We Can Criticize U.S. Imperialism and Oppose Putin, Too

The rise of fascism is not to be taken lightly.

James Thindwa August 2, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trumpand Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands before attending a joint press conference after a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Some on the Amer­i­can Left feel the atten­tion giv­en to the Trump-Putin alliance and the ongo­ing Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion is prob­lem­at­ic. The incred­i­ble phe­nom­e­non of a pres­i­dent who behaves like a Russ­ian intel­li­gence asset — his inabil­i­ty in Helsin­ki to crit­i­cize Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in U.S. elec­tions when asked — makes for riv­et­ing tele­vi­sion. But crit­ics argue the out­rage expressed by many pro­gres­sives toward Putin is overblown and hyp­o­crit­i­cal. The wall-to-wall media cov­er­age, they say, dis­tracts from under­re­port­ed crises local­ly and glob­al­ly, includ­ing racist police vio­lence, nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion, domes­tic vot­er sup­pres­sion, the war in Syr­ia and so on.

Putin is building an international alliance of autocrats, as evidenced by his partnerships with far-right nationalist parties in Europe.

Crit­ics also sug­gest the focus on the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion comes at the expense of a poten­tial focus on Amer­i­can war­mon­ger­ing. They remind us that the Unit­ed States also inter­feres in oth­er coun­tries’ elec­tions, and con­tend that peo­ple of col­or in the Unit­ed States are so besieged with oth­er con­cerns that Trump’s Russ­ian con­nec­tions are of lit­tle inter­est or import. But as pro­gres­sives, we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

It is true the lib­er­al media has obsessed about the Rus­sia sto­ry at the expense of oth­er com­pelling devel­op­ments, such as the rav­ages of glob­al warm­ing. But that’s not the fault of the Left, which has a broad­er focus. The fact is, folks on the Left have con­sis­tent­ly con­demned U.S. inter­fer­ence in many parts of the world, includ­ing Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, Iran and Chile, to name just a few. Fur­ther­more, U.S. social move­ments have act­ed in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oppressed peo­ple around the world and sup­port­ed many in their quest for inde­pen­dence, includ­ing in South Africa, Zim­bab­we, El Sal­vador and Nicaragua. Those on the Left who crit­i­cize Russ­ian inter­fer­ence and Putin’s author­i­tar­i­an pos­tur­ing — his xeno­pho­bia, racism, homo­pho­bia and sex­ism — are sim­ply being con­sis­tent, resist­ing the bad camp­ist” habit of con­fus­ing prin­ci­pled anti-impe­ri­al­ism with reflex­ive sup­port for Washington’s antagonists.

Putin, a self-enrich­ing reac­tionary, is build­ing an inter­na­tion­al alliance of auto­crats, as evi­denced by his part­ner­ships with far-right nation­al­ist par­ties in Hun­gary, France and Italy — part­ner­ships built around the pro­mo­tion of eth­no-nation­al­ism, xeno­pho­bia, racism, Islam­o­pho­bia and the rejec­tion of democ­ra­cy. In this endeav­or, he has also forged ties between Rus­sia and the Amer­i­can reli­gious Right, which shares his White Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist and anti-gay ide­ol­o­gy. It is an open ques­tion whether Russ­ian inter­fer­ence altered the out­come of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But if the Rus­sians get more adept at hack­ing state vot­ing sys­tems, it could be a real prob­lem in the future. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, dis­count­ing that inter­fer­ence reflects a ten­den­cy on parts of the Left to not take elec­toral pol­i­tics seriously.

Such dis­missal also risks alien­at­ing the very peo­ple whose inter­ests the Left pur­ports to cham­pi­on — Black and Brown peo­ple, and immi­grants. The cru­el and gra­tu­itous sep­a­ra­tion of refugee fam­i­lies seek­ing asy­lum, the roll­back of Oba­macare, with­draw­al from the Paris cli­mate accord, a colos­sal tax bill that shift­ed wealth upward, and the fail­ure to raise the min­i­mum wage (which Democ­rats would have raised) — all these things are hap­pen­ing because Trump got elect­ed, and they are hurt­ing the least among us the most.

A tru­ly inter­na­tion­al­ist Left must per­sist in resist­ing reac­tionary glob­al actors every­where. As Bree New­some, the young woman who took down the Con­fed­er­ate flag in Colum­bia, S.C., warned, the sit­u­a­tion with Rus­sia is not a side issue or a dis­trac­tion: The Trump-Putin alliance is part of the glob­al white suprema­cist fas­cist move­ment. Let’s not for­get that.”

James Thind­wa is a mem­ber of In These Times’ Board of Direc­tors and a labor and com­mu­ni­ty activist.
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