2007 - 2022

Eyes Wide Shut: What the Western Left didn’t (Want to) See

There is a deep-seated brutality that characterises Russian imperialist sensibility. Deftly hidden for over 30 years, or ignored by the West, it is now rearing its ugly face – and this time socialists and progressives cannot turn a blind eye.

My dad was playing with his dog when some armed men arrived in the village and bludgeoned the dog to death before his eyes. 

My dad was six years old. The barbaric act he witnessed was part of the forceful embezzlement of people’s private property under the communist regime’s “industrial nationalisation and collectivisation” law, imposed in the decade after the Soviet occupation of Bulgaria at the end of WWII. Everyone was to give away their private property and whoever protested would be shot dead. Pets were of ‘no value’, so they were killed on the spot. 

This personal family story single-handedly illustrates the horrors of living under communist rule. 

My father had spared me that story until two years ago, when I suggested he get a dog to keep him company in his old age on one of my rare visits to Bulgaria. How could he get a dog when the image of his childhood friend’s lifeless body had haunted him all his life?

As a child, I had been shielded from the traumatic memories of the communist past, and so have moved through the transition to free Bulgaria pretty much unscathed. In the early 1990s, my dad took me freedom rallies and I have been nurtured with the ideals of democracy. I have since found a home in a relatively tolerant multicultural society and a liberal democracy where everyone is free to do, think, and be as they desire. I felt the power and vibrancy of freedom rallies post-1989 again in George Square in 2014 and in Scotland’s drive for independence. And in this hour, I am counting my blessings for the liberties I have enjoyed. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, these are liberties we can no longer afford to take for granted. 

Russia’s imperialist ambitions we failed to recognise

Caught up in the excitement of the campaign for Scottish independence at the time, we somehow missed a much darker development as Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and sent paratroopers to Donbass. Whether because it was happening so far from here, we slept through the past eight years. Even when Russia intervened in Syria and helped Assad raze whole cities like Homs and Aleppo to the ground. Even when we saw people fleeing the war, when Europe closed its borders, leaving desperate families drowning and young children being washed away on Europe’s beaches. We closed our eyes and closed our hearts and homes to these people because they were not “like us”. Politkovskaya’s murder, Nemtsov’s assassination, the Salisbury novichok poisoning, MH-17’s downing, Navalny’s arrest… The signs were there all along and it’s only now that we are connecting the dots. Our eyes were wide shut to the Russian imperialist agenda. And we are being rudely awoken.

The war waged by Putin on Ukraine (and his threats to the whole world) did shock us but should not surprise us. This brutal sensibility is deeply rooted in the dark forces of Stalinism and Russian imperialism, which after the end of the second world war, occupied Bulgaria and the whole Eastern Bloc, and forcefully imposed a regime where there was no freedom, and it was okay for armed men to kill a dog before a child’s eyes. A generation grew up numb to these transgressions. Post-Soviet Russia never really overcame the collapse of the communist regime, and it is now looking to return to its former imperial ‘glory’. We look on in horror as Putin cuts off Russia from the outside world, realising it may soon be impossible to see behind the new Iron Curtain. Where that curtain falls remains to be seen. Brutalism, which I’d been spared when I was growing up in post-communist Bulgaria, is coming back full force.

There is a Bulgarian (and Russian) noun that describes this reality, which doesn’t have an exact English equivalent: мракобесие [mrako-besie]. It means a regime of the ruling elite imposed by physical repression and spiritual degradation in a society, and the cruel forcible imposition of someone’s will. Its root morpheme “мрак“ literally translates as “darkness”. It is synonymous with regress, backwardness, ignorance, degradation, reactionism, and obscurantism. Rather than achieving equality, Stalinist communism subjugated people, did away with their rights and created a brutal Orwellian order, which only the (missing from the English language) word мракобесие can describe. And now Putin is trying to reinstall that same world order – not just in Ukraine, but in Europe as a whole unless he is stopped. 

Many analysts have argued that Putin is not Russia, that we need to extend a helping hand to Russian people in their darkest hour. And we certainly should to those who are suffering and willing to accept our help. But, sadly, and perhaps incomprehensibly for many in the West, a large proportion of Russia’s population still trust Putin and believe his propaganda. Many people in Russia, and other countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain, do not mind the мракобесие of a totalitarian dictatorship. Disenchanted with Western capitalism and neoliberalism with no better system to replace it, these desperate people look back nostalgically to a Soviet era past for meaning. Anything is expendable in the war against the perceived enemy – democratic values, human rights, global cooperation, and last but not least, truth. 

Western socialists and progressives looked the other way

This is a time that we (liberals, progressives) should finally wake up and reflect on our cognitive biases. We are all partly to blame for failing to see the warning signs, for ignoring Eastern European voices and letting Putin divide us – and yes, even within the Scottish independence movement. We are guilty of falling for the moral relativism, false equivalences, and the anti-liberal spin, because Russia’s aggression has been happening conveniently far from home. But is it now when a mad dictator threatens to push the red button any minute?

On the first day of the invasion, Ukrainian journalist Taras Bilous wrote an emotional open letter to the Western Left from Kyiv under artillery attack: in their anti-imperialism, he argued, the Western Left had turned a blind eye to Russia’s aggression. Where was their international solidarity when it came to Ukraine? 

Over the years, I have been astonished by the extent of people in Scotland declaring themselves “communist”, blind to the horrors of communism under Soviet rule. I have witnessed relatively influential figures in the Scottish independence movement engage in denialism when it comes to Assad and Russia’s war crimes in Syria, while others thoughtlessly parade Soviet symbols such as hammer and sickle images and play the USSR anthem at the start of podcasts – actions many born and raised in Central/Eastern Europe would find uncomfortable, if not insulting. Trivializing symbols of the terror enforced on whole nations by Russian imperialism is an act of symbolic violence.

Granted, the West doesn’t have a historical memory of Russian imperialism and its barbaric efforts to implement the communist doctrine. It never really experienced communism, which to Western lefties, has remained largely theoretical, a chimera, a distant and vague idea to achieve social justice and a ‘brighter future’. As such, Western lefties have watched events in Eastern Europe unfold from a convenient distance. While idealising the notion of a “communist revolution”, the Western left has pointed its finger at neoliberalism and Western capitalism as the world’s greatest evil. Capitalism is a flawed and unjust social system which is in desperate need of rethinking. But a communist revolution, as people from Eastern and Central Europe can attest, is a way darker reality. 

We need to inoculate ourselves against Russian propaganda or risk becoming ‘useful idiots’ to a brutal regime

Whatever Western liberals now do would likely be too little too late. We let Russian propaganda seep through Western societies. We turned a blind eye to Russia’s atrocities in Syria and its culture war on truth, liberalism, and democratic values it waged in our media. We lost trust in pillars of society such as institutions and quality journalism. We let ourselves be divided into British people vs ‘Eastern Europeans stealing our jobs’. It’s been Kremlin’s aim all along, to divide us. And it’s all been leading to this moment. 

One of the most insidious misinformation tactics that is currently employed, often unwittingly, by some people on the left is whataboutism – and it comes straight from the KGB ‘dezinformatsia’ warfare playbook: “Russia might be doing a horrible thing in Ukraine, but what about the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan?” An argument is created that whitewashes Putin’s invasion and almost makes it acceptable because ‘look at what the bad Americans did 20-30-60 years ago’. As if those of us who are outraged at Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine didn’t speak up against these wars and didn’t rise in protest around the world in our millions. This tactic of deflecting attention from the suffering being caused is typical of Russian propaganda, as Dr Idrees Ahmad explains in this VICE article, and has millions of lefties duped into spreading Russian propaganda. Some bright minds have inadvertently, and irretrievably, fallen victim to it.

In 2019, when I ran MisinfoconX, I was viciously attacked on Twitter by Scotland representatives of Russian state media (RT and Sputnik), and together with the event’s co-organiser, was labelled a US “deep state” operative. The attack was so fierce and militant, it felt like an invasion, the goal being to discredit us, to shut us up, and create the false impression that there was some ominous motive behind our event, which was in fact a meetup to discuss the problems of dis-/misinformation and possible initiatives Scottish civil society could cooperatively undertake. I was astonished at how somebody could come up with such a contrived narrative with “facts” so flimsy and shocked to see otherwise respected professors on the Left and independence campaigners join in by sharing Sputnik’s lies. In hindsight, that is how the well-oiled Russian hybrid warfare machine works – it is brutal, it is offensive, and it ‘strikes first’. This was, and remains, a war for truth, and it is a war we must win! 

We need to inoculate ourselves against Russian propaganda and disinformation before we become, in Lenin’s words, ‘useful idiots’ in the hands of Putin’s brutal regime and his imperialist ambitions. Taking active steps to increase media literacy and shining a light on Russian propaganda tactics would be a good – and urgent – first step.

But there is also a deeper reckoning that is desperately needed on the Left if we want the democratic values and liberties that we have taken for granted for so long to continue to exist. By acknowledging that the world is chaotic and contingent, we can find an epistemic anchor in basic human rights – respect, care, and solidarity (real, not feigned). And it is high time we moved away from moral relativism. The historical moment requires us to take a side – civilization or aggression, light or darkness. There is no middle ground. 

