Here’s a rather insightful article about RT from Nick Cohen of The Guardian. It shows I’m not the only one who grasps the essence of the Kremlin’s satellite channel. Take a look at this excerpt, for example:
“Where the old communists claimed the Soviet Union was freer and more democratic than the west, Putinists claim “all liberalism is cant and anyone can be bought”. Russia Today feeds the huge western audience that wants to believe that human rights are a sham and democracy a fix. Believe that and you will ask: what right have we to criticise Putin? At least he is honest in his way.”
Is this not basically the same concept I put forth in my article “On Deaf Ears: The Wasted Potential RT,” when I wrote the following:
So it is with Russian media. Rather than actually present some coherent, alternative message, the new direction seems to be aimed at merely confusing every new story until nobody has a clue what is going on. If Russia is called out for wrongdoing and they can’t concoct any conspiracy theories to explain the accusations away, the response is typically whataboutism- not because the Russian government is terribly concerned about the rights of people living in Detroit or Ferguson, but simply because they trying to say, “Yes, we are bad, but everyone else is bad too, so we should all just mind our own business and continue being bad.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing Cohen of plagiarism here; in fact the formulation of RT’s de facto credo that I wrote in “On Deaf Ears” was actually inspired by a friend who is far more knowledgeable about journalism and RT than I. But what the similarity shows is that outsiders, including people perhaps not familiar with Russia from the inside, have managed to figure out RT’s game.
Getting back to Cohen’s statement above, I have to respond to his statement about people who believe “human rights are a sham and democracy is a fix” with a question. If so many people in the West believe that, and indeed many do, why do they believe that? How does a person come to believe this? The answer, of course, is due to the contradictions between the concept of human rights, and the class-based society we live in, between the liberal concept of democracy and the reality of capitalism. Of course there are two responses to this problem. One response is to acknowledge that human rights and democracy are, at least on paper, inherently positive things. At the same time, contradictions in our society prevent us from fully realizing the potential of those two concepts. Ergo it would be incumbent on those who want to improve society to work towards the goal of resolving those contradictions so as to fully realize that ultimately positive goal. The other prominent view is that these concepts are bad or at least highly flawed, ergo some other alternative should be substituted in their place. Instead of improving democracy so as to increase political participation of the masses, democracy should be done away with entirely and replaced with one or a few “strong” leaders. Instead of human rights, some groups should receive hand-outs and automatic privileges simply because they were born into a particular group, however arbitrary that determination may be. Guess which group RT tends to appeal to.
Of course RT appeals to people on the left as well, but many of these people are simply ignorant of the ideology behind Kremlin propaganda. Rarely does the Russian government directly reach out to actual leftists. They want your solidarity if it’s useful to them, but they don’t have any sympathy for your beliefs. The USSR was positive to them only because they transformed it into another Russian empire, it was authoritarian, and it struck fear into the US and other Western countries. Beyond that, the Kremlin and its supporters long for the days of the original Russian empire- obedient citizens unquestioningly doing what they are told, isolated from the rest of the world and without demands on their leaders. Women are to be shackled in the home with religious dogma. Well, not all women. The ruling elite will still need their prostitutes and escorts when they go out on Friday nights. Oh yes, they will still do that. The whole provincial, wholesome Russian peasant lifestyle in a capitalist society isn’t for them. It’s only for Russia’s masses. Getting back to the point about leftists supporting Russia, to a certain degree I can forgive them for their ignorance. Sadly though, I have seen many leftists who upon learning the truth from someone such as myself, decide to double down and begin lecturing a man who’s been living in Russia for nearly a decade. It’s not a pretty sight.
I have to say it’s a bit disturbing, living in Russia during this economic crisis and knowing that the two things the government keeps pouring money into is the military and propaganda networks like RT. In a way it’s logical though. Pumping money into the military is a desperate measure to make Russia look strong, possibly by scaring Ukrainians, Georgians, and the Baltic countries. Should NATO ever call Putin’s bluff, however, it will all be over very quickly and the government will never recover from the humiliation. As for the propaganda organs, they get money because it’s far easier for the leadership to lie about conditions in Russia or confuse and distract foreigners than it is to actually fix those conditions. Why build roads or fix sidewalks when you can tell viewers in that town about how there are poor areas in America too, and you can also imply that people who complain too much just might be paid agents of the US State Department? Why fix the problems of the country when those same problems give you thousands of poor students you can pay to troll foreign and domestic media outlets and social networks?
Russia’s success in the middle of the last decade taught the Kremlin one lesson. When people’s standards of living improve, they will continue to expect more. Putin and his supporters apparently thought, and still think, that he did enough for people in the early 2000’s. They should be satisfied with that and not ask for more rights. They should continue to be unquestioningly loyal even if those standards decline. Thus there is no incentive for the Kremlin to improve standards of living any more. Poorer people are more easily manipulated. TV is preferable to the dangerously unpredictable internet.