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Russia, Ukraine, and the Race Problem

Tuesday 15 March 2022, by siawi3


Russia, Ukraine, and the Race Problem

Danny Haiphong, BAR Contributing Editor

09 Mar 2022

Photo: Paul Robeson in the Soviet Union in 1958.

The American public are inundated with anti-Russian war propaganda that is worse than in the days of the Red Scare.

This article was originally published in the author’s blog on Substack .

Russia has been the subject of intense outrage in the West following its decision to wage a military offensive against Ukraine. The military operation caught many by surprise. While the Western foreign policy establishment exploited the development as a “told you so” moment, the general public was thrown into a state of utter confusion. A particularly comforting explanation for the conflict has been a singular and decontextualized “Russian aggression.” At the heart of the confusion and outrage is a tidal wave of chauvinism that has come crashing from all sides of the Western political spectrum.

That the West is saturated with anti-Russian racism should come as no surprise. Western imperialism, led by the United States, is a racist project that requires a systematic dehumanization campaign on a scale unseen in human history to justify its violent history of colonial conquest, slavery, and genocide. The Cold War elevated the importance of racism significantly. Russia, China, and the one-third of the world that was engaging in the development of socialism had committed one of the gravest crimes in the eyes of imperialism. Not only were the people of these nations standing up to their imperialist masters as humans, but they were also participating in the complete overthrow of the dominant system of exploitation.

Cold War racism was both a domestic and global weapon of war designed to strip anti-imperialist resistance of its humanity. Western elites dehumanized Black Americans fighting Jim Crow as potential “Reds” with just as much fervor as they dehumanized the people of the Soviet Union and other nations engaged in building socialism abroad. Anti-communism increased public support for devastating U.S. military interventions against nations such as Vietnam and violent state repression against domestic dissent at home.

During the Cold War, the ruling class feared that domestic dissent would find inspiration and strength via relationships with socialist and anti-colonial movements abroad. Black radicals such as Paul Robeson, Robert Williams, Claudia Jones and others were growing increasingly curious of and sympathetic to the socialist cause. The Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Korea, Cuba and other socialist movements were viewed by an influential section of the Black movement as potential allies in the fight against Jim Crow white supremacy. Prominent Black movement leaders also worked with and in some cases joined the Communist Party of the United States to organize against economic exploitation and fight the scourge of lynch mob rule.

The fall of the Soviet Union didn’t end the Red Scare. Indeed, the Red Scare’s ideological foundations in the dehumanization of people in resistance flowed naturally into the Global War on Terror’s campaign to overthrow the remaining independent nations in the “Middle East” and erect a massive surveillance state to fortify Western imperialist rule at home. Fear of “Islamic terrorists” and “Arabs” was spread by the ruling class’s organs of misinformation in service of these imperialist aims. As the War on Terror’s legitimacy started to wane in the age of Obama, racism of the anti-communist variety returned in the form of the New Cold War. The U.S. and its junior partners in the West declared that the new imperial mission was to “contain” China and Russia, making Red Scare racism 2.0 critical for the development of popular ambivalence to endless war.

Since the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in 2014 , Russia has been portrayed as an “aggressor” without a cause. The nation’s President, Vladimir Putin, has been painted as the quintessential Cold War villain—a dictator whose only goal is to bring about the second coming of the Soviet Union and the KGB. In 2016, with the help of U.S. intelligence and the corporate media, Russiagate was born . Russiagate exploited anti-Russian racism by casting blame for the U.S. and West’s problems onto Russia while simultaneously accusing Russia (and everything deemed “Russian”) for interfering in the 2016 elections on the side of Donald Trump. Leftist publications and media such as Black Agenda Report were labeled “dupes” of Russia and suppressed on corporate media platforms and social media outlets accordingly.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has opened the floodgates for anti-Russian racism to consume political discourse in the West. The racism has come in many forms. There is the ongoing framing in the Western media and establishment politics of Vladimir Putin as a “dictator” and a uniquely horrific evil. Some have even compared Putin to Adolf Hitler with the hardly creative moniker, “Putler.” Russia and its leaders are viewed as mindless and thoughtless “savages” deserving of the harshest punishment that can be leveled by the West. However, dehumanizing Russia and its leadership has only been one component of the West’s racist crusade. Racism requires a human subject or risk total failure as an ideological project.

