The Red-Brown “zombie plague” PART TWO

This is part two of three of a major article to appear in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Part one is here. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

How did we get here?

For an infection to spread, you need both a germ (a virus, a bacterium, a spore or similar) and a vector (something to carry and transmit the germ). It is my analysis that the agent of the Red-Brown plague is a political weakness on the radical Left which is at least as old as the shock of the September 11 2001 terrorist outrage in New York, and has roots going all the way back to the Russian revolution. I also argue that the vector of that plague – the reason it has suddenly blown up now – has been the weaponization of social media by very well resourced reactionary propaganda organizations, both those belonging to the Russian state and by far-Right Anglo-American moneyed interests. The second story is easier to tell, so we’ll start there.

Vector 1: Information warfare, Russian and otherwise

The story is increasingly coming out of the extremely strong influence on not only the newly ascendant nationalist Right, but of much of the activist Left, of an extremely sophisticated propaganda and messaging operation led on one hand by agencies of the Russian state, and on the other hand by shadowy networks of right-wing billionaires. Recent exposés of Cambridge Analytica, the “big data” firm owned by the Mercer family (who also own the Breitbart network of white nationalist websites), have exposed its influence not only on the US presidential election of 2016, but on the UK “Brexit” referendum of the same year. These were the biggest victories for right-wing nationalism in decades, even if some factions of the Left have attempted to claim them as victories for our side (an analysis I have rejected in previous articles – WiCL, pp. 33-40).

While the Mercers, and other US activist billionaires such as the Kochs, are mainly interested in dismantling liberal or neoliberal institutions which get in the way of their profitability, the Russian state-owned television news channel RTand a whole network of websites and social media “troll farms” are openly or secretly devoted to opposing to neoliberal globalisation and to US/EU interventionist foreign policy. US journalist Casey Michel gives an example of how this works in practice:

Consider one of the flagship magazines of the American left, which, for all its support of gay rights, government transparency, and voting rights as they pertain to U.S. society, has developed a notoriously soft spot for a regime that violently opposes all of the above.

The Nation’s coverage of Russian affairs is a national embarrassment. RT is a website that hosts neo-Nazis as “expert” commentators. Yet that does not stop The Nation from publishing whataboutist articles in defense of the propaganda channel; articles pushing the same argument, with the exact same headlines, as those found in white-nationalist publications.

The Nation’s crop of Russia watchers have lately busied themselves by lending credence to the “autonomy referendums” in eastern Ukraine, thus legitimizing illegal and neo-imperialist land-grabs, or notions that the entire Ukrainian crisis was “instigated by the West’s attempt… to smuggle [Ukraine] into NATO.”

That these views bizarrely mesh with those of Trump and his Breitbart-friendly advisers is perhaps another oddity of an age of ideological psychosis. Stephen Cohen, The Nation’s lead Russia analyst (and husband of the magazine’s editor in chief and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel), has even been endorsed by David Duke and the wife of white-nationalist Richard Spencer, the intellectual godfather of the pro-Trump “alt-right,” as a rare voice of sanity when it comes to U.S.-Russian relations.

At times, the substance and style of what has been dubbed the “alt-left” are indistinguishable from that of its counterpart on the other end of the political spectrum. And Moscow’s info-warriors appear to appreciate the resemblance, as the American arm of Sputnik exhorted supporters of Bernie Sanders to vote for Trump (as did Trump himself, repeatedly).

On Syria in particular, this Russian mediasphere has played the major role in amplifying the most despicable forms of conspiracy theory and victim-blaming about Syria, such as the British blogger Vanessa Beeley. One common misconception, however, is that this is mainly a network of “bots”. Rather, the information warfare is as often or not carried out by real people, such as Ian Shilling or Maram Susli. British journalist Jonathan Freedland bemoans the efficacy of social media in discrediting traditional journalism:

It fits that social media is the weapon of choice. Its algorithms are proven to favour virality over veracity, spreading false stories faster and wider than true ones. A mysterious pro-Assad tweeter, with no other traceable existence online, has nearly as many followers as the BBC’s Middle East editor. Meanwhile, the top story on Google News the morning after the US presidential election hailed Trump as the winner of the popular vote – even though he had lost it by nearly 3m votes. The tribe tells itself what it wants to hear.

