Thanks to Bernie Sanders, leftwingers of my generation are poised to wield enormous influence over national politics. Let’s not use it to excuse Russia
Wednesday 3 August
The idea that Russia is meddling in the US elections on behalf of Donald Trump – fueled by reports that Russians may have hacked and leaked Democratic National Committee emails via WikiLeaks – has reignited debates about US-Russian relations. It has also made apparent the American left’s failure to articulate a coherent approach to Russia.
No one knows what Trump’s exact relationship with Vladimir Putin or Russian financial interests is – in part because he refuses to release his tax statements to the public. But Trump isn’t the only one that has an ambiguous relationship with Russia. The Soviet Union broke up 25 years ago, but cold war rhetoric continues to unhelpfully inform how the American left talks about its largest successor state.
Much of this can be blamed on the hawks in the Washington foreign policy establishment who are committed to confrontation with Putin. There are good reasons to believe that the US should avoid needless belligerence against a nuclear-armed power, and that proposals to expand Nato into Georgia, to arm Ukraine against Russian-backed rebels or simply to denounce Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe” are ill-advised.
But that doesn’t excuse the left’s glibness toward the possibility that Russia is interfering in a US election. Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation, wrote in the Washington Post this week that Democrats “are on the verge of becoming the Cold War party, with Trump, ironically, becoming the candidate of détente” and denounced what she termed “neo-McCarthyism”. There is also Glenn Greenwald, who, after Trump called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, dismissed the stunned reaction of much of the US media as “such unmitigated bullshit”.
And WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t comment on how his organization acquired the DNC emails, but has pushed back against the notion of Russian involvement, despite the growing consensus among US spy agency officials that they were involved.
But it’s not just prominent leftwing leaders who are turning a blind eye to Russia. Some young supporters of Bernie Sanders, who are justifiably upset about the information revealed by WikiLeaks, told the Daily Beast’s Tim Mak that they don’t care what role Russia might have played.
As someone who supported Sanders, and who has also spent years closely observing Russian politics, it was frustrating to watch many of my friends and allies on the left shrugging off concerns about Russia in my Twitter feed last week. Nearly a century after the Bolsheviks first seized power, the American left’s relationship with Russia is still defined by an abstract nostalgia for a failed socialist experiment that has little relevance today.
Notwithstanding the Kremlin’s protecting of Snowden or its patriotic celebrations of the communist era, contemporary Russia is in no sense a left-leaning country.
It is better understood as a cautionary tale of unchecked neoliberalism. The US-supported 1990s privatization schemes described in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine are directly responsible for the rise of Putin and the repressive state he presides over.