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When One Man's Neo-Nazi is another's "National Conservative"

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

At the conclusion of "How I Became an Anti-Voting Fanatic," my most recent Media Co-op post, I stated that, in my contributions to the site, "I did not expect or attempt to reach liberals or social democrats, given the disjuncture in our epistemic premises. Instead my intention throughout has been to address other socialists."

As confirmation of the wisdom of this approach, Christopher Majka's "Elections and Politics" could hardly be bettered. Other than on the question of Ukraine (to which I'll return presently), Majka's points are evidently the product of considerable research and reflection. Yet, Majka and I bring such completely different frames of reference to our study of the same phenomena that there is really no sensible way we can have a discussion about them. In brief, for us not to end up simply talking past one another either I would have to become a liberal or he a socialist.

One way this shows up is simply in vocabulary. For example, Majka apparently equates the word "communism" with "monolithic state capitalism"; what is more, he assumes I understand the term in the same way. Not only do I not subscribe to such a view but I am at a loss to think of anyone who does, or ever has. For example, Cold War hawks would agree with the "monolithic state" part but they would definitely baulk at the "capitalism" element in the formula.

It is hard to decipher what's going on here but my best guess is that Majka's reasoning is something like: the Soviet Union called itself "communist" and some heterodox Marxists outside the federation described it as "state capitalist," so therefore "communism = state capitalism." One of the several ways that this goes wrong is that the Soviet Union never claimed to be communist―the official line was that it was socialist and only aspired to become communist in some distant future.

Furthermore, I identify myself in the piece as a "libertarian communist," which situates me squarely in an anti-statist tradition. That and my reference to the "insurrection of the masses," with no mention of a vanguard party, would be enough to make my meaning clear to anyone who has even a slight acquaintance with either the theory or the history of socialism. Of course, I'm not saying that Majka ought to have such knowledge but only that it's difficult for two people to meaningfully discuss a subject when one of them is unfamiliar with the basic concepts involved.

Another, even more significant barrier lies in our foundational assumptions. Majka argues that proportional representation (PR) "leads to much better governance and political 'buy-in' from the citizenry." I don't know what his idea of better governance is, exactly, but the use of the corporate language of "buy-in" gives me a fair notion that it wouldn't be mine.

I make it quite clear in my article that one of the principal tests by which I assess a given state is whether or not it is subservient to US imperialism. PR does not produce noticeably better results in this regard and therefore I don't see it as particularly worth striving for. I don't ask Majka to subscribe to my standards but there really isn't any point in his counselling me to adopt a strategy based on a goal that I don't recognize as worthwhile.

Much the same could be said with respect to Piketty. I haven't read the man's book and, based on the critical notices it has received in periodicals I esteem, such as Le monde diplomatique and the London Review of Books, I have no interest in doing so. As these perceptive reviewers pointed out, Piketty wants to make capitalism less inequitable. Marx not only believed that was ultimately impossible but also provided arguments for why that's not the real question anyway. Marx's life work was to show that, by its very nature, capitalism is destructive of our humanity (and the natural world). Seen in this light, the question of how to achieve a less unequal distribution of wealth is, at most, a side issue.

Again, I don't need or expect Majka to agree with me on this. He is satisfied, morally and intellectually, with Piketty's less inequitable capitalism; I am not. As long as Majka takes Piketty as his lodestar, and I Marx, Majka and I are not going to have anything meaningful to say to one another because both our values and our understanding of how the world works are almost completely at odds.

As I noted above, for the most part Majka seems well informed and reflective about his areas of interest, albeit within an analytical framework so inimical to mine that his ideas have no practical significance for me (nor mine for him I'm sure). However, I cannot let pass what he has to say on the matter of Ukraine.

Majka writes: "If Wysocki is looking (as he claims) for a superb illustration of the insurrection of the masses, he need look no further than Ukraine's Euromaidan Movement, in which over a million people rose up across the length and breadth of their country, rejecting corruption and kleptocracy, and wanting a civil society which authentically reflects their desires for material, moral, and spiritual dignity." Majka implies that I have fallen victim to "Kremlin propaganda" and approvingly quotes the Canadian academic Stephen Velychenko as an example of someone who is not similarly hoodwinked.

To begin with, the very use of the expression "Kremlin propaganda" indicates that Majka must be completely unfamiliar with the literature on critical media studies (Robert McChesney, Norman Solomon, Herman and Chomsky, etc.). Otherwise he would be aware that, to be effective, propaganda requires more than just the production of clever copy (which I doubt the Kremlin could supply anyway), and the requisite mechanisms of transmission between Putin and radical leftists in the West simply don't exist.

