Monday, January 1, 2018

January 1, 2018

MY CORNER  by Boyd Cathey

The America vs. Russia Conflict, the Role of Masha Gessen, and the Future of Our Relations with Moscow 


[Note: This installment of MY CORNER represents a substantial rewrite and updating of the November 30, 2017 column, including a completely new second half.]

On several occasions in the past I have tried to get arms around, to examine and dissect, the generated hostility that exists presently between the United States and Russia. There are, of course, different levels where this hostility is reflected.

Let me list some of the major ones:

--geopolitical differences between two major world powers—one of which no longer occupies the position it once had—and the necessary adjustment of those relations after the fall of the Soviet system. One could argue that these differences would be a normal result of those radical changes and dislocation, but the difficulty comes in that these differences have been greatly magnified by other issues;

--the increasingly divergent paths that Russia and the United States have taken since  August 1991, with Russia experiencing what can only be described as a reawakening of its pre-Communist legacy and traditions, the growing significance in Russian life of historic Orthodox Christianity, and a revived sense of Russian patriotism and nationalism. In a real and historical sense, post-Communist Russia has moved to the Right, seemingly against what has been heralded in the West as “the inevitable [Progressivist] tide of history.”  This has been noted by a number of perceptive writers, including Patrick Buchanan [“Is Putin One of Us?” at] and Paul Gottfried [“Misreading Putin,” The American Thinker, at ] And at the same time, arguably the United States has moved in what can be called an opposite direction: to the “Left” politically, culturally, and, most especially in the area of both private and public morality (e.g., feminism, same sex marriage, transgenderism, etc.);

--the decision of the Hillary Clinton campaign, specifically selecting the “Russians Did It!” explanation for why her once-destined-for-victory campaign foundered ignominiously on the rocks of voter disgust. This strategy most definitely fed into one of the more amazing turnarounds in American political history—a turnaround that had been metastasizing for more than a decade.

Since the success of the October [November] 1917 Revolution in Russia, the American Left had been more or less enamored with Communism, in varying degrees, all the way from, “well, Marxist ideas are basically good, but not with all the violence and bloodshed, so here in the US we need just a milder socialist form,” to a full-fledged, full bore, “the American capitalist system is beyond repair and must be destroyed even if it takes violence.” But the fall of the Soviets and defeat of the KGB counter-coup in August 1991 (which was largely due to Vladimir Putin), began to change all that and those perceptions of Leftist pro-Russian favorability: the American Left, especially after the accession to power of the Russian nationalist conservative Putin, began a decided political pilgrimage away from Moscow;

--after the fall of the Soviet brand of Marxism, it was the descendants of the Trotskyite version, mostly in Europe and the  United States, that not only emerged as the chief enemy of historic Western Christian civilization, but soon dominated much of Western political discourse and culture. What is fascinating is that during nearly the entirety of the “Cold War” with Moscow, the Trotskyite Left, in its secure and lauded academic sinecures in major American and European universities, and in Hollywood, was incubating a movement far more powerful, far more dangerous, and far more infectious than any threat from the old Soviet Union;

--the Neoconservatives, who historically trace their philosophical underpinnings and essential philosophical foundations to that same Trotskyism. That is, to the form of Marxism expounded by Leon Trotsky (d. 1940, at the hands of assassins under the orders of Josef Stalin). That variant is firmly internationalist, and in its evolved contemporary “conservative” expression is explicitly anchored in a belief in global equality and liberal democracy, to be zealously spread by the United States—the “world’s unique super-power” to quote Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol—to every benighted country in the world, even if it takes American arms (and the death of American boys) to achieve it;

--the conjoining, in one of those incredible but predictable embraces, of the Neoconservatives and the American “farther Left” in blaming Russia for what occurred politically in the United States in 2016’s elections. The blamed action differs depending on whose political ox is being gored, but the responsible party—Putin’s Russia—is the same for both templates;

--similarly, a less discussed but just as significant template unites the dominant Neocons and the “further Left”: their essentially shared belief in “universalized human rights” and, above all, in “equality.” Certainly, both focus this template somewhat uniquely, with their own perspectives. But the general egalitarian principle on race and feminism is commonly held by both. 

I heard an excellent example of this recently while in the car. By chance I tuned into the Glenn Beck program. I usually avoid Beck like the plague; I consider his ramblings on radio to be mostly inane and lesser-style Neocon detritus, and him to be something of a nut-case. His two sidekicks were discussing the NAACP’s latest exhortation for black Americans to only patronize black businesses this Christmas season. They were horrified, and then one of them—I don’t recall which one—commented:  “I would never patronize a business that would not permit or cater to gay customers, or to blacks, or to Jews… That belief is discriminatory and violates our American belief in equality.”

And I submit that it is this statement that reflects the great heresy of modern (Neo) conservatism and thrusts it inevitably into the arms of the “farther Left,” while illustrating its unmistakable origin in Trotskyite Marxism. The natural right of a businessman to sell to, to cater for, whomever he wishes is ingrained in our historic Western and Christian culture. To deny that is to deny a firmament of our true liberty.

That this narrative now passes for standard “conservatism” is a major factor that, yes, underlies the hostility of the American pseudo-Right to Russia.

We only need to recall the strident protests not just from John McCain, but also from leading Neocons like Bill Kristol, Steve Hayes, James Kirchick, Max Boot, Brett Stephens, and Jonah Goldberg, over Russia’s enactment of “anti-gay” legislation (protecting minors) or its penalizing of those lesbian rockers, “Pussy Riot,” who profaned the very sacred Cathedral of Christ the Savior in downtown Moscow, to draw a connection…and also to lump in these so-called “conservatives” with their supposed opponents on the Left, who have been saying practically the same thing.

