Russia: Friend or Foe?

By Adam Baker

The New Cold War is raging. Day after day, the world’s working people are bombarded with Western propaganda targeting Russia, and it’s President Vladimir Putin. Hilary Clinton, the now defeated US presidential candidate, in 2014 compared Russia’s moves to hand passports to Russians outside Russia’s borders, as being akin to what Hitler did in the 1930s.[1] The supreme irony of Clinton attempting to slur President Putin with the Hitler tag, while the US was simultaneously removing an elected government in Ukraine, and installing one openly backed by Hitler following Nazis and other fascists, is striking.[2] The slur is enough though, for the purposes of the US ruling class – Russia is the enemy, and Putin is the new Hitler. Facts and reality are never allowed to impede the US drive to Armageddon.

We had the Australian ruling class, via former PM Tony Abbott, screaming that Russia, and even Putin himself, was responsible for the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine,[3] all without a shred of evidence. We had some Russian athletes being banned from participating in the Rio Olympic Games, on spurious charges that the entire Russian team was involved in doping programmes. This was a gross violation of the Olympic Charter, not to speak of being manifestly unfair.[4] US athletes who had previously served a sentence for doping were allowed to take part, whereas Russian athletes in the same situation were automatically banned.

Then followed the disgraceful banning from the Paralympics of the entire Russian Paralympic Team, on allegations of systemic doping.[5] Little could beneath the human condition than to deny disabled people, who had trained for years, the opportunity to compete in their favourite sport simply because the nationality stamped on their passport. And this on the basis of totally unproven allegations. Needless to say, a win in any sport, let alone the Paralympics, has little meaning if your opponents are banned from competing.

Before this, we had the spectacle of the US all of a sudden discovering the “corruption” of the International Federation of Associations Football (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter, soon after awarding Russia the hosting rights for the 2018 World Cup. Instead of pursuing mega-corporate tax avoiders, crooked bankers or arms dealers, Washington pressured the Zurich based FIFA to extradite FIFA officials to the US to face corruption charges.[6]  FIFA has for decades been suspected of taking bribes for favours, but the US jumped soon after Russia was awarded hosting rights.

In 2014, Russia was unceremoniously dumped from the G8 group of the world’s leading economies. It then became the G7, comprising the United States of America, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Japan and Italy.[7] The reason? The sanctimonious imperialist powers could not accept Russia’s alleged contravention of international law over the “annexation” of Crimea! That is, when, in March 2014, over 95% of Crimeans overwhelmingly voted to re-join Russia.[8] When people vote against the interests of imperialism, even by a margin of 95%, imperialism refuses to recognise it, and goes on to accuse Russia of breaking international law. A fantasy writer could not write such a script.

Then we have the very real military threats being arrayed against Russia. In May 2016, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces installed and opened Aegis Ashore missile bases in Romania and Poland, which will be operated by US Army Officers.[9] The US farcically claims that the missile defence systems will be used to defend themselves against “rogue states” such as Iran, when the target is clearly Russia. The Russian government understandably protested the threat to regional and global security. Unstated was the increased risk of nuclear war.

On top of this, actual NATO troop deployments in Eastern Europe have reached their highest level since the height of the original Cold War. In response to the “annexation” of Crimea, in reality, the voluntary reuniting with Russia, NATO had already deployed a battle group of 4000 troops into Eastern Europe. Now, they will be backed by 40 000 NATO troops, in a “rapid reaction force”, which will rotate through the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and Poland.[10] What, pray tell, is Russia supposed to do in the face of the largest numbers of NATO troops massing on its borders since the days of the Soviet Union?

If this was not enough, in October Russia was kicked out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, over alleged “human rights” abuses in Syria, but Saudi Arabia was re-elected.[11] That is, Russia has, at the invitation of the Syrian government, intervened to strike out ISIS and Al-Qaeda terrorists, preventing more human rights atrocities being carried out by Western armed mercenaries. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has mercilessly bombed thousands of Yemenis to death in their own country, while funnelling arms and millions of dollars in funding to the very mercenaries Russia is doing its best to prevent from slaughtering innocent Syrians. Yet Saudi Arabia is welcomed back on to the UN Human Rights Council, but Russia is kicked out. Welcome to double standards, imperialist style.