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Comments (64)

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  1. still none-of-the-above says:

    sure, all attempts to theorise a situation are endorsements of mass murder, etc.

    in the early 1990s I witnessed armed residents take to Prague streets in attempts to stop 24/7 ‘economic liberalisation’, gentrification was very much forced expropriation, how a capitalist class becomes a capitalist class, such were the ‘ideals of democracy’ as lived, dollars bought a licensed ‘liberty’ to thieve with total disregard for the existence of others, mass-mortalities resulted (~13% across CEE)

    what’s oddly amnesic in the current convergence of femonationalist narrativising is how it romanticises while denying the actually formative political period of not liberty but economic liberalisation – with regard to Russian Federation, how an authoritarian presidential system solidified to pursue and protect the integration of capitalist extraction

    that’s the eyes-wide-open long-tail of the ’90s, not some crass conflation of cartoon-villain USSR with the contemporary state’s sub-imperialism and its openly declared anti-communism – not a reinvention of Cold War Manichean bifurcation that relies on an Orientalist repackaging of ‘autonomy of action’ as just so much deep cultural essence – not an external contagion to be inoculated against that threatens to pollute the liberal humanity of the EUropean body politic, and other such ultra-nationalistic clash-of-civilisations tropes…

    there’s nothing ‘contingent’ in the imposition of those absolutist dualisms, nor is there anything whataboutist in critiquing ‘civilisation’ democratically drowning racialised bodies at sea as ‘a price worth paying’… there’s obviously a lot more to be said about the propagandist lineage of R2P, NGO-ism as vehicle of capitalist expansion, the ‘righting’ of feminism, oh and not ‘leaning-in’ to WWIII…

    1. “not a reinvention of Cold War Manichean bifurcation that relies on an Orientalist repackaging of ‘autonomy of action’ as just so much deep cultural essence” = I mean, sure

    2. John Learmonth says:

      Pub bore,
      As usual you tend to over intellectualise your response so I’m not 100% sure what your going on about but I think what your arguing is that in your opinion there is no moral difference between western capitalism and soviet communism. In other words your indulging in moral relativism that the ‘femonationlist’ author accuses the western left of.
      If they are ‘both the same’ then why did so many from Hungary (56) Czech (68) flee to the west and why did nobody (apart from the Cambridge spies) go in the opposite direction?
      The West is not perfect (far from it) but can you not bring yourself to admit that there is a reason why people want to live here (including you).

  2. John Learmonth says:

    Many on the western left have been ignoring/excusing the excesses of marxist/communist regimes since 1917.
    100 million dead from unnatural causes in the c20th, but hey it was all done for the right reasons wasn’t it comrades?
    Meanwhile they enjoy safe, comfortable lives in the west but constantly criticise the very societies they live in.
    Eric Hobsbawn was the outstanding western leftist hypocrite in this regard. Made a very nice living as a historian, lived in Hampstead (were else) but spent his entire academic life apologising/excusing the crimes of the USSR whilst showing not the slightist interest in ever wanting to actually live there.
    Personally I put it down to so many famous lefties attending private schools, scars you for life, buts that’s just my theory.

    1. Wul says:

      “…enjoy safe, comfortable lives in the west but constantly criticise the very societies they live in”

      I can’t see anything wrong with that. Campaigning for less fortunate people to also enjoy a safe and comfortable life is better than “I’m alright Jack”. Many of the freedoms and rights that you and I enjoy were the result of the comfortably-off criticising our society.

      Defending or making excuses for mass murderers is just wrong though. I think the author makes a valid point about some leftists making excuses for Putin. And yes, we are lucky to live here.

  3. Hector says:

    The russian imposed mass starvation of Ukraine in 1930 was ignored and denied by the british left wing.
    Stalin took all the grain by force and exported it to get foreign currency
    Six million were estimated to have died

  4. Daniel Raphael says:

    Credit to the author, who tips her hand in her very first sentence. The fact that this site signs onto this sort of essentialist characterization is in line with other essential characterizations that have been made–and continue to be made–within Ukraine and especially at its borders. You may have read some things about that. But never mind, this is just “ingrained” in certain groups, you know, according to their ethnicity, or place of birth, or…well, use your imagination.

    I never thought I’d see Bella stoop to this. Goodbye.

    1. Whats the problem Daniel?

      1. Kevin Mulhern says:

        I may be able to answer.

        I’m also sick of this. Yesterday we had the supreme court in the UK reject Assange’s final appeal to his extradition and his fate now lands in the hands of Priti Patel, we can all guess how that is going to go, in the same week we have wall to wall hand wringing of how Russia is full of misinformation and manipulation of the press.

        This all makes me sick, the people reading this live in the UK and some of us have been protesting, campaigning and taking direct action against the crimes of war perpetrated by our state, and through NATO our supposed allies, the level of support and solidarity from the general UK populace through all of that was pathetic to say the least. Then, when it is another nation, who we are happy vilifying, does what we have been doing to states outside Europe for decades, we get this type of response plastered over our public space, it makes me fucking sick!

        I live here, the atrocities done by people who represent me are treated in such a different way, I can only imagine that the stench of hypocrisy that any Russian feels when they read any of the coverage from the west. If we want to stop war we need to tackle all imperialism, but we have much more of a duty to tackle the imperialism that is done in our name, If we don’t then we are hypocrites.

        I have no issue with articles like this being published, and I’m still a supported of Bella and you Mike, i just hope this clarifies why some people are less than happy.

        1. Meg Macleod says:

          Indeed..the further back we stand ..the clearer the picture….

  5. John Monro says:

    First, hello Bissie, and welcome to Bella Calledonia. I think at first glance, it didn’t read much like many of the opinions posted here, including by me. But that’s fine, it’s would be wrong for Bella Calledonia in pursuing its Scottish independence, left wing agenda, to exclude contrary or challenging opinions in these pages. I should inform you Bissie, that I’m an Anglo-Scot, living presently in New Zealand, but keep abreast of affairs in Scotland and the UK.

    However, my first reaction to reading your article is to say “Methinks this lady protesteth too much”. Your opinion seems to be very much coloured by a personal family history which most of us in the West don’t understand, and that is true. It’s useful and sobering for you to bring up the reality of living in Communist Russia, the USSR and the Warsaw pact countries, including Bulgaria, under the USSR’s dominion, and particularly the cruelty of Joseph Stalin. One of the enduring horrors of the Second World War was the partitioning of the whole of Europe which came into effect following the Yalta conference. I have made the point elsewhere in a rather different way of thinking about this, in relation to the Russian demands and invasion of Ukraine. There’s Churchill, and Roosevelt (who wasn’t well) trying to deal with the implacable cruel dictator.. And in the reality of the situation of this war, knowing there was absolutely nothing he could do about it, had to agree that your father’s old homeland, along with half of Europe would become vassal states of the USSR. He had to swallow his pride, his honour, everting he believed in, because he knew the alternative a new war in Europe against Russia, already ensconced in these countries, was untenable and would be adding an impossible existential chaos to already existing horror. Your country was sacrificed for the “greater good”. I made the point, because I strongly believe, antithetical to you, that a more accommodating attitude to Russia, which would include Ukraine being neutral (like Finland, or Austria); recognising the reality of a Russian Crimea, and frank discussions in Europe with Russia on an overarching security umbrella for the European Continent, which after all, includes Russia, would have avoided this war completely. Now, that’s nothing I can prove, and your thesis is that Putin is mad and wanting to build a new Russian empire would counter, but as we didn’t even try, no-one, including you, can rationally gainsay this.

    To me a neutral Ukraine is no imposition at all on the Ukrainian people, if the alternative was what is now being inflicted on them (e.g. Finnish people seem to have lost nothing with their enforced neutrality – they are wealthy, secure, sovereign, and happy); “losing Crimea” , whose own population actually mostly identifies with Russia, which was part of the greater Russia for 200 years, “belonged to Ukraine” for less than 40 years and where morally it should belong to the people who actually live there, not by some dubious geopolitical right of a dysfunctional regime based 500 miles away. Russian Crimea is now just a fact, Ukraine and the West just needs to get over it and move on; and finally, obeying an agreement on Donbass already made should be normal.

    To return to Churchill. Being Churchillian is not just the grand rhetoric, the fierce patriotism, or the defender of the Empire, but also the reasoning and humane man who knows he sometimes has to make the best of a bad hand, and do the best he can. That’s called statesmanship, of which there is a total dearth around the world presently, especially in our West. I mean, Johnson? Macron? Scholtz? Biden? Zelenskyy? So when I hear the Churchillian rhetoric of these imposters, and see the flag waving and unthinking jingoism in the public and the media, I despair of the stupidity, and the hypocrisy.

