A review by Louis Proyect.
On September 20, 2013, Vladimir Putin gave a speech at a Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Novgorod region that announced his new orientation to the far-right internationally:
Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.
The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.
I discovered this hair-raising speech in Anton Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir”, a carefully researched book that was published in August 2017 and that is must-reading for anybody trying to make sense of the deep divisions on the left about Russia’s role in world politics. Information about the book can be found on Shekhovtsov’s website alongside a blog that keeps up with the same kind of research. For example, a June 2018 post reveals that ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky hosted a conference in Moscow intended to connect like-minded Russians with groups like the National-Democratic Party (NDP) in Germany that is regarded as the country’s most significant neo-Nazi party since 1945.
Like every far-right party discussed in the book, the NDP is “pro-Palestinian”. For example, during the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza, they organized a “holocaust vigil” for the Palestinians. As an indication of the tortured state of such politics, some German Jews, who are mostly Russian emigres, have joined the neo-Nazi AfD because of its opposition to “Islamic terrorism”. When you keep in mind that Putin is best friends with Benjamin Netanyahu at the same time he is the most important ally of Bashar al-Assad, who has the reputation of being the Palestinian’s most reliable defender, you can see how tangled things can become.
Shekhovtsov begins his analysis with an examination of some obscure figures on the far-right in the USA and France who championed Russia during the Cold War as outliers anticipating more recent overtures. While they never became leaders of a mass movement, their ideas have undoubtedly been studied by men like David Duke and Richard Spencer who are avid supporters of Russia today.
Francis Parker Yockey was the first ideologue to propose an alliance between the far-right and Russia during the Cold War, going against the grain of the John Birch Society and other traditionally reactionary groups. Yockey defined his ideas in “Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics” that was published in 1948. Essentially, Yockey advocated a Eurasianism that has gained currency once again in the writings of Alexander Dugin and other far-right ideologues in Russia. Like the Birchers, Yockey was hostile to Bolshevism but saw it as a political philosophy at odds with the Russian soul. His dream was a new Europe extending from London to Moscow that broke with the new American hegemon and that would be based on neo-fascism. To begin spreading his gospel, he met with Oswald Mosley who was thinking along the same lines. No longer a “British Firster”, Mosley had developed a pan-Europeanist program in a book titled “The Alternative”.
Yockey created a group called the European Liberation Front (ELF) that considered the possibility of forming guerrilla groups in West Germany that would collaborate with the Soviet military against the American occupation. One scholar believed that the ELF was being financed in part by the USSR. In the ELF Manifesto, Yockey blamed the “Asiatic elements” and Jews in Russia that were an obstacle to it being the leader of a reborn fascist Europe. When the show trial dramatized by Costa-Gravas in “The Confession” was held in Czechoslovakia in 1952 against mostly Jewish CP members, including Rudolf Slansky, Yockey was ecstatic since he saw this as proof that Russia was finally purging its Jewish-Bolshevik elements. Like many of Putin’s supporters on the left, Yockey became an ardent advocate of Third World liberation struggles. Shortly before his death in 1960, he went to Cuba to try to set up a meeting with Castro.
His pro-Soviet positions were embraced by other fascists. The National Renaissance Party (NRP) was sympathetic to Russia as well. Like Yockey, they argued that since the Kremlin was against the Jews, it couldn’t be all bad. James Madole, the founder of the NRP and a figure just as obscure as Yockey, developed close ties to the Soviet consulate in New York and even tried to convince the press officer about how such a neo-Nazi group could be a solid ally in a war against the Jews.
More concerned about Yockey’s overtures to the Kremlin and Fidel Castro than to someone like Mosley, the FBI arrested him in 1960. While in custody, he ended his life by taking a cyanide pill.
Clearly, men like Yockey and Madole were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Despite the brief periods during the Weimar Republic when a misbegotten CP flirted with the Freikorps, and later when the USSR and Nazi Germany were bound to another by a non-aggression pact, the Kremlin saw the far-right as its enemy.
It was only in the post-Yeltsin era that such bridges began being built between Russia and the far-right. It is important to understand, however, that Shekhovtsov does not see Putin as orchestrating their construction from above. Largely, it has been the result of nominally independent economic and political players in Russia taking their own initiatives—but inspired by the Kremlin’s foreign policy—that is at work. This gives Putin a certain degree of plausible deniability in the way that some analysts described Reagan’s role in Iran-Contra.
Russia understood that parties such as the National Front in France, Jobbik in Hungary, the Lega Nord in Italy, UKIP in England, and others less well-known could be brought around. They saw Putin first and foremost as a supporter of “traditional family values” as indicated in the speech above as well as an adversary of the European Union, whose liberal immigration norms were hated as much as they are by Donald Trump. It was not just the open borders of the EU that enabled Polish workers to work for lower wages in England that had to go. It was also the willingness of countries such as Germany and Sweden to take in refugees. A hatred of Muslims was already gestating in Europe when the arrival of tens of thousands fleeing the war in Syria fueled the growth of AfD and the mistitled Sweden Democrats.