French political scientist Anton Mukhamedov adds:

It is worth remembering that at the same time as imprisoning and torturing Russian leftists, the Russian state has been issuing calls for a “multipolar world”, a euphemism for a coalition of traditionalist and deeply reactionary “Eurasianist” powers fighting off what Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian National Bolshevik ideologue with ties to the Kremlin, refers to as “Atlanticism”, hence the support for far-right identitarian parties in Europe, white nationalists in the US, but also those anti-war groups who see collaboration with Russia as key to ensuring global peace. While Putin’s vision seems to be that of hegemonic powers left alone in their own sphere of interest, RT and other state outlets have been advancing the threat of a “new Cold War” to urge the political right and the political left to unite behind Russian power.

Amar Diwarkar suggests in his excellent article “The Permutations of Assadism” that the model for this Russian discourse about Syria is in fact Israeli hasbara (“explaining”) about Palestine:

this technique embodies a public-private partnership which links information warfare with the strategic objectives of the Israeli state. Multifaceted and tailored to the digital age, it is deeply aware that perception shapes reality. While rooted in earlier concepts of agitprop and censorship, hasbara does not look to jam the supply of contradictory information to audiences. Instead, it willingly accepts an open marketplace of opinion. What it seeks to do in this context is to promote selective listening by limiting the receptivity of audiences to information, rather than constricting its flow…

It is unsurprising then that Assadism has successfully incorporated the hasbara playbook into its arsenal. In a tragic twist, many voices that are acquainted with Israeli deflection and denialism on Palestine likewise emit a deafening silence towards the Assad’s counter-revolution against Syrians. Negation is couched in terms of ‘security’ and ‘counterterrorism’, lesser evil and Islamophobic rationalizations, while routinely leading to conspiratorial allegations in desperate attempts to exonerate a bloodstained rump state.

The importance of the growth of Russian personal influence over long-term Left leaders must also be recognized. The Marxist Left was totally marginalized in the West from the collapse of the Warsaw Pact states in the late 1980s until the Iraq War/global financial crisis era, 15-20 years later. At the time, many saw it as positive that the Russian state wished to amplify anti-war voices. But a Russian supply of paid media gigs and being taken seriously has become an addictive drug, which many US and UK Leftists are now “hooked” on. Worse, this addiction has the side-effect that their critiques of US/EU imperialism are now increasingly indistinguishable from those of far-Rightists like Alex Jones, who is also promoted by Russian media. Casey Michel again:

Perhaps the starkest case in point is Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her constituency. In December 2015, the Kremlin feted Stein by inviting her to the gala celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Kremlin-funded propaganda network RT. Over a year later, it remains unclear who paid for Stein’s trip to Moscow and her accommodations there. Her campaign ignored multiple questions on this score. We do know, however, that Stein sat at the same table as both Putin and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump’s soon-to-be national security adviser. She further spoke at an RT-sponsored panel, using her presence to criticize the U.S.’s “disastrous militarism.” Afterward, straddling Moscow’s Red Square, Stein described the panel as “inspiring,” going on to claim that Putin, whom she painted as a political novice, told her he “agree[d]” with her “on many issues.”

Stein presents herself as a champion of the underclass and the environment, and an opponent of the surveillance state and corporate media, and yet she seemed to take pleasure in her marriage of true minds with a kleptocratic intelligence officer who levels forests and arrests or kills critical journalists and invades foreign countries. Their true commonality, of course, is that both Putin and Stein are dogged opponents of U.S. foreign policy.

It is important to understand that neither the Russian state, nor the Mercers or the Kochs, are particularly interested in supporting “fascism” any more than they really want to promote Green politics. They are interested in using sophisticated media strategies to build a populist bloc against liberalism and for the unfettered sovereignty of nation states. Russian media, in particular, encourages “anti-globalization, anti-imperialist” voices on the Left to the extent that they might turn Western audiences against interference with Russian foreign policy.

However, the answer is not a simple as “it was Russia wot did it”. Conspiracy theories about how mass movements and uprisings around the world are “CIA proxy wars” reveal an incorrect and chauvinistic assumption that nothing can happen unless some Great Power or other makes it happens. In this case, it’s important to point out that we wouldn’t have Brexit or President Trump if there weren’t a sizeable mass audience for xenophobic, reactionary ideas. It is the contention of this article that the Left has failed in its historic mission by becoming part of the audience for onesided antineoliberalism which aligns with fascist messaging.