    But there’s so much wrong with your thesis, both in fact and in judgment. I consider myself a socialist, an armchair, comfortable, middle class socialist it’s the socialism that comes from a deep and abiding social conscience, basically a part of my 47 years of medical practice, it doesn’t come from hardship as in many, and in the last thirty years it also comes with a regard for our environment, our nature, our very planet. I am and have been all along implacably opposed to Thatcherism, Reaganism, or here in New Zealand, “Rogernomics” the neoliberal monetarist, corporatist and globalist dogma and agenda that rules us now and is now destroying our societies and our planet. I believe the whole edifice of neoliberalism is a sham, a con, a delusional state that’s bringing civilisation to ruin. I am actually old enough to remember post-war days where there was no such dogma, when crawling out of the wreckage of WW2 was the common aim of left and right, where even the patrician Tories had fought in the war and had eaten at the same table as the ordinary Tommy and suffered the same hardships. I believe that society was a rather better one in many important ways, though racism, homophobia and women’s rights were not high on the agenda (and I have to wonder if we have actually advanced as much as we think we might have).

    So I rather resent the insinuation that somehow socialism equates to (Russian) communism or some sort of excusing of Putin’s Russian violence. This is manifestly unfair, or simply wrong, on the vast majority of people who call themselves left-winger or socialists in Scotland or New Zealand, it’s just a convenient slur to dismiss them. . It’s as unfair and inaccurate as calling the right fascists even as we can rationally see elements of fascism in the way they talk or behave. The absurdity of this name calling is most apparent in the ecological, green movements around the world, they are slurred as “eco-fascists” or “green communists” by opponents, who are obviously ignorant of the meaning of either slur. In which case, I have to ask, Bissie, with temerity, do you actually understand the difference between communism and socialism?

    But even if you meet many Scots who do call themselves communists, is that actually surprising? In the early days of Labour and socialism in the UK many activists were communists, and they were an important part of the left wing until the reality did hit home in the 1950s and 60s. There is still an attraction to a political creed that seems to promise so much to folk who have so little, but in reality falls far short. So thanks again for your warning. But consider, what are you actually defending? Scotland, Europe’s most serious drug problem. Scotland with serious and damaging alcohol problems. Scotland, a serious and worsening housing problem for the poorest. A serious energy crisis. Childhood poverty, serious want, and domestic violence. . Scotland, huge inequities in wealth and poverty. Are these unique to Scotland? Of course not. You might not know it, because New Zealand propaganda is so good, but we have similar serious issues here, as we all follow the same depressing dangerous economic and social policies. The simple fact is, Bissie, that if we had an economic and social system worthy of the name, you wouldn’t have to be worried by communists in Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter.

    You seem pretty sure that Putin is “mad”. By this do you mean insane? He is not insane. He is “mad” in the sense of being angry. He’s a typical cruel autocrat in the mould of many such prior. His actions are in his eyes rational, though to you, and me, irrational (apart from the obvious inhumanity). I am unsure what he hopes to gain. Not invading he still had quite a bit of power to further his aims of a neutral Ukraine etc over a period. But we are where we are, and because of this, the response from us has to be rational, sane, measured, realistic, unthreatening and unemotional. None of this pertains. I think you are confusing the left wingers’ response or reaction to our stupidity as some sort of endorsement of Russia’s actions. That’s just not true for most left wingers. Again, the claim is basically a slur. You see to me, the real insanity lies far from Putin, and that’s the clique that run the US foreign policies, they’re called neocons, and the worst is Victoria Nuland, and her husband. Their visceral hatred of Russia is delusional. They are the runners of the US’s exceptionalism policies, including Afghanistan and Iraq, as Victoria Nuland has continue her murderous ways under Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden. I do not understand how this truly awful human being has managed to insert herself like a cancer in the body politic of the US for so long. The trouble she and her ilk have caused the world is beyond reason, beyond measure. Your love of your freedom in the West, in Scotland, is heart-warming, and very naive, because our freedoms have come at an incalculable cost to much of humanity in other parts of the world. That’s what you call, in your dismissive way, “Whataboutism”. No, it’s more than that, it’s the deep seated, corrupt and hypocritical way that we exceptionalise our needs and demands. If hypocrisy had weight, as I’ve written elsewhere, even now the White House and the Palace of Westminster would be sinking beneath the waters of the Potomac and Thames rivers.

    As I’ve noted, Russia’s demands on Ukraine were not actually onerous, they were realistic, recognising Ukraine’s unique position on Russia’s border. To Russia, if you weren’t so anti-Russian yourself, Bissie, you might understand that Russia sees NATO is a threat. It is not a benign defensive organisation, it is basically the Pentagon’s branch office in Europe. Russia notes that the US and other NATO members have engaged over years in illegal wars of aggression, causing massive human and material loss. Almost all these war, we have lost. Russia gave the West years and years of warning, that NATO expansion eastward would not be tolerated .If Russia under Putin is ruthless, and we saw this in another NATO candidate, Georgia, then that’s an even bigger reason to take notice of what he’s saying, not dismiss it. In fact Russia did tolerate all this this NATO expansion, but Ukraine was a member too far. But not just Russia was warning this, academics and retired generals and important politicians in the West have been doing the same, for years. But neocon exceptionalism ignored this advice, and ignored Russian protestations. In fact, I theorise that the neocons actually wanted to poke Russia hard enough so it would react with its military, so that they could inflict the much harsher sanctions, which they theorised would bring the Russian economy to a halt. But not only are they delusional, they are also stupid. Because what they don’t understand is that the world has changed and is pivoting away from US hegemony. Russia will be seriously economically inconvenienced, but just next door lies a nation of 1.5 billion people desperate for resources, and another nation, nearly as populous, India, which Russia can provide – oil, gas, metals, fertilisers etc. Neither country is cooperating with sanctions. Indeed most of the rest of the wold isn’t. Even now China and Russia and Russia and India are working out a mutually beneficial payment systems which will bypass the US dollar, undermining the role of the dollar as a reserve currency, likely seriously devaluing the dollar and increasing inflation in the West even further.. Its called shooting yourself in the foot, or cutting your nose to spite your face, or being a bully finding a bigger bully to fight.

    The Monroe Doctrine, which gives the US its excuse to meddle in the affairs of any country in the whole American continent, also provided the quid pro quo that the US would not meddle in the affairs of Europe. It also gives some rationale for Putin’s own version of the Monroe Doctrine, in his demands on NATO and Ukraine. Long past time, since the fall of the Soviet Union, for this quid pro quo to come to pass. The US should stop meddling in Europe, NATO should be disbanded, and the nations of Europe, along with Russia, construct a new security umbrella for the whole European continent. Involving Russia now may be impossible, and it will retreat from Europe, look more to the East and Europe will have to cooperate and invest in its own rational defensive arrangements, grow up, abandon its own serious exceptionalism, and stop clinging on to the coat tails of Uncle Sam and its ruinous ways. We will now unfortunately see a new cold relationship in Europe which I believe would have been entirely avoidable.

    Bissie, your freedoms here in Scotland, in Europe, in the West depend on us conducting wise, humane, rational and fair politics and economics . We don’t have that now, we are seriously failing in all these measures and I think more and more people are beginning to realise this. Demonising Putin and waving Ukrainian flags, as a diversion for the problems of our own making, the sheer hypocrisy of all this, makes me sick, as we continue to destroy our freedoms, our happiness and our very planet on our very own.

    Finally I do note your final comments, which I acknowledge and agree with. So I’m happy to end on this more positive note, I hope you are too, Bissie. JKM

    1. Meg Macleod says:

      Your arguments are sound .we need to stand far enough away to see the whole damn jigsaw for what it is.none of the main players in this horrendous game of chess can be justified

      No one picked up on the American lady admitting to the biochemical labs in Ukraine…funded by USA and nato?
      Did my ears deceive me?media gone deaf?
      War on innocents is evil from whatever direction and in whatever form
      Propaganda blurs our vision wherever we look

      1. Niemand says:

        What American lady? Please provide the evidence. It would be kind of good if the Russian provided the evidence as well wouldn’t it but surprisingly they have provided none at all.

        The apologists for Putin here is depressing in the extreme. He is a ruthless, murdering dictator who does not compare remotely with anyone in Western leadership and needs to be defeated. That’s it.

        1. Meg Macleod says:

          Victoria Nuland

          1. AudreyMacT says:

            Yes Victoria Nuland stated in the Foreign Relations Committee, in response to a question from Senator Rubio, that Ukraine has biolabs.

          2. Labs OMG says:

            This is a conspiracy theory Russia is now using for possible escalation in Ukraine, which has long been debunked: https://euvsdisinfo.eu/report/us-biolabs-have-been-developing-new-biological-weapons-in-ukraine

            Yes, there are labs, but they are just normal facilities found in any university medical department: https://twitter.com/Justin_Ling/status/1499436112825176065

          3. Labs OMG says:

            This has been debunked: https://euvsdisinfo.eu/report/us-biolabs-have-been-developing-new-biological-weapons-in-ukraine

            Yes, there are labs, but they are just normal facilities found in any university medical department: https://twitter.com/Justin_Ling/status/1499436112825176065

          4. AudreyMacT says:

            Several were built by US company Black & Veatch and the contract was with the US Department of Defence. If they are just normal labs that any University might have why are the Ukrainians not building them themselves? Why is the US DoD funding these projects?

          5. Meg Macleod says:

            There is a good question.and in reality these days what do biolabs study….?we are experiencing the result ?and genetic Modifications?moving into untested territory.. there is always a dark side possibility to well intentioned studies.