Imperialism comes in many forms – it is not simply the military takeover and occupation of smaller countries. In addition to the military spectrum, it is forceful in political, diplomatic and economic spheres. It is ever present in the corporate media, stretching into literature and screen entertainment. It bombards people in a myriad of different ways. It is so intense it becomes difficult for working people to question it, let alone resist it. But resist it we must, and we know that imperialism is vulnerable to a challenge, as its history potentially nears its end.

It is up to the political left to lead this struggle against imperialism, first in the sphere of politics. In the face of imperialist propaganda, one would assume that the first duty of the left is to seek to directly counter the barrage. With regard to Russia, it would appear logical that the first duty would be to challenge and break down the imperialist propaganda being levelled unfairly, and, we could say, hysterically. If the US Empire and all of its acolytes blusters that Russia is the enemy, and Putin is the new Hitler, even a rank and file trade unionist would at least question such claims. Others are able to conduct their own independent research to verify, or discount, such claims. What would be impermissible, from a left-wing, pro-working class point of view, would be to repeat some of the imperialist propaganda against Russia, or even argue their case using some of their argumentation.  Unfortunately, some left parties fall victim to the “ideological bullets of the bourgeoisie” which on other issues they are quite capable of deflecting.

Trotskyist Platform (TP) is one such left party which falls under the spell of imperialist psychological warfare with regard to Russia. While on most other issues, TP stoutly defends the interests of the international working class, when it comes to Russia, their sense of objectivity is thrown out of the window. TP released a statement commenting on the election of Donald Trump and the Republicans to the White House following the November 8 ballot in the US. It makes some supportable comments regarding the need to counter the encouragement of racist, far-right political elements which may be emboldened to target people of colour, migrants and others. It also correctly warns against the dangers of promoting protectionism, as the nationalist aspect of this “solution” creates further dangers for working people. However, when it turns to international issues, the statement ventures onto a perilous path.

Leninism?

Under the sub-head “Implications for the Leninist Program on International Questions”, TP makes the astounding claim that one of US President-elect Donald Trump’s aims is to draw Russia into a “capitalist super-alliance” which will be used against the US’s European imperialist rivals, and more specifically, against China.[12] In subsequent paragraphs TP indicate that the influence of other factors may prevent this, but that it remains “quite possible”. Where has TP been? Do the substantial US political, military and diplomatic manoeuvres against Russia, which were hot long before the war on Syria got under way, and have continued at fever pitch since, count for anything?  What about the NATO missiles being installed in Poland, Romania – all aimed at Russia?  40 000 NATO troops cycling through the Baltic states right on the border with Russia – does this indicate anything? Threats of Russia being thrown out of the Olympics – when within living memory was the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980? Extensive US sanctions being applied to Russia – are these part of a Cold or Hot War?

TP claim to be Leninist, and thus seek to advise the working class to follow “Leninist” principles. It stretches the imagination, however, to hold that Leninists today, in 2016, should stridently oppose the Russian state, and the Russian President, almost to the same level as the US state and the US President. One of Lenin’s firmest principles was that Marxists should always uphold the absolute equality of all nations. This was not to reinforce nationalism, but on the contrary, to create the conditions for the undermining of nationalism. If the equality of all nations was achieved, then the struggle of the working class has fewer constraints, which gives it unbridled impetus. Given that the equality of all nations is not possible under imperialism, the call for the equality of all nations essentially becomes a demand, or an actual struggle, for socialism.

The incredible double standard which imperialism applies to Russia in recent years has stuck out like a warning beacon. From the ignoring of the vote of 95% of Crimeans to re-join Russia, to the evidence-lacking blame placed on Russia for the alleged shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, to being thrown out of the Paralympics, kicked off the UN Human Rights Council to being booted out of the G8, it is clear that Russia is being targeted by ALL imperialist states, not just the US. At times some German politicians may make some noises about opposing the US drive to war against Russia, or even easing the sanctions on Russia.[13] Overall, though, the European NATO partners appear far more willing to join with the US against Russia, economically and militarily, than the US is to work with Russia against the European NATO partners.

