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An Idiot Tries to Think Usefully about Ukraine

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.


Please be advised that the following post was written with only two purposes in mind: to rebut claims by Christoper Majka that call into question my competence as a Media Co-op blogger and to demonstrate that Majka has shown himself to be utterly unreliable as an analyst on affairs in Ukraine. Neither of these objectives is particularly edifying and I sincerely regret that I have been driven to this expedient. However, I feel that the outrageous character of the polemics that Majka has directed against me over the past week has left me no choice.

The very little knowledge I have of Christopher Majka's work in the natural sciences suggests that it is of good quality. I know nothing of how he has addressed the varied subjects of his many blog posts with the exception of certain of his writings on Ukraine. I have scant cause to take issue with him on any topic other than Ukraine.

Majka and I have deeply conflicting views on Ukraine but, as I made clear in two posts to the Halifax Media Co-op on August 26th, I was content to agree to disagree with him on the matter. This became impossible, however, when Majka responded to my overture with scurrilous and personal attacks not only on me but on two other Media Co-op readers who had dared to take issue with his views. I didn't read Majka's interventions for several days but when I did I felt that he was forcing my hand. I determined to show that, behind all his bombast, Majka's contributions to the debate on Ukraine were illegitimate in form and nugatory in content.

The present document offers a representative sample (a complete catalogue would be unmanageable) of various disreputable tactics used by Majka in his Media Co-op posts of August 25th, 26th, 28th and 31st. It is not to be understood as an essay but simply as a record of how Majka, who vaunts himself both as an authority on current events in Ukraine and as someone devoted to using "evidence, reason, and evidenced-based [sic] reasoning as a mechanism to understand the world," has himself made nonsense of both of these claims through his Media Co-op posts.

I have no doubt that Majka will respond in detail and at length. I, for my part, do not intend to reply no matter what he says, since our exchanges inevitably throw up more heat than light. Since, therefore, I will not be in a position to defend myself, I ask readers to pay particular attention to the various false claims that I show Majka to have authored in his Media Co-op posts, and to bear them in mind when assessing his future sallies.


(1) Outright falsehoods

(1a) No references

In his August 31st post "Useful Idiots: Addled by Anti-Americanism," Majka writes: "How many sources are references [sic] in Wysocik's [sic] comments here or here? Zero."

The first "here" links to my essay "When One Man's Neo-Nazi is another's 'National Conservative'" while the second connects to my essay "Irreconcilable Differences." That no sources are referenced in the latter is true but seriously misleading since it is a short opinion piece that contains no factual claims about Ukraine.

With respect to the first essay, however, Majka's claim is patently false. In it I refer to estimates of the level of neo-Nazi participation in the Maidan Square protests, citing (indeed, quoting from) an article in Haaretz. Additionally I list Wikipedia as a source for two other claims: one pertaining to "Tryzub" and the other to Stepan Bandera. Finally, I give general references to several other sources.

(1b) Refutation and failure to respond

In his August 28th post "Ideology versus Reason: How abandoning evidence leads to absurdity," Majka writes: "Wysocki...has failed to respond to a single point in which everything that he has claimed has been thoroughly refuted -- not by what I believe -- but by the evidence." [Throughout this document, emphasis is in the original in all quotes taken from Majka.]

This statement is false twice over. First, no matter what Majka's views on convincing evidence may be, it is obviously untrue that he has "thoroughly refuted" my claims in their entirety if only for the reason that he hasn't addressed them all. For example, in "One Man's Neo-Nazi" I show how dubious is Stephen Velychenko's assertion that, for the most part, Right Sector is "neither neo-Nazi, racist nor anti-Semitic"; Majka does not once mention Right Sector until after August 28th and neither of his references thereafter pertain to my claims about the group. Nor was this a minor, easily overlooked point in my essay: it was what provided the title.

There are various other claims that Majka failed to address, never mind refute, but let me pass on to the other false assertion, viz., that I have failed to respond to any of Majka's points. It may well be that Majka found my replies unconvincing but it is once again entirely untrue that I did not respond to any of his points.

Even though a central theme of both of my August 26th posts was that I saw no chance of convincing Majka of anything―therefore no point in trying―I did, in fact, respond to certain of his points. To cite two instances, I took issue with Majka's use of the term "Kremlin propaganda" and reacted to his assertion that the Maidan was about "rejecting corruption and kleptocracy" by commenting on the installation of Petro Poroshenko, the wealthiest man in the country, as president of Ukraine.


(2) Baseless ascription to critics of views they find repugnant

(2a) Putin as a progressive force

In "Ideology versus Reason," Majka claims to have identified the "underlying problem that is typified by Wysocki's responses." After a lengthy digression it emerges that this is the belief that "Vladimir Putin is a progressive force in the world, and a person whose word is to be trusted and believed."

This is a fascinating revelation since I myself was previously unaware of my admiration for Putin. After all, in the very post that Majka is responding to I refer to Putin as "ruthless." Similar comments can be found scattered throughout my work and nowhere do I give the slightest indication that I see Putin as being any kind of "progressive force."

(2b) Fascist states

In his "Useful Idiots" post Majka responds to a comment by Brooks Kind. Majka goes to great lengths to demonstrate that "extremist right-wing parties" have recently polled a much higher vote in many other European countries than in Ukraine. He then goes on to conclude that, "by Mr. Kind's calculus, France, Greece, Denmark, Austria, and Hungary must therefore all be Neo-Nazi, fascist states."

