Monthly Archives: November 2017

What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

Lucky you, another post in the vein of why leftists should be concerned with Russian influence operations. I guess I’ll make this the last piece on the topic for a while and we can call this a trilogy.

First of all there’s a good article about the leftist case for embracing the Russia investigation I want to include here. I use the term “embrace” here because that’s what the author used, though I think it requires some qualification. As the response to one of my posts on this topic demonstrated, there are some people on the left who seem eager to deliberately misinterpret this concept into an absurd strawman that they can knock down with ease. Embracing, or better yet acknowledging the significance of the Russian intervention in American politics doesn’t mean going down the rabbit hole into Eric Garland and Louise Mensch’s Wonderland of Drug-Fueled Insanity. It doesn’t mean we need to praise “never Trumpers” like John McCain, David Frum, or the gaggle of ex-CIA directors who have been online registering their horror and shock at Trump.  Believe it or not, you can exercise moderation, critical thinking, and time management to devote the proper amount of energy and attention to this subject while still carrying on the everyday struggle against injustice.

If that seems too difficult maybe you should have a look at what  neocon hawk Bernie Sanders had to say on the topic:

“While we rightly condemn Russian and Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter in Syria, the United States continues to support Saudi Arabia’s destructive intervention in Yemen, which has killed many thousands of civilians and created a humanitarian crisis in one of the region’s poorest countries. Such policies dramatically undermine America’s ability to advance a human rights agenda around the world, and empowers authoritarian leaders who insist that our support for those rights and values is not serious.”

What’s that, Bernie? You’re talking about the bad things the US government does and acknowledging that Bashar al-Assad is a brutal tyrant? What are you doing?

“Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought in the same way. Around the world we have witnessed the rise of demagogues who once in power use their positions to loot the state of its resources. These kleptocrats, like Putin in Russia, use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.”

What are you doing, Bernie? What the hell are you even talking about?! This speech is all the US government needs to justify a full-scale invasion of Russia, Syria, and Iran, simultaneously!

All joking aside, I’m not going to pretend like Bernie is some kind of Ayatollah and his word is holy writ. Rather I’m just pointing out that we can talk about this issue without turning into a fanatical Hillary Lost Causer or worse- Louise Mensch. And believe me, we do need more awareness about Russian propaganda.

As I’ve written plenty of times before, the idea that Russia’s “information war” can somehow wreck “Western democracy” or “the liberal order” is, indeed, hysteria. The extent to which the Kremlin has managed to reach its tentacles into that so-called liberal order is more the fault of free market, profits-over-people dogma than clever strategy and sophistication on the Russian side. And while that liberal order sanctions Putin for his violation of Ukraine’s borders, their promises to lift the sanctions should he return to the pre-2014 status quo strongly suggests that they will turn a blind eye to the brutalization of Russia’s citizens within the Federation’s inviolable borders. But while the propaganda machine is no real existential threat to the liberal order, it is a threat to the radical left seeking to replace that order.

I have already written about the ways in which accepting “help” from pro-Kremlin or Kremlin linked sources can de-legitimize or discredit the left, and lead us into awkward associations with our sworn enemies on the far right. Outdated prejudices have also led leftists into falling for Russian narratives about events like Maidan, thus preventing international solidarity and squandering a great opportunity for leftist demonstrators to learn from that event and the activists who drove it (who, contrary to the Russian propaganda, were not mostly radical right-wing nationalists or neo-Nazis). But if we’re going to talk worst case scenarios, some leftists could lose far more.

Recently we learned that the so-called St. Petersburg Troll Factory (actually known as the Internet Research Agency) actually managed to organize a few real-world protests from abroad. One of them was basically a dud, but another managed to draw a few thousand protesters. Both events targeted more or less polar opposites of the political spectrum- an anti-Muslim rally to appeal to right-wing Islamophobes and an anti-police/anti-Trump rally aimed at Black Lives Matter and their supporters. It is important at this point to note that the Internet Research Agency has no interest in actually advancing one cause or another. A survey of its foreign-audience propaganda in recent years show that it is dedicated to causing “chaos” more than anything. Moreover, it is not, in any way that we can see so far, directly controlled by the Russian government or security apparatus. It is the project of one of Putin’s lower-tier sycophants, Evgeny Prigozhin. It is unlikely to go away anytime soon and it’s not going to stop its ever-evolving campaign of trolling and manipulation.

Taking into account those protests and the fact that this operation will most likely continue, do I really need to explain why it might be bad for leftists to attend protests or events that have been organized by anonymous people in foreign countries with no connection to the local community, no concern for the attendees’ safety, and whose goals include causing as much chaos in the streets as possible? If this project continues, it’s certainly reasonable to expect them to try to combine left-wing and right-wing protests in the same location so as to cause violent clashes. People on our side could be duped into attending events where they are caught unawares of the right-wing presence and dangerously outnumbered. The fact that this is a realistic possibility warrants spreading awareness of such propaganda methods. We should remember that within our own borders there are legions of online cowards who also attempt to cause chaos in the real world, and thus anything that enhances awareness of threats and security culture among activists would be a net positive.

But we don’t need to talk about nightmare scenarios to justify avoiding anything Kremlin-linked like the plague. For me, long before I started blogging, the main reason was a matter of dignity. Why should we defend or accept anything from people who despise us and our politics? Make no mistake that the people behind networks like RT and Sputnik, the people in the Kremlin-linked think tanks- they all hate and revile you. You see yourself as a dissident standing up to the crimes of your government, but they see you as nothing but a dirty traitor. Your dissent to them is a defect. Many of them consciously hate your political beliefs too. They hate “multi-culturalism,” “tolerance,” and “non-traditional sexual orientations,” but they’re perfectly willing to provide you with a platform if it serves their government’s geopolitical goals. Why would you let yourself be used like that?

Again, anyone who thinks tackling the Russian propaganda issue entails adopting and/or embracing xenophobic rhetoric about “the Russian other,” the insane talking points of characters like Mensch, Garland, or Schindler, figures like John McCain, or the US national security apparatus either doesn’t understand the topic or is being deliberately obtuse and creating a strawman. This isn’t even about Russia; it’s about the current Russian government. It’s about international solidarity instead of hopelessly outdated, hypocritical, and unrealistic forms of “anti-imperialism” that have been nothing but a proven failure. It’s about moral consistency in a movement that is supposed to be about a moral imperative.

And if this isn’t the kind of topic you prefer to discuss because you’re using up all your activist energy on other issues- fine. That’s a totally justifiable position. It doesn’t mean you can’t at least educate yourself enough to understand how the issue effects you. More importantly, there are ways you can help by not talking. Specifically, don’t share stories or links from Russian government sources or outlets that do. Don’t regurgitate Kremlin talking points about issues like Ukraine, Syria, or Russia’s internal opposition (this is not the same as looking at those issues with a critical eye). And most of all, don’t attack people for criticizing the Putin regime or people who do choose to talk about this issue.

