The Worst Idea Ever

“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” 

-Ulysses S. Grant, describing his feelings immediately after formally accepting the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

Yesterday I wrote on the topic of geopolitics as a theory, and I must say that when one comes to understand the theory and the role it has played in 21st century Russian politics it leads to a sort of Usual Suspects-style epiphany. Suddenly a lot of things that seemed nonsensical or even absurd begin to fit together and make perfect sense. Of course people like Peter Pomerantsev, Mark Adomanis, Daniel Kennedy, myself, and many others have covered the topic of the Kremlin’s bizarre post-modernist narrative which is rife with contradictions. For me however, understanding the role of this theory says something about the people creating and maintaining that narrative. It’s not that they don’t care whether there is any coherency; incoherence is the goal. They actually believe that this works, and their theory is what tells them so.

As if fate itself had decided the matter, the following morning I discovered a blog entry about a conference held in Moscow last December called “The Right of People’s to Self-Determination and a Multi-polar World.” Present at the conference were several American leftist groups such as the International Action Center and the United National Antiwar Coalition, both of which are supposedly linked to the Workers World Party. Also present were representatives of various European fascist movements as well as American neo-confederates and other white nationalists. Just like with the phony “election observers” in the Donbass, I have to wonder if any of these leftists found it odd that they were at a conference frequented by a much higher proportion of far rightists.

The event was organized by a group known as the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. While the author of the blog post does not draw a direct link between the AGMR and the Eurasianist movement of Russian fascist Alexander Dugin, they do note the participation of Eurasian Youth Movement members in the conference and point out that members of both organizations have worked together in the past. Based on my knowledge of politics in Russia I would say the distinction is entirely unnecessary. Judging by the group’s rhetoric it’s obvious that this is just another government-financed front organization, just like Dugin’s own parties and organizations. One must understand that to these people, the specific organization is unimportant. New groups or parties can be launched overnight. All that matters is the message.

What this tale represents is the extreme danger Russia poses to the global left. It is a right-wing, authoritarian state backing right-wing movements beyond its borders, often with real, concrete means either in the form of cash or propaganda. Groups like the AGMR pay only lip service to left-wing causes like equality, social justice, and socialism. Unfortunately much of the Western left is so ideologically bankrupt that it falls for these slogans every time without considering that their solidarity is a one-way street.

The left suffers from the common problem of political illiteracy; it knows very little about what other people believe. As such, many leftists just assume that people on the far right would never associate with them or join with them in activism movements because they wouldn’t willingly do the same when it comes to right-wing causes. While it’s true that Communists don’t go to Tea Party rallies and mainstream conservative Republicans don’t go to antiwar marches, far right-wing populists happily go to both. Their ideology, very compatible with geopolitical theory, teaches that the ends justify means and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is why neo-Nazis are happy to infiltrate antiwar marches, Occupy protests, or anti-WTO actions just as easily as they would visit a Tea Party or anti-immigration rally. Sure, they may secretly hate more of the people they march with at a pro-Palestinian rally, but you have to remember these are people who are forced to conceal their beliefs on a daily basis in a world where overt racism is socially unacceptable. What’s suppressing your hate a little more when you’re “doing it for the cause?”  Moreover, many of these far rightists have grievances with mainstream conservatives as well.

Most leftists never examine far right ideology and thus they never expect that their movements or coalitions could be infiltrated by fascists or manipulated by them from without,especially if the fascists use carefully worded slogans that appeal to them. These are especially effective considering the mainstream left’s poor understanding of globalization, its strengths, and the actual problems it creates. Ask a leftist if they’d attend a rally against globalization organized by fascists and they’d most likely give you a categorical refusal. Ask a fascist if they’d attend an anti-globalization rally put on by Communists and socialists, and they’re likely to say something like, “Anything that weakens the system is good.” It seems that the only leftist faction which has demonstrated any consistent competence in detecting these fascist influences on both sides of various issues such as Maidan and Ukraine have thus far been the anarchists. That most Communist movements all across the spectrum have utterly failed to do the same is a stain on their record and this represents a serious theoretical degeneration on their part.

i have said before that on the whole, Russia is not a threat to the capitalist world. Putin and his ideologues believe they are being clever but in the end the strategy of piling lie upon lie will bring about the collapse of the whole rotten structure. This means that those who are most threatened by his regime are the citizens of Russia themselves, as well as some countries around Russia’s periphery. As a socialist, however, I am quite convinced that Russia’s post-modernist geopolitical theory is a dire threat to the global left and the struggle for human liberation. This is not simply because Russia is an authoritarian, quasi-fascist state; that would only affect Russians. No, it is because in the attempt to preserve its oligarchical regime, the Russian state is pumping poison into the veins of the global left, distracting and confusing our activists, supporting our enemies, and getting our people to do their bidding for nothing in return.

