Tag Archives: politics

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.

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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.

 

Yes to Alternative Voices, No to Bullshit

I have been very open about the fact that I like the work of Matt Taibbi. For one thing, I started reading his stuff long before I even knew that he worked at The eXile. Now obviously there is a lot of problematic things with that, but since then Matt has gone on to do some genuinely great work, and he’s got a very entertaining style as well. So naturally I found this recent tweet a little odd:

Naturally, Taibbi got a lot of flak for that, largely because of who he was retweeting. Johnstone calls herself a “rogue journalist” (translation: not really a journalist at all) who has become known for lecturing the American left (she’s Australian) about how they need to work with the “anti-establishment” right to defeat the “empire” or some such Duginist bullshit. Now in all fairness to Johnstone, she claimed she wasn’t in favor of leftists working with the alt-right, but rather working with figures like Mike Cernovich, who doesn’t identify as alt-right and is often feuding with some people who do. That being said, that argument is stupid and Cernovich is a total scumbag who supports Trump, alt-right or not. Don’t take it from me though, just look at what definitely-not-a-neocon Ben Norton had to say about this:

Now back to Taibbi, who said that people should consider the argument and not who made it, i.e. Johnstone. I wholeheartedly agree- almost anyone can be right on the busted clock principle alone so let’s just leave Johnstone out of this entirely and focus on the argument itself.

First of all let’s just toss out this notion that more diversity in the “mainstream media” would “silence RT.” RT, like Sputnik, are now money making schemes for people like Margarita Simonyan and countless other people on the take. Margarita is on record comparing RT to an information weapon. According to her, it needs funding for the same reason the Ministry of Defense needs funding, to protect the privileged status of Russia’s tiny elite to “defend” against the dastardly West that hates Russia for no reason.

“The information weapon, of course, is used in critical moments, and war is always a critical moment. And it’s war. It’s a weapon like any other. Do you understand? And to say, why do we need it — it’s about the same as saying: ‘Why do we need the Ministry of Defense, if there is no war?’ –Margarita Simonyan

Now I get that the argument in question is actually implying that if people in the West see more anti-war or let’s say “anti-establishment” voices on their mainstream networks, RT’s audience will dry up and then perhaps the Russian government will start cutting its funding and maybe shutting down bureaus. I can tell you this is bullshit just based on the words of Simonyan I alluded to above.

More importantly, RT doesn’t have a massive audience or following anywhere. Plenty of people have pointed this out in the past. This is why they constantly harp on their Youtube views, despite the fact that their top hundred most-viewed videos include maybe two that have anything to do with Russian politics, and all their channels combined are dwarfed by the audience of a racist Swedish moron who screams at video games.

No, it’s not a lack of audience or ratings that would kill RT’s funding. If anything keeps it in business it’s alarmist quotes from Western leaders and think tank “information warriors” that make it out at something to be feared. RT’s editors actually collect these quotes and celebrate them, as they did in the end of a video celebrating their 10-year anniversary in 2015.

This is not to say that opening up “mainstream” media to more diverse voices, especially anti-war voices when a possible war looms on the horizon, wouldn’t reduce RT’s audience; it just wouldn’t make RT go away. Even if they were bereft of a significant audience because viewers flocked back to “mainstream media” outlets in droves to see more “anti-war” voices, the Russian government would still need to get out its message in service of its foreign policy goals.

See without outside influence, a lot of American and other Western “dissident” types would tend to ignore many issues of great importance to the Kremlin. Were it not for a major Russian propaganda offensive, very few Americans would pay any attention to Ukraine, for example, because that is simply not important to them. In order to make sure people outside of Russia believe that Ukraine is run by gay Jewish Nazis or that the Russian domestic opposition is a CIA front (controlled by gay Jewish Nazi CIA handlers), the Kremlin would need to keep broadcasting its messaging. And so they would, no matter how few people are actually watching.

But as soon as we debunk that part of the argument we get into the bigger problem- what does it mean to give a platform to “alternative views,” including antiwar views? To dissect this we need to first understand that for the left at least, we still haven’t woken up to the fact that a lot of us have been viewing global politics via the prism of 2002-2003, i.e. the invasion of Iraq, for far too long. It was in the run-up to that war that we saw what future historians ought to call The Great Failure of the American Media (specifically American media since international media, including some international versions of US networks, was often more critical or even-handed). Pretty much everyone above a certain age knows this story- in the aftermath of 9/11 news networks didn’t want to appear “unpatriotic.” Fox News was banging the drums of war as loudly as possible and other networks began tailing them. This led to such disturbing actions such as the firing of Phil Donahue from MSNBC and deliberately stacking talk shows with pro-war guests.

But while US media outlets still have their biases towards military interventions of all kinds, one can’t pretend that the political landscape in regards to war is the same as it was under Bush post-9/11, because it just plain isn’t. In the last presidential election, Hillary Clinton was smeared as the “war-mongering” candidate, while conservatives actually started criticizing the Iraq War (to be fair the far-right paleo-conservatives always did that). Sean Hannity, a man who spent years spewing white-hot vitriol at anti-war voices under Bush and on occasion even claimed Iraqi WMDs had been discovered well after the US government reported that they had not, has become Donald Trump’s biggest defender in spite of his repeated isolationist statements. In fact if we go back to 2013, when Assad’s forces first used chemical weapons on a large scale, we see that while Republicans did mostly back the idea of military intervention to punish the regime, they seemed to be mostly in favor of cruise missile strikes or the use of other weapons that wouldn’t endanger American lives. In the end Obama couldn’t find support for any real intervention and ended up making a deal with Putin that obviously didn’t work. Less than a year later, the Obama administration advised Ukraine’s new government to stand down and not resist the Russian takeover of the Crimea even when Ukrainian forces could have spoiled the annexation plan. Even as Putin expanded his aggression with a war in the Donbas, the US administration held fast to its assertion that there was no military solution to the crisis. Putin clearly didn’t see it that way.

Nowadays the situation is quite different. One day we hear Trump is talking about pulling out of Syria as fast as possible, and then a few weeks later he’s launching cruise missiles at Damascus, but very politely warning the regime’s Russian allies well in advance. Before each of Trump’s strikes on Syria (2017, 2018), much of the radical left went into Iraq-era hysterics about war-mongering, often arguing against an Iraq-like ground invasion that nobody had even seriously suggested. I’m sad to say that around the time of the most recent strikes there was a Chapo Trap House episode on the subject that made me cringe because of the bad arguments. But it’s not their problem- the whole Western left, largely because it is stuck in the Cold War, the Iraq War era, or often a combination of both, just plain sucks when it comes to foreign policy. And here’s where we get to the whole problem of having anti-war guests on mainstream outlets.

