Dec 10, 2016
[Map of Syria, its governorates, and major cities]
The Left and the Syria Debate
By : As`ad Abukhalil أسعد ابو خليل
Talking about Syria
Civil wars generate their own momentum. They go through different phases and produce different leaderships and warlords. The Lebanese civil war makes for a good academic comparison with the current Syrian war in that internal and external actors are entangled and weapons and fighters are being poured into the country. The dynamics of war in both countries helped catapult or create new constellations of arms, money, and interests across the frontlines that had little do with the interest of the majority of those living on any side. But the comparison ends there. The ideological orientations of the warring factions in the first phase of the Lebanese civil war (1975-76) are substantially different from today’s Syrian war, particularly in that there are no leftist factions among the major fighting groups. The stakes of the Syrian war are high. Beyond the enormous death toll, the majority of the Syrian population is besieged, displaced, or living under the threat of guns and bombs. It is they who will ultimately have to live in what is left of Syria. There are also high stakes—though very different consequences—for the United States and Russia in their regional and international rivalry. Despite all of this, here in the United States, or even in the Arab world, talk about Syria is severely limited and constrained.
One could affirm without exaggeration that talking about Syria freely is not possible in the mainstream Western or Arab press: a set of rhetorical dogmas are imposed, which greatly constrain the debate. A rigid consensus, established by Western governments and Arab regimes, has set in. The uniformity of mainstream Western media coverage of the Syrian war is shocking in its one-sidedness, allowing little room for disagreements (outside debates about the extent of current or future US intervention) than are allowed in coverage of the Israeli occupation (at least in the European media). Panels and features about Syria recycle the same arguments and the same narratives. Other points of view are rarely, if at all, permitted: they are deemed threatening to US interests or those of the Saudi royal family. The consensus around the evolution of the Syrian war are repeated verbatim across the media divide in the West. There is something disturbing about the lack of debate about Syria when the leftist TV program Democracy Now, the rightwing magazine The Economist, and the establishment New York Times sound almost the same when covering the Syrian war. They even cite the same “experts.” Patrick Cockburn, of the British The Independent, is perhaps the only Western journalist challenging the dominant narrative. He is routinely attacked by the “supporters of the Syrian revolution” as an apologist of the Asad regime.
The imposition of a one-party line in representations about the Syrian war is not new. The United States has always pursued a similar policy on Israel. However, in the latter case, at least the European media allowed (to some degree) a measure of independence from the one-sided war-mongering US stance. On Syria, however, such disagreements are not permitted. Governments and editors are not alone in imposing this one-party line. Many on social media have also joined this effort to impose the dominant narrative—even if for different reasons. It is not easy for some residing in the United States—let alone any Gulf country—to articulate a point of view that is opposed to the Syrian rebels. We should take pause when all Western correspondents in Beirut and all pundits in Washington DC are in total agreement on Syria. Even more concerning is that many Zionist zealots pretend that their concern for the Syrian people is second to none, and are lending their support to the consensus--if not manufacturing it. The only differences of opinion that exist are over the kinds of military support that are to be given to the rebels in Syria, the extent of military intervention, and the scope of US covert-overt operations. Whatever debate exists, it is one that is over how soon or how much the United States should intervene in Syria.
In the Arab world, the near-total monopoly of the Saudi and Qatari regimes over media outlets has ensured that only one point of view is, technically and legally speaking, allowed—just as the Syrian regime and its media allow only one point of view. But the fact is that all Western media (mainstream as well as progressive-alternative outlets like Democracy Now or The Nation) now mirror (and often reproduce verbatim) the rhetoric from media outlets owned by Saudi royalty. Most in the progressive academic community (both in Middle East studies and outside of it) have either been silent about Syria or have basically subscribed to the dominant position on the war. This dynamic reveals much about the consensus: there exists only one side that should be represented in media coverage. To be clear, by “side” we are speaking not so much about sides on the ground in the war, of which there are many, but more so the sides regarding analyzing the war, for which there are also many.
As in all its foreign interventions in the Middle East, the United States frames the situation by resorting to crude (and expensive) propaganda to influence public opinion in the United States and abroad. The United States and United Kingdom hire US and UK PR firms to help coordinate between Arab and Western governments in order to unify the message and to solidify the talking points. The US Media Center in Dubai is one of the least analyzed or studied aspects of US foreign policy in the Middle East: little is known about its inner working. But the synergy between Western media and Arab oil-and-gas media is too obvious to ignore. Furthermore, I know from the former director-general of Al Jazeera that the US government provides a detailed weekly critique—with suggestions—to the Doha offices of Al Jazeera concerning its regionalcoverage. Add to that the role of Western human rights and relief organizations—which, on the Syrian issue, do not deviate from the standards and orientations of the US foreign policy perspective—and the all-encompassing consensus can be fully grasped. An outrageous example is Ken Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, who via his Twitter account blamed Russia for the bombings in both East and West Aleppo! The United States is of course shielded from such criticisms: while Russia can be held responsible for both its war crimes and those of the rebels, the US role in funding, arming, and training some of the rebel groups that have bombed civilians in regime-controlled areas is nowhere to be critiqued.
The views of the Syrian public are more complicated than what is implied in the dominant Western and Arab Gulf media narratives. There are those inside Syria that hold Syrian rebels responsible—or more responsible than the Syrian regime—for the current state of affairs. Such points of view exist among Syrians regardless of whether Western governments or Gulf regimes like it or not. Yet such views are effectively absent from Western media and from public debates about Syria in the West—despite the constant invocation of “the Syrian people.” The only exception has been those US-based Syrian Christian churches, which show more public confidence than other Arab groups (a dynamic that is the result of the sectarian biases of Western foreign policy). Such groups have sided with the regime or have been quite vocal against the Syrian rebels. Thus, one of the few public expressions of opposition to Syrian rebels was organized by Syrian Christian groups in Pennsylvania (and was met with shouts and obscenities by “experts” of Syria in DC).
There is little acceptance or toleration for views that are opposed to all Syrian rebels. But those views exist, even among Syrians in the United States regardless of sect or ethnicity. Such voices have only been registered on the margins of the debate, and have not been given much publicity by the media. And yet, nearly all writings on Syria in Western media coverage of Syria is produced as if it was representative of the entirety of the Syrian people. Beirut-based Washington Post correspondent Liz Sly publicizes her views on Twitter and attributes them to the “Syrian people.” Clearly, there are enough Twitter accounts of ostensible Syrians writing in perfect English from rebel-held areas to prove that all Syrians are supportive of the rebels and welcoming of Western intervention.
What little real debate exists about Syria in the West is being increasingly suppressed in the face of this rigid consensus and its institutional support. More recently, some US-based supporters of Syrian rebels have publicly declared war on prominent champions of the Palestinian cause, falsely accusing them of supporting the Asad regime. Unfortunately, such is the discourse of the supporters of Syrian rebels in the West and the Middle East: any declared hostility, opposition, or criticism of the Syrian rebels is automatically (and in most cases falsely) conflated with support for the Asad regime (just as the Asad regime automatically dismisses and maligns any opposition to its rule as support for imperialist interests). It is ironic that supporters of Syrian rebels (who have not seized power yet) are resorting to the same Asad regime tactics of domination. Some Syrian rebels have in fact resorted to the same torture techniques of the regime (e.g., the Dulab) against their prisoners. They have also shot at demonstrators opposed to their policies or practices. But there is more to the story; indeed, there is much more to the story.
There seems to be a rhetorical connection (regardless of intentionality), and in some cases outright collusion, between the recent campaigns—launched in the name of supporting the Syrian “revolution” —against champions of the Palestinian cause and the vicious continuous Zionist campaign against supporters of Palestine. The dominant and most vocal spokespeople of the Syrian “debate” in the West fall into one of two groups: journalists and pundits who work in Gulf-funded think tanks, centers, and media outlets; or Zionists who are scattered across the Washington DC think tanks, which at a moment’s notice are able to produce instant experts on any country in the Middle East in which Israel has a stake (which basically means the entire Arab world in addition to Turkey and Iran).
The lack of debate on Syria is also assisted by the official propaganda emanating from the US government and the Gulf regimes. In 1990, the US and the Gulf regimes paved the way for the devastating war on Iraq through an avalanche of propaganda. Today, the US and the Gulf regimes are insisting that only one side of the story is allowed. Indeed, there is only one side to the story according to them. Western human rights organizations are assisting this effort, and Syrian-sounding names (or organizations and political shops) are funded and supported by Gulf regimes, the United States, or European countries to pretend that there exists neutral and objective Syrian monitoring groups that can tell the story of the Syrian war without bias and without obfuscation. In recent decades, the United States has become adept at camouflaging its lies and propaganda by recycling its distorted view of the world through local NGOs and various bodies that it creates, funds, and then pretends to rely on for information. Thus, many NGOs have proliferated throughout the Arab world and are dedicated to spreading the message of “peace” (as is defined by United States) and the message of free enterprise.
There are plenty of media shops and Syrian civil society organizations in exile, which are funded by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or Turkey. Yet those shops and organizations are considered authentically Syrian—all the while those individuals and groups not allied with US official rhetoric are not even recognized as part of the Syrian people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is based in London and yet its director issues press releases in which he asserts that he was able (from afar) to document gas attacks by the Syrian regime. Also, Western human rights organizations often provide cover and lend legitimacy to local organizations which parrot Western policies and standards. Thus, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, always tweets about Syrian regime and Russian bombings of civilians as war crimes, but never uses such tersm to describe the actions of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
There is an urgency to the Syrian issue. Some among the supporters of the Syrian rebels in the West are downplaying the US threat and insist that we focus on the Russian threat. There is indeed a Russian threat in Syria, and much Russian violence. But that does not mean the US complicity in creating the situation and the US threat of making things even worse—no matter how much some cannot imagine it getting worse—is not also real. The United States is already heavily involved in Syria and has been since before the eruption of the uprising in 2011. We are talking about potential US plans for the escalation of the conflict and for the prolongation of the suffering of the Syrian people. Just as Russia is causing the death and injury of civilians in Syria, the United States and its allies are also causing the death and injury of Syrian civilians. Just last week, the Washington Post printed a small story in which it said—rather in passing—that since the beginning of the Mosul battle, US bombing has killed “more than 80 civilians.” As long as the enemies of Israel are distracted and diverted, Israel and the United States are pleased.