This sounds like a decisive refutation of Kind's argument―the only problem is that Kind never made it. The sole reference to neo-Nazis or fascists in Kind's piece refers to "the neo-Nazi infestation of the movement and government [Majka] is celebrating"; nowhere does Kind give any hint that he regards Ukraine as a "Neo-Nazi, fascist state." Thus, Majka's finding that other countries are worse in this regard has no relevance―but for the unwary it serves Majka's purpose of making it seem that Kind is traducing the people of Ukraine.

(2c) Disregard for Ukrainians

Elsewhere in "Useful Idiots," in a further attempt to frame Kind as anti-Ukrainian, Majka asserts that Kind's "sole focus is on Ukraine as a shadow play of great power politics and who (America or Russia) should control the destiny of Ukranians." [sic]

Kind's comment certainly does focus on great power politics―for the simple reason that his main purpose in writing was to highlight the way that Majka "downplays or ignores one of the most salient features of this international crisis: the real threat to Russia." However, to characterize this as an obsession with the question of whether the US or Russia "should control the destiny" of Ukrainians is unconscionable. Kind, in his reference to "the depopulated earth...in deep nuclear winter" that would result from an analogous crisis at the US frontier, indicates to any but the most stubbornly closed mind that his preoccupation is not with control but with survival―that of Ukrainians as much as that of anyone else.


(3) Straw men

Majka, when he is not attributing to Brooks Kind or myself views that we emphatically do not hold, puts considerable energy into disproving claims that neither one of us has ever made. This dubious tactic allows Majka to create an image of himself as an expert on all things Ukraine, from which vantage he is then able to present himself as competent to judge the contributions of others on the subject.

Revealing the various straw men that Majka takes aim at decisively undermines Majka's pretensions to expertise on Ukraine. Undoubtedly Majka has at his command many facts about the country but this in itself signifies little. Expertise lies not merely in the possession of facts, particularly in complex questions of social science where there is likely to be no effective upper bound on the number of potentially relevant facts, but in the capacity to organize these data in a meaningful way and the ability to bring critical insight to bear on them. On Ukraine, at any rate, Majka demonstrates little of the first and nothing of the second.

(3a) Putin

Majka makes great play of all that is wrong with Vladimir Putin, supplying between seven and nine supporting references on the topic (albeit with considerable overlap) in each of "Drinking the Kool-aid," "Ideology versus Reason" and "Useful Idiots." He goes on about Putin's connections to religious authorities of the Orthodox Church, the prosecution of Pussy Riot, the unsavory background of one of Putin's advisers as well as Putin's own well known past as a KGB agent.

One wonders what the point of this demonstration was since neither Brooks Kind nor I have ever written anything that remotely suggests that either of us would deny the reactionary character of Putin's administration. Kind does defend Putin as a rational agent, as would I, but I fail to see how the actions that Majka highlights have any bearing on this question.

In the mass of links that Majka provides the only ones that appear to have any relevance to the issue at hand are the references to Georgia and Chechnya. As to the first, it was Georgia that initiated hostilities in the 2009 South Ossetia War, firing first on South Ossetian forces and then on Russian peacekeepers. This hardly bolsters Majka's case that Putin is an out-of-control maniac. As for Chechnya, while Russia has indeed savaged this region in an absolutely indefensible manner, it is inadmissible to use Putin's reaction to an internal rebellion as a basis for claiming that he presents a standing menace to his neighbours. What is more, it is highly ironic that Majka has such tender sensibilities on Moscow's suppression of an insurgency while finding nothing to condemn in Kiev's brutal efforts to crush the rebellion in Donbass.

(3b) Fascists everywhere (except in Ukraine)

As noted above, Majka is at pains to show that the far right is more prominent almost everywhere else in Europe (including Russia) than it is in Ukraine, dilating on the subject both in "Useful Idiots" and in "Drinking the Kool-aid." Be this as it may it has no relevance since none of Majka's critics on the Media Co-op has ever asserted the contrary.

For example, what I have asserted is that a significant minority of the protesters in Maidan square, were neo-Nazis and that they had a disproportionate impact on events. I have also said―and this is simply an indisputable fact―that approximately one third of the interim governing council that assumed power after the coup was drawn from the fascist Svoboda party.

I have never addressed the question of the degree of fascist penetration of the overall anti-Yanukovych movement throughout Ukraine (which Majka repeatedly claims to have involved one million people without once giving a citation for this figure). It is not one that I have deemed relevant for my purposes, which were discussing the coup, in Kiev, that overthrew Yanukovych, and the character of the administration that came to power afterwards. Still less have I had anything to say about the extent to which Ukrainians in general support fascism.


(4) Appeal to authority

Majka does his best to present himself as an authority on Ukraine and it is clear that, as such, he feels that this makes his opinion more valid than those of his critics. I have explained in the "Straw men" section of this piece why I regard as dubious Majka's assertions of expertise on current events in Ukraine. While it's impossible to imagine him concurring with me on this point he does seem to realize that there are limits to how much the average reader will accept based on an author's claims about himself.

One of Majka's solutions is to place his opinions in the mouths of other people that have a higher public profile than himself and dress up these speculations as fact, or something like it. This is the old dodge that logicians term "the appeal to authority." The fallacy can be formally stated as: X is an authority about P; X says q about P; therefore q must be true.

Put another way, we don't believe that substance K is potassium because a chemist says it is; we believe that it's potassium because the chemist has performed a replicable test on it. Even absent the test the chemist may be able to make a more educated guess about whether K is potassium than could the average layperson, but it would remain conjecture. As noted in the "Straw men" section, the danger of accepting apparently educated opinion as infallible authority becomes still more pronounced under the vastly more complicated conditions that social science encounters in the real world.