TP appear to follow a formula. Russia is a capitalist state which is headed by a capitalist government. Therefore, it must be the enemy of all working people under all circumstances and all conditions. While Leninists can certainly agree on the capitalist nature of the Russian state, Lenin himself would pour scorn on such a rigid application of a political position. Lenin would be the first to emphasise the “concrete analysis of concrete conditions”. When all of world imperialism, led by the US, is targeting Russia, and indeed threatening it, and the world, with nuclear annihilation, one would think that “Leninists”, or pro-socialist working people, would seek to defend the target of world imperialism, rather than join in with the imperialist propaganda war. Not so for TP.

“Imperialism”

Why the hostility of TP towards Russia? It seems that TP’s actual position is that Russia is imperialist, not just capitalist. However, they seem unwilling to argue that position publicly. Nonetheless, they point to it in their statement on Trump’s electoral victory. They claim that a Trump administration

“will be, in effect, an alliance of hard-right wingers like himself and more mainstream figures from the right wing of the Republican Party. The latter are less inclined to an alliance with Russia as they believe the U.S. is strong enough not to share its spoils with any emerging power and do not want to allow a new player into the imperialist club.” [14]

This passage indicates that TP believes that Russia is in a position, at least, to “become imperialist”, or that it is next in line to be the next imperialist. The debate about whether or not Russia is imperialist requires an extensive separate study. However, if the TP position is that Russia is a capitalist state which is on the verge of becoming imperialist, we have to say that this is a delusion. Russia is a middle ranking capitalist state, with a relatively strong military – but even the military strength pales in comparison with the lead imperialist – the United States. Russia currently is nowhere near “becoming imperialist” – economically, politically or militarily.

TP at least has to angle in the direction of naming Russia as imperialist, however, because only a real imperialist state can rival the lead imperialist. And doing so enables TP to engage in a moral equivalence between the US and Russia. The classic case of moral equivalence was that of liberals during the 1930s (and afterwards), when they equated the Soviet Union under Stalin and Nazi Germany under Hitler as both equally bad “totalitarian states” – which ignored the essential class differences between the two. The effect of the liberal’s position, as always, is to end up siding with “democratic” capitalism. Similarly, TP’s position of opposing both Russia and the US in virtually equal measure, in practice pushes them and their supporters into the camp of imperialism. To imply that Russia and the US are, in effect, “both as bad as each other” – in practice ends in backing the stronger side – in this case the US Empire.

Syria

The working class of Syria, not to speak of workers the world over, however, would quickly smack down the idea of Russia being just as bad as the US. In Syria, the masses have seen and experience the horrific reality of US imperialism thrown down upon them. The arming and funding of barbaric ISIS and Al-Qaeda mercenaries slaughtering thousands in the most gruesome ways imaginable, is the Syrian experience of the US empire. What has been their experience with Russia? Assistance – after a period of time admittedly – genuine aid, and the almost total elimination of the deadly threat to their lives! Russian military intervention into Syria prevented regime change, prevented wider war, and possibly also prevented World War III. On the US side – unmitigated slaughter and destruction of people standing in their own land. On the Russian side – friendly assistance to save them from extreme danger and imminent death. Is there no difference here, according to TP?

TP at one time, had a position of defending Syria against the US/Saudi proxy mercenaries, and were very active in putting it forward. However, all this changed once Russia intervened at the invitation of the Syrian government on September 30, 2015. From that point, TP became very quiet on something which had been a major campaign for them. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that TP’s virtual withdrawal from the defence of Syria came about because their position against Russia was exposed. If Russia was the big bad capitalist power which oppresses other countries, why did it save Syria (admittedly a long term ally – even going back to Soviet times) from total destruction? Why did it put itself in danger to assist a country being subjected to imperialist attack? This is not normal behaviour for capitalist states, to say the least.

