Tag Archives: politics

A World of BS: Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Denial

So by now we’re all aware that the Saudi government almost certainly killed and dismembered a famous Saudi journalist in their consulate in Istanbul. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has provoked an outrage among U.S. politicians, typically deferential to Riyadh, that is almost unprecedented. Naturally, instead of using this as a potential last straw to finally start shifting the American public’s attention to our country’s morally reprehensible relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Western left is fumbling the ball by saying things like “Saudi Arabia did 9/11!” and “What about Yemen?!” The latter is of course referring to the bloody, criminal war carried out in that country by Saudi Arabia and the UAE with military support the US and UK, a war that no major Western media outlet reports on, except for Washington PostNY TimesGuardianCNN, NBC, ABC, Vox, Voice of America, and BBC.

Of course since I’m taking a break from US left politics at the moment, I wanted to highlight another interesting phenomenon that we’ve seen in the wake of the Khashoggi case. Looking at the response from both the Kingdom’s Foreign Ministry as well as its media, one cannot help but notice eerie parallels with Russia’s response to scandals such as the Skripal poisoning, interference in the 2016 election, and the downing of MH17. To be fair, Russia has a bit more experience in this field, and as laughable as their denials can be at times, they have at least developed a certain style that is less awkward than that of the Saudis.

Compare:

demise

“Demise is the outcome of these weak endeavors” needs to be the next “Your industry can burn!

 

As you can see, there are some stylistic differences. What is curious, however, is the similarities. For example, note the expression of concern for the victim.

Remember how much the Russian government complained about not being granted access to Sergei and Yulia Skripal (after her recovery Yulia said she was aware of the Russian consulate’s offers, but declined to meet with them)?

Also, note the Saudi use of the classic Russian tactic- “Let’s not point fingers and wait for the investigation to be finished!”

To be fair, advising everyone to hold their judgment until an investigation is finished is not in itself a terrible thing, except in cases where all the evidence almost immediately points to one particular culprit and there are no other suspects to logically consider. More importantly, it is pointless to demand people wait until the investigation is complete if you’re just going to claim the results were biased after the fact, as Russia has done in the case of MH17, several chemical attacks by the Assad regime in Syria, and the Skripal poisoning case. If an objective investigation is carried out, and all its findings point directly to Saudi Arabian government officials, it seems almost inevitable that they will declare the investigation to be politically motivated and thus void.

Saudi-owned media like Al Arabiya is also running interference. Here we can see editorializing right in the first paragraph of this article, which also shares a similarity with Russian state media by starting its headline with “US media expert.” The article’s lede refers to “rumors” about Khashoggi’s disappearance, and contains the term “doubtful information” and “wrongful accusations.” This is even more egregious than some recent RT articles which do things like refer to “staged chemical attacks” in Syria, as though they’ve ever managed to show any evidence of a staged chemical attack there.

There are even closer parallels in some cases. After a Turkish newspaper released photos of 15 men believed to be Saudi government operatives suspected of being involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Al Arabiya claimed they were just tourists, prompting one Twitter user to say they were “pulling a Putin.” Also, much like with the Russian playbook, the Saudis have already started to suggest alternative explanations, one of which is that the killing might have been carried out by rogue agents in its intelligence service either intentionally or during an interrogation gone wrong. This half-admission resembles Putin’s talk about “patriotic hackers” amid flat denials about interfering in the US election in 2016. And just like with Putin’s denials about interfering in the U.S. election, Donald Trump seems totally ready to buy the Saudi King’s story.

This is the world we’re living in today. The Kremlin, Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Bashar al-Assad, Brexit, China, TPUSA- all of these regimes, politicians, movements, etc. have all come to power, survived, or advanced their interests by propagating unreality. Unreality is beyond lies or propaganda; it’s dependent on a receptive audience. Unreality is the idea that you no longer have to live in material reality at all, and instead can just make up your own narrative to explain everything. Living in unreality is like a being an adult who still believes in Santa Claus. Nothing you were taught in school about physics or anything you observed for at least a quarter of a century can convince you that Santa Claus doesn’t fly around the entire globe on 25 December and deliver presents to good Christian children- that he in fact does not exist at all. You know he exists. You want him to exist. So he exists, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise or even bring up any facts which might contradict your belief is a dupe, a shill, or a paid agent of the anti-Christmas lobby (Bet George Soros doesn’t celebrate Christmas, does he?).

In similar fashion, many people want to believe that Assad doesn’t gas people or that Russia didn’t shoot down MH17, so they will go through the most Olympic Gold Medal-winning mental gymnastics to explain why they’re dismissing all manner of concrete evidence while never applying the same skepticism to other claims that they either agree with or just don’t care about. Either that, or they just dismiss something offhand based on claims about the funding of its source, be it a media outlet, think tank, or NGO. And because it’s unreality, that same outlet, think tank, or NGO can be presented as totally legitimate any time it releases a information that supports or seems to support the unreality-dweller’s worldview.

