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Russia helped Africa reach these anti-imperialist victories. The western left was wrong to disavow it

Rainer Shea

Aug 14, 2023

Above: supporters of Captain Ibrahim Traoré

It’s no coincidence that multiple African countries have begun to carry out unprecedented measures towards breaking from neo-colonial control at the same time when American power has been seeing an acceleration in its decline. At a time when we’re two decades into the process of realignment of global power which started in the 2000s; where the world’s anti-imperialist forces began to regain their strength, while Washington’s criminal actions brought upon it compounding self-destructive consequences.

And when it comes to Russia’s role within this series of progressive victories, there’s a reality that Marxists need to recognize amid the recent events in Africa: even though Africa absolutely could have come to be able to start expelling the imperialists if not for Russia’s assistance, Russia’s efforts to defy the hegemon have tangibly contributed to the events that led to this outcome. Many smaller actions made this great triumph possible, and if Russia has been behind any number of them, it deserves credit.

There’s a reason why the supporters of Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist president Traoré have been displaying the red, white, and blue, except not in the form of the U.S. flag but rather the Russian flag: due to internal popular pressure upon Russia’s bourgeois government, post-Soviet Russia has been continuing its predecessor’s tradition of aiding those seeking freedom from colonial rule. It’s thereby been embodying the virtuous liberatory spirit which those colors are supposed to represent. The members of Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist movement have demonstrated love for Russia not only because of Russia’s deciding to strike back against imperialist crimes within Europe; but also because of Russia’s providing their own country, and other formerly colonized countries, with the tools for fighting off U.S.-created terrorists.

Associated Press wrote this spring about the country’s pivot away from dependence on France, and towards partnership with Russia: “The anti-French sentiment coincides with increasing Russian support, including demonstrations in the capital, Ouagadougou, where hundreds of protesters have waved Russian flags. France has had troops in West Africa’s Sahel region since 2013 when it helped drive Islamic extremists from power in northern Mali. But it’s facing growing pushback from populations who say France’s military presence has yielded little results as jihadi attacks are escalating. Burkina Faso’s junta says it has nothing against France but wants to diversify its military partners in its fight against the extremists and, notably, has turned to Russia.” In response, the hegemon’s narrative managers have been working to try to portray Russia’s assistance to countries like Burkina Faso as an overall negative; and the western left has been inclined to accept this backward view of these developments.

In the same report, AP repeats the accusations made against Russia’s military contractors by the U.S. government, the EU, the American-controlled UN, and the rights groups that have a financial incentive to appease these entities. When you look at the strongest “evidence” that these groups have used to “expose” the supposed crimes of the Russian mercenaries, you see propaganda tactics similar to the ones in which “China watchers” shared satellite images of buildings within Xinjiang that “proved” Uyghur concentration camps existed. It’s easy to find an image of explosions happening, and easier to attach words to it claiming it depicts innocents being slaughtered; it’s harder to produce more veracious evidence for these claims, the kinds that American whistleblowers have been able to give of the U.S. military committing war crimes.

Then there’s the question these charges beg: why would these countries keep requesting that Russian contractors assist them if these contractors have been undeniably proven to be menaces towards civilian citizens? This story is too convenient for the imperialists, too good of a reason for them to declare: “see? You should have remained colonies of ours, instead of trying to get help from our rivals!” The truth is that Russia has been providing these countries with the means to attain civil stability, amid attempts by the imperialists to dominate and destabilize them via neo-colonial occupation tools such as AFRICOM.

Perhaps the most meaningful way that Russia has furthered Burkina Faso’s journey towards becoming a fearless fighter of empire, though, has simply been the inspiration it’s provided the country’s anti-imperialist movement. (The equivalent applies to Mali, which has joined Burkina Faso in defying the imperialists.) The pro-Russia demonstrations have represented a galvanization of popular will towards defying the colonizers, expanding revolutionary consciousness throughout the people by making the anti-imperialist struggle more visible. Russia’s Operation Z is showing the formerly colonized world a demonstrable example of a country which used to be a U.S. client state successfully working to weaken the hegemon. When freedom fighters know they have strong allies, and know these allies are winning their fights against the oppressors, the morale that they need in order to win becomes more abundant. The same thing has been happening with the communists in the heart of imperialism who’ve taken the pro-Russia stance, and thereby become ideologically motivated to build an anti-imperialist movement which seriously threatens our ruling institutions.