Who Is Left and Who is Right In the War in Syria?
The debate about Syria has taken center stage in many leftist organizations in both the West and the Arab world. Both the savagery of the Syrian war and the involvement of so many outside parties have only raised the stakes. For their part, Western and Gulf governments have spent billions in propaganda campaigns—all too visible in their respective media outlets. Some of the statements of Syrian rebel groups read as if they were translated from English, and first drafted by PR firms on K Street in Washington DC. For example, the Nur al-Din al-Zenki rebel group, which received US funds and arms in the past, issued a very carefully crafted and polished statement after it was caught on video beheading a Palestinian child that had all the markings of a US consulting firm. Syrian rebels groups often issue PR statements in both English and Arabic—just to make sure the message reaches its recipients. Similarly, the Iranian-Russian alliance has also been spending money (though miniscule compared to the propogranda budget of the United States and its GCC allies) and working hard to present its campaign in strategic—even apocalyptic—terms. Hizballah, which over the years has been subjected to the bombs of the US-Israeli “war on terror,” has itself been dragged into a “war on terror” in which it is partaking in Syria. It is not clear that Hizballah is aware of the legal and political ramifications of its involvement in fighting which has the banner of “war on terror,” given that it was one of the first groups against which the rhetoric of “the war on terrorism” was directed. But there is no question that the Western-Gulf coalition (which always includes Israel as an unadvertised core member) has regarded Syria as a crucial node in its foreign policy and global strategy. The United States is keen on establishing a closed Arab order in which all regimes fall behind Saudi leadership. There has never been as large or as intense a zone of US-Saudi coordination and activity in the region as there is today. Furthermore, once the US-Gulf regimes install a client regime in Syria, the Camp David trip of Anwar al-Sadat becomes complete.
Given the marginalization of the left both in the broader political field of the West and the Arab world, the focus within the left—as a target—on Syria is curious. It is clear that all arguments were marshaled by supporters of the Syrian rebels in order to discredit groups and individuals who have actual credibility—unlike, say, the media of Saudi princes, or the propagandists of the Syrian regime. Arab public opinion is not of one mind on the issue of Syria: those who are sectarian-minded have taken sides, either on the side of the Syrian regime and its allies or on the side of the Syrian rebels, who are dominated by Islamist ideologies of various strands. Leftist discourse on Syria in the Arab world—unlike liberal discourse advanced almost exclusively by former leftists who conveniently introduce themselves to Western leftist media as leftists in order to attain leftist credentials when those people are active in anti-leftist rhetoric and movements in Arabic—is not tied to Gulf regimes or to Iranian regime. Because it is more independent it attracts more attacks from clients of Gulf regimes.
In order to debate the issue of Syria and leftist arguments about it, one has to treat the various actors in Syria from a leftist standpoint. This includes an attention to the leftist credentials of those actors. Neither the Asad regime nor the Syrian rebel groups are remotely related to the Left. So while the discussion has been focused on “the left and Syria,” there is little to show of leftism among the warring factions (both local and international). In the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, there were active leftist currents which were instrumental in the uprising there. That has not been the case in Syria, for a range of reasons—some particular to Syria and some not particular to Syria.
Let us start with the US-dominated coalition. We can easily dismiss any claims about leftist interests or identities of any of its members. The United States never allows leftist or progressive considerations to influence its foreign policy. This is precisely what unites Republicans and Democrats on the foreign policy level. The United States consistently adheres to a right-wing position in its foreign policy. One would be hard pressed to find a case of US intervention in which the US did not side with the conservative, right-wing, and reactionary side within a conflict. From the Lebanese Civil War to the Arab-Israeli conflict, through inter-Arab conflicts, the “natural” sympathies of the US government always fell with the most conservative and reactionary government or party. In the Lebanese Civil War, the United States supported and armed the right-wing death squads of the Phalanges and their allies. Reading newly declassified US documents pertaining to the this civil war, one is struck by the extent to which the US view of the 1975-76 phase of the war was framed in terms of left-versus-right. The US role was underpinned by a commitment to sponsoring and arming the right-wing and pro-Israeli militias to undermine the Lebanese and Palestinian left. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the United States repeatedly utilized its support for Israel to bolster its global war on the Left. It is also true that in intra-Arab conflicts, the United States preferred the most conservative and the most reactionary side in a conflict. In addition, Gulf regimes closely coordinated with the United States to battle the left not only in the Gulf region, but also in the world at large. The Saudi regime, for example, funneled money to right-wing groups in Europe, Africa, and Latin America at the behest of the US government. For all these reasons, US intervention in the Middle East consistently makes things worse.
What is said about the United States in terms of its reactionary and conservative agenda, also applies to its European allies. They all have sided with the United States and its right-wing partners and proxies around the world. To be sure, some European allies of the United States may not have sympathized with US goals in Latin America. Yet such differences never caused a rift with the United States. European differences with the United States are not so much out of some greater affinity for progressive forces in the Middle East as much as they are about profit and competition. The conflict between Western Europe and the United States in Africa, for example, is one of colonial competition—especially as the United States has been more substantially extending its corporate and military influence in Africa at the expense of Western European interests.
In the Middle East region, European powers and Canada have all sided with US political preferences—and, of course, with Israel. Whatever little differences that existed prior to 11 September 2001 evaporated during the last decade and a half. Canadian foreign policy used to be refreshingly different from US foreign policy. Yet Canadian voting at the United Nations has become quite similar to the US record, and Canada has become more pro-Israel and it is now—under a liberal prime minister—the second largest (in terms of value) exporter of arms to the Middle East. Europe expressed slightly different sentiments in favor of Palestinian independence in the 1970s. Yet it too has fallen increasingly in line with the United States on Arab-Israeli issues and on Middle East more generally. After France criticized the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Jacques Chirac moved quickly to mend differences with the United States. Since then, both countries have coordinated their policies in Lebanon and later in Syria.
Some may remark that liberal or socialist parties are ruling some European governments. But liberal and socialist parties of Europe can no longer be counted on the left (assuming that they ever were). This is especially so when it comes to foreign relations and defense policies, not to mention domestic policies. During the 1990s and since, the UK Labor Party adopted Bill Clinton’s recipe of centrism over liberalism. The current socialist government of France is probably one of the most reactionary of Western governments in terms of its Middle East policy. Relatedly, the French-Saudi relationship has reached an unprecedented levels of cooperation during socialist rule in France. What is considered “left” in European governments is little more than centrist (if not right wing). The political center of gravity has shifted markedly toward the right in the last two decades. Simply put, the Arab world is an arena where distinguishing between the left and right in the West is meaningless: imperialist considerations continue to determine Western policies in the Middle East region and further cement their alliance with the Israeli occupation state. British foreign policies change little between a Conservative and a Labor government, just as French policies change little between a conservative and a socialist government.
As for the Arab regimes, they all fall under the reactionary category. With the Saudi regime leading and propping up the existing Arab political order, there is no point in discussing whether Arab intervention in Syria would be a leftist or rightist act, whether it would be in the interests of Syrian population or not, and whether it would usher in anything progressive, democratic, or socially just. Yet Saudi Arabia does not only speak for the existing Arab political order. The kingdom is now basically running what is described in the West as the “moderate” and “secular” (external) Syrian opposition, namely the US-created Syrian National Coalition (SNC). With this, the Saudi regime now tightly controls the official Syrian opposition’s negotiating team in Geneva. The leadership of the SNC not only lacks representative credentials among the Syrian rebels; it is also divided between allies of the Qatari and Saudi regimes, with a segment loyal to the Turkish government. It bears noting that the Turkish government and Qatari regime are key sponsors of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, especially after the other Gulf and Arab regimes belatedly declared war on the organization—despite having hosted, supported, and armed it for decades [Jordan’s King Husayn admitted in the early 1980s that his government supported the Muslim Brotherhood opposition inside Syria; the Israeli-armed Lebanese Phalanges (Kata’ib) also helped the Brotherhood].
When it comes to the Syrian rebels, there is no leftist presence to speak of—a point I will elaborate on below. To rectify this absence of leftist forces, many leftist Western publications have resorted to interviewing “former leftists,” presenting them as current leftists. The irony is that this is an old trick used by the right in the Arab world. When the Saudi-Syrian alliance installed the right-wing billionaire Rafiq al-Hariri as prime minister of Lebanon, he quickly hired or variously supported a bunch of former leftists to push and promote his agenda of privatization and austerity. For example, Hariri hired Muhammad al-Kishli (a man who was active in Lebanese leftist causes in the 1960s) as his point man in the suppression of labor unions in Lebanon. Furthermore, a former leader of the Lebanese communist now sits on the “politburo” on the Hariri Future Movement.
Former leftists are a phenomenon in Arab politics and culture. They tend to be the most reactionary and anti-resistance of all political currents. Former leftists are what I and many others call “Arab liberals.” The term has a very different meaning in the Arab world than it has in the West. For some time, the term “Arab liberals” has basically captured those that serve as tools of Gulf regimes, by working in their media outlets. They tend to be the most vocal in opposing any and all groups resisting Israeli dominance (and they are of course silent about the political economy of the region). Such former leftists have effectively shunned and denounced their leftist past. Yet some of them are still identified as leftists when interviewed in leftist Western media in order to legitimize the Syrian rebels or to bestow on them leftist credentials that are completely undeserved. The Intercept recently interviewed Syrian opposition figure Yasin Hajj Salih and identified him as a leftist when the man himself (in Arabic) identifies himself as a liberal and regularly attacks the left in his writings.
If we look at the diverse landscape of Syrian rebels, we find no organized leftist groups among armed groups of consequence, with the possible exception of the Kurdish PYD forces in the north (which ironically has emerged as one of the most favored rebel groups by the US Congress). There is no unit or battalion among the Syrian rebels named after leftist figures or events (Western or Arab). Even Ibrahim Humaydi, the pro-rebel journalist who covers Syria for Al-Hayat, the mouthpiece of Saudi Prince Khalid bin Sultan, conceded in an interview with Jadaliyya’s Bassam Haddad that the “moderate rebels” are no more than ten to fifteen percent of all Syrian rebels whom he identified as Islamists or “close to al-Qa‘ida.” For Humaydi, the “moderate rebels” is a reference to the various warring factions of the Free Syrian Army. Most of these groups have engaged in various acts of local thuggery and war crimes. They may have engaged in such acts during their services in the Syrian regime army or later during the “liberation” and “revolution” phase. They may be anti-regime now, but their conduct in areas they control do not indicate leftist or progressive credentials. They have had no connection to the organized left or any leftist agenda. Their only connection is that they are variously sponsored by the right-wing regimes of Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States.
