Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Battalions Bending Government Policy to their Will

In Ukraine an alliance of far-right parties has used their private armies to coerce the government into adopting their blockade of separatist-held territory as official state policy. The threat of force has allowed them to gain influence despite low electoral support, imposing a policy which presents serious risks for the Ukrainian economy.

The release of a USD$1 billion tranche of aid by the IMF was delayed from March 19 to April 3 in order to analyse the effects of the blockade. Despite a go-ahead by the IMF, a Reuters poll of analysts predicts Ukraine’s industrial output growth to slow from 2016’s 2.8% to 1.8% in 2017. Industry accounts for about a third of Ukraine’s GDP. In February, the blockade caused output to fall by 4.6% after having grown 5.8% in January. Overall economic growth should fall to 2% from a previously predicted 2.5%. Ukraine’s balance of trade is expected to fall by USD$ 2 billion. The government has yet to lift the state of emergency declared on February 15 over the loss of coal supplies from the separatist-held territories to the nation’s power stations.

While the world remains fixated on accusations  of Russia’s meddling abroad, far-right neo-Nazi groups with their own private armies have broken the state’s monopoly on violence and blackmailed it to follow their agenda. Their growing power threatens to sideline the electoral process and establish far right rule by dictat, undermining the pro-Western reforms sought by the Maidan revolution and posing serious danger to ethnic minorities in Ukraine.

According to Professor Ivan Katchanovski at the University of Ottawa, “The government cannot use force against the far right. The far right in in alliance with oligarchic Maidan parties had a crucial role in the violent overthrow of Yanukovych. My study found that the special armed Maidan companies were involved in the Maidan massacre of the police and the protesters. Now the far right has ability to overthrow the Maidan government.”

Professor Katchanovski is the author of a study on the shootings of protesters on February 20th, 2014 during Kiev’s Maidan protests. Widely blamed on the police, the shootings led to the immediate overthrow of President Yanukovich, abandoning a recently negotiated settlement between Yanukovich and the protesters for early elections and reduced presidential power. Katchanovski’s study found that the protesters were shot from the rear, from buildings controlled by activists from the Right Sector and Svoboda, two far-right parties involved in the subsequent overthrow. Katchanovski’s findings are gaining increasing credence in the ongoing trial of police officers for the shootings, due to reconvene April 18th. The Right Sector has repeatedly disrupted the trial.

Right Sector, Svoboda, and a third party, the Azov National Corps, which was formed shortly after the overthrow of Yanukovich, each control their own volunteer battalions. More highly motivated and better equipped than the regular military, these have formed Ukraine’s spearhead in the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the Donbass region. In January these battalions, their veterans and volunteers imposed a blockade on the separatist-held territory, preventing coal and steel from reaching power stations and factories in the rest of Ukraine. Until that point, Ukraine had benefited from trade and taxation from heavy industry in the separatist-held territory, little impeded by the conflict. On March 1 the separatists began nationalizing the heavy industry under their control after Kiev failed to respond to the separatists’ ultimatum to dismantle the blockade by that date. Most of the nationalized factories belonged to Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who has lost an estimated USD$1 billion in assets in the process. Unwilling to take on the volunteer battalions with the demoralized national army, Poroshenko adopted the blockade as state policy on March 17.

The far right parties involved in the blockade trace their roots back to the early days of Ukraine’s independence. The Svoboda party was founded in 1991 as the Social-National Party of Ukraine by current Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Andrii Parubiy and Oleh Tyahnybok, ranked by the Simon Wiesenthal Center as one of the world’s top anti-Semites. In 2004 they changed their name and abandoned their Nazi SS wolfsangel logo in order to appeal to a broader audience. Yet as recently as January, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has condemned Svoboda’s participation in an antisemitic torchlight march.

Former close associate of the Social-National Party Andrii Biletsky carried on the unambiguous terminolgy and SS wolfsangel symbolism as leader of the Social-National Assembly. In the years leading up to the Maidan protests, Biletsky built ties with the Governor of Kharkiv Region, Arsen Avakov through far-right football fan groups, used during the Maidan protests to subdue local Russia-sympathizers. Also during the protests, the Right Sector were formed out of members of these and other far-right organizations. In the wake of the Overthrow of Yanukovych, Biletsky formed the Azov Battalion from remaining members of the Social-National Assembly to fight the separatists. The battalion received support from Avakov who was appointed Minister of the Interior, and remains in office to this day. Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Yaaakev Bleich has condemned Avakov’s appointment of “neo-Nazi” Azov Battalion deputy commander Vadim Troyan as Kiev police chief. Troyan was removed and made Deputy Interior Minister. Azov leader Biletsky carries the nickname “white chief,” and promotes a medieval prince Svyatoslav, conqueror of the Jewish Khazar Empire, as Ukraine’s national hero. In opposing funding for training the Azov Battalion in June 2015, US Congressman John “Conyers called representatives of Azov “repulsive neo-Nazis,” stressing that they are described this way by a number of American and international media: Foreign Policy MagazineReutersThe TelegraphThe Washington Post” Euromaidan Press reported.

Svoboda, Right Sector and the Azov National Corps signed a joint manifesto on March 16. Artem Skoropadsky, speaking in broken English on behalf of the alliance, noted that the allied parties refuse to make any compromise with the separatists and demand Donbass and Crimea be reunited with Ukraine unconditionally. They believe in a military solution rather than negotiations. The alliance doesn’t support President Poroshenko, Skoropadsky says, “because he is a Liberal, and we are for a Social-National Ukraine.” But when asked if they plan to get rid of Poroshenko, Skoropadsky reiterated Ukraine’s election cycle. The manifesto also calls for a Union of East European states separate from the EU and Ukraine to open a nuclear weapons program. Skoropadsky claims the alliance has no major financial backers, garnering mainly grassroots support.

Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center – Israel office and Eastern European Affairs offers the following statement:

“Simon Wiesenthal Center has consistently spoken out about the dangers posed to Ukrainian democracy and the well-being of the minorities in the country posed by right-wing extremists such as Svoboda, Right Sector and the Azov Brigade. These groups, whose fascist ideology is reminiscent of regimes which collaborated with the Nazis and which is racist, xenophobic and oblivious to minority rights have in the past threatened the government and continue to wield undue power and influence in Ukraine politics, which they did not achieve legitimately in democratic elections, where they have consistently failed to garner significant public support. We urge the government to refrain from adopting the policies of such groups and making all the necessary efforts to safeguard democracy and equal rights for all residents of Ukraine.”

With this far right alliance already too powerful for the government to challenge, unless something is done soon, Ukraine’s revolution of dignity is set to take on a very ominous overtone.

 

Dmowski’s prophetic diagnosis of Ukrainian Independence, 1931

Roman Dmowski from Świat powojenny i Polska/The Postwar World and Poland, 1931 translated by Alex Foster:
There is no human force capable of preventing Ukraine, separated from Russia and transformed into an independent state, from becoming a crowd of conmen from all over the world, who have been chafing in their own countries; capitalists and those seeking capital, organizers of industry, technicians and traders, speculators and schemers, thugs and organizers of any kind of prostitution: Germans, Frenchmen, Belgians, Italians, Englishmen and Americans would rush [into Ukraine] with the help of locals or nearby Russians, Poles, Armenians, Greeks… A peculiar League of Nations would gather here…
These elements, with the participation of smarter, more skilled in business Ukrainians would produce the guiding layer, the elite of the country. But it would be a special elite, probably because no country could boast such a rich collection of international scoundrels.
Ukraine would become a thorn in the flesh of Europe; people dreaming of cultural production, of a strong and healthy Ukrainian nation, maturing in their own country, would be convinced that rather than their own country, they have an international company, and instead of healthy development, rapid progress of decay and rot.
Whosoever thought that the geographic location of Ukraine and its area, that the state in which the Ukrainian element finds itself, with its spiritual and material resources, and finally, that the role which the Ukrainian question has in today’s economic and political position of the world could be otherwise – he does not have an ounce of imagination.
The Ukrainian question has various advocates, both in Ukraine itself and abroad. Among the latter especially, there are many who know very well what they are doing. There are those, however, who would solve this issue by separating Ukraine from Russia, which they present as very idyllic. Those who are so naïve would do well to keep their hands away from her.

International Law of the Russia/Ukraine Dispute: a short summary

Here’s a summary of intl law related to Russia’s involvement with Ukraine. in 2008 the Intl Criminal Court (ICJ) decided that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was legal, though it didn’t rule on the actual act of secession or the recognition by other countries of Kosovo. It implied that separatists are not obliged to respect the territorial integrity of the state, only other states are thusly obliged under intl law. The declaration is legal, even when a Security Council Resolution on interim administration and settlement process is in effect. The signatories of Kosovo’s declaration didn’t act as the same Kosovar representatives subject to the SC resolution, but did act in an interstitial moment between subjectivity to it and realisation of statehood. This precedent dissuades Ukraine from taking Russia to the ICJ over Crimea.
 
Ukraine has taken Russia to the ICJ under the Intl Conv. for the Suppression of Financing Terrorism and Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), for Donbass and Crimea respectively. Ukraine claims the rebels’ “indiscriminate shelling” is terrorism, as is MH17. They claim Russia is pursuing a policy of “erasure” of Ukrainian and Tatar culture in Crimea, limiting media and language education, banning the Mejlis and failing to investigate missing activist cases. The Georgia-Russia ICJ case on CERD is relevant to this. Georgia charged Russia with ethnic cleansing but the ICJ threw that case out out as no attempt to negotiate or consult the CERD committee had been made prior to applying to the court. Ukraine hasn’t appealed to the CERD committee either.
 
Ukraine’s case appears based more on hysterical innuendo than fact. For Crimea, Russia has the Dec. 2016 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report, CERD committee review, and ECHR coverage on its side, none of which raise issues covered by CERD. In the terrorism case, it has OSCE reports. No state or intl organization has referred to rebel acts as terrorism, even MH17. OSCE reports show more victims of Ukraine’s indiscriminate shelling than of the rebels’. The Mejlis has explicitly threatened and acted to cause humanitarian catastrophe in Crimea, eg. by participating in bombing the superconductor towers serving it.
 
There are a lot of other technical details to the case, but in neither the Donbass nor Crimea has Ukraine the evidence and confidence to raise the issue of violation of territorial integrity or right to self determination before the ICJ. To its demerit, Ukraine insists that a BBC report showing tanks on the site of a rebel shelling not be officially included in the case as it exposes their deceptive tactics before the court. They also bizarrely claim that the rebel republics are not signatories of the Minsk II Accords, and that Ukraine never agreed to amnesty, which is I think article 5 of those accords. I wouldn’t bet money on Ukraine here.
 