(4a) Myrna Kostash

Majka several times calls Myrna Kostash, a Canadian writer and dramatist of Ukrainian descent, as a witness for the defence. In "Useful Idiots" he quotes approvingly from Kostash's article "My Maidan" in which she castigates Canadian progressives for, inter alia, "uncritical transmission of anti-Ukrainian propaganda."

Kostash's essay is simply a series of impressions based on her personal experience in Ukraine at the "high point of perestroika" and her observations of the country since then. She says nothing of having been in Ukraine in the past quarter-century and, given both the personal nature of her account and its preoccupation with the Maidan, one can only conclude she was not in Ukraine during the protests. In short, it is an opinion piece. Nothing wrong with that―I compose them all the time.

The problem is not with Kostash, who has every right to enunciate her views (no matter how much I disagree with them), but with Majka, who wants to use Kostash's opinion piece as "evidence" that critics such as myself are actuated by nothing but "knee-jerk anti-Americanism and a gullible predisposition to Russian disinformation and propaganda." That Kostash happens to share this belief with Majka is in itself no more proof that it is well-founded than that Majka holds it himself―which is to say, none at all.

It also bears mentioning that Kostash's article includes only a single supporting reference (a piece in the New York Timesas for the reliability of the Times, see The Record of the Paper by Falk and Friel). Rather a strange choice for Majka, with all his professed concern for evidence and citation.

(4b) Stephan Velychenko

Stephan Velychenko of the University of Toronto is someone else that Majka likes to employ as a ventriloquist's dummy. In three separate posts Majka trots out a block quote in which Velychenko asserts that radical leftists critical of the Majka line on Ukraine "analyze events in terms of anti-Americanism rather than anti-imperialism."

Majka may have felt that Kostash and Velychenko had given more felicitous expression to views that Majka holds than he himself could have managed. If Majka had presented the quotations in this light they would have been unexceptionable. Instead, however, he tries to fool readers into thinking that any opinions touching on Ukraine that are expressed by such presumed authorities on the country as Kostash and Velychenko must necessarily be true. On this basis Majka is able to conclude that Brooks Kind and I, along with any other leftists who differ with Majka over Ukraine, are all in thrall to anti-Americanism.

What makes Majka's ploy all the more outrageous is that the topics on which he has his authorities expound are only incidentally related to Ukraine, their presumed field of expertise. For example, I somehow doubt that "anti-Americanism" has long been an area of significant academic interest within Velychenko's discipline of Ukrainian Studies.


(5) Dodgy numbers

(5a) Nuland's $5 billion

In "One Man's Neo-Nazi" I wrote: "Victoria Nuland, the State Department's senior officer for Eurasia...is on record as saying that the US spent $5 billion to create the opposition movement" in Ukraine. Majka attempts to rebut this by citing the PunditFact website to the effect that: "the United States did not spend $5 billion to incite the rebellion in Ukraine." Evidently Majka fails to appreciate that the two claims are in no way incompatible: I didn't say that $5 billion went into inciting a coup but rather into building a movement that eventually overthrew Yanukovych's pro-Moscow administration.

Following PunditFact, Majka notes that the $5 billion was spent over the course of 20 years, as if to say that the sum really wasn't that big after all. Five billion divided by 20 equals 250,000,000; given that the total combined revenue of federal political parties in Canada in 2009 was only $73.7 million, I would suggest that $250 million per year on political expenditures would amount to a fairly significant sum in a debt-ridden country like Ukraine.

As for the money being spent on "building democracy," see "Latin American coups upgraded" by Maurice Lemoine in the August, 2014, edition of Le monde diplomatique. In the article Lemoine discusses how the US Agency for International Development "finances and gives ideological support to political oppositions and NGOs"; another useful source is William Blum's article "Trojan Horse: The National Endowment for Democracy."

PunditFact states that the US "does this with hundreds of other countries." This is inevitably something of an exaggeration since there are fewer than 200 states in the entire world but Blum and Lemoine would certainly agree that such programs are widespread; they also show in detail how right-wing coups follow such program spending almost in lockstep.

Finally, as I have noted before, there is also the question of, "Who you gonna believe?" The source that PunditFact gives for its information is an official of the US government who almost certainly would have been primed to do damage control on the issue.

(5b) Poroshenko's election

Majka tells us that "decomcratic [sic] aspirations for a civil society by the Ukrainian people elected Petro Poroshenko as president of Ukraine...with an absolute majority of 54.7 per cent -- more than the combined vote of all sixteen other candidates who ran against him." 

True enough. However, Majka omits to mention some other pertinent figures. Poroshenko's result was based on a 59.9% voter turnout, not including Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Since about one in seven Ukrainians live in these regions, and the turnout there was about 20%, Poroshenko's actual share of the popular vote was probably not a great deal more than half of the 54.7% mentioned by Majka.

Majka also makes much of how there were 16 candidates but the OSCE noted that of 114 elections rallies that they observed fully 100 were held by just five candidates. Keep in mind, too, that Poroshenko's main opponents included: Yulia Tymoshenko, who was secretly recorded talking about her desire to kill the eight million Russian speakers in Crimea; Oleh Lyashko, whose Wikipedia entry says: "In videos, published at his website...Lyashko is shown entering private and public premises, always accompanied by armed men, and subsequently abducting individuals or forcing them to carry out his instructions"; and Oleh Tyahnybok of the fascist Svoboda party. In other words, not a lot for voters to choose from.

Finally, Poroshenko is the wealthiest man in Ukraine. Surely even Majka would admit that big money is a big advantage in politics.