In short, we have to be aware that now, in addition to manipulation from the authorities in our own countries, there is also an added component of manipulation from abroad. The Kremlin is just one player with the most effective propaganda at the moment (unless you count ISIS as an international player). There will probably be more in the coming years, I’m sad to say. Accepting this reality isn’t watering down our message or putting us in league with our own authorities and their security apparatus. It is simply an inherent part of the ongoing struggle.

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Some (Negative) Feedback

One of the worst things about the internet is that it has greatly magnified people’s ability to give an uninformed opinion…loudly. Youtube is a perfect example of this, where you have and endless parade of mostly white guys in their twenties to early thirties ranting about issues they clearly have no background knowledge in (typically feminism or gender issues). Each one of these figures will take some topic that happens to be in the media in recent times, e.g. trans issues, and then proceed to “debunk” someone’s statement or some policy using their “logic” and “reason.” The problem with formal logic is that it only works when you understand the issue you’re talking about, and take into account the whole context. Focusing on one particular detail while ignoring the whole picture makes it possible to “debunk” almost anything with “logic.” Holocaust deniers and 9/11 truthers have been doing it for years. Some people have coined the term “sea lioning” to describe a very similar practice, whereby a person asks really basic, entry level questions (“Do you have any evidence that sexism is real?”) in an attempt to derail the conversation.

I’m reminded of this phenomenon- that of loudly expressing and uninformed opinion, after I made the mistake of following a link to a response to the previous post on this blog. I’m featuring it here so as to give “equal time,” so to speak. Some of the concepts my last post raised are, unfortunately, foreign to many Western leftists, and so it’s only natural to assume there will have to be a struggle over this issue in the future. People like this do have valid reasons for concern, especially with a lot of the liberal paranoia about Russian influence operations out there. I just wish some people wouldn’t assume that just because something is unfamiliar to them, it must be nonsense.

 

Anyway let’s get on with it.

The author seems very scared of leftists repeating “Russian propaganda” but fails to point to any specific examples of leftists doing so. I would be somewhat less sceptical of this article if it identified what “Russian propaganda” is and how “we” are falling victim to it.

Let me translate this opening sentence. “I’ve never heard of this thing that someone who has far more experience and knowledge in this field is talking about, so this is highly suspicious!”

Now I will concede that I could have taken more time to list specific examples in order to break it down even further for the total newcomer. I’ve already updated the post in question with some links to examples of Russian support for the far right. If we want to talk about the far left? Where to start? We can start with Spanish Communists being duped into fighting alongside neo-Nazis in the Donbas, perhaps? But that’s an extreme case. We could talk about the problem with Jacobin, which I covered a bit in this post about the Ukrainian leftJacobin is still repeating Russian propaganda, such as the idea that the Ukrainian government was somehow responsible for the “Odesa Massacre” (which was in fact a riot that turned violent after pro-Russian demonstrators opened fire on a parade). We could look at how even Noam Chomsky seems to have trouble condemning Russia over the annexation of the Crimea, and even comes very close to articulating the Russian view that it has the right to determine Ukraine’s foreign policy. There’s MMA fighter Jeff Monson, formerly an IWW anarcho-syndicalist who was duped into thinking the “Communist Party of the Russian Federation” is actually socialist. I could also point to several episodes of the otherwise wonderful podcast Chapo Trap House when they repeat the meme about “Ukrainian Nazis.” I realize that as a comedy podcast, they engage in exaggeration for effect, but in one recent episode they not only repeated the meme several times, but it also came with a policy opinion not to send lethal arms to Ukraine. This clearly isn’t intentional and I doubt the guys at Chapo Trap House spend much time if any watching RT or reading Sputnik News. It just shows how certain knee-jerk responses and memes can influence people and shape a narrative, including ones the Russian government wants to popularize.

As for the demand that I “identify” Russian propaganda and give examples of leftists falling for it (hell I’ll throw in one more- Caleb Maupin), well that’s why the term “sea lioning” is useful. Do a little research first.

This article also employs the same patronising language that your average Twitter liberal conspiracy theorist uses, but as though it was coming from someone “on my side”.

I find that a bit odd considering I’m blocked by many of those people, and I’ve spent a lot of time on Twitter and this blog criticizing their behavior. If someone with experience and knowledge in a particular subject is trying to break it down for people who are new to the topic, does that make their language patronizing? Remember this person just demanded that I “identify” what Russian propaganda means, but now considers me to be patronizing. Okay. Sure.

It’s also operating under the implied assumption that leftists that reject the author’s beliefs may be “in a de facto alliance with the global Far Right”.

That’s your inference, not my implication, and it is incredibly wrong. If you associate with Russian propaganda organs like RT or Sputnik and promote the Russian government’s foreign policy talking points, you will find yourself in such a de facto alliance. I already mentioned the example of the Spanish volunteers in the Donbas as well as the “election observers” Russia rounded up for its referendums in Crimea and Donbas. If you were to appear on RT, you’d be appearing on a network that has given platforms to far right and even neo-Nazi figures including Richard Spencer.

 

Maybe you think this doesn’t matter, sharing a platform with neo-Nazis and conspiracy kooks, but believe me it will matter to your opponents, and they’ll be all too happy to use this to discredit you in the public eye. But if you want to be the leftist who manages to get dunked on by such a pathetic figure as Jamie Kirchick, by all means, do that interview I guess.

These paragraphs attempt to illustrate some Leftist cooperation with Russia but fails to present any evidence. What does it mean to “maintain contacts with the left”? Who is identifying with post-Soviet Russia? Who is accepting anything that “[Russia] has to offer?” What the fuck is this person talking about?

I’VE NEVER HEARD OF THIS THING HAPPENING!!! IT MUST NOT BE! WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS PERSON TALKING ABOUT?!

As if I haven’t demonstrated enough in the preceding paragraphs, here’s “what the fuck” I’m talking about. You want more? There’s more. Hell, even I am an example of a leftist who was duped by Russian propaganda when I thought I knew better. How did it happen? Thanks to personal contacts with a Ukrainian “leftist” organization that in fact was allied with the Russian government and…guess what…worked alongside pro-Russian far right organizations.

But yeah, this is all a bunch of crazy paranoid rambling, sure.

I could say the same for the American bourgeoisie, who profited greatly from the political and economic strife from the 2008 recession. What destabilisation American politics has already suffered through has been nothing but a boon for their elites, fostering a deeply pro-business fascist/nationalist ideology.