The Poverty of Post-Cold War Philosophy

MARX said many things, including “[…] I’m not a Marxist.” But my favourite thing he said was “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living.” Say what you like about him and his other theories, I like this quote. It’s contains two points. The second is interesting, but the first is more practical.
What if the values, ideals and principles a society can follow are fundamentally constrained by a complex matrix of circumstance over which it has little or no control? That is, in any context, our agency is limited in the aims to which it can realistically pursue are limited, pursuing other aims, or pursuing these achievable aims by the wrong methods will lead to unexpected, undesired, harmful or even catastrophic results.
Therefore, what if pursing values, ideals or principles however noble but in the wrong context or without due diligence is incredibly dangerous? Our religious heritage still seems to shape the way the theoretical foundation of our secular society is framed. This heritage taught us to hold on to our ideals, define ourselves by them, spread them and act on them. But it also taught us to maintain awe for a higher power and to be mindful of human fallibility. This seems to have fallen out of fashion. Until recently at least we have rested on the laurels of Western Liberalism’s triumph over its 20th century ideological rivals, taking for granted that our society rests on a solid foundation of proven principles and institutions which provide us with stability and prosperity. We also put our faith in our own rational and technological ability to solve practically any problem.
But wealth disparity has been growing since the financial crisis, partly caused by laissez-faire ‘neoliberal’ economic policies. The narrative is similar to that leading up to the Great Depression of the early 20th century and the Long Depression of the late 19th century, both of which were followed by major war. These wars, their preceding economic crises, and genocidal nationalism surrounding them, deeply haunted the great statesmen of the age, who, with some inter-war hiccoughs of ill-advised triumphalism or lapses in realism, finally worked to build a post-war order of peace and stability with a relatively prudent and humble consideration of the constraints they faced.
The higher levels of power and geopolitics are Machiavellian to the marrow. A state claiming that they just want to teach the world to sing, there’s no such thing as the classic security dilemma- a potential adversary should accept their stated goals and not see ostensibly defensive built up as a possible cover for offensive build up, is simply intellectually insulting. Meanwhile, at the domestic level, proclaiming a progressive stance on identity politics while shrewdly undermining any organized opposition to wealth concentration is not only abusive, but inviting a return to the cycle of crisis and war mentioned above. In the post-Cold War period, our statesmen and policy-makers seem to be complacent and triumphalist, self-righteously dismissing the possibility of internal systemic threats to our stability and prosperity, leading to western economies built on trillions in personal and national debt, and crises of faith- Brexit, Trump, and so on. Meanwhile, self-righteous, triumphalist geopolitical maneuvers in various countries from Iraq to Libya to Ukraine have at least partly backfired, undermining the narrative of the inevitable ascendancy of liberal democracy.
What if there were specific circumstances which allowed the rise of liberal democracy, not just the development of better and better liberal progressive principles and institutions? What if these specific circumstances are falling away one by one? First the incredible wealth and technological advantage the western countries enjoyed due to colonial exploitation (and its post-colonial legacy) and the discovery of the new world. Aren’t these advantages waning vis a vis various non-western countries? What if having a huge, temperate, virgin, resource-rich continental nation with impeccable geographical security to champion liberal democracy had as much an effect on liberalism’s success as the actual merits of it itself? What if both the demands of domestic labour movements and the competition with a competing ‘communist’ political economic order (related to one another, but not in straightforward ways) were key to liberalism’s successful development? What does it mean that both are now gone? What if the growth of liberalism was fueled with easily accessible energy resources, not to mention the petrodollar system, both of which may be ending? What if certain illusions were only sustainable while some of these largely economic conditions were in place, illusions about the potency of ideals, theories and rationality over economics and human nature, about the fundamental  soundness of our institutions, and about our ability to remake the world around us with the desired results?
Put simply, what if we need to be guided less by what should be, what would be best or ideal, and more by what we can do within the circumstances we find ourselves, materially, socially, and as limited, at best semi-rational creatures with murky drives and motivations? What if a mania for liberty however noble is distracting us from more fundamental imperatives? Maybe living in this or that western liberal state in this or that post-war decade was the greatest privilege awarded in human history, that doesn’t mean that this order is sustainable in changing conditions or that the spread of this order to new states with differing and dynamic conditions is possible. The USA might come out of four or eight years with a wild card president and maintain dominance but such a fluke election result could be a geopolitical existential threat for even the most powerful old world states, so many of them maintain a form of soft authoritarianism. Instead of pursuing a dogmatic normative emancipatory ideal in every and all circumstances, I’d advocate pragmatism. First, we should spend a lot more time getting to know ourselves psychologically and then nurturing our close, vital relationships, taking care of those dearest to us. When these spheres of our experience are in good condition, we can contribute positively in broader spheres. Our rationality, stream of consciousness or precious universal ideals aren’t who we are, who we are is deep inside the murky and frighting depths of our psyche and reflected in how we interact, particularly with those closest to us. I think this basic personal reorientation would lead us to realize that we don’t have much control over who we are, we don’t have needs and desires, they have us. This reorientation would lead to a radically different approach to society and politics, one shaped by the realization that we have agency, we can achieve security, dignity, belonging, love and self-realization if we are mindful of the constraints of the situation we are thrown into.

When Worlds Collide

There is no escaping that we interpret the world through a narrative framework which has deep roots in human nature. We see the same characters and plots across time and cultural boundaries. The details in these narratives are fleshed out to fit prevailing conditions by elites who offer us meaning and belonging through narrative in exchange for loyalty.

Each grand narrative, whether religion, Nationalism, Liberalism, Confucianism or Marxism-Leninism believes itself to hold a monopoly on truth, at least that truth within its scope. All tend towards reductionism,  dichotomization and projection of its flaws, that is, scapegoating, onto some ‘othered’ group. There is also a general tendency to emphasize information which re-enforces a narrative and ignore any which undermines it. These tendencies are generalized, all are guilty, while all claim unique innocence.