By this point I’ve no doubt tripped the mental alarms of many leftist readers. “Are you saying the Russia is a bigger threat than US imperialism,” some may be thinking.  Yes. Yes I am saying exactly that, because if the left does not start to develop some theoretical integrity and totally purge the Kremlin’s crypto-fascist propaganda and outdated “anti-globalization” geopolitical poison from its system, there’s simply no point in talking about fighting capitalism in the West. We will be tied down, unwittingly fighting for a corrupt, capitalist, wannabe imperialist state which will ultimately collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions and leave the Western capitalists just as triumphant as they were before. The left has nothing to gain from the continued existence of Putin’s regime and none of the time and resources spent doing its bidding will ever be reciprocated.

I realize that this still puts a bad taste in the mouths of many so-called “anti-imperialist” leftists. They’ve fallen for the foolish false dichotomy that calling out the Russian regime or any regime that boasts “anti-American” credentials is somehow siding with their own capitalist governments. If they would only look back through history, they would see that Communists of all stripes and sometimes even anarchists allied with more progressive regimes against reactionary ones. Russia promotes a fascist theory which says that ideals don’t matter, only the constant struggle between empires matters. Is this somehow better than Western regimes which preach democracy and human rights yet often fail to live up to those standards?

What about Western support for Saudi Arabia? What about Ferguson? What about austerity?  Indeed, what about, what about? Ask yourself this. When someone tells you that the liberal democratic nations have a moral superiority over a corrupt, oligarchical capitalist state that promotes a neo-fascist domestic ideology, why is it you bring up all those stains on those nations’ human rights records? You do it because the ideals are real, even if the governments’ belief in them isn’t. Western governments fail to live up to the standards they preach because of the internal contradictions of their capitalist systems, not because those ideals are nothing but a ruse to secure more power.  Those ideals are what cause you to feel outrage when you see your government engaging in wrongdoing. In Russia, these ideals are invoked to condemn US meddling in Iraq and Libya, while totally discarded when supporting a bloody war in Ukraine for no other purpose than to prop up Putin as a great leader of a Russian chauvinist superpower.

More importantly, rejecting outdated, failed “anti-hegemony” politics and purging Russian geopolitical poison is not siding with US or other Western imperialists. On the contrary, the time and energy which is currently spent on defending dictatorship like Russia and its ever-shrinking circle of allies could be used more effectively on activism against our own governments. More importantly, as long as leftists allow themselves to be duped into coalitions with fascists and assorted cranks in defense of corrupt dictatorships, the system’s own ideologues will always manage to outflank, outwit, and outfight them on a moral level every time. Indeed, that’s what they’ve been doing over and over again.

What is more, a real leftist movement can influence future Maidan-like movements and steer them away from Western-funded NGOs and far-right nationalist organizations instead of outright condemning them as tools of the NATO and the IMF. The far right and the capitalist-funded think tanks take action and get involved, why shouldn’t the left?  Then again, that takes work. Sitting at home drafting “hands off dictatorship X” statements is a lot easier, and RT will even interview you about it!

In conclusion, I generally believe that movements should be judged by their results, but there are times when their goals need to be considered as well. Geopolitics is an inhuman theory that serves fascist imperialists and has nothing to offer humanity but endless war. It is wielded by the Kremlin to preserve the oligarchical rule of Putin and his cronies as they oppress the peoples of Russia and Ukraine. By contrast, the values of liberal democracy and human rights are not in themselves flawed. It is the contradictions of the system as a whole which prevents governments from realizing those values. Those contradictions also lead these states into making pacts, alliances, and concessions to right-wing regimes like that of Vladimir Putin.  To believe that the left has a champion in Moscow is fatal to the left. It leaves us confused, distracted, renders our campaigns and blows ineffective, and leads us into league with our mortal enemies. The blood must be purged of this poisonous notion.

14 thoughts on “The Worst Idea Ever

  1. LunaticVarg

    Fantastic post. I’ve been reading this blog in secret for quite a while and I must say it is one of the most reliable sources I have on the political and social situation in Russia.
    You should thank Red and Anarchist Black Metal website for featuring you in one of their posts.

    See, I’ve at one moment almost felt like stopping reading this when there were several posts that I almost suspected you of covert Russophobia. But you have far better and more genuine reasons to criticize their government and rightfully question and suspect their intentions (well, you’ve been living there for more than 8 years while I’ll travel to St.Petersburg next month for few days only).
    Really well written like always with some witty remarks.

    a frequent reader from Croatia and an anarchist.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Dobro dosli is hvala lijepo. Jos sjecam se malo Hrvatski jezik. (I apologize for any bad grammar there.)