You see, back in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq this was a pretty straightforward thing. You could find highly qualified critics of the Bush administration’s case for war who weren’t even necessarily motivated by an anti-war or pacifist ideology. It was a simple matter of the administration trying to make the case that Iraq posed a credible threat to the US and its allies due to its possession of WMDs and programs to acquire bigger, more powerful WMDs, ie nuclear weapons. Many of the claims they would put forth could be roundly debunked at the time, such as the case of the aluminum tubes. Sure they could have brought on ideological opponents of the war like Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges (who by my research appeared on Charlie Rose’s program prior to the invasion), but there were plenty of guests they could have brought on to debunk administration claims based on technical expertise alone. They did not, with disastrous consequences for the whole world.

Today, however, the situation is quite different. Today many people who call themselves anti-war, be they left or right, are often cheering for or at least excusing some other war, either in Syria or somewhere else. If a self-proclaimed “anti-war” guest engages in rationalizing Bashar al Assad’s violence (arguably aggression since he started retaking territory in 2016 rather than suing for peace) or Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, how can they honestly be called anti-war? Oh sure, they’re against the wars you don’t like, but you can’t call them “anti-war.” More importantly for the network, they can’t honestly claim such a guest is anti-war.

Another problem is that in contrast to the potential anti-war guests you might have had back in 2002 and early 2003, nowadays it’s often the so-called “anti-war” guests who, like Caitlin Johnstone, traffic in conspiracy theories that are often generated by the propaganda mills of the Assad regime or their Russian allies (or worseworse). Everything is now a “false flag,” with seven or eight “alternative” explanations being generated sometimes in the space of a week. How can a media company be more ethical by inviting on a person who bases their case against military intervention on a conspiracy theory put out by some Kremlin or Syrian government source, when one can find numerous other theories of the same event, some of which contradict that guest’s particular narrative? Should they maybe bring on two such anti-war guests, one that says there was no chemical attack in Douma and another who says there was a chemical attack but it was carried out by the White Helmets, and let them duke it out on air?

See the problem is that in the run-up to the Iraq War, the Bush administration was making extraordinary claims and failing to provide adequate evidence. As such there were a lot of legitimate anti-war guests they could have brought on. Yet I don’t know any rational opponent of the Iraq War who insists that mainstream media outlets should have brought on 9/11 truthers whose “criticism” of the administration’s case for war was that it was based on a false flag attack carried out by the government itself.

And speaking of false flags, that brings us to another problem- why stop at anti-war guests? There’s no doubt a significant portion of RT’s audience that also listens to Infowars- should mainstream media outlets be inviting Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson on more often to steal some of that demographic from the green monster in Moscow? I know what they could do- next time there’s a mass shooting (there’s possibly one happening as I write this) somewhere in the US they could do a live call with a stringer on site and Alex Jones on the other line. The local stringer can pass on the first responders’ report on the incident while Jones explains how the inter-dimensional demons engineered yet another false flag attack to justify a total gun ban that they forgot to pass after the previous 132 mass shootings in the past few years. That would definitely sap some of RT’s audience!

And you know what? A lot of neo-Nazis and other assorted fascists also apparently love RT, so you know what that means! Now we’ve got to invite more Western neo-Nazis on mainstream media outlets to sap RT’s ratings even further. Well okay, the mainstream media has kind of been doing that already, but you get the idea.

Lastly, I should point out that these days you do see more anti-war or anti-government voices on TV, just not in any way that is helpful. Take Glenn Greenwald’s numerous appearances on Fox News, for example. Should leftists all flock to Fox News? Hell they’d probably be better off sticking with RT- watching five minutes of Sean Hannity has always made me want to punch through the screen whereas Mark Sleboda is just a really silly dude* who inspired one of the greatest memes among Russia watchers.

 

In all seriousness here, we need to address a much bigger problem in media these days, one that Matt Taibbi has actually written about for quite some time now. Namely, it is the problem of media reorganizing itself to provide consumers with precisely the version of reality they prefer. Taibbi has taken this conversation a step further taken this conversation a step further by writing about how Facebook is now arguably a “de facto media regulator.” Even long before reading that article I noticed how platforms like Facebook and Youtube would recommend pages and videos, respectively, that linked to highly questionable content. And of course if you clicked on any of that, you’d get more recommendations for similar content. Whereas with Fox News you might be forced to occasionally see something that challenges your worldview, the internet gives you the ability to totally block out any contradictory information to the point where you can be confident that the Earth is actually flat, or #QAnon seems like a plausible source of information.

 

My point is simply that we may have passed a point of no return where simply improving the diversity of opinion in the mainstream media won’t improve anything. RT’s head office could get sucked into a black hole tomorrow and we’d still be just as thoroughly screwed as we have been in the past few years. If anything the problem with people tuning into RT (I have never known anyone who regularly does this) is really just a symptom of that much larger problem. If they’re going to RT to hear the latest false-flag theory about MH17 or the Skripal poisoning, we’re not going to solve anything by airing such bullshit theories on CNN. All we’d be doing is further poisoning an already extremely toxic media space.

So would more anti-war voices help anything? Sure- I’m all for it so long as the anti-war guests are legitimately anti-war, and more importantly, if their arguments are based in reality and not bullshit unfalsifiable conspiracy theories. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

So I have to say I think Taibbi really swung and missed on this issue, but I know he knows better because he’s written entire books on this kind of problem.

 

 

 

 

*A silly dude who really wants you to know he has a CRIMEAN WIFE. Never forget, you Western pig whores!

Letting the Chips Fall

In debates over healthcare it is not uncommon to hear both mainstream conservatives and “libertarians” insist that healthcare is not right, and therefore those who cannot afford it are shit out of luck.

Some of these folks don’t even shy away from coming out and saying “let them die.”

 

Of course this is an immoral worldview, but conservatives have a wide variety of excuses for peddling it. In general, they will defend their claims with vague references to “freedom” and “personal responsibility,” often rationalizing letting fellow Americans die by essentially writing mental fan fiction whereby those poor Americans become undeserving. They’re lazy, they have too many kids, etc. Hey whatever helps you sleep at night, right?

But there’s another problem with the whole “let ’em die” attitude, and it extends beyond the realm of healthcare into the broader question of the welfare state itself. As it turns out, we do have historical experience with societies that lacked any sort of significant welfare state. Sadly, there are few Americans alive today who can personally remember that era, and Americans in general have next to no understanding of the Gilded Era. And Victorian Britain? Forget about it.