The predominant elements of the western left, though, have in effect rejected this encouragement that comes from aligning with the most powerful anti-hegemonic forces. This is because these elements have a purity fetish, where essentially no real progress is viewed as worth celebrating or learning from due to this progress not being pure enough. In The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism, the communist Carlos Garrido explains the features of this mentality:

The purity fetish, I will argue, is an integral component of the Western metaphysical outlook, an outlook which which concretizes itself in a variety of ways throughout history, but which sustains, with very few exceptions, key philosophical assumptions traceable to Parmenidean metaphysics. In the US left this can be found in three major areas, all of which prevent both the acquisition of truth and the development of socialist movement: 1) in the assessment of socialist (and non-socialist but anti-imperialist) struggles abroad, where the phenomenon Max Scheler (elaborated from Nitezsche) calls ressentiment is indubitably present; 2) in the assessment of the diverse character of the working class at home; and 3) in their national nihilistic assessment of US history. In each of these areas, the purity fetish limits their judgment to being at best one-sided and fetters their practical efforts to develop the subjective factor in the working masses.

These beliefs reinforce each other. Because modern U.S. leftist has only seen failure for revolutionary politics within their lifetime, they forget the history of successful progressive struggles by the people in their country. Because they have this nihilistic assessment of their people’s past, they view the people within their own conditions as fundamentally reactionary, and therefore untrustworthy as potential revolutionary allies. Because of this alienation from the people, they view America as exceptional, in that this is essentially the only place where consistently promoting solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles (such as Russia’s) wouldn’t be an effective tactic.

Because of this impulse to compromise on anti-imperialism, they adopt certain rationales; rationales that make it seem justifiable to break from the view of anti-imperialism shared by existing socialist states (like the DPRK, which has voiced support for Russia) and by Global South movements. They reject Kim Il Sung’s conclusion that the contradictions within the forces opposing imperialism are the secondary issue, becoming too fixated on these contradictions to be able to effectively contribute to the anti-imperialist cause.

Garrido writes that the purity fetish comes from an impotency within the western left, because “broiling in this impotency envy develops into ressentiment: the success in the East, because it has been impure, is deemed a failure in the West, because purity has been sustained, is deemed a success. It is a topsy-turvy world which the Western Marxist sees.”

The consequence is that these leftists and “Marxists” come to a detached, infantile view of the conflicts between imperialist and anti-imperialist forces, even when the imperialist side in these conflicts is clearly fascist in character. Garrido writes of Zizek and his pro-NATO, anti-Cuba stance: “he ignores that the Donbass people had been asking for Russian aid since they began getting attacked in 2014, and that the communist parties of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk, the most progressive forces in the region, were the ones who first called for Russian aid…Cuba is too ‘impure’ to support, they don’t measure up to his pure socialism; however, the US, NATO, and the Nazi friendly fascist state of Ukraine are not ‘impure’ enough to support against the Russian menace, a ‘menace’ which is supported by the former colonized countries (those without US puppet governments at least) and by the contemporary socialist camp.”

There’s a deeper reason behind why the purity fetish exists. Behind why it’s now driving western Marxists to react to the events in Africa by cheering one contributor to this victory (the African progressive forces) while disavowing another (Russia); or worse by dismissing not just Russia, but also the other great African revolutionary ally China, and even the African progressives themselves. The reason is that these leftists, being in the heart of imperialism, are sheltered. They haven’t sufficiently experienced the practical realities of fighting a vastly superior enemy. They could experience these realities if they wanted to, but that would require them giving up the purity fetish which has kept American radicalism ineffectual since the U.S. communist movement got destroyed and co-opted. It would require them adopting a serious anti-imperialist practice, and then becoming a major target of the state; such as orgs like the African People’s Socialist Party have after deciding to consistently fight the Ukraine psyop.