Did someone order a red herring? Nobody’s defending the American bourgeoisie. This is a reminder that they are in competition with ruling capitalists of other countries, and those capitalists don’t actually care about your leftist cause or how successful it is. Don’t think for a minute that the people at RT are secretly hoping a US protest movement like Occupy somehow grows so big and successful that it leads to actual reform that helps millions of working Americans- that would be the worst result from their point of view. It’s about the tension, not resolution.

 

The US government is staffed entirely by neo-conservative war hawks. Donald Trump threatens nuclear war regularly, without restraint or “candor”. The only time American media outlets like Trump is when he sends cruise missiles of “freedom” into Syrian air bases. The American government has dominated within and without its “sphere of influence” since World War 2. Don’t pretend that the US is better than Russia in this realm.

Oh look, another red herring, one which actually contradicts itself (on the neocon thing), and ends with a strawman. Way to miss the point there, buddy.

Also the idea that the US dominates everywhere today as much as it did in WWII is simply false. US power is weakening as regional powers increase and strengthen, and the US has seriously squandered much of its power and influence due to its “War on Terror.”

 

This is really weird speculation that doesn’t actually strike me as being anywhere close to reality. The idea that Russia is offering “cooperation” in exchange for concessions to “all of Russia’s demands” sounds extremely suspect, and even if it is true, it is not as though the US doesn’t do the same thing, especially when dealing with third world countries. The USA is doing the exact same thing that the author is complaining about right now to North Korea, for heaven’s sake.

Here’s helpful tip- maybe if something seems weird to you, consider first whether or not you’ve taken the time to research and understand the issue being discussed. I’ve written plenty of times about Russia’s offers of “compromise” and the “realists” who recommend them. They always require the US to meet the Russians half way by recognizing the Crimea as part of Russia, encouraging a Ukrainian recognition of the phony “republics” in the east, a removal of sanctions, in exchange for…uh…erm…something something counter-terrorism work? If there has been a concrete offer of concession from the Russians on one of their major foreign policy goals that I haven’t heard of to date, I’m all ears.

And the rest of this argument is all “whataboutism.” The point isn’t that the US doesn’t do stuff like this, it’s that there are other governments already doing the same thing and they will continue to do so should they get the chance. We live in a capitalist world that pits countries against one another. If one hegemon’s power begins to wane, it will be filled by other contenders. We will not resolve this problem by supporting the underdogs but rather by overthrowing the system as a whole.

Onto the actual meat of the quote, this dreamed up fantasy about Rojava fails to take into account the contradictions that the author points out within the same paragraph. The Department of Defense could decide to withdraw funding for the PKK and let their ally Turkey whittle them back down into an oppressed minority, or even agree with Turkey and designate them as a terrorist group (opening them up to surveillance and military action). Both of these hypothetical situations could happen without Russia having to lift a finger. It’s like the author is racking their brains, trying to think of something that socialists like that has a remote chance of being imperiled by some bilateral US-Russia pact that was never, ever on the cards anyway!

I figured this situation is pretty easy to understand, but I guess some people really do comment on things without reading about them first. In the case of Rojava, Russia has played a double role. In a draft constitution proposal written up by the Russians and presented in Astana (it was almost immediately rejected), the Russians did appear to recommend Kurdish autonomy. It’s not difficult to see why Russia would do this- they’re basically keeping Assad on life-support, the Kurds have shown themselves willing to work with the regime for the sake of peace, and therefore conceding to the Kurds is a big step forward to getting what Putin was looking for at the time- some kind of peace agreement in Syria. Since then, however, things have gone more favorably for Assad, and there are questions about what will happen between the SDF and the regime now that ISIS and most other rebel forces have been driven out or crushed (see what happened more recently in Iraq between the Kurds over Kirkuk). Since Russia’s priority is Assad and the US is far more likely to defer to a NATO member and regional power like Turkey over a rag-tag quasi-anarchist experiment, there’s nothing particularly far fetched about this scenario.

The next part is responding to my advice, supporting what that former Occupy leader wrote about internationalizing protest movements.

What the fuck is this person talking about? First of all, Occupy imploded for a reason. You couldn’t pay me to take advice from an “Occupy leader”.

I don’t remember implying that Occupy collapsed for any reason having to do with Russia. The reader can see here.

And while I had and still have plenty of criticism for the Occupy movement, I kind of try to go by this school of treating every claim or piece of advice on its own merit rather than dismissing it immediately because of who it came from.

Second, demanding that protesters change tactics in order to prevent “foreign government hijacking” is extremely paranoid and extremely arrogant.

Uh no, it’s not. What’s funny about this is that such leftists typically have no problem dismissing certain foreign protest movements as bought and paid for by the US government, yet the very idea that a foreign government might try to exploit or manipulate their movement is “paranoid.” We already know that domestic actors try to manipulate protest movements. Anyone remember “99% Spring?”

Showing up to a protest with some arbitrary shit about Russia sounds extremely suspect, and the idea of “signs and slogans comparing American wealth inequality with that of Russia” is a fascinating example of liberal chauvinism.

You know what’s funny is this person accuses me of being patronizing, but apparently could not conceive of any way to apply this concept of solidarity in a protest movement save for the clunkiest and most arbitrary one.

First of all, anyone who’s actually been to leftist protests, major ones that is, knows that they tend to be a cornucopia of many different broad left causes- feminist, anti-racism, environmental preservation, Palestinian rights, etc. Reasonably intelligent organizers can determine what messages are appropriate or not.

Second, if it is appropriate within the context, I’d say comparisons with Russia can be very useful if done correctly. After all, our politicians and our media are now constantly deriding Russia, and pop culture maintains numerous negative stereotypes about the society. So sometimes identifying similarities between that system and ours shows how our government is failing us on a daily basis. What is more, there are actually some areas where Russia actually beats the US, such as in healthcare (big asterisk here, but it certainly worked for me and other expats I know), paid vacation, and maternity leave.

People are out protesting for reasons that relate to their personal struggle, and trying to adjust their message so that Russian state media have less of a chance of, uh, “covering it”, sounds extremely counter productive.

Again I didn’t know I’d have to spell this out so simply; it would seem…patronizing. But I think most activists can determine whether an issue is too local to be part of some international solidarity action. Many protests actions will never be covered by Russian media anyway. The main thing is not to be manipulated.

And as someone who has been attacked in this way numerous times by the “info-warriors,” I do not believe in self-censorship for the sake of preventing my work or statements from being wrongly appropriated by pro-Russian sources. This has actually happened before on at least one occasion, but I feel that the weight of my work shows my independence. Anyone can cherry pick things  for their own purposes.

I don’t care for fortune telling about what working class people will and won’t relate to, but why would I, personally, show up to a local protest about any issue if it’ll get co-opted into some weird nationalist Russia shit? When another black kid gets murdered by cops, I think showing up with signs trying to flimsily tie pigs killing innocent people to Russia will be in pretty fucking poor taste!