The important lesson we can get from the history of such times and places is that the sink-or-swim, let ’em die attitude simply does not work, because as it turns out, people really prefer living to dying. To see what I’m getting at, we must first envision how the conservative attitude plays out in their own heads.

In the conservative worldview, the government doesn’t waste money on helping unemployed people or those who need healthcare and can’t afford private insurance (or the prices hospitals arbitrarily set in collaboration with said insurance companies).

 

This, of course, is supposed to lead to lower taxes, making the government run more efficiently! More Americans get to keep more of their paychecks, and businessmen feel so generous that they create more jobs and raise wages. People who are poor, knowing there is no safety net, have an incentive to work hard and be extra productive, and if they do not- they’re screwed and it’s all their own fault. There’s an element of social Darwinism to it, because the lazy and inept get culled from the herd.

The only problem with this, however, is that in real life people aren’t poor due to their personal decisions or qualities but rather due to the fluctuations of the labor market, commodity prices, injuries or illnesses, generational poverty, sudden divorces, etc. More importantly, nobody who suddenly comes down with an illness or whose relative does simply throws up their hands and says: “Well I guess I should have worked harder so I could have afforded healthcare!” Same thing when it comes to food and shelter. People fight, unsuccessfully perhaps, but they fight nonetheless to survive.

Have you ever noticed how developing countries often tend to have problems with crime of all sorts in their major urban centers? When society orients itself to serve the super-rich and upper-middle class with no significant concern for the poor population, the latter doesn’t just go off into the forest or desert to die. They eke out a living in slums or favelas and they survive. That being said, these areas tend to be rife with crime, crime which can often claim victims among the middle and upper classes. So it was with urban centers in the United States for decades. Ditto Victorian Britain. Same with Moscow in the “Wild 90’s” or some parts of Ukraine these days.

The main takeaway here is that the cost of a laissez faire, “let ’em die” society far outweighs almost any form of bureaucratic welfare state. Most Americans don’t know shit about how their own welfare system works (or doesn’t) anyway, but what’s worse is that they have no idea what happens if you got rid of what’s left of the system. In their mind they put away that extra money they save in taxes and start their own business. In reality, whole areas of cities if not cities themselves turn into dens of crime and murder, the very thing that conservatives are constantly in fear of. If you deny people the ability to survive and get ahead via legal means, a certain portion of them will inevitably take what they need by any means necessary.

This is why the whole debate about healthcare and welfare needs to change. It’s not about “caring for the poor” or being compassionate. To be sure it is about those things on a certain level, but that doesn’t do enough to drive home the imperative. These things must be properly portrayed as an investment in America and its society, an investment in the American people. And this investment is necessary because without it, there is an alternative too terrible to consider and there is precedent to back that up (for this I highly recommend getting this book). Even if someone wants to stick by their immoral position that the poor or those who can’t otherwise afford healthcare should be left to their own devices, this degenerate person should be reminded that their ideal scenario would not play out in the real world the way it does in their head, and for that reason alone their proposal must be dismissed as utterly unworkable.

It matters not what you think these healthcare or welfare recipients are like or whether you think their decisions in life are the right ones. For one thing, you don’t actually know their situation, and what is far more important is that this person or their relatives aren’t driven to carjack you one day because they lack access to the basic necessities of life. If you value wagging your finger at hypothetical “unworthy” poor people you imagined in your head (and a lot of Americans tend to picture that person incorrectly) more than you value living in a developed country with a healthy society, well then perhaps you’re the one whose expendable.

Has Socialism Been ‘Tried?’

Recently I’ve hinted at the fact that I’m going to be winding down my blogging and social media operation. This is due to several reasons, one of them being that I have a completely new life on which to focus, and the other being that I’ve really said all there is to be said for the foreseeable future on topics like Russia, Ukraine, and propaganda associated with them. During the time I have been blogging, I have often had to keep my personal politics in check so as to prevent my readership getting whittled down to a tiny portion of far-leftists who like reading long theoretical polemics. At the same time, my views have evolved radically thanks not only to my ongoing study of various subjects, but also due to exposure and challenge to different viewpoints. But with the blog at its near end, I think I shall indulge on my soapbox and answer a question that seems to come up in a lot of discussions recently. With this out of the way, proceed if you dare.

How many times have you seen this brilliant meme: Someone like one of those Turning Point USA chuds shows a bunch of pictures of bad things that happened under 20th century “socialist” regimes and then sarcastically writes “But socialism has never been tried!” The implication here is that modern socialists, who of course are all social media obsessed millennial snowflakes, have no answer to those horrific events of the 20th century other than what amounts to a “No True Scotsman” fallacy by saying that socialism hasn’t actually been implemented.

Now to be fair, there are some self-proclaimed socialists or Communists who are guilty of doing this. I suspect that most of them tend to be younger people with very little historical or theoretical knowledge in most cases. I’ve always suspected the process goes something like this:

  1. Young person wants to be edgy and rebellious, gets attracted to Communism, usually for aesthetic reasons.
  2. Parent, teacher, or someone on the internet says something like, “You’re a Communist?! Don’t you know that Communism killed 100 million/150 million/200 million/1 billion/all the people?!”
  3. Disheartened, young person goes online and finds some kind of Trotskyite page.
  4. Young person proudly proclaims, “That wasn’t Communism! It was Stalinism!
  5. Checkmate

Despite the fact that a combination of youth plus poor education more likely accounts for most of these instances, I think it’s safe to say that one can find a fair number of adults who should no better either making this argument, or at best, making an argument which sounds like “That wasn’t true socialism!”

However, there are very sound reasons for a person to declare that what we commonly think of as socialist societies were not in fact objectively socialist. Whether they are just pulling a No True Scotsman or actually making sense really depends on their definition of socialism and whether or not they can substantiate their argument with objective evidence.

What I intend to do in this post is explain how or why someone may legitimately question whether or not a society was socialist and thus why for such people bringing up the activities of 20th century “socialist” regimes may in fact be nothing but a red herring and thus an invalid argument.

What is more, I’m going to attempt to do this in the most approachable way possible, without delving too deep into obscure historical events or theoretical texts. Obviously this means sacrificing detail in some places, and some arguments may not be fully represented or they may be omitted entirely (I’m sure there are plenty of tendencies I’ve never heard of still, and new ones form as well). I realize this approach will piss off some partisans or even just those leftists who love thorough theoretical polemics, but they are not my primary audience- the layperson is.

