Left Apologetics for Putin

July 17, 2022

Editor’s note: This is an appendix to “Society in the Grip of Genocidal Ideology,” July-August 2022 News & Letters, and to its longer online version.

Comprehending today’s ideological landscape requires recognizing that Vladimir Putin is projecting and acting out a fully genocidal ideology. As we put it in “Russian invasion and Ukrainian resistance shake up the world” (May-June 2022 News & Letters),

“The carnage puts into practice the genocidal blueprint elaborated on tightly controlled Russian state media by columnist Timofey Sergeytsev:

“ ‘Ukronazism carries not less, but a greater threat to the world and Russia than German Nazism of the Hitlerite version….The name “Ukraine” apparently cannot be retained as the title of any fully denazified state….It must be returned to its natural boundaries and deprived of political functionality….Ukraine, as history has shown, is impossible as a nation-state, and attempts to ‘build’ one naturally lead to Nazism. Ukrainism is an artificial anti-Russian construction that does not have its own civilizational content….’ ”

This is, of course, Putin’s view. His July 12, 2021, essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” pontificated at great length about the history of what he considers the Russian people, a deeply falsified history with gaping lacunae, of course, all to put forward the view that Russia was “robbed” of Ukraine, which has no right to be a sovereign nation but is naturally a part of Russia.

PUTIN’S IMPERIAL SELF-IMAGE

In a speech on June 9, 2022, Putin grandiosely compared himself to Russia’s first emperor, Peter the Great, sermonizing that all the land the emperor had conquered is rightfully Russian. As The New York Times put it:

“ ‘He was returning it and strengthening it,’ Mr. Putin said, leaning back in his armchair, before hinting with a smile that he was now doing the same thing in his war in Ukraine. ‘Well, apparently, it has also fallen to us to return and to strengthen.’

“Mr. Putin said that when Peter founded the city of St. Petersburg on the captured land, ‘none of the countries of Europe recognized it as Russian.’ That remark seemed to be a clear reference to the present day, when no Western country has recognized Moscow’s claim to Crimea, much less to the parts of eastern and southern Ukraine Russia has seized in the last three months.”

IMPOSING COUNTERREVOLUTIONARY IDEOLOGY

Putin’s war is not only about conquering territory but imposing his counterrevolutionary ideology on the entire world. The ideology that he projects must be taken every bit as seriously as the “great replacement” myth—in fact, he trumpets his own version of that, and the far right of the “West” adores him as a champion of “traditional values.” In the very speech on Feb. 24 in which he announced his “special military operation”—meaning war on Ukraine—he waved a patriarchal banner denouncing LGBTQ+ rights and women’s liberation:

“They sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people from within, the attitudes they have been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature.”

In Putin’s ideology, this is unseparated from his anti-revolutionary denunciation of Lenin. As our March-April lead article “Putin’s Brutal War in Ukraine Puts the Future of Humanity in Doubt” put it:

“For Putin…there seems to be no enemy more hated than Lenin, who supposedly invented the nation of Ukraine. In reality, Lenin insisted that Ukrainians are an independent people/nation, free to go their own way, as he warned against Great Russian chauvinism, which he later further warned was personified by Stalin. It is Stalin that Putin, despite his denunciation of Communism, glorifies.

“National self-determination is not merely a principle, to which Leftists were supposed to subscribe. Lenin also saw that it could be a catalyst for proletarian revolution. Just look at the depth of Ukrainians’ self-organization and self-activity—drawing in all layers of the population, acting individually and collectively on their passion for independence and freedom from imperial overlords. It has inspired the world. Ukrainians have certainly brought new life to the idea of democracy. Considering the sorry state of actually existing bourgeois democracies, the fight for overcoming barriers to living free cannot stop there.”

Far from paying attention to the dialectics of revolution as Lenin did, much of the Left, even the day before the invasion, was focused instead on explaining that Putin had legitimate security concerns, but that he was not going to wage war on Ukraine. Unfortunately missing was any feeling, let alone comprehension, for the self-organization from below that had inspired masses around the world.

Putinite ideology, along with Russian imperialism as well as U.S. imperialism, must be understood as integral aspects of the current world stage of capitalism, whose decision-makers are desperate in the face of its own weakness and the ever-present revolt, sometimes hidden and sometimes open.