When pondering on this topic I’m reminded of the words of one of my personal role models, James Randi, who described a particular type of person he often encountered in his lifelong struggle against con artists and quacks.

“There exists in society a very special class of persons that I have always referred to as the Believers. These are folks who have chosen to accept a certain religion, philosophy, theory, idea or notion and cling to that belief regardless of any evidence that might, for anyone else, bring it into doubt. They are the ones who encourage and support the fanatics and the frauds of any given age. No amount of evidence, no matter how strong, will bring them any enlightenment. They are the sheep who beg to be fleeced and butchered, and who will battle fiercely to preserve their right to be victimized… the U.S. Patent Office handles an endless succession of inventors who still produce perpetual-motion machines that don’t work, but no number of idle flywheels will convince these zealots of their folly; dozens of these patent applications flow in every year. In ashrams all over the world, hopping devotees of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi will never abandon their goal of blissful levitation of their bodies by mind power, despite bruises and sprains aplenty suffered as they bounce about on gym mats like demented (though smiling) frogs, trying to get airborne. Absolutely nothing will discourage them.”

Of course as the above quote shows, Randi was referring to believers in various spiritual doctrines, pseudo-scientific claims, and the paranormal. But in our age, unreality has become…dare I say it…weaponized by governments and politicians, and now we have perpetual believers in these secular cults.

No doubt the Saudi Kingdom will have its own share of believers around the world, although in the West I suspect most of them will simply be lobbyists on the payroll. Apart from Donald Trump and his entourage, most Westerners find Saudi Arabia too alienating and its soft power too awkward to be attracted to it the way they have been attracted to propaganda from, say, Russia.

Whatever the case, we are as a species stumbling further into unreality- perhaps because we can no longer face reality. Basically, we’re living in a world of bullshit.

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Finally!

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about this New Yorker article about a new book called Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know by Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Unfortunately due to time constraints I wasn’t able to get around to reading it for a while and only now have I got the time to actually give my take on it. While I haven’t been able to examine the book’s arguments in detail, I have to say that this seems to be the first time I’ve seen anyone actually try to attempt to measure the influence of Russian propaganda on the 2016 election with some semblance of scientific rigor. Those of you who follow this blog know that I have often complained about how many of those pundits and politicians who express such confidence that Russia swung the election to Trump seem to avoid expending even minimal effort to try to substantiate their claims. Specifically, nobody seemed to be interested in going out to those key battleground states to survey voters who changed their votes to Trump, a third party, or who decided not to vote at all, and then try to determine the extent to which these people had been exposed to Russian propaganda, e.g. via Facebook.

To be fair, it doesn’t seem like Jamieson’s book does that specific thing, but it does present an interesting case. For one thing, it points out that in those key Midwestern states where Hillary lost unexpectedly, the deck was stacked against Hillary when it came to getting votes. Anyone trying to influence the election against her had an advantage because they didn’t need to push people to vote for her opponent or a third party but rather they could just as easily convince people not to vote at all. This is reminiscent of an old axiom about guerrilla warfare- the insurgent doesn’t need to win; they just need to not lose.

If you look at a lot of Russian propaganda surrounding the election, you’ll notice that a good deal of it is aimed at people who are either left wing or at least left enough to reject Trump. But the Russian propaganda on Facebook, for example, seems to be aimed at keeping those people from voting for Hillary. Some stuff could be construed as anti-GOP or even anti-Trump, but I’ve yet to see anything from that period which is pro-Hillary, or more accurately, anything that would support the idea that as bad a candidate as she is, she’s at least better than Trump.

Now before anyone suggests that this is setting up an excuse for the Hillary campaign, take note that if Russian influence played a decisive role, it could only do so because the election was so close, far closer than it should have been. Judging from the article, one of the main factors in swinging the election was the hacking of the DNC emails, which contained a lot of material relating to Hillary’s political baggage. In other words, a candidate without such baggage would have been harder to bring down. So there’s no letting the Democratic party off the hook even if this book is 100% correct in its hypothesis. If Russian influence swung the campaign it was almost certainly because the weakness of the party and its candidate made it vulnerable to such influence in the first place.

Like I’ve said about Kremlin propaganda dozens of times before- it is effective only where vulnerabilities exist. Corruption, lack of accountability, inequality, and a refusal by politicians to address any of those problems inevitably spreads the rot in which the bullshit of RT, Sputnik, and the Internet Research Agency take root and sprout. Address those aforementioned problems, and people will see the propaganda for what it is- nonsensical fringe crap from a corrupt, authoritarian, desperate regime that has nothing of value to offer the outside world.

And am I sold on the idea that Russia swung the 2016 election, after all this? Well I haven’t read the book so I can’t say for sure. In fact, I’m not sure we’ll ever know exactly what happened. Too much time has already passed and we have much bigger issues to deal with. What I will say is that the idea that it had an impact can no longer be discounted.

