22 March 2022
“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in.… A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.”
—1984, George Orwell
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the Western corporate media and ruling political establishment have unleashed a grotesque xenophobic propaganda campaign designed to vilify anything and everything “tainted” with Russian affiliation. The unambiguous purpose of this odious anti-Russian crusade is to soften up public opinion in the West for a possible direct military confrontation between NATO forces and Russia.
No facet of rotting capitalist society seems unaffected by the drive to war. Russia and Belarus were both banned from participating in the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. Retail chains world-wide are pulling Russian-made items from their shelves while Western-based companies are suspending operations in Russia. New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House (aka “the Met”) kicked out its top singer, Anna Netrebko, for the “crime” of being Russian and not denouncing Putin; she has been replaced by a Ukrainian, Liudmyla Monastyrska. The campaign extends far—the European Space Agency recently suspended its ExoMars mission, a joint project with Russia to launch a robotic rover.
In the US and Canada, public schools are organizing community rallies in support of NATO-backed Ukraine. Students were encouraged to wear the colors of the Ukrainian flag on “blue-and-yellow” day, while letters of support to Ukrainian soldiers have been written in class emblazoned with the words “Slava Ukraini” (“Glory to Ukraine”)—the Ukrainian national salute associated with Stepan Bandera’s fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
In an effort to “win hearts and minds” in favor of war, the Western propaganda machine (i.e., corporate media) has depicted Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “madman” ready to push the button and a 21st century Hitler hellbent on European domination. US President Joe Biden has, without a sense of irony, labeled Putin a “war criminal” and asserted: “[Putin] has much larger ambitions in Ukraine. He wants to, in fact, reestablish the former Soviet Union. That’s what this is about” (whitehouse.gov, 24 February 2022).
Proposals to “take out” (assassinate) Putin are openly discussed in the American bourgeois press. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is presented as “a David figure, an international icon of liberty and guts” (Wall Street Journal) who has “garnered global praise for his stalwart presence and defiant demeanor in the face of increasing danger” (Business Insider). The actor-turned-president has apparently even emerged as an internet sex symbol.
Parasitic celebrities and social media “influencers” have rushed to condemn Putin and #StandWithUkraine. US-based billionaire Elon Musk declared on Twitter (14 March): “I hereby challenge Владимир Путин [Vladimir Putin] to single combat. Stakes are Україна [Ukraine].” This schoolyard taunt seems designed as a part of a marketing strategy to promote the “Starlink” project by Musk’s SpaceX, which agreed to provide Ukraine with internet terminals in the event the country’s landline connections are severed.
Across Europe, Russian-backed news programming from RT and Sputnik has disappeared from broadcast platforms, and all their content has been delisted from search engines. In Canada, federal regulators have banned RT and RT France from the airwaves on the grounds that their content is “likely to expose the Ukrainian people to hatred or contempt on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin.” So far it is Russians who have been exposed to hatred stoked by Western media—including vandalism on a Russian community center in Vancouver—yet there will be no consequences for those who toe the NATO line.
Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube have cut access to all Russian state-funded media and will delete posts by individuals reproducing any of its content. The social media giants claim they are trying to stop the spread of Russian “lies” about the war, but their own commitment to safeguarding the exchange of true information is laughable. In October 2020, Twitter and Facebook censored a New York Post report on evidence of corruption by Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, found on an abandoned laptop. In order to protect the then-Democratic presidential candidate, media outlets cited former US intelligence officials to baselessly dismiss the report as part of a “Russian disinformation campaign.” The New York Times, the leading establishment “newspaper of record,” now quietly admits the “laptop” story was true. As we outlined last year:
“In 2014, US-backed forces, including neo-Nazis, overthrew the Moscow-friendly government in Ukraine. Vice President Biden not only provided advice to Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, he pressured him to fire the country’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, in exchange for a $1 billion loan guarantee (New York Post, 20 May 2020). Aside from the obvious hypocrisy of the Democrats, who have torn their shirts over ‘foreign interference’ by Russia, it may be that Biden’s desire to remove Shokin was due to the latter’s threat to prosecute Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma, which paid Biden’s son Hunter ‘as much as $50,000 per month’ (New York Post, 23 September 2020).”
—“Democrats in Power,” 1917 No.44
In classic doublethink fashion, Meta has changed its hate speech rules to now “allow Facebook and Instagram users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion” (Reuters, 11 March 2022). The easing of restrictions will also allow for posts “praising” the Ukrainian National Guard’s fascist Azov Battalion.
Marxists oppose censorship, but the willingness of social media outlets to specifically curate content to promote the most disgusting and vitriolic Russophobic propaganda merely demonstrates how “freedom of speech” is tailored to suit the interests of the ruling class.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has highlighted the strategically defensive character of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and discussed Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland’s “concern” for US-funded biolabs in Ukraine, has been called a “Putin Sycophant” and a traitor for his reporting. One of the hosts of the popular ABC talk show, “The View,” suggested that Carlson be investigated and jailed for his comments. Liberal pundits are capable, in the same breath, of denouncing Putin as an authoritarian and demanding the suspension of democratic rights and freedoms for people they disagree with.
Western imperialists accuse Russia of war crimes for its invasion of Ukraine and attacks on civilians. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cynically waxed indignant about Russia’s “barbaric and indiscriminate” military tactics and declared that “Putin cannot commit these horrific acts with impunity.” US Vice President Kamala Harris had the audacity to chastise Russia for violating the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine, and asserted: “Absolutely there should be an investigation” into Russia’s “aggression and these atrocities.”
