The Left and ‘That Russia Stuff’

Yesterday’s reaction to the Helsinki meeting between Trump and Putin was, to put it mildly, a shitshow. And once again, we saw the so-called radical left seemingly spending more time attacking “the libs” than, you know, the actual fascists like the president and his minions. Few seemed to notice the fact that their dismissive rhetoric toward “that Russia stuff” and their hysteria about World War III just happens to mirror not only the line coming straight from Kremlin media, but also from the alt-right and neo-fascists the world over. And looking at this mess, and at the same time being part of the left as well as someone who has a bit of a background in “Russia stuff,” I feel I should interject and remind some comrades about some key facts in this whole scandal.

What makes me so qualified to do so? Well apart from my knowledge and experience in Russia and its media, I’ve also been one of those voices of reason when it comes to Russiagate in the first place. Long time readers will note that when the Clinton campaign started to bring up Russia during the campaign, I warned about going too far down that path. Not only were most American voters utterly unconcerned about Russia at the time, it was obvious that Russia and Trump could use such rhetoric to posture as anti-establishment, and posture they did.

Also, I followed the Galeotti line, saying that Russia did not expect Trump to win and thus the interference was actually aimed at causing problems for an incoming Clinton administration. If I didn’t point it out on this blog, I certainly made the point some time on Twitter that Trump is most likely not a conscious agent of Russia, turned either by some kompromat pee tape or by some winding conspiracy dating back to 1987. Rather I saw and still see Trump as being charmed by Putin, who knows how to manipulate such people. If there is any kompromat on Trump, it has to do with business dealings, conflicts of interest, and that sort of thing. Beyond that, I think the main reason Trump seems afraid to call out Putin, especially about election interference, is that admitting that it happened is tantamount to questioning his own legitimacy, and there is simply no way Trump would ever allow that.

Furthermore, I have routinely dunked on people like Louise Mensch, Eric Garland, and slightly less odious figures like Molly McKew. I’ve been attacked as a “Russian bot” by “Resistance” types, and not too long ago Mensch and Garland even sicced their incoherent army of morons on me.

The point I’m making is- you know me. You know I’m not some ex-intelligence community pundit or “neocon” think tank academic, and I’m certainly not an amateur counter-intelligence agent on the internet posting about how Bernie Sanders secretly works for the GRU and Black Lives Matter is a Russian front. I’m a revolutionary socialist, one who has spent most of his adult life in Russia.

So I’m hoping you’ll take it to hear when I tell you that yes, Russia interfered in our election. Yes, it was with malicious intent and it was largely aimed at helping Trump. For whatever reason, Trump has been largely disinterested in doing anything about that, and you should be concerned. Now before you interject, here are a few things to consider.

First of all, no, I’m not reversing my position about the reasons why Hillary lost or the efficacy of the Russian interference. To date, we have no concrete data on who might have changed their vote or stayed home due to things they may have seen on Facebook, specifically Russian propaganda. I’ve often criticized those who are so confident in the efficacy of that propaganda while being so reluctant to make any attempt to measure what influence it actually had. But having said all that, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if those idiotic memes didn’t change a single vote. The point is Russia put them out there with a certain intention, and that intention was to help Trump. Where they were not supporting Trump, they were encouraging people not to vote for his opponent, which objectively helps Trump.

Think about it this way- suppose there was a Trump supporter in the US, and he tried to support his candidate by writing a blog and maybe making a few Facebook pages with pro-Trump memes. Now let us imagine that they weren’t widely circulated, never got many views, and thus we later determine that they couldn’t have had any significant impact on voting whatsoever. Would we just totally ignore the fact that this person basically campaigned for Trump? Would we pretend he’s not a Trump supporter?

Worse still, the Russian Internet Research Agency, via Facebook, literally tried to hijack leftist causes, all for the purpose of getting people not to vote for Hillary, Trump’s opponent. That should piss most leftists off. I mean every election you see people correctly point out that to claim to stand “on principle” when doing so could hurt millions of disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized groups of people is bad, very bad. It’s almost the very definition of privilege. But operatives encouraged exactly this behavior while posing as leftists. That should piss you off, especially given the well-established connections between the far-right in America and Russia.

Next, let me smack down this objection that says the Russia stuff is going to cause Democrats to lose or that it’s being used as an excuse to ignore things like poor campaigning or historic problems like racism. First of all, as one of my Twitter followers have pointed out, you don’t really see many Democrats literally campaigning on Russia-related stuff. The media’s constantly talking about it, and they often talk to Democrats for commentary in these discussions, but apart from reactive criticism of Trump’s behavior on the Russia matter I haven’t heard of any candidates who are seriously running on a platform of RUSSIA! RUSSIA! RUSSIA!

