Left, Right And The Russian Connection: An Interview With Alexander Reid Ross And Eric Draitser

In order to understand today’s Russia, one has to look past the neo-McCarthyism of mainstream media and take a more nuanced view of the role the country now plays in the current political landscape. Today, MintPress News’ Yoav Litvin speaks with two experts to examine Russia’s influence on global politics.
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    NEW YORK (Interview) —Neoliberal capitalism has failed the vast majority of Americans. It has increased inequality, fostered austerity, destroyed the environment and fomented wars.  

    Reactionary right-wing politics have largely succeeded in filling this ideological vacuum, embodied by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America.

    Donald Trump’s success in galvanizing white identity politics has promoted a surge in racial violence and Islamophobic street demonstrations across America. What’s more, it has emboldened leading right-wing agitators and politicians.



    The glaring corruptions of neoliberalism and the rise of right-wing populism have contributed to the erosion of notions of the enlightenment that are tethered to liberalism, including freedom, equality, democracy and the primacy of truth.

    The opportunities afforded by the Internet in conjunction with a growing distrust of corporate media, which has been repeatedly exposed for its omissions and falsehoods, have promoted the development of a range of independent media platforms, as well as the plague of “fake news.”

    Within this de-monopolized media and propaganda landscape, it is easy to get lost. Our airwaves and social media feeds overflow with information that is often quite alarming and false.

    So who or what can we trust?

    In order to better understand the nuances of the current political landscape, as well as the increasing yet often propagandized role of Russian politicians and media in shaping narrative and political trends, I interviewed lecturer at Portland State University, journalist and author of Against the Fascist Creep Alexander Reid Ross and geopolitical analyst and the founder of StopImperialism.org, Eric Draitser.

     

    MintPress News (MPN): How would you characterize the state of the left and the changes it has endured in the United States today?

    Eric Draister, founder of stopimperialism.org.

    Eric Draister, founder of stopimperialism.org.

    Eric Draitser (ED): We have a situation in the United States in which there is very little that can be called left politics. The left is factionalized, which is not anything new necessarily, but there is no ideological clarity, alignment, or a Soviet Union around which the majority of the left, to varying degrees, can rally in an ideological sense. All that is gone. Instead, there is the primacy of capitalism and a hegemony of neoliberal finance.

    It is against that backdrop that you see a lot of leftist academics, intellectuals and activists who have in many ways abandoned a real class analysis in favor of a loosely defined politics of opposition. Within this mindset, everything that opposes the United States, Israel, the Saudis or the EU is automatically good and should be supported irrespective of its qualities.

    The right-wing and today’s fascists, i.e. the so-called “alt-right” in the United States position themselves as anti-establishment and anti-imperialist by virtue of an opposition to neoliberal capitalism. Theirs is not an opposition to capitalism nor is it an opposition to imperialism. It is an opposition to the unique set of conditions that we see today.

     

    MPN: How do you differentiate between real anti-imperialists on the left and those who are posing on the right?

    ED: Anti-imperialists do not advocate non-American forms of imperialism. For example, the Duginists, of the Alexsandr Dugin school of “anti-imperialism,” advocate for Russian imperial revanchism, which is Russian expansion with the goal of creating a Eurasian empire under the auspices of Moscow. That is really the Eurasianist vision that Dugin outlines in the fourth political theory and it is to a large extent what these so-called “anti-imperialists” are advocating for, whether consciously or unconsciously.

    There are many nodes in this Duginist network, including many organizations, both online and in brick and mortar form in the U.S. and Europe, and they have a tremendous amount of influence within Russian media. Because I have read Dugin and am intimately familiar with a large portion of the alternative media landscape, it has become for me second-nature to recognize fake anti-imperialists. I know the telltale indicators, the buzzwords and their ideological framework.