The overwhelming majority of the Syrian rebel landscape represents a variety of Islamist—both Salafist and Brotherhood—politics, with a sprinkle of the non-Islamist gangs of the Free Syrian Army. None of these groups have a progressive agenda in terms social or economic issues. They are only united by their anti-regime position, not by their democratic, progressive, or leftist goals or practices. The various established Islamist political groups in the Arab world do not include progressive or leftist elements. To be sure, the Tunisian An-Nahdah has made alliances with progressives after the overthrow of Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali, but it did so following its Qatari sponsors who seek to accommodate Western economic and foreign policies, in the interest of preserving the old regime if with new faces (and sometimes the old faces themselves were brought back). At any rate this exceptional Tunisian alliance was to the benefit of the Islamist forces and did little to advance leftist or progressive causes or issues. This is not to say that Islamists do not have the right to rebel or to call for the overthrow of oppressive regimes. But that is different than claiming such groups—in opposition or in power—represent leftist principles, interests, or identities.
Let us turn to the other camp. One has to strain to find any evidence of a leftist presence or agenda in the Russian-Iranian-Hizballah alliance with the Syrian regime. The Russian regime of Vladimir Putin is no leftist government. In addition to being neoliberal and corrupt, it is willing to make alliances across the political divide in the Middle East—or elsewhere in the world—with little regard to ideological or practical considerations. Simply put, Putin’s government cannot be counted on the left, despite recent efforts by its supporters in the region and elsewhere to endow Putin with undeserved progressive or leftist credentials.
As for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad, it represents a new phase in the Ba`thist transformation of the country. When it first came to power in Syria and Iraq, the Ba`th had a progressive but not a leftist socioeconomic agenda, yet coupled with an authoritarian logic. They enacted a series of half-hearted social and economic reforms. Such policies were certainly progressive compared to what the old order represented. Land reform, mass education, and healthcare helped the rural and urban working poor while advancing the status of women. However, the commitment to and effects of those measures declined over the years and a new business class (i.e., cronies of the ruling families) arose: market capitalism reasserted itself with impunity (to be sure, it was not killed off in the first place). It would be fair to say that the regime of Hafiz al-Asad was less progressive than the predecessor regime of Salah Jadid, and the regime of Bashar al-Asad was less progressive than the regime of his father. Bashar’s highly touted reforms early in his rule were to the benefit of the new business sector (tied to the ruling family and a corrupt class of officials) and impoverished the rural population. Furthermore, in an attempt to appease Gulf regimes and in order to bolster its waning legitimacy, Bashar’s regime became less secular, just as the regime of Hafiz al-Asad had been less secular than the regime of Salah Jadid before him. Regardless of the particular phase, the Syrian regime resorted—and still resorts—to repression and violence to maintain its rule. It should also be stated that the Syrian regime (and that is also true of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq) does not fight Islamists because it is a secular regime. The regime fights whoever stands in its way or challenges its authority and legitimacy, including communists and other leftists. Ba`thist repression has always been non-discriminatory.
The Ba`th party in both Syria and Iraq used and repressed the left. In Syria, Hafiz al-Asad created an official (government-approved) front recognizing and incorporating a select number of parties, including the communists. However, the communists—like others in the front—were free to operate only insofar as they applauded the policies of the regime. Other leftists, like the Communist Action Party, which did not do so, were ruthlessly persecuted by the regime, as was the Muslim Brotherhood.
For their part, neither Hizballah nor the Iranian regime can be said to be leftist in terms of social justice or economic policies, to say nothing of secularism. Hizballah’s record in domestic Lebanese politics is characterized by either silence on matters of social justice or an alliance with the most corrupt capitalist groups, like Hariri’s business empire and that of the Amal Movement. Furthermore, the Iranian regime and Hizballah (in its early phase, prior to the rise of Hasan Nasrallah) had participated in the persecution of leftists in Lebanon. Hizballah still finds it hard to pay tribute to communist fighters who pioneered armed resistance to the Israeli occupation (though Hasan Nasrallah at least once paid tribute to them in a speech).
It is thus baffling that despite the fact that none of the warring factions (domestic or foreign) in Syria have leftist or progressive credentials, many Western advocates of the Syrian rebels speak as if they (i.e., the Western advocates) have the moral high ground. They speak as if Russia represents imperialism, which it does, while backers of the rebels (the United States and Gulf regimes) represent—in their own rhetoric—humanitarianism. This comes on top of the forgotten record of the United States and Gulf regimes, who bear a large responsibility for supporting the crimes of the Syrian regime over the decades. It was the United States and the Gulf states who sponsored the Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1976 (while the Soviet Union opposed it), and it was they who also sponsored the Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1991.
Others in the Arab world regard the Syrian regime and Hizballah as leftists due to their being part of what is called the “Mumana‘a Camp” (literally, "refusalness" camp). The term refers to the camp that opposes the Arab regional order’s accommodation with Israel. But the belief is untrue. The Syrian regime, for example, had adopted the Saudi-designed Arab Peace Initiative, which basically accepts the legitimacy of Israel within its 1948 borders in return for a withdrawal from the 1967 territories. In addition, the Syrian regime long abandoned the cause of liberating the occupied Golan Heights. This is not withstanding Bashar al-Asad’s recent talk of “the return of the Golan Heights”—as if they will be returned without any military operations. Here Hizballah’s active resistance against the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon and its subsequent liberation is what endows it with an aura of leftism for many Arabs, despite its lack of a social or economic leftist agenda. This has to do with the long history of intersection between the left and anti-colonialism in the Middle East. However, the recent deterioration in its Arab image is not only due to Gulf-regime sectarian agitation—which is quite effective—but also due to its intervention in Syria, which involves propping up the Asad regime through battling the rebels regardless of the huge cost to civilians and to the image of the resistance party in the Arab world.
But economic policies and the question of social justice are not the only criteria to judge leftism. The stance of groups toward imperialist dangers and the threat of Israel (which are derivative) should also be taken into consideration. In this regard, there are confusing or delineating lines of demarcations: the external allies of the Syrian rebels (and some factions of the Syrian rebels) are aligned with the United States or with its clients regimes in the Gulf; others—like the Nusra Front, some elements of the Free Syrian Army, and some lobbying groups for the Syrian opposition in Washington DC—are either aligned with the Israeli government or with the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington DC. On the other side of the front lines, the Russian government is also an ally of the Israeli state. The Putin leadership does not in any way challenge Israeli policies in Palestine or the region. If anything, Putin has solidified the Russian-Israeli alliance. While Hizballah and the Iranian regime adopt a resistance posture against Israel, the Syrian regime wavers in its attitude toward the Israeli threat. As mentioned earlier, it has abandoned—for some time now—the cause of liberating the occupied Golan and accepted the “Arab Peace Initiative.” The Syrian regime has at some points supported (including arming) Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups. Yet it did so according to its own regime calculations, and was willing to turn against those groups as it did in 1976 in Lebanon and again later in the mid- to late-1980s against Hizballah.
Some Principles to Consider in Assessing the Leftist Stance on Syria
While there are no active leftist organizations and movements of consequence on either side of the divide in the Syrian conflict, leftist arguments and appeals should not be disregarded or forgotten. Poor people are dying on both sides of the divide in Syria, and poor people are among the fighters of the regime and of the rebels. Leftist arguments should still hold for analysis and for activism, even if they are not currently politically salient.
The invocation of the “Syrian people,” speaking on behalf of the Syrian people, deploying the academically fashionable terminology of “the agency of the Syrian people” is in line with—if not always intentionally—a long Western tradition of occupation and colonization in the name of the natives. There are Syrians who support the rebels, there are Syrians who support the regime, and there are Syrians who support neither. They all do so for a complex set of reasons. The notion that leftists should blindly follow the political choice of “the people” or a segment of people (conveniently selected) is a political exercise intended to support one group of combatants. Masses can make erroneous political choices and leftists—of all people—should not use demagogic arguments.
Leftists should not necessarily follow blindly one side or the other in the armed conflict. We can all agree Asad and his regime represent a brutal dictatorship. That is not the same as saying those armed groups of consequence among the Syrian opposition should be supported or championed. Leftists should make their own criticisms or suggestions without fear of intimidation, especially the effective and universal intimidation exercised by the US-Gulf alliance.
There are civilians on both sides of the conflict. All sides of the armed conflict (meaning, the Syrian regime and the rebels as well as all of their sponsors and supporters) have committed war crimes. Despite no reliable data about the killing and destruction, we know that both sides are guilty of war crimes, and that the regime bears a much bigger share of the responsibility. Although, all the studies and analyses of war crimes have come from one side, the side of Western and Gulf media and organizations. The notion that the Syrian regime is justified in its bombing campaign or that rebels are hiding behind civilians (even if true in some cases) is the same argument often used by Zionists to justify the murder of Palestinian civilians. This logic should be categorically rejected. Similarly, the notion that Syrian rebel crimes should be ignored or forgiven because the Syrian regime committed more war crimes is basically a license for Syrian rebels to commit more war crimes.
Leftists of all people should welcome open debate about Syria and should reject the intimidation tactics of Western supporters and cheerleaders for the Syrian rebels. Leftists more than others should engage in media deconstruction and in pointing out the impact of financial ownership of media in the West and in the Arab world.
Attacking the anti-imperialist left in the West has a long tradition. Those engaging in the debate about Syria need to be careful to not contribute and reinforce this tradition, all the while stating any differences and critiques they might have of those that identify as the anti-imperialist left. We need to separate those attacks on parts of the left due to purely Syrian considerations from those that are part of the US hegemonic order.
The attack on the left exaggerates the role of the left, in the West, in the Syrian conflict, and in the Arab world at large.
Most promoters of the idea that the left is guilty in its stance on the Syrian conflict belong to groups who are sponsored by Gulf regimes or Western governments—hardly parties that possess Leftist credentials. It must be noted in this context that the Western attacks on the left from supporters of Syrian rebels is synchronized with the campaign of attacks against the left across the Saudi-owned media.
Leftists should be aware of the infiltration by Zionists in the ranks of the debate on Syria, for purposes that are neither related to Syria nor the welfare of the Syrian population.