 

Can you ‘try’ socialism?

In order to answer the question as to whether or not socialism has been “tried” we need to deal with the question, which is already distorted. I have always hated the phrasing of “But socialism/Communism has never been tried.” Saying “try socialism” sounds like “try rebooting your router.” You don’t just “try” a mode of production. And speaking of modes of production, we should probably start with the definition of socialism. That in itself can get pretty complex very quickly, which is why I’m going to stick with Merriam-Webster’s definitions in this case:

Definition of socialism
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

Already we have some statements that socialists of several tendencies would vehemently dispute, but we’ll get into that later.

Another problem with definitions is that the people who tend to make fun of the “No True Socialism” trope more often than not happen to be the very same people who tend to label almost anything socialism. Public libraries? Socialism! Single-payer healthcare? Socialism! Food stamps? SOCIALISM!  Indeed, many of these people spent eight years telling us how Barack Obama was not just a socialist, but a Marxist socialist…and a radical Islamist too.

And since we’re merely talking about the problems with definitions, we cannot ignore the fact that there are plenty of self-proclaimed socialists or people sympathetic to socialism who are also guilty of applying the label to things that have nothing to do with socialism. For example, in this pro-Bernie Sanders video, Sarah Silverman actually calls fire departments socialist.

 

 

Whichever side we’re talking about when it comes to throwing the S-word around, the result is the same- total failure because if these things were in fact socialist, then nearly all the world is by-definition socialist because every country has some kind of taxes, state intervention in the economy, fire departments, etc.

In order not to stray too far from the matter at hand the definition which most concerns us is the third one, as it is related to Marxist theory and it is Marxist theory which was nominally the foundation of the 20th century “socialist” regimes.

But if we ignore the problems with the phrase “try socialism/Communism” for a second and just ask the question as to whether socialist or communist (note the little c) societies ever existed at all, let me answer that in the affirmative.

Hunter-gatherer society was what Marx and Engels labeled “primitive communism.” Virtually all able-bodied members of the tribe were engaged in labor to survive, private property did not exist, and class distinctions were also virtually non-existent. Prior to the agricultural revolution, humankind spent quite a long time in this state. Sorry, but The Flintstones lied to you when it depicted prehistoric society as capitalist post-war America with dinosaurs. Of course while the egalitarian aspect and lack of class differentiation might seem enticing, primitive communism was no utopia. People lived that way simply because there was no other choice. Imagine life on an island where you are shipwrecked with some other people. As you organize labor to survive you’re unlikely to replicate the traditional modern corporate hierarchy, but whatever relief you get from that lifestyle is negated by the fact that you barely eke out enough resources to survive day-by-day.

In more modern times, there have been and in some cases still are small-scale examples of socialist societies. These range from large territories like the so-called “Free Territory” in Ukraine and anarchist Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War to isolated communes or big projects like the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (often still called Rojava). On the American frontier, groups of pioneers often adopted a communist lifestyle, distributing resources according to need.

But what of the most obvious examples of 20th century socialism, i.e. those states born of “socialist revolutions” which proclaimed themselves to be socialist and run by socialist or Communist parties? This is where it gets complicated. Some people would say they were never socialist. Trotskyites, for example, might call them “deformed workers states.” Left Communists and anarchists refer to them as state capitalist (this refers to a system where the role of the capitalist class is replaced by the state). Anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists will typically argue that certain states were socialist when they had certain policies but that theoretical revisionism led them to adopt policies that made them state capitalist and thus led to their downfall.

Where do I fall on this spectrum? I would say that at least the Soviet Union and Socialist Albania achieved what could rightly be called a primitive, rudimentary form of modern socialism, but that in both cases concern for things such as geopolitics (for the USSR) and the security of the regime (pretty much every self-proclaimed 20th century “socialist” state) far outweighed the goal of building a functioning socialist society and more importantly, a socialist society aimed at achieving the original goals of socialism in the first place- greater freedom, equality, justice, etc. That being said, please keep in mind that me saying this or that regime was objectively socialist is entirely independent of my judgement of that regime or any of its actions. Whether or not a particular society or country is socialist or capitalist is a matter of concrete, objective factors and not the color on a flag, the name of the ruling party, or the declarations of the government.

Does socialism/Communism kill?

No, it does not.

Oh…You want an explanation. Okay fine. First of all I find the claim that Communism or socialism kills to be quite ridiculous because the same people who make this claim not only never talk about how many people capitalism has killed (which would necessarily be far higher than any 20th century Communist body count), but they don’t even acknowledge that capitalism can kill. Either they’ll label a dictatorial regime “socialist” even when said regime was allied with the West during the Cold War and never claimed to be socialist, or they will say that these are the actions of bad actors like governments and not the fault of the capitalist system. It stands to reason that if Communism can kill people, capitalism must be able to as well.

At the most superficial level, most people who were killed under self-proclaimed socialist regimes died for the same reasons as those killed by capitalist regimes. Namely you had a certain group of people in power who feared losing it in one form or another, and thus engaged in repressive measures to hold onto that power. In other cases (though you could argue that this is at its root, the same as the previous reason), the state put economic goals above humanitarian ones. This sort of thing affects millions of people throughout the world literally every year.

Now at this point someone might perk up and say, “Wait a minute! Surely you wouldn’t say that Nazism doesn’t kill people!” No, I wouldn’t say that, but in terms of mode of production Nazi Germany was, brace yourself, a capitalist state. You can argue about the increased role of the state in economic affairs, but in this sense Nazi Germany didn’t differ much from many other countries during the era, including the United States.

The reason Nazism kills is because mass killing is literally a part of the ideology. It’s all laid out very clearly by Adolf Hitler. The “race” needs to survive and thus needs room to expand and secure resources to feed a growing population. Racial or ethnic mixing leads to “blood poisoning” according to Nazi eugenics, so that “living space” needs to be cleansed of foreign elements. The conquest and extermination of entire groups of people, according to the Social Darwinism-influenced worldview of the Nazis, was seen as entirely natural if not positive. It is worth nothing that the Nazis got such ideas largely from the American eugenics movement, which enjoyed generous funding from leading capitalists.

By contrast, there’s nothing in the theoretical works of Marx and Engels that allegedly served as the basis for the Soviet Union and other socialist states that says you should be exterminating people. You may argue about the ethics of expropriating capitalist property without compensation, but there’s nothing I’ve seen in the body of Marxist literature saying this is an absolute necessity. In fact, members of the bourgeois class can actually voluntarily cease being de facto capitalists if they wanted to, either by just giving their private property (means of production) away or by turning into a collectively owned enterprise with their workers. Twentieth century socialist regimes typically justified their atrocities or repression by claiming to be fighting counter-revolutionaries. None of this justifies what was done, it merely explains why it is not inherently linked to Marxist theory, let alone socialism.