The hypocrisy is breathtaking. For over two decades, the United States and its NATO allies unleashed unspeakable horror on the peoples of Central Asia and the Middle East under the guise of a global “war on terror”—the series of imperialist military adventures designed to reassert US control over the strategically important regions. Today, large parts of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria are in ruins, while the Western imperialist powers now set their sights on “high-end enemies” like Russia and China (see “‘War on Terror’ Implodes”).
Until recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) had been investigating US forces and the CIA for war crimes such as torture, rape, sexual violence and assassinations committed in Afghanistan during the two-decade-long occupation. That investigation was dropped to focus on the “worst crimes” committed “domestically” by the Taliban and ISIS. While denouncing Russia for the same thing, the United States itself has used cluster munitions in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Libya and Serbia.
Even the refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine are cynically being used in the propaganda war. The European Union has temporarily relaxed its policies to allow for a “mass influx” of Ukrainian refugees, highlighting the political character of Fortress Europe’s immigration policies. Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov outlined the openly racist double standard being applied:
“These are not the refugees we are used to … these people are Europeans.… These people are intelligent, they are educated people.… This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists.…
“[T]here is not a single European country now which is afraid of the current wave of refugees.”
—Associated Press, 28 February 2022
Of course, the definition of “European” has always been deeply racist. The Miami Herald (1 March 2022) reports “how dark-skinned people from Africa and India are being singled out for mistreatment—segregated from other refugees, beaten and left stranded by Ukrainian authorities.” And of course, once in the EU, migrants continue to be sorted into “legal” and “illegal.”
The US, Britain and the EU are supporting the Kiev regime with weapons and military aid, and have combined their Russophobic propaganda campaign with an “economic war” of innumerable sanctions against Russian politicians, officials, oligarchs, banks, financial services and other companies. It is openly acknowledged that the main victims will be regular working people: “The history of sanctions suggests that the world probably needs to impose measures that hurt ordinary Russians if it wants to put political pressure on Putin. ‘Smart’ sanctions, targeted at elites, are an important part of the strategy but by themselves would likely be too narrow to matter to change Putin’s domestic standing” (New York Times, 11 March 2022).
The steady diet of Russophobia and rejuvenated hatred for the “evil empire” has produced the desired effect on public opinion: four out of five Americans approve banning Russian energy imports, despite the fact that prices at the gas pumps are at record levels and inflation is running at a 40-year high. Most disturbingly, some 73 percent of Americans now support moves by the US and NATO allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, even if this leads to a direct conflict with the Russian military.
Moscow has responded with tit-for-tat sanctions against the West. It has already imposed an export ban on countries that “commit unfriendly actions,” covering products in a range of industries such as telecom, medical, automotive, agricultural and electrical equipment. The Kremlin is also threatening to nationalize assets owned by Western corporations that have pulled out of Russia and make any future return by foreign companies “difficult.” Russia is the world’s number-one exporter of wheat and the EU’s biggest trading partner, providing Europe with key commodities such as oil, natural gas, titanium, aluminum, copper, nickel, palladium and iron ore. Russia and Russian-made commodities are deeply embedded in the world economy, and the prospect of an all-out economic war triggering a global recession, or depression, appears very real.
The Putin government is carrying out a propaganda campaign of its own and has cracked down on dissidents inside Russia, imposing a series of new laws criminalizing opposition to the war in Ukraine, carrying out mass arrests of anti-war protesters, shutting down opposition media outlets and cutting off access to social media platforms. Revolutionaries are opposed to the suppression of dissent within Russia, just as we are in the West.
Rising tensions between NATO and Russia are leading not only to suppression of rights and worsening living conditions for ordinary people but to a polarization of hostile “camps” on a global scale and punishment for those who refuse to fall in line. After Bangladesh abstained from a recent UN General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for instance, NATO member Lithuania canceled its shipment of half-a-million Covid-19 vaccines to the South Asian country for its “support” to Russia. Only about half of all Bangladeshis have received a full course of vaccination, and the punishment for not being sufficiently hostile to Russia will, like all sanctions, fall hardest on the most vulnerable in a country already struggling to contain the pandemic (see “A Revolutionary Response to COVID-19,” 1917 No.42)
Revolutionaries in the West have nothing but contempt for the anti-Russian campaign currently being waged by “our” ruling class—the demonization, the discriminatory immigration policies, the punitive sanctions and trade war, the self-serving vaccine nationalism, the loyalty oaths, the weapons dubbed “lethal aid,” the provocations and military build-up on Russia’s border. As Lenin noted during World War I, socialists are for the defeat of all imperialist powers in war—we “must take advantage of the struggle between the robbers to overthrow all of them.” But for revolutionaries in the bellies of the NATO beasts, as we recently stressed in “Ukraine & the Left,” it is “our task to focus our political fire entirely at the ruling classes of the Western imperialist countries and advocate their military defeat through the mobilization of the working class.”
Revolutionaries & Imperialist War (audio and text, 10 March 2022)
Ukraine & the Left (7 March 2022)
NATO Provokes Russian Attack on Ukraine (24 February 2022)
NATO Imperialists Escalate Ukraine Crisis (audio and text, 1 February 2022)