          6. The Author says:

            It’s called international collaboration between institutions – very common if you know anything about how research works.

          7. AudreyMacT says:

            Yes I wonder how Biden would view an international collaboration, between say Russia and Mexico, to build a biosafety level-3 lab close to the Mexico – US border.

          8. Meg Macleod says:

            all the lines are blurredby opposing propoganda and no-one is willing to try and read between them even when the admission is clearly made….is the truth too painful the only innocent people are the ones getting usurped….i do not believe any government can hold its head up ..all are complicit in this war..do we have to wait years for the truth to be revealed? when everyone has forgotten whosaid what and when ?

    2. The Author says:

      I’m just stopping by quickly to say a few words in response to this opus (because I am not an “armchair, comfortable, middle class socialist”, but have actual work to do). First, you show complete misunderstanding of what I meant in this piece. I do understand the difference between socialism and communism and consider myself a socialist and a progressive. I genuinely believe the socialists who condemn Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine far outweigh those who dig in and refuse to see the horrible reality for what it is. The fact I include myself in the “we” by writing in the first person plural seems to have evaded you. I am as guilty as anyone else on the Left who somehow ignored what Putin was doing all these years. What I have trouble accepting is people branding themselves “communists” brandishing USSR symbols, because this denies the lived experience Eastern/Central Europe has had under Stalinist communism. All I ask for is a bit of humility and some reckoning.

      Second, what in the piece makes you think I am in any way anti-Russian? This is an insinuation, it is wrong and I do not accept the slur. Nor do I accept the condescending tone!

      Third, I agree that there are a lot of flaws inherent in Western capitalism and problems countries in the West need to solve, especially when it comes to social and racial inequality; I am well aware of the colonialist past that needs reckoned with – but that is a subject matter for a different conversation. By bringing this up, you (perhaps unwittingly) employ some cognitive warfare tactics well known to researchers of misinformation – diversion being one of them, whataboutism being the other. As such, in essence, your reply proves the points I make in my opinion piece.

      Fourth, I can tell your “cold geopolitical reality” ideas come from John Mearsheimer – I’ve seen these in circulation quite a bit from some people on the Left, which create a narrative seeking to whitewash and excuse the inexcusable atrocities of Putin in Ukraine. But who are you or who am I do demand a “neutral Ukraine”? I prefer to see Ukraine as a sovereign country with a right to self-determination rather than a pawn in a game of chess between two big global powers. And if you were truly a socialist, you would care more about the plight of the people, rather than cold geopolitical calculations. By emphasising the geopolitics of it all, you show you are devoid of sympathy for human suffering, thereby proving the “eyes wide shut” thesis.

      Finally, blaming NATO for Putin’s decision to invade is a non-starter for me. NATO is a defence organisation – and believe me, the countries neighbouring Ukraine now consider themselves lucky they are NATO members as they fear they could be next on Putin’s list (this is a fear that you, in the comfort of your New Zealand ‘armchair’, are perhaps unlikely to understand). You say the US should stop meddling in Europe – where is your proof that has happened? No, it is Putin who should stop meddling in Europe – and beyond.

      To end on a more positive note myself, despite this being an emotionally difficult piece to write, I am glad it has hit a nerve and provoked debate. I hope that, through self-reflection and debate, we all become more compassionate and better socialists.

      PS: As for the biolabs ‘information’, it is a conspiracy theory Russia is now using for possible escalation in Ukraine, which has long been debunked: https://euvsdisinfo.eu/report/us-biolabs-have-been-developing-new-biological-weapons-in-ukraine

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @The Author, if as you claim “NATO is a defence organisation”, which country was it defending when it bombed Libya into a failed state resulting in immense human misery? Where, if you claim human rights as your ‘epistemic anchor’, is NATO’s respect for human rights when its foreign ministers tried to pressure the EU into accepting the torture-rendition of prisoners?
        As far as I know, NATO only ever invoked its mutual defence clause once, after 9/11, and then instead of attacking Saudi Arabia (where most of the bombers were from), the USA-led coalition attacked Iraq (turning it into a failed state resulting in immense human misery), in spite of the known fact that Iraq did not harbour any Al Qaeda terror networks, since these were its enemies. Nothing a few lies and dodgy dossiers could not gloss over, right? And this is the organisation you want to attack Russia in Ukraine?

        1. Meg Macleod says:

          Beware the quiet dog…….called nato……the outside belies the inside….

          It’s OK the owner keeps saying .he is really friendly……..

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Meg Macleod, well, NATO was certainly hounded out of Afghanistan with its tail between its legs, where it chewed the furniture and shat the carpet but singularly failed to frighten the bad men, leaving many of us with costly bills and many Afghans with worse. What was that called, Operation Wobbly Leg or something? Well, perhaps the real mission was to dig in the ground for interesting morsels. No cat’s eye nephite for you, NATO! Well, somebody got something out of it.

    3. JP58 says:

      We can criticise previous US & UK policy (eg Iraq) and be critical of Putin.
      You can criticise how US & NATO exploited breakdown of Soviet Union but basic facts that should be obvious to anyone sympathetic to Scottish independence are that many Eastern European countries wanted to join NATO & EU after iron curtain torn down.
      Finland is now far keener to join NATO after seeing what Putin is capable of. We should also be aware of what Putin has done in Syria, Georgia, Chechnya.
      Ukraine has opted to be an independent nation so what right do you ,comfy in Scotland , or any other country got to tell them what organisations they should try and join.
      Putin’s actions are ones of someone who has too much power and who harbours after a lost imperialistic past. I am surprised to see people in favour of independence not seeing this.

  6. 220315 says:

    ‘By acknowledging that the world is chaotic and contingent, we can find an epistemic anchor in basic human rights – respect, care, and solidarity (real, not feigned). And it is high time we moved away from moral relativism. The historical moment requires us to take a side – civilization or aggression, light or darkness. There is no middle ground.’

    But acknowledging that the world is chaotic and contingent surely entails moral relativism. That there are no absolute moral truths, that there is no epistemic anchor to which we can chain our basic human rights (or any other value), that ‘God is dead’, is just part of what it means to say that the world is chaotic and contingent.

    Respect, care, and solidarity [in relation to others] are orientations we can choose, but they’re no more epistemically anchored than are contempt, disregard, and antagonism.

    The historical moment doesn’t require us to take a side in some alleged battle between light and darkness, good and evil, etc. The historical moment requires nothing of us. The historical moment is the moment in which capitalism, as the relations of production that materially condition and in this sense ‘anchor’ our current consciousness and the moral and epistemological narratives by which that consciousness ideologically expresses itself as truth and justice, deconstructs all by itself, without any help or hindrance from us bourgeois do-gooders whatsoever.

    Capitalism is dying. ‘God’ – the transcendental pretence – is the first casualty. The entire horizon of our traditional ways of thinking about truth and justice is being sponged away. The earth is being unchained from its sun. We’re perpetually falling backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions. There’s no ‘up’ or ‘down’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘true’ or ‘false’, ‘good’ or ‘evil’, ‘light’ or ‘darkness’ left anymore. We’re straying as through an infinite nothing. The world we’re living has become chaotic and contingent. That’s world revolution for you.

    1. The Author says:

      The key is acknowledging contingency and chaos, but seeking to move towards epistemological anchoring. It is time we left postmodernism concepts such as relativism in the dustbin of history. There is a critical theory I’d recommend you appraise in this respect – metamodernism (van den Akker and Vermeulen, but also Lene Andersen’s work).

  7. Paddy Farrington says:

    Thank you for your piece, Bissie, it raises important points which many of us need to confront, rather than reject through blind denialism or sweep under the carpet through sophistry, as several of the contributions in this discussion seem inclined to do.

    I totally agree with your penultimate sentence: “The historical moment requires us to take a side – civilization or aggression, light or darkness.” And to my mind this means giving wholehearted support to the Ukrainian people’s and government’s resistance against Putin’s aggression, and the deeply reactionary national chauvinism it represents.

    I write as someone who was, for 21 years, a member of, first, the French Communist Party, and then, right up to its dissolution in 1991, the Communist Party of Great Britain. I can assure you I had no illusions whatsoever about the Soviet Union and its allies, and much of my time in these organisations was spent fighting internal battles against Stalinist ideas. The reason I joined was that, then, the historical moment was defined by the Vietnam war (I also lived and worked in Hanoi for some years). For my parents’ generation, including the likes of Eric Hobsbawm whom one contributor to this discussion sought to disparage, it was the anti-fascist struggle. As now, those momentous events also required people to take a side. Closer to home, these choices were above all about developing broad struggles around progressive agendas. So I make no apologies, but nor do I remain stuck in the past.

    1. The Author says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience and your reflection, Paddy – it is really appreciated. I was never in any doubt the Western Left has in the past fought for anything but noble causes. As a side note, I learned a lot about the British Left during WWII while doing some translation/research for Peter J Conradi’s book A Very English Hero, a biography of E. P. Thompson’s brother, Frank Thompson. Besides, my doctoral work is largely grounded in the works of Stuart Hall and the tradition of British Cultural Studies.

