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Poll: Majority of Americans Accept Mueller Conclusion of No Collusion with Russia, Think Dems Should Move On; NATO Secretary General Addresses Congress in PR Blitz on Eve of Alliance’s 70th Anniversary

Front Left of Monument to Siege of Leningrad, St. Petersburg; photo by Natylie Baldwin, May 2017

According to a Harvard/Harris poll, a majority (64%) of Americans accept the conclusion of the Mueller report that the Trump campaign/administration did not collude with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. 68% of respondents think the Democrats should also accept the conclusion and move on. Amen.

Meanwhile, in celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was invited to address a joint session of the House and Senate today.

Stoltenberg spoke for 40 minutes (video embedded below). He started his speech by stating that the founders of NATO had lived through two devastating world wars. This is ironic because in researching WWI for my work-in-progress, it stands out how – even though all the major players who went to war in 1917 had long-standing tensions – it was the entanglement of alliances that prompted the greatest death and destruction then known to man (16 million deaths) after an assassination in a small nation provided the spark.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg address a joint session of Congress on April 3, 2019.

With 29 members, including many small nations who were formerly part of the Soviet Union and have varying degrees of historical axes to grind with Russia, NATO has turned itself from an alliance meant to prevent the now-dead Soviet Union from exercising any expansionist ambitions its leaders may or may not have had in the rest of Europe into an alliance that could precipitate a similar conflict as we saw in WWI.

With Article V obligating all members of NATO to fight if any member is attacked, could a provocative act in, say, Lithuania be the spark that starts another world war? In an age of nuclear weapons, might NATO’s continued expansion right up to Russia’s borders and courting of nations whose political elites have an interest in continuing to use Russophobia as a diversion for their lack of implementing solutions to the many domestic problems they face be unwise? Might it even provoke the very thing its supporters claim it exists to prevent, a devastating war?

He goes on to claim that NATO has been a force for peace. He clearly hasn’t asked the citizens of Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya what they think of this assertion.

He also didn’t hesitate to repeat debunked or unproven allegations against Russia: use of a nerve agent in the UK, that it had attacked power grids and interfered in elections in Europe (France and Germany’s own governments came out and refuted these accusations).

Stoltenberg also claims that NATO has been striving to have a better relationship with Russia. But he doesn’t give a single example of NATO doing this. Probably because there isn’t one.

He also repeats the allegation that Russia was violating the INF Treaty before Washington abrogated it, though this was never proven. He also fails to mention some important context to the controversy over INF Treaty violations as the U.S./NATO has had Aegis-ashore missile systems in Romania since 2016 and has had plans to place them in Poland for years, which effectively violates the treaty as MIT professor Theodore Postol has explained. It has also been recently reported that the U.S. has been designing other missiles that would be in violation of the treaty since 2017. So Washington and NATO are not the innocent victims in the INF Treaty controversy that they are claiming to be.

The congressional speech was just the last leg of the Secretary General’s big PR blitz over the past couple of weeks leading up to NATO’s 70th anniversary tomorrow.

On March 25th, Stoltenberg reiterated on a visit to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, inaugurating a joint military exercise between Georgia and NATO, that the country would eventually become a full-fledged member of the military alliance. Stoltenberg dismissed Russia’s concerns as reported by RFERL:

Speaking alongside Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, he said that the 29 NATO member states had “clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO.”

“We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia’s NATO membership,” Stoltenberg said, adding that no country has the right to influence NATO’s open-door policy.

“We are not accepting that Russia or any other power can decide what members can do,” he said.

Stoltenberg followed up with a tweet later that day singing Georgia’s praises and extolling the virtues of the country’s partnership with NATO:

Delighted to observe the joint NATO-Georgia exercise with PM
& honoured to meet veterans & serving soldiers. Georgia is a unique partner for #NATO & we are stepping up our cooperation.

In spite of the reverence with which the alliance is often treated by Washington, the media establishment and the political elites of various nations near Russia that think NATO represents the cat’s pajamas in terms of security, there are some indications that perhaps NATO isn’t all that.

On March 25th, Professor Walter Russell Mead published an oped (behind a paywall) in the Wall Street Journal asking if “NATO is Dying?” Mead thinks the alliance may very well be on its last legs. Some facts he cites to support his argument include the German government’s recent decision to maintain 1.25% of its GDP as an annual contribution to the alliance for the next five years rather than the Washington-mandated 2%, and Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 defense system from Russia regardless of protestations from Washington that included threats to withhold sale of the F-35 fighter jet. Mead states:

NATO members are less committed to the alliance than they used to be because most worry less about conventional military attacks from Russia. … Countries with the misfortune to be neighbors of Russia are still enthusiastic about NATO. But the anti-Russian zeal of Poland and the Baltic states is something of an embarrassment for Germans eager to cut Nord Stream 2-type deals with Moscow over the heads of their mostly small, poor and importunate eastern neighbors.