As for the second issue, that of blaming historic problems on an external cause, yes- this is a valid concern, but let’s not pretend like every liberal does this. When you see the ones that do- just ignore them or dunk on them and move on. We don’t really have many options as to how to actually fight the fascists who dominate our government  at the moment but to work with people who aren’t quite as woke as you on social issues like wealth inequality. The good news is that these people did actually lose to the dumbest candidate in modern history, and thus we have every right to start making demands about how to proceed, but we do need to work with them. If you disagree, by all means run for the hills, kick off your protracted people’s war (I can tell you right now guerrilla foco is going to get you nowhere), and see how far that gets you.

Lastly I want to tackle two of the dumbest left objections to this issue. The first is the claim that “Well, like, we interfered in their election too!” This is largely based on one story in Time magazine which had a cartoon Boris Yeltsin on its cover, accompanied by the headline “Yanks to the Rescue!” It’s cringe-inducing to see so-called leftist Twitter accounts responding to anyone criticizing Russian interference in the 2016 election with a picture of that cover, acting like it’s some kind of awesome dunk. For one thing, the idea that we should let a far-right wing fascist regime interfere in our election on behalf of a local fascist, with the help of local fascists, just because the US allegedly helped Yeltsin get reelected in 1996 is one of the most idiotic pseudo-left arguments I’ve ever seen. The other reason this argument is idiotic is because the story itself is largely bullshit. Yeah, next time you might want to actually look into Russian history a little bit deeper. It’s amazing how people who seem to pride themselves on doubting the “corporate media” will fall for a narrative largely based on the cover of a major corporate news outlet. I don’t give a shit what the US government supposedly did when I was 14- I’m not going to give Russia a free pass to at the very least, attempt to help a fascist get elected in the US, and you shouldn’t either.

The other moronic objection is that talking about Russian interference and suggesting something be done about it will lead to nuclear war. Yeah, I saw people calling it 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. You know what I haven’t seen? Anyone seriously calling for open war with Russia. What is more, the US already has retaliated against Russia in direct connection with the election interference going back to 2016. Are we at war yet? Nope. Did Russia nuke us? Nope. The truth is that while Putin would like to see an end to the sanctions so he and his friends can stash their ill-gotten wealth in Western banks and real estate, they also need the appearance of a conflict with the West. They need that threat of an external enemy to solidify their support at home. As such, anyone who thinks that toning down the rhetoric will lead to better relations between Russia is not only ignoring the horrible imperialistic shit the regime is doing to its own people and others like Syrians and Ukrainians, but they are also simply ignorant about how the system in Russia perpetuates itself.

So please, let’s not let the fact that some people have been grifters or just plain idiots about Russiagate distract from the fact that this is a serious issue for the left. We’re talking about an authoritarian fascist state that is supporting similar movements and governments around the world. We are engaged in an existential struggle right here in the United States, and as one of my followers (albeit one I often disagree with), some liberals are starting to get really radicalized by this issue. Yes, some of them are going about it in stupid ways or making really bad takes, but we have no other allies to work with. The radical left needs to stop denying the Russia story and try to steer the centrists towards a more realistic understanding of it, as well as an understanding of why real progressive politics are crucial for defeating the far right in America.

The truth is that the “Russia stuff” is a socialist concern. At its root this is a story of wealth inequality, of the shadowy world of money laundering and neoliberal financial systems. It is a story of a global reactionary movement and an archaic, reactionary dream about returning to a 19th century world of imperialistic great powers which divide up the world into spheres on influence which they can exploit at will. Like it or not, this is our fight, and if you repeat the same apologia used by Trump and his defenders both in the US and Russia, you might as well be one of them.


4 thoughts on “The Left and ‘That Russia Stuff’

  1. NonDenominationalLeftist

    “Think about it this way- suppose there was a Trump supporter in the US, and he tried to support his candidate by writing a blog and maybe making a few Facebook pages with pro-Trump memes. Now let us imagine that they weren’t widely circulated, never got many views, and thus we later determine that they couldn’t have had any significant impact on voting whatsoever. Would we just totally ignore the fact that this person basically campaigned for Trump? Would we pretend he’s not a Trump supporter?”

    Wouldn’t this same reasoning also apply to US involvement in the ’96 Russian election? Even if the US didn’t cause Yeltsin to win, the fact that they supported him and assisted his campaign is morally abhorrent.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I do think that the US turning a blind eye to Yeltsin in general (especially in 1993 and for the subsequent Chechen War) is morally abhorrent, and there’s one important caveat about that I’ll allude to later, but unfortunately in many ways the comparison falls apart when you look at the details.