In addition, the far-right was eager to take Russia’s side in its periodic wars with upstart former Soviet republics such as Georgia, Ukraine and Chechnya. If “colored revolutions” were a plot orchestrated by the Jew George Soros, why wouldn’t you support Russia?
A large part of Russia’s campaign to win friends and influence people on the far-right entails its ambitious media outreach that is practically synonymous with Russia Today. The network was renamed RT in order to disassociate it from the kind of vertical organization extending down from the Kremlin alluded to above. In chapter five of Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir”, there are some startling revelations on RT’s unbridled rightwing politics despite the good reputation it enjoys among some leftists.
Early on, RT executives figured out that “Russia is good” programming would not work in the West but if you mixed “Russia is good” with “The West is Bad”, you might have a winning formula. This is commonly known as “whataboutism” and has a certain viability since it is based on the obvious reality that the West is pretty damned bad. If Assad is blowing up Syrian hospitals, then you can always feature news about Saudi Arabia doing the same thing in Yemen. (Not that you can get any news about Russian jets bombing hospitals in Idlib.)
RT has a large following in the West because its programming is laced with conspiracy theories that went viral with the advent of the Internet. You can find a plethora of reports on 9/11 being an inside job. For example, Aymeric Chauprade, a leader of the National Front in France, appeared on an RT show titled “9/11: Challenging the Official Version”. He was identified as a “dissident voice in the French academic world” as if he were the French Noam Chomsky.
Another frequent RT guest was Lyndon LaRouche who became a diehard supporter of Vladimir Putin after being released from prison in 1994. In every single act of defiance by a former Soviet Republic, LaRouche could be counted upon to reduce it to a CIA plot. Another reliable booster of Russia’s need to defend its borders was Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the Freedom Party in Austria that is nativist to the core and emphatically opposed to sanctions against Russia. The fascist party works closely with the Lega Nord in Italy and has helped to form a coalition of the far-right in 2014 named the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom. Without overstating the case, it might be described as the kernel of a fascist international.
Despite the presence of many well-known leftists as hosts or interviewees on RT, its coverage of certain litmus test events place it firmly in Fox TV territory. When an immigrant was killed by the cops in May 2013, riots broke out in Stockholm, Sweden. They were seen by RT as a symptom of the EU’s failure. Out of 7 people interviewed on a show titled “They Don’t Want to Integrate”, four belonged to racist and far-right circles, including a Sweden Democrats member of parliament.
For his expertise on Libya and Syria, RT turned to Richard Spencer, the fascist who became an instant celebrity after a YouTube video showed him being punched in the face by an anti-fascist. Another expert is Marine Le Pen, who is on RT almost as much as Michael Moore is on MSNBC. One of the more appalling revelations in this chapter is this:
The introductions of far-right commentators in the Russian media were sometimes overtly impudent. This was the case, for example, of Jobbik’s Marton Gyongyosi who, in 2012. urged the Hungarian government to draw up lists of Jews who posed a “national security risk”. In an introduction to the interview with him in Komsomol’skaya Pravda, the female journalist described Gyongyosi as an “elegant, handsome 37-year old man” a “way-up and sophisticated … ardent patriot of Hungary” who “could not care less” that “he had been called an anti-Semite and a neo-Nazi”. The journalist of Komsomol’skaya Pravda, which earlier reported on anti-Semitic activities of Jobbik, apparently needed this whitewashing and distracting introduction to play down Gyongyosi’s anti-Semitism and lend credibility to his words that the EU was a colony of the United States and that the CIA, the US State Department, George Soros and European politicians had allegedly orchestrated the Ukrainian protests.
Despite my admiration for Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir” being unbounded, I must state that I have different ideas on the origins of the Russia/Far-right alliance and how it can be opposed. I doubt that he would object to me describing him as coming at these questions in the same way as Ann Applebaum and Timothy Snyder, who regard Putin, Le Pen, Orban, Salvini, et al as enemies of democracy and Western values. I have a different take.
In my view, unless you factor in the economic consequences of the Western System, for the lack of a better term, you will fail to understand why people are turning to the right. While it is true that reporters are not being murdered in London or New York for writing articles critical of the government, the freedom they enjoy is joined at the hip to the freedom of the marketplace. Nativism is growing apace because unemployment is also growing apace. Runaway shops leave people destitute and hungry. Last week the NY Times reported that schoolchildren are going hungry because of cutbacks). One teacher was shocked to see one of her students sifting through trash cans for discarded fruit. When you turn back the clock to the days of Charles Dickens, people do desperate things—including voting for Brexit, a rightwing move that is motivated to a large extent by resentment toward immigrants.
While it is true that we need political democracy, it is just as true that we need economic democracy. Without a decent job that pays enough to pay for housing, food and medical care, people resort to desperate measures, including following a rightwing demagogue who promises the world while practically stealing the bread from their table. That is what we are dealing with now in the Trump regime. To put an end to Trumpism, Putinism, Modism, and Erdoganism, we need a movement that moves on all fronts, from human rights to democratic rights. As Rosa Luxemburg once put it, the choice is between socialism and barbarism.
First published in CounterPunch.