Russia is back in the news. On the BBC, on NPR, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian — Russia is back in the news. And this means that 1960 vintage “Trots” — ignored or silent since 1989 — are dusting off their Permanent Revolution and springing back into action . . . in defense of Vladimir Putin’s Russia? Yes. In defense of Vladimir Putin’s Russia! Go figure.
Here’s how this works. Follow closely.
We know that the capitalist west is bad: hegemonic, militarist, post-democratic, corrupt. We also know that capitalism is fundamentally unstable, riven with contradictions, splitting open at the seams. So where are we to find the real historical agents driving capitalism to its logical historical conclusion?
Russia is in the news because the west feels threatened by its arch-nemesis. Did Russia really annex the Crimea? Did Russian-backed rebels actually take down a civilian airliner? Is Russia really supporting a ruler who routinely gasses his own people? Did the Russian government really hack Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email server? Did Russian hackers really attempt to hijack the US Presidential election for Donald J. Trump? Aren’t these precisely the kinds of lies and half-truths that western imperialists would circulate in order to discredit a geopolitical enemy? WMDs? Tonkin Gulf? Saddam Hussein? Bashar al-Assad? ISIS? Syria? Terrorism?
Do you get it? Capitalism is collapsing and in its death-throws it is using state-sponsored (capitalist) media to lash out at its traditional enemy using every last pathetic arrow in its quiver.
So let us suppose for the moment that this “Trot” narrative is more or less accurate. Let us suppose in other words that global competition among capitalists is pushing efficiency-seeking to its margins where publics, tired of producing these efficiencies with nothing to show for their sacrifices, are beginning to rebel. And let us suppose that the rightward turn in EU polities generally — Brexit, Trumpism, Le Pen — are but mere symptoms of global economic turbulence — a precursor to the collapse of capitalism and its supersession by a broad, popular democratic front led by the global south and its oppressed urban post-industrial northern allies.
This of course presumes that history bears within itself an emancipatory narrative in which oppression accords the oppressed (or at least its vanguard) insights into the mechanisms of their own oppression denied to less victimized and therefore less enlightened individuals. Deep down, ethno-religious hypernationalists, fascists, racists, bigots, misogynists, and homophobes are in truth revolutionaries in disguise. Their own oppression (when properly decoded) contains the key to their emancipation. The fragmentation of eastern Europe, the Mediterranean basin, western China, southern Europe, and post-democratic North America should therefore be taken as signs of hope and redemption. Trump nostor redemptor!
If all of this seems just a tad hyperbolic, I invite you to visit any number of left-leaning blogs or websites in western Europe or the United States. So, for example, a story initially published on Breitbart in the US, which faulted the Washington Post for spreading fake news about Russian hacking, has now gone viral on left-leaning blogs and websites presumably on the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Since the Washington Post engaged in sloppy journalism, Russia did not hack US servers. Eo ipso American imperialism is on its last legs and Vladimir Putin is angelus autem salutis, the messenger of our salvation.
But note: this is not a new cold war. It is the old cold war again, where any opponent of western imperialism and hegemony must, for this reason, be a friend of emancipation; where any cause supported by western imperialists must, for this reason, be suspect; and where therefore any narrative faulting other global oligarchies must, for this reason, be unveiled as propaganda. Never mind Russian homophobia, corporate despotism, government-sponsored hit-men carrying out vendettas against political opponents, rampant child trafficking, ethno-religious-political violence — and the list goes on and on. Such atrocities also occur in the west where they are censored by state-sponsored media. In any case, it does not matter. The US and western Europe represent the global order; Russia is seeking to disrupt and weaken the global order. Russia = Good; West = Bad.
A more nuanced reading would take the social and historical global order as the object of its critique, not in order to show how we are all moving inexorably toward the final, happy chapter; but simply in order to grasp the current state of global oppression — here, there, everywhere — where there are no redeemers, no saviors, no good guys and bad guys. For what is most troubling about the new old “Trot” narrative is how it has become a parody of itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the so-called left’s knee-jerk defense of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.