And this person is accusing me of inventing far-fetched scenarios. Yeah it’s easy to make something look stupid when you purposely dream up the most ham-fisted implementation for it.

If we’re talking about the issue of police brutality, for example, one could compare the militarized police response in America to that in Russia, and also point out how they are both treated differently. In Russia (or Ukraine during Euromaidan), the media and US government are totally on the side of the protesters (not making moral judgments here, they just happen to pick the right side for different motives), but in the US the media flips out over a smashed Starbucks window or overturned trash can. This is a point that not only hits at the authorities, but also our media since they are often the enablers of this double standard.

For the next section I have to quote the part of my post that the critic responds to. My words are in italics.

Unfortunately, many American leftists subscribe to out-of-date, naive ideas about imperialism and how to oppose it. As such, they are prone to knee-jerk reactions to world events and end up regurgitating Kremlin talking points totally independently of any exposure to Russian-produced propaganda. The best you can do in this case is to point out the moral inconsistency of their positions and how such out of date views of the world are not only counter-productive, but they often actually aid the forces of reaction and are condescending to boot. So-called “anti-imperialists,” often with zero experience or background knowledge on the country in question, are typically more than happy to make loud pronouncements about which peoples deserve self-determination, and which do not, which protests are authentic, and which are nothing but paid dupes of the CIA or State Department. And yet how many of these same people would bristle with anger when the right says they’re “paid by George Soros?”

I feel like no matter their political views, anyone could be able to identify this paragraph as being wildly arrogant. Assuming that those who disagree with you have “out-of-date [and] naive ideas about imperialism” asserts that if only these people were smarter and more well-read, they wouldn’t hold the political stances that they hold; you don’t need me to tell you that that’s fallacious. Political stances can be informed by someone’s “intelligence” and the books that they read, but they’re never determined by them.

First of all, many leftists do have naive ideas about imperialism, as is evidenced by the way they treat information from foreign state media outlets or governments versus how skeptical they are of anything from their own government or “mainstream media.” One would think that at best, some people might decide to treat all sources with equal skepticism, but that’s simply not what happens and anyone who says otherwise clearly isn’t having enough interaction with the left as a whole.

As for the question of being more informed well, I’m very sorry but people should be more informed and modify their political beliefs as a result. I certainly have.

The fact is that much of the American left has never set foot in Russia, does not speak the language, and in many cases knows little about its history save for certain topics related to the Soviet Union. This lack of information puts the left in danger of being manipulated. I have already demonstrated many times (including with links in this post) how this leads to leftists taking really incorrect positions on Russia (among other issues).

And if you want to speak about arrogance, there’s nothing more arrogant than a Western-based leftist who’s never been to Russia or Ukraine lecturing on Putin’s alleged anti-imperialism or the “Nazi junta” in Kyiv. The funniest thing is that if someone like me just started lecturing a Palestinian activist about what’s going on in the place where they live and the struggle they are involved with, I’d be rightly called out and probably demonized. But leftists are doing this all the time with Ukraine, Russia, and Syria, to name a few places.

 

Quibbling aside, based on the discursive background of the modern left argument that boy, some anti-imperialists are just wackos!, this article is almost certainly about leftists who, I suppose, could be described best as “defending” the government of Syria, as well as the others who find themselves under the heavy gaze of the American empire (such as North Korea’s or Iran’s).

The fact is that many leftists do cross the line from opposing US regime change to defending governments in Libya, Syria, Russia, etc. I remember this very well with the Libyan case. I’d done some research about Libya and found that under Gaddafi it did certainly have very good living standards. But over time I noticed some of the people in the circles I frequented posting insane claims about how great the Gaddafi government supposedly was. Judging by those claims, you’d think Gaddafi had achieved full communism and built an almost utopian society. Makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to revolt against that, doesn’t it? Oh well- they must be Islamic fundamentalists paid by the CIA and Israel. There’s nothing arrogant or orientalist about that, right?

It’s often that these leftists are accused of, if not being on the take from Vladimir Putin, then falling for his dastardly talking points. But that fails to take into account the logic behind “supporting” these governments: constantly adding your voice to a chorus of right wing regime change fanatics, who hate nations solely for refusing to become American client states, serves solely to galvanise the bourgeoisie’s case for regime change in those nations.

Excuse me, but who’s been seriously pushing for regime change or war on Russia since the end of the Cold War? See this is the very opposite of what the critic talks about when it comes to protests. There, we shouldn’t be concerned with how Russian press might portray it (which is actually true in most cases), but now we have to censor ourselves lest this “right-wing chorus” somehow uses our statements to justify a war they’re not even planning.

As for countries other than Russia, I’m very sorry but I’m not going to stay silent about the Assad regime’s brutality just because someone else (I don’t know who) is pushing for a major US invasion of that country. If the ruling class decides to go to war, they’ll go to war, and thanks to their blunder in Iraq it will be a long time before public opinion gets on the side of any major military intervention (such as a regime change) whether it has any actual justification or not.

At the end of the day this is just arguing for self-censorship due to fears someone might misuse your statements. I’ve already said I’m against that. The trick is thinking about optics and not self-censorship.

Condemning American enemies that are under the crosshairs of American cruise missiles because they’re capitalists – just those that are outside of American hegemony – is, in execution, simply tacit approval.

No, it’s not. It’s called being honest and morally consistent. Most of these pariahs really aren’t in any military danger at all. Russia is not threatened militarily by NATO. They have worked with NATO in the past and could have had great relations were it not for Putin’s imperialist worldview. If Putin were so afraid of NATO, he wouldn’t have nearly opened a NATO military base in Ulyanovsk in 2010.

Hemming and hawing over how problematic a nation is when the American public consciousness is, aloud or not, mulling over actions against that nation will only harm that nation’s workers, is, in execution, staying silent!

Yes, because it’s totally impossible to condemn and oppose a war while at the same time acknowledging a certain regime’s crimes against humanity. What about pointing out how such military interventions have never (possibly with one small exception) actually achieved what they were intended to do? Intervention in Bosnia did not stop massive ethnic cleansing. Ditto with Kosovo. Iraq was…do I even need to explain? Syria has been an unmitigated disaster, and results in Libya are still in doubt.

The main point is that the liberal capitalist system likes to identify these dictators and criticize their human rights records, but at the same time they cannot and will not solve this problem militarily.

The rhetorical purity over correctly identifying every capitalist state as harmful to the proletariat means little when proletarians will suffer under whatever action America takes against their nation, be it military (drone strikes, invasion, funding of paramilitaries) or not (funding of right wing political figures, embargoes, diplomatic isolation).