Russia Clickbait

So given the fact that today’s Russia news cycle has been dominated by the positively insane interview between RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan and the two suspects in the Salisbury poisoning case, you probably missed the story about Russia targeting the Boy Scouts of America.

“Wait,” you say. “The Russians are trying to ‘hack’ the Boy Scouts?”

Well no. Not yet at least. But they could! And so someone had to write an entire article about it.

Ordinarily when I see one of these articles, I do a CTRL-F and search for the word “Hamilton.” If I get a hit on the so-called Hamilton 68 dashboard, I close the tab, secure in the knowledge that this article is unlikely to offer any real insight. In this case, however, I didn’t do the search. As I scrolled through the article, I saw a bunch of stuff we’ve all been aware of for at least a year now. Yeah, we know Russia has orchestrated information warfare campaigns. We know they target wedge issues. I kept wondering when this article would get to the Boy Scouts. Was there some kind of specific information campaign being aimed at the Scouts?

Nope. The author tells us that due to all the various controversies that have plagued the Boy Scouts for many years now, the Russians might tailor some disinformation campaigns targeting those issues. Seriously- that’s it. The whole article doesn’t get to the actual topic of the headline until the second to last paragraph, which I am quoting here in its entirety.

“In the U.S., the Boy Scouts could be a tempting target for Russians seeking to inflame social discord. Over the past 50 years, the organization has been embroiled in various controversies over social values. The organization has internally – and publicly – debated allowing women to serve in leadership roles, whether to let gay men and boys join and lead scout troops, whether transgender boys could join and, most recently, including girls in Cub Scout and Boy Scout groups.

All of those changes, raising legitimate questions about equality and humanity, involved heated discussions in the scouting community and the wider society. Now imagine that an outside group – one whose only goal was discord – jumped in to deliberately inflame the debate.”

Think about that for a second. No fake Russian Facebook pages about Boy Scout controversies were found. No hacking attempts on their website or computer systems. No fake astroturfed campaigns with Russian links. They literally just thought about an organization that has been at the center of some controversies and said “the Russians could try to make decisive propaganda about this.” They could have written this article about literally dozens of different topics, and more importantly, the article doesn’t deliver on the headline’s promise. This was published on a site which boasts “academic rigor, journalist flair.”

This, folks, is clickbait. Literally anyone can skim the news about past Russian disinfo campaigns, then brainstorm until you find the latest bullshit culture war battle so you can declare that the Russians might target this issue for future disinformation campaigns. Do this often enough and open up a Patreon account, and you might be able to quit your day job.

 

 

A Parable

You’ve been interested in socialist politics for a long time. You’ve read a lot but you’ve still been on the sidelines all this time. You decide it’s time to actually start doing something about it. Thus you do some research and decide to go to your first real socialist meeting.

When you arrive, you find a room with about a dozen males in it, all repeatedly punching themselves in the balls. You think you might have made a mistake.

“I’m here for the socialist meeting, I think I might be in the wrong place,” you say, secretly horrified.

“No, you’re not,” one of them replies, wincing each time his fist connects with his own testicles. “This is the place.”

“Why are you all punching yourselves in the balls,” you logically ask.

One of them seems offended. Not offended enough to stop punching himself in the nuts every few seconds, but he’s clearly upset.

“What are you talking about? We are advancing the cause of socialist revolution!”

“By punching yourselves in the nuts,” you ask.

“We aren’t punching ourselves in the nuts, as you say,” another puncher replies. “We are fighting for socialism. We’re revolutionaries. This is how you fight for socialist revolution. Won’t you join us?”

Not terribly inclined toward the idea of punching yourself in the balls repeatedly for at least an hour, you politely decline and say that this doesn’t seem like a viable way of achieving socialism, or any political change, in fact.

“WHAT?!” One of them exclaims, almost breaking the rhythm of punching himself in the testicles.

“You’re an anti-Communist! You believe all the CIA propaganda!”

“What are you talking about,” you ask, dumbfounded. “I just don’t want to sit in a room punching myself in the testicles. I don’t see how that’s socialism. I’m quite certain that there are a lot of other approaches to socialism.

“TROT!” one of the occupants yells, just as his fist connects solidly with his crotch.

“I don’t know about this one, comrades,” another begins. “The only people that would reject socialism so adamantly are fascists. I think we’ve got a fascist infiltrator on our hands!”

This idea clearly resonates, because now the whole room is shouting “NAZI!” each time their fists smack their own balls. It’s insulting, but when the label is being hurled by a bunch of men sitting in a room hitting themselves in the testicle it kind of loses it’s bite. Not only are you not a Nazi, you’re not anti-socialist; you just don’t want to hit yourself in the balls over and over again. It’s very natural.

You back out and quickly leave. This can’t be it. There must be a mistake. Socialism can’t possibly be about punching yourself in the- actually no viable political ideology can be about that.