      For example- as far as I know the American PR guys, who were actually rather ineffective, did not break any Russian laws (not that laws meant much at the time). The 2016 operation involved hacking into a system, stealing emails, and leaking them. This was carried out by intelligence operatives.

      On the other hand, let’s imagine that in 2016, for some bizarre reason, Trump’s campaign openly hires a Russian PR firm to do legal PR for him. This might raise a lot of eyebrows but hey- globalization, right? So long as it’s transparent it might be questionable but above board, especially if it were a private firm with no close ties to the state.

      -Also, some have alleged that Yeltsin’s side may have engaged in election rigging. If so, that kind of renders any US help moot.

      -When it comes to other American support for Yeltsin, it also matters that the intention wasn’t to cause chaos in Russia. As delusional as these people might have been, they sincerely believed that in the long run this would be better for Russia. Of course they were willing to overlook a lot of human suffering in the process (all those body-counters retired after the fall of Communism), but they were preaching to Russia the same bullshit they were preaching everywhere. The neoliberal mantra is: “The answer is FREE MARKETS! Now what’s the question?”

      Now about that caveat. I often ask these critics to say what they think the US should have done instead during that time, that wouldn’t have been portrayed as imperialist meddling or trying to put pressure on Russia for going against Washington’s wishes. For example, if people today cry about targeted sanctions against Putin’s corrupt, aggressive regime, are we to believe that wouldn’t be the same if the US sanctioned Yeltsin in 1993? Even withholding IMF loans could be characterized as trying to twist Russia’s arm. Stopping them in Georgia or Moldova would be the same. Chomsky would be all over it. Parenti would be spinning some yarn about how Yeltsin was in fact still quite socialist, and the West was punishing him for not moving fast enough with shock therapy or because some Western investors got screwed in loans for shares auctions by local oligarchs and businessmen.

      The point it is that it was the early 90’s, peak neoliberalism, and the USSR was totally fucked by the state capitalist system. There was no easy way out.

      But like I say in the post, I still don’t care what happened in 1996- I’m not going to sit idly by while a fascist dictator decides to fuck with us and other countries by supporting local fash just because he couldn’t bring himself and his cronies to stop robbing their own people and let them live the lives they deserve.

      1. NonDenominationalLeftist

        I agree overall, and I don’t think any actions the US would have taken in the 90s absolves Putin of his crimes, including involvement in the 2016 election.

        But from a pragmatic view, we are weakened by a historical lack of moral credibility from our government on these issues that Trump and his allies relentlessly exploit.

        We appeased Russia throughout the Obama administration, on both Syria and Ukraine. Of course, his reasons for this we’re understandable – he was elected on a platform that called for drawing down US militarism, and he had seen the failures of our intervention in Iraq.

        Developing a policy that can adequately counter Russian aggression requires learning from our past mistakes so we can avoid repeating them. Of course, the tricky part of not getting so engrossed in our previous failures that we’re locked into inaction.

  2. Shalcker

    Going “Let’s do this thing to hurt Russians! Are we at nuclear war yet? No? Let’s add some more then!” is strange.

    If you keep pushing seriously enough, eventually you’ll end up with nuclear war; one that Putin, apparently, honestly intends to win.

    And if you don’t push seriously enough, then all you do is posturing and not actually solving the problem this punishment is intended to solve – a “feel good” move, while Putin keeps advancing his imperialist agenda. That seems to be a thing happening now.

    Current politicians certainly don’t inspire confidence in seeing where actual “red lines” are or where actual pain points for “Putin’s regime” lie – they pull “who should we sanction next” from freaking Forbes lists.

    Situation with Ukraine is also eerily similar in some regards to Japan-USA thing that led to Pearl Harbor

    The word “incident” (Japanese: 事變, translit. jihen) was used by Japan, as neither country had made a formal declaration of war. From the Japanese perspective, localizing these conflicts was beneficial in preventing intervention from other nations, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, which were its primary source of petroleum and steel respectively. A formal expression of these conflicts would potentially lead to American embargo in accordance with the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s.[36] In addition, due to China’s fractured political status, Japan often claimed that China was no longer a recognizable political entity on which war could be declared.[37]

    And when USA actually did thing that actually did hurt Japan, setting up embargo (several years later)… you got Pearl Harbor same year.

    You cannot simultaneously claim that you can seriously retaliate to Russia and yet never end up with another Pearl Harbor.

    And if you cannot afford to seriously retaliate, then rapprochement is actually better strategy.
    …and, apparently, Israel lobbies for it, and Trump listens to them.


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