Hey proletariat living under various dictatorships? Yeah I hate to do this to you but you need to give up your hopes and dreams and struggle because over here in America we’ve decided that America’s the worst government ever and we decided it wants to invade and overthrow that dictator you hate. Yeah I know he’s left you impoverished and his police torture you, but we’ve decided that he also opposes American imperialism, so you’re going to just have to sit there and take it because even though we’ve been predicting that US invasion for years, we’re pretty sure it’s right around the corner. Just shut up and sit tight. You’re probably all paid by the CIA or Al Qaeda or something anyway.

Yeah. Not arrogant at all.

We mustn’t stay silent when America’s knife is at anybody’s throat, because history tells us whatever happens, working people will be worse off after she’s done her dirty work.

freedmen

Are you sure about that?

dachausurvivors

Are you really sure about that?

I’m not sure exactly who this anthropomorphized female America has her knife pointed at, but I think maybe a better idea is to just condemn attacking countries with metaphorical knives in general.

Perhaps more importantly- this age-old “America is the worst thing since Hitler” attitude that still permeates the left is beyond stale and simply doesn’t fucking work. Look at it this way- you can spend your life going to rallies and burning American flags, or you can come up with better talking points and organizing tactics so that your movement actually achieves real power and then, one day, can actually prevent the US from doing bad things around the globe. And if you think that’s not possible you’re basically admitting you have no real goal in leftist politics at all and you might as well go ask Peter Daou for an unpaid internship or something.

 

 

Again, this is about moral consistency, and being realistic so your opponents don’t destroy you in public debate. When it comes to threatening wars, I can tell you about how back in 2004 radical left pundits on the radio were warning us of the impending invasion of Iran. One popular theory was that Bush would initiate the invasion and use it as an excuse to call off the 2004 presidential election (turns out voter suppression is a much better way to get reelected). Of course that invasion never came, and it’s unlikely to come because if you actually…I apologize in advance for the arrogance, learn about Iran’s defense capabilities, you’d see that they can literally throw the entire globe into economic crisis within a matter of hours using conventional munitions in the Persian Gulf. That’s why the hysteria over an Iranian nuclear weapon is just that- Iran doesn’t need a nuclear weapon to bring much of the world to its knees thanks to our dependency on oil. In fact you might say that when it comes to defending themselves…they’ve got the world over a barrel. The idea that the US and NATO plan to invade Russia is beyond laughable.

If you want to see an example of a real-world attempt to apply moral consistency to anti-imperialism and the anti-war movement, I suggest checking out the Revive the Peace Movement initiative, which was mentioned to me by a reader. Here are a couple excerpts from their page:

“We resolutely oppose the wars of the U.S., its allies and clients, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and U.S. support for repressive regimes such as Honduras and Bahrain. We call for an end to U.S. support for Israel and for justice for Palestinians, in all of historic Palestine and in their places of refuge.”

That should please any “anti-imperialist,” but then it’s followed by this:

“We also recognize that there are other oppressors in the world, from ISIS to Russia, from Iran to China, from North Korea to the Assad regime. We won’t hesitate to oppose their wars, interventions and cruelties.”

What? There are other bad governments out there besides America? You actually published this online?! Clearly these people are nothing but CIA shills or dupes of the neocons! What “cruelties” are they talking about in China? I’ve never heard anything about these? What the fuck are these people even talking about?! This is so patronizing!

 

Well that’s been fun. I realize that my original piece may not have been clear enough for people not familiar with these issues, and the critic has some valid concerns. I hope this answers them. I know I might have been a little harsh, but I think it’s proportional to the way the critic responded.

UPDATE: I just found an interesting transcript of a speech from well-known imperialist neocon CIA shill Bernie Sanders. Here’s an interesting excerpt:

Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought in the same way. Around the world we have witnessed the rise of demagogues who once in power use their positions to loot the state of its resources. These kleptocrats, like Putin in Russia, use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.

I guess Sanders needs to be totally discarded by the American left. If he keeps saying things like that, it’s only a matter of time before the American public gets on board for an invasion of Russia or something. 

 

An American Leftist Guide to Russian Soft Power

I’m writing this guide to help American leftists understand the nature of Putin’s Russia and more specifically its attempts to influence politics in other countries. Just a few years ago this wasn’t much of an issue- now it is, however, and we must adapt to this new reality not with panic and fear-mongering, but with sober analysis.

While the actual abilities of Russia to shape politics in countries like the United States are in fact quite limited, their activities can have a profound impact on the theory and praxis of leftists, and specifically a very negative impact. Put simply, working with Russia or its allies on anything is like talking to the police- you have everything to lose and nothing to gain. More importantly, leftist ignorance about Russia makes them more vulnerable to manipulation, and worst of all, it makes one morally inconsistent, either by putting them in a de facto alliance with the global far right, or just by contradicting our stated values in ways which can be easily exploited by right wing hacks.

This is intended to be a very rough guide, for people not too familiar with the subject. I encourage readers who want to know more to ask questions in the comments section.

Q. Why should I care about Russia?

Maybe you shouldn’t, especially if you’re engaged in productive activism or organization in your community. If that’s the case- good for you. But there are certain people in Russia who care about you, specifically they want to use and manipulate you to further their foreign policy goals. Lacking the soft power infrastructure of the United States or even the Soviet Union, they have resorted to asymmetrical, if not terribly effective, methods. The general aim of these methods can be seen in the recommendations of a book called Foundations of Geopolitics by Alexander Dugin. Here’s a relevant passage from a summary of the book:

“Within the United States itself, there is a need for the Russian special services and their allies “to provoke all forms of instability and separatism within the borders of the United States (it is possible to make use of the political forces of Afro-American racists)” (248). “It is especially important,” Dugin adds, “to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements– extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It
would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics” (367)”

Dugin, arguably a fascist by the most accepted definition, is often overrated by the Western media; he is not as some claim, “Putin’s ideologue.” But Foundations of Geopolitics was and is taken seriously in powerful circles in Moscow, particularly in the military. More importantly, this strategy is apparent in many of Moscow’s foreign policy activities, such as fake “election observations” in Donbas or Crimea, the sponsoring or assistance of far right and far left organizations in the West, and internet trolling operations that have tried (and to some degree succeed) to stir up real life conflict within the US and other countries.

In terms of concrete support, Russia has almost exclusively helped the far right, as far right ideas the closest thing Russia has to an official ideology.  However, they still maintain contacts with the left and use symbolism, often Soviet or “Communist,” to dupe leftists into identifying with Russia. Accepting anything they offer gains you nothing. Your right-wing opponents will seize on any opportunity to attack you as a “useful idiot” and dismiss you. It’s not fair, but politics is war by other means, and all’s fair in love and war.