    But even if one is not as versed about Dugin or that history, people who simultaneously call themselves “anti-imperialists” but advocate against refugees, or those who have no comment about any of the violations committed by countries that are not empire are obviously fake anti-imperialists coming from the right. For example, look at the “anti-imperialists” lauding the Philippine dictator [Rodrigo] Duterte, as they ignore his massacres of innocents in the streets. Why? Because he poses nicely with the Chinese and tells Trump to go to hell.

     

    MPN: Who on the left is susceptible to the allure of fascism? What are some indications or patterns that you recognize?

    Alexander Reid Ross

    Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep.

    Alexander Reid Ross (ARR): Authoritarians and elitists are vulnerable in the affective sense, because they think in grandiose terms and often put ideology before experience. This often creates a perverse idealism through which the subject alone can understand fully the clean break that must be made with the modern world. Collectivists and individualists alike can be lured into this trap, ignoring common sense and the interests of most people in favor of their grand idea.

    At the same time, the romantic idealism tied to ecology and biocentrism can lead one toward essentialist conceptions of gender, ethnos, race and nation on the basis of place-based thinking. Lastly, anti-colonial struggles can even creep toward fascist alliances where they understand their liberation in terms of strict ultranationalist patriarchy – e.g., Qaddafi’s enlistment of Skorzeny’s Paladin Group and Nassr’s deployment of Nazi war criminals like Johann von Leers to create anti-Semitic propaganda.

     

    MPN: What exactly is a red-brown alliance and do you see it forming? Where? What is a good way to combat this trend?

    ARR: A red-brown alliance is a political formation that includes leftist and fascist forces. I see a number of red-brown alliances forming today, particularly in the field of political geography. A number of far-right groups view the modern-day axis of Syria, Iran and Russia as a kind of international counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has always been seen by fascist groups as a kind of nemesis led by the nations that defeated the Rome-Berlin axis in 1945.

    Authoritarian leftists often view that same axis of powers between Syria, Moscow and Iran as a convenient ally in their declared struggle against U.S. imperialism and its partner in the state of Israel. To combat this kind of mobilization of left and right against liberal democracy, we must promote principled alternatives to the world-systems offered up by both extremes and liberals.

     

    MPN: What is Russia’s status today and how is it portrayed in the United States?

    ED: First and foremost, we must reject the empire’s narrative that Russia is essentially no different from the status it had during the Cold War: that it is the main geopolitical rival of the U.S. and is an aggressive imperialist nation that seeks to swallow up all of its neighbors out of some inherent bloodlust or desire to destroy Reagan’s “city on the hill.” This type of narrative is promoted by the Democratic Party and the neocons of the Republican Party. Anybody on the left needs to take a long hard look in the mirror if they find themselves parroting the ruling class’s talking points on Russia.

    It is also important to examine whether Russia actually fits what we understand to be an imperialist power. If we take the standard definition of imperialism as put forth by Lenin in “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” I would say that Russia does not fulfill the definition of an imperialist power: it does not monopolize finance capital, it does not use financial power as a means of power projection or acquiring raw materials.

    If anything, Russia is the inverse of that, Russia is a raw material exporter and little more. So in that regard, Russia is almost more colony than colonial power. Though I do believe it is a false impression if you think Russia is merely just an oppressed global south nation like any other, it is certainly not.


    Related: The Demonopolization Of Deceit: Fighting For Narrative In The Age of Trump


    Russia’s foreign policy imperatives are basically to re-establish itself as a global power and to leverage the advantages that it does have in order to compensate for its deficiencies. Russia has very little true economic power globally: it is not a manufacturing or trading power. Russia’s influence and power rests in its ability to export energy and that is precisely how it crafts its foreign policy.

    The other economic strength that it has is exports of weapons and military technology, Russia being the number two global supplier of arms behind the U.S. Russia’s power projection rests not in its ability to conquer territories, which is the way imperialist powers are traditionally thought of, nor does it rest in Russia’s ability to influence using the full-spectrum dominance approach that Washington has maintained for decades. Rather, Russia is trying to maneuver Brzezinski’s geopolitical chessboard using its advantages where it can, so that it can pursue its self-interests.