He goes on to point out that Russia and China are taking note of these developments and will be waiting to parlay any disillusionment by members of the alliance to their geopolitical advantage.

Veteran investigative journalist Gareth Porter pours his own bucket of cold water on NATO with his recent article in Al Jazeera. Porter reports that the alliance – looking for a purpose so it could stay alive after the Cold War ended – persuaded the Bush II administration to let it take the lead in the Afghan war, believing it could show its continued worth while expanding its geographical mandate. But the move backfired.

The Supreme Allied Commander for Europe at the time, James Jones, pitched the idea to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld between 2003 and 2005 as the solution to the administration’s desire to focus their military action on Iraq.

“Jones sold [Defence Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld on turning Afghanistan over to NATO,” said the officer, adding that he did so with the full support of Pentagon officials with responsibilities for NATO. “You have to understand that the NATO lobbyists are very prominent in the Pentagon – both in the Office of the Secretary of Defence and on the Joint Staff,” said the officer.

Jones admitted in an October 2005 interview with American Forces Press Service that NATO had struggled to avoid becoming irrelevant after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. “NATO was in limbo for a bit,” he said.

But the 9/11 attacks had offered a new opportunity for NATO to demonstrate its relevance.

In order to address the concerns of NATO members whose populations were opposed to an actual combat mission in Afghanistan, Jones convinced them that only “mop up” and nation-building operations would be needed as the Taliban were no longer a significant military threat – even though US intelligence realized that the Taliban was rallying and troops would likely be facing a new insurgency in the south.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the NATO members who agreed to this to realize they were being hornswoggled.

But conflicts immediately arose between the US and NATO member countries over the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Britain, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands had all sold the NATO mission to their publics as “peacekeeping” or “reconstruction” as distinct from counterinsurgency war.

When the Bush administration sought to merge the US and NATO commands in Afghanistan, key allies pushed back, arguing the two commands had different missions. The French, meanwhile, were convinced the Bush administration was using NATO troops to fill the gap left by shifting US troops from Afghanistan to Iraq – a war they strongly opposed.

Eventually, NATO member countries laid down limitations on their participation as the Taliban increased their attacks and improved their position. Later, General Karl Eikenberry – commander of US troops in Afghanistan in 2005 – and then-ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann admitted that NATO’s involvement in the war was to prop up the alliance.

Eikenberry stated in testimony to Congress in 2007 that “The long view of the Afghanistan campaign is that it is a means to continue the transformation of the alliance.”

One former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Canadian Rick Hillier, stated that NATO’s performance in the country was “abysmal” and lacked strategy. As a result, he claims, the alliance has lost credibility among many of its members.

So if NATO’s military performance against a technologically unsophisticated foe like the Taliban leaves something to be desired, how effective would it be in facing a far larger and more advanced opponent like Russia?

One is left to wonder if NATO serves any meaningful purpose other than being a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that keeps the profits rolling in for the merchants of death while allowing its members to puff themselves up. Simultaneously it is also a dangerous irritant or even a provocation for the nuclear-armed countries which it is aimed at – countries that various NATO members already have long and complicated tensions with.

While Stoltenberg pays lip service to the death and destruction of WWI – which laid the groundwork for the even more devastating WWII – it is clear that he and his ideological fellow travelers, including members of congress who clap like trained seals at every self-serving platitude uttered by a military leader on their team, have learned nothing from it.

More analysis and commentary on NATO in general and Stoltenberg’s speech in particular can be heard from Peter Kuznick and Pietro Shakarian on the Real News Network:

Sharmini Peries Interviews Peter Kuznick and Pietro Shakarian on the Real News Network.
https://therealnews.com/stories/obscene-bipartisan-applause-for-nato-in-congress

Ukrainian Prosecutor Opens Investigation into Allegations of Collusion with Clinton Campaign in 2016; On Eve of its Own Presidential Election, Ukrainians More Pessimistic Than Ever About Their Country; Russia Passes New Law Limiting Online Speech

“This striking composite photo from the riots in Ukraine helps put the extreme devastation occurring in Kiev right now [2014] into perspective. The lighter image on the left is of Independence Square in Kiev before the riots and the seemingly post-apocalyptic half of the image was taken in the same square by Olga Yakimovich for Reuters on Feb. 19th [2014]. (via: Imgur)” – Bored Panda

Ukraine’s Top Prosecutor Yurii Lutsenko told Hill.tv in an interview that his office has opened an investigation into claims from a Ukrainian member of parliament that officials in Kiev had colluded with the Clinton campaign in the 2016 U.S. election. As reported in The Hill on March 20th:

Ukraine’s top prosecutor divulged in an interview aired Wednesday on Hill.TV that he has opened an investigation into whether his country’s law enforcement apparatus intentionally leaked financial records during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign about then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in an effort to sway the election in favor of Hillary Clinton.