You decide to continue your search. There must be a real socialist movement out there. There must be a movement where the people care about actually achieving justice, equality, and a sustainable system that is superior to capitalism, as opposed to punching themselves in the nuts. At least you hope there is.

 

Ethical Socialism

There are few things I find more pretentious in the political sphere than inventing your own ideology. Over the past few years my own ideology has evolved quite a bit based on acceptance of certain objective facts, some of which compelled me to reject other beliefs because I refuse to live in a state of unreality. Despite the more eclectic nature of my beliefs, I still don’t resort to coming up with some neologism or long string of hyphenated words to describe them. These days I typically just say “socialist” and if someone wants to inquire further we can take it from there.

This being said, I’ve been struggling for some time now with the question of what sincere socialists can do in a world where open fascism at worst and proto-fascist authoritarianism at best appear to be on a triumphant march across the globe, especially considering the increasingly disturbing convergence between the traditional left and the far-right. While in the West radical leftists still display admirable ability to confront open fascism in the streets, leading some far-right figures to go as far as to concede defeat, they have at the same time displayed incredibly poor judgment when it comes to foreign policy, often defending the propaganda of authoritarian and right-wing states and sometimes regurgitating and/or otherwise legitimizing the talking points of literal fascists. At this point it matters little whether they still do it unwittingly or not- results are what matter, and the results we’ve seen in the past decade has been a major net gain for fascism. Indeed, this has been the case despite a historical crisis of global capitalism that ought to have been a major boon to proponents of an alternate, more humane system. To put it simply, the left clearly fucked up.

How did we get here? This is a question that demands a thorough autopsy, one that delves to the very root of the problem. For if we do not get down to the root and pluck it out, we will never fix what’s wrong with the left. And believe me, something is very wrong.

While most leftists openly proclaim they are in favor of equality, freedom, democracy, and the breakdown of unjust hierarchies, we have seen how in certain contexts they are easily capable of displaying xenophobia, Islamophobia, Orientalism, or other behaviors totally antithetical to their stated values. When it comes to universal healthcare at home or human rights in Gaza, the average American leftist is a moral saint and a humanitarian. Switch the venue to Syria, Ukraine, or now Nicaragua, and suddenly they identify with the oppressors and authoritarians while dismissing masses of people they don’t know in countries they’ve never been to as pawns without agency in a geopolitical game. I’ve seen some even refer to the “socialism” that some Western leftists seem to want as “Herrenvolk socialism,” or in other words- socialism for my kind- fuck the rest of the world.

As we dig for the roots I’d concur with others that there is a major epistemological problem on the left, one which leads to these corrupted, deformed takes on certain issues. Put simply, the problem is an out-of-date approach to politics and a Dunning-Kruger like conceit that prevents many from correcting their ideological errors. The former tends to manifest in “campism” or vulgar anti-Americanism, whereby countries are sorted into America and its allies, i.e. “the empire” or “hegemony,” and the countries that are supposedly “resisting” that hegemony. The latter manifests in the insistence that one’s leftist politics somehow give them a more internationalist, informed point of view when oftentimes it can be just as ignorant as the xenophobic rightist view.

To see this in action all you need to do is invoke the right event in the right place. For example, your average leftist would bristle with rage at the assertion that Palestine is a made-up nation whose population consists of terrorist-sympathizers. But they will readily accept the Russian imperialist-colonialist narrative that Ukraine is a contrived nation whose population, insofar as they identify as a separate people, consists of right-wingers and neo-Nazis. The leftist would similarly react at the assertion that residents of Gaza have no right to complain about IDF bombing when their territory is used by Hamas, elected by the people, to fire rockets into Israeli territory. Yet when there’s talk of Assad and Russia’s bombing of civilian targets in Aleppo, Idlib, and so on, we hear how these territories are controlled by “jihadists.” In fact, leftists who routinely talk about Palestinian rights have often been utterly silent on Assad’s treatment of Palestinians in his territory. In Afghanistan and Iraq, leftists routinely pointed out that one cannot bomb terrorism away, and that bombing civilians only radicalizes more people into becoming terrorists. Yet leftists curiously don’t employ that formula when it’s Assad doing the bombing. In short, Syria alone has transformed much of the Western left into Bush-era neocons cheering on their own War on Terror, all because it isn’t “the empire” carrying out the atrocities.

With similar inconsistency, the Western left expresses indignation at conspiratorial accusations that they are controlled by George Soros or Vladimir Putin, yet they are more than ready to accuse protesters in other nations as dupes of the CIA or State Department. For Americans, to use one example, it is not necessary to identify with one’s government. One is allowed to dissent and stand up for better rights and against policies which negative impact them. But for residents in countries which the leftists deem “anti-imperialist,” there is no such luxury. Here the interests of such nations are expressed via their ruling classes rather than the majority of the people. Ergo Yanukovych represents Ukraine, Assad Syria, and Ortega Nicaragua. The only ordinary citizens of these countries worth listening to are those who support the “legitimate government.” One who is personally acquainted with the situation in such countries or at least similar situations in other countries need not strain their imagination as to how those same leftists would act if the “legitimate governments” in their own countries were to adopt the practices of their arbitrarily-chosen “anti-imperialist” heroes.