Interacting across boundaries between conflicting narratives is one of the greatest challenges we face. Real maturity is the ability to approach someone with whom you don’t agree, one who follows a narrative different to yours, and try to see things from their point of view. Few can do this. People often simply virtue signal, exchange comforting confirmation bias, and tell themselves that this is open, intelligent discussion. If they find someone who appears to belong to the same narrative-community as they do, but fails to reciprocate the virtue signalling, they quickly move to thought policing, selecting this or that truth deemed unassailable within their narrative and demand confirmation of it. If instead they receive a contrary interpretation stemming from an alien narrative, the discussion generally breaks down in a failure of ‘cultural’ translation, unless either or both of the participants are skilled cultural mediators. The non-conformist will be deemed stupid, ignorant or evil.

An extreme minority of individuals for some reason or another eschew acceptance of any standardized narrative, painfully costing them the basic human need of belonging. Rather than adopting virtues based on their efficacy for reciprocal virtue signalling, that is the ritual of kinship confirmation, they choose values by some non-standard criteria. This may be unsuccessful, thereby leading to greater psychological pain in the form of repetitive cognitive dissonance, in which case the individual will at best adjust his criteria, or give in and find an amenable narrative-community to join. Others may find that their independently chosen value criteria and independently constructed narrative results in less cognitive dissonance than any available narrative-community. In this case, they will likely maintain it, particularly if they can find other independent-minded individuals with whom to relate to some degree and thereby compensate for the lack of community belonging. Such individuals may emphasize value criteria of inquiry or critique over universal moral value criteria or ontological axioms, for example who must have which human rights or whether there is a God.

Attempts to share facets of their relatively cognitive-dissonance-immune narrative with conformists will necessarily meet with little success. These will, rather, lead to animosity, as the masses are too emotionally and egoistically invested in belonging, and belonging to that narrative-community which they trust holds a monopoly on truth. Rarely will anyone other than other non-conformists or those nurturing the seeds of doubt, those for some reason stricken by cognitive dissonance, but lacking the inkling of any more effective alternative narrative, benefit from these attempts at sharing.

The world is full of a variety of personality types, interpreted via the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, the Five Factor Model or others. Besides, altogether a large segment of humanity is subject to psychological or neurological disorders ranging from sociopathy to autism. It takes all types to make a world. There will always be conformists, non-conformists and a variety of narrative-communities- they go extinct as quickly as they are born. Not all narratives are equal, they answer questions of differing times and contexts, there can be no definitive narrative. Jordan Peterson notes that all narrative-communities occupy a position somewhere on a spectrum between totalitarianism and nihilism- too much conviction and too little. As is always the way, either extreme can be fatal. Narratives could also be placed on a scale of maturity. They all feature a mythical or -semi-mythical founding figure who represented some pure and unattainable state of virtue, of moral purity, or dedication to the cause. Moses, Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, Confucius, America’s founding fathers, or any national hero-poet. However, the narrative only becomes a narrative when it is adapted or codified to become something workable in everyday human society, as St. Paul did with Christianity, Dong Zhongshu did with Confucianism, or Lenin did in a, shall we say, regrettable way with Marx. Besides likely being born out of a previous narrative, Buddhism from Vedantic philosophy, Christianity from Judaeism, Marxism from Liberalism, and so on, each narrative is inevitably subject also to syncretism- the absorption of aspects from pre-existing narratives. Christianity famously incorporates platonic concepts and aspects from various mythological traditions. Marxism-Leninism employed nationalist policies against purist Marxist dogma, and Confucianism adopted folk metaphysical ideas to compete with Buddhism, which itself adopted Daoist ideas in the formation of Zen. Another inevitable process is the division into sub-narratives. This is analogous to the division of language into dialects. The parallel with the division of dialects into ideolects, personal variations on a sub-narrative, is also useful. Christianity has its denominations, Marxism-Leninism has its Stalinists, Trotskyists, Maoists, etc, while nationalists for example can disagree on where a nation should begin and end- for example, is Moldova a proud independent nation or an estranged part of Romania? Each individual will then interpret these in at least marginally unique ways. Perhaps most importantly, each narrative necessarily undergoes revision and adaption as real social or environmental conditions force it to revise itself immediately upon implementation. But those conditions constantly change forcing it to constantly adapt. Human nature doesn’t change, allowing myths older than time to still resonate today, but the relative needs for emphasis and de-emphasis of narrative aspects on the part of both elites and the masses, which themselves can change wildly in character, fluctuates over time.

Some narratives have undergone millennia of syncretism, diversification, and adaption from often very rocky and uncertain beginnings. It may be as much chance as virtuosity that selects those that are re-enforced into (perhaps seemingly) timeless relevance by these processes. The longevity o Christianity is still dwarfed by that shamanistic practice or Pharonic beliefs. It is in retreat in some regions before liberalism’s ideals of capital accumulation, progress, secular humanism, scientism and rationalism, a combination which has hardly had time to mature and indicate any level of sustainability as a narrative cocktail.

Narrative-communities are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We belong to different overlapping communities, each comes with a narrative that we identify with. Sometimes narrative communities are in direct competition and therefore they proscribe contemporaneous belonging in one another, sometimes not. Abrahamaic religions are an obvious example, but a nationalism may also seriously frown on belonging  to a religion other than the main nationally-tied one. In China there was a saying that one is Confucian in the office, Daoist in retirement and Buddhist on the deathbed. A Confucian could have been born a ‘barbarian,’ in Chinese parlance, but no barbarian advocating sovereignty for their people from the emperor could be Confucian. Bolshevist proscription of religion is a lot more nuanced and fluid than often decried. One would have been worse off as a prosperous peasant, property owner, or anti-communist nationalist. Today, some fanatically atheist liberals are more critical of the religious than pre-1917 Marxists were. The Nazi approach to the Catholic church differed little from the Bolshevik one.