The leak of the so-called black ledger files to U.S. media prompted Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign and gave rise to one of the key allegations in the Russia collusion probe that has dogged Trump for the last two and a half years.

Ukraine Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko’s probe was prompted by a Ukrainian parliamentarian’s release of a tape recording purporting to quote a top law enforcement official as saying his agency leaked the Manafort financial records to help Clinton’s campaign.

The parliamentarian also secured a court ruling that the leak amounted to “an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” Lutsenko told me. Lutsenko said the tape recording is a serious enough allegation to warrant opening a probe, and one of his concerns is that the Ukrainian law enforcement agency involved had frequent contact with the Obama administration’s U.S. Embassy in Kiev at the time.  

To read the full article and watch the interview with Lutsenko, go here.

For the second year in a row, Ukrainians have the lowest confidence in their national government in the world at 9%, according to a recent Gallup poll. The median percentage in the former Soviet states is 48%.

Tomorrow Ukrainians will go to the polls where they can choose their next leader from among the current president Petro Poroshenko (17.4%), Volodymyr Zelensky – a comedian who is the front-runner (24.9%), or Yulia Tymoshenko (18.8%) – a right-wing populist who is notorious for her own corruption as a former prime minister.

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On March 18th, President Putin signed into law two bills that will limit freedom of speech on the internet, informally referred to as the laws on “fake news”and disrespect of society, public officials and institutions. According to the OSCE:

According to the first law, the dissemination of deliberately untrue information through the media or online can result in fines of up to 1.5 million roubles (approximately 20,500 euros) and the blocking of the information resource if it does not “immediately” delete this information at the request of the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor).

The second law imposes a penalty of up to 300,000 roubles (approximately 4,100 euros) or up to 15 days’ detention for the online dissemination, in an insulting way, of expression that disrespects society, the state, official symbols, the Constitution, and public bodies.

It’s not unusual in Russia for officials to think that an issue needs to be addressed so they write a law addressing the issue, but it will be poorly written or overbroad. This can make the law in question hard to enforce or ripe for abuse by those lower down the food chain who must implement it. Certain aspects of such laws may also turn out to be unpopular. Within a few years, the Duma (lower body of Russian parliament) will realize that the law needs to be amended or revised.

This is what happened with the foreign agents law which was eventually amended to exclude charities. I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar happens with this law down the road.

Russiagate & the Media

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his wife Ann in Washington, D.C.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The Gulf of Tonkin, Iraq WMD, Qaddafi’s Rape Militias, Russiagate. One has to ask how many times can the establishment media demonstrate its lack of professionalism, objectivity and due diligence and still have anyone with a functioning brain take it seriously?

Robert Mueller has finally concluded his 2 and 1/2 year $25 million investigation into whether Donald Trump or anyone associated with his presidential campaign or administration colluded with Russia to win the presidency – or more precisely steal it from the entitled Hillary Clinton.

The conclusion as summarized in a statement by Attorney General William Barr and reported by Reuters, the New York Times and other scions of establishment media, is that Mueller found no evidence for such an allegation. There are no further indictments – either openly or under seal.

Skeptics and those who still conduct real journalism, such as Aaron Mate and Glenn Greenwald, are taking some well-deserved victory laps on social media while the die-hard true believers refuse to admit defeat, moving the goal posts and pinning their hopes on more investigations from Congress, as though there is something that Congress might magically find that Mueller with subpoena power, a whole team of experienced investigators and tens of millions of dollars at his disposal didn’t find. Possible, but highly unlikely.

The NYT comments section is flabbergasted at this outcome after being fed a constant diet of sloppy and biased reporting from the newspaper of record, along with CNN and MSNBC. They are clucking about having the full report made available – which it should be – claiming that the summary must be dishonest, even though neither Mueller nor anyone on his staff has come out and complained that their report has been distorted or misrepresented by Barr.

As investigative journalist Matt Taibbi said in a recent article:

Over the weekend, the Times tried to soften the emotional blow for the millions of Americans trained in these years to place hopes for the overturn of the Trump presidency in Mueller. As with most press coverage, there was little pretense that the Mueller probe was supposed to be a neutral fact-finding mission, as apposed to religious allegory, with Mueller cast as the hero sent to slay the monster.

