Trump’s extraordinary antics over his meeting with Putin clearly mark a whole new era of government – the Trumpocene.
Mon: I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia
Tues: I meant to say I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia
Mon: Hitler was a great guy
Tues: I meant to say Hitler was not a great guy
Mon: Climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese
Tues: I meant to say China is our friend and climate change is real
Mon: I support arming school children from the age of three
Tues: I meant to say I don’t support arming school children from the age of three.
But, this Orwellian madness aside, the Trump- Putin episode raises some political questions for the left. Should we be denouncing Trump for being outmanoeuvred by the evil Putin ‘like a wet noodle’ , as Arnold Schwarzenegger put it, and for disgracing America by doubting its secret services? Should we be cheering on the cunning Putin for outsmarting the vile orange one?
The first option will be pursued by most of the US Democrats (and some Republicans) on the basis that US imperialism needs a more competent, more stable chief executive (like Hillary Clinton for example). The second option will be taken by many on the left who, despite saying they don’t much care for Putin still harbour the idea that Russia (and Putin as its ruler) is somehow more progressive than the US.
I would argue for socialists to reject both these approaches. We should attack Trump with everything we’ve got for being a racist, misogynist, homophobic, climate change denying reactionary anti-working class billionaire bigot but not for being a weak leader of US imperialism. We are opposed to US imperialism root and branch and we don’t want it to have a strong or more effective leader.
But hatred of Trump and US imperialism should not imply sympathy with or support for Putin and the Russian State. Putin is a tyrant who operates under a thin veil of democracy, routinely violating the human rights of all who oppose him, suppressing gay rights and workers’ rights and running a part –private ,part – state capitalist regime with huge inequality. Russian imperialism is on a smaller scale than that of the US but is no less real, whether it is in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine or Syria.
The matter is complicated by the fact that some people have a sort of instinctive sympathy for Russia based on their long standing belief that the USSR was the motherland of socialism. They are mistaken in this too. Russia under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev was a state capitalist tyranny with even less democratic rights for ordinary people than exist today, presided over by a ruling elite/class (from which Putin as a former KGB man originates). It was also thoroughly imperialist: in relation to oppressed nationalities within the USSR (too many to list here) and all of Eastern Europe.
Saying all this has nothing to do with being ‘anti-Russian’ or ‘Russophobic’ any more than opposing Trump and Bush means being ‘anti- American’. On the contrary we should support all resistance from below by the American and the Russian people, but we should not support either of their rulers.
We should say ‘neither Trump nor Putin, neither Washington nor Moscow – but a plague on both their houses!’