      What I meant to express in my piece was just that, understandably, the lived experience behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t something that was easily available to the Western public at the time, hence why it has remained largely theoretical. I’m glad to hear, though, that there have been some voices that have stood up against Stalinism in the British Communist Party.

      I believe voices like yours are crucial to navigating the current tumultuous reality, to ensure there is continuity in the struggle against oppression and the continued fight for advancing progressive ideas.

    2. John Learmonth says:

      Unfortunately communism i.e the Soviet Union between August 1939 and June 1941 was an ally of Nazi Germany and the ‘international left’ sided with Nazi germany against the ‘capitalist/imperialist ‘UK who for 2 years stood alone and were viewed by the left as a bigger threat than Hitler.
      This all changed overnight once Hitler invaded the USSR.
      Why did communist parties in the west collapse in 1991?
      They lost their paymaster the Soviet Union which had been funding them for decades.
      Fascism/communism, just different sides of the same coin.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @John Learmonth, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany three years before, at Munich in 1938, carving up Czechoslovakia instead of Poland. It does not mean the British Empire was a ‘different side of the coin’ to Nazi Germany (which after all had banned vivisection, cruel animal traps and hunting with dogs). Neither pact made the British nor the Soviets allies of Germany; nor did ‘the international left’ side with Nazi Germany, except in your deranged imagination. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munich_Agreement

        There are many communisms, capitalisms and fascisms, but your rank misogyny blinds you to the obvious: that women are people, and sex equality was a major plank of communist platforms (they created International Women’s Day), and women were recognised as equal in law in the Soviet Union in the 1918 Code on Marriage, the Family and Guardianship. Whereas women were subordinate and targeted for domestication under German National Socialism and Italian Fascism. I think even Martina Navratilova, who had little good to say about Eastern European communism, gave respect to the culture for cheering women’s sports and athletics equally to men’s, which I am not aware of happening in any liberal or fascist societies of the era or later.

        In the Soviet Union, Stalin hijacked a Communist Party that emerged from a minority faction (the Bolsheviks) of revolutionaries who hijacked a revolutionary party which hijacked a popular revolution. Professional revolutionaries with military wings are going to have an advantage when their revolution is attacked by imperialist foreign powers (including British) in league with the vilest reactionary forces (Czarist White Russians, who even their imperial allies reportedly could not stand). Just like the European royalist powers piled on Revolutionary Republican France, which led to Napoleonic rule. Anyway, in their Great Patriotic War, it was the ordinary Soviet people who collectively suffered, died, endured and fought to bring about the downfall of Nazi Germany far more than the Western allies, while Stalin sat in his comfy armchair.

        But in terms of many communisms, Marx’s version only appears at the withering away of the state, so would not recognise the Soviet Union as communist (perhaps a ‘communism some day’ party). In any case, communism, simply put the common ownership of the means of production, is primarily an economic system, like capitalism (which is contrastingly simply put as the private ownership of the means of production). Fascism is a different kind of thing altogether (Umberto Eco has written a pithy article on Ur-Fascism which identifies tradition, irrationalism, action-over-thought, intolerance of dissent (like your preference), racism, appeals to frustrated middle class, obsession with (foreign) conspiracies, contradictions over opponent strength, permanent war to gain a final victory contradiction, mass elitism, glorification of (other people’s) death, contempt for women, opposition to parliaments and debate, and newspeak). Mixed economies are very common (supposedly communist China runs versions of state capitalism, for example).

        Communism (like anarchy which exists in, for example, friendship groups) not only flourishes in modern societies with strong capitalist overtones, it forms the bedrock of our modern human culture. Where ideas are the means of production of more ideas, and these ideas are held in common by a community with rules for sharing them, you have idea communism, such as the great idea communisms of global science, digital commons and open technology. When NASA shares its astronomical imaging, weather data and moon rocks with the world, and publicly commits to open science, that’s communism, although for political reasons it cannot call it that.

  8. Gavin says:

    Great piece Bissie and thank you for writing it. Just a quick comment here- some of the rhetoric and “hot takes” of the sort you wrote about from certain corners of the left since the onset of this war have been truly disillusioning and sometimes worse. My political awakening came when I was 18 as we approached the Iraq war and I’ve considered myself of the left ever since. Seeing the tankie-ism and Putin apologism lately from some people I had once thought would know better almost made me consider a realignment.

    I expected it from the alt and far right- their admiration for Putin, essentially a fascist, makes sense and at least seems a bit more intellectually honest. But from “my side”? Yeah…

    1. Bissie says:

      Hello, fellow millennial! You and me both… Maybe there’s some truth to the “horseshoe theory”?

      1. Gavin says:

        Yes, I think there is.

        I wish more western leftists would actually listen to their eastern European counterparts instead of “westplaining” to them. Another good write up along the same lines as yours, but blunter: https://freedomnews.org.uk/2022/03/04/fuck-leftist-westplaining/?fbclid=IwAR1h31EQx2nB-nhL2LLi5Q0rkD9XBtwnflaYipJRrlt12LQky1QU6raI0qk

        As far as the effect of disinformation and to some extent the horseshoe effect- I noticed that a lot of the people who ended up being Trump/Brexit voters or even Qanon anti-vaxxer types were years ago part of the left anti-Bush, anti-war crowd. What happened to them? Well sometime in the mid-2000s they came across some guy called Alex Jones who seemed an at-the-time rare critical voice against the Bush administration, or perhaps they saw this new news channel called RT who wasn’t afraid to be against what we were doing in Iraq. With the latter I was intrigued at first, then I realised they were just being anti-American for the sake of it and smelling a rat, I looked them up. People get caught up in disinformation if they don’t listen to their spidey sense tingling and they find themselves in some pretty strange places over time.

        1. The Author says:

          Thank you for this observation (it’s spot on!). There is a good journal article by C. W. Anderson and Matthias Revers (2018) that charts the evolution of what they call “participatory epistemology” – from indymedia and the DIY alternative media moment in 2000-2006 to the memeification of alt-right discourse in the mid-2010s and beyond. It’s a chronological examination of the developments in participatory culture over the last 20 years and helps contextualise why it may not be such a leap between alt-left and alt-right counter-publics.

          Indymedia presented as a radical alternative to the dominant-hegemonic discourses and coverage of mainstream media. Radical activist media projects were the product of early digital media utopian narratives, with the promise of holding power to account; they were largely alternative left and anti-capitalist in nature. As the crisis of journalism deepened and we entered the social media platform era , anti-liberal forces started taking over the so-called “radically transparent” platforms. And this is where we are now, participatory culture-turned-dark-n-nasty: trolling, doxing, revenge porn, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, Q-Anon, war denialism… the list goes on.

          The article explains a lot and really puts things into context and perspective (it’s open access):


  9. 220316 says:

    But Vermeulen and Akker don’t propose consigning postmodernism to the dustbin of history; they propose rather a kind of dialectical interplay between modernism and postmodernism that also includes premodern or ‘indigenous’ cultures in its conversation, a movement between their opposite poles that gestures beyond them.

    Grand narratives are indeed as necessary as they are problematic; their revaluation is just as important as their deconstruction. But the ongoing evolution of our post-postmodern culture and society requires both. Accordingly, metamodernism advocates this perpetual ‘double-movement’ or ‘oscillation’ between the two in our praxis. Or to put this another way, to make our praxis a sublation of the two that embraces both doubt and hope, irony and sincerity, apathy and affection, deconstruction and revaluation.

    In relation to Ukraine, the last thing we need is a return to the epistemic anchoring of modernism. Human rights are no more absolute than any other cultural construction; we can’t simply ‘forget’ the relative nature of their valorisation. What we need is a sort of ‘open source document’ (as Vermeulen put it) by which we might contextualise and explain what’s going on around us, a dialectical interplay or ‘antisyzygy’ between the duelling polarities of all the various grand and petit narratives that comprise ‘Ukraine’ globally and gestures beyond those narratives.

    1. The Author says:

      Vermeulen and van den Akker don’t propose consigning postmodernism to the dustbin of history – on that we agree. Although I take a different view and think certain aspects of it are dead with recent developments! And you are mostly right in your interpretation of their theory. But what you need to remember is that they describe metamodernism as a “structure of feeling” that characterises early 21st century sensibility, the post-post-modern world we live in, with all its chaos and complexity (not as an programme or an ideology).

      What I do not agree with is your relativistic conception of human rights – human rights are not, nor should be, a “construction”, they are universal. And your attempt (in your third paragraph) to frame Ukraine in such theoretical terms – as a country caught up in some “duelling polarities of all the various grand and petit narratives that comprise ‘Ukraine’ globally” – is another example of the kind of relativism that Putinist propaganda engages in. As such, you unwittingly become a ‘useful idiot’. You sound like an intellectual well versed in theory, so you, of all people, should reflect on the wider global impact of your ideas/interpretations/research(?). Also, why are you posting anonymously?

      1. 220317 says:

        Yes, but how do you square your claim that the world is chaotic and contingent with your claim that human rights are universal? Aren’t they contingent and therefore relative too? Or are they in some way ‘otherworldly’ or transcendent of the contingent nature of this world?

        And Vermeulen and Akker do indeed describe metamodernism as a ‘structure of feeling [that] oscillates between modernism and postmodernism like a pendulum swinging between innumerable poles’.