The thoroughly counterrevolutionary, reactionary, and substantive character of Putinite ideology makes the Left apologias for his invasion that much more shocking.

NOAM CHOMSKY

Take Noam Chomsky, a lion of the U.S. Left. His echoing of Putin’s propaganda was dissected in a May 19 open letter from “a group of Ukrainian academic economists who were grieved by a series of your recent interviews and commentaries on the Russian war on Ukraine.” Among other things, they write:

“[Y]our interviews insinuate that Ukrainians are fighting with Russians because the U.S. instigated them to do so, that Euromaidan happened because the U.S. tried to detach Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence, etc. Such an attitude denies the agency of Ukraine and is a slap in the face to millions of Ukrainians who are risking their lives for the desire to live in a free country….In your interviews, you go to great lengths to rationalize Putin’s goals of ‘demilitarization’ and ‘neutralization’ of Ukraine. Please note that, in his TV address from February 24, 2022, marking the beginning of the war, the verbatim goal declared by Putin for this ‘military operation’ is to ‘denazify’ Ukraine. This concept builds on his long pseudo-historical article from July 2021, denying Ukraine’s existence and claiming that Ukrainians were not a nation….If you truly value Ukrainian lives as you claim to, we would like to kindly ask you to refrain from adding further fuel to the Russian war machine by spreading views very much akin to Russian propaganda.”

The entire letter is worth reading. One of Chomsky’s interviews in that period was his conversation with Bill Fletcher Jr. on April 7, where he again insisted that Crimea is off the table, in the process omitting any reference to its Indigenous people, and—despite some mild pushback from Fletcher—insisted that the U.S. should have agreed to “Finlandization” of Ukraine—meaning once again that the governments of the U.S. and Russia would decide the future of Ukraine over the heads of its people, another slap in their face denying them agency. (As for the people of the U.S., Chomsky keeps saying “we” and “our” like a typical liberal to describe the actions of the U.S. government!) Instead, he presented a one-sided view of history to discredit the Ukrainian mass revolt. At the same time, he downplayed Putin’s aims in the war and his ideology, as if that is irrelevant.

That April 7 conversation was co-sponsored by a motley bunch of Left groups, from the old Stalinists of the Communist Party USA to the so-called International Marxist-Humanist Organization, although it was certainly the opposite of Marxist-Humanism, which had always rejected popular frontism. It is, however, in continuity with the organization and its founders’ two decades of watering down the original Marxist-Humanist category of “post-Marx Marxism as a pejorative” by accommodating themselves to the milieu of post-Marx Marxism, especially academic Marxism.

Chomsky’s role in the Left-Right convergence is seen in his praise, in another interview in April, of Donald Trump as “the one Western statesman [who suggested a] move toward negotiations and diplomacy instead of escalating the war, try to see if you can bring about an accommodation….His name is Donald J. Trump. But let’s tell the truth: he’s the one person who’s said it and it’s the right way out.”

It is no secret that not only Trump but other far-right figures like Tucker Carlson have overflowed with praise and apologias for Putin.

CAMBODIA, BOSNIA, SYRIA

Nor is this Chomsky’s first apologia for genocide. Just as he downplayed the killing fields of Cambodia in the late 1970s, he came to the aid of denialism in the 2000s regarding the Bosnian genocide and, as Yassin al-Haj Saleh (author of The Impossible Revolution) wrote on March 15 this year, “Chomsky Is No Friend of the Syrian Revolution.” Saleh wrote that Chomsky’s “perception of America’s role has developed from a provincial Americentrism to a sort of theology, where the U.S. occupies the place of God, albeit a malign one, the only mover and shaker. Understandably, such a perspective raises questions about the autonomy of other actors, with echoes of the debates about free will by Islamic theologians some 1,200 years ago. Chomsky seems closer to the jabriyyeen, who fully deny human freedom and ascertain the omnipotence of God, than to the qadariyyeen, who thought that God’s justice and human freedom went together.”