Some of the loudest voices feigning concern for the Syrian people are individuals, organizations, and regimes that have never been known for their concern for the Syrian people or for the lives of Arabs more generally.
Palestine is relevant to every debate, or it should be. But the Palestinian issue is being exploited for political purposes by all sides to the conflict. The Syrian regime and its supporters use it, for example, in their argument that any protest or armed insurrection against the regime is a Zionist conspiracy (although Israel is certainly active in the Syrian conflict and Israel has been active in every internal war or conflict in the contemporary Arab world). The Zionist supporters of the Syrian rebels also exploit the issue when they take advantage of every possible political event to further the interests of Israeli occupation and aggression.
The left is interested in the welfare of the poor, and neither the Syrian regime nor its enemies among the rebels care for the poor. Furthermore, the Western-Gulf alliance is hardly ever interested in the plight of the poor in their own countries, let alone abroad.
Leftists have to oppose Russian intervention in Syria at the same time they condemn US, European, and Gulf intervention in Syria. Russia is a hegemonic player, but the United States remains the supreme imperialist global power causing more death, destruction, and conflict than any other country on the planet. There are reasons to distrust Russian motives in Syria, but there are more reasons to distrust US motives in Syria and across the Arab world.
There needs to be an open and free debate on Syria—both in the West and in the Middle East. But such debate is impossible because there is so much at stake for all those external parties intervening in Syria. How could there be a debate free of the propaganda influence of the Syrian rebel lobbies in Western capitals when the absence of debate is part of the political agenda? Furthermore, the public debate in the United States has become more restricted: Washington DC think tanks are now more suspect than ever, given the infusion of Gulf money into their coffers. What passes as dispassionate analysis is often masked Gulf-paid lobbying. The US foreign policy establishment is pushing for heavier US military intervention in Syria, and the Gulf regimes are also pushing for this intervention. Of course, the United States has never stopped intervening militarily in the war in Syria and seeks its prolongation just as it sought the prolongation of various wars and civil conflicts in the region in order to relieve Israel of pressures. As all parties acknowledge, a heavier US military intervention will likely lead to more bloodshed and killing in Syria. US missiles and rockets—all propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding—also kill Syrian civilians just as Russian missiles do. Russia poses a threat to Syria and to Syrians. But the United States has posed and poses a greater threat to Syria, the Syrians, and to the rest of the world (and even to outer space given US plans in the 1960s to detonate a nuclear bomb on the moon).
The Ukrainian far-right National Corps picks up where Svoboda left off
The FN’s Jean-Marie Le Pen (centre) with one of the leaders of the SNPU Andriy Parubiy (left)
Over the years, Svoboda cooperated with a number of European far-right movements and organisations ranging from radical right-wing populist to blatantly fascist and even neo-Nazi. But in 2013 and, especially, 2014, Svoboda started having problems with its European counterparts. First, it was expelled, in the beginning of 2013, from the AENM that was dominated by the then far-right Jobbik party. It was a “geopolitical” development: Hungarian Jobbik was then an openly pro-Kremlin party and could not tolerate anti-Russian Svoboda.
Svoboda, in order to still maintain international contacts, had to turn to more extreme organisations. Taras Osaulenko, head of Svoboda’s international relations, took part in the “Vision Europa” conference organized by extreme-right Party of the Swedes in Stockholm on 23-24 March 2013. The conference also hosted representatives of the New Force (Italy), Land and People (France), Party of the Danes (Denmark), National Democracy (Spain). In May 2013, Svoboda’s MP Mykhaylo Holovko visited the Landtag of Saxony to speak to the local office of the neo-Nazi National-Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). Furthermore, in June that year, representatives of the New Force, including its leader Roberto Fiore, visited Ukraine where they discussed the creation of a new group of European far-right movements with representatives of Svoboda.
Holger Apfel, leader of the neo-Nazi NPD (2011-2013), and Svoboda’s Mykhaylo Holovko MP
It all went rather well, but the Ukrainian revolution in 2014 messed things up for Svoboda. At first, however, it did not look this way. For example, John Morgan, the co-founder of the far-right Arktos publishing house that published, in particular, translations of Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin’s works, visited Kyiv during the revolution upon the invitation from Svoboda’s Yuriy Noevy. But after the revolution and the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the FN and Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), being – like Jobbik then – openly pro-Kremlin, criticised Ukraine and, thus, distanced from Svoboda. The year 2014 essentially became the end of Svoboda’s international contacts. Roberto Fiore’s New Force even deleted from its website a report on his visit to Kyiv in 2013.
Podcast: Against Red-Brown politics
Submitted by WW4 Report on Tue, 05/15/2018
In Episode Nine of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants against "Red-Brown Politics," the dangerous notion of an alliance between the left and fascist right against liberalism and the West—now evidenced in the growing support for the genocidal dictatorship of Bashar Assad on both the "anti-war" (sic) "left" (sic) and the "alt-right." Leading lights of the American "left" have joined pro-Assad delegations to Syria, as have figures on the fascist right. Emerging as the global representative for this sinister trend is Russo-nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, who is bringing together supposed peaceniks and neo-fascists around supporting despots like Putin and Assad in the name of a "multi-polar" world. Perversely,. representatives of "anti-war" groups in the US recently traveled to a Duginist confab in Moscow, where they met with various Euro-fascist leaders and a delegation of white nationalists from the neo-Confederate League of the South. Weinberg urges that leftists utterly reject overtures from the radical right, and adopt a single-standard anti-fascism—which must inlcude solidarity with the Syrian Revolution. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Red-Brown “zombie plague” PART TWO
French political scientist Anton Mukhamedov adds:It is worth remembering that at the same time as imprisoning and torturing Russian leftists, the Russian state has been issuing calls for a “multipolar world”, a euphemism for a coalition of traditionalist and deeply reactionary “Eurasianist” powers fighting off what Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian National Bolshevik ideologue with ties to the Kremlin, refers to as “Atlanticism”, hence the support for far-right identitarian parties in Europe, white nationalists in the US, but also those anti-war groups who see collaboration with Russia as key to ensuring global peace. While Putin’s vision seems to be that of hegemonic powers left alone in their own sphere of interest, RT and other state outlets have been advancing the threat of a “new Cold War” to urge the political right and the political left to unite behind Russian power.
Amar Diwarkar suggests in his excellent article “The Permutations of Assadism” that the model for this Russian discourse about Syria is in fact Israeli hasbara (“explaining”) about Palestine:this technique embodies a public-private partnership which links information warfare with the strategic objectives of the Israeli state. Multifaceted and tailored to the digital age, it is deeply aware that perception shapes reality. While rooted in earlier concepts of agitprop and censorship, hasbara does not look to jam the supply of contradictory information to audiences. Instead, it willingly accepts an open marketplace of opinion. What it seeks to do in this context is to promote selective listening by limiting the receptivity of audiences to information, rather than constricting its flow…
It is unsurprising then that Assadism has successfully incorporated the hasbara playbook into its arsenal. In a tragic twist, many voices that are acquainted with Israeli deflection and denialism on Palestine likewise emit a deafening silence towards the Assad’s counter-revolution against Syrians. Negation is couched in terms of ‘security’ and ‘counterterrorism’, lesser evil and Islamophobic rationalizations, while routinely leading to conspiratorial allegations in desperate attempts to exonerate a bloodstained rump state.
...Some other prominent Western voices calling for a Querfront between the radical Left and the Trumpist/nationalist Right against neoliberal globalism include Cassandra Fairbanks, a social media anti-police activist who publicly switched allegiance from Bernie Sanders to Trump. Australian blogger Caitlin Johnstone has become something of a celebrity for her calls for the Left to collaborate with the Trumpist right against “the establishment” (i.e. neoliberal globalism):“We lefties need to attack the establishment at every turn and circulate awareness of what’s really happening in the world, and when this means collaborating with the right wing, we should do it … Cernovich and I probably disagree on more things than we agree on ideologically, but where we do agree it’s absolutely stupid for us not to work together” (quoted here)
Michael Cernovich, for those who don’t know, is an alt-right blogger and one of the main promoters of the “Pizzagate” hoax, a baseless conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking Democrats being part of a child-trafficking ring. Johnstone’s other claim to fame has been repeated articles claiming that the Trump-Russia collusion enquiry is an entirely bogus Clintonist scam. Johnstone now has the claim to fame of having been recommended by none other than British musician Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd. The latter, a long-standing leftist and pro-Palestine activist, has recently been repeating Syrian chemical warfare denial and Russian-sourced conspiracy theory live on stage (something which is probably not unrelated, again, to the platform he has been given for his political views by the RTnetwork).
Alexandr Dugin was briefly mentioned above, but American geopolitical analyst Eric Draitser explains his central role in modern Red Brown politics in another excellent article which deserves quoting at length:Dugin is widely regarded as very influential in Russian policy circles – his Foundations of Geopolitics remains a required text for Russian military officers ….
One of Dugin’s most important works is The Fourth Political Theory (4PT), a pseudo-intellectual manifesto of fascist politics that eschews 20th Century political labels in favor of a “new synthesis” for a new century…. The essence of 4PT is just a repackaged variant of third positionism from an openly fascist perspective. It calls for direct alignment and alliance of forces on the far left and far right to attack the center. Even the homepage for the book states “Beyond left and right but against the center.” Sound familiar?
…his 21st Century 4PT politics is rooted in the idea of a necessary collaboration between a bygone left (communists, socialists, etc.) and a bygone right (fascists). Put another way, Dugin here is rebranding fascism as something distinctly new, separated from the tarnished historical legacy of Nazism and Italian fascism, something most necessary in our “post-modern” world. Of course, it should be noted that when Dugin says “post-modern” he means multiculturalism, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, and generally everything that has become fundamental to the Left over the last 50 years.
… this is precisely the Duginist strategy, to penetrate the left via anti-imperialism and marry it to the far right, with the two united in a common pro-Russian outlook. That’s Dugin’s agenda, and people like [Caitlin] Johnstone become very useful to that end. Just looking at the number of alleged progressives who rightly reject US corporate media narratives unless they’re backed by hard evidence, while at the same time believing reports from Russian media and Kremlin press releases as holy writ tells me that that strategy is somewhat effective.
Revolution and Counter-revolution in Syria: a reply to R.L. Stephens
Basher (left) and Hafez (right) Assad.