To be clear, I am not drawing any special conclusions about Ukraine from any of this; the lack of choice and the domination of capital in politics everywhere are themes that I have frequently explored in previous Media Co-op postings. The only reason I cite these facts here is to provide another instance of how misleading Majka's presentation of figures can be.

(5c) Crimea

In "Useful Idiots," Majka claims, on the basis of a report from "Vladimir Putin's own 'President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights,'" that the turnout in the Crimean referendum "was only 30 per cent of the population, of which approximately half supported Russia's annexation, i.e., only 15 per cent of Crimean citizen's [sic] actually voted for annexation!" Majka points to a piece in the Washington Post as the source of his information.

There are a couple of interesting links in the comments section of the Post article. One is to an analysis by an NGO which shows that the story in the Post was all wrong. First, it is not based on a report from advisers to Putin but on the findings of a small, independent team of civil rights activists. This team, led by Svetlana Gannushkina, derived its figures from a small survey of personal contacts and thus is inherently unreliable. Second, Gannushkina's team actually reported ranges, not set figures as given in Majka's summation. Gannushkina and her collaborators actually estimated voter turnout in Crimea as being between 30% and 50%, with between 50% and 60% voting in favor of annexation.

Assuming the estimates given by Gannushkina's team are correct―and, as noted above, there is no good reason to suppose they are―this would mean that not less than 18.65% of Crimeans voted in favor of annexation and as many as 36.96% may have done so. Even the low number is higher than the 15% that Majka favors with an exclamation point. Moreover, Gannushkina herself is quoted as saying: “Link to our report in respect of 15% support for the annexation of Crimea is impermissible speculation.”

For someone who prides himself on the use of evidence and evidence-based reasoning, this is a shocking lapse on Majka's part. Did he somehow miss the links in the comments section of the Post article he referenced? If so, it doesn't say much for his reliability as a researcher. Or did he see them but ignore them? If that's the case it reflects very poorly indeed on his integrity.

While Majka's misrepresentation of the findings on the Crimean referendum are notable, especially given his constant boasting about the superiority of his methods, I found myself a bit uneasy about the Gannushkina report. True, as I've twice noted, the scientific validity of her findings is doubtful, but I still wondered about the low support she seemed to have found for annexation, which conflicted with my understanding of what most Crimeans felt about the matter.

My confusion cleared when another of the links in the comments to the Post article directed me to a massive survey conducted by the Pew Foundation, perhaps the most renowned non-profit polling agency in the world (and one definitely not known for either a pro-Russian or an anti-American bias). Pew found that: "Crimean residents are almost universally positive toward Russia. At least nine-in-ten have confidence in Putin (93%) and say Russia is playing a positive role in Crimea (92%).” Pew found that 88% of Crimeans feel that the referendum was legitimate.


(6) Double standards

A very large portion of Majka's writings on Ukraine could fit under this head. Brooks Kind, in comments on "Drinking the Kool-aid" and "Useful Idiots," has already done much to illustrate how Majka has one set of rules when it comes to matters touching on Ukraine and Russia and one for all other occasions. For this reason, and mindful of how long this document has grown, I will only mention a couple of examples.

(6a) Illegal occupation

Majka's reflections on Crimea are no less distorted than his presentation of the referendum results there. Russia seized Crimea without bloodshed and according to the wishes of the majority of its people. While it is true, and a matter for concern, that the Tatar people seem to have opposed the annexation, there are no indications that Tatars or other Crimeans are being oppressed by Moscow (at least so far).

By contrast, Israel, to take one example, has illegally held Palestinian land since 1967 (or 1948 in an equally valid interpretation) and governs the Palestinian people as a brutal occupying force, using abduction, torture and murder as routine administrative instruments and making the quotidian existence of most Palestinians a purgatory if not a hell. To cite a case right here at home, what about the First Nations who have been consigned by Canada's settler regime to poverty, ill health, environmental devastation and a whole host of other evils?

Majka dilates on the "legitimate concerns of Ukrainian people with respect to their desire to have an independent state, create a democratic, civil society free of corruption," and solemnly warns us of the threat that Putin poses to these aspirations. What wonderful humanitarianism! Given that the plight of the Palestinians is already far graver than this, and that Majka is a citizen of a nation that is built on the displacement and systematic despoliation of indigenes, might I suggest that his overwhelming preoccupation with the concerns of "the Ukrainian people" looks more than a little suspect?

Majka never tires of accusing his critics of ignoring the aspirations and even the well-being of Ukrainians. These charges are baseless. I value the lives of Ukrainians exactly as I do those of any other human beings. The question is, how should such a concern be expressed?

For Majka it is by insisting on the observance of the norms of liberal democracy: elections; respect for borders; etc. In passing I would note that I am less keen than he on liberal democracy, particularly in light of developments such as Barack Obama's assertion of the right to carry out extra-judicial executions ad libitum, which calls the whole edifice into question―but let that be. If we rely on the canons of liberal democracy then Majka's jeremiads about the baleful Russian threat to Eastern Europe are shown to be utterly hypocritical, since for the Palestinian people, the First Nations of North America and any number of other societies around the world, it is not a question of threat but of present reality.

A liberal democrat in Canada has every right to speak up for the rights of the Ukrainian people. However, it is unconscionable that he would urge that our government intervene in Ukraine―where the only people dying are victims of Kiev's decision to initiate a campaign of liquidation as a response to an initially non-violent insurgency―when that same government systematically denies to First Nations the self-determination Majka so cherishes in Ukraine, and supports the brutalization of whole populations by, inter alia, the regime in Tel Aviv.