The three Modern Western socio-political narratives of Fascism, Liberalism and Marxism-Leninism ape Monotheism in many ways. For example, they approach one another in much the same way as the three Abrahamaic religions approach one another- in zero-sum belligerence. This is also true within Liberalism, regarding its left-right divide, which, while a reductionist dichotomization, is a self-fulfilling fantasy. Both the intra-liberal conservatives and ‘progressive-liberals’ accept the results of the Liberal American or French revolutions, but hold discreet narratives over the legacy of those revolutions, mischaracterize the (heterogeneous) opposing side and paint them as an invasive threat to that legacy- some interpretation of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Throughout the twentieth century, the global left, which prior to 1917 had stood simply for direct-democratic worker ownership and control of the workplace (that is, of wealth creation), had been co-opted, bought out and corrupted by the Soviet State, and bandied about a fantastical image of it. Though in no way representing that original ksocialist aim, the USSR claimed to be socialist to lend itself the legitimacy that the original socialist idea had held, while the Liberal western elites were eager to de-legitimize domestic socialists by association with the undemocratic USSR, although many or most western leftists were by then intra-liberal social democrats, not Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, the left characterized the right as all imperialists, racists, reactionaries, fascists and manipulative exploiters. Each had their own mutually incompatible narrative and projected the flaws of the Liberal order squarely onto the other, nurturing false narratives of the development of western liberalism that increased the likelihood of poor policy and eventual cognitive dissonance while re-enforcing polarized, communitarian boundaries. A more defensible narrative is that the liberal order is a product of the delicate balance of those ‘right-wingers’ who advocate private property rights and some semblance of a free market on the one hand, and the radical left, without whom we wouldn’t have universal suffrage, healthcare, and the most basic labour and womens’ rights which prevent most from living in an early-Liberal Dickensian dystopia.

The 2016 US presidental election demonstrates this clearly. Sanders, though barely a social democrat, was considered too ‘socialist.’ The candidate of the status quo, Clinton, despite massive ethical and legal issues, was considered the progressive choice by many, simply because she was a woman who wasn’t Trump. Opportunistic campaign media had painted Trump racist and even fascist by twisting his words and putting some in his mouth, but this was accepted by many who, certain they belonged to the narrative-community with the monopoly on truth, accepted at face value the virtue-signalling myth that their media was ‘free and fair.’ Many Trump supporters, meanwhile, decried the ‘left’ as full of fanatical ‘Cultural Marxists’ obsessed with political correctness and identity politics  which had invaded and corrupted the liberal order. However, Marx and his followers were concerned strictly with economic exploitation and were averse to anything like identity politics or political correctness, in fact viciously attacking moralizing on such issues from the likes of Proudhon. The ethos of identity politics or political correctness could just as easily be traced to the emancipatory zeal of the liberal American and French revolutions. Many were shocked when Clinton’s campaign of virtue signalling identity politics, incessant scapegoating the outsider in the form of Trump and Russia, and economic status quo lost the electorally crucial rust belt states to Trump’s message of change and jobs. The narrative which had become establishment disregarded the decline in economic outlook of millions of working people and over-estimated their eagerness to signal belonging to a narrative community whose emphasis on identity politics was only convincing if there were not more fundamental, pressing issues like the economic insecurity of millions of working families.

Since the end of the Cold War Liberals on both sides of the divide have believed in Fukuyama’s ‘end of history,’ re-enforcing their claim to a monopoly on truth. Recently, the rise of right-wing populist leaders across the west has started challenged this. In times when narratives start to break down, it can be helpful to remember that you are something deeper and more fundamental than any narrative-community in which you find identity. Human beings have evolved enough cognitive abilities to find food and reproduce, not enough to grasp objective absolute truth. We are stuck in our reductionistic, dichotomizing, comforting narratives. As soon as we free ourselves from one, we find ourselves in another. Resisting this is psychologically harmful. Granted, we can discover mathematical facts from the cosmic to the subatomic level, but the closer matters come to those of human identity and vested emotion and ego the less we can deny this dynamic. What can we do but try not to take things for granted, consider the possibility we may not have a monopoly on truth, and, when confronted with others who do not conform to our narrative, genuinely try to see things from their point of view, however distasteful it may seem at first.

Western Hubris, Dellusion and Mass Discontent lead toward Total War

Two core western liberal countries, the UK and USA, are experiencing electoral events which problematize the values that those electoral processes are ostensibly based on. Liberalism is meant to uphold electoral democracy, plurality, and universal values like tolerance and equality.

However, in the 2016 US presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum, very large segments of society are expressing non-liberal inclinations via the liberal democratic institutions. In the US, a large enough segment of the Democratic party rank and file supported Sanders at the national congress to cast serious concerns of fraud over H. R. Clinton’s selection. Support for Sanders is an expression of progressive leftist discontent with the status quo. On its own, mass support for Sanders would be notable, but it pales in comparison to the rise of populist Trump and the discontent with the status-quo which this represents. This discontent resembles that which led to the vote for Brexit. Mass discontent with the status-quo an resultant support for Trump and Bernie in the US reflects support for Brexit and Corbyn in Britain, Corbyn’s left-of-the-Overton-window policies making him a pariah even for ‘liberal progressives.’

But why is this trend erupting now not only simultaneously in the USA and UK, but with populist parallels in Continental Europe from Poland to Turkey? Both H. R. Clinton and the Brexit stay campaign uncharismatically advocating the status quo, and characterized any opponent as an ignorant, uneducated bigots. It’s easy to dismiss the discontents this way. Too easy. Especially for privileged , educated people who fail to even try to understand that discontent, probably because it problematizes their emotionally-charged identification as carriers of “the most highly evolved social order.”