Hafez seized power in a coup aimed against the left of his party –
the Baath Party.
International working class solidarity
Socialists in the United States should be guided by the principle of international working class solidarity. First and foremost, we should be countering the disinformation campaign such as carried out by the Putin mouthpiece, RT.com, and repeated by many on the left here. This campaign pretends that what is happening in Syria is all a matter of US imperialist inspired “regime change”; that it is simply a replay of what US imperialism did in Iraq. In fact it originated as a revolution from below, and socialists should be orienting towards that revolution; we should start with that. Anything less than full support for the Syrian revolution, any tendency to ignore the massive crimes against humanity carried out mainly by the Assad, Putin and Rouhani regimes, will inevitably be correctly seen by the Syrians themselves as implicit support for one of the most brutal dictatorships of the present era, a dictatorship whose methods have been correctly likened to those of fascism. (In that regard, it is no accident that within the Assad administration is the outright fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Nor is it any accident that fascists and semi-fascists around the world support Assad. That includes former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Russian fascist Aleksander Dugin, Marine le Pen of France’s National Front, and the British National Party.) We should also be pointing out the massive US war crimes in Raqqa as well as the real role of US capitalism in Syria, which is opposition to the Syrian revolution.
Arab Spring in Syria
Lance Wallnau: ‘I Fear More Liberals In America Than I Fear Putin In Russia’
By Kyle Mantyla | May 30, 2018 10:47 am
While appearing yesterday on Jim Bakker’s television program, right-wing preacher Lance Wallnau offered a rather stunning defense of Russian president Vladimir Putin by admitting that while he probably kills journalists and runs his country like a criminal enterprise, he’s been friendly to Christians and represents less of a danger to the world than American liberals.
“I’m suspicious when the establishment right and the entire left all hate one nation,” Wallnau said. “You know what? I’m beginning to wonder what’s right with Russia that they’re so vilified by the left.”
Wallnau said that “Putin is trying to be a friend to the West,” but LGBTQ activists will not allow that to happen because public policy in Russia “has been shaped by Christians.”
“Don’t ever underestimate the hostility that America’s system has toward anyone who won’t bow the knee to the orthodoxy of the homosexual agenda,” Wallnau said. “That is the unpardonable sin to the liberals.”
“I’m not saying that Putin is a good guy. He’s like a mafia chief over there,” Wallnau continued. “I will say that he is not nearly—as a Christian, if you are faithful to Russia and you are not a danger to his government, you are probably not going to find him an adversary in your own nation. I fear more liberals in America than I fear Putin in Russia.”
“Does he kill journalists? Probably. It is run like a mafia state with the oligarchs? Probably,” he admitted, dismissively.
Opinion// How Assad's War Crimes Bring Far Left and Right Together - Under Putin's Benevolent Gaze
The 'anti-imperialist' left is now shilling for tyrants in Damascus and Moscow. And conspiracy theories are the toxic glue binding them to their fellow Assad and Putin apologists on the alt-right
Alexander Reid Ross Apr 17, 2018
Putin has decided to preserve the Assad regime, no matter what: Syrian men carrying babies make their way through Aleppo's rubble following airstrikes, September 11, 2016
Compare and contrast:
"We lost. War machine bombs syria. No evidence Assad did it. Sad warmongers hijacking our nation."
"Congratulations to all the war hawks and pundits and regime change propagandists who encouraged [Trump]. There is still no evidence that the [Syrian] government carried out last week’s alleged attack."
Little distinguishes these two tweets' content.
But the first is from conservative talk-radio host Michael Savage, and the second, from regular RT contributor and pro-Assad leftist Rania Khalek.
In recent months, the crossover between leftists and the far-right in defense of Syria's tyrant and Russian geopolitics has become increasingly obvious. Its implications are potentially disastrous for the course of the international left and political society in general.
A poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin on a van in Lebanon
Most of the stories in the media alleging that the Syrian regime's attacks on civilians are "fake news" have come from the conspiracist and InfoWars founder Alex Jones, and from Breitbart's London outfit, as well as the conspiracy-syncretic and far-right friendly Veterans Today, according to public scholar, Caroline O.
...Others, like Caitlin Johnstone, have called for the left "to be absolutely shameless about collaborating with people on either side of the ideological divide" on Syria.
Leftists have found in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire a sanctuary to support Russia’s narratives. Just in terms of the past month, Glenn Greenwald joined Tucker Carlson to agree against intervention on FOX News. The Nation’s Stephen F. Cohen denied evidence in the Skripal case on a Sky News Australia program founded by far-right figure Mark Latham.
JUNE 05, 2018
Germany's Red-Brown Coalition ("Querfront")
The Querfront - or red-brown coalition - dates back to the early 1930s in Germany when the German communist KPD colluded with far-right forces to destroy the Weimar Republic. Today the Querfront has been revived by the Die LINKE - the Left Party as successor to the East German Stalinist SED party - which overlaps with neo-Nazis and the growing right-wing populist AfD ("Alternative for Germany") party in its hatred for the liberal democratic order of the Federal Republic. The two factions - extreme left and extreme right - are united in their rejection of the European Union, of NATO, of the United States and Israel, and in their contempt for the mainstream media (Lügenpresse). At the same time, both factions embrace Russia - especially Putin's authoritarian order.
The political scientist and journalist Kyrylo Tkachenko writes about the enthusiasm of the German left and right for Putin's annexation of Crimea and the Russian incursion into eastern Ukraine:In the case of Ukraine, the degree of coordination and mingling reached a remarkable level. Those people who figured as ‘international election observers’ during the illegitimate referendum after the annexation of Crimea were for the most part representatives of European far-left and far-right parties (of course they didn’t find anything negative to report).24The biggest faction among pro-Russian so-called ‘peace demonstrations’ in Germany have been Die Linke voters, the second largest being the voters of right-populists Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).25It is noteworthy that the demonstrations themselves have been organized by prominent anti-Semites, which apparently did not hinder even some high-ranking representatives of Die Linke from taking part in them. 26It is not only that one can replace whole paragraphs devoted to Ukraine from far-right newspapers and magazines with those from their leftist counterparts without the readers even noticing the swap: in some cases even the contributors appear to be the same people (like Mark Bartalamai, who simultaneously produces videos and texts about Ukraine for the far-left newspaper Junge Welt and for the rightwing populist magazine Compact).27
This enthusiasm for Russian aggression has then also led to strong support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who, with Russian military support, has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens.The relativization or/and outright praising of the Russian military intervention in Syria is just a logical counterpart of the leftist outrage about the alleged western ‘intrusion’. Whereas some prominent leftist politicians claimed that there is no evidence that Russian bombs target civilians or expressed doubts as to whether Assad’s forces ever used chemical weapons, some popular leftist newspapers have cheerfully labelled the capture of Aleppo as a ‘liberation’. 31The degree of overlap with interpretations predominant on the far Right goes so far that in Europe we have already witnessed pro-Assad demonstrations during which some demonstrators raise their fists (as a communist greeting) while others proudly show a Nazi salute.32
Eastern Germany was always a bastion of strength for the Left Party. But over the past few elections, many Left Party supporters have shifted their allegiances to the far right AfD. In response, the Left Party has increasingly adopted right-wing policies - such as supporting deportation of refugees. It remains to be seen whether the Querfront will continue to be a force in Germany.
Why is this Pizzagate truther meeting with a Russian neo-fascist?
Far-right darlings Lauren Southern and Brittany Pettibone head to Russia to meet with Alexander Dugin.
Dugin has gained a fair bit of coverage over the past few years. Much of that attention stems from his advocacy of the geopolitical theory of “Eurasianism,” positing Russia — which he describes as “Eternal Rome” — not only as a country entitled to control all nations that made up the Soviet Union, but as one eternally at war with the West, which he refers to as “Eternal Carthage.”
BRITTANY PETTIBONE AND LAUREN SOUTHERN YUKKING IT UP WITH RUSSIAN NEO-FASCIST ALEXANDER DUGIN. CREDIT: YOUTUBE
Southern, though, claims that Dugin isn’t actually a fascist, but merely a misunderstood philosopher. As she wrote on Twitter, “It’s incorrect to call him a fascist.”
Dugin’s denials, of course, are akin to “white nationalists” or members of the so-called “alt-right” insisting they’re not actually white supremacists. Indeed, Dugin’s neo-fascism is all but impossible to miss.
Not only have other Russian fascists referred to him as the “St. Cyril and Methodius of Fascism,” but Dugin also initially made his name at Pamyat, described by one analyst as the “most significant anti-Semitic organization during perestroika.” Or as one of Dugin’s friends said, he was “looking for any sort of elevator to the top, and [he] found it in fascism.” He even named his alter ego after the former Nazi official in charge of paranormal research, and helped introduce a number of prominent anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to Russian audiences.
Dugin further acted as one of Russia’s primary supporters during its invasion of Ukraine, calling for Moscow to annex more territory throughout Europe. As Dugin memorably said a few years ago, Ukrainians were a “race of bastards” who needed to be “cleansed.” He also urged the killing of antiwar demonstrators in Russia.
Along the way, Dugin — whom former KKK higher-up David Duke referred to as “one of the leading intellectuals of Russia’s patriotic movement” — has built up a number of ties with American fascists. Not only has his site previously published ramblings from white supremacists like Richard Spencer, but in 2015 Dugin filmed an address for the launch of white supremacist Matthew Heimbach’s Traditionalist Worker Party, issuing a “common message” to his “American friends.” Shortly thereafter, Dugin also worked with American neo-Nazi Preston Wiginton to deliver a taped speech at Texas A&M University.
Russia: The Far-Right’s Newest Flavor Of The Month
Far-right pundits and activists, including Rebel Media’s Katie Hopkins and YouTube creators Lauren Southern and Brittany Pettibone, have decided to work to normalize Russia and its questionable-at-best human rights record to reinforce their nationalist anti-immigrant agenda.
Last week, a trio of far-right women landed in Russia, where they began producing video content aimed at normalizing the oppressive philosophies at work in modern Russia. Hopkins, for instance, touched down in Russia and immediately began showering praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin and celebrating that Russia had not been affected by multiculturalism.
“I do wonder, you know, about this idea of Putin being our enemy. He supports the Catholic faith. Over 85 percent of people here in St. Petersburg are Orthodox or Catholic or Christian. He also supports being Russian. Eighty-five percent of people here identify as being strongly Russian first. And he’s also very supportive of populists in Europe,” Hopkins said.