    The problem rests in the fact that a leftist political outlook, the anti-imperialist, anti-fascist outlook cares not at all for Russia’s self-interested goals but about ideological principles. In this way a true anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist perspective on the left is at odds with the “Russia is great” version of leftist politics.

     

    MPN: What has been Russia’s role in the far-right surge in the United States and Europe?

    ARR: Certain far-right actors in the Russian government have a lot of power and sponsor and support the same causes that the far-right does in the U.S. or in France. That the two cross-fertilize, for instance at World Congress of Families conferences, is as natural as it is disgusting.

    Generally, Alexsandr Dugin’s Eurasianism has provided the White Identitarian movement of Europe and the U.S. with a common rubric, enabling them to engage in more coordinated campaigns, while Putin has provided the model for an authoritarian-conservative world-system in opposition to “Atlanticist” liberal democracy.

    Dugin works to cultivate international ties among far-right and far-left groups according to his fascist geopolitical ideology masquerading as “anti-imperialism.” One of Dugin’s patrons, Konstantin Malofeev, is a big player in international far-right movements, as is Vladimir Yakunin, who is one of Putin’s comrades from Petersburg. The far-right party, Rodina, has also worked to integrate ultranationalist movements under the auspices of “national conservatism.”

    Putin’s support for the Front National is important, to the tune of a multi-million dollar financial agreement, while Russian support for other far-right parties and groupuscules has brought them access to financial resources through business alliances, communications through integrated platforms like Katehon or the World National-Conservative Movement, and media attention through venues like Sputnik and RT.

    Richard Spencer published his early article throwing the alt-right’s support behind Trump in Katehon first, signifying the authoritarian conservative world-system that he supports, against NATO. Sputnik and RT provide platforms to Duginists, while downplaying Trump’s mistakes and amplifying those of liberals.

    At the end of the day, although Russian media tends toward certain anti-liberal positions tied to state-run industries and Kremlin-backed ideology that further the interests of an authoritarian conservative world-system, it is important to recognize the media bias of liberal democratic systems as well. A balance must be struck between honest comprehension of current events as they happen and problematic interpretations that feed into, and are often fed by, the interests of one or another party. This means maintaining a critical relationship with the powers that be and opening space for independent thought, which is the basis for any truly democratic society.

     

    MPN: How has Russian media affected the recent political upheavals in Europe and the U.S.?

    ED: The politics of opposition have become very pervasive in both left and right circles. And it is that outlook that Russian media has seized upon.

    The Russians have understood, perhaps correctly from their perspective, that there is very little to be gained from the far-left. With the fascists they can provide indirect funding through third-parties and indirect public relations through their media apparati.

    Take Britain – Corbyn did not need RT to have a major electoral breakthrough. On the other hand, Le Pen, Brexit and most likely Trump were nowhere without the Russians. Brexit would likely have failed without the help of third-parties that have very nefarious ties to the Mercer network in the U.S. and some elements in Russia. So again, Russia is able to win when it backs the far-right, it does not win when it backs the far-left. We saw that in Putin’s failed attempt to woo Syriza in Greece. They are succeeding with the far-right, so why would they change?

    ARR: Basically, oligarchs like Malofeev work to fund think tanks linked to people close to Russian geopolitical theory, which then produce the “spin” on certain stories implemented by a second tier of news sites. For instance, Leonid Reshetnikov, who was in charge of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies think tank that allegedly created the Kremlin’s strategy for influencing the 2016 elections, is on the board of Malofeev’s Katehon think tank, for which Eurasianist fascist, Alexsandr Dugin, performed the duties of editor-in-chief.

    Dugin’s thought pieces are read by journalists and editors with other sites like Fort-Russ, which claims to receive some millions of views per month. RT and Sputnik pick up stories and writers from sites like Fort-Russ and Katehon, elevating the Kremlin’s “spin” to more and more users. They then bring on leftist journalists from North Atlantic countries in order to make that spin more attractive to larger audiences in the West.