Q. But isn’t my government the worst threat to world peace? 

Possibly, but how does regurgitating Russian propaganda help alleviate that? If Russia seems like less of a threat than the US, it is only because it is far weaker economically and militarily. We have seen since 2014 that to the extent Russia has the ability to project military force, it has done so, and with far less restraint or even candor than the US. More over, its media and politicians continually threaten nuclear war against nations which object to its activities. The Russian government promotes the idea that Russia is a “natural empire” and that it has the right to have a “sphere of influence” around it. Would you tolerate the US or any of its allies doing something like this? I’d hope not. So don’t tolerate it from Russia.

Q. Okay I get that, but for me, my own government is my main problem. I don’t think I’ll ever go to Russia or Ukraine anyway. 

This is a totally acceptable position- just don’t adopt Russian talking points on those issues if they don’t concern you enough. If you don’t know, say so and move on- nothing wrong with that. It’s a lot better than becoming a shill for a regime that not only doesn’t care about your cause, but by all counts probably hates you and hopes you experience more political and economic strife because from their point of view, destabilization in your country is good for them.

Q. But my country’s leaders and our mainstream media are criticizing Putin and Russia all the time. Doesn’t that mean he stands in the way of their imperial machinations?

To some degree yes, but that doesn’t make Putin’s motives pure or positive. Putin doesn’t want to “oppose imperialism” or something of the sort. If anything it’s just the opposite- he wants to basically codify imperialism, divide the world among self-appointed “great powers,” one of which should be Russia. All the smaller and weaker nations of the world can be nothing more than vassals of one regional empire or another. This belief can often be gleaned from statements by Russia’s Foreign Ministry directed at other countries such as Ukraine and EU member states.

In reality, Putin was for some time an admirer of George W. Bush and tried diligently to come to some kind of partnership with the US and UK. Even to this day Russia keeps offering “cooperation” with the West, so long as the West unilaterally concedes to all of Russia’s demands. How would that fare, for example, for the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (formerly known as Rojava)? Russia’s all in for Assad’s government, while the US, though supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces now, is still in an alliance with NATO member Turkey. An agreement between Russia, Turkey, and the US, could sweep one of the world’s most progressive projects in decades away in a bloodbath.

Bottom line is- leftists are supposed to think more critically. Our epistemology needs to be a bit more sophisticated than “Let’s support whoever our government seems to hate!”

Q. But won’t I run the risk of regurgitating American government propaganda?

Not if you think critically and check your sources. You don’t need to oppose something just because the US government seems to be supporting it. They have their reasons, and you can have yours.

The reverse is also true- you shouldn’t necessarily shy away from speaking the truth (key word: truth) just because Russia or someone pro-Kremlin appears to be supporting the same side. For one thing, we’ve already established that part of Russia’s influence operations entails supporting both sides of polarizing issues. But for a case study, take the recent attempt at Catalonian independence. Personally I didn’t support the move based on some background information I read, but that didn’t stop me from condemning the violence that was used against the referendum. I couldn’t care less which side Russia supposedly supported (they actually changed their position on this). Every case needs to be considered on its own merit. Movements and initiatives cannot decide who endorses them, be they Russia or the US government.

Q. What’s something I can do to protect my cause or organization from Russian manipulation? 

One former Occupy Leader came up with a good strategy for deterring this sort of manipulation- international solidarity for protest movements. Basically by linking protests, it makes it harder for foreign governments on both sides to hijack any one movement. For example, if there’s a big protest in the US, find ways to link it to global protests in countries like Russia. If protesters used signs and slogans comparing American wealth inequality with that of Russia, it is unlikely that Russian state media would want to give it much coverage. This can be done on other topics as well, from separation of church and state issues to militarism and war. Just like the US government, Putin spends vast amounts of wealth on military modernization and war to the detriment of his own people. When protesters make this a part of their rhetoric, it makes it harder for Russian soft power organizations to capitalize on their movement. And of course, expressing solidarity with Russian opposition figures is another major turn off for Kremlin media.

Q. How can I tell if I’m being approached by someone working for the Kremlin in some way?

In the previous answer I link to a post (here it is again if you hate scrolling) that has a rough guide for determining whether or not you’re dealing with a pro-Kremlin agent. I use the word “agent” very loosely here; I do not mean a spy or government operative. They could very well be an independent individual who just has a pro-Kremlin POV and rather informal links. But remember- if they get you to regurgitate the Kremlin’s foreign policy talking points in public, they’ve basically subordinated you to their cause.

Also realize you should relax and not become too paranoid about this kind of thing. Unfortunately, many American leftists subscribe to out-of-date, naive ideas about imperialism and how to oppose it. As such, they are prone to knee-jerk reactions to world events and end up regurgitating Kremlin talking points totally independently of any exposure to Russian-produced propaganda. The best you can do in this case is to point out the moral inconsistency of their positions and how such out of date views of the world are not only counter-productive, but they often actually aid the forces of reaction and are condescending to boot. So-called “anti-imperialists,” often with zero experience or background knowledge on the country in question, are typically more than happy to make loud pronouncements about which peoples deserve self-determination, and which do not, which protests are authentic, and which are nothing but paid dupes of the CIA or State Department. And yet how many of these same people would bristle with anger when the right says they’re “paid by George Soros?”

 

Some Final Advice

There is no such thing as a “socialist camp” in the modern world today. There is no “anti-imperialist camp” either. The world is, with few exceptions (and not necessarily positive ones by any stretch), entirely capitalist and integrated. Foreign propaganda projects try to entice you with leftish symbolism or by talking about the issues you care about, which are often underreported by our own major media outlets. But this is just a scam. It’s not about actually doing anything to address those issues- it’s about you to identify with a regime and hopefully echo its talking points. In the end, your credibility gets destroyed and they get another butt-ton of funding from their government. Who wins? American leftists need to be aware of Russian and other foreign soft power in the same way that Ukrainians and Russians need to be aware of Western soft power attempts to co-opt their grassroots movements. This is the world we are living in.

Maintain your principles. Maintain your independence. Maintain your moral consistency and integrity. Act locally, think globally, and don’t become a pawn.

 

What Do We Have Here?

Yesterday one of my long time readers sent me a very interesting link. Check out this video:

Notice anything, like how the narrator during the story sounds like a computer? Or take a look at the video description, where we see this:

“We report the daily’s breaking news, Top Stories and the Most Interesting News.
We report the genuine news and circumstances occurring the world over.
Genuine Reports that the predominant press doesn’t need you to think about!

We are your #ONE source for the most vital
world event and stories happening every day!
We always want to know what YOU think!
Stay tuned for updates.

Very excited to partner with other electronic newspaper pages.”