In any case, the principal assertions I made about Ukraine can be readily verified. For example, I stated that the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych was orchestrated by Washington. This has been confirmed by no less august a source than Victoria Nuland, the State Department's senior officer for Eurasia, who is on record as saying that the US spent $5 billion to create the opposition movement in the country.

Another assertion I made is that the Maidan was rife with neo-Nazis. A search for articles on Ukraine on several well-regarded left-wing sites such as Counterpunch, the Centre for Research on Globalisation, and the World Socialist Website, will easily confirm this. If left-wing authorities won't suffice, how about the following?

On February 25, 2014, Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz, Israel's Hebrew newspaper of record reported:

The greatest worry now is not the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents but the major presence of ultra-nationalist movements, especially the prominence of the Svoboda party and Pravy Sektor (right sector) members among the demonstrators. Many of them are calling their political opponents "Zhids" and flying flags with neo-Nazi symbols. There have also been reports, from reliable sources, of these movements distributing freshly translated editions of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Independence Square.

While they don't represent the majority of protestors, some observers have estimated them at around thirty percent and belonging predominantly to the more militant, violent vanguard. Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok is one of the three main leaders of the opposition now in power and there are rumors that he may be named a minister in the interim government.

So this is Majka's notion of "civil society" rising up to reflect authentic "desires for material, moral, and spiritual dignity"? A mere 30% neo-Nazis?

Oh, by the way, Oleh Tyahnybok can be seen flashing the fascist salute in the image accompanying one of my Media Co-op posts.

The Stephen Velychenko that Majka cites with approval wrote, on March 6, 2014:

"While the Right Sector does have a neo-Nazi fringe―the 'White Hammer' and 'Social-National Assembly'―the main group behind it is 'Tryzub.' These people are neither neo-Nazi, racist nor anti-Semitic. Their ideology is rather national conservative."

Ah, so an organization that has some neo-Nazi elements but is mostly "national conservative" is OK? I don't think so. More to the point, the Wikipedia entry on "Tryzub" tells us that the group's official name is "the Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization 'Tryzub.'"

The Wikipedia entry on the eponymous Stepan Bandera notes that the militia force he commanded killed "nearly 70,000 Poles, mostly women and children along with unarmed men...during the spring and summer campaign of 1943 in Volhynia"—and that's just one of the atrocities he authored.

So a group that named itself in honour of a known anti-Semite who carried out the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians while serving under Hitler is not neo-Nazi but just "national conservative," eh? And someone that can make such an assertion is the principal authority on which Majka rests his case for events in Ukraine? It would seem that either Majka's research on this subject leaves a great deal to be desired or he, following Velychenko, has a much more casual attitude about genocide than do I.

On a separate note, Majka tells us the Maidan was about "rejecting corruption and kleptocracy." If so, the demonstrators must be rather disappointed that their current head of state, Peter Poroshenko, is not simply an "oligarch" but the richest man in Ukraine. Interestingly, Poroshenko served up until 2012 as a minister of Viktor Yanukovych, whose administration was the target of the Maidan demonstrators.

Let's see now. An oligarch friendly to Moscow gets overthrown and is replaced by an oligarch friendly to Washington. The latter immediately imposes a crushing austerity program under orders from the International Monetary Fund and deputizes neo-Nazi militias (e.g., the Azov battalion) to go and murder civilians in eastern Ukraine. And Majka calls this a revolution and "a superb illustration of the insurrection of the masses"? OK, sure thing—and War is Peace, right?

Last but not least, the single most important point that I made about the situation in Ukraine is the risk it poses of escalation to nuclear war. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the putsch against Yanukovych was actually the work of peace-loving democrats with not a fascist amongst them (perhaps there weren't even any "national conservatives"). Let us further, say, for the sake of argument, that Ukraine subsequently came under vicious covert attack by imperialist Russia.

So there we have it: Ukraine the victim, Russia the bully. So that makes it both rational and moral for the United States to play nuclear "chicken" in the region? I'm ever so curious to know how atomic warfare would benefit the people of Ukraine, to say nothing of the rest of us.

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Drinking the Kool-Aid: Intoxicated on delusion

Those interested in this thread may wish to read my response to this article, Drinking the Kool-Aid: Intoxicated on delusion.

Dunces on the Don: A Russian farce


Those interested in the political situation in eastern Ukraine may be interested in my most recent article for Rabble.ca, Dunces on the Don: A Russian farce. This is Part VIII in a series on the Ukrainian crisis.

The site for the Halifax local of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.