The inconsistencies mentioned here are often so glaring it’s infuriating when some leftists act so oblivious to them, but there lies that root of the problem, the epistemological problem. Speaking generally, leftists adopt these erroneous positions because they reverse cause and effect between their political identity and the values they purport to have. In other words, they identify as socialists, anarchists, etc. and then assume this means they hold certain values, rather than holding certain values which lead them to adopt a socialist worldview. The result is that they assume they can’t be racist or xenophobic because the identity ostensibly negates that possibility- though in reality it obviously doesn’t.

So what is the solution? Well this is where terminology comes in. If there’s one positive trend I have seen on the left in recent years it is the tendency to characterize socialist politics not in terms of theory but rather basic decency and morals. For example, people point to our healthcare system, one of the most irrational in the entire developed world, and rightfully declare it immoral. It is immoral that in a country so wealthy, wealthy enough to pass an annual defense budget of over $700 billion and announce the creation of a whole new military branch focused on space, people are forced to resort to online crowdfunding to get medical treatment. It is immoral that people with insurance can’t even see a doctor because of the bureaucratic red tape that comes with private insurance.

This is a very positive development. Some time ago I began to realize that the trick to advancing socialism (and we have precious little time if we are to preserve human life on this planet) cannot possibly lie in getting everyone to consciously adopt a certain theoretical worldview or even identity (i.e. socialist), but rather in advancing the idea that capitalism is inherently immoral. As I once put it- get people to see capitalism the way they see cannibalism or pedophilia and you’ve won. A person may not identify as a socialist, but they should see the way Amazon treats its works as disgusting, and by extension they should see a system that requires and rewards such practices as disgusting. That day will be the true day of triumph for socialism.

Here is where I break my rule and humbly suggest that a term is needed to define this kind of socialism. I’ve been referring to it as ethical socialism. The idea is that you begin with certain values- that people are equal and have worth, that it is wrong to require the majority of people to give up the majority of their life so that a minority can live in luxury, that if we can provide everyone with the necessities of life then we should and it is immoral to do otherwise, that unjustified hierarchies deserve to be abolished, and so forth, and your political identity as a socialist flows logically from those values, rather than assuming you must hold them simply because you called yourself a socialist.

I believe that once you make this switch erroneous ideas that lead one toward reactionary thinking suddenly become exposed. If you believe all humans have rights and you have the right to protest against your government for its authoritarian practices, then others have the same right. If you believe that fascism is a danger that must be opposed at all costs, you will not be echoing their talking points and sharing platforms with them.

Naturally this isn’t a silver bullet solution. We can still make errors of judgment, usually due to lack of information. But I would assert that it is far better to start with certain core values and base decisions on a case-by-case consideration of said values rather than adopting some identity and just assuming this means you hold all the values traditionally associated with it. My experience living in the Former Soviet Union, where yesterday’s “ardent Communists” and “internationalists” often rapidly reinvented themselves as right-wing reactionaries has ultimately taught me to put more faith in people’s values and how they adhere to them than the labels they might adopt.

As such, a label like “ethical socialist” would seem paradoxical. Thus I intend to use it only to describe a certain concept, an approach to socialist politics, rather than a label. Ethical socialism is about living and advancing certain values first and foremost. I can only hope that it will catch on.

What Is to Be Done About the Left?

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, the Western right is basically one big grift. One way or another you dupe middle class white boomers or frustrated 20-something NEETs into giving you money while ultra-rich individuals, think tanks, and corporations give you a platform with which to do it. There are many different forms of this grift, often rehashed with little variations here and there over the years. One such grift is the “I used to be a leftist!”

This is where the person claims (or in some cases they actually were) they used to be on “the left” until they were “driven away” by something, most often “political correctness” or some other vague bullshit. Now I’m not about to disparage anyone’s so-called lived experience here; I’m sure in some cases these people were actually truly believing leftists of some sort. It’s cultish to the extreme to dismiss this phenomenon by saying “they never truly believed” or that they never fully understood the politics. But these conversion stories always seem to me as highly dubious. After all, I can totally understand being fed up with a certain community on the left, but if you really held basic progressive core beliefs why would you go and join, or aid those who represent diametrically opposed values? Why not migrate to those among the left who you feel better represent those basic values?

But these days I find myself confronting a very unusual situation. What happens when you find yourself pushed away from the left, mainly because you want to avoid the far-right and with each passing year you see the former increasingly tailing the latterWhat about avoiding the mainstream radical left to avoid looking like an Infowars-level conspiracy crank at best, and associating with literal fascists at worst? This is quite a conundrum, but recently I’ve discovered on Twitter that I’m not the only person to notice this phenomenon.