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Alex Reid Ross’s diagram of the interplay between the Russian propaganda apparatus and fascist or Red-Brown groups – from https://hummusforthought.com/2018/03/16/the-multipolar-spin-how-fascists-operationalize-left-wing-resentment/

Vector 2: actual Red-Brown networks

Another part of the puzzle is a real and growing network of, not groups or activists which are influenced by Red-Brown ideology, but self-conscious Red-Brown activists – that is, people who want to create an alliance or fusion between the radical Left and the nationalist/fascist Right. This growing network was exposed in an extremely long, but thorough and eye-opening pseudonymous blog post earlier this year entitled “An Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances”. [ii] The author’s introduction confirms our suspicion that Syria is “Ground Zero” of the outbreak of Red-Brown politics:

This long post started as an investigation about the Left and Syria which I started after I read the Sol Process blog’s publication of three posts concerning shady pro-Assad sources used in leftist circles … and which later expanded into a more extensive investigation as well as an internal leftist critique of the Left’s present crisis from a radical leftist internationalist and anti-fascist perspective.

The article deserves full reading, but a few points are worth excerpting here:

  • It explains the tradition of “Third Position” politics (that is, a position that is anti-capitalist as well as anti-communist)– a fascism which includes socialist-sounding rhetoric and an alliance with Third World anti-colonialist movements such as those of Qadhafi, Robert Mugabe or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Crucially, some of these fascists actually ended up seeing the Soviet Union as the lesser evil – as French fascist intellectual Alain de Benoist said in 1982, “Better to wear the helmet of a Red Army soldier than to live on a diet of hamburgers in Brooklyn”. This should be a sober warning to anyone who thinks Soviet nostalgia is in itself a defence against fascist sympathies.
  • It notes that fascists attempted to take over the West Berlin branch of the Green Party in 1980 – an event with ominous echoes for the current dominance of the Jill Stein / David Cobb tendency in the Green Party USA. Meanwhile, the Greens’ 2008 presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney, is also a long-standing purveyor of “Rothschild/Soros” conspiracy theories which are thinly veiled anti-Semitism.
  • It mentions the long-running Lyndon LaRouche movement, whose acolytes can be seen selling their leaders’ work on the streets of Melbourne. LaRouche began in American Trotskyism, then pulled his cultish following over to an embrace of the far-right; fresh from accusing Barack Obama of being a new Hitler, they now push a pro-Trump, pro-Putin line.
  • It discusses the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), an honest-to-goodness old-school fascist party which is part of Bashar al-Assad’s governing coalition in Syria, and which was recently revealed to be funding prominent left-wing US Democrat Dennis Kucinich.
  • It describes several international “think-tanks”, websites and conferences against neoliberal globalisation which are sponsored and supported by left-wing anti-war socialists, Right-wing and fascist conspiracy theorists, and those who have evolved into a strange blend of the two.
  • It details strong ties between many of these Querfront activists and “Novorossiya”, the separatist states in the east of Ukraine which are supported by Russia. (Jill Stein’s repeated defence of Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine on the grounds that “Ukraine used to be part of Russia” raised eyebrows in the 2016 election).

If you can make it all the way through this extremely long article, you will be left in no doubt that fascism is a chameleon which is able to insinuate its way into socialist, green, anti-colonialist and all other kinds of progressive movement to spread its message of ethnocentrism and authoritarianism – if not exposed for its true nature as soon as possible.

Anton Mukhamedov goes into more detail:

… the threat of red-brown convergence is looming large in the wake of Syria strikes, as the recent anti-war protests have reunited self-described leftists and those individuals whose careers revolve around attacking leftists and minorities.

The former British National Party leader Nick Griffin proclaiming conditional support for Jeremy Corbyn, in case the latter continued to impute Assad with the responsibility for the latest chemical attack in Douma, must be a cause for concern. Instead of taking a look at what in Labour leader’s platform might attract British nationalists, some leftists claimed that Griffin simply “saw the light”.

Even more alarming, the Neo-Nazi blogger Tim Gionet, known as “Baked Alaska”, who previously attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, appeared alongside Los Angeles ANSWER coalition at a march featuring Syrian regime flags. Several Stop the War marches were also inundated with images celebrating Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.