“The daily’s breaking news?” No Oxford comma (often used by Americans and taught in schools when I was young).  “Genuine news and circumstances?” Reporting things “the predominant press doesn’t need you to think about?”

All of this tells me it was not written by a native speaker of English. But this video is just the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at the channel page. As you can see it was created on 4 January 2017 and has about 96,000 subscribers and nearly 60 million views.

In the channel’s description it repeats the same poorly worded text you see in each video description. It derides the “predominant press,” yet has logos from mainstream media outlets all over its graphics.

 

Here’s what a sampling of its videos looks like:

youtubechannel

I’m guessing they don’t know what “Breaking” means in media terminology.

One thing immediately jumps out at you- all these stories tend to be pro-Trump and very anti-Obama. They also hype conspiracy theories and fabricated claims about protests, such as the 4th November Antifa Civil War (this conspiracy meme was originally started by American nutcase fantasizers):

Once again there’s that computer voice, which begs the question- if this is just some American or Western-based outfit trying to spread conspiracy theories with clickbait news stories, possibly for financial gain, why would you use a computer text-to-speech program? This would sound annoying and it’s probably much less efficient.

Of course you would use text to speech if you’re not a native English speaker and you have an accent, particularly a Russian accent. This is not the first time they have done this either.

This Youtube channel, dear readers, is almost certainly another idiotic project of the Internet Research Agency, better known as the St. Petersburg troll factory. And like all their content, it’s extremely amateurish, basically a regurgitation of American conservative conspiracy theories, and would probably only be appealing to your racist uncle who ruins Thanksgiving with his unfunny jokes about “ebonics” and rants about the lack of “White Entertainment Television.”

Still, the fact that it was founded this year tells us that for all their failures, the Internet Research Agency is still plugging away. And the predominant press doesn’t need you to know this!

 

 

A Message to My Readers

This is going to sound a bit strange and unnecessary, but bear with me.

We unfortunately live in an age of cowardly internet bullying, hacking, internet stalking, and similar despicable behaviors. In the social media sphere, many people join “tribes” based around a personality or issue, and oftentimes people get some kind of catharsis out of venting their hate on their enemies or at the outrage of the week. If you want to see how insane things have become, just try leaving a negative comment on a video put out by a popular Youtube star and wait for the torrent of abuse to rain down upon you. This is just a small fraction of the amount of hate that can be generated online.

I’m writing this because recently I learned that there is a possibility that what I thought was an innocuous tweet a long time ago may have been seized upon by some social media users, who allegedly decided to harass that individual in real life with threatening behavior. I doubt that the behavior was specifically triggered by my tweet (which certainly didn’t condone anything of the sort), and for all I know the individual could be mistaken as to whether I had anything to do with what happened, but as long as their is even the slightest possibility that someone used something I wrote to aid in the harassment of others, I have to speak out against it because that is the right thing to do, and because many years ago I myself was the victim of an internet stalker who could have caused me serious problems. Though I managed to resolve that situation, you cannot know how unpleasant an experience even that can be, even without having anonymous people call you and harass you.

On Twitter and on this blog I have often criticized many public figures and their ideas. I would hope that my readers would be smart and decent enough not to take this criticism as a license to go engage in immoral and often illegal acts against such people. If you also have a problem with what they write, keep your arguments online and in the open. And if you are a fan of this blog, realize that you are doing me no favors by engaging such behavior on my account. But again, I’m really hoping that none of my readers are the type of person who would do so in the first place. That being said, I’ve often had a problem with overestimating people’s decency and competence. Also when you have a growing audience, it’s only inevitable that you begin to acquire fanboys who live vicariously through your brand and make it part of their identity. Such impressionable types are usually the sort that engage in doxxing, brigading, etc.

I hope that all this was a totally unnecessary precaution. I hope that my readers are smart enough not to engage in this kind of craven behavior and that the sick individuals who caused these victims such anguish had never seen what I wrote, but rather found their victims through other publicly available information. But solely because that remote possibility exists, I felt compelled to write this statement and I already apologized to the victims for the harm they suffered at the hands of anonymous cowards with no conscience or basic decency.

 

 

 

Millennials Don’t Know About the Horrors of the Thirty Years War, and That’s Bad!

Today’s post is a guest column from the Heritage Foundation’s Glen Billings*

The 23rd of May next year will mark the 400th anniversary of the Defenestration of Prague, an event that many see as the spark which ignited The Thirty Years War, Europe’s most destructive war prior to the two world wars of the 20th century. In fact, it was considered to be the worst catastrophe ever to befall Germany until the Second World War. And yet few millennials know anything about the suffering and pain caused by this pivotal conflict.

In a recent survey conducted by the Victims of Religious Wars of the Early Modern Era, 54% of millennial respondents said that they preferred to live under the rule of a Holy Roman Emperor than in our free market capitalist system. A further 45 percent said they “mostly agree” with the Catholic League, and one out of five millennial respondents said they considered Imperial military leader Albrecht von Wallenstein to be a “hero.”

This is extremely disheartening to see in our modern era, in a time when proponents of restoring the Holy Roman Empire and spreading the Catholic faith by fire and sword are experiencing a surge in popularity and influence not seen in nearly four centuries. If youth are not made aware of the slaughter, the looting, the destruction of towns and villages, the witch hunts, pestilence, and famine that were caused by that horrendously bloody conflict so long ago, it isn’t a stretch to say they might fall for the false promises of Catholic populists who claim to have all the answers. We could very well travel down that same road again, and the results will not be pretty.

Wallenstein / Gem. nach Van Dyck - Wallenstein / Painting by Van Dyck - Wallenstein / D'ap. Van Dyck

I see so many ignorant teenagers at the mall wearing t-shirts with this tyrant’s face on them. They have no idea. 

American youth, not being European, are particularly at risk, which is why the same public education system people like me constantly deride and try to defund on a regular basis needs to step up to the plate and do a better job of educating our youth about the horrors of the Thirty Years War and the ideas that led to it. I would suggest making room in the course syllabus by removing more trivial episodes in history, such as the genocide of the Americas’ indigenous peoples, slavery, European colonization of Africa, the Civil Rights struggle, the Vietnam War, and especially that Iraq War people keep bringing up for some incomprehensible reason. Youth need to be taught what matters, and what matters is that we live in a great, prosperous liberal democratic free market capitalist Republic which is the best system on Earth and always will be till the end of our sun and human life itself.  And we have the Peace of Westphalia to partially thank for that.

If we fail to learn from history, we are sure to repeat it. The sad thing is that modern youth live in such wonderful prosperity, with unprecedented stability and real prospects for a satisfying life, and yet so many of them seem to desire the religious persecution and authoritarianism of the Holy Roman Empire. They may soon get just that.