She added, “Perhaps, after all, Putin is not the monster we’ve made him out to be.”
Hopkins also took time to fangirl over the Russian subway system and remark that “the West has quite a lot to learn from Russia” because she did not observe people in the streets eating while walking or using their cell phones. On Twitter, Hopkins wrote it was a joy to be in St. Petersburg because it was a “place untouched by the myth of multiculturalism and deranged diversity”
Excerpt on National Bolshevism from Martin A. Lee's The Beast Reawakens
An overview of the origins and developments of National Bolshevism. The text is from Martin A. Lee's 1997 book The Beast Reawakens, pages 311-323.
Here Come the National Bolsheviks
His Serbian hosts couldn’t have been happier when Eduard Limonov, one of the most charismatic of the new wave of Russian nationalist leaders, donned battle dress and joined a sniper detail at a military outpost perched in the hills of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Television cameras recorded his gleeful expression as the handsome Russian impresario took aim and squeezed off a long burst of machine-gun fire in the direction of Sarajevo down below. Limonov loved to pose for photos with Serbian irregulars when he visited rump Yugoslavia shortly after the outbreak of the civil war. The Russian press subsequently reported that the Bosnian government had put a $500,000 bounty on his head — a story that further enhanced Limonov’s status as a cult hero back home.
“Russians and Serbs are blood brothers,” Limonov crooned. He was among the more than one thousand volunteers from Russia who flocked to Yugoslavia as if on a pilgrimage. Bound by ethnic ties, a shared Cyrillic alphabet, and the Christian Orthodox faith, high-profile Russian nationalist delegations regularly turned up in Belgrade, where they were welcomed by top Serbian officials. They all came to fight for Serbia, Russia’s traditional military ally — a gesture that put them distinctly at odds with German neo-Nazi mercenaries who sided with Croatia. En route to joining a Chetnik regiment in a Serbian-held enclave in Bosnia, Limonov was feted by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.
Like their German counterparts, the Russian “mercs” who toured the Balkans saw it as an opportunity to sharpen their military skills in preparation for future confrontations closer to home. Limonov and his colleagues spoke of employing “Serbian tactics” (otherwise known as “ethnic cleansing”) in an effort to regain areas of the former USSR where Russians were heavily concentrated. Russian fighters figured in numerous armed conflicts in neighboring ex- Soviet republics, including Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Limonov bragged of smelling gunpowder in five different combat zones.
For Limonov, war was life at its peak. A novelist by profession, he saw no contradiction between his calling as an artist and his military kick. Aptly described as the “leather-clad bad lad” of Russian radical politics, Limonov had spent eighteen years abroad as a dissident writer — first in New York, then in Paris. He counted among his heroes the Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin (“our national pride”) and Stalin (“the Bolshevik Caesar of our country in its best period”). Limonov also admired the Italian futurists who inspired Mussolini, and he recognized a kindred spirit in Yukio Mishima, the Japanese ultranationalist who committed hara-kire in 1970. “Mishima and I belong to the same political camp,” Limonov explained. “He is a traditionalist like me.”
But Limonov’s modus operandi was hardly traditional. It was as if he had fashioned his crop-haired, bare-armed, movie-star image after “Eddie-baby,” the bisexual persona he embroidered in a series of fictionalized autobiographical adventures. With his charming hoodlum air, Limonov quickly developed a reputation as the Johnny Rotten of the Russian expatriate scene. At one point during a writer’s conference, he reacted to an anti-Russian gibe by slamming a British author over the head with a champagne bottle. Limonov enjoyed giving the literary finger to more-staid Russian exiles who were vexed by his maverick writing style, which at times seemed like a cross between Ernst Jünger and Henry Miller. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn despised young Eduard, calling him “a little insect who writes pornography.” But Limonov was quite popular in Russia, where his novels became bestsellers when they were finally published in the early 1990s.
Limonov had a definite bone to pick with Soviet dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, who idealized the West without any firsthand experience of what it was like. After living in New York City for six years, Limonov concluded that American society was anything but a dream come true. He ridiculed the banality of American culture and dismissed democracy as little more than window dressing for unaccountable corporate powers that dominated Western politics. He believed that far from being a panacea for Russia’s ills, this kind of “democracy” would only make matters worse. “We are a ruined country, a country that is dying,” said Limonov. “Only a national revolution can save us.”
Limonov ended his lengthy exile and returned to Russia, where he joined the growing Red-Brown opposition. On February 23, 1992, he attended a militant protest march in Moscow. “It was the first time I saw the red flags with the hammer and sickle flying together with the black, yellow, and white flags of old Russia,” Limonov recounted. “It was absolutely gorgeous, a perfectly natural combination.” But the demonstration turned violent, as Limonov and other extremists clashed with police. One person died and dozens were wounded in what proved to be a harbinger of much bloodier battles in the months ahead.
To rescue his troubled homeland, Limonov prescribed several remedies — reviving pre-Communist Russian culture, creating a true socialist economy, and widening Russia's borders to include areas in the nearby republics with predominantly Russian populations. “It’s an absolutely sick situation,” he asserted. “More than twenty-five million Russians living outside their country. At the very least, the new borders of Russia should correspond to the ethnic borders of the Russian people.” Limonov also maintained that Russian foreign policy should emphasize contact with old allies, such as Iraq and Cuba. He even favored giving nuclear weapons to Serbia.
As for a possible German-Russian tryst in the future, Limonov felt this was “wishful thinking, unfortunately, because it would do a lot of good for both countries.” He believed that German priorities would inevitably clash with Russian interests in the Balkans, Kaliningrad, the Ukraine, and other areas. In this respect, Limonov differed from Aleksandr Barkashov, who was more optimistic about a rapprochement with the Germans. Although they viewed themselves as comrades in the same struggle, Limonov felt that Barkashov’s Nazi fetish was counterproductive. “The swastika has no chance in our country,” said Limonov. “We lost so many people in the war with Germany that we are immune to it.”
In an effort to carve out a unique niche for himself on the Red- Brown landscape, Limonov created the National Bolshevik Front (NBF). The Front was an amalgam of half a dozen groups of mostly young people who shared Eddie-baby’s intuition that overt neo-Nazi manifestations would not get very far in Russia. National Bolshevism was deemed more congenial to the masses. After two of its members were arrested for possessing hand grenades (Limonov claims they were planted), the NBF generated a publicity flash by calling for a boycott of Western goods. “We want the Americans out of Russia. They can take their McDonald’s and Coca-Cola with them,” Limonov declared. At political rallies, his organization chanted refrains such as “Ruble yes, dollar no!” and “Yankees go home!”
Although the slogans lacked originality, Limonov insisted that National Bolshevism was the most avant-garde political movement in the world. Actually, it was by no means a new phenomenon. National Bolshevism had a long and complex history, daring back to the 1920s. Championed by writers such as Ernst Niekisch and Ernst Jünger, it was one of several non-Nazi fascisms that percolated m Germany’s conservative revolutionary mix before Hitler seized power.*[see asterisk below] For the most part, the German version of National Bolshevism remained an intellectual curiosity — unlike in Russia, where it emerged as a significant political tendency within both the ruling elite and certain dissident circles.
The roots of National Bolshevism in the USSR can be traced to the tumultuous period following the October Revolution. In order to stabilize the new regime and win the civil war against the “Whites,” Vladimir Lenin and other Communist leaders realized they had to make concessions to Russian ethnic sentiments. By casting “1917” in national terms and identifying themselves with Russian interests, they hoped to assuage some of the malcontents of the czarist empire, which was rapidly crumbling.
Many of the Whites switched sides when they realized that the Bolsheviks offered the best hope for resurrecting Russia as a great power. This was a crucial reason why much of the czarist High Command joined the Red Army. Former czarists made up about half of the 130,000-member Red Army officer corps. The Bolsheviks also incorporated elements of the protofascist Black Hundreds (the Russian gangs that instigated anti-Jewish pogroms in the early 1900s) into their ranks. The steady stream of defectors from the ultra-Right contributed to the rise of National Bolshevism in Mother Russia and laid the basis for the Red-Brown alliance of the future. †[See cross below]
* Whereas the eastern orientation of many conservative revolutionary intellectuals was largely a matter of foreign policy, Ernst Niekisch saw some advantages in Communism, as long as it assumed a national form. But Niekisch, Germany’s leading proponent of National Bolshevism, was never a member of the German Communist Party. He was, however, enthusiastic about Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia. A radical anticapitalist, Niekisch maintained that Soviet Russia was Germany’s only effective counterforce to Versailles and “the decadent West.” Waxing poetically, he mused: “Where Germanic blood mingles with the Slav, that is where a true state exists. . . . In the east, from Germanic- Slav stock, Prussia rose to greatness.” [End of asterisk note.]
† During and immediately after the Bolshevik power grab, hundreds of thousands of Russians abandoned their homeland to escape the violence, chaos, and destitution of a country in the throes of revolution. Many of these embittered refugees joined fascist exile organizations, such as the National Toilers’ Alliance, which sought to topple the Soviet state. But other right-wing nationalists took a different tack.
After the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922, the official ideology of the USSR developed into a kind of National Bolshevism as Stalin took up the banner of “socialism in one country.” Stalin’s famous dictum was tempered by geopolitical considerations: Communist Russia sought to reassure capitalist Germany that the spirit of Rapallo would take precedence over exporting world revolution. [End of cross note.]
In the wake of October 1917, some Russian anti-Communists came to view the Bolshevik takeover as a positive development. One of the more notable converts was Professor Nikolai Ustrialov, who changed his mind about the revolution after fleeing his native country. Ustrialov felt that the defeat of the Bolsheviks would be a great tragedy because they offered the best hope for “reestablishing Russia as a Great Power.” As far as he was concerned, the internationalist verbiage spouted by Bolshevik leaders was merely camouflage, a useful tool for the restoration of Russia as a unified state and for its future expansion. “The Soviet regime will strive with all its power to reunite the borderlands with the center — in the name of world revolution,” said Ustrialov. “Russian patriots will fight for this too — in the name of a great and united Russia. Even with the endless difference in ideology, the practical road is the same.”
