, it is clear that this system is far less free and democratic than American society. On a personal level, I’m an advocate for a form of democracy which is by definition far more democratic than any existing republican system. Therefore I get to roll my eyes at words like “democracy.” For some nationalities, particularly in certain European countries, they have a doubly-effective argument, in the sense that their societies offer more freedom, opportunity, means of political participation, and a more representative political system than those of the United States and the state it created in Iraq.  In other words, there are nations which can look down on the US on matters like democracy and freedom.

Russia is not one of those nations. You see, in order for the whole saying “democracy” in an ironic tone while rolling eyes and pretending to jerk off to work properly, your nation must at least equal if not surpass the United States in terms of democracy, freedom, tolerance, etc. Does Russia measure up in democracy, even according to bourgeois liberal standards?

As far as democracy goes, all presidents in past 23 years have been from basically the same party, and won under extremely controversial circumstances. The current president has served since 2000, taking a four year break only in 2008 to be prime minister while a man he chose served as president. Putin’s own supporters insist there is no one else who can be Russia’s president and I’m compelled to agree. By stark contrast and despite having a comparatively un-democratic two-party system, the US has in the same time had three presidents, changing parties each time. Bush’s lead over Kerry in 2004 was about 2% in the end, and Romney lost in 2012 by a margin of about 4%. In other words, these elections were seriously contested. Besides this, one can reasonably imagine a Gore or McCain administration.  Anyone familiar with Russian politics cannot seriously imagine Zhirinovsky or Zyuganov in power. If the American reader cannot grasp why this is the case, I recommend imagining Glenn Beck or Jon Stewart running for president. In either case people would see it as some kind of publicity stunt rather than a serious campaign.

What about the abstract and chimerical “freedom?” Well no, Russia doesn’t win here. Pussy Riot and dozens of other cases prove that. Even the US, with its massive incarceration record, would never see people getting two years jail time, if any, for doing what Pussy Riot did.  And before you Russophiles tear off your scraggly beards with rage, no, I’m not endorsing Pussy Riot, their activities, or their actions. What I am stating is simple, indisputable fact, and no I don’t give a shit what Saudi Arabia would do to them.  You can’t compare Russia to America when it suits your case to do so, and then suddenly switch the standard to Saudi Arabia or Iran when it doesn’t.  Lastly, you can scream and gnash your teeth all you want, but we all know which country is more likely to allow a spontaneous anti-government protest. Yes, yes, I know this is totally different because the Russian government has to suppress dangerous rebels wielding signs, even if they number four to six. I realize these are highly-trained agents of Western intelligence agencies and if they aren’t immediately surrounded if not carted off by the police they might suddenly storm the Kremlin and institute a special junta regime which delivers all of Russia’s resources into the hands of American corporations in exchange for 2 million cheeseburgers.  This is an entirely plausible concept. You are not delusional at all. You are truly in tune with the Russian soul. Calm down. Shut up.

As for tolerance? Ha ha! No. No way. Tolerance is a dirty word in Russia. Tolerance means you want swastika-tattooed Caucasian immigrants to come into public schools and teach classes on how to be a pedophile. Come on! What else could tolerance possibly mean if not that?! This is why I got a bit enraged at seeing some pro-Russian people on social networks posting an alleged attack on a Kyiv gay club by right-wing militants. The motivation of these right-wing extremists in Kyiv was not a whit different than that of those who have in fact done the same thing in Russia. The sort of Russian who posts stories like this, mocking the hypocrisy of a regime in Kyiv which made no pretense to being more tolerant, generally would approve of the same action had it taken place in Russia. It would have been lauded as a victory for “Russian values” over the degenerate West with its tolerance for LGBT people and far higher standards of living.  But of course this attack happened in Kyiv, most likely carried out by the same far-right groups which supported Maidan. Those far right groups reject Moscow hegemony, and therefore they are bad no matter how many other ideologically commonalities they share. They are “fascists,” while Russia’s right-wing extremists are “patriots.”  Incidentally you will hear the exact reverse from many Maidan supporters.