        They describe it as such to distinguish it from ‘a philosophy’. Every ‘philosophy’, they reckon, presents a closed ontology or fixed truth, whereas metamodernism presents rather an open ontology, which they liken to an ‘open-source document’ that we can re-edit endlessly in our perpetual making and remaking of meaning and truth; that is, in our various and ever-ongoing attempts to contextualise and explain what’s going on around us in an increasingly chaotic and contingent, unanchored world.

        Again, the essential characteristic (if you will) of an open ontology or ‘structure of feeling’ is its openness; it admits of no epistemic anchor that would close that ontology and to which we could tether some comfort-blanket of certainty, but only the particular valorisations we make from time to time in our various cultural responses to increasingly global crises like climate change, the financial crisis, geopolitical instability, and the digital revolution.

        So this, our ‘metamodern condition’ (to coin a phrase), calls not for a return to the transcendental pretence of universal human rights, the arrogant and absurd modernist belief that there’s one universal code or closed ontology (ours) that can be implemented by and for the whole world.

        Nor does it call for us to wallow in the nihilism and despair of the postmodernist belief in the ‘death of God’.

        It calls rather for a sensibility they describe as ‘a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism… that stresses engagement, affect, and storytelling through a new “ironic” sincerity’.

        It calls on us to act on our more modest and localised petit narratives (that is, in accordance with one’s own particular cultural identity), none of which transcends its time and place, but any of which can and does perform the function of a universal grand narrative in its local context, and to act on them AS IF they did in fact transcend the contingency of our time and place.

        In other words, we should respond to the chaos of climate change, global financial crisis, geopolitical instability, and the digital revolution with ‘ironic sincerity’; with the faith of modernism moderated by a corrective element of postmodernist doubt, or (conversely) with the despair of postmodernism moderated by a corrective element of modernist hope; with a ‘structure of feeling [that] oscillates between modernism and postmodernism like a pendulum swinging between innumerable poles’.

        The vision of progressive politics that emerges from THIS petit narrative (i.e.the one we call ‘metamodernism’) is one that’s grounded in the cohabitation of a whole range of diverse and always locally legitimated ‘models of discourse’; pluralism. We can valorise human rights and defend them to the death (if this helps us construct a habitable world for ourselves); only we must at the same time acknowledge that this is just how we feel, that other ‘structures of feeling’ are possible, and that those other ‘structures of feeling’ are no more or less absolute than our own.

        And so to ‘Ukraine’: a metamodernist approach would be to respond to the chaos and contingency of this geopolitical crisis, not with a return to modernist politics that epistemically anchors that response in a closed ontology or comfort blanket of certitude, nor with a postmodernist antipolitics that anchors that response in an equally closed ontology of nihilism, but with an ironic sincerity by which we might contextualise and explain what’s going on in Ukraine through engagement in the dialectical interplay between the duelling polarities of all the various localised narratives (including our own ‘human rights’ narrative) that currently contextualise and ‘explain’ the current crisis globally and gestures beyond those narratives.

  10. SleepingDog says:

    When the author writes “I was astonished at how somebody could come up with such a contrived narrative with ‘facts’ so flimsy” mere paragraphs after claiming that a possibly misremembered secondhand anecdote of extreme violence against one animal (the likes of which the SSPCA wing to my inbox every week) deserves this conclusion “This personal family story single-handedly illustrates the horrors of living under communist rule”, I can only conclude that the author has exerted no capacity for self-examination throughout the writing. A truly terrible article, whose manifold flaws would take a series of articles to unpick, and an eyebrow-raising editorial selection.

    1. Snoop Dog says:

      Yeah, man, let’s pick on the opening anecdote that illustrates the point and ignore all the other salients point made because you just don’t want to accept, let alone comprehend an opinion challenging your own. So much for “socialist solidarity”!

  11. Niemand says:

    Great article Bessie and very well said and very glad Bella has published it. It said it was going to have different voices with different views and they have lived up to their words. I am impressed.

    I agree with much of what you say and I have always regarded myself as left wing. A left wing friend said to me the other day during a conversation, in a kind of rage of consternation, ‘but you seem to hate Putin more than NATO’. I was stunned really and simply said yes, and in fact, I don’t hate NATO at all.

    I think there are a hell of a lot of people, left wingers, who are finding what passes for the left today is more and more alien to their understanding. It is sadly destroying itself and gradually eroding its base and the winners are the right. And the hard facts of the matter are not that it is about ‘opinions’, it is about fundamentally idiotic positions on a number of issues (and this is not just a phenomenon of the hard left either), positions that in the end people who really believe in reasoned and truthful understanding will rebel against.

    1. Gavin says:

      Sadly I have to say I agree with your assessment in that last paragraph especially.

    2. John Monro says:

      I’ve been trying to reply to Bissie, but BC doesn’t accept them for some reason. I think the point to make here with you Niemand is to agree that some left-wingers do feel like this, and it can be extreme, but at the same time, NATO is a US led military alliance, not a peace camp, and it spends countless billions on armaments and personnel, its part of a very unpleasant and bellicose military-industrial-political complex, which has utterly failed to stop this war. There is a rational basis for this attitude to NATO. I don’t “hate” NATO, but I am despairing at our (the West’s) failure in this matter, NATO or no. I firmly believe NATO is now more of a hindrance than a benefit, and should be disbanded, and Europe should look after its own security without the US interfering. Only a minority of left wingers will actually hate NATO, just as only a minority of right wingers are bellicose neocons. The difference is that the former have no power, and the neocons do, and that’s the disaster.

      1. The Author says:

        John, I just read your comment. Thank you for sharing your views on NATO. I have had conflicting views about NATO over the years as a pacifist, I never thought it was necessary. But given the military escalation, I can tell you that the countries bordering Ukraine are right now relieved they are part of NATO because they feel protected. It is unfortunate that Ukraine is not a member, otherwise it wouldn’t be subjected to these horrors right now. And sadly, NATO can’t do anything to protect Ukraine because it is defence organisation which, unlike Russia, doesn’t attack, but protects its member-states.

        I am actually conflicted about NATO’s lack of action right now. People are being killed.

    3. The Author says:

      Thank you, it was high time New Scots’ voices were heard.

      Putler is a whole other level of evil. You should ask your friend what side of history they want to be on.

      The Left is obviously in crisis (mostly caused by Putin propaganda over the past 8-10 years), but we can come out stronger if we band together – in international solidarity. That is why I wrote this piece. Any attempts to cause division (including in comments on here), I see as a threat to the integrity of the left – and as a threat to democracy.

    4. John Monro says:

      Hello again, you say “it is about fundamentally idiotic positions on a number of issues (and this is not just a phenomenon of the hard left either), positions that in the end people who really believe in reasoned and truthful understanding will rebel against.” But is this true?. Corbyn was slurred as a Czech agent, an anti-Semite, a Russian stooge, an extreme left winger, nigh a communist – pure propaganda. Pause for a second. His espoused policies, nationalisation of the electricity, water and railway industries, support for the NHS, a fairer society, taxation changes etc. I mean, what left winger would ever think this was extreme or ridiculous. (It is even sane to criticise NATO and suggest something else, as Corbyn is now doing). They were popular policies with wide sections of the public. We’ve got be careful not to believe the propaganda of the right and of privilege ourselves, that tells us such ideas are totally beyond the pale. I mean, is there any left wing in the Labour party remaining after Starmer’s purges? We have to keep espousing sane and rational economic and social measures, because if we don’t and the economic s–t hits the fan, which it already is, there will be no alternative in the public’s mind to an even more violent swing to the right, amounting to something akin to corporate fascism. The public need to be educated on the reality of sane socialism as its best protection for its healthy future – we have become weak because socialism is a now dirty word for supposed socialists. I think its political and moral cowardice. (I am not accusing you personally of this, you are entitled to an opinion, but when you look around to the left in disarray?) Without moral principles, which are difficult to maintain, assuredly, socialism is nothing. Cheers.

      1. Niemand says:

        John Monro (thanks for the response), well now the thing is I was a strong supporter of Corbyn! Sane socialism – YES! To me he was an old Labour man with many sensible domestic policies (a bit less sure about his wider worldview). It is actually those who sought to bring him down I would regard as ‘idiotic’ but also a bit sinister with all the grossly exaggerated antisemitism stuff and relentless focus on cultural issues, some of which are ideologically driven gross distortions of reality that folk reject at gut level, at the expense of any actual political vision that can inspire the people as a whole (that was what I meant about not just on the hard left). The SNP are basically the same – like Starmer’s Labour, I struggle to understand what they stand for though I know their position very well on specific issues of, say, identity. But there was also level of dysfunction and incompetence within the Corbyn circle that messed up towards the end of the 2019 campaign (desperate last minute new promises) and so appeared to make themselves unelectable.

        But then there is the different sort who seem to have gone down the conspiracy route seeing nefarious forces everywhere and drawing untenable equivalences (BBC are no better than Russia state TV, NATO is no better than Putin, GB is no better than Russia in disinformation, supplying arms to the Saudis is the same as Putin bombing a children’s hospital, America *is* the Great Satan, the Skripal poisoning was a setup / done by GB government etc). And sadly, there is an overlap between this sort and Corbyn-type supporters and some nationalists here (SNP supporting or otherwise) and it is not ‘sane socialism’, it is actually crass, head-in-sand, distortion at best and outright lies at worst.

