RussiaDidIt: Cheap Meddling, Closet Marxists and Racial Tensions

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

It seems like all the evils that plague the western world these days have a common cause. Brexit, Catalonia, Trump, racial tensions, the lack of credibility of the EU, all of these have a simple explanation, if we are to believe the mainstream media and pundits: Russia is behind it. And not just Russia, but Putin himself. He must be the busiest villain in history.

True journalists like Robert Parry have analysed and exposed the rise of this new McCarthyism, and how uncorroborated, or sometimes outrightly false, allegations gradually become unquestionable facts. (1)

In this piece we examine three articles that have different angles of this RussiaDidIt approach. They have the paranoia of Russian meddling in US elections as a background, but everything applies just as well to similar stories about the EU. Inevitably it all ties back to an inability, or unwillingness, to learn anything from history, and this disgusting myth that everyone should look up to the West as a beacon of superior values. We start of course with the ineffable Guardian.

Cheap journalism and cheap meddling

One day journalism students will study the spiral of lowering standards that took hold of the Guardian. One can sense the denial taking hold of the newspaper as their liberal centrist paradise crumbles. They yearn for a knight in shining armour who can come and save them from Brexit, even if it is Tony Blair, because, believe it or not, the idea of the EU has been here since the Renaissance! (2)

As expected, the Guardian has embraced the idea that the Russians “hacked” the 2016 US elections (whatever that means) wholeheartedly. And it recently reported on new, ground-breaking revelations:

Russian trolls posing as Americans made payments to genuine activists in the US to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues […]

[…] the newspaper RBC published a major investigation into the work of a so-called Russian “troll factory” since 2015, including during the period of the US election campaign, disclosures that are likely to put further spotlight on alleged Russian meddling in the election.

So far it sounds very serious. We then learn that the main “socially divisive issue” was race relations.

RBC counted 16 groups relating to the Black Lives Matter campaign and other race issues that had a total of 1.2 million subscribers. The biggest group was entitled Blacktivist and reportedly had more than 350,000 likes at its peak.

Last month, CNN also reported that US authorities believed the Blacktivist Facebook group and Twitter account were the work of Russian impostors.

The liberal media have often thrown these outrageous suggestions that activism like Black Lives Matter is part of a foreign agenda, as opposed to a reaction to the structural racism that exists in the US (more on this later). But the main point that needs to be addressed about this cunning plan is the following: how much did the Russians spend in these devious activities of inflaming tensions in the US? A whopping… 80.000 dollars! The Guardian thinks the activities of some alleged troll factory engaging in social media activity and paying activists a grand total of $80.000 represents unacceptable Russian “meddling”!

Let us put this number in perspective. Hillary Clinton made $3 million out of 12 speeches to big banks. The entire spending in the US presidential election was almost $2 billion. And the Guardian is worried about these $80.000 worth of meddling. For comparison USAID spent $4.2 million advancing US interests in Venezuela in 2015 alone. Even if these $80.000 had been spent in a single year, it would still be 50 times smaller than what one of the US empire’s foreign policy branches spent only in Venezuela.

The Guardian piece closes by mentioning that the evil Russians also bought ads on Google and Facebook for “tens of thousands of dollars” and “$100.000”, respectively. So in essence, the Guardian is reporting that it found suspicious grains of sand in the desert. (3) It would seem Putin is not just an evil mastermind, he is also a legendary bargain hunter. It should also be clear that the tech giants are more than happy to play their part in the witch-hunt and the crusade against “fake news”, which is nothing but an attempt by the dominant classes to monopolise their control over information.

Trump is a closet Marxist!

Next we look at an opinion column which has got to be one of the most ludicrous texts ever written. At first glance it could be mistaken for satire, but it was actually written by Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard and former member of the Obama administration, for Bloomberg News. The title is “Russia Is Using Marxist Strategies, and So Is Trump”!

While the entire piece should be framed for posterity, we will just quote some of the highlights:

Karl Marx and his followers argued that revolutionaries should disrupt capitalist societies by “heightening the contradictions.” Russia used a version of that Marxist idea in its efforts to disrupt the 2016 presidential campaign. […]

What is more surprising, and far more important for American politics, is that President Donald Trump is drawn to a similar strategy.

Marx contended that as the conditions of workers started to improve, they would cease to be content with their lot, or to regard their alienation as inevitable. Lenin seized on this idea and transformed it into a revolutionary strategy. […] The job of the communist revolutionary was to “heighten” or “accelerate” those contradictions.

During the 2016 campaign, Russians did something very much like that, not to produce a revolution, but to deepen and intensify social divisions (and to help elect Donald Trump).

In short, the Russians tried to foster a sense of grievance and humiliation on all sides. […] Lenin would have been proud.

The Russian actions that Sunstein is talking about are none other than the buying of social media ads and fostering of activism that we described in the previous section. But how about that for a deep understanding of Marx and Lenin? Sunstein does try to shield himself with a footnote that says:

I am giving a brisk summary of some famously complex and ambiguous arguments from both Marx and Lenin. [my emphasis]

There is nothing ambiguous about Marx and Lenin. Sunstein’s argument, on the other hand, is unambiguously idiotic. The fundamental contradiction in capitalist society is that one (large) group, the working-class, sells its labour, while another one, the bourgeoisie, profits from it because it owns the means of production. These two groups have fundamentally different interests and are irrevocably at odds, this is called class struggle. Marx’s work is monumental because it was the first truly scientific analysis of the capitalist system, which meant it also explained how it could be destroyed.