      I have noticed that anarchist black metal site coming up quite often. Please send my regards to the webmaster.

      As for the Russophobia, I assure you that I’m actually far more tame in my criticism than many Russians. The problem isn’t Russians, but vatnost, a type of mentality that is being actively cultivated by the Kremlin and its media. It’s not even accurate to say that vatnost is inherently Russian. It is rooted in some features of Russian culture but it takes a state and media to actually concentrate these things. It’s like creating a new strain of vegetable or a breed of dog. You select certain traits and put them together.

  2. Asehpe

    To put it simply: the West is better than Russia. It may be difficult for left-wing parties, who are so used to criticising the West for its flaws, for its frequent failures to live up to its ideals, to think that there may be regimes, systems, political structures that are even worse — and which are hiding behind left-friendly slogans.

    Eating a ham-and-cheese sandwhich is better than eating stale bread. It doesn’t follow from that that the ham-and-cheese sandwhich is the best meal there is. In fact, it isn’t even a meal; it’s a snack. Yet it is clearly better to eat than stale bread. It lacks most of the minerals and vitamins that you need, it can’t be by itself the basis of a healthy diet; but it sure beats stale bread.

    Progress is made by following the lead from the worse to the better. If Russia were to suddenly become as flawed, as full of failures to live up to its ideals as the West is, this would be a giant leap forward, for Russia and for the world. Of course, it wouldn’t be the end of the whole trip. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that, if the best system humanity will ever produce is the current Western democratic system, then humanity will have been quite a let down — a failure even.

    Still, this system is better than what Russia has. And progress lies along the line that changes the Russian system so that it becomes more like the Western one. This is certainly not the end of the journey — but it is the next step. Assuming, of course, that we care about improving humanity.

    And this is what all those “let’s-criticize-the-US-no-matter-what” people forget. The US, the West are full of flaws. But they’re better than Russia. If they support Russia just because it’s anti-West, they’ll be making the same mistake of those pre-1930s movements who supported the fascists and the nazis because they were anti-communist. They looked at their slogans, and decided that “we don’t like communism” was enough. Now, they look at Russian slogans and decide that “we don’t like capitalism” is enough. As if history had nothing to teach us…

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I think this kind of ties in with left contrarianism. If they admit what you say, put so bluntly and yet pretty much irrefutably true, they think this is some kind of capitulation.

      “Oh shit, I admitted that America has the moral high ground in this particular issue, and that the American system generally treats its citizens way better than that of Russia or Syria! NOW I CAN’T BE A LEFTIST ANYMORE! I must confine my political activity to voting in elections and reading Doonsebury cartoons. FUCK!”

      The funny thing is that even the most radical Communists support the alliance between progressive liberal democracies and Communists against fascism, a reactionary, backward ideology. Well, all except Leon Trotsky, who famously said he’d ally with a fascist Brazil against democratic Britain, but other than that, most Communists support that popular front idea. Now today we have an aggressive, right-wing undemocratic government which promotes fascist ideas even when it occasionally clothes them in the red flag(smearing it with mud, I might add). Why was it fine in the 1930’s or 1941 but not today? Moreover, the one time that Communists took a position against the united front tactics, in Germany, didn’t work out too well. I’m not repeating the Trotskyite lie that this tactic actually helped Hitler to power because that ignores important questions about how the NSDAP actually achieved power in the first place, but still, Communists of the era acknowledged that this had been a mistake and they started to encourage popular and united front tactics…which Trots ALSO criticized.

  3. Asehpe

    By the way, Jim, one question — having you considered blogging in Russian, in case you don’t already do it? I would be interested in seeing what kind of impact your opinions would have if they were more easily accessible to Russian-speaking denizens of the internet.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Oooooooh no. See one of the things that keeps me off radar screens is that I only blog in English. The Kremlin’s people are not so concerned about someone telling English speakers that Putin sucks, only domestic audiences.

      1. Dimitri

        There’s a blog post in itself right there.

        American left-wing contrarianism cannot be extricated from the trauma of the Bush years and the Iraq debacle. It was a system shock to see that even after Vietnam, our way of doing things could fail so badly that Bush & Cheney could manipulate the people into war and there were no institutions (media, Congress) willing and able to beat them back before we made a mistake of that magnitude.

        There is so much yearning for a counter-balance to the US -even within the US- because we can’t even put those dark years to bed and start debating their impact as aspects of history… we are still involved in those wars and Obama’s involvement in Libya convinced many that we have not learned a thing.

        Putin is the largest, most active source of ‘push-back’ so many rush to defend him, I think, in hopes that if someone pushes hard enough, we will get off what they perceive as a railroad to hell (and constant land wars in Asia.)