        And sane leftists see all this and despair because where is there to turn?

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Niemand, perhaps it is you who is applying “crass, head-in-sand, distortion” here?

          This is a site which has a special interest in Scottish independence, the civil society and electoral democratic means to achieve it, and the great national questions revolving around why that may be a desirable state. It appeals to people, therefore, who live and vote in Scotland, currently part of the UK/British Empire. Such people (as myself) cannot do anything about voting out or protesting against President Putin in Russia. Nor do we face lift-and-death decisions in occupied Ukraine. But we can influence events here to leave the UK, leave NATO, set up a Scottish alternative to the BBC, and align our independent state to non-military-industrial-securocrat nations. Such people are not only entitled, but duty-bound to express opposition to these imperial and Cold War relics and expose their harms; which in no way precludes opposition to other imperial and Cold War relics, and exposing their harms. This is not some stupid game-theory zero-sum game.

          As you should very well know, the British state is doing far more than just sell arms to the Saudis. As CAAT puts it:
          “The UK government claims it trains the coalition to improve targeting practices and avoid civilian casualties, but there has been no sign of this reducing the deadly air raid toll.”
          The UN website on Yemen currently says:
          “Yemen is in the midst of a protracted political, humanitarian and developmental crisis. With 24.1 million people – 80 per cent of the population, in need of humanitarian aid and protection, it is now the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
          “More than 14 million people are in acute need and more than three million people have been displaced from their homes since 2015.”

          You may choose to believe the official British government version of events in Salisbury, whatever they currently are, but surely it is not unreasonable to find alternative possibilities (like, I don’t know, perhaps the Skripals stole or otherwise acquired the sample of Novichok when they were in Russia, whose authorities sent a team to investigate/recover/sanction?) much more plausible and conformant to the publicly-released statements of fact?

          You previously expressed confusion over whether you were left- or right-wing. These are somewhat malleable and highly-artificial ideological constructs, but fortunately there are two simple tests. One is: are you a royalist? If you support a hereditary British monarch, you are right-wing and cannot be left-wing. The second is: do you support a public policy (or policy platform) that privileges your wants over the needs of the many? If so, classical right-wing. Perhaps there is something more personally important to you that you’d vote for the Devil if he promised it, regardless of his other policies. More likely, as someone with a conscience, a voter will try and rationalise away unpleasant and cognitively dissonant aspects of their choices, hold their noses, or dismiss critics with sophistry such as false dichotomies. One of the greatest of these, favoured by fascists, is used by the very author of this atrocious article to sign it off: you’re either for me, or against me.

          1. Niemand says:

            SD I will focus on the last bit as I don’t think it possible to thrash out the complexities of the rest here (though I would say I have seen nothing at all convincing that offers any other explanation for the Skripal poisoning – it is all speculative stuff to put it politely – and masses of hard evidence for it being an action of Putin, that is unless you simply dismiss what has been reported in the West as all somehow fake / faked and also ignore all the other similar actions over the years by Russia).

            No I am not a Royalist but am undecided what the best alternative might be and don’t feel the hatred some do towards them so don’t get involved in the invective. I also do not see getting rid of them as some kind of magic wand towards socialism. ‘Do you support a public policy (or policy platform) that privileges your wants over the needs of the many?’. Absolutely not, quite the opposite though what is interesting is how that can manifest itself and how far ‘the needs of the many’ extends and how far you are willing to go personally, so it isn’t a simple equation. I agree about the ‘with us or against us’ stance is problematic as a general principle (absolutism is hardly a stranger to Scottish nationalism and, for example, its attitude to Unionists though is it?) but surely there are times, like in a war, where it does come down to that, even if they are important contextual factors that should be examined (I don’t disagree with some of your points in this respect)? If this island were invaded and bombed I would stand by just about anyone in its defence regardless of how much I might object to them in every other way other than their desire to defeat the invaders. In this case you either decide Putin is the main culprit or not, and I do. It is inarguable he is the perpetrator of an unjust war and one that is targeting civilians and infrastructure as a strategy, and also that he is turning Russia from an authoritarian state into a totalitarian one. He also happens to be a genuine threat to Europe generally, if not the world given his nuclear arsenal and actual recent threats to use it.

  12. SleepingDog says:

    A more sober reflection on eight dangers of the new cold war are provided by this editorial from Declassified UK, which provides a useful concise summary (for example, perhaps people are unfamiliar with the NATO Able Archer exercise which nearly precipitated nuclear war, because yes, someone massing combat-ready troops on your border looks very much like a threat):
    Of course, historically many countries rejected calls to join either power blocs of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, which was why the Non-Aligned Movement formed.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      Someone needs to tweak their bots to avoid duplicate posts. Embarrassingly amateurish. Let’s see if they’ve fixed the problem:

      When Greenpeace activists risked life and limb to confront arctic drilling and were jailed in Russia (28 activists along with 2 journalists), where were the right-winge anti-Putinists then?

  13. Bissie Anderson says:

    I’m enjoying the philosophical debate, but this is going to be my final response to this thread (and indeed, this forum) as I really do need to be getting on with work (and replying to comments, as enriching an experience as it is, is a distraction). If you are serious about having this debate on an academic level, please email me and we can arrange a chat.


    1. “Yes, but how do you square your claim that the world is chaotic and contingent with your claim that human rights are universal? Aren’t they contingent and therefore relative too? Or are they in some way ‘otherworldly’ or transcendent of the contingent nature of this world?”

    The world is indeed chaotic and contingent and in this anarchic reality, my argument is that we need an epistemic anchor. There are some universal, inalienable human values in which we could (as true socialists) ground our understanding and response to current and future global crises.

    2. “…we should respond to the chaos of climate change, global financial crisis, geopolitical instability, and the digital revolution with ‘ironic sincerity’” “…a metamodernist approach would be to respond to the chaos and contingency of this geopolitical crisis…”

    Again, in the above quotes you conflate metamodernism with some sort of ideology by using the modal verb “should” and suggesting how to respond to the current geopolitical crisis in some sort of ‘metamodern’ way.

    Metamodernism is defined as the CULTURAL LOGIC of the longue durée post-2000 and a theoretical attempt – one of many – to provide a cognitive map of the present (the way Fredric Jameson did with postmodernism). In this post-postmodern world, bodies oscillate between innumerable poles in search for depth, affect, meaning, and reconstruction; indeed, trying desperately to grasp at some grand narratives while acknowledging these attempts are probably doomed. This structure of feeling is characterised by a desire to situate oneself relationally as a way to know/be/be heard/belong. As Alison Gibbons (2017) writes: “In a crisis-ridden world, subjects are once more driven by a desire for attachment to others and to their surroundings (wherever boundaries are drawn between in-group and out-group or between inside and outside). In such a fragile and fragmentary reality, the decentred self asserts itself by grounding its subjectivity in lived experience as well as in the interactions between our bodies and our environments.” (p.130).

    3. Metamodern epistemology is defined by an as-if dynamic, “inspired by a modern naivete yet informed by postmodern skepticism”, which involves “consciously commit[ting] to an impossible possibility”:

    ‘Metamodernism moves for the sake of moving, attempts in spite of its inevitable failure; it seeks forever for a truth that it never expects to find… For indeed, that is the “destiny” of the metamodernist wo/man: to pursue a horizon that is forever receding’ (Vermeulen & van den Akker, 2010).

    Vermeulen and van den Akker in fact invoke Gramsci, arguing that the metamodern structure of feeling can be best encapsulated by his adage “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” They argue that it is largely utopian, characterised by “a renewed sense of empathy, reinvigorated constructive engagement, a reappreciation of narrative and a return to craftwo/manship” (2015).

    In fact, the folks at Nordic Bildung have some notable ideas for overcoming the epistemic crisis of the present. Although admittedly overly idealistic and utopian, these ideas are worth reflecting on. Lene Andersen, for instance, advocates a perspective based around shared humanity in how people make sense of the world, grounded in an active acknowledgement that everything is interrelated, and building a multi-layered epistemology that takes the best from indigenous, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern cultural codes through bildung and human dignity.

    So, seeking an epistemic anchor in this world in turmoil and flux is a natural metamodern response (not an ideology or a petit narrative, but a way of ‘dasein’, being-in-the-world). The logical and pertinent question here would be what sort of epistemic anchor does the Left need to overcome its crisis and come out stronger?

    1. 220319 says:

      Yes, the banter here is fun. But all good things must come to an end when the toad ‘work’ squats on our lives.

      We do indeed need to anchor ourselves epistemically in a world if that world is to ‘make sense’ or even exist in any meaningful way, and that anchor is, has always been, and continues to be provided by the understandings we carry into our experience and in whose terms that otherwise chaotic and contingent experience is constructed as a world. (According to fundamental Western cosmology, chaos is the mythological void-state that precedes the creation of a cosmos.) Even the nihilism of postmodernism provides us with an epistemic anchor

      In the epoch of European history prior the Death of God, this pre-understanding (‘logos’) was supplied by God in the form of natural laws that were discoverable (in the rational tradition) by scientific enquiry or (in the mystical tradition) by divine revelation; following the Death of God, it’s been supplied instead by the narratives or ‘codes’ in which we’re variously encultured. (Very basically, since the Death of God, the world has become a cultural rather than a natural phenomenon.)

