Many of my Marxist friends are deeply put off by Russiagate. Best I can tell, their argument runs along the following lines:
- Claims, largely advanced by liberals, corporate Democrats and for-profit media outlets, that “Russia interfered in our elections” are overstated. Conjecture and assumption often pass for established fact, and allegations are either unsubstantiated by credible evidence or have not been scrutinized by an independent body.
- Such claims are nationalist and xenophobic, pitting one crony capitalist state against another and undermining the potential for anti-capitalist solidarity between Russians and Americans. Marxists oppose nationalism in all its (typically militant) forms in favor of the global emancipation of the working class.
- Such claims disingenuously if not cynically assert that Russian interference undermined “our democracy,” when in fact this democracy has always been a sham. Putin did not create our racist, sexist, plutocratic Constitution. He does not control American corporate-sponsored media, let alone the oligopoly of Google, Facebook and Twitter. He did not create the social divisions that have defined life in America since before its bourgeoisie revolted against the English crown to protect its slavery-based wealth from taxation.
- Such claims are baldly hypocritical, since the US has repeatedly deployed its intelligence services to corrupt, undermine and overthrow democratically-elected governments in every part of the world.
- For these reasons, Russiagate is either a fictional construct or a convenient distraction, excusing political malfeasance and serving the interests of “centrist” bourgeois technocrats complicit with capitalist domination.
I hope and believe that this is the “steel-man” reconstruction of the argument, and one that should be taken seriously. Because it’s wrong. Here is why:
- If the claims are largely unsupported, the rest of the argument is a red herring. If there was no interference, there is no decision to make about how to respond to it. Insofar as the Marxist argument relies on the notion that interference did not take place, it is indulging in kettle logic. In fact, it indulges in this logic the moment it demands that evidence be submitted for independent review, since the rest of the argument makes this call itself pointless.
As it happens, the evidence of interference amassed and made public to date is voluminous and effectively beyond dispute. It has come from a wide variety of sources, including journalists from several countries, public documents, multiple witnesses, and the Trump circus itself; it has been amply corroborated and verified; and it has from the start far exceeded the purview of state authorities. Dismissing it out of hand by casting aspersions on its sources is a sign of desperation, not serious critical analysis.
- It is certainly true that the “us vs. Russia” frame can and sometimes does smack of xenophobia that lends aid and comfort to reactionaries. But this risk is also overstated. Much of the time, it is Putin who is blamed by name; when Russia is invoked, it is mostly as a synonym for the Putin regime, not the people he rules. It is quite common for journalists and pundits covering the story to make the distinction explicit, especially since many of them and their sources have close personal and professional ties to Russia and Russians. Even the intelligence professionals are often surprisingly cautious in singling out Putin and his cronies while indemnifying Russian citizens. So while the framing itself is certainly ill-advised, it hardly stokes nationalist sentiments in the way imagined by the Marxist critics. Americans concerned about Putin’s actions are not worried about invading hordes of ex-communists; they’re worried about being able to elect their own representatives.
As for solidarity, one might credibly turn the tables: where was this much-ballyhooed solidarity before 2016? Would it not be an expression of solidarity to aid anti-Putin forces in Russia, even if they are not themselves Marxist in orientation, or should all non-Marxist emancipatory projects be dismissed as delusional and pointless? Have Russian Marxists sought to make common cause with their American comrades? Putin is genuinely popular at home, and the anti-Putin elements in Russia have evinced precious little interest in such collaboration. And have not millions of Russians expressed and practiced a virulent form of ethno-nationalism for centuries? The US surely facilitated the rise of oligarchy in Russia, but it did not introduce xenophobia there.
- The notion that Putin’s meddling is irrelevant because there was no democracy to subvert is fallacious. Beyond the fact that Putin has meddled in several other countries, nothing important turns on whether American democracy is authentic; there is simply no excuse for Putin to intervene. It is not for the Marxists to judge whether other Americans, Hungarians, Poles, or Ukrainians regard their system as sufficiently democratic—just as the Marxists themselves claim that it is not for the CIA to make such judgments in Asia, Latin America or elsewhere.
- Which brings us to the other fallacy at work in this step in the argument: tu quoque. The fact that the US has meddled—illegally and unconscionably—in other countries hardly vitiates Americans’ objection; on the contrary, if what “we” did is wrong, what Putin did is a fortiori wrong.
- Finally, objecting to Putin’s action and Trump’s ostensible collaboration in no way obstructs the Marxist political project. Tacitly endorsing what amounts to a soft right-wing coup by allowing an illegitimate authoritarian dimwit tighten his grip on power, however, does. By the same token, dismissing the 129 million Americans who voted in the 2016 presidential election as taking part in a pointless and empty ritual of self-delusion is breathtakingly condescending, deeply hypocritical and ultimately self-defeating. Even if it were true, depicting the people one wishes to save from capitalist tyranny as mere dupes is no way to enlighten them or enlist them in emancipatory struggle.
In sum, the Marxist argument on this issue is incoherent. If the only authentic struggle must run along class lines and prioritize the interests of labor against the predations of capital, those taking part in it cannot pretend to remain neutral in ongoing political conflicts. As an urgent practical matter, it is literally meaningless, if not disingenuous, to claim to oppose reactionaries like Trump while refusing to join the fight against them on the pretext that this fight is not properly revolutionary.Doing so actively exacerbates the predations to which Marxists are so vehemently and justifiably opposed, forestalling rather than hastening the dictatorship of the proletariat.