The Special Prosecutor literally became a religious figure during the last few years, with votive candles sold in his image and Saturday Night Live cast members singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” to him featuring the rhymey line: “Mueller please come through, because the only option is a coup.”

After citing Barr’s kudos to Mueller that he and his team remained professional throughout the investigation, Taibbi asks if the same can be said of the media.

The biggest thing this affair has uncovered so far is Donald Trump paying off a porn star. That’s a hell of a long way from what this business was supposedly about at the beginning, and shame on any reporter who tries to pretend this isn’t so.

The story hyped from the start was espionage: a secret relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian spooks who’d helped him win the election.

The betrayal narrative was not reported as metaphor. It was not “Trump likes the Russians so much, he might as well be a spy for them.” It was literal spying, treason, and election-fixing – crimes so severe, former NSA employee John Schindler told reporters, Trump “will die in jail.”

Taibbi goes on to list and link to numerous claims made by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN and other “respectable” establishment media outlets regarding this story that turned out to be garbage. He then points out that “None of this has been walked back.” He also observes that it likely never will be walked back. There never is the reckoning that’s needed for those media that have fed Americans lie after lie that has had deadly consequences for millions throughout the world. This time, the lies have greatly contributed to ratcheting up tensions to the highest point in decades between the world’s two nuclear superpowers. It doesn’t get much more irresponsible than that.

We now have millions of people whom the media and the Clinton wing of the Democratic party have hooked with the narcotic of a fairy tale story that a greedy, vulgar, inexperienced and inept president is the result of treason with the Kremlin rather than profound problems with the Democratic Party (and the larger system it operates in) and its failure to address seriously mounting problems among the American people.

Now these millions of people must either cling to that fairy tale to avoid cognitive dissonance or they will have to start asking hard questions about the pathetic state of their political system and their media.

An example of that choice is reflected in the debate held Monday on Democracy Now! between Glenn Greenwald and David Cay Johnston in which Johnston is clearly bristling at his credulousness on the Russiagate story as pointed out to him by Greenwald. He walks back a couple of items, such as his opinion stated on a previous episode of Democracy Now! that he believed Trump was a Russian agent. But he also goes on to falsely conflate what the actual objective of the Mueller investigation was with other issues, goes off on tangents, etc. He doesn’t want to let go of the position that he has invested so much in over the past 2-3 years.

As for some of the people and organizations that have facilitated the Russiagate conspiracy theory, namely keeping it alive every day in the media, Real Clear News Investigations has just published an expose about how powerful Democratic Party operatives, private investigators and their wealthy backers were behind pushing sensational stories to reporters on a near-daily basis that were bogus or lacking in substantive evidence:

The operation’s nerve center is a Washington-based nonprofit called The Democracy Integrity Project, or TDIP. Among other activities, it pumps out daily “research” briefings to prominent Washington journalists, as well as congressional staffers, to keep the Russia “collusion” narrative alive.

TDIP is led by Daniel J. Jones, a former FBI investigator, Clinton administration volunteer and top staffer to California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. It employs the key opposition-research figures behind the salacious and unverified dossier: Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson and ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Its financial backers include the actor/director Rob Reiner and billionaire activist George Soros.

The project’s work has been largely shrouded in mystery. But a months-long examination by RealClearInvestigations, drawn from documents and more than a dozen interviews, found that the organization is running an elaborate media-influence operation that includes driving and shaping daily coverage of the Russia collusion theory, as well as pushing stories about Trump in the national media that attempt to tie the president or his associates to the Kremlin.

The project also used tactics similar to the stove-piping method employed by Neocons in the run-up to the Iraq war by giving information to one institution (e.g. the media) and then using the published reports that it was the source for as “independent” confirmation of its claims.

The group also feeds information to FBI and congressional investigators, and then tells reporters that authorities are investigating those leads. The tactic adds credibility to TDIP’s pitches, luring big media outlets to bite on stories. It mirrors the strategy federal authorities themselves deployed to secure FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign: citing published news reports of investigative details their informants had leaked to the media to bolster their wiretap requests.

Five days a week, TDIP  emails a newsletter to influential Democrats and prominent Beltway journalists under the heading “TDIP Research” – which summarizes the latest “collusion” news, and offers “points of interest” to inspire fresh stories regarding President Trump’s alleged ties to Moscow.

Read the full article here.

Increasingly, the “news” products being pushed by the establishment media and passed off as news are comparable to pink slime being passed off as meat.