This reminds me of the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. mobs burnt cars and broke into shops to steal iPhones. Vancouverites where scandalized and rationalized this away saying it was all people from redneck Abbotsford and the like, barbarian outsiders, this wasn’t who we are, we’re civil and polite. Such rationalization protected their self righteous identity. Vancouver is often listed as the best or one of the best cities in the world to live in. It’s surrounded by natural beauty and unrivaled recreational opportunities. The motto of the province, probably thought up by real estate developers, is “the best place on earth.” Vancouver is also extremely expensive. This idea that they’re living the dream, this lotus eating lifestyle day in and day out shakes its ass in the face of many who simply can’t reach it across a mountain of bills and oligopolistic price fixing. It’s one thing to be struggling to get by, its another to do so in a playground of the rich and famous being constantly told you’re living the dream.

So this is the problem in the US and UK. People are being told things are great but very many, maybe a majority, just not feeling it. They don’t have an alternative narrative to articulate this, real leftism, which addresses systemic economic disadvantage, having been swept away, leaving only harmless centrist identity politics to masquerade as progressive. So they express their discontent crudely in tribal populist terms, allowing the relatively privileged, middle class and the liberal intellectual and media elite, in both the US and UK to belittle and discredit them. Their discontent is illegitimate, they simply don’t understand how wonderful the status-quo is. The few who are reasonably well placed and have hope for advancement under the current liberal dominance hierarchy, the educated and well-off, can’t bear the thought that this order of things may be systemically flawed, relying on false narratives of itself and unsustainable sovereign and personal debt levels in the economy. Incapable of admitting to themselves that there are flaws in the social order that need addressing, that the discontent could be legitimate and requires attention, the middle class and intellectual elite self-righteously dismiss the discontent as ignorant, increasing resentment and facilitating the leave vote and the rise of Trump. Deplorables. Liberalism is not a magic bean or a foundation of stone on which stable progress is guaranteed.

Victory in a battle of Discrete Ideologies?

Liberalism “won” the battle of ideologies because the Soviet Union defeated 80% of the Nazi forces on their behalf at the cost of almost 30 million lives, and 50 years later the Soviet elite decided it would be more rewarding to become liberal oligarchs than austere cadres. Communism was never really the coherent ideology it’s made out to be. Marx predicted that Capitalism would reach inherent limits and collapse in a crisis of overproduction in the most advanced industrialised countries, Britain, Germany and/or the Benelux. Then a revolution could be held by violent organized labour to institute direct-democratic control of wealth creation and rational economic planning. All governments engage in economic planning, not all establish centralized state ownership and control of the means of wealth creation as the soviets eventually did after the stages of Civil-War era War Communism and the capitalistic New Economic Policy which ended in 1928. While Luxembourg’s Orthodox Marxist followers believed in direct-democratic workers’ councils and some degree of centralized planning, they didn’t believe in centralized war-cabinet-style total control and dictat, and therefore called the Soviet Union “state capitalist” from very early on. Such rigid, orthodox Marxists like Rosa Luxemburg were mocked by Lenin as “infantile leftists.” Lenin thought, like Marx admitably, that the ideology had to adapt to changing conditions, but Rosa thought his adaptations, the vanguard party guided by democratic centralism- internal debate, but absolute adherence to any decision made, would lead to a bureaucracy so unwieldy that it would eventually collapse under its own weight. Marx had pondered some marginal ‘what ifs’ that have been flimsily used to justify the Bolsheviks’ revolution in barely industrialized Russia. Namely, Russia’s traditional cooperative land management system, the mir, was communistic enough that Russia may be able to leapfrog the stage of capitalism, but only if drawn in by revolution into socialism by a revolution in advanced industrial countries. That argument is obviously a red herring.

The Bolsheviks were originally internationalists who believed that the main revolution would break out in the most advanced industrial country with the most organized labour movement, Germany, and would spread around the world from there, they just had to hold on to power till then. The German revolution failed, as did Bolshevik attempts to prod it along, like the invasion of Poland. The Bolsheviks had held a vote shortly after their coup d’etat, came second, but clung to power anyway. The winner by twice the votes was Chernov’s Socialist Revolutionaries, which had split and divided between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks while the election was ongoing. It enjoyed greatest support among the peasantry, notably in what we now call Ukraine. Bolshevik support came from the tiny urban working class but mainly from the military. The Bolshevik ethos was as much formed by the martial culture of its supporters, the brutalizing context of the ongoing first world war, and the perceived need to meet Tsarist martial-brutal suppression in like kind. Their governing structure, introduced above, resembles a permanent war cabinet with permanent martial law more than the network of democratic workers’ councils espoused by the rigidly orthodox Marxists like Luxembourg. Many supporters of socialist revolution in Russia quickly became disillusioned with Bolshevik divergence from orthodoxy and the emancipatory ideal, staging various uprisings, most notably the Kronstadt rebellion which was brutally crushed, raising some of the earliest doubts about the nature of Bolshevik rule. Like the liberals today who self-righteously refuse to see flaws in their self-narrative, many socialists, desperate to count the Russian ‘revolution’ as a success ignore Rosa and Kronstadt, cling to the delusion that if only Trotsky had come to power everything would be fine.

