Saturday, March 4, 2017

The enemy of my enemy etc.

A friend posted on Facebook a query about why some American leftists are defending Russia these days.

When I did a Russian-language semester in Moscow in 1988, there were some interesting reactions to observe among some of my classmates (I was in a group of 25 US students, from colleges around the country, hosted at a Soviet university).

I was raised by parents who objected deeply to some of the actions of our own government (e.g., they were war-tax resisters for a couple of years during Vietnam).

At the same time, they were not fans of the Soviet system, they watched the Soviets crush the East German workers in 1953, the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and the Prague Spring of 1968, and they watched the Polish government crush its own people's democratic movement in order to prevent a much bloodier invasion by the Soviets. They knew people who had fled the Soviet bloc.

I went off to college and learned more about what our government and the Soviet government had done and were doing, and continued to be critical of our government while seeing it as preferable to the Soviet one.

Some of my fellow students came out of more traditionally patriotic backgrounds, in which the US was portrayed as an unalloyed force for good in the world. They got to college and were exposed to a more critical view of America's role in the world and it convinced them that the US was fundamentally bad.

And it followed (for them) that the USSR, as the anti-US, must be basically good. Then they got to Moscow and saw the place up close for 16 weeks, and it pretty clearly wasn't the New Jerusalem they'd built up in their minds. This was a shattering experience for some of them.

My hypothesis about leftists defending Russia is that they're where my fellow students were before they lived in Moscow. They rightly see bad things the US does. They understandably want someone to stand up against our misdeeds in the world. Putin offers them that.

If you look at his willingness to have opponents killed, his use of gas and lesbians as convenient objects of public ire to consolidate support for himself, his promotion of a chauvinistic version of Russian Orthodox Christianity, and his hold on power for 17 years, he's not a very good role model for a movement that prides itself on its promotion of democracy and its tolerance of diversity in religion, ethnicity, sexual identity, etc.

But if the U.S. is fundamentally corrupt for its government's adoption of a neoliberal attitude, and Russia stands outside that ambit, then I guess Russia-as-last-best-hope-of-mankind it is.

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