Please let me make it clear that the above does not justify nor deny the very real examples of repression or atrocities committed by self-proclaimed socialist regimes. That is not the claim being disputed here, but rather the claim that “socialism kills.” In short, if socialism can kill, so can capitalism, and if we’re just going by body count, capitalism takes the high score by far, especially since 20th century socialism has been dead for over a quarter of a century.

I would also like to point out that I don’t believe that regimes which carried out repression or mass killings were not socialist simply because they did these things, even though such things really do contradict the moral values underpinning socialism and Marxism. I do think that a society that sincerely implements socialist ideals and revolutionary reforms would be less likely to commit mass atrocities or repressions, but it is foolish to assume that this alone could entirely preclude atrocities or violations of human rights. After all, even the “libertarian” socialist projects of Ukrainian Free Territory or Anarchist Catalonia were not totally devoid of violent repression against counter-revolutionaries or other actions we’d regard as unethical today.

Whose socialism? 

Getting back to the topic at hand, there are many people who have every right to insist that certain 20th century regimes (or currently existing ones like North Korea) are not socialist and thus cannot be used as an argument against them. Any group or even individual who’s definition of socialism significantly contradicts that of the Soviet Union or any such regimes has a right to object to being made to answer for them. Whether their own definition of socialism is accurate is another matter to be determined, but suffice to say it is stupid to insist that an anarchist answer for things like the Great Terror in the Soviet Union. Trotskyites on the other hand may have a weaker case, but I don’t want this to turn into an inter-Marxist polemic.

On the other hand there are many socialists of various stripes who engage in apologia for any and every self-proclaimed socialist regime. If they are going to uphold those regimes as positive role models, then they have to take responsibility for explaining and defending their actions, and to be honest this often takes the form of accusing every critical source of being linked to the CIA or Nazis. I’m not saying that there isn’t legitimate revisionist history of 20th century socialism or that many of its “crimes” have been grossly exaggerated or distorted. On the contrary- I’ve spent a fair deal of my political life studying that very history. The problem is that many of the people engaged in defense of these regimes don’t seem to have done the same homework. Instead they confine themselves to a small number of pro-party sources or even contemporary state propaganda. This may convince people who are already sympathetic but as a strategy for attracting more people and building movements it’s a dead end. I’ve even found that legitimate revisionist history is largely dead weight as well.

There is another group which may in all honesty condemn the actions of 20th century regimes, yet for whatever reason adopts the aesthetics of those regimes. Take a look at this video, for example:

 

 

 

It’s a fairly good explanation of exploitation for beginners. I can say anything about the video’s author. I don’t know if they are “Trotskyite” or “Stalinist.” What I do know is that at the end of the video “Communism” is held up as the solution to the problem of exploitation, and it is depicted with stock footage from the Soviet Union with the Soviet national anthem in the background. Or in other words- it is associated with what can only be called a failed state, one which fares well in comparison only with the old Russian Empire that preceded it and various developing countries or colonies which surrounded it. Now maybe the author is totally opposed to the policies of the Soviet Union. Maybe their ideas about what constitute socialism are totally different from the centralized, authoritarian model we saw in that state. But if you’re going to deliberately associate your socialism with that state, its symbols, leaders, aesthetics, etc., then don’t be surprised when your opponents decide that bringing up the USSR is a valid argument. Don’t wrap yourself in Soviet imagery and expect people not to associate your politics with that state. If you’re going to shackle yourself to a corpse, own it.

Socialism failed everywhere it was tried

Another common trope you might hear is this: “Sure, there were many socialist countries, but they all failed!” The implication here is that they are acknowledging that 20th century socialism was not just one monolithic entity, but that every attempt to construct socialism, regardless of variances, ultimately failed. This is still incorrect because if we’re talking about socialist states, virtually all of them patterned their politics on one model, or other models that grew out of that original model. I am of course referring to the Soviet Union. In addition to this, many of these countries’ regimes were set up by the Soviet Union and their governments more or less subordinated to the Soviets’ political demands. In other words, it’s not as if you had a variety of socialists coming to power by their own unique theories and strategies.

Add to this the fact that some self-proclaimed “socialist” nations never even achieved the type of “socialism” found in the USSR or China. The modern case of Venezuela is even more instructive. Here is a state where the regime actively portrayed itself as “socialist,” and even popularized a theory it called “21st Century Socialism.” In reality Venezuela could never have been called socialist. In fact, here’s Fox News making exactly that point by noting how the country’s economy is still dominated by the private sector. Of course I’m sure for Fox News at least, Venezuela becomes “socialist” any time they’re doing a story about empty stores and food riots.

So what went wrong?

This is a question that people have devoted entire books to, and I promised at the beginning that I would make this as layperson friendly as possible. But based on my study and experience living under an authoritarian regime, I’d say that what it all boils down to is the balance between security and freedom. To understand this, we must go back to what many consider to be the first “socialist revolution,” the Paris Commune of 1871.

To give you the bare-bones rundown on this revolution, basically the French empire got its ass kicked at the battle of Sedan by Prussia in a conflict appropriately named the Franco-Prussian War.  French Emperor Napoleon III was captured on the field. In early 1871, the acting French government was forced to sign an armistice with Germany, under which it had to disarm its army but not its National Guard. Eventually radicalized Parisian workers, many of whom served in the National Guard, refused to accept the government’s authority, and using their arms they proceeded to essentially seize power within Paris.

Contemporary socialists like Karl Marx and anarchists like Petr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin watched developments within the Commune with great interests. To this day different left tendencies still argue over the nature of the Commune- was it socialist akin to something Marxists would advocate, was it an early attempt at anarchism, or did it not go far enough in eliminating the state? One thing that is certain about the Commune is that it did display unprecedented levels of freedom. It certainly couldn’t be called totalitarian by any stretch of the imagination. Even members of the local bourgeoisie were floored to see how society functioned without the intervention of legions of policemen in certain neighborhoods.

If the Paris Commune sounds like a great utopia, hold up for a second. It had one flaw, namely it was crushed within about two months and as many as 20,000 Communards were killed, mostly in mass shootings. Marauding French soldiers reestablished the authority of the government with violence, rape, and pillage. This experience weighed heavily on the minds of socialist revolutionaries worldwide after the fact. It was certainly on the minds of Bolshevik leaders like Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin. History taught that revolution leads to counter-revolution, and not only did the Bolsheviks have the historical case of the Paris Commune to point to, but they also had the aftermath of Russia’s failed 1905 Revolution to consider when planning revolution in 1917. Once power was seized, letting go could easily mean bloody repression on the scale of Paris 1871 if not much worse.