But the power vacuum created more by the February revolution than the Bolshevik one was inevitably filled by the most ruthless contender available, it’s practically a law of nature. Stalin was not a rigid orthodox internationalist and did not hold to the Marxist line that the working class has no nation. As commissioner for nationalities he was responsible for the early Soviet project of national delimitation, drawing lines on the map, standardizing national languages and cataloging folk stories. As General Secretary he instituted “Socialism in one country,” which had nothing to do with Marx & Engels, whose works were edited and censored in the USSR to make them fit the fluxuating party line. It came with the Great Purges against the Old Bolsheviks loyal to Lenin’s adaptations of Internationalist Marxist Orthodoxy. During the Second World War, Stalin fell back on traditional modes of Russian nationalism and loosened control on religion to inspire people to fight. The Personality cult that Stalin formed around himself and Lenin had no foundation in Marxism. It was not entirely unsuccessful in uniting society. But Krushchyov dismantled it, again requiring an adjustment of narrative, values and loyalties. Was the highest value and locus of loyalty- the proletariat’s historical mission? World revolution? the State? Stalin’s leadership? Friendship of Nations? How do you grapple with the issues of forced labour and mass repressions? Was it just Stalin and Beria? Was it somehow justified? Could it happen again? Practically every decade the Soviet people were told their previous principles and loyalties were wrong and had to be adjusted. “Communism” was characterized not by a failed utopian experiment but by the failure to formulate any ideology or hierarchy of ideals that could last more than a decade or two. By the eighties economic reforms were necessary, and possible, they had overcome far greater challenges before. Gorbachyov set out to realise them. But his naive idea of loyalty to an old social democratic ideal and trust toward liberal ideals and intentions wasn’t shared by state security elites, who retained loyalty to the war cabinet model, state security and deep mistrust of the US. Meanwhile, corruption and dysfunction led others in the management structure to abandon loyalty to anything but self enrichment. Of the three groups, they were the most pragmatic and steered the reforms and subsequent collapse to their own obscene gain.

So where is a monolithic “communism?” Only in the minds of western intellectuals, on both sides of the political spectrum. The Soviet Union had co-opted and bought out the global labour movement as an instrument for its own geopolitical ends. Orthodox Marxists were marginalized or persecuted. This isn’t to say that without the results of the Bolshevik coup d’etat a pure and true Marxism would have emerged and flourished. Who knows what would have happened, I’m not interested in counter-factuals. Socialism wasn’t invented by Marx, it was attempted in Christian utopian societies in various western countries and advanced by certain participants in the French Revolution. Marx drew ideas from all of them, among others. Various pre-Bolshevik socialist movements like the Paris Commune had led to social democratic concessions from western governments, most notably that of Bismarck. Mass socialist movements and unrest even in the US, like the Knights of Labour and Chicago Haymarket Riot (among many other riots and strikes) are integral to the development of the rights and benefits any wage earner enjoys today. It’s a long and eventful history not much taught or heard of today. After the Bolshevik revolution socialists in the west could largely be divided into communists and social democrats, that is,  revolutionaries and those for gradual progress. Both were deeply involved with the organization of mass labour unions and both were beholden to the myth that the Bolshevik revolution represented some emancipatory potential. The active participation of organized labour in demanding concessions such as the 8 hour work day, the weekend, and universal suffrage, gave humanity to what had been a Classical liberalism of slavery and Dickensian conditions. The myth of the Bolshevik revolution as a repeatable, righteous, emancipatory violent overthrow, while pure myth,  gave teeth to their demands and greatly helped ensure that the social democratic concessions we enjoy today were granted.

This complex struggle which we look back on with obcene reductionism as a struggle between grand, coherent ideologies took place in a context in which traditional values and loyalties were being irreparably broken down by science and technological progress; there was no clear answer to what they would be replaced by. Liberalism used beautiful language, “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity,” “All men are created equal,” but these pronouncements had been made by slave owners consolidating a slave economy rather than absolving it. Western ‘liberal’ colonial empire continued well after the Bolshevik revolution. We’ve heard about the Nazi death camps and the Gulag, and we’ve probably heard some figure for the number of victims. But how many were the victims of the Scramble for Africa, 1881 to 1914? How many millions of Native Americans and African Americans were killed in the US after the noble proclamation that “All men are created equal?” Some black servicemen returned to the US after the Second World War only to be legally lynched upon arrival. How many were the victims of workhouses and debtors’ prisons? The Irish under British Rule? More people died in British India through famines caused by British policy than all deaths attributed to Stalin, including the 32-33 famine (only half of whose victims lived in the Ukraine SSR, though nationalists there use it as a foundational victimhood myth). Socialists also liked to decry the cost in life of western ‘inter-imperialist wars.’

Chinese statesman Zhou Enlai, who held the country together through the psychotic rule of Mao (incidentally, the brutality and loss of life in 20th Century China surpasses anything else mentioned here) once answered a question on whether the French Revolution was a good idea with “it’s too early to tell.” He actually misunderstood the question, but his comment resonates because we intuit it to be valid. The point is that in the early to mid twentieth century there was no clear answer to how post-judeo-christian-monarchical value systems and societies should be organized. The 20th century conflict of ideologies is a reductionistic mischaracterization, as neither Communism or Liberalism was ever a rigid, stable, mutually exclusive answer to this question. Nevertheless, this reductionistic mythical struggle is ostensibly over. Now we live in a liberalism repressing memory of its atrocities and claiming full credit for social achievements realized only in tandem with its severed and murdered Siamese twin, radical leftism. The twins had agreed on the omnipotence of human reason and technology and their capacity for constant progress. But without the counterbalance of his twin’s imaginative, inspiring promises for the future, liberalism is stumbling toward the familiarity of Classical neoliberal debt slavery and Dickensian conditions. He is proud and rational, he will use technology to solve his problems, no more tiresome arguing with that dead nag over value systems, over the post-judeo-christian moral universe and social order. But that nag was part of him, and murder left the debate absolutely unresolved.