Rather than “seeing the light”, the reactionaries infiltrating left-wing spaces are instead remaining loyal to their positions and attempting to subvert movements deeming themselves progressive in favour of a pseudo anti-imperialist and reactionary approach to geopolitics, which lacks any concern for civilians and promotes, under the guise of secular anti-imperialism, a ruthless and sectarian dictator who has executed thousands and continues to commit crimes against humanity….

A month ago, a piece published by the Southern Poverty Law Center depicted a political scene ripe for barely hidden collaborations between the far right and a fraction of the Western left, such as the American ANSWER coalition or Party for Socialism and Liberation embracing similar foreign policy talking points as white nationalists. The author described a surprising connection over Syria, mediated by movements such as the Hands Off Syria coalition and think-tanks (inspired by a Russian fascist ideology going by the name of “Eurasianism”), all sharing the same affinity for Russian military intervention in Syria. Soon enough, the piece—written by Portland State University lecturer and fascism expert Alexander Reid Ross—was retracted due to a litigation threat issued by one of the actors mentioned in the article [Max Blumenthal – DL].

Some other prominent Western voices calling for a Querfront between the radical Left and the Trumpist/nationalist Right against neoliberal globalism include Cassandra Fairbanks, a social media anti-police activist who publicly switched allegiance from Bernie Sanders to Trump. Australian blogger Caitlin Johnstone has become something of a celebrity for her calls for the Left to collaborate with the Trumpist right against “the establishment” (i.e. neoliberal globalism):

“We lefties need to attack the establishment at every turn and circulate awareness of what’s really happening in the world, and when this means collaborating with the right wing, we should do it … Cernovich and I probably disagree on more things than we agree on ideologically, but where we do agree it’s absolutely stupid for us not to work together” (quoted here)

Michael Cernovich, for those who don’t know, is an alt-right blogger and one of the main promoters of the “Pizzagate” hoax, a baseless conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking Democrats being part of a child-trafficking ring. Johnstone’s other claim to fame has been repeated articles claiming that the Trump-Russia collusion enquiry is an entirely bogus Clintonist scam. Johnstone now has the claim to fame of having been recommended by none other than British musician Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd. The latter, a long-standing leftist and pro-Palestine activist, has recently been repeating Syrian chemical warfare denial and Russian-sourced conspiracy theory live on stage (something which is probably not unrelated, again, to the platform he has been given for his political views by the RTnetwork).

Alexandr Dugin was briefly mentioned above, but American geopolitical analyst Eric Draitser explains his central role in modern Red Brown politics in another excellent article which deserves quoting at length:

Dugin is widely regarded as very influential in Russian policy circles – his Foundations of Geopolitics remains a required text for Russian military officers ….

One of Dugin’s most important works is The Fourth Political Theory (4PT), a pseudo-intellectual manifesto of fascist politics that eschews 20th Century political labels in favor of a “new synthesis” for a new century…. The essence of 4PT is just a repackaged variant of third positionism from an openly fascist perspective. It calls for direct alignment and alliance of forces on the far left and far right to attack the center. Even the homepage for the book states “Beyond left and right but against the center.” Sound familiar?

…his 21st Century 4PT politics is rooted in the idea of a necessary collaboration between a bygone left (communists, socialists, etc.) and a bygone right (fascists). Put another way, Dugin here is rebranding fascism as something distinctly new, separated from the tarnished historical legacy of Nazism and Italian fascism, something most necessary in our “post-modern” world. Of course, it should be noted that when Dugin says “post-modern” he means multiculturalism, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, and generally everything that has become fundamental to the Left over the last 50 years.

… this is precisely the Duginist strategy, to penetrate the left via anti-imperialism and marry it to the far right, with the two united in a common pro-Russian outlook. That’s Dugin’s agenda, and people like [Caitlin] Johnstone become very useful to that end. Just looking at the number of alleged progressives who rightly reject US corporate media narratives unless they’re backed by hard evidence, while at the same time believing reports from Russian media and Kremlin press releases as holy writ tells me that that strategy is somewhat effective.

Still to come: Germs of the Red-Brown Virus; What is to be done?


[ii]   An excellent news source on Red-Brown and Querfront activities was the Ukraine-based blog Reft or Light (http://reftlight.euromaidanpress.com/), which reprinted some of Fightback’s previous articles on this theme. Sadly, it does not seem to be updated any more.
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