Although he rejected Communism as an alien import from Europe, Ustrialov insisted that the Bolshevik revolution was an authentic expression of the Russian spirit. Calling for an end to the civil war, he urged all Russian nationalists to collaborate with Lenin. This was the upshot of a collection of articles by Ustrialov and several other right-wing émigrés published in Prague under the title Smena vekh (Change o f Landmarks) in 1921. The Smenavekhites thought of themselves as “National Bolsheviks,” a term Ustrialov first discovered while reading German newspapers that reported on the political philosophy of Ernst Niekisch.
As Mikhail Agursky notes in The Third Rome, the Soviet government subsequently opted to subsidize the Smenavekhist review, which functioned as the principal National Bolshevik tribune in Russia during the early years of the USSR. Sanctioned by the Kremlin, the views of Ustrialov began to exert a subtle influence on the Soviet political system. He spoke for many right-wing extremists in Russia when he praised Stalin’s strong hand. “One cannot help rejoicing in seeing how (the Communist Party] is now being led on a confident iron march by the great Russian Revolution to the national pantheon prepared for it by history,” he declared. Although Ustrialov was later executed during one of Stalin’s maniacal killing sprees, some of his Smenavekhite colleagues not only survived but went on to play important ideological roles in the Soviet Union. The Soviet historical encyclopedia indicates that several former Smena vekhites held leading positions in government and society.
When Hitler double-crossed his Soviet partner and invaded the USSR, Stalin roused the Russian folk with nationalist rhetoric about fighting “the Great Patriotic War.” Of course, internationalism was still touted as a central Communist tenet by Stalin, whose Georgian roots enabled him to cloak his extreme Russian chauvinism.
During the Cold War, Soviet officials sought to motivate the masses by whipping up Russian pride. At the same time, they continued to mouth the requisite Marxist-Leninist incantations. The result was an uneasy synthesis of Communism and Russian nationalism, which contradicted yet reinforced each other. Soviet leaders realized that playing the nationalist card was conducive to fortifying a patriotic mood. But there was always the danger that it would trigger a backlash among ethnic minorities in the USSR (which it did) and undermine the internationalist doctrine that was still a key source of legitimacy for the Kremlin. German scholar Klaus Mehnert aptly compared Soviet Russia to an airplane running on two ideological engines — one Marxist-Leninist, the other nationalist — that were never entirely in synch. Sooner or later, the two motors would cease to function as a viable pair. Under the circumstances, a crash landing was inevitable.
The National Bolsheviks were well positioned to survive the wreckage. Unlike the dissidents who challenged the legitimacy of the Soviet Union and often ended up in labor camps, many National Bolsheviks had accommodated themselves to the system in the interests of maintaining a powerful state. Instead of rejecting Communism outright, they sought to minimize its significance by emphasizing “traditional Russian values.” This resonated with a deeply entrenched nationalist faction within the Soviet ruling elite. The dissemination of National Bolshevik ideas by certain state-run media* was a clear indication that powerful forces — including important sectors of the Communist Party apparatus (particularly its youth organization) and the Red Army — regarded such views as politically expedient and desirable.
* The main National Bolshevik mouthpiece in the late 1960s was Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard), the official journal of the Communist Youth League. In poems and essays devoted to the resurrection of the “national spirit" and “land and soil,” this xenophobic magazine exalted the Soviet military and trumpeted Russian racial superiority. Instead of engaging in Marxist class analysis, Molodaya Gvardiya writers often juxtaposed Russian spirituality against crass American materialism. Dismissing modern Western civilization as “barbarism in a cellophane wrapper," the journal warned that Russian youth were in danger of becoming “transistorized.” Democracy was depicted as a product of social degeneration, and strong-arm governing methods were cheered. The Molodaya Gvardiya publishing house also printed immensely popular science fiction novels, a genre replete with thinly disguised racist and anti-Semitic themes. Its rabidly nationalist orientation notwithstanding, Molodaya Gvardiya was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor by the Supreme Soviet on the fiftieth anniversary of the journal’s founding.
During the Brezhnev years, National Bolshevik ideas were also featured in Veche, a dissident journal published in West Germany, which functioned as a sounding board for various strands of Russian nationalism. Gennadii Shimanov, an occasional contributor to Veche, hailed Russians as “God’s chosen people” and described the Soviet Union as a “mystical organism,” a “spiritual detonator” for all mankind. Another Veche author, Dr. Valeri Skurlatov, published a “Code of Morals,” which advocated the preservation of racial purity and the sterilization of Russian women who have sexual intercourse with foreigners. [End of asterisk note.]
When the titanic crack-up finally came in December 1991, the nationalist serpent emerged from its Communist cocoon with a full set of teeth. It slthered into the hothouse of post-Soviet politics, where neo-Stalinists collaborated with monarchists, fascists, Orthodox Christians, pagans, conservative ecologists, and other strange bedfellows. They were all spinning in a weird ideological vortex that defied standard interpretation. “What’s going on in Russia is a whole new kind of politics,” Limonov asserted, “with new goals and new movements that cannot be categorized or classified according to the old vocabulary of Left versus Right. These definitions belong to the past. To apply them to [post-Soviet] Russia is wrong.
This notion was shared by Alain de Benoist, who visited Russia in March 1992 and participated in several public meetings with prominent opposition figures. For a number of years, the leading French New Right philosopher had argued that it was important to move beyond the traditional Left/Right dichotomy. Since the end of the Cold War, this cleavage had become completely antiquated, according to de Benoist. Rather than Right against Left, he felt it made more sense to think in terms of the establishmentarian center” versus all antisystem forces on the “periphery,” The center versus the periphery was a concept that appealed to his Red-Brown hosts in Russia. They were also delighted to hear de Benoist’s harsh criticism of “globalization” and his depiction of the United States as the supreme enemy.
Eduard Limonov first encountered de Benoist in Paris, a city that bored the Russian exile because, as he put it, “there is no war there.” Nevertheless, he frequently returned to the French capital, where he hobnobbed with various iconoclasts, including another ardent proponent of National Bolshevism, Jean-Francois Thiriart. The eccentric optician from Brussels had recently come out of political retirement, and he welcomed the chance to share his thoughts at a colloquium in Paris. At the time, Thiriart was working with the Belgian-based Parti Communautaire National-Europeen (PCN), a small organization composed of former Maoists and neofascists who agitated against “American-Zionist imperialism” and “cosmopolitanism.” Run by Luc Michel, a self-described “National Communist” with a long history of neo-Nazi associations, the PCN reprinted and distributed several books by Thiriart, who held forth as the group’s ideological leader.”
In August 1992, Thiriart led a delegation of National Communists from Western Europe to Russia, where he discussed his views with leading members of the political opposition. Whereas Ewald Althans and his German cohorts always made a beeline to Aleksandr Barkashov’s neo-Nazi lair, Thiriart met with a mostly different cast of Red-Brown characters. While in Moscow, the Belgian extremist carried on like a geopolitical know-it-all, dispensing advice to people such as Yegor Ligachev, the top conservative within the Soviet Politburo and the de facto deputy of the Communist Party until Gorbachev dumped him in 1990. During their conversation, Ligachev warmed to Thiriart’s proposal for a continental partnership that would unite Europe and Russia as a counterweight to the United States. But Ligachev added the following proviso: “1 think that an authentic unification with Europe can be possible only once we have reestablished the Soviet Union, perhaps under a new name.” Thiriart nodded in assent.
“Eurasia contra America” —this was the main point of convergence between Thiriart and his retinue of newfound Russian comrades, which included a dreamy-eyed, thirty-year-old journalist named Aleksandr Dugin. It was Dugin who first suggested to Eduard Limonov that they establish the National Bolshevik Front. An influential figure in Red-Brown circles, Dugin helped write the political program for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, led by Gennadi Zyuganov, who also strategized with Thiriart. Zyuganov rarely referred to Marx or Lenin, preferring instead to elegize Russia as “the dreamer-nation” and the “mobilizer-nation.” Dugin’s influence was evident when Zyuganov declared, “We [Russians] are the last power on this planet that is capable of mounting a challenge to the New World Order — the global cosmopolitan dictatorship.”
A vociferous critic of “one-worldism,” Dugin founded and edited a journal called Elementy that ran a lengthy and laudatory article about Thiriart in its inaugural issue. The young Russian shared the European New Right’s fascination with the Conservative Revolution of the 1920s. Dugin tried to set up something like a New Right network in Moscow, but de Benoist was put off by his feverish nationalism. Elementy simultaneously glorified Russia’s czarist and Stalinist past, while praising everyone from Arthur Moeller van den Bruck to Heinrich Himmler. Its readers were treated to the first Russian translations of Julius Evola, the Italian Nazi philosopher and “traditionalist” much admired by neofascists throughout Europe. But Dugin never bothered to disclose Evola’s affiliation with the SS. “Dugin is a paradoxical man who can support ten points of view or more at the same time,” Limonov said of his close friend and political collaborator.
In addition to Elementy, which was geared toward an intellectual audience, Dugin had a hand in editing Dyen (The Day), a fiery, nationalist newsweekly with a huge circulation. Billed as the voice of “the spiritual opposition” in Russia, Dyen ran excerpts from The Protocols o f the Elders o f Zion and reported favorably on neo-Nazi movements in the West. Its political humor column was filled with vulgar anti-Jewish jokes. Each issue featured a section on “conspiratology” (a word coined by the editors), which included zany stories about how Yeltsin’s brain had secretly been altered during a visit to the United States. Dyen claimed that those who rallied to Yeltsin’s call during the abortive coup in August 1991 had been “zombified” by “psychotropic generators” housed in the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
Wild conspiracy theories were a staple of Russian right-wing extremists. In this respect, they were no different than their neofascist counterparts in other countries. But Dyen’s “conspiratology” had the endorsement of several members of the Russian parliament, who sat on the paper’s editorial board along with former KGB General Aleksandr Stergilov. Most significant, Dyen functioned as the unofficial mouthpiece for the National Salvation Front (NSF), Russia’s leading Red-Brown umbrella organization. Dyen’s editor in chief, Aleksandr Prokhanov, was cochairman of the NSF, which encompassed the usual mish-mash of ideological tendencies. National Bolshevism not excepted.