     

     

    MPN: How does Russian media cater simultaneously to the left and to the right?

    ED: The influence of Russian media has nothing to do with television ratings and everything to do with influencing the discourse on the far-left and far-right. The idea being that the Russian media fill the spaces vacated by the corporate media.

    There is very little that can be seen as left-wing mainstream publications in the United States. I suppose the most popular is The Nation and the readership is still a fraction of that of the news in the U.S. Similarly, with the far-right. Against this backdrop you have a massive push by Russian media to capture the far-left and far-right.

    They do this by elevating voices of the far-right libertarian, anarcho-capitalist milieu. It is very pronounced and very significant. Why? Because what they seek to do is essentially unite left and right, red and brown, ideologically as a bulwark against the U.S. establishment, against the empire. These media outlets want to cultivate an opposition that exists online, a “fifth column.”

    The reason for this is not only to further Russia’s political interests, but also to create a parallel to what the U.S. has in Russia. In Russia, the bourgeois liberal is anti-Putin/pro-U.S., anti-Russian media/pro-Western media. And so what the Russians seek to do is to create their variant of a “fifth column” (which is the term they use in Russian media to refer to those anti-Russian liberals) to create anti-U.S. liberals, communists, socialists and fascists. They want to be able to cultivate their own online army. And they are succeeding very well.

    As a result, you have a mass of people on the left who will instinctively believe anything that Russian media says and reject western news. Ultimately, that means that the Kremlin controls the narrative entirely when it comes to those types of people, just like the military-industrial complex and the intelligence community control the narrative when it comes to Western corporate media.

    The tiny segment on the left that is cognizant of these trends is fighting this two-front war every day; against the corporate media, i.e. the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, etc. while simultaneously rejecting all those people who present the Russian narrative as the gospel truth.

    That is why it is so lonely to make this argument.  

    See more of Yoav Litvin’s work at yoavlitvin.com

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    • Jimmy jams

      Aleksandr Dugin most prescient book, IMO is 1997’s Foundations of Geopolitics: The geopolitical future of Russia. This book outlines an agenda for Russians supremacy, a lot of which has already payed out, Brexit, Racism, and mistrust in National institutions all included in this text as a manifest. No wonder it’s taught in Russian military schools. an English translation and found one on Ebay, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Aleksandr-Dugin-Foundations-Geopolitics-English-Translation-Ebook-PDF-/132259504779

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    • Vida Galore

      People take the “RT” narrative because they hire the progressives who were booted off of MSNBC for actually being progressive. Not only that, Russia is not a ‘superpower.’ Many of us get this. Russia does not pose a “threat” to the US. We pose a threat to everyone. Russia is nowhere near the US militarily, or in any other aspect. So it’s ridiculous to compare the two as equals.

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    • bill

      …Yes-We-On-Left-Only-Worship-Putin-We-Believe-All-Things-Putin…If-Only-We-Believed-The-Wholesome-Goodness-Of-Israel…

    • James Wherry

      How amusing. The author sounds like the Pope.

      “Pope Francis Warns Of ‘Dangerous’ Alliance Between U.S. And Russia”
      Nina Golgowski, HuffPost, 9 July 2017
      https://www.yahoo.com/news/pope-francis-warns-apos-dangerous-164155996.html

    • craig clark

      dear mint,
      for some reason your share-button for google plus gives a wrong link message…js…

    • uh…clem

      I wouldn’t trust Alexander Reid Ross (ARR) at all and I’m surprised that Yoav Litvin even considered interviewing him on the topic. Here’s what happened: a fellow Palestinian activist, and then myself, went onto his FB page and were pursuing the question of whether the “antifa” were raising questions about Zionism and Israel. We began to wonder whether he was being up front about his deeper allegiances. He then launched into a long tirade about the multiple meanings of Zion! Since he had stated that he was a Scottish Jew (his screen name certainly sounds like it), I began to wonder if he was a closet Zionist and wasn’t taking kindly to my comrade’s and my questions. But before she and I could explore that topic (closet Zionist) he up and banned us because, he said, we were taking up too much of his time. He could have gained some time for himself if he had not been trying subtly to defend the goodness of Zion in his long rambling entry. He was engaging in the common Zionist tactic of what we leftist activists (yes…I’m a commie sympathizer) call “whataboutery”, trying to move the topic AWAY from Israel’s settler colonialism and its theft of more and more of Palestinian land. I don’t trust ARR one bit. By his banning shall ye know him.