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I know what you mean about the effects of the Bush years. For example, during the run-up to the war I never believed it would actually happen. I thought it was this sabre-rattling to distract from their inability to find Bin Laden. I figured at most there’d be some bombing before they’d get Saddam to agree to some new inspection regime and that would be the end of it.

        I really thought we were past that point of using a large conventional invasion to conquer an entire country. In fact, that being the case, you could say that Iraq was actually worse than Vietnam, which involved meddling via intermediaries before invasion.

      3. Asehpe

        Interesting… So you think you might get stamped as a (gulp!) extremist just by blogging your opinion in Russian. That, by itself, goes such a long way in describing all that is not well with Russia right now.

        The post-Trotsky communists did eventually see the wisdom of siding with capitalist democracies against nazism — so many of the best résistence fighters in France were communists….

        I hope the left will someday see the point of pragmatism — of trying to achieve improvement in the world not by demanding ideological purity, but by achieving one more step in the right direction, even if it goes through places they don’t like. The left so often looks like a prisoner in its own labyrinth of good intentions and political correctness, it fails to see the obvious… like the connection between Islam and Islamofascist terrorism. Worried about being seen as attacking all Muslims indiscriminately, the left fails to see one of the main sources of strength for this kind of terrorism — thereby endangering its capacity to understand, and ultimately help solve, this problem.

        I wonder if this is not a problem with all kinds of social activism: the fascination of ideology, the oversimplification of the world by reducing all factors to just one factor, be it economics, religion, power… Maybe, in order to be an activist and fight for something, you have to believe that this something is unconditionally true, thereby losing nuance, if not truth altogether, i.e. throwing the baby out with the bathwater… because it apparently is difficult to consciously and sincerely fight for a cause if you admit it may have flaws. It’s less effective as motivation.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I would say that theoretical weakness is the problem, not rigid ideology. Populism and “enemy of my enemy” politics are basically cheap substitutes for actual politics and real ideology.

        I’m no where near being able to write something extensive on this, but I’m beginning to believe in this concept of performance metrics for theory and ideology. Results-based politics, if you will. Basically, the wisdom of any particular ideological or theoretical line ought to be judged by what concrete results it achieves. For example, sticking up for Russia achieves nothing, no matter what your politics are.

        When I’ve taken care of the writing that pays, I’ll devote more time to fleshing out those ideas. I’m also concerned that many movements aren’t even aware of the options available to them to create change.

        People in the US for example seem to think they are powerless if they can’t elect any federal congressmen or their own presidential candidate. This is nonsense- the Christian right became extremely influential by getting involved in local and state politics. There’s actually a lot you can achieve at those levels.

      5. Jim Kovpak Post author

        To answer the first part of your question though, you can never be too careful. It’s incredible what Russians have been investigated or even prosecuted for. In some cases it was simply liking something on a VK group.

        One could make a joke about Praviy Sektor or Bandera and be charged with extremism. Criticism of religion is “offending the feelings of believers” and is banned according to Roskomnadzor.

        Therefore I blog strictly in English and for all intents and purposes, this is an “American blog” whose writer happens to be located in Russia.

  4. RedMetalhead

    First, Excuse me for my broken English.

    The situation in France is even worse: Since the Second French Empire the intellectual class and the politicians got a strong anti-American sentiment. From the beginning of the 20th century to 1945, the far right wing and the conservatives were strongly anti-american. The USA were the symbol of a materialistic society, the worst aspect of the modern world and a threat to . After 1945, the communist party was strong. So, there was a strong influance from the Stalinist Ussr. Charles De Gaulle had a resentment against the USA because of the American Government supported the Vichy Regime and wanted to maintain it to the very end like in Algeria.

    In the Contemporary France, the politicians and the intellectual class remain anti-American from the left-wing to the far-right. So, After the collapse of the USSR, the far-right wing became anti-American and pro-Putin.
    And with the Ukrainian crisis, the reactionaries and the fascists can set an Anti-american trap against the radical left. The, Left Front, the main radical left organisation criticized mainly the USA and NATO, but never the Russian governement or the “popular republics”, except the “Ensemble” tendency.
    Most of French Trotskyists detected the fascist influences on both sides (NPA and Lutte Ouvrière).
    But the other left-wing militants (Mainly in the Left Front with the Communist Party), in their attempt to avoid the “western propaganda” broadcast by the mainstream medias in France, swallowed the other side’s propaganda.

    That is to say your post is salutary.

    A reader from north-eastern France

  5. RedMetalhead

    A sentence needs a correction: “The USA were the symbol of a materialistic society, the worst aspect of the modern world and a threat to the French traditionnal way of life”.

  6. Pingback: Here we go again! (Betting on losers) | Russia Without BS

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