While he was in Moscow, Jean Thiriart attended several planning sessions with neo-Communists and right-wing nationalists that culminated in the formation of the National Salvation Front in September 1992. Eduard Limonov was involved in launching the NSF, and he also served on its steering committee. Headed by Limonov and Dugin, the National Bolshevik Front was one of more than forty militant opposition groups that joined the NSF and endorsed its call for the overthrow of the Russian government. In its initial mani festo — which Dyen dutifully published — the NSF assailed the “rapacious experiments” of the Yeltsin administration, including privatization, the lifting of price controls, and other shock-therapy techniques that resulted in enormous hardship throughout the country. Yeltsin countered by trying to ban the NSF. He also threatened to crack down on Dyen and several other ultranationalist newspapers, but Yeltsin’s efforts were stymied by members of the Russian parliament, many of whom supported the Red-Brown opposition.
Thiriart kept abreast of this evolving power struggle after he returned to Brussels. He intended to visit Russia again, but the seventy-year-old Belgian died from a heart attack in his sleep on November 23, 1992. After his sudden passing, Thiriart was eulogized in several nationalist press outlets in Russia, including Dyen, which published some of his writings. One article implored his National Bolshevik colleagues to work toward the construction of the grand Continental power bloc that he had long envisioned. “It is imperative to build ideological, theoretical, and political bonds between clear thinking elites of the former USSR and Western Europe,” said Thiriart. “This revolutionary elite must unite and prepare to expel the American invader from European soil.”
Thiriart’s Western European disciples proceeded to set up a support group known as the European Liberation Front (ELF), which maintained regular contact with the leaders of the National Salvation Front in Russia. By coincidence, the European Liberation Front was the same name chosen by Francis Parker Yockey and his British cohorts in the late 1940s, when they tried to develop an under ground neo-Nazi network that would work in cahoots with the Soviet Union against American occupation forces in Europe. The latter-day ELF consisted of “National Communist” grouplets in several European countries, including Belgium, France, Italy, Switzer land, and Hungary. Each of these small Red-Brown hybrids was comprised of neofascists and neo-Stalinists who embraced Thiriart’s political credo.
The ELF cheered when the leaders of the National Salvation Front announced that they had formed a shadow government in Russia and were preparing to take power. In September 1993, Yeltsin summarily disbanded the Russian parliament. This presidential decree set the stage for the bloody confrontation between Yeltsin loyalists and the so-called “patriotic forces” who gathered at the Russian White House, where the parliament normally functioned.
Sensing that the long-awaited civil war was about to begin, Limonov and his supporters flocked to the parliament building. They were joined by thousands of Red-Brown extremists, including Barkashov’s black-shirted storm troopers who brought their weapons with them, expecting a fight. As tensions escalated, the European Liberation Front dispatched several people to Moscow to under score their solidarity with the Russian opposition. Michel Schneider, a French neofascist representing the E L F (who had previously accompanied Thiriart on a trip to Moscow), was among those injured in the White House when Yeltsin finally convinced the army to send in the tanks in early October.
Hundreds were killed during the assault and many more were wounded. Limonov and several opposition leaders were thrown in jail. But Barkashov and dozens of armed resisters escaped through a network of underground tunnels after putting up a fierce fight. A few weeks later, Barkashov was shot by an unknown assailant from a moving car. Security officials arrested Russia’s top neo-Nazi as he lay recovering in a hospital bed. He, too, was headed for prison.
Russians and Reactionaries
Posted on 13th June 2018
The on-again, off-again flirtation between Mother Russia and the deplorables of Europe
A central accusation in the uproar over “Russian influence” holds that Moscow is covertly in cahoots with the American alt-right, supplying the movement with fake news, memes, and social media talking points. The evidence for this tends to be more speculative than solid, but the general question of post-Soviet Russia’s cooperation with Western nationalist and racialist groups is certainly salient.
Such links are at the heart of Anton Shekhovtsov’s new study, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir. Shekhovtsov is a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and his book is exhaustively detailed in its description of Russian relations with the European far right. What impact this may have had on the American right comes up only in the book’s final three paragraphs, which mostly raise questions and provide no answers.
Shekhovtsov argues that a range of reactionary groups, largely in Europe, see Putin “as an ally in their struggle against Western liberal democracy and multiculturalism.” Moscow, in turn, uses them both “to consolidate the authoritarian kleptocratic regime at home” and “to counteract the growing isolation of Russia in the Europeanised world.” And in some cases, the author argues, Russia wants “to disrupt the liberal-democratic consensus in Western societies and, thus, destabilize them.”
Shekhovtsov begins his survey with an early precedent. In the 1920s, the Soviet Union explored possible cooperation with the Western far right. While this never amounted to much, it did coincide with the emergence in Weimar Germany of an ideology of “National Bolshevism” among fringe-left German nationalists. This tendency saw a later revival of sorts among Russian far-right groupuscules in the 1990s.
During the Cold War, the Soviets sometimes found it useful to provide covert support to far-right actors as a means to stir up trouble for Western liberal democracies. For example, Soviet and East German intelligence agencies funneled funds to former Nazis and other radical rightists in West Germany because they were proponents of German neutrality. One such client was Rudolf Steidl, who received 2,363,000 Deutschmarks during 1951–1954 to publish the Deutsche National-Zeitung propaganda newspaper.
Another campaign, in 1959–1960, involved KGB agents in West Germany who went on a spree “painting swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on synagogues, tombstones, and Jewish-owned shops.” The intent was to give a black eye to West Germany and “produce a snowball effect where troublemakers would carry out anti-Semitic activities on their own.” As Shekhovtsov notes, the operation “helped East Germany legitimise itself as a peace loving, antifascist state” by comparison.
In Austria in the early ’50s, while the Soviets and the Western forces both occupied sectors in Vienna, the Soviets helped support the National League, a far-right movement partly composed of former Nazis. Its newspaper, Österreichische National-Zeitung, also promoted neutralism.
You might think such alliances would be ideologically taboo, but counterintelligence can make for strange bedfellows. This cuts both ways, as when the CIA supported Islamist militias fighting the USSR in Afghanistan in the ’80s. As the venerable aphorism goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”—at least until the blowback hits.
This does not mean that Russian contacts with Western far-right groups and individuals have always been part of a coherent, top-down governmental strategy. Shekhovtsov notes that initial contacts in the Yeltsin era were largely between far-right leaders of small Russian political parties and their counterparts in Western Europe.
Thus, Aleksandr Dugin, while a leading Russian intellectual proponent of Eurasianism in the 1990s, met Alain de Benoist and Robert Steuckers, two significant theorists of the French and Belgian New Right, respectively. Dugin invited them to participate in a panel discussion held in the office of a far-right Russian newspaper.
Similarly, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia—despite its name, a far-right group—met with Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the French National Front, and with “multi-millionaire media czar” Gerhard Frey, founder of the German People’s Union. In this instance, support flowed from West to East, in the form of financial support from Frey and donations of some computers and a fax machine from the National Front.
Sergey Glazyev, a member of the Russian Duma, forged links with Lyndon LaRouche, inviting the well-known American crank to disseminate his conspiracy theories to an audience in Moscow. (LaRouche’s Schiller Institute already had a Russian branch, so this was not purely Glazyev’s initiative.)
It may be hard to remember now, but many Western politicians and analysts initially saw Putin as a reformer who could normalize Russia’s economy. And some reform did occur. But in due course, national leadership was reconcentrated among the siloviki—that is, members of the various intelligence and security agencies. Their presence in the Russian ruling elite rose from 17 percent under Boris Yeltsin to 31 percent under Putin as of 2008.
Shekhovtsov’s book portrays Russia’s putative democracy as a Potemkin village going through the formalities of elections, a parliament, mass media, and a civil society, all of which have been hollowed out by the siloviki’s permanent hold on power. (You could even call them a “deep state.”) Opponents have been eliminated or defanged, while Putin has appealed to Russian nationalism and conservative Orthodox culture and traditions in rallying popular support for his regime.
Stung by the “color revolutions” in some former Soviet republics—revolts he attributed to Western interference—Putin felt the need to counter poll watchers from the European Union (who commonly pointed out irregularities in elections and referendums in former Soviet states) with sympathetic poll watchers drawn from the European far right. The ground for such collaboration was laid when Moscow sought out Western groups who shared a skepticism of the European Union and an opposition to NATO.
If Putin seemed uninterested in the Western far right during his first term as president (2001–04), this began to change in the latter half of the decade, as he felt increasingly isolated from mainstream Western respect. The underlying drive, Shekhovtsov argues, is Putin’s determination to maintain power. He’ll pursue pragmatic alliances with mainstream European centrist parties if they’re willing, and go with far-right factions when they seem like the best bet. If that means flirting with François Fillon’s center-right party in France, so be it. If that attempt fails, Russian gestures toward the French National Front will be the next best choice. Russia can roll with the punches and side with whichever political camp might be ahead in the polls. Self-preservation comes before ideology.
Much of Russia and the Western Far Right is taken up with identifying and tracing Russia’s interaction with Western rightists. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the latter are almost all marginal figures trying to leverage these dealings to burnish their own reputations. The book’s cover photo shows Marine Le Pen of the French National Front shaking hands with Putin, but very few on the far right make it that far. More commonly, fringe players, such as André Chanclu, a French far-right activist and founder of the France-Russia Collective, are invited to Russian think-tank symposiums and given photo ops with second- or third-level bureaucrats. Their egos are stroked, a bit of funding may flow their way, but it’s all rather small potatoes.
As valuable as Shekhovtsov’s research may be, it is complicated for non-academic readers by a proliferation of political labels, among them “far right,” “extreme right,” “neo-Nazi,” “fascist,” and “populist,” which tend to overlap and sometimes seem to lose their distinctions. One is reminded of Hillary Clinton’s famous “basket of deplorables” speech, which effectively merged all sorts of disparate Trump supporters into a semantic catchall amounting to “the bad guys.”
That said, this is a work of serious scholarship on a tangled subject. And while its subjects are mostly European, it’s clearly relevant to Americans too, particularly as politicians and the press try to decipher (or obscure) Russian activities during our elections.
Shekhovtsov suggests the U.S. alt-right would be a fruitful milieu for further research, but aside from trotting out the names of Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer—the latter was recruited in 2013 as an occasional commentator for the Russian TV channel RT—Shekhovtsov has nothing to add. I suspect this reference was inserted at the publisher’s request to inject a semblance of current pertinence into a book largely completed before the 2016 election season.
Perhaps Russian agents were up to their elbows in hacking emails and spreading mischievous disinformation during the campaign; perhaps their operations amounted to little more than some Pepe the Frog meme trolling online. Either way, Russia and the Western Far Right offers essential background.
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