In truth, Maidan never really made a pretense to tolerance. The fact that it willingly allowed itself to be associated with radical nationalism, specifically an early-20th century nationalism which has failed Ukraine every single time it has had any influence there, severely contradicts any Maidan apologist’s claims about tolerance or “liberal” values. Indeed the only Maidan supporter I’ve seen making this claim is the hack Timothy Snyder, who was obviously weaving his non-existent rainbow coalition in response to criticism of the movement’s fellow travelers. Who decided Maidan was about tolerance? From my point of view it was Russian opponents of Maidan, who in absence of any coherent argument against Maidan(and there were many), took to pointing their fingers and screaming “Fags!” like a bunch of teenage boys. Maidan claimed to be about integrating Ukraine in “Europe” and as we all know, or at least Russia knows, “Europe” = gay.  Strangely though, it seems that when it comes to Russian-speakers in Ukraine, Russians think tolerance is pretty swell, and damn the fanatics in Kyiv for being so intolerant.

So basically what we have here are people who don’t even believe in liberal democracy criticizing shortcomings of Western liberal democracy. People who don’t believe in the idea of free speech strictly protected by the constitution criticizing Western freedom. People who hate the concept of tolerance questioning others practice of the same, and occasionally demanding tolerance when it comes to people they see as their own.  How does it get this way?

One thing the reader has to understand is that in Russian politics, there really is no contradiction between someone who is supposedly a neo-Nazi and that same person espousing tolerance. These are not mutually exclusive at all. The idea certainly has its parallels in American politics. The easiest example could be seen in the difference between conservative characterization of their liberal or “progressive” opponents during most of the post-9/11 Bush administration and that which followed the election of Obama. In the former, liberals and progressives were limp-wristed cowards whose plan for dealing with terr’ism involved sending gift baskets to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban and possibly offering them a few US states of their choice.  A few years later and suddenly progressives were according to some literal fascists and of course “thugs.” With their Maoist Shia Twelver cult leader Obama in power they would soon receive arms confiscated from white traditional, Christian gun-owning families, after which they would usher in the People’s Republic of the South Canadian Arab Caliphate, a new Islamic power with surprisingly liberal laws regarding abortion and same-sex marriage.

Now normal people understand that liberals must either tend to be cowardly, hippy pacifist types or thuggish, militant brutes with revolutionary goals, as these two things are basically mutually exclusive. However they are not exclusive in the worldview of certain far right ideologies. If one wants a clearer example, I highly recommend reading this part of Fred Clark’s critique of the Left Behind novels. If anyone asked me where they could find a good analysis of American right-wing Christian ideology, Clark’s work would definitely be on the list. His satirical but sincere reviews, actually coming from a Christian perspective, are simply brilliant and fascinating not only on topic of Christian theology, but also the craft of storytelling and the aforementioned political side of American reactionary Christianity.  Clark notes that in the mind of the Left Behind co-author Tim LaHaye, a former member of the John Birch Society, there is no contradiction between a pacifist who commits acts of violence, even killing a person with their own hand.  Pacifists don’t actually believe in pacifism, according to this worldview. They are only using it to get what they want.

So it is with the dominant Russian view of things like tolerance, negative freedom(lack of prohibition), and democracy. There is no contradiction when one calls the Ukrainian government a junta of Nazis as well as gays and Jews. There is no contradiction between hating the concept of tolerance but then pointing out how others fail to be tolerant even if they never made a pretense of being tolerant to begin with.  Levying sanctions against Russia for actions in the Crimea are “hypocritical.” Getting deeply involved in the internal affairs of a foreign nation to the point of annexing a part of it despite having a president who has routinely spoken out against interfering in the “internal affairs” of other countries is not hypocrisy at all.

If I were say, Julia Ioffe, this article might stop here. But I have a certain personal rule which is that even the most scathing critique of Russian society must have a solid foundation. In this case that solid foundation comes from considering the Western role in developing these attitudes in Russia, something that many liberals vehemently oppose. Some Western journalists, such as this German fellow, get frustrated with Russians and just can’t understand why they seemingly reject values like tolerance, liberal democracy, etc.  They were just supposed to spontaneously realize all these concepts and integrate them into their society, but they didn’t so they are hopeless.  This is shirking responsibility.