One individual has taken a very harsh stance on the matter. Rather than specifically call out “tankies” or “red-browns” they have flat out accused “leftists” of being fascists, albeit with plenty of good evidence and logical arguments. I voiced my disagreement with this wording, because I believe that no matter how difficult it can be to communicate with some radical leftists from time to time, it is our responsibility to try to set people on the right path whenever and wherever we can. As sayeth Jesus in the scripture, it is not the healthy who need a physician but the ill.

That being said, I must concede this individual had one compelling argument for being so harsh on the radical left as a whole. Paraphrasing their words as best I can, they pointed out how next-to-impossible it is to convince leftists that they are engaging in fascist, racist, or anti-Semitic thinking simply because they identify as left. In other words, they are convinced that by virtue of being leftists, Communists, socialists, or whatever, their core beliefs could not possibly be contaminated by reactionary ideas. While I still disagree that this is justification for writing off the whole radical left there’s a compelling argument here, so much so that it bears devoting some time to developing a solution.

Since 2014 the danger of red-brown,or as one comrade eloquently put it, “bloody shit,” organizing has been rising exponentially. A lot of this, incidentally, has been thanks to Russian propaganda organs such as RT and Sputnik, along with lesser known websites like Fort Russ or Vinyard of the Saker. It is through these vectors that propaganda largely inspired by the fascist Alexander Dugin is diffused and distributed to different ends of the political spectrum. To the leftists is an anti-corporate, anti-globalization message, and the far-right receives a message promising “self-determination” in the form of national separation. The main purpose of all of this, of course, is to push the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals. It matters little whether the recipients think Ukraine is controlled by a neo-Nazi junta or a cabal of conspiring Jews- and Russian propaganda regularly insists both simultaneously- all that matters is that the recipient believes that Kyiv is the ally of their enemies and Russia has a right to intervene in Ukraine as it sees fit.

I do not plan to get into more details of current red-brown activity in this post. I have already done that some time ago, but for those who want to look into the matter further I recommend starting with this link. My focus in this post, which may become part of a much longer series, is to try to determine why the left continues to be vulnerable to far-right entryism and what can be done about it.

Acceptance

The sad fact is that a lot of the left is in denial about the red-brown problem. Some call it guilt by association. Others dismiss it as “horseshoe theory.” Some insist that if they happen to take the same position as fascists, they have completely different reasons. Others are still inexcusably ignorant about the problem entirely.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. In this case we need to identify the problem of red-brown activity and far-right entryism. Many veterans of the left may look at the attitudes of millennials toward socialism or the rise in popularity for movements like Democratic Socialists of America and decide this is a very positive trend. What they may be missing, however, is the fact that many of these young people have no idea what socialism is and they are merely reacting to the vagaries of so-called “late capitalism.” As such, their theoretical foundation is quite weak. Older leftists should welcome them, but also educate them. At the same time, we need to reevaluate our own values and rhetoric and ask ourselves if we are being consistent in our opposition to racism, imperialism, and so forth.

Many young leftists, and far too many old ones, seem utterly oblivious to the the idea that far-right organizations often seek out alliances with them for their own ends. This is by no means a new phenomenon. Alexander Reid Ross has written a comprehensive book on the subject (though it fails hard on Ukraine, ironically because at least one of the cited sources on that topic was himself a member of a red-brown Russia-affiliated front). The basic summary is that almost from the very dawn of modern socialism, there have always been attempts to appropriate some aspects of that movement and meld them with reactionary, right-wing values. And there’s an interesting thread running throughout this long history to the present day- it seems wherever red-brown activity has taken place, it is always the right that gets the most benefit, while the left is typically weakened. It doesn’t matter if we’re speaking of Germany in the Weimar days or today, where parts of the left and far-right sound almost identical on topics like Syria or Russia, yet it is the far-right that is in power and ascendant while the left still flounders ineffectually. There’s a powerful lesson in this- red-brown activity is poison for the left and a boon to fascists. 

Once we acknowledge how serious the threat is, we need to do something about it.

 

Educate

The most important thing is for leftists to understand that this is a serious phenomenon and it is not some centrist liberal horseshoe theory. This has a very long, well documented history and new activists need to be made aware of it.

Also, while teaching good theory can sometimes lead to disagreements and sectarianism, it can also sometimes act as a vaccination against typical red-brown tactics. A person who has a more robust understanding of capitalism and socialism is less likely to fall for the “anti-establishment,” “anti-globalization” rhetoric so often used by the far right entryists. But far more important than theory is a solid system of ethics. History has shown that by divorcing socialism from its moral imperative, all manner of atrocities and unprincipled compromises are possible.