Let's get our priorities straight. If we're going to make demands of Ottawa then the first one should naturally be to put our own house in order. After that one would presumably look to the gravest situations abroad―such as Palestine or Congo―or to areas where there is already a pronounced and malign Canadian influence, such as the mining districts of Latin America.

Majka professes enormous faith in the Ukrainian people. Perhaps it's about time he started to show some of that faith by leaving Ukrainians to get on with their internal affairs without Canada's involvement (particularly on security matters).

(6b) Legal covenants

Majka repeatedly emphasizes Russia's violation of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Perhaps he is unaware that at least one renowned scholar of international law has suggested that the United States had already transgressed against the memorandum prior to its purported violation by Russia. In a bulletin of the Institute for Public Accuracy published on March 3rd, 2014, entitled "Ukraine: Exploding the Myths, Outlining Solutions," the eminent US jurist and academic Francis Boyle is quoted as saying: "Russia is only the second country guilty of violating Ukrainian sovereignty and the Budapest Agreement in response to the previous violations by the Obama administration."

Perhaps Majka is simply unaware of Boyle's view but another highly important point that Majka must know about but still omits to mention is that the Budapest Memorandum was only agreed on the basis of a prior commitment by the United States to the principle that NATO would never expand to the east of its position in 1989. As summarized in Der Spiegel:

What the US secretary of state said on Feb. 9, 1990 in the magnificent St. Catherine's Hall at the Kremlin is beyond dispute. There would be, in Baker's words, "no extension of NATO's jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east," provided the Soviets agreed to the NATO membership of a unified Germany. Moscow would think about it, Gorbachev said, but added: "any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable."

Since, in the intervening years, NATO has extended itself across almost all of the former Warsaw Pact countries, it can be argued that the Budapest Memorandum should be held void because one of its underlying conditions has been negated by the US and the United Kingdom, qua members of NATO.

Judging by his response to Brooks Kind on this issue, Majka would reply with his usual complaints about how all these great power dealings took place above the heads of the Ukrainian people. No doubt they did and one may well reprehend the fact. In that case, however, it is a patent double standard for Majka to use the Budapest Memorandum as a stick to beat Russia with given that the memorandum was itself an agreement between "great powers": its signatories were the Russian Federation, the US and the United Kingdom (Ukraine was not a party to the agreement but rather one of its subjects).


(7) Shifting the burden of proof

In "Useful Idiots," Majka challenges Brooks Kind to "specifically articulate, using evidence-based reasoning, precisely how Hitler and Putin's actions differ from one another." The first point to be noted here is that Majka's question is tendentious. The actions he wishes Kind to compare are Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland and Putin's annexation of Crimea. The trick here is that if the worst thing Hitler ever did was annex the Sudetenland then he wouldn't be "Hitler." In other words, Majka is using the shock value of Hitler's name―forever and rightly reviled because of its association with the Holocaust and other atrocities―to turn a fairly innocuous parallel into something menacing.

What Majka is up to is perhaps more clearly seen if one substitutes a challenge like: "Hitler beat people up. You beat people up. What's the difference between you and Hitler?" This helps to clarify what's going on because beating people up is even more obviously in a different moral universe from the Holocaust than was the annexation of the Sudetenland, 

Presumably Majka is covertly making something of a "slippery slope" argument: Hitler annexed the Sudetenland and went on to create the Holocaust; Putin annexed Crimea so he can also be expected to go on to other, darker deeds. While the form of this argument is valid (or might be if Majka acknowledged that was what he was up to) it can hold no weight in the present instance unless Majka shows independently that what led Hitler to annex the Sudetenland was what later caused him to carry out the Holocaust, and that Putin evinces this same characteristic (whatever it might be).

This is where the shift in the burden of proof comes in. By charging Kind to "specifically articulate" (what's with the italics?) the difference between what Hitler did in the Sudetenland and what Putin did in Crimea, Majka deliberately sets Kind up to fail. Since, on the face of it, the two annexations doubtless were substantially similar (e.g., bloodless), Kind will find it hard to show otherwise―but, as I've pointed out, that's only because Majka has illegitimately smuggled the Holocaust into the question. Finally, Kind can't even defend his position by pointing to the very different circumstances that led up to the two annexations since he is being strictly tasked with showing that the annexations themselves were dissimilar.


(8) Use of pseudo-technical terms as a substitute for analysis

(8a) Anti-Americanism

In a comment on "Useful Idiots," Brooks Kind has already critiqued Majka's use of the term "anti-Americanism," citing some of Chomsky's thoughts on the use of the expression. I agree with Kind (and, by extension, Chomsky) that the word is not only insulting but inherently ridiculous. As an explanatory device it is on all fours with terms such as "self-hating Jew"―which is to say, it has no explanatory value at all but is simply an ad hominem attack.

There are at least two features of the term that make it entirely useless for any function other than slinging mud. First, how is an anti-American identified? Have Majka or Stephen Velychenko perhaps conducted surveys of leftist commentators on Kiev to determine their degree of anti-American bias? I think not. More probably, Majka determines whether a given leftist is anti-American by assessing his views on Ukraine; but there is an obvious circularity in arguing that to take a critical position on Ukraine shows that one is anti-American, and it is because one is anti-American that one takes such a position on Ukraine.

Note, too, that Majka and Velychenko are not alone in this disrespectful illogic. In "My Maidan" Myrna Kostash offers the smug formulation: "Tell me your Maidan and I'll tell you who you are."