That’s where Ukraine comes in. Despite being treated as vassal state of the West since the 2014 coup, Ukraine has suddenly been entrusted with the fringe benefits of whiteness. The corporate media has received significant backlash from audiences who have rightly rebuked the blatant Eurocentrism in its coverage of Ukraine. Ukraine’s Deputy Chief Prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze told BBC viewers that witnessing Russia’s intervention was an emotional experience because he saw “European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed” with no pushback from the hosts. CBS foreign correspondent Charles D’Agata reported that Kyiv wasn’t “Iraq or Afghanistan…this is a relatively civilized, relatively European city.”

These examples just scratch the surface of the corporate media’s racism. A total of eight were compiled by journalist Alan McLeod of MintPress News. The racist media campaign against Russia has also extended to the realm of propaganda. Ukraine has been glorified as the pinnacle of European humanity through the dissemination of fake images. Photos of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in military gear has gone viral for its example of bravery in the fight against the Russian horde. The images were actually of Zelensky on a routine visit of combat forces in eastern Ukraine three months prior to Russia’s military operation.

Fake photos have also been disseminated to spread a narrative that Russia is committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine. A photo of Israel’s bombing of Gaza has been attributed to Russia. Palestinian resistance activist Ahed Tamimi’s viral photo of her punching an IDF soldier has also been attributed to Ukraine’s “civilized” fightback against Russia. The imperialists have thus resorted to projecting their own crimes against humanity onto Russia. One must question why it is so difficult for Western media to find legitimate examples of Russian atrocities in Ukraine, especially given that Kyiv is essentially a puppet state of the Western imperialist order that provides full access to Western media.

Perhaps the worst purveyor of Western chauvinism has emanated from the so-called “progressive” section of the Democratic Party in the United States. Popular political figures such as Bernie Sanders and Marianne Williamson have embraced the White Man’s Burden foreign policy orientation of the U.S. military industrial complex. Bernie Sanders’s statement unironically declared that Russia’s intervention “may well kill thousands” while openly calling for sanctions , a form of economic warfare which has proven to kill thousands around the world. Marianne Williamson took the desire for the United States to “DO SOMETHING” even further. Williamson endorsed the decision of the United States to send additional weapons to Ukraine on the basis that “doing nothing” doesn’t make one “anti-war.”

The bystander narrative promoted by Williamson is reminiscent of neocon hawk Samantha Power and her work on genocide. Power, who serves as Biden’s point person for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is an important architect of humanitarian interventionism. In her famous book, A Problem from Hell: America and the age of Genocide, Power argues that the United States immorally stood by as Rwandans were massacred in the 1994 genocide. She would take her political philosophy to the Obama administration’s National Security Council where she served as a key figure in convincing Obama to overthrow the Libyan government in 2011.

Whether in the form of humanitarian interventionism or blatant anti-Russian propaganda, Western chauvinism has been remarkably effective in manufacturing consent for war. Majorities in the West hold a negative view of Russia and China . Americans in the majority support starving Russia into political submission through sanctions. While most Americans reject direct military intervention due to the heavy personal cost, they have shown a willingness to support any other act of war taken by their government to cause discord and destruction abroad. Western outrage over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is therefore driven by a deep-seeded “America First” attitude that makes real diplomacy involving the United States impossible.

Still, the West, led by the American Empire, is in marked decline. Western chauvinism increasingly offers few fringe benefits for workers or oppressed peoples. In fact, chauvinism is tearing the West apart at the seams as sections of the ruling class compete for ideological supremacy at the expense of the people and the planet. Western chauvinism is effective for waging war, but it utterly fails to bring about stability. The importance, then, of opposing Western chauvinism and developing a peace movement rooted in solidarity has never been greater amid a Western-led New Cold War that is leading humanity into hot conflicts such as Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Danny Haiphong is co-author of the book “American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.” You can follow his work on Twitter @SpiritofHo and on YouTube as co-host with Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report Present’s: The Left Lens.