The effect of this liberal tailist attitude is to render the left insular, uninterested in doing anything that could bring one out the movement and into the masses. Therefore even if an American leftist has invested themselves in the most radical parts of the domestic struggle, they undermine their own cause should they neglect the international struggle; you can only become an effective revolutionary, one that can reach the people, when you’ve given up the liberal tailist stances that keep you isolated to “left” circles. Staying limited to these circles is a willful embrace of the detached role that the communist Jay Tharappel has observed the western left inhabits:

To justify empire building, colonising cultures produce racism of two kinds, one which justifies conquest on the grounds of naked national self-interest, and another which justifies conquest by claiming to ‘civilise’ conquered nations and ‘save’ them from ‘despots’, and ‘evil dictators’ (a saviour complex). Anti-Stalinism is comparable with the latter kind in the sense that it encourages its followers to believe they’re on the side of The People ™ but who are these people exactly? In the Syrian war, Anti-Stalinists today support the overthrow of President Assad’s government by “the people” while also claiming to oppose the actual armed militias that make up the actual people that are attempting that overthrow. “The people” who “rise up” against a “brutal dictator” demanding “freedom and democracy” has become the Anti-Stalinist chorus over the past decade, one accompanied by imagery of homogenous mobs of poor oppressed victims bullied into submission by a cartoonishly evil ‘oppressive’ ‘brutal’ ‘tyrant’, be it Stalin, Mao, Gaddafi, or Assad – all spinoffs of the ‘Stalinist’ caricature projected by Anti-Stalinists…Inability to think in a logical and consequential manner is why Anti-Stalinists often forget they have the privilege of living in a state that isn’t threatened by other states, this includes Anarchists.

Nations that establish their dominance can afford to be more liberal especially if they’re not threatened by more powerful enemies, whereas countries that find themselves actively fending off aggression by more powerful enemies do not have the luxury of adhering to ‘liberal’ standards premised on a privileged place in global affairs. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but many of the ‘liberal’ freedoms Anti-Stalinists take for granted at home are founded upon a history of being the colonial masters abroad, and not solely due to domestic struggles. Inheriting the memory of an arrogant colonising culture, the first–world Left in general has the weakest historic memory of having fought off a foreign colonial power compared to the socialist and postcolonial worlds against whom extreme genocidal levels of violence have been inflicted over the last several centuries.

It’s so easy for those within the safety of the imperial center to say that Russia shouldn’t have taken action in Ukraine, when their neighborhoods have never been threatened by a genocidal fascist invasion like the communities of the Donbass were last year. Or for them to minimize the historically progressive role that Russia has been having within the historically colonized countries, uncritically believing the atrocity propaganda and acting aghast about the great Wagner villain. Wagner isn’t the thing within these conflicts they should be focused on; they should be more concerned about ending the actually documented crimes of AFRICOM, and of the fascist U.S.-backed Ukrainian forces. Their perspectives would be different if they were to break from the safe, Democratic Party-adjacent “left” space which they’ve invested themselves in, and adopt the practice of groups like APSP.

That’s what makes the American left’s ongoing failures on anti-imperialism so inexcusable: to become serious about the cause, socialists in the United States wouldn’t even need to travel to Ukraine or Africa to join in on the battles there. All they would have to do is stop tailing the Democrats, join with a broad anti-imperialist coalition, and work to influence the discourse in a way which genuinely threatens the state. This means not disavowing the anti-imperialist actions of Russia or other countries simply because these countries have internal contradictions. To forsake solidarity with the Russian people’s struggle (and by extension the African people’s struggle) because reactionary coupists imposed capitalist restoration onto Russia is, in effect, to punish the global proletariat for having had a crime committed upon it.

It’s not the Russian people’s fault that they’re for now stuck with a bourgeois government, and it’s certainly not the fault of these revolutionary movement members across the Global South who’ve been flying this government’s flag. In the context of what these people are doing, and of how they’ve seen Russia advance their liberatory cause, displaying this flag makes sense. It would be chauvinistic, even racist in the way that Tharappel talks about, to try to invalidate their perspective by strawmanning any pro-Russian sentiment as necessarily being in suppor of Russia’s internal counterrevolution. As our class and geopolitical conflict keeps escalating, though, we’re more and more going to see the “left” political actors in imperialism’s heart embrace such chauvinism. We must reject these counterproductive attitudes, and instead embrace a project to build unity with the world’s anti-imperialist forces.

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