Our moribund concept of “anti-imperialism” is a perfect example of this. So many leftists get so bound up in “opposing imperialism,” which is in their eyes solely Western if not American, that they willfully embrace outright reactionary if not fascist regimes (the Assad regime for example, is arguably fascist by definition). We must never lose sight of the fact that we must oppose all forms of imperialism, but never to such extent that we end up defending far right regimes and regurgitating their propaganda. This is precisely what much of the left is doing now, particularly when it comes to Syria, and in doing so they have literally joined the chorus of far right Assad backers such as the alt-right and old Nazis like David Duke.

Summing up this point, what is far more important than political labels are the values that motivate us to adopt them. Edgy teenagers and college students readily become “Marxists,” “anarchists,” or whatever because this often provides a necessary sense of solidarity and belonging.  But when organizations become nothing but a social circle or a club, cult-like thinking begins and there is pressure to go along with the group in spite of moral conflicts. One should adopt an ideology stemming from basic values. In my humble opinion, one should be a socialist based on values of true liberty and equality, not for social or aesthetic reasons. When you are guided by these basic values, you are less likely to make unprincipled compromises based on purely tactical reasoning such as the enemy of my enemy is my friend (probably the worst concept in political history).

Another thing we need to be educating leftists about is something I’ve seen some Twitter folks refer to as unreality. Unreality is a somewhat novel concept that it is a bit more nuanced than propaganda. Unreality is a state where one bends reality to fit their political worldview. It goes beyond typical conspiratorial thinking in the sense that conspiracy theories become mandatory as a way to process events. For example, in order to maintain the fiction that Assad is the “least worst” option in Syria, one must not only ignore the indisputable fact that his regime and its backers have caused the vast majority of deaths in that civil war, but every particularly egregious atrocity, especially chemical attacks, are nothing but “false flags” designed to provoke a Western regime-change invasion that never comes. Once you can accept some of these claims, there’s no reasonable argument to refrain from going full on Infowars. Remember- when we give up a belief in objective truth we give up the core of our revolutionary theory.

Lastly, it’s time for leftists, especially Americans, to stop living in the Iraq War era where every negative comment by the presidential administration is treated like the run-up to a massive military invasion. One of the most idiotic things I see are claims that criticism of the Kremlin could lead to World War III. Turkey shot down a Russian military jet, one of whose pilots was killed as a result, and in a matter of months the their two dictators had kissed and made up. More recently, the United States wiped out dozens of Russian mercenaries and the Kremlin has been curiously quiet on the matter. If Russia is so volatile that it will launch a nuclear holocaust in response to criticism, that really says more about Russia than it does about the West. In any case, the militaristic rhetoric that has been a staple of Russian media for many years is far more confrontational than anything we see in the US media even in the midst of “Russiagate.”

No Platform

This one is pretty simple- do not accept a platform from the far right or any outlet the routinely gives them a platform. That means no RT, no Sputnik, and certainly no Tucker Carlson (he’s basically a full on blood and soil nationalist now). Do some research to find out whose behind the outlet offering you a spot for commentary or a job.  It is far better to keep your message pure and independent than to get a larger audience via a compromised platform. After all, a large portion of that audience is most likely diametrically opposed to your values anyway.

To be Continued…

I’d like to say there’s a conclusion to all of this, but the truth is that I am merely scratching the surface with this post. It is one thing to study historical phenomena and draw conclusions based on it; it’s another matter entirely when we are actually watching things evolve in real time. We may very well be living in an era of American proto-fascism, and I’m convinced that one of the ways we got to this point has to do with the far right doing a comprehensive overhaul of their strategy and tactics in the past few years. That process is ongoing as well. Among the main changes include things that were traditionally associated with the left, from pro-Palestine activism to opposition to Reagan-Thatcher neoliberalism and embracing Russia despite the regime’s overt display of Soviet imagery.

Since the far right is not bound by the kind of moral values which ought to guide the left, they can rapidly evolve and molt much faster than their opponents can respond to their tactics. As such we are playing catch up and there is precious little time. It is my hope that in the near future every prominent left organization will start taking the red-brown menace seriously. Otherwise we may not have an organized left at all.

So You Live in a Dictatorship Part III: Impunity

So recent domestic news has compelled me to write another entry in a series I dubbed “So You Live in a Dictatorship” (see the category list on the side bar for previous entries). Since it’s been a long time since the last entry in the series, let me recap it’s purpose. Since the election of Donald Trump, many Americans seem to be reeling from the new normal of politics. Well what seems novel for you isn’t for those of us who have lived under real dictatorships. Therefore using my experience from living under the Putin regime, I decided to help my fellow Americans understand what to expect as the tactics of foreign authoritarian kleptocratic dictators become commonplace in American politics. You’re welcome for my service.

Given the nature of the news cycle these days and the sheer amount of idiocy it brings on a daily basis, you might have either missed this particular item or perhaps you heard about it, rolled your eyes, and braced yourself for the next scandal, still bracing yourself for the very real possibility that the nation will one day be faced with photographs of Trump’s dick.

footballman

Yes, this manufactured scandal was also in the news again this week.