Pentagon Admits Research Began in 2017 on Missile that Would Violate INF Treaty; Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard Speaks to Audience at USF

The Pentagon; Getty Images

With the corpse of INF Treaty with Russia barely cold, the Pentagon is now publicly admitting that they will soon begin construction of a missile that it has been researching since 2017 that falls outside of the treaty’s limits.

This seems to indicate that Washington used the unproved accusations against Russia that it was violating the treaty as well as complaints about China (which was never a party to the treaty) as pretexts to abrogate it in order to pursue its own desire to create weapons outside of the treaty’s parameters.

On March 11th The Hill reported:

The Pentagon will start work on making parts for ground-launched cruise missile systems that would fall within the limits of a treaty President Trump suspended compliance with last month, a spokeswoman said Monday.


The Pentagon “will commence fabrication activities on components to support developmental testing of these systems – activities that until February 2 would have been inconsistent with our obligations under the treaty,” Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza said in a statement.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neocons and members of the national security state have been trashing agreements that they see as preventing them from doing whatever they want since the Bush II administration with its unilateral abrogation of the ABM Treaty. Hyper-neocon John Bolton was no doubt influential in this decision.

But a public admission like this with its implications seems pretty brazen, especially this soon.

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Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard spoke to a standing room only crowd last Saturday morning at USF. Her speech followed by a short Q&A is below. The part of the speech covering foreign policy, including the new Cold War and arms race, starts at approximately 13 minutes in. Watch and decide what you think of Tulsi’s comments.

If you’d like Tulsi Gabbard to be able to bring a substantive discussion of foreign policy to the Democratic Party debates in June, make a small donation to her campaign so she can meet the 65,000 donors threshold.

Vladimir Lenin: The Shaping of a Revolutionary (Part III)


Lenin in July 1920. Photo by Pavel Zhukov.



By 1895, Lenin had been exiled to Siberia for a year but was afforded enough freedom to continue his research and writing on revolution and even communication with other revolutionaries.  Upon his release, he visited Europe where he made many significant contacts but most importantly, he met G.V. Plekhanov (Krausz 2015).

Plekhanov was a former Populist who became one of the most well-known Marxists in Russia.  He made considerable headway in getting Marxist socialism accepted as a meaningful alternative to Populism.  He advocated land redistribution and opposed the tactics of Narodnaya Volya, arguing that terrorism served as a pointless catalyst toward increased government repression (Billington 1970). 

Instead of issuing invectives at his philosophical opponents in the revolutionary movement, as was the common practice of the time, Plekhanov relied on the art of persuasion.  He acknowledged the Populists’ desire to mix with the masses and work on behalf of their hoped-for political awakening, while explaining the practical shortcomings of this approach. 

As a Marxist, Plekhanov was a strict materialist who believed in the possibility of “absolute objectivity.”  This undeniable objectivity would supposedly resolve the perennial tendency within the revolutionary movement toward splintering.  Furthermore, unlike many other theorists, by 1884 Plekhanov was arguing that Russia was already in a condition of capitalism, albeit in the form of state capitalism. He saw this as evidence of the inevitability of a revolutionary clash between the social classes within Russia and the eventual triumph of the proletariat (Billington 1970).  

By this time, Plekhanov saw the peasant commune, held up as proof of a socialist legacy in Russia and a foundation for socialist revolution by the Populists, as falling apart.  As it turns out, Russia was not so unique that it could bypass the industrial capitalist stage on its road to socialist revolution.  He saw an emerging bourgeois class as playing a major role in revolution and advocated fighting alongside the liberal bourgeois and opposing them after the revolution, if necessary (Deutsch 1964). 

Plekhanov would go on to have a complicated relationship with Lenin, whom he saw as a protégé and one who could ultimately execute his ideas (Deutscher 1964).  It was later generally recognized that Lenin’s overarching talent was indeed his ability to marry revolutionary political theory and practice.

To be continued

References:

  1. Krausz, Tamas. Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography. Monthly Review Press. New York, NY. 2015.
  2. Billington, James. The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture. Vintage Books. New York, NY. 1970.
  3. The Mensheviks:  George Plekhanov” by Isaac Deutscher.  The Listener.  4/30/1964. 

Vladimir Lenin: The Shaping of a Revolutionary (Part II)


Lenin in July 1920. Photo by Pavel Zhukov.


Though never publicly lauded by Lenin, Pyotr Tkachev is seen as the philosophical bridge between the Chernyshevksy-inspired Populists and the Bolsheviks. 