The second major problem is that the term is equivocal: who are the "Americans" referenced? Do anti-Americans hate all Americans? If so, why is that left-wing progressives who attract this label always seem to earn this sobriquet on the basis of their criticisms of the US government, rather than for attacking the ordinary citizens of the United States? Yet, if it is actually the state apparatus that these "anti-Americans" oppose, how does Majka―unflagging champion of the sovereignty of the people (well, in Ukraine at any rate)―justify equating the government with the citizenry?

Wouldn't a more natural explanation, in any case, be not simple-minded prejudice against Americans (however one construes the term) but against certain institutional practices? Ah yes, but that would give the game away. If Majka were to allow that if X manifests a consistent pattern of behaviour―violent imperialism let's say―over a long period of time, then it's a reasonable inference that X is doing so in the present case (although it certainly doesn't prove it). Since Majka allows that the US government has a long and brutal history of such activity extending right up to the present day, it's truly remarkable that the only way he can account for leftists who question Washington's involvement in Ukraine is by saying that they must not like Americans.

At the very most, and only if we fully grant all of Majka's other claims about Ukraine, he might have grounds to suggest that while the skepticism of such leftists is entirely in order, a closer examination of the situation in Ukraine would show that, just this once, the US has no nefarious intent and is doing no harm. Even then, Majka's position would be very fragile for one of the points he ignores is that leftists base their "prejudice" against the US government not simply on empirical grounds―which are damning enough―but on a theoretical understanding of why Washington acts in this fashion (greatly simplified, the answer is the imperatives of capital). Leftists are thus entitled to ask how Majka can account for this anomalous behaviour on the part of the US government, which flies in the face of both history and what is understood to be the government's motive force. The question becomes all the more pointed in light of the extensive record of the mainstream Western press in uncritically echoing whatever self-serving pap Washington chooses to present.

As I have noted before, naturally I don't expect a liberal like Majka to share the socialist perspective of people like myself. However, any liberal with the open mind that Majka recommends to me ought to be able to recognize the moral and intellectual coherence of my position, no matter that he sees matters differently. It was on this basis that I proposed that Majka and I ought to give over trying to persuade one another. Instead, Majka responded with arrogant and wholly unjustified claims that his view of Ukraine was correct in all its particulars and, what's more, that I was a prejudiced idiot (literally the word he used) for not recognizing this.

(8b) Kremlin propaganda

Majka counsels: "Repeating utterly fallacious Kremlin propaganda...over and over doesn't make it more true, just more idiotic." How odd then that while his Media Co-op posts are full of claims about how leftists "swallow Russian disinformation and propaganda hook line and sinker" he never once indicates the basis for this claim. (Unless one counts Majka's citation of Stephen Velychenko, which, as I have already explained in the "Appeal to authority" section, adds no legitimacy but merely the appearance of such to the unwary.)

The nearest Majka comes to offering an explanation is to refer Media Co-op readers to his off-site blog post "Crisis in Ukraine: Disinformation and useful idiots." Though "Crisis in Ukraine" falls outside the scope of the present study, which only proposes to deal with Majka's Media Co-op posts of the past week, I feel that I must comment on it given that it seems to be the only place where Majka purports to uncover the workings of Kremlin propaganda.

After offering an incredibly brief history of propaganda (in which Vladimir Putin played a surprisingly large role judging by the space Majka devotes to discussing the man's career as a KGB agent), Majka brings us into the present with a full-frontal attack on the news agency Russia Today (RT). At this point I must plead ignorance: I know virtually nothing about RT and have never relied on it (directly) for information. I will allow that if Majka's account of it is correct (a big if, of course) then it would seem reasonable to expect RT to toe a faithful pro-Moscow line on Ukraine.

In addition to RT Majka also refers to "shadowy entities" (using the plural) but only cites one example, an outfit called "SCG News." I must admit that I know even less about SCG News than I do about RT and I am prepared to accept Majka's characterization of it.

But that's it. Majka only discusses two news agencies by name and then is content to say that their productions are "endlessly and uncritically recycled" in "echo chambers for Kremlin-funded propaganda."

Am I being too nosy in asking: how does Majka know this? More to the point, how does one get from that fact―assuming it is a fact―to the position that anyone who takes a critical stance on Ukraine ultimately derives her information from these sources? It would seem that Majka's surveillance capabilities are the equal of anything the NSA could hope to muster.

In itself the idea that, ultimately, RT is behind every pro-Moscow, every anti-Kiev, every anti-Washington story (which, of course, hardly begins to exhaust the possible iterations) is so ludicrous that even Majka, I'm sure, would have to concede as much. If he doesn't I need say no more in view of what this would reveal about his grip on reality. Assuming, then, that he does, the question becomes: where and what, in his account, are the other sources for such stories? They are nowhere to be seen. But if Majka tells us nothing about them what reason do we have for accepting his characterization of them as Kremlin propaganda?

There is, in any case, empirical evidence that can hardly be gainsaid. For example, I quote a correspondent from Haaretz who observed the Maidan protests; are we to believe the story he filed was dictated to him by the Russian secret services? When the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of former US intelligence officers with a collective total of 260 years service on behalf of their country, flatly contradict the official Washington story on MH-17, are we to understand that they are double agents? Or, as Majka none too subtly implies in "Crisis in Ukraine," have they all fallen through the "wormholes of conspiracy theory" to join the company of those who believe in a "hidden Jewish cabal running the world as promulgated by the fallacious Protocols of the Elders of Zion"?