 

 

 

 

*Real author’s note. Glenn Billings does not actually exist and is a fictional character. Therefore this entire piece is SATIRE and you cannot possibly criticize it or make any judgments about me or my values based on the content of what I write. This is an entirely rational thing to believe. 

A Warning to Leftists

I’ve often said in the past I probably wouldn’t bother with RT or Sputnik if they would just more or less openly come out as far right media outlets. If they simply came out and resembled something more akin to the ultra-reactionary Tsargrad TV, for example, it wouldn’t merit the same kind of scrutiny any more than all the other right-wing crap that floods the internet. My problem with outlets like RT is that they often try to court the left as well, and for a long time they have managed to take advantage of the Western left’s unfortunate propensity to believe anything that seems to be the opposite of what they perceive to be the narrative of their own governments.

In the left’s struggle on the home front, this is a great boon to the ruling class and their army of pedantic pundits. Jamie Kirchick types can seize upon any perceived connection between a leftist group and Russian state-owned media. They can expand the guilt by association even further by pointing out all the far right, fringe figures on the same network- “See?! Horseshoe theory is real!” Sure, this is often a fallacious or at best unfair characterization, but politics is rarely about what’s fair, but rather what is effective. For a leftist to associate with RT or literally anything associated with the reactionary Russian government is to essentially join in a deliberately constructed red-brown alliance with fascists and other assorted reactionaries, and there will always be a neoliberal status-quo apologist more than happy to seize upon any such connection to distract from the weakness of their own arguments.

Unfortunately, to this day many leftist parties and organizations which should know better fall for Russia’s lures for the stupidest reasons. Probably the most ridiculous example concerns Russia’s so-called “election observers” in the Donbas and Crimea. These were recruited from a list of mostly far right and even neo-Nazi parties in Europe, but on each list you see a couple representatives of leftist, even Communist parties. Clearly something is very wrong when a member of the Communist Party of Greece ends up associating with representatives of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, but to date I haven’t noticed any of these parties raising this issue.

The good news is, however, that word is spreading. Leftists are starting to catch onto Russia’s attempts at co-opting and exploiting their movements for propaganda purposes. And the more they discover and learn to react to this the more they will begin to question the Russian government’s narrative on other issues, such as Ukraine and Syria.

My optimism comes from a recent article by one of the Occupy Movement’s leaders who told The Guardian about Russian attempts to co-opt both Occupy and subsequent protest movements. What’s even better is that the author proposes a way to fight back against these approaches:

“Genuine social protests tend to boomerang around the world. So let’s ensure that foreign governments fear that the protests they create abroad will return home. To protect against fake activism in America we must insist that every protest be globally oriented.

That means exporting our protests to every country, especially those suspected of supporting, co-opting or controlling our movements. If Russia wants to create civil rights protests in Oakland then they must be prepared to deal with those same protests back into Moscow. From this point forward, our best defense is a global offense.”

Occupy, for all its faults, was to some extent a global phenomenon which also roughly coincided with larger protest movements in other countries, including Russia (the Occupy title was used on a small scale for some peripheral protest actions in 2011-2012). International solidarity with Euromaidan could have led to a revitalization of the Occupy movement or something much better, but alas- leftists, largely due to ignorance of the region and its politics, bought into a Russian narrative hook, line, and sinker. Had more of the left reached out to Ukrainian protesters they could have learned a lot and gained much inspiration, but due to the aforementioned ignorance and old knee-jerk biases they dismissed the protesters as hapless dupes of Soros and the CIA. By the same token, Ukrainians who looked beyond their borders saw leftists falling for the Russian line, and many of them were turned off by the left in general for this reason. Why would you respect people who, knowing nothing about your country, enthusiastically repeat fabricated claims that would be laughable to anyone who lives in Ukraine or in some cases merely visited? As such, the opportunity to globalize Maidan was missed. Let’s not make that same mistake again, because the idea of an American Maidan is sorely needed now more than ever.

Every leftist must be made aware that the Russian government is not on your side, and they never will be. They don’t care about your cause or your values; if anything they may even despise and actively suppress them in Russia. They also don’t care about your reputation or credibility on the home front. The Kremlin is concerned only with maintaining its own power and wealth. Furthermore, every leftist needs to be aware of Russian sources or organizations which claim to be independent of the state. More often than not, these organizations are nothing but fronts, and their actual policy positions and narratives coincide with the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

To determine whether a Russian (or in some cases Ukraine-based) organization is worthy of consideration, I present the following checklist. It is designed so that even people without a background in the region’s politics can benefit from it.

The most effective way to find out if an organization or source is pro-Kremlin is to check their positions on certain key issues:

-Do they support the annexation of Crimea or talk about it as though it were legal and just? Do they only refer to it as a “reunification?”

-Do they only refer to the war in Ukraine as a “civil war?”

-Do they demand “peace” in Ukraine, but only direct this demand at the Kyiv government? Do they say that Kyiv should recognize the self-proclaimed “republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk or do they say they must engage in direct negotiations with them (this could be seen as de facto recognition)?

-Do they refer to Euromaidan as an American-funded coup of some kind?

-Do they condemn Russia’s foreign policy in Ukraine and/or Syria? How do they condemn it? Do they call out Putin?

-Check out their web-page and especially their social media pages on Facebook and/or VK. Do you see any reactionary memes, avatars, etc?

-When discussing the war in Ukraine, do they constantly talk about Ukrainian far right groups without mentioning the far right organizations fighting for Russia’s side?

-Do they openly call for Putin’s replacement and condemn fake opposition parties like the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)?

-Can you find any evidence that this group has worked with a pro-Kremlin group (cossack organizations, the Night Wolves biker gang, the “Anti-Globalist Movement,” etc.) before?

-Do they condemn “both sides” in Ukraine on an equal basis?

-How often do you see the work of people from this organization on RT, Sputnik, or other pro-Russian sites like Fort Ross, Russia Insider, etc.? If you’re not sure whether a particular source is pro-Russian, you can look over their content and check it with many of the items on this same list.

-Do they talk a lot about self-determination and support independence and separatist movements in almost any country except Russia?

As you can see, pro-Kremlin people or front groups typically don’t contradict certain key narratives of the Kremlin, particularly those related to foreign policy. This is the thing to key in on. If you get multiple hits on this checklist, and especially if there is a pattern of such behavior, you’re probably dealing with either a Russian government front organization or just a genuinely pro-Kremlin individual. Avoid them like the plague, otherwise they’ll stain your organization or individual work via association. Never accept an offer of an interview from outlets like RT or Sputnik. The association with far right cranks and conspiracy nuts, plus the Russian government itself, will far outweigh any benefits their platform could provide. Most importantly, spread this warning and advice (mine and that of the linked article’s author) to your comrades and friends.

Struggle for yourself and your values- not for the Kremlin.