The fact is that Russia, despite being a capitalist state, and despite the administration harbouring some or many positions against the interests of the working class, almost single-handedly destroyed ISIS – the creation of the US, Saudi, Israeli, Qatari and Turkish states. Of course imperialism will continue to back ISIS so that it springs up elsewhere, in some other form. Yet in Syria, the ISIS scourge has, for now, effectively been put down. Russia made Syria their “Red Line”. Why? Perhaps the words of US State Department spokesperson John Kirby on September 27, 2016 might give an indication. Kirby stated that unless Russia “stops the violence”:
Extremist groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which could include attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities. Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and will continue to lose resources, perhaps even aircraft.[15]
That is, the US openly threatening that the “extremist groups” – which they arm, fund and to a large extent direct, will attack “Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities” !!  The US state has created an unspeakable horror in Syria, and then openly threatens to send it into Russia to attack Russian cities. Russia, on the other hand, has at its own expense, fought with the Syrian government and others to defeat this blight on humanity. Given this, can anyone – let alone TP – imply that Russia is “just as bad” as the United States?

TP hints towards a near term position where they will officially abandon Syria to its fate. Claiming that a US-Russia “capitalist super alliance” could be formed, they state, “….a U.S.-Russia capitalist super alliance is certainly quite possible and if it does transpire this may affect the position that communist internationalists should take towards events in Syria.”[16] This sounds like TP getting ready to officially jump ship and go over to opposing the actions of Russia in Syria for aligning with the US Empire. There is no written position of such as yet. However, TP is mistaking a temporary alliance for the single purpose of eliminating ISIS in Syria, for an ongoing or more permanent alliance. Certainly Russia has been desperately trying to form a military alliance against the ISIS mercenaries, a move which has almost completely exposed the US Empire. The US, after whipping up a worldwide scare campaign about ISIS, could not openly intervene in Syria on the side of ISIS, and other mercenary groups they are backing. From what we can tell, Trump himself has so far only stated that he would be willing to join with Russia in the fight against ISIS. He has made no statement that we are aware of which proposes on ongoing alliance with Russia on a series of issues.  We must ask, does TP now oppose an alliance of the US and Russia working together to eliminate ISIS?

China

TP’s strength has always been a clear defence of the Chinese workers’ state. In fact a defence of socialism, such as it exists, in China is perhaps their core position. However, they believe so strongly in this position – which is correct in itself from a working class point of view – that they appear to attempt to shape  reality into fitting with their idiosyncratic political outlook. In their statement, TP claim that Trump’s aim is to draw Russia into an alliance against “socialistic” China.  As previously mentioned, they appear to confuse the almost embarrassing position of the US being forced to publicly oppose ISIS in words in relation to Syria, with something substantial. While the Russian government would certainly welcome an alliance with the US on many issues, the US ruling class is locked into mortal combat with Russia. Trump, as an outsider, perhaps cannot see or understand why this is.

Trump has indicated a willingness to work with Russia, and has suggested that V Putin is a strong leader who he thinks he would get on with. But we can see no evidence that the basis for Trump’s supposed overtures to Russia is to form an ongoing alliance against Red China. For one thing, one of the few election promises Trump now appears to honour is the tearing up of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).[17] The TPP is the economic arm of the war against China. It was the economic arm of the “pivot to Asia”. Despite the betrayal of the leadership of socialist Vietnam, which signed up, the TPP was a dagger aimed directly at the People’s Republic of China – specifically its economic rise. For Trump to pull the US out of the TPP is to the strategic advantage, not disadvantage of China.

It’s true that Trump’s motivation in withdrawing from the TPP is not for the benefit of China. Trump’s primary motivation appears to be an attempt to bring back US corporations which have expanded operations overseas, to advantage “rust belt” areas within the US. It’s also true that Trump has also indicated he will slap a 45% tariff on goods coming into the US from China. This could lead to a trade war; however one likely effect in that case could be increased trade between China and Russia.  Russia hardly has an interest in threatening this trade by joining TP’s alleged “capitalist super alliance” against China.

President Putin

A key aspect of the West’s New Cold War against Russia has been the ongoing demonization of its President V Putin. Bitter denunciations of Putin himself spew forth from the Western corporate media and liberal and conservative capitalist politicians alike. Partially, this is a desperate attempt to undermine a world leader which actually has some level of domestic support. Politicians in the West, who have overseen the decimation of working conditions, ongoing fruitless wars, the collapse of social services, deepening unemployment and so on, have never at any time been so loathed by their electors. They perhaps are bitterly jealous that Putin retains a great deal of public support, and is seen as a “strong leader”.

