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 left. Jacobin 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.
Are you sure about that?
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.