In general, the Paris Commune raised a question that still remains with us today- how do you liberate society, and maximize freedom, while simultaneously securing that society from more powerful forces that wish to crush the revolution? Historically anarchists have shown the ability to establish very free societies, albeit ones that are either short-lived or if they do last, ones which do not manage to equal the standards of living in developed capitalist nations. On the other hand, the Marxist-Leninist model has managed to conquer huge swathes of land and withstand the worst onslaughts in modern history, but they utilized incredibly authoritarian means to do so and ultimately failed to achieve their economic promises or convince a majority of people to fight for the preservation of the system.

Today there is such a struggle going on in Syria, where the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) led the fight against ISIS in Syria and created what is known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. Currently it is facing an armed invasion by Turkey and its Islamist Syrian proxies, and if the Assad regime decides to get involved with Russian help, the autonomous territory will be in a critical situation.

The PYD claims it is building a confederation where people exercise control over decision making via local direct democracy and the election of representatives to higher bodies. Those who observe on the ground, however, say this is not exactly true, and that while local communities do have control over local issues, the PYD is firmly in control of the area. But this just raises another question: Given the situation the whole territory finds itself in, doesn’t it make perfect sense for the well-organized, well-armed (relatively) PYD to exercise more direct control, if only because of the war?

A fanatical anarchist might insist that war doesn’t justify the suspension of what they see to be essential liberties (an argument heard during the Spanish Civil War as well as in America after 9/11). Others might see the centralized measures as justified by the circumstances. But if we choose the latter, we must also ask as to what sort of actions are justifiable.

In the Soviet Union, which in many ways became the model to one degree or another for every other self-proclaimed socialist state, heavy-handed measures were used, often with terrible results. For example, in the book Farm to Factory, Robert Allen shows that the advantage in industrialization gained by collectivization (which of course led to the Holodomor and a lot of other excess deaths in Russia and Kazakhstan) was only slightly higher than what they would have achieved had they stuck with the NEP (New Economic Policy). But more industrialization means more tanks to fight the war that Stalin predicted was coming as far back as 1931, right? Well that argument might work better had the USSR not performed so dismally in the start of the war with Germany despite all its tanks and planes. At the battle of Dubno (also called the first battle of Brody), the Red Army had around 3,500 tanks against 750 German tanks and the latter won. The Soviets lost 800 of their tanks and many of them never made it to the front lines thanks to mechanical failure or lack of fuel.

Now suppose the USSR had tried a different strategy to defend itself from a fascist threat. Rather than centralized control and repression, the government stressed liberty and worker control of their means of production based on the concept that a populace which experiences such freedom will be more likely to defend it to the death. Programs like Ukrainianization are allowed to continue, but without the heavy-handed methods that drew some pushback from the Russian-speaking populace. In short, the Soviet government decides that their best weapon is their society itself (in fact Stalin would later claim that it was the USSR’s socialist system that really deserved credit for the victory in WWII).

Obviously this is a very counter-factual scenario, but what we can say for sure is that the methodology used by the USSR to defend itself from foreign invasion not only costs millions of lives directly and indirectly, but also failed to establish a sustainable socialist system capable of surpassing the capitalist West. In our counter-factual version, the USSR might have instead built a society where every man, woman, and child was more than willing to defend the gains they felt they’d made from any foreign invader. The invading Axis troops might find no crowds cheering them as liberators, willing collaborators, no mass of soldiers surrendering in droves. Seeing as how even in 1941 there were people (including many Ukrainians) who defended the USSR that tenaciously in spite of everything that had proceeded the war, it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine that had the Soviet system not been so repressive far more people would have rallied to the colors from day one instead of after months of defeat. More importantly, perhaps the Soviet stagnation and collapse never would have happened, and perhaps today the Western capitalist world would be struggling like Cuba while a massive socialist super-continent enjoys the benefits of a system run according to human need and not the profit motive of the few.

But for now it is enough to say that in the case of 20th century socialism, much of what bad did happen had nothing to do with socialist theory but rather military and geopolitical considerations. This by no means absolves the decision makers who were responsible. With actions like the deportation of entire ethnic groups they put strategic and geopolitical goals above the humanistic values of socialism. By putting rapid industrialization ahead of any concern for the peasants producing grain, the authorities essentially committed the same crime that capitalists have been committing for centuries up to this day. Specifically, they put economic results above human life. If that is socialism, or more specifically if that is what socialism must inherently be, then we would be right to reject it today. But the simple truth is that this is not inherent in socialism, nor is it inevitable.

So what can be done? 

Again, laying out a solution to the problem of how to implement socialism is far beyond the scope of this article, but I would like to lay out a few points.

The first is that it is important to remember that Karl Marx really didn’t write much about this socialism or Communism that he envisioned. To Marx this would be like the utopian socialists which he tried to distance himself from. Rather Marx analyzed and critiqued capitalism; he concerned himself more with understanding the problem, not the solution. What we’ve seen in the decades since his death is that in spite of all the failures of 20th century socialism, Marx’s critique of capitalism not only still holds up, but is far more explanatory than mainstream neo-classical or Austrian school economics. This means the ball is in our court to determine how we resolve the contradictions of capitalism in order to create a better, more moral system.

Many solutions and combinations thereof have been suggested in order to build a socialist society, besides the 20th century centralized state-based methods. Some of them include labor-time calculation using computer networks, some form of a Universal Basic Income, sovereign wealth funds, or the de-commodification of goods deemed necessary to life.

As for my own opinions about what socialism will be, in recent years I have come to realize that the foundation of building socialism must be ethical. Put simply, capitalism is immoral. It forces people to act in immoral ways. It is also unsustainable. The Earth and the universe do not require there to be human life. Earth has had mass extinction events before. Now that we are faced by existential crises such as climate change and everything that can result from that change, we cannot sit back and hope that the world’s richest capitalists will see enough promise of profit in sustainable technology to redirect sufficient investment into that field. We cannot properly husband Earth’s resources to preserve human life on this planet if we are divided into national and racial groupings at odds with one another. Oh you’re a patriot? You love your country? Well nobody’s going to give a shit about your country and its illustrious history after mankind is wiped out following a massive war over resources exacerbated by irreversible environmental degradation. Capitalist apologists insist that somehow capitalism can solve all these problems itself, but history and the present say otherwise, and the longer we wait, the worse things get.