A note on nuclear war

My exchange with Majka on Ukraine originated with his response to my post "How I Became an Ant-Voting Fanatic." As the title implies, the main concern of the essay was not with Ukraine but with the state of electoral politics in Canada. Majka's intervention, entitled, in a typical display of condescension, "Elections and Politics: Learning to draw correct conclusions," utterly failed to engage with my position and was instead used by him―again, typically―as an occasion to promulgate his own views with all the certainty of divine dispensation.

Score one to Majka. If he wished to shut down or at least derail genuine left-wing discussion of electoral politics, he has certainly succeeded.

To the extent that Ukraine did figure in "Anti-Voting Fanatic," it was principally in connection with the threat of nuclear war. Here, too, Majka has been successful in his diversionary tactics.

It is remarkable that, in Majka's four complete posts to the Media Co-op (and numerous comments) over the past week, nuclear weapons merit mention in only a single paragraph of "Drinking the Kool-aid." Even there he confines himself to the observation that "Ukraine gave all of its nuclear weapons...to Russia."

If Majka has somehow contrived to overlook my numerous explicit statements that the danger is of a nuclear conflict between the US and Russia, not Ukraine and Russia, I trust that he could work this out for himself. Thus he shows himself manifestly guilty of the "weaving, dodging [and] trying to change the frame" that he tries to fix on me in "Ideology versus Reason." The interesting question is why.

As I have previously stated on a number of occasions, the truly fundamental issue raised by the situation in Ukraine is nuclear war between the US and Russia. To imply, as Majka does, that expressing concern on this score unfairly impinges on "the legitimate concerns of Ukrainian people" is, frankly, insane. One could grant every one of Majka's claims on the Euromaidan and its aftermath and this would not change the terrifying reality that if war breaks out between NATO and Russia, all of us―Ukrainians, Canadians and everybody else in the entire world―are as good as dead.

The moment that one acknowledges that one plausible outcome of the crisis in Ukraine is World War Three it immediately becomes clear that this is incomparably the most important issue. And whether Majka likes it or not, that means that great power politics are exactly what this is all about. The question of who is right or wrong in Ukraine is utterly secondary to the survival of humanity, which is what is at risk here.

This is where Majka's relentless demonization of Putin rears its ugly head. Majka is hellbent on teaching the world that Putin is some sort of madman who will shrink from nothing if he feels he can get away with it. The evidence that Majka has offered for this (as opposed to the evidence he has offered for the straw man argument that Putin is a reactionary) is nil―but let that be. Let us suppose the worst of Putin which, from what Majka hints, would seem to be his reincorporating Ukraine into Russia by force. Is Majka seriously going to suggest that World War Three is a preferable option? If not, isn't it about bloody time that Majka stopped warning us of Putin's designs and started worrying about things like Ukraine becoming part of NATO?

As Majka must know, by the terms of the North Atlantic Charter an attack on any one member automatically places all members in a state of war with the attacker. If Putin is as crazy as Majka would have us believe why in God's name would we support Ukraine's accession to NATO? If Putin's lust for power is insatiable, as Majka suggests, then this would virtually guarantee war between the US and Russia, since at some point it is to be expected that Putin's nature would out and he would invade Ukraine.

If Majka's de facto cheerleading for NATO―which he disingenuously justifies as repecting "the political will of the...Ukrainian people"―is abominable, the Left's very muted criticism is not significantly better. In particular, the lack of discussion of the very real danger of nuclear war is a scandalous dereliction.

It's true that there is no predetermined path between where we are now and Armageddon. Even Ukraine's accession to NATO would not, in my opinion, make nuclear conflict a certainty. For one thing, unlike Majka, I consider Putin a rational human being and therefore I wouldn't expect him to march into Ukraine after it had joined the alliance.

Then, again, one never knows. While I very much doubt that Putin would take such a step for the sake of territorial aggrandizement, he might do so as a preemptive measure. After all, in May, 2012, Russia’s Chief of General Staff, Nikolay Makarov, warned that Russia would have to consider launching a first strike if the US deployed its anti-ballistic missile defence system on Russia's western borders (a threat that mirrors the one the US levelled against the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis).

What is more, accidents and unforeseeable eventualities threaten at every step. For example, a nuclear war could be triggered even prior to Ukraine's accession to NATO if the fighting in Donbass intensifies to the point that Moscow deems it necessary to intervene with main force. Under such tense conditions, mistakes or miscalculations can easily occur―and with nuclear weapons in the balance, any such mishaps can have the most fatal consequences.

What makes the Left's general silence on Ukraine all the more discreditable is that it is possible to press for action that would reduce the risk of nuclear conflict even without taking sides on either the Euromaidan or the Donbass insurgency. A broad Canadian Left can oppose Israeli attacks on Gaza and the brutality of Israel's methods without coming to a consensus on issues such as Palestinian self-determination. In the same way, Canada's Left could criticize Kiev for choosing to deal with the Donbass through military action, and for the particular tactics being employed there, without taking the position that the insurgency itself should be supported.

Were this to happen it would immediately remove the main justifications for either NATO or Russia to intervene militarily. While neither a perfect nor likely a lasting solution, it beats the hell out of continuing to drift towards the abyss.


Appendix: notable quotes on Ukraine

In this concluding section I have compiled a selection of notable comments on various aspects of the situation in Ukraine.

(1) Neo-Nazis


It isn't too surprising that conservative outlets like FOX News would downplay Russian allegations but the so-called "liberal" press has also contributed to the American disinformation campaign. Celestine Bohlen from the New York Times considers harsh epithets, like the word "neo-Nazi," which Putin has hurled at the demonstrators in Kiev, as part of a Russian propaganda effort to tarnish Ukraine's revolutionary struggle against authoritarianism.