CONVERGENCE WITH TRUMPIAN RIGHT

It is striking how many “Left” figures sound very much like the Trump-defending right-winger Christopher Caldwell, who wrote in The New York Times on May 31 that the U.S. deserves much of the blame for Russia’s war, claiming that Russia decided to attack because of the toothless “strategic partnership” the U.S. signed with Ukraine. Praising Chomsky’s position along the way, Caldwell called the Maidan movement “a violent uprising—against the legitimately elected Ukrainian government,” justified Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and covered up Putin’s genocidal ideology and pronouncements by selectively and sympathetically picking out his complaints about transfers of U.S. military supplies. Citing Henry Kissinger’s position (similar to the positions of Chomsky and Trump), he urges negotiations and “concessions” to Russia. The Ukrainian economists’ open letter to Chomsky addresses these calls for negotiations and concessions coming from both Right and Left (many of which assume that all this would be done between the U.S. and Russia over the heads of the Ukrainians):

“All of us very much hoped for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement, which could have saved many human lives. Yet, we find it preposterous how you [Chomsky] repeatedly assign the blame for not reaching this settlement to Ukraine (for not offering Putin some ‘escape hatch’) or the U.S. (for supposedly insisting on the military rather than diplomatic solution) instead of the actual aggressor, who has repeatedly and intentionally bombed civilians, maternity wards, hospitals, and humanitarian corridors during those very ‘negotiations’. Given the escalatory rhetoric (cited above) of the Russian state media, Russia’s goal is erasure and subjugation of Ukraine, not a ‘diplomatic solution.’…

“But what are the alternatives to fighting for freedom? Unconditional surrender and then elimination of Ukrainians off the face of the Earth (see above)? Have you ever wondered why President Zelenskyy, with the overwhelming support of the Ukrainian people, is pleading with Western leaders to provide heavy weapons despite the potential threat of nuclear escalation? The answer to this question is not ‘Because of Uncle Sam,’ but rather due to the fact that Russian war crimes in Bucha and many other Ukrainian cities and villages have shown that living under Russian occupation is a tangible ‘hell on earth’ happening right now, requiring immediate action.”

MONTHLY REVIEW AND JOHN BELLAMY FOSTER

Even worse, take the outrageous defense presented by Monthly Review, as further developed by its editor, John Bellamy Foster. In every case, they say “the Ukraine,” rather than “Ukraine,” signaling a refusal to recognize Ukraine as a sovereign nation. From the beginning, Foster tries to exclude any question of freedom and mass self-liberation by setting the ground as one of geopolitics, with only one recognized agent: U.S. imperialism, and no role for the masses except as pawns:

“In talking about the Ukraine war, the essential thing to recognize at the outset is that this is a proxy war….The proxy war started in 2014 when the Maidan coup, engineered by the United States took place in Ukraine, removing the democratically elected president, and putting ultra-nationalists largely in control, with U.S./NATO sponsorship.”

Typical for these apologias, there is no acknowledgement of the popular revolt that brought down Yanukovich in 2014, which instead is called a “coup engineered by the U.S.” Foster continues:

“When the coup occurred, with Ukrainian ultra-nationalists in control, the Crimean population wanted out. Russia gave them an opportunity with a referendum to stay in the Ukraine or join with Russia.”

He never mentions that the referendum was carried out under Russian military occupation, it was denounced globally as not a free election, and the Tatars, the Indigenous population of Crimea, had been driven out, jailed, killed, or silenced. Remarkably, much of the U.S. Left, which supposedly honors the movements of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, erases the Indigenous people of Crimea from history and totally fails to support their struggle for freedom.

Moving on to the Putin-sponsored rebellion in the Donbas region, Foster remarks, “Initially, there were about 14,000 lives lost in the civil war,” without ever mentioning Russia’s part in inciting war and killing and displacing people, as if the 14,000 were all killed by Ukrainian Nazi paramilitaries.

He continues his rewriting of history to the present: “In February 2022 Kyiv was preparing a major offensive.” What an Orwellian description of the very time that Moscow was preparing a major offensive, as the whole world witnessed, but Foster refuses to admit it! He pairs this with Orwellian language for Putin’s drive to annex part or all of Ukraine, beginning with Crimea and the Donbas: “Russia intervened mainly with the object of freeing up Donbass, much of which was occupied by Kyiv forces.” Of course, Foster is never going to examine the genocidal manifestos put forward by Putin and his ideologues. He totally sweeps under the rug Putin’s actual explanation for his war, which any serious revolutionary must take absolutely seriously.