Apart from being rooted in ethics, socialism must be rooted in human rights. Karl Marx’s son-in-law, Paul LaFargue, once wrote an excellent satirical piece called “The Rights of Horse and the Rights of Man.” In it, LaFargue lampooned the liberal idea of the rights of man (what we’d later call human rights) by pointing out that in society of that era, the rights of horses, who were given shelter, food, and the greatest of care by their owners, were much more desirable than the so-called rights of man. Truly he was right on the money, but unfortunately many decades later I know many socialists tend to discard the concept of human rights as a meaningless liberal idea. That liberal society is hypocritical when it comes to human rights doesn’t negate the concept itself- only liberal society and the capitalist system. Human rights implies an equality of humans which simply does not exist in capitalist society. Thus as socialists our aim should be not to simply roll our eyes when we hear liberals speak of human rights, but rather take up that torch and use it to beat them over the head with it. For example, have you ever read Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights? The first paragraph reads:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

This concept should form one of the foundations of a future socialist society. What is this but a call for distribution according to one’s needs? More importantly, what liberal democratic society today actually manages to avoid violating this human right?

In the future, socialism must be democratic. This might not mean direct democracy for every aspect of life (after all, the idea of socialism is to work less and attending endless councils or meetings counts as work), but any organ with any measure of vested authority needs to be accountable to the people it serves. The idea that the entire working class can be “represented” by one party which will inevitably act in its interests because it is run by “true Marxist-Leninists” (whatever that even means) has been disproved by history.

On that latter note, socialism will also need to be pluralistic somehow. This might sound like heresy to some, but one cannot ignore the fact that the world’s most successful capitalist countries are often run by two or at most a handful of parties, which often hate each other with a passion, and yet somehow the capitalist system runs along like clockwork (well, clockwork with periodic crises and environmental degradation). The United States, for example, has a remarkably stable political system from the time of the ratification of the Constitution till today, when the President is a man whose brain is being feasted upon by spirochetes. If one insists that socialism can only be built by one hegemonic “party of the working class,” we must ask what basis there is for this claim when that exact system failed. If someone says “because Stalinism!” or “because revisionism,” they must then explain why things like Stalin or revisionists managed to irreversibly fuck everything up. Andrew Johnson was a shit president and got impeached. Nixon was forced to resign. The system went on, as usual.

One key component that might help solve the mystery as to why capitalist countries manage to maintain stability in spite of cutthroat competitive political systems is the concept of rule of law. Of course as socialists when someone speaks of rule of law we should always ask “whose law?” But as with concepts like freedom or human rights, it does not mean the idea should be dismissed offhand. If we look at the government of the Soviet Union, for example, we see that almost nothing worked the way it was supposed to according to the Soviet constitution (which also changed several times). The Supreme Soviet was elected via universal suffrage, but real power in the USSR was in the Central Committee of the Communist Party and in particular, the Politburo (which was chosen by the Central Committee during party congresses). In post Soviet Russia today, the State Duma and Federation Council are basically rubber stamp legislative organs which offer no opposition to President Putin, but apart from that one point power nominally rests more or less where its supposed to even in the kleptocratic, authoritarian Russian Federation. The result of the lack of rule of law in the USSR (and many other socialist countries patterned after it) was that politics almost always boiled down to conspiracies and interpersonal struggles within the party, out of sight of most of the people this party supposedly represented.

Another reason rule of law is crucial is in order to facilitate direct democracy. Within a firm set of rules establishing citizens’ rights and responsibilities, direct democracy could become nothing but mob rule. Some things shouldn’t be left up to the majority, particularly things that violate human rights. One’s individual freedoms end where another’s begins. Rule of law can also help explain how pluralism can exist in a socialist society. The idea that every member of society would become a committed anarchist or Marxist-Leninist is simply a pipe dream. If anything, the cult of the individual in advanced capitalist society means that many people would reject such labels simply in an attempt to be different or not follow the crowd. Is this a disaster? Does it make socialism impossible? Not at all.

To understand why, just watch people playing football or basketball in a park. Here you have people with different values, life experience, beliefs, religions, etc., and yet they all manage to play this competitive game without continually resorting to fist fights or rampant cheating. The reason is because in order to accomplish the task of playing a game of basketball, everyone agrees to certain basic rules. Sure, arguments do occur and in formal games referees are necessary to enforce closer observance of the rules, but nobody can dispute the fact that countless games of pickup basketball or football are routinely played in parks around the world, many concluding without incident.

The lesson from this is that a socialist society can exist without everyone declaring themselves to be a fervent socialist or even a socialist at all. We do this by making everything based on core ground rules that everyone can abide by. This is where human rights and the moral imperative shine. Virtually all religions around the world have some form of what we call “the Golden Rule.” Socialism must advance its form of this as the basis for cooperation between people with disparate personal beliefs and values.

I think above all socialism must produce results for the people living under it. If it’s super democratic but requires a communal lifestyle far below that of developed capitalist societies, it will only attract people who personally happen to value living in that society. It will not be able to attract large swathes of any populace or expand and overthrow existing capitalist systems. On the other side of the coin, if it is just as authoritarian as a right-wing capitalist system, it will produce only bitterness and resentment, which leads to betrayal and collapse. In short, a socialist society needs to give people tangible benefits they simply cannot get in any capitalist society. It must go beyond things like free healthcare or higher education, which is in fact quite common in developed capitalist countries which are not named the United States of America. Most of all, I think people need to truly, viscerally feel that they personally own a share of society, a share of their country, and that is also paired with a responsibility to defend it. If they let up and capitalism is restored, that which they own will be taken from them and they will no longer be fully in control of their own lives and destinies. If people feel they truly own a share of the means of production and the society itself, they’ll defend it even when times are tough and their socialist revolution is at a disadvantage relative to the capitalist states. If everything is owned by the state and the worker exercises little to no control over that property, they’ll question whether it matters if that property is owned by the state or a private capitalist.