Yet after simply Googling the terms "Ukraine" and "Neo-Nazi," the official position of the United States government along with the stance taken by many in the American media both now seem quite dubious, if not downright ridiculous, especially considering that one would be hard-pressed to machinate the lineup that now dominates Ukraine's ministry posts. -- “The Neo-Nazi Question in Ukraine” by Michael Hughes, March 11, 2014


Svoboda was originally founded in 1991 as the Social-National Party of Ukraine—a none-too-subtle reference to National Socialism—and borrowed a lot from the legacy of Ukrainian nationalism, but at the same time tried to draw on the experience of West European far-right movements like the Front National. Right Sector is a recent phenomenon, it emerged as an umbrella coalition of various far-right groups. Some of them are overt neo-Nazis—for example, Patriot of Ukraine, which uses the Wolfsangel symbol, is unambiguously racist: it was involved in arson attacks on migrant hostels. Right Sector also includes the Social-National Assembly and the Ukrainian National Assembly–Ukrainian National Self-Defence (UNA–UNSO). The major group in Right Sector, Trident—Tryzub, in Ukrainian—is not neo-Nazi, but they are certainly far-right, radical nationalists. It would be too soft to call them just national conservatives, as some experts do—including Anton Shekhovtsov, who is quite active in English-language analysis of the far right in Ukraine. Right Sector has now been registered as a political party...

So there was a real interest in downplaying the far right’s role or else refusing to recognize it altogether. Naturally, it would have been insane to claim that several hundred thousand neo-Nazis had come onto the streets of Kiev. In reality, only a tiny minority of the protesters at the rallies were from the far right. But in the tent camp on Independence Square they were not such a small group, when you consider that only a few thousand people were staying there permanently. More importantly, they had the force of an organized minority: they had a clear ideology, they operated efficiently, established their own ‘hundreds’ within the self-defence structures. They also succeeded in mainstreaming their slogans: ‘Glory to Ukraine’, ‘Glory to the Heroes’, ‘Death to the Enemies’, ‘Ukraine Above Everything’―an adaptation of Deutschland über Alles. Before Euromaidan, these were used only in the nationalist subculture; now they became commonplace. Probably everyone who used the central metro station in Kiev in December witnessed a scene like this: a group of nationalists starts to chant ‘Glory to the Nation! Glory to Ukraine!’, and random passers-by on their way to work or to their studies chant back: ‘Yeah, Glory to the Heroes! Death to the Enemies!’ Everyone now knew how to respond, what was expected of them.

Of course, not everyone chanting ‘Glory to the Heroes!’ was a far-right sympathizer―far from it. The majority chose to interpret the slogans a certain way, as referring not to the heroes of Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, but to the heroes of Maidan. Still, this was a real success for the far right, something neither the liberals nor the small numbers of leftists who took part were able to achieve. Why these slogans rather than other, not so questionable ones? Why not some socio-economic demands? It shows who was actually hegemonic in the process. Numerically, yes, the far right had a minor presence, but they were dominant on the political and ideological level...

Then there is the fact that the right has worked to reinterpret figures such as Makhno along nationalist lines―not as an anarchist, but as another Ukrainian who fought against communism. In their eyes communism was a Russian imposition, and anarchism too is depicted as ‘anti-Ukrainian’. At the Maidan, the far right forced out a group of anarchists who tried to organize their own ‘hundred’ within the self-defence structures. They also physically attacked leftists and trade unionists who came to distribute leaflets in support of the Maidan―one of the speakers on stage pointed them out, saying they were communists, and a rightist mob surrounded and beat them. -- Volodymyr Ishchenko of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, interviewed in the May/June, 2014 issue of New Left Review


(2) Oligarchs

[T]here was a new development on Monday related to the appointments of new regional governors in several regions in the east and the south. Those new governors are either from the ten richest people on Ukraine's Forbes list, or local "oligarchs" also with substantial personal fortunes. This is an interesting development taking into account that just several days ago the jubilant people at "Maidan" protests in Kiev demanded that the oligarchs and former government officials should not be allowed to hold government positions. Many explain this move as an attempt of the government in Kiev, that is unable to control the regions, to use the power and the money of the "oligarchs" to calm down their regions. -- Mikhail Beznosov, professor in sociology at Kharkiv National University and the University of Arizona, quoted in March 4th Institute for Public Accuracy bulletin, "Ukraine: Critical and on the Ground Analysis"


(3) The new Cold War

No modern precedent exists for the shameful complicity of the American political-media elite at this fateful turning point...Both sides in the confrontation, the West and Russia, have legitimate grievances. Does this mean, however, that the American establishment's account of recent events should not be questioned? That it was imposed on the West by Putin's "aggression," and this because of his desire "to re-create as much of the old Soviet empire as he can" or merely to "maintain Putin's domestic rating." Does it mean there is nothing credible enough to discuss in Moscow's side of the story? That twenty years of NATO's eastward expansion has caused Russia to feel cornered. That the Ukraine crisis was instigated by the West's attempt, last November, to smuggle the former Soviet republic into NATO. That the West's jettisoning in February of its own agreement with then-President Viktor Yanukovych brought to power in Kiev an unelected regime so anti-Russian and so uncritically embraced by Washington that the Kremlin felt an urgent need to annex predominantly Russian Crimea, the home of its most cherished naval base. And, most recently, that Kiev's sending of military units to suppress protests in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine is itself a violation of the April 17 agreement to de-escalate the crisis. -- Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus at New York and Princeton Universities and correspondent for The Nation, in "The New Cold War and the Unquestioned 'Establishment,'" an April 30th, 2014, bulletin from the Institute for Public Accuracy

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