      • HHM_M

        The antifa? I think Gearoid Colmain got it right when he wrote, “Antifa is just one of the international anarchist groups currently
        being used by the intelligence agencies of imperialist states to sow
        confusion and chaos among the ranks of disaffected youth, inciting them
        to mindless, violent acts that serve the agenda of an ever- encroaching
        police state. This organization, in particular, targets intellectuals
        who denounce Zionism as well as alternative media outlets which expose
        the mechanisms and institutions that promote US imperialism throughout
        the world. It does all this under the guise of ‘anti-fascism.'”

        Yes, the Left must root out Zionists in its ranks, but it’s unlikely the “antifa” will take an anti-racist, human rights-based stand against Zionism and do so.

      • Yoav Litvin

        Thanks for your comment.
        As you may or may not know, I am deeply involved in Palestine/Israel issues.
        I interviewed ARR because he is an expert on fascism, its history and its contemporary manifestations.
        I agree that Zionism is an interesting topic, but not the one of this article. I do not see how ARR’s views there would directly influence his opinions here, though they are relevant.
        Thanks for reading!

    • Linda Jansen

      What bullshit. “As a result, you have a mass of people on the left who will instinctively believe anything that Russian media says and reject western news.” Do you have proof of this?

      “That is why it is so lonely to make this argument.” I’m glad you are lonely. YOU SHOULD BE LONELY. Your head is lonely because it is somewhere the sun doesn’t shine.

      • uh…clem

        Amen, Linda Jansen. Read my comment above.

      • artemis6

        So true….. instinctively believe……can you get more pompous and condescending? I cannot think how. Clearly a case of WISHFUL thinking.

      • Yoav Litvin

        Linda,
        “Bullshit” is a strong word.
        I see proof of this every day on social media. Shows like “Crosstalk” on RT with Peter Lavelle and others have been promoting an anti-American-establishment narrative, yet strongly support Trump and regularly feature Islamophobes. They have a following with Leftists.
        There are some (not all!) on the American “Left” who have adopted the RT narrative.
        Re your ad-hominem attack – Eric Draitser is a fantastic analyst. I recommend you check out more of his works.
        Thanks for reading!

        • uh…clem

          Will you please just mention some of the NAMES of those on the “Left” “who have adopted the RT narrative?

          • mentioning names is always a double-edged sword because that means promoting these people. I have given sufficient clues both in the article and in my response for you to do the research necessary. This is a pervasive phenomenon.

            • uh…clem

              well, since you seem to be dodging my enquiry, I reiterate my wish to have some names of those “leftists” who “have adopted the RT narrative” so I can check out their provenances. You also claim “this is a pervasive phenomenon”. I disagree. With your scientific background can you provide me with any “evidence” to support your claim, please?

            • blob

              agree with most of this (only had time to skim read so can’t say 100%). question: I thought that FN had bank loans from a Russian bank bcos no banks in France will lend to them. Is it definitely a fishy arrangement on the part of the Russians or could it be that the Russian bank saw a business oppurtunity and has no qualms about being tied to the FN? Also, I know Dugin’s influence in the Kremlin is disputed – things like Rodina, are they connected to the Russian state or the actions of a fringe figures?

        • Ramone

          I agree with you that there are people on the left for whom Putin and Russia can do no wrong and that aspects of the alt-right attract quite a few left-leaning people who feel alienated from the identity politics and Russiagate obsessed neoliberal liberals that pass as the mainstream “left” these days. Those who yearn for the comfort and camaraderie of a large in-group or a respected leader to champion their world view are especially vulnerable here.