      And, yes; the culture of human rights can serve to ground our understanding and response to current and future global crises. But so can other cultures. The question is: on what epistemic basis can we ground a privileging of the culture of human rights in this regard; what is it about the culture of human rights that makes it the culture on which we *should* ground our understanding and response to those crises? Metamodernism suggests a justification, which is basically that it just *is* our culture or modality, the Zeitgeist of our epoch, and that we *should* assert that culture with ‘ironic sincerity’.

      You object to the characterisation of metamodernism as a prescriptive theory and insist instead that it’s a purely descriptive theory, which deals only in what in fact *is* and nor in what *should be*. (And yet your whole article appeals to metamodernism and its methodological prescriptions with regard to how we *should’ respond to the crisis in Ukraine?). Like postmodernism, metamodernism is indeed a cultural logic; it seeks to interpret particular cultural settings with reference to premises that are provided by and specific to that same cultural setting. But it’s just that – an interpretation – and therefore dependent on and relative to the pre-understandings the reader carries into her/his interpretation or construction of that cultural setting. As a cultural logic, it’s not objective or non-ideological; it’s just as perspectival as the next cultural logic.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with this perspective of the cultural setting of early 21st century Europe and its epistemic colonies. In this post-postmodern world, bodies do indeed appear to oscillate between innumerable poles in search of depth, affect, meaning, and reconstruction; faced by the postmodern collapse of the capitalist world in climate catastrophe, financial crisis, geopolitical instability, and nihilism, post-postmodern zoomers do indeed appear to be grasping desperately at grand narratives, while acknowledging that these attempts are probably doomed, and seeking comfort and security in an uncertain, unanchored world in the solidarity of their tribal identities and their constitutive moods and narratives (‘Zeitgeister’).

      And the epistemology that informs this metamodern condition does indeed appear to be defined by an as-if dynamic, ‘inspired by a modern naivete yet informed by postmodern skepticism’, which involves ‘consciously committing [with ‘ironic sincerity’] to an impossible possibility.

      And the those whose lives are conditioned by the metamodernity that metamodernists report do indeed appear to be destined to be forever in pursuit of a truth that they never expect to find, a horizon that’s forever receding.

      So, yes; metamodernism is fine and dandy as an interpretation or reading of/perspective on the current human condition. One may indeed seek to cultivate a self (‘Bildung’) through the pursuit of human rights and/or empathy and/or the care of crafts(wo)manship (‘Bedeutung’) and/or engagement (‘Dasein’) and/or whatever – that is, through the possibly fruitless pursuit of some horizon – but it’s still not clear why any particular horizon (human rights or human dignity, for example) is to be especially privileged over any other in the quest for meaning in an otherwise chaotic and contingent of the world.

      And as to the question of what sort of epistemic anchor the Left needs to overcome its crisis and come out stronger, the crisis of the Left is twofold: it’s riven by factionalism, with each of its factions huddled in the solidarity of its own tribal identity and constitutive moods and narratives and tethered to its own epistemic anchor; it’s out of step with the general will of the electorate, which keeps rejecting it at the polls in favour of less idealistic, more pragmatic managerial programmes of government.

      Perhaps one consequence of postmodernism is that the age of ideologies or ‘isms’ is over. After the great revolutions of 1776 in America and 1789 in France, modern nations began to express political struggle as a conflict between Left and Right, a spectrum of epistemic anchors that included socialism, liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, and (in the 20th century) communism and fascism, among others. These dominant ideologies reflected the themes of industrial society, powerful nation-states, and class politics. However, the series of rapid economic, social and political transformations that took place from the 1980s onward has provoked a worldwide crisis of ideologies, which crisis is the defining characteristic of postmodernity. New technology has increasingly – and with ever greater rapidity – undermined the traditional social structure, communities, and class divisions produced by industrial capitalism, while increased globalisation has challenged the traditional sovereignty of the nation-state.

      In light of these changes, do modern ideologies have anything to say to us today? Or has postmodernity cut us adrift from and carried us beyond their anchors?

  14. 220317 says:

    Another thought. Isn’t the attribution of the term ‘useful idiots’ to Lenin itself an example of misinformation?

    Both the Library of Congress in the USA and the Oxford English Dictionary have investigated this independently of one another, and neither has been able to find it in Lenin’s writings or speeches and concluded that it can’t be truthfully attributed to him. The OED goes further and reports that the term doesn’t seem to reflect any expression ever used within the Soviet Union.

    In fact, the term first appeared in a 1948 anti-communist article on contemporary Italian politics in the New York Times. It referred to the Partido Socialista Italiano, which had entered into a popular front with the Partito Comunista Italiano in that year’s elections. It was later taken up and used by the American Federation of Labor in the 1950s to stigmatise workers of Italian descent who supported so-called ‘Communist’ causes.

    It was also used by Time magazine to attack Danilo Dolci, the ‘Gandhi of Sicily’, one of the protagonists of the non-violence movement in Italy, for his opposition to poverty, social exclusion, and the Mafia, when he accepted the Lenin Peace Prize in 1958. Dolci’s books stunned the world with their emotional force and the detail with which he depicted the desperate conditions of the Sicilian countryside and the power of the Mafia, and he became a kind of cult hero among idealistic youngsters in the USA and Northern Europe. He was branded a ‘useful idiot’ by the right in the USA because his proto-Christian idealism was absurdly confused with communism, despite his having been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice by the international Quaker movement. He also received the 1989 Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for promoting Gandhian values, community service, and social development.

    A bit of a theme is emerging here. The term ‘useful idiot’ seems to have originated as one that’s used by the right to vilify as a ‘Communist’ or ‘Russian’ stooge anyone who appears to support ‘liberal’ or left-wing causes, which vilification is in itself yet another exercise in misinformation.

    And here we find it being used to vilify critics of Western culture and society on the fallacious grounds that as if to be critical of the values and actions of one’s own culture is to somehow aid and abet those of another. Which makes you wonder…

    1. 220317 says:

      In fact, I’m away out first thing tomorrow to get a ‘Useful Idiot’ badge made, which I’ll wear with pride.

  15. Joshu's Dog says:

    Well, well. I have come along to this late after watching the recent “Contercast” with Cat Boyd and her wee pal, who were mightily piqued at the dig about the USSR national anthem. Much as I think Jamieson and Boyd are worth listening to, it’s rather pathetic to see this ancient dynamic playing out, with the experiences of victims of Communism still being trivialized. For the tankies, Putin’s psychopathic invasion of Ukraine is really Marx’s good old history repeating as farce. The first time (the tragedy) was the Holodomor and Molotov-Ribbentrop. The farce, now, is watching condemnation of a palpable neo-monarchist/kleptocrat/fascist like Putin being caveated and softened by these “left wing” tankies who’ve now had a century to reflect on their knee-jerk identification with Russian chauvinism.

    Criticism shouldn’t be denied to “liberals” in all this either. The unspoken truth about why Russian propaganda works is because the liberal order contains so many decadent hypocrisies, Popperian Paradox style illiberalisms and overreaching messianic/utopian tendencies that massive chinks in it let cynicism and doubt seep deeply in. Yes I’m talking about “woke”, about dismissing the entire phenomenon of “Populism” as “just racism”, about reactionary censorship of debate around technocratic shibboleths like COVID. ie., all the things that cause immense neuralgia in a place like this.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Joshu’s Dog, I rather think it has been the communist victims of British actions who have been erased from British histories, let alone ‘trivialised’, but hey ho, what’s a torture-genocide of 500,000 to 1 million people if the victims can be written off as communists? https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/24/survivors-of-1965-indonesia-massacres-urge-uk-to-apologise
      Why on Earth people still believe the official UK public relations version of British imperial-colonial history is beyond me. They might want to read Ian Cobain’s The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation, or Mark Curtis’ Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World, or… well there’s tons of stuff out there that’s impeccably sourced on the subject. If you prefer audiovisual, there are two powerful documentaries on the human cost of that British intervention: The Act of Killing; and The Look of Silence.

    2. It was pretty disgraceful and incoherent to be honest. Smug ideological purity from the bunker

    3. 220321 says:

      It is indeed the liberal order’s many hypocrisies, illiberalisms, messianic/utopian tendencies, and antinomies in general that are enabling the acid of our cynicism and doubt to seep through those cracks and dissolve that order.

      And, you’re right: we shouldn’t take sides or show any preferential treatment; we shouldn’t limit our corrosive cynicism and doubt to dissolving the liberal order; the illiberal orders of its enemies have their own immanent contradictions we can exploit in the revolutionary task of deconstruction.

  16. Bissie says:

    I’ve recently discovered this award-winning documentary that encapsulates the ‘мракобесие’ of Russian imperialism that I describe in my article. Pity I didn’t know about it at the time of writing, otherwise, it would have formed the core of my article. Please, give it a watch:


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