Tkachev was a radical journalist and agitator who served more than one stint in prison for his activities. He described himself as a Jacobin and briefly collaborated with Nachaev from 1868-1869. Although he’s one of the few colleagues who apparently didn’t fall under Nachaev’s sinister spell, he also never repudiated Nachaev even after he fell out of favor when his killing of I.I. Ivanov was exposed.    

Tkachev was one of the early Russian Marxists.  He believed in historical determinism with economics as the prime factor, but strikingly he departed from Marxism regarding how revolution in Russia could realistically be achieved.  He advocated the need for a secret “conspiratorial organization that would seize power by means of a coup d’etat” (Szamuely 1974).   

Unlike Bakhunin and other anarchists, Tkachev didn’t believe that a spontaneous peasant rebellion would happen.  Nor did he believe – like some other Populists – that “an isolated coup” was plausible. 

Tkachev laid out three central ideas necessary for achieving a revolution in Russia:  1) it would have to be established through an intellectually and morally developed revolutionary minority since the masses didn’t understand their own interests and wouldn’t be able to advance them – if they could, he argued, it would represent gradual evolution and would preclude the need for revolution, 2) the revolution was to be carried out as soon as possible as conditions would become less favorable the more entrenched the capitalist system became in Russia, and 3) a revolutionary party was needed to execute the revolution.

That party would engage in organizing a unified and disciplined entity to carry out the revolution, the dissemination of propaganda using its own journal as the primary means, and incitement of the revolution itself (Szamuely 1974). 

Tkachev spelled out his blueprint for revolution in a pamphlet called “The Tasks of Revolutionary Propaganda in Russia.”  He engaged in a lengthy public and hostile debate with Pyotr Lavrov who argued that revolution could only legitimately come from the masses themselves and emphasis must therefore be placed on educating the masses toward this goal.  Lavrov’s approach would be largely discredited after his Going to the People campaign fizzled in the mid-1870’s. 

Tkachev reiterated to Lavrov and other critics, including Europeans such as Friedrich Engels, that since Russia had no well-developed industrial proletariat or representative bodies and no consistently free press, there was no way to win over the masses to a revolution in the foreseeable future.  In Russia’s conditions, in which all the power was vested in the state with no meaningful independent classes or institutions, the state was also vulnerable in terms of the universal resentment it elicited by its oppression and control of all.  This, Tkachev argued, made the Russian state ripe for a “tight-knit, highly disciplined conspiratorial organization” to facilitate its overthrow (Szamuely 1974).

Once power was seized by the revolutionary minority, it would rule as a dictatorship over the course of time needed to implement economic, social and legal changes required by a socialist system (Szamuely 1974).  Some of Lenin’s writings would echo and build upon Tkachev’s ideas and tactics, even using titles for his pieces that were strikingly similar to Tkachev’s (Szamuely 1974).

To be continued

Washington Considering New Batch of Lethal Weapons to Kiev; Merkel & Macron Rejected Pressure to Send Military Vessels to Kerch Strait After November Incident

“Crimea. Russia. Forever.” Billboard of Putin in Simferopol, Crimea; photo by Natylie Baldwin

U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the top military commander for the U.S. in Europe and an officer of NATO, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week that Washington was considering sending another batch of lethal aid to the Kiev government in the near future, citing the need to deter Russia.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Scaparotti was responding to Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) who pressed him about why Washington wasn’t taking bigger advantage of congressional authorization to provide such weaponry. The delivery of anti-tank Javelin missiles wasn’t enough apparently to placate the hawkish committee member:

Scaparrotti…said the U.S. is considering bolstering the Ukrainian military’s sniper capabilities. But he added of any potential aid shipments, “it has to go through the policy deliberations.” He also expressed concern to the committee about Russia’s modernization of its navy.

“I’m not comfortable yet with the deterrent posture we have in Europe,” Scaparrotti said, when asked about U.S. forces and resources to deter Russia. He later said specifically of Ukraine,

“We need to study their maritime component, their navy.”

Scaparrotti also took the opportunity to reiterate that western powers would continue to flaunt their naval wares in the area, referring to the U.S.S. Donald Cook’s maneuvers in the Black Sea:

“They, frankly, don’t like us in the Black Sea. It’s international waters — and we should sail and fly there.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has reported that during the Munich Security Conference last month, Washington attempted to pressure Germany to also send warships to the Kerch Strait to prove a point to Putin about western access in the narrow waterway between mainland Russia and Crimea. Merkel refused but offered a more modest action:

Merkel had indicated she was willing, in coordination with the French, to send a convoy through the waterway as a one-time maneuver but Poroshenko said that wasn’t enough to solve his problem — he wants to ensure the strait is open permanently, the people said. France also refused to take part, judging the idea as an unnecessary provocation, according to another official who declined to be identified.