One of the primary founts of the continual stream of anti-Putin, anti-Russian venom in the West is Masha Gessen, a significant lesbian “human rights” activist whose role and counsels have profoundly influenced such American political figures as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and others. Gessen is a Russian-born Jewish writer who emigrated to the United States in 1981. “She returned to Russia as an adult in 1991, becoming Russia’s leading LGBT lesbian rights activist, in particular opposing a law that made it illegal to proselytize homosexuality to minors,” but then permanently left Russia in 2013 in protest against President Putin’s position on gay rights. [Deena Stryker, “America’s Chief Putin Basher,” November 25, 2017, at]

Under Obama she was head of America’s Russian language Radio Free Europe, and her books and appearances have done much to shape dominant American thinking on the subject.  I wrote about her role and influence on American thinking back at the end of 2014 in a long article that appeared in The Unz Review  [“Examining the Hatred of Vladimir Putin and Russia,” December 29, 2014 at[]

More recently she appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television program with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski [November 22, 2017], where she againdiscussed her role and the fact that “sexual liberation—Western style” had become one of the major differences and divides that separates Russia from the contemporary West. Clearly she exemplifies the “common front” critique of both the Neocon “right” and “farther Left” of Russia as anti-democratic, a persecutor of homosexuals, and a “reactionary” power that does not respect international “human rights,” equality and “liberal democracy.”

As she intoned on “Morning Joe,”

“ ‘We shouldn’t exaggerate the role of West: the tragedy of Russia’s past is so enormous that things could never have been different…. I was trying to figure out how people turn away from democracy: we thought Russia was just going to be democratic because what else would it be? We didn’t realize that people can choose not to have democracy, they can have reasons to turn away from freedom. The corrupt Yeltsin regime brought social and political anarchy, leading many to want someone stronger. Russians didn’t reckon with the past state terror, instead people wanted to go back to an imaginary past that was simpler,’ implying that Vladimir Putin took advantage of these sentiments, going back to time of the tsars and when the Orthodox Church was supreme.

Although Joe and Mika’s guests reflected the official American narrative, it’s clear that Gessen’s role in helping to form that narrative is very much linked to her personal situation, as illustrated by this quote: ‘When Putin says he’s protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, he means he is protecting them from the many terrible things that come from the progressive West, notably gay rights. Russians believe the West ‘is literally taking over, and only Russian troops” can protect Ukraine from ‘homosexuals marching in from Brussels’.” []

Gessen’s view is now the prevailing view in the government institutions, media boardrooms and intellectual salons of West, shared by the post-November 2016 “farther Left” and the Russophobic pseudo-Neocon Right. It is the view that is telegraphed continually by most pundits on “conservative” Fox News to its millions of viewers (with the exception of Tucker Carlson who has featured on several occasions the more rational perspective of Princeton Professor Stephen Cohen). It is grounded in an essentially Progressivist vision of global egalitarianism and premised on a dangerously faulty ideological reading of history.

As Professor Paul Gottfried has written:

“It is rather the attempt to view him and his regime as an extension of the Soviet Communist one. This is a glaring misreading of the cultural and political changes in Russia since the 1990s. There isn’t much evidence that Putin was ever anything but a Russian nationalist, who worked for the Soviet rulers of the Russian empire before they fell from power. Identifying Putin as a left-over Soviet Communist is misleading, and perhaps like characterizing Mussolini in 1930 as a Marxist, because he was a socialist before the Great War. This linkage between Putin and Soviet Communism seems especially popular among geriatric Cold Warriors who may already be nostalgic for the Cold War. It also plays well among a GOP base that like to imagine that they’re still confronting the ‘evil empire’ that President Reagan famously denounced.”  [“Misreading Putin,” The American Thinker, November 25, 2017, at ]

But, as Gottfried, Buchanan and Cohen have noted, much has changed since the days of the “Evil Empire.”  And now the “united front” attack on post-Communist Russia centers on the Russian “sins,” its multiple failures in “human rights” and “equality.” It is a position shared by Neocon writers like (homosexual activist) James Kirchick and Max Boot, as well as hard-core Leftists:

“This Russian despot, complains Kirchik, has banned the presentation of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle in Russian schools and has openly associated gay marriage with Western decadence. Putin has also gone out of his way to advance the moral and social teachings of the Russian Orthodox faith and attack current Western notions of secularism. At the same time he is refurbishing Orthodox monasteries and churches throughout Russia and boasts that in the last three years atheism has declined in his country by 50%. In June, 2015 Putin announced his intention of “reinstating” what is left of the Russian royal family in their ancestral residence.”[ ]

The times have changed—and changed dramatically and radically since the Gipper told thrilled Berliners: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Now Vladimir Putin embraces Orthodoxy, attends Christmas Midnight Mass in the village of Turginovo [ forthrightly and consistently condemns “abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values,” to quote Buchanan. “He is seeking to redefine the ‘Us vs. Them’ world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism  of what he sees as a decadent West.” [ ]

This, then, is the world of 2018 turned upside down.

Although the administration of President Trump must always assert American interests first as primary in how we approach world affairs, and certainly this may well portend competition and differences with post-Communist Russia, it is past time that our nation re-examine its relations with Putin and Moscow. As opposed to the “two faces” of the xenophobic Russophobic common front, it is to the benefit of our country and those who hold to the traditional vision of our old republic to seek cooperation and alliance with a new “old” Russia which defends the traditions and beliefs we also hold and which helped create our nation.

Dr. Boyd D. Cathey

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