Really interesting essay here, applying and critiquing horseshoe theory in the context of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Some excerpts:
Responses to the invasion of Ukraine have been educational. Few western commentators are stupid enough to be explicitly pro-Putin but a significant number, including Greenwald and Carlson, are anti-anti-Putin. You can identify them by their obsession with Nato, “legitimate security concerns”, “poking the Russian bear”, the Azov battalion, and hypothetical biological warfare laboratories, all of which are popular Kremlin talking points. Their arguments usually begin with some throat-clearing variation on: “The invasion of Ukraine is abhorrent but…”
Some of them were once associated with the Left but now occupy a more chaotic space: former Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, former Labour MP George Galloway, former comedian Russell Brand and former Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi. (This is the world of the former.) Some, like Carlson, JD Vance, Nigel Farage and Steve Bannon, are clearly on the Right, if not the far-Right.
Some appear to be nothing more than contrarian narcissists who trade as “free-thinkers”. Others, who can be found in varying proportions in organisations such as the Stop the War Coalition, Democratic Socialists of America and Young Labour, come to anti-anti-Putinism via the far-Left. It will not surprise you to learn that many of the above made regular appearances on the now-banned Russian television channel RT.
In Britain, Left-wing writers such as Paul Mason, George Monbiot and Daniel Randall have long been fierce critics of campism. In recent weeks, Leftists from Ukraine and Syria have denounced it, too, while the Polish group Left Together has withdrawn from Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 and the dubiously named Progressive International for their both-sides framing of the invasion. “You, decades after the Eastern European version of communism collapsed and Russia turned into a turbocapitalist, authoritarian regime, are still claiming that the man in charge of it is some kind of ‘anti-imperialist’ hero, despite him doing pretty much all he can to assure his stated aim of rebuilding the Russian empire and beyond,” wrote Zosia Brom in a furious piece called “Fuck leftist westplaining”. They have had enough of this nonsense, and who can blame them?
The British-Syrian writer Leila Al-Shami calls this “the anti-imperialism of idiots”: “This pro-fascist Left seems blind to any form of imperialism that is non-western in origin. It combines identity politics with egoism. Everything that happens is viewed through the prism of what it means for westerners — only white men have the power to make history.” Russia’s unprovoked war of imperialist aggression is as inconvenient to campists as China’s oppression of the Uyghurs. Either they must find a way to blame America after all or they must downplay the issue. Left-wing support for corrupt authoritarians such as Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega is disappointing enough, but sympathy with Vladimir Putin, Bashir al-Assad and Xi Jinping is symptomatic of a morally broken worldview.
At the risk of sounding like Walter in The Big Lebowski — “Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos” — old-fashioned Stalinism had a certain logic. The USSR was for a long time the world’s only socialist country, and many people believed that if socialism failed there, it would fail completely. So they shut their eyes and ears to the show trials, the purges, the gulags, the Holodomor and so on, until the denial became intolerable. Malcolm Muggeridge compared the British human-rights activists who whitewashed Stalin’s Russia to “vegetarians undertaking a pious pilgrimage to a slaughter-house because it displayed a notice recommending nut cutlets”.
Campists don’t even need the advertisement for nut cutlets, because they do not know what they stand for, only what they oppose. This is how you end up making excuses for dictators who bomb hospitals while demonising the people who pull the bodies from the rubble as terrorists and/or CIA assets. This is how people who define themselves by their opposition to the US invasion of Iraq find themselves claiming that Russia was provoked into invading Ukraine. It is obscene.
One of the very rare silver linings of Putin’s Ukraine war crimes is that they have helped clarify who the real enemies of liberal democracy, social democracy, and democratic socialism are. To call any of these people leftists is a basic category mistake.
It’s now more evident than ever before that the tankies didn’t like communism so much as they loved tanks.