Fortunately, it appears that western European leaders are keeping cooler heads for now. Let’s hope they continue to do so.

Vladimir Lenin: The Shaping of a Revolutionary (Part I)

German Federal Archives [Public domain]

Another excerpt from my forthcoming book, this one from the chapter covering the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Narodnaya Volya (from a previous post) would play another pivotal role in the fate of Russia and its revolutionary future.  A young student named Alexander Ulyanov soon fell under the group’s sway and in 1887 was arrested for involvement in a plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander III.  Refusing to ask for clemency, Alexander was hanged (Salisbury 1977; Krausz 2015).

Alexander Ulyanov was the older brother of Vladimir Ulyanov – later known as Vladimir Lenin.  Vladimir and the rest of the family did not know of Alexander’s revolutionary activities until his arrest.  The death of Alexander deeply affected Vladimir who up to that point had shown little interest in politics, much less revolution.  As one chronicler of Lenin’s path as a revolutionary stated:

Some critics have tried to find cruelty, single-mindedness, egocentricity, or ultraism in the record of Vladimir’s early years.  It does not stand up in the objective evidence of those who knew him.  This was no rebel, no iconoclast, no youthful messiah.  Vladimir was by all accounts as normal and pleasant a youngster as any parents could have desired (Salisbury 1977). 

In fact, those who knew him later in life said that Lenin was not motivated by power but by genuine conviction. Combined with his boundless energy and “iron will,” this gave him tremendous charisma.  Compared to Trotsky and Stalin, he was considered to have the least dictatorial personality, taking the time to try to educate and persuade (Krausz 2015).   

The Ulyanov boys had grown up in a middle class rural environment.  Their father was educated in math and physics and enjoyed a career as a local school inspector.  He was a liberal reformer who had supported Alexander II.  He and his wife provided an intellectually stimulating environment for their children, encouraging reading and games, and instilling reformist values (Salisbury 1977). 

By all objective measures, the boys enjoyed a relatively stable and happy home life.  Vladimir was known as a smart, rambunctious and playful youngster who liked music and chess.  His brother, on the other hand, was solemn, studious and compassionate but Vladimir idolized him, often seeking to emulate him.

Alexander eventually left home to go to university in St. Petersburg.  His journey to radicalization was not uncommon for idealistic youths of the time.  Having grown up rather insulated in the provinces, upon arriving in the big city, Alexander witnessed the deplorable conditions of workers as well as brutal crackdowns by the police on demonstrations.  In fact, he had participated in a demonstration just weeks before his arrest that had been handled particularly violently by the authorities (Salisbury 1977). 

Vladimir was devastated by his brother’s death and the sudden shunning of the family by others in their community (Krausz 2015).  Witnesses describe a young man having trouble expressing his grief:  “It was notable that in all the accounts no member of Vladimir’s family, none of his friends, offers any remark or expression made by Vladimir in those days in Simbirsk.  Change there was.  Everyone noticed that.  The gay, laughing boy, full of tease and jokes and high spirits, overnight became serious, thoughtful, gloomy.” (Salisbury 1977)

The effects were still visible four years later in 1891 when Vladimir went to St. Petersburg to take his law exams.  While there, he looked up one of his brother’s close friends, S.F. Oldenburg: 

[Vladimir] asked many questions about his brother, especially his scientific work.  Oldenburg remembered Vladimir as ‘gloomy and silent,’ and said he obviously suffered deeply over his brother’s death.  (Salisbury 1977).

The lingering effects of Alexander’s demise would be seen in Vladimir’s now single-minded focus on revolutionary politics.  By 1893, after practicing law successfully for around 18 months, he began immersing himself in revolutionary studies.  He was already under surveillance and barred from government employment (Krausz 2015; Salisbury 1977). His mother disapproved and wanted him to become a farmer, but she would help to support him financially throughout his career, including during his stints of exile and emigration (Krausz 2015). 

As part of his revolutionary education, he repeatedly read What is to Be Done? (Salisbury 1977) and later acknowledged Chernyshevsky to be second only to Marx in influence (Szamuely 1974). 

Lenin, however, rejected the use of terrorism and instead advocated a strong centrally controlled movement of dedicated and professional revolutionaries who acted as secret conspirators.

To be continued.

References:

  1. Salisbury, Harrison E.  Black Night, White Snow:  Russia’s Revolutions 1905 – 1917.  De Capo Press. New York, NY. 1977;
  2. Krausz, Tamas. Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography. Monthly Review Press. New York, NY. 2015;
  3. Szamuely, Tibor. The Russian Tradition. Fontana Press. 1974.