Yet as eye-explodingly bad as that apocalypse will be, and rest assured it is almost certainly going to happen, you should not ignore the story about Trump’s pardon of whackjob conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.

Some of my friends consider Trump’s pardon of Arizona ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to be worse, but comparisons are irrelevant. What matters is a pattern here. Even if Trump cannot pardon himself, he can certainly pardon numerous passengers in the clown car he brought to Washington. This includes those would already pleaded guilty, like Michael Flynn, those under investigation like Paul Manafort, and those who are likely to get indicted like Michael Cohen.

The basis for Trump’s pardoning, regardless of whether the person was rightfully convicted or in D’Souza’s case, pleaded guilty, is that the courts were being “unfair.” Trump constantly uses this word “unfair,” like a little child whining on the playground. Yes, these days conservatives are extremely concerned about fairness, except when it comes to things like poverty or racial equality.

What does unfair really mean to these people? Well if they lose, in anything at all, then it was unfair. Someone cheated. It’s rigged. Moreover, it seems that the new permutation of conservative, particularly of the Boomer Tea Party variety, is that everyone they don’t like needs to go to jail, best exemplified with the campaign chant “Lock her up!” By the same token, if one of their conservative heroes is convicted of a crime or even if they plead guilty- it was “unfair.” If Hillary Clinton is still free, it’s because the courts and Justice System, including those officials appointed by Trump, are corrupt, as are those who prosecute or investigate Trump and other conservative figures. Yes, there’s a vast conspiracy against conservatives in America, and yet they somehow manage to control all three branches of government despite regularly getting fewer votes. Those poor souls.

Now obviously giving the president such powers to pardon was one of the Framers’ dumbest ideas, and certainly Democratic presidents have had their share of questionable pardons. But like previous Republican presidents, pardons usually came as they were leaving office, and they were not announced in such a way as to signal to supporters the way Trump has done by pardoning people like Arpaio or worse- D’Souza. Yes, I said D’Souza was worse because not only did he plead guilty to a crime, but he also had virtually no interaction with Trump until recently. In other words, Trump decided he likes D’Souza, so D’Souza was “treated unfairly” and deserves a pardon. What this will quickly lead to if it continues is a serious breakdown in the rule of law.

I guarantee you that if this kind of thing does not get nipped in the bud, any Republican president will use it almost constantly. I’d say the same of hypothetical Democrat presidents, except that in such a scenario I don’t really see one getting elected anytime soon. Once you are basically ready to abuse the justice system in this way, there’s virtually nothing to stop your minions from employing every dirty trick in the book to ensure your perpetual victory at the polls.

Of course abusing pardons would only be a first step towards a dictatorial system like that of Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey. Things tend to get really bad when prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement come under the control of a particular party. We can see how we are certainly moving in that direction with Trump, particularly in the judiciary and with law enforcement as well.

What all this leads to is more corruption and repression due to impunity. Impunity for those who engage in corruption or who support the regime against its opponents, and arbitrary harassment and suppression of dissidents. As one Russian friend of mine put it in a conversation about how this impunity works in Russia, the leadership sends signals to certain people that they can act against designated opponents of the regime and act in their own self-interests without any negative consequences. As a corollary, if anyone should push back against them, the system with its organs of legal violence will have their back. This kind of set up is why you never hear of something like Alexei Navalny decking some pro-Putin activist for trying to throw green dye on him. Navalny knows very well that in that case he’d be locked up for sure. In fact his whole organization might be rolled up and declared “extremist.”

Things don’t look too good right now, but there is a slight glimmer of hope. So far Trump’s only starting to complete one half of the equation- letting cronies get away with criminal activity. And even here he’s not entirely in control. For some reason he has not yet sacked Mueller, even though to the dismay of pussy hat-wearing wine moms everywhere, he almost certainly could without endangering his presidency. No, the shit hits the fan only when the dictator is able to direct the security services against enemies, either to convict them on dubious charges or simply harass and intimidate them. That’s the signal for open season on dissidents. Loyal self-anointed “patriots” will start doing the regime’s dirty work knowing that not only will they probably go unpunished or at most receive a slap on the wrist, but also that if their targets fight back, they will be the ones facing the full force of the law.

And if this doesn’t happen under Trump, rest assured that even Democrat administrations could pave the way for this kind of scenario in the future. In the past Democrats have often supported increased powers for domestic spying and crackdowns on whistle blowers and leakers, often for the most short-sighted reasons. In fact they have even done so under Trump, demonstrating how they are fully capable of moving the ball forward in that direction.

Thus, be on guard not only for actions in this vein coming from the Republicans and Trump, but also from their useful idiots in the Democratic party. Yes, we have these institutions that are supposed to prevent the scenario I have described here, but only a fool would put so much faith in institutions. Institutions are, after all, made up of people, and oftentimes those people care far more about their own power within those institutions than fulfilling the task for which the institution was originally intended.