To be sure, working people cannot give a blanket political endorsement to President Putin, or the Russian state. Yet working people must be aware of the need to directly counter an imperialist demonization campaign, which, along with serious NATO military provocations, has the potential to spark World War. World War, or even a regional war of NATO on Russia’s borders, would be a greater catastrophe for working people than concerns over Putin’s “homophobia” – although this issue does exist.  A litany of Western NGOs condemn the “homophobia” by the Russian state as an effort to undermine or overthrow the Russian state, alongside allegations of corruption, lack of democracy and so on. It’s more than a little humorous to hear Western NGOs condemn Russia for a lack of democracy – when the states which back them fund them to sabotage whatever form of democracy Russia practices.
The Empire

With the world experiencing dangerous times, who or what exactly should Leninists – or working people – regard as the chief adversary? Is it Russia, which has not waged war on any country? Which has, at least for now, saved the world from ISIS?  Is it Russia which has plundered the world with corporate globalisation? Is it Russia which threatens Third World countries with invasion if they do not virtually privatise their entire economies?

Such questions do not require an answer. It should be obvious that the sickness which is infecting the world emanates from the only imperialism which exists, which is led by the US. Working people should be clear also, that the Australian ruling class is part of this Empire, and of course that working people in the US and internationally are allies in the struggle against this Empire. When the Empire attempts, by all manner of subterfuges, to implore us to believe that the real enemy is Russia, we can only laugh. It is extremely dangerous for working people to take on any imperialist propaganda, in any form. TP understands this in relation to China, but drop the ball in the case of Russia.

Working people therefore need to defend Russia against US led imperialism, without at the same time endorsing the politics of the Russian state. The current Russian state is not a consistent ally against imperialism, despite being threatened by it. Nonetheless, Russia’s self-defence against NATO coincides with the interests of working people the world over.  Leninists above all, understand the need to use tactical flexibility without the sacrifice of political positions. Right now, a temporary and conditional alliance of working people with the Russian state is necessary for self-defence, as well as for the struggle for socialism. This is the political basis of the slogan: Hands Off Russia!

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2014/03/05/hillary-clinton-says-putins-action-are-like-what-hitler-did-back-in-the-30s/ (19-11-2016)

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-ernesto/the-irony-of-clintons-com_b_4914972.html (19-11-2016)

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/12/tony-abbott-vladimir-putin-consider-apology-compensation-mh17 (19-11-2016)

[4] http://theduran.com/heres-russian-athletes-unfairly-banned-olympics/ (19-11-2016)

[5] http://www.bbc.com/sport/disability-sport/37002582 (19-11-2016)

[6] http://www.globalresearch.ca/washington-wages-war-on-international-soccer/5452281 (19-11-2016)

[7] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2588490/G8-G7-leaders-kick-Russia-Its-not-big-problem-says-Putins-foreign-minister.html (19-11-2016)

[8] https://www.rt.com/news/crimea-vote-join-russia-210/ (19-11-2016)

[9] https://www.newcoldwar.org/new-nato-threats-in-eastern-europe-as-poland-romania-to-install-u-s-missile-system/ (19-11-2016)

[10] http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-10-26/nato-pushing-biggest-military-build-russias-borders-cold-war (19-11-2016)

[11] http://www.salon.com/2016/10/28/russia-kicked-off-u-n-human-rights-council-but-saudi-arabia-was-re-elected/ (19-11-2016)

[12] http://www.trotskyistplatform.com/as-a-hard-right-racist-bigot-enters-the-white-house-oppose-economic-nationalism-protectionism/ (21-11-2016)

[13] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-germany-steinmeier-idUSKCN0Z50AI (21-11-2016)

[14] http://www.trotskyistplatform.com/as-a-hard-right-racist-bigot-enters-the-white-house-oppose-economic-nationalism-protectionism/ (22-11-2016)

[15] https://www.rt.com/usa/360992-us-warns-russia-violence/ (22-11-2016)

[16] http://www.trotskyistplatform.com/as-a-hard-right-racist-bigot-enters-the-white-house-oppose-economic-nationalism-protectionism/ (23-11-2016)

[17] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/23/trump-dumps-the-tpp-conservatives-rue-strategic-fillip-to-china (23-11-2016)

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