First a few key things need to be understood. “Liberal values” in Russia started to be espoused in the late 80’s and then the 90’s. During that same time, Russia experienced economic catastrophe, humiliation, a violent suppression of protesters by a president in violation of his own constitution, and a bloody guerrilla war.  Liberalism and liberal values were associated with those who tore down every pillar of Soviet and Russian society.  Some of the people who espoused these values got insanely rich at the expense of their fellow citizens, and personally benefited from their suffering. In other cases, good “liberals” or “democrats” served as mouthpieces for those who made off like bandits, or who were in fact bandits. While people faced choices like starvation or sexual slavery, these people were warning how the worst thing in Russian history was Josef Stalin, and the greatest danger to Russia was a Communist return to power.  Russia’s present-day liberals haven’t really changed much. Some of them obliviously refer to the 90’s in a nostalgic manner, whereas most Russian citizens remember these times as being humiliating, dangerous, and without hope.  I’ve said myself that the horror of the Russian “wild 90’s” is often exaggerated, but this doesn’t change the fact that it was indeed horrible for a great many people.

In addition to this problem, very little care seems to have been directed at helping Russians transition to a liberal capitalist world. Russians were, and it seems still are expected to just understand things which Western societies are only just beginning to realize after decades of social struggle and open debate. Also, as our right-wing leaders all believed Communism to be intertwined with the liberal ideology in their own countries, there was a tendency to promote all manner of right-wing, nationalist, and religious propaganda throughout the Cold War and after its end.  Every once in a while you’ll see some hand-wringing article, usually by a European publication, bemoaning the rise of right-wing violence in some Eastern European country.  For decades NATO countries spread propaganda hailing collaborationist regimes and figures in Eastern Europe, telling them that Communism was the worst thing to ever befall their poor, unfortunate nation. Russia was no exception. Now years later the Russians any other Eastern Europeans are supposed to be entirely to blame for holding reactionary views?

Listening to Russians attempt to construct arguments against certain liberal values may sound amusing, but the process also reveals how nobody ever properly represented or explained those views in Russia. What about all those political NGO’s that have worked in Russia all this time? I suspect that they have more to do with furthering a neo-liberal economic agenda more favorable to their backers than actually building that “civil society” they always yammer about.  This explains why Russian liberals and oppositionists tend to be so out of touch not only with ordinary Russians, but also the Western liberals they so poorly ape like followers of a cargo cult.

Anyone who wants to see a more progressive political culture in Russia has to start to take responsibility for properly representing certain values. They have to explain why the chaos of the 90’s had nothing to do with liberal values. They need to openly acknowledge that issues of human rights cannot be entirely devoid of economic issues. They must explain what tolerance actually means and why it is actually positive for society, as numerous examples have proven both in the past and present.  They must show how liberal values, while being seemingly “universal,” do not in fact remove the cultural character of peoples. Only an idiot would claim that one sees no cultural difference traveling through Europe from Ireland to Norway, to speak nothing of the vast cultural difference between Japan and Korea. American culture is vastly different from that of the United Kingdom, and even the differences in mentality and values between American and Canadians are readily noticeable at times.

Double standard have to end, whereby racism and superiority complexes against Russians is tolerated as has been the case in Ukraine. Yes, there was and still is a significant right-wing nationalist component among the Maidan movement. Yes, the anti-government forces in Eastern Ukraine also consist largely of nationalists with right-wing views.  Condemn both, not one side.

Indeed, I’ve been seeing a lot of hypocrisy from Russian acquaintances in the past few months, but I also understand where this is coming from. More importantly, I do think that there is possibility for deep learning here, a “teachable moment” if you will. In observing this conflict more Russians might come to realize how tolerance could have saved a lot of “their people’s” lives in Eastern Ukraine. They could see the chauvinism aimed at them by Kyiv’s supporters and maybe one day realize that they have held the same attitudes toward Ukrainians and other former Soviet peoples. They could see the numerous parallels between their own values and those expressed by Ukrainian nationalist organization like Praviy Sektor or Svoboda, and hopefully that will horrify them.

Cynics will deny that this is possible and label Russia as hopeless. But I feel those that do ought to then abandon all pretense to championing progressive values, for this is nothing but a form of racism, plain and simple. I will never absolve Russians of responsibility for their own condition, but likewise I refuse to do so for Westerners who did not set proper examples. Just like the Russian who mock America’s version of “democracy,” those who bash Russia as hopelessly backward are doing it wrong.