Incredibly, Foster denies the tremendous brutality and indiscriminate violence perpetrated by the Russian armed forces: “Another thing to understand about the proxy war is that the Russians have been trying to with considerable success to avoid civilian casualties.”

MONTHLY REVIEW HOSTS DISINFORMATION

It is no accident that Monthly Review’s website MRonline posted a despicable piece of disinformation from the Orinoco Tribune (an organ of the Putin-friendly “Left” authoritarian Venezuelan state), “Staged Massacre in Bucha,” claiming that the Russian massacre and atrocities in that city did not happen, but were “staged” by “the Ukronazi regime.” And who could disagree, since they quote the authoritative Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Minister of Defense, as well as “War on Fakes,” a Russian Telegram channel launched on the day of the invasion and touted by the Russian Foreign Ministry—as well as debunked for spreading Putinite disinformation.

MRonline tries to cover its flanks with a small standard disclaimer after the article: “Monthly Review does not necessarily adhere to all of the views conveyed in articles republished at MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of left perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or useful. —Eds.” As if repeating counterrevolutionary state propaganda has anything to do with “a variety of left perspectives”!

Our May-June 2022 lead article (“Russian Invasion and Ukrainian Resistance Shake Up the World”) told the well-known truth of what happened in Bucha:

“When the Russian Army retreated from their assault on Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, at the end of March, its withdrawal from towns like Bucha revealed the sadistic horrors inflicted by the occupiers.

“They had left the bodies of over 400 civilians, including a line of bodies with hands tied in what appeared to be a torture chamber. Evidence showed rampant summary executions, rapes, torture and looting in Bucha and other formerly occupied towns.

“Clearing up any doubts about the nature of his imperialist invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, which had occupied Bucha, for their ‘great heroism and courage’ and for ‘protecting Russia’s sovereignty.’ ”

This is the “heroism and courage” that Foster and Monthly Review are at such pains to defend!

Foster’s references to Bosnia (which he never names) and Syria are as follows: In 1992, “This process of U.S./NATO geopolitical expansion commenced immediately….NATO’s war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s was particularly important in this respect. Even while the dismemberment of Yugoslavia was going on, the United States began the process of enlarging NATO.…giving NATO a more global interventionist role, as in Yugoslavia, Syria, and Libya….”

It is noteworthy that resistance to genocide from Bosnia on is transformed into “NATO wars” and the actual genocides are erased from history.

“Marxists” who allow their work to be published by Monthly Review with nary a peep in protest of their vociferous pro-genocidal line are practicing rank opportunism at best, if not complicity with the worst elements of contemporary politics. And yet that opportunism is rife.

–Franklin Dmitryev

2 thoughts on “Left Apologetics for Putin

  1. Thank you for this. The term “Ukronazism” is pure gold, but I’m going to spell it “Ukronaziïsm™” because “semiotics” and “sarcasm” both start with “s.”

    Noam Chomsky is an idiot. Noam Chomsky has always been an idiot. He was especially an idiot when he did linguistics, which held the field back for more than a quarter century, or a full century if you include Nietzsche and Peirce, which I do. I mean this literally in the sense of the idios kosmos of Heraclitus, the private cognitive world associated with mental disorders as opposed to the koinos kosmos, the common, shared world of intersubjectivity, which is as close to objectivity as brains can get. His politics is just as idiotic. People cheer him because they agree with this or that observation, but he didn’t say anything Nietzsche didn’t say better in a couple of paragraphs. It is, however, a blessing that he went into politics in his dotage, because while linguistics has promise, politics is beyond hope. The left and the right are thoroughly just different flavors of fascism; you can choose whether the gas smells like almonds or tutti frutti, nothing more.

    I’m already on your mailing list. And thanks again for publishing some of my stuff on prison slave labor, not that anybody else cares.

  2. War & Revolution, forever induces a great divide between revolutionaries, beginning with Franco-German war and the aftermath of Paris Commune: Marx’s Marxism vs Statism. Or WWI and the divide within the “2nd” International. Or Dunayevskaya’s break with Leon Trotsky during WWII. What we are witnessing today in the aftermath of Russia’s Imperial war on Ukraine, is the beginning of a global realignment within the Left. Your piece a very good contribution in this regard. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.