Lastly, on the topic of defense of the revolution, future socialists must realize that the key to defense will not be large conventional military forces and secret police, as the Soviets used. None of these things managed to stave off the collapse of those societies. If there is a socialist revolution anywhere, surrounding capitalist states will try to strangle it. They will resort to the playbook that worked during the 20th century- exert pressure, stoke fear and paranoia, and wait for the socialists themselves to tear themselves apart. Future socialists must not fall for that trap. They must never fall victim to institutions like intelligence agencies or conventional, traditional armies. I would recommend a small volunteer professional force augmented by conscript reservists of both sexes. Both would train together to excel in unconventional warfare. Any invading army would find every town crawling with snipers, spies, assassins, and IED teams. Special teams should be ready to carry out operations against the invader internationally, striking at legitimate targets on a global stage. Having an open policy towards media and engaging with global audiences in their languages would also help garner the power of public opinion (a crucial factor in many successful insurgencies) and stymie attempts to crush the socialist country in question with military force.

Conclusion

It’s important to realize that I’m merely putting forth a few very general observations here, based on many years of study and experience. Don’t look at these recommendations as answers but rather questions that need to be discussed. I need to discuss them myself because I don’t believe I have adequate answers yet. I do realize that many of these observations may sound heretical to socialists of various tendencies, but what every one of those tendencies must admit is that to one degree or another, their politics have thus far failed to abolish capitalism.

My approach to politics is very much influenced by the martial arts of judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (itself derived from judo). For those not familiar with the art, judo was developed by Kano Jigoro by refining traditional jiu-jitsu techniques so they could be practiced against a fully-resisting opponent in real time. While traditional styles of jiu-jitsu from that era emphasized “lethal” techniques, Kano rightly determined that techniques which could not be practiced in real time would be unreliable. In forming the Kodokan school of judo, Kano and his students would have to go through challenge matches with representatives of other schools, even if it meant facing their deadly techniques. Kano’s students almost always came out on top, proving the efficacy of his art. When judo was introduced to the Gracie family of Brazil by the master Maeda Mitsuyo, it went through a similar refining process in no-holds-barred streetfights. Decades later, Brazilian jiu-jitsu would help popularize mixed-martial arts competition in the United States and demonstrate that efficacy once again.

The lesson here is that you have to go with what works, and discard that which has been shown either to not work at all in real-life conditions or to be unreliable. Even after grappling arts like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, and sambo, as well as striking arts like Western and Thai boxing demonstrated their efficacy in MMA competitions, the representatives of discredited traditional martial arts were undaunted. They began dreaming up excuses as to why their martial arts were useless in the ring yet deadly on the street.

 

And look, I realize that building a totally different society with a different mode of production is far more complicated than a martial arts system, and of course there are external factors that will be outside of any socialist party or organization’s control. But that’s just more reason to discard techniques or policies which have been proven not to work or proven not to be sustainable instead of making excuses for failure and insisting on defending or advocating the same failed policies out of some fetishized love of some historical leader we never lived under and might not want to have lived under if we were being honest. That may sound harsh but that’s reality, and as socialists we’re supposed to be guided by reality and not our imaginations.

Anyway, that’s the end of my massive quasi-polemic. I am happy to try to answer any reasonable questions. In the near future I promise to get back to the usual observations about Russia and Ukraine, as well as the dick jokes. At least before I decide to wrap all this blogging business up for good.

This Is Completely Normal!

Anyone else out there following Russia’s upcoming nail-biter of a presidential election? If not, don’t worry- it seems a lot of Russians are apathetic too, and that’s a problem as Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidky points out in a recent article. Of course that’s not necessarily the part of the article I wanted to focus on, but rather this paragraph here:

Putin doesn’t appear to feel any need to campaign. His election website, as perfunctory as if he were running for a municipal council seat, has just gone live, and it doesn’t even contain a program or any promises — just some questionable statements on how life in Russia has improved under Putin (“The illegal cutting of trees has practically stopped”; “Russian universities have entered the BRICS Top-50”). The site also reports that it only took a week for the Putin campaign to collect 30 percent more than the 300,000 citizens’ signatures necessary to put him on the ballot — an impossible achievement for any other candidate but not for the president: Reports come in from different parts of the country of students being pressed into collecting the signatures and workers told to sign for him at work (the campaign has even rejected the signatures harvested at two factories in Kurgan in the Urals).

The Western Putin fan club just loves claiming that Western Russia journalists don’t really understand Russian politics simply because they often focus on the activities of non-systemic opposition figures like Alexei Navalny (who is not in the running this time anyway). They continually point to the polls of Russia’s loyal opposition such as the KPRF and LDPR, along with the poor polling of the non-systemic opposition, and gleefully lecture us about the latter’s minimal popularity as though we, and those Western journalists, aren’t fully aware of these facts. They’d have us believe that Western focus on people like Navalny would be like America’s media focusing on Jill Stein or Gary Johnson in 2016’s presidential election. In reality, however, journalists follow Russia’s opposition not because it is big or has any realistic shot at winning, but rather because it is the only faction actually opposed to the Kremlin and Putin.

Reading that paragraph above, it is clear that Russia is not a normal electoral democracy. Apart from the fact that the President changed the constitution so he could come back for another pair of six-year terms, he’s running in an election with virtually no campaigning, no promises, no platform. To the extent that he’s campaigning, he’s harping on “accomplishments” from the mid-2000s, during the oil price boom. Does that sound at all normal for a system that is supposedly no less democratic than what exists in the West and other developed countries? If 2016 did anything positive, it was shutting up the cynics who called American elections predictable (ditto Brexit, Corbyn, etc).

Of course I know many Putin fanboys who, if pressed, will more or less admit that Russia’s elections are not fair and the system is biased towards Putin. Usually they deflect by asking “Who else is there?” But you see- that’s the problem. If Putin were ever a good leader, even during the years when things were on the up and up, he would have at least had the prescience to understand that he’s not immortal and he should probably construct Russia’s state institutions so as to ensure stable, democratic succession long after his death, incapacitation, or retirement. In general, he would use his authority to build a system based on rule of law and some kind of values as opposed to a cult of personality surrounding himself. He barely toyed with the concept back in 2008 when he let Medvedev take the reins, but he was so paranoid and concerned with image that he decided to come back to the presidency early.

The ultimate result of this is that wherever you fall on the spectrum of Putin/anti-Putin, there’s really no getting around the fact that sooner or later Russia is fucked, and there’s really nobody to blame for that but Putin. Therefore I can’t really understand why he still has Western admirers today. I do get the ones who just hate their own governments, have no experience with Russia, and just absorb a steady diet of bullshit from RT, Sputnik, and pro-Kremlin sites. But I don’t get the people who work for outlets like that and continue to defend the man and his system. Even if we foolishly attributed all the positive things in the mid-2000s to Putin, all of that has either been negated or on the chopping block to be negated within the coming years. All I can think of is that the Western apologists do it for the money. Those who don’t are complete idiots. There just is no other explanation.