          But I get the sense many people who sneer at RT and claim there is a right-wing “RT narrative” don’t actually watch RT. What you say about Crosstalk and Lavelle is correct but Chris Hedges, Lee Camp, Abby Martin (formerly) and other genuinely leftist and left-leaning voices have, or had, shows on the network. German and UK versions of RT also feature representatives from the “non-compromised” left.

          RT gives a platform to voices and points of view, from the left and from the right, that are shut out of the mainstream media. The in-house produced news segments, not surprisingly, have a pro-Russian slant but for all the talk of RT’s “Russian propaganda”, the major American and European media outlets push pro-Western and anti-Russian propaganda that is far more blatant and jingoist than anything RT produces.

          It is worth keeping in mind that one does not have to glorify Russia or worship Putin to see that NATO is encircling the country with nuclear weapons and certain insane US military people have openly talked about a first-strike “limited” nuclear war as an option worth considering, The United States has not made a secret of its ambition to rule the world, nor of the fact hat its eyes are on the elusive prize of Eurasia. Russia is fighting for its life here and, like it or not, it is also currently the only country that can slow down America’s march across the globe.

          Drawing equivalence between American imperialism and Russia’s intervention in Syria is laughable. Even at the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union’s only imperial “adventure” beyond its Eastern European vassal states was in Afghanistan. Contrast that with America’s global rampages and destruction, and attempted destruction , of sovereign nations.

          It would be wonderful if all nations had sane foreign policies and refrained from invading other countries or fomenting instability using proxy armies of mercenary thugs. In the real world that exists right now the problem is one aggressive nation with a massive military that considers itself exceptional and indispensable. This nation systematically destroys any country that wishes to remain independent politically or economically. Can you not see this? Should Russia, Iran, China etc. just let the US invade and “regime change” its way into their countries?

          Part of the problem, I think, is Westerners’ fetishization of liberal democracy. Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press and multi-party elections are seen as universally good and desirable. It’s the West’s sacred cow and something all “right-thinking” people should support. But there is another way of looking at the world. Take the example of Syria, a country that the United States and its allies have been trying to undermine and destroy for decades by sowing internal discontent, stoking the flames of sectarianism and as of 2012 using proxy armies of fanatical religious zealots to weaken the state and break apart the country. Syria has effectively been at war for decades with countries that want to destroy it. See Libya for an example of the “democracy” Syrians can enjoy if the West gets its way.

          I have come around to the view that Western-style democracy is only possible under certain conditions, the primary one being the people must be in control of their country’s destiny. If foreign powers are using their military and economic might and their intelligence agencies to covertly and overtly disrupt and destroy the fabric of your country, liberal democracy is not a realistic option unless you want to capitulate to those who wish to see your your nation broken apart and subjugated. When a country is under attack totalitarianism is unavoidable. Sure, the US claims it seeks freedom and democracy for all people, blahblah…but this is just nonsense designed to sell wars to the citizenry that will be providing the cannon fodder.

          The United States pretends it wants “democracy” in places like Syria, Russia, Iran (and while these countries are not democratic in the Western sense…their totalitarianism is exaggerated by Western politicians and the media and they are still light years ahead of the KSA/GCC monarchies so beloved by democracy-loving US regime change adocates). Don’t forget the US funds “pro-democracy” NGOs working hard to bring these and other states to their knees and under US control.

          Considered in this light the world looks very different. The left is still very much wedded to a kind of democratic essentialism that causes it to view the world through a distorted lens. It is a view that – and I speak from experience here – is difficult to reject since it is so tightly woven into the fabric of Western political thought.

          Thanks for reading and apologies for the rant.

          • TeeJae

            No apologies needed. It was an excellent “rant.” Thank you for the well thought out (and much-needed) contribution.

      • thud

        You are the proof.

      • tapatio