Where that leaves us Today

But if you’re among the majority who isn’t satisfied with that, you lack convincing inspiring narratives of a better future, then you fall back on base tribalism and vote Trump or Brexit, in mass. Maybe H. R. Clinton will get elected and Parliament will vote down Brexit. Problems solved? You still have huge segments of society in deep discontent, add Trump and Bernie supporters (fair weather “socialists” impotent without a faction willing to fight and sacrifice to present a real threat to vested interest) together and you probably have a majority in the US, as with Brexit plus Corbin supporters in the UK. These societies are becoming dangerously polarized.

Zbigniew Brzezinski notes “The nation-state as a fundamental unit of man’s organized life has ceased to be the principal creative force: International banks and multinational corporations are acting and planning in terms that are far in advance of the political concepts of the nation-state.” I would add that this comes with a post-industrial society which focuses on the manipulation and creation of meaning rather than of material, in turn closely tied to the age of public relations/perception management. Corporate and state media, even with the internet, define and dominate the Overton window and drown out voices with less resources behind them. But even without a coherent alternative narrative to that put forward by the corporate media, something like a majority are no longer buying it. If Brexit gets voted down in Parliament and Clinton wins the election, comfortable middle class liberals will tell themselves everything is ok again, but society will still be dangerously divided. In fact probably more so as many will probably claim fraud or betrayal in each election respectively.

What do elites do when social tensions rise too high? Start a war. This is how the Franco-Prussian war started. All it takes is demonization of an enemy and a false pretext. While the Vietnam war, Afghan war or the 2nd Iraq war didn’t start to mollify a divided society, they were willfully initiated through demonization and false pretexts. The Domino effect and the Taliban’s or Saddam’s misrule respectively demonized the opponent (all three of which the US had previously helped create). The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 9/11 and mythical weapons of mass destruction provided the false pretext to engage militarily, respectively. Rectifying social disunity and discontent won’t be the only reason, Top US officials and neocons from Wolfowitz (see the Wolfowitz doctrine), Brzezinski and other old cold warriors have continued to see it as necessary to break up Russia to prevent any rival to US hegemony. These are more or less the same forces pushing “free trade” agreements on the EU under which corporations can sue governments for any legislation which costs them profits.

The Corporate media is currently on overdrive demonizing Russia and its president, very reminiscent of their treatment of Saddam, while massively building up US and NATO forces in the Baltic and Poland. This should be very alarming. Russia didn’t start the Ukraine conflict or the Georgian war. Look up Nuland appointing Yatsenyuk PM weeks before Yanukovich fled and the Estonian PM pointing out that it wasn’t Yanukovich’s police that shot protesters. Among regions involved, Donbass, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Crimea, it only incorporated the latter, which had been Russian until 1954 and had petitioned multiple times in the post-Soviet era to return. Russia comprehensively defeated Georgia in 2008 and could have incorporated it had it chosen to. I’ve been to Transnistria, Abkhazia, Nagorny Karabakh and Russian Crimea. Locals in each place fought for their independence. Those people have agency, not everything is a Kremlin conspiracy. Maybe three or four people will read this blog and maybe I haven’t made my argument well. But there is as strong possibility that soon some hazy, unprovable pretext of Russian aggression will appear for conflict between nuclear armed powers. Think hard before buying into demonization of ‘the other’ and rationale for war. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine and Libya are wastelands of US intervention, but none of them were Nuclear powers covering an 8th of the world’s surface and 150 million people. There is reason to be existentially terrified, particularly if you live in the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine or Russia. Though through the democratic magic of nuclear fallout, everyone is equally doomed. 🙂

Trump and Brexit- The Liberal Reformation: Why Right-wing Populism is Spreading like Wildfire

Ideals, principles, and convictions rest on an economic foundation. But there can be a lag in years or a couple decades between changed economic prospects, the recognition of that change, and the subsequent chance in ideals. There is also in any broad social context a fundamental gap between pronouncements of ideals and their practical application. This becomes clear to adherents of any set of ideals only when a change in economic outlook forces them to see that ideal set as transient rather than invisible, assumed, natural, universal law.

Since the rise of credit, financialization, the oil shocks, off-shoring and dismantling of union labour benefits, the death of leftist mythology and the unresolved 2008 financial crisis, this process has gradually progressed. Hillary, as representative of the establishment, is the disease (besides, she’s massively corrupt, gleeful about destroying the lives of millions of Libyans, and there is video evidence of her own racist tendencies) and Trump is the symptom. Even if Trump doesn’t win, The genie is out of the bottle. It doesn’t matter how many comfortable, educated, self-righteous middle class people cling to noble liberal ideals. Passionate support for the liberal status quo isn’t going to wash for Millions whose status quo is no fun and is laying bare systemic hypocrisy. Putin, Brexit,Tump, Erdogan’s move from westernism to islamism, Brevik, Orban, Poland’s Law & Justice, Le Pen, AfD, Pegida, the Austrian presidential election fiasco, the True Finns, far-right saturated Ukraine, Croatia’s Ustase veneration- these are all transient anomalies? Liberals have a clear understanding of the problem, how to address it and its systemic, economic roots? I’ll believe that when i see it. Seems to me more like their deeply emotionally charged identification with their ideals blinds them to contradictions and fatal flaws in their quasi-religious liberal worldview.

It’s just an observation, but the more heretics like me get demonized and belittled for pursuing facts rather than confessing undying faith to the one true Creed the more smug we become to watch it collapse, providing our observations accurate. Your ideals don’t matter, no matter how beautiful, when high finance, central banks and creditors dictate policy (read up on the Fed, ECB, IMF and TTIP), and do so to the detriment of masses who don’t feel liberalism has delivered anything to them but debt, unemployment, a worse outlook that their parents had, obscene bailouts and banker bonuses. 🙂