The “accelerating of these contradictions” means accelerating this class conflict in order to do a little more than “disrupting” capitalism. The goal is to overthrow capitalism altogether, have the workers seize power and the means of production, and have a society free of exploitation (4) and where production is directed to satisfy human need and not the profit of capitalists. In other words, socialism.

Lenin’s contributions to Marxism, both in theory and practice, are of course way beyond the childish arguments in this piece, from his understanding of capitalism’s inevitable development into imperialism, to his development of the role of the vanguard party. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were responsible for the October Revolution of 1917, the first time that capitalism was overthrown, and the starting point for all the liberation movements that followed.

The whole argument, if it were taken seriously, would be about the strategy to “divide and conquer”, which has nothing to do with Marxism. Just like Trump, the real-estate mogul and reality-TV star, has nothing Marxist about him. If anything, Trump is the highest embodiment of western capitalism.

Surely among the vast libraries at Harvard there must be a “Marx for dummies” book that Professor Sunstein can read. But of course, writing these disingenuous pieces is much easier. The goal of course is to simultaneously push the RussiaDidIt argument and discredit a true alternative to the (capitalist) system, which has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton and a lot (or everything!) to do with Marx and Lenin.

Black Power and Red Baiting

The final article we wish to examine appeared in The Atlantic magazine, and it focuses on the long history of Russia’s “involvement in America’s race wars”. First of all, for a country with a history of slavery and segregation of African-Americans, not to mention the internment of Japanese-Americans during WW2, the term “race wars” seems like an awful understatement. One thing that actually has not changed is the red-baiting practices of the mainstream media, accusing anyone who deviates from the approved narrative of being a Soviet/Russian agent.

The article explores the history of the Soviet Union taking advantage of racial injustice in the United States for propaganda purposes. How dare those commies bring up the plight of black people in the US? Anyone who knows a bit of history knows that this is not entirely out of place. For example, in the struggle against apartheid, notably in the war in Angola, the US was on the side of apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union was on the side of the Angolans (and of black South Africans), even if their hand might have been forced by the Cubans.

There is plenty to be said about the Soviet Union’s foreign policy, but the fact is that there was not a single liberation struggle in the Third World in which the Soviet Union was on the side of the oppressor/colonist and the US on the side of the liberation movement. In fact it is the opposite that was true in most cases, if not all.

This takes us to the crux of the matter. According to historian Mary Dudziak, quoted in this piece,

Early on in the Cold War, there was a recognition that the U.S. couldn’t lead the world if it was seen as repressing people of color.

Dudziak and all these analysts and journalists take for granted that the US, and the west in general, are supposed to lead the world. According to them, these issues of treating black people as second class citizens are a problem mainly because they make the US look bad, and its noble mission of spreading freedom and democracy becomes much harder! It would seem that if racism was a little more polite (or if the Soviets did not bring it up!), then the Sandinistas would have been happy with Somoza, the Viet Cong would have had nothing to fight for, etc.

This unquestioned embrace of US exceptionalism, coupled to a complete ignorance of history, is what ensures that these analysts completely miss the point. For them, people rejecting and resisting US imperialism, or rejecting the EU after years of austerity policies, is just a misunderstanding, which needs to be explained by nonsense such as RussiaDidIt. Had these people actually read Marx and Lenin, as opposed to spewing these idiocies, they would understand that backlash against neoliberalism, or resistance against US imperialism, is to be expected. And there is no amount of fancy speeches by the likes of Obama, saying “freedom” and “democracy” in every other sentence, that will fix that.

The loyal flag-bearers of the imperial establishment are outraged at the idea of someone paying $80.000 to US activists, but the US spending tens of millions funding NGOs and political parties all over the world is more than natural. They are outraged that RT reports on Occupy Wall Street or Ferguson, but Voice of America and Radio Martí are supposed to be welcomed by the rest of the world. Because they stand for the better values… Apart from all the death and misery that is caused by US imperialism, it is this belief in American exceptionalism that makes the US so despised around the world.

Finally, we should stress that our argument is not whataboutism. We are not saying that this issue in place X should not be discussed because there is this other issue in the US. Outlets like RT and Sputnik should have their editorial lines and journalism standards analysed and criticised. The same holds true for Russia’s foreign policy. But, paraphrasing someone who was also accused of being a Soviet agent, it cannot be the greatest purveyor of meddling in the world and media outlets with ever lowering standards bringing these charges forward and pretending to be the Guardians of truth.


(1) We have also written on the ridiculous report published by the CIA, FBI and NSA on the Russian “hacking” of US elections.

(2) One wonders why the EU is symbolised by the Medici paying Leonardo da Vinci or by Erasmus and Thomas More being friends and not, for example, by the bubonic plague or Lucrezia Borgia’s antics. You know what else was common to all of Europe before the EU? The slave trade.

(3) More recently the Guardian published another bombshell piece, saying that Russia’s Facebook posts reached 126 million Americans. But we are talking about 80.000 posts, only 0.004% of news feed content according to Facebook, during a two year period. The big number is perfect for propaganda, but conveniently it is not made clear whether 126m different users saw the posts, or if for example 10m users on average saw 120 of these posts.

(4) We should clarify that exploitation does not mean having a evil boss that pays low salaries and forces workers to work weekends. Workers in capitalism are exploited simply because there is a value difference between what they earn and what they produce. In other words, profit comes from unpaid labour. Exploitation is the foundation of capitalism and should not be framed in moral terms, which imply that the problem is not the system but a matter of finding “good capitalists”.

Source: InvestigAction