Gilbert Doctorow on The Kremlin’s Military Posture Reconsidered

Kremlin Wall, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

Geopolitical analyst Gilbert Doctorow has done an important write-up on Putin’s February 20th speech to the Federal Assembly in which the Russian president provided more details on Russia’s military posture in response to Washington’s abrogation of the INF Treaty and implementation of missile shields in Eastern Europe. An excerpt and link to the complete article are below – Natylie

To the vast majority of Americans, including the foreign policy establishment, the question posed in the title may seem something of a joke. After all, absolute military superiority over Russia and other potential rivals for global influence has been the objective of US military policy for the last twenty-five years or more, at vast budgetary expense. One instrument for its achievement has been the roll-out of a system known as the global missile defense, which in effect encircles Russia and China, posing the threat of massive simultaneous missile strikes that could overwhelm any defenses. To intelligence specialists at the Pentagon, who likely have been watching, as I have done, what the Kremlin disseminated earlier today in Russian only versions so far, the question of Moscow turning the tables is entirely serious and shocking.

When Vladimir Putin first publicly described Russia’s latest state-of-the-art weapons systems in development and deployment one year ago, during his 1 March 2018 Address to the bicameral legislature, he said these systems would ensure the re-establishment of full strategic parity with the United States. Western media sniggered. US politicians, with a very few exceptions, chose to ignore what they considered to be just domestic electioneering during a presidential campaign that Putin was expected to win handily. It was all a bluff, they said.

In his annual Address [on] Wednesday, 20 February, President Putin expanded on those developments in armaments, reported which systems were now entering active service. He made it clear one of them is the planned Russian response to a likely consequence of US withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: the stationing by the U.S. of nuclear armed cruise missiles like the Tomahawk on land and directed against Russia, all of which would reduce the warning time of incoming attack in Moscow to just 10–12 minutes and constitute an existential risk.

Putin, being Putin, did not spell out the threats implicit in the prospective deployment of the new Russian weapons systems. He remained always polite and open to discussion in his speech. But as we saw earlier today, he entrusted the task of dotting i’s to a member of his close entourage, Dmitry Kiselyov who is the chief administrator of all news programs on Russian state television while also serving as the anchor of the widely watched News of the Week, a summary newscast shown on two federal channels on Sunday evenings. To expand the circulation still more, the segment dealing with Putin’s Address and the new arms systems was released as a separate 10 minute video on YouTube.com early in the afternoon.

Continue reading Doctorow’s article here

Read Putin’s full speech to the Federal Assembly here

Stephen F. Cohen’s Presentation in Berkeley


Professor Stephen F. Cohen (photo in Chronicle of Higher Education, by Vladislav Dokshin)


Professor Stephen F. Cohen and his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel (editor of The Nation) spoke at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley on the evening of February 25th as part of his book tour for the newly released War with Russia? From Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate, Around 200 people were in the audience for this event, co-sponsored by the local Pacifica radio outlet (KPFA).

Cohen spoke first and much of what he said will be familiar to those who have followed his weekly interviews with John Batchelor and his columns in The Nation over the past five years. The thrust of his remarks involved the delineation of how Washington squandered the possibilities that came with the end of the 40-year cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union by choosing to take a triumphalist attitude. The decision to take that path has largely been responsible for the dangerous mess we now find ourselves in with the world’s other nuclear superpower.

Cohen helpfully defined what a cold war is: a relationship between two nations with more conflict than cooperation and no direct “hot” war. Historically, the cold war(s) between the U.S. and Russia have been the most important due to their military capabilities, mainly nuclear. He also pointed out that the U.S. and Russia have experienced 3 cold wars:

  1. 1918 – 1933 – During this period, the U.S. refused to recognize the Soviet Union and no dialogue occurred between the two powers; however, this cold war was not very dangerous due to the fact that there was no arms race. It ended when president Franklin Roosevelt pursued detente by officially recognizing the Soviet government.
  2. 1948 – 1989 – After the WWII alliance, relations broke down and an arms race emerged after the Soviet Union attained nuclear capability. There were periods of detente, the first was between Eisenhower and Khrushchev, followed by Kennedy and Khrushchev, Nixon and Brezhnev, and Reagan and Gorbachev.
  3. 2014 on – Cohen stated that he suspected a new cold war was in the making as early as the Clinton administration when Washington a) reneged on its promise to Gorbachev not to expand NATO eastward if he agreed to allow a reunified Germany into the military alliance, and b) attacked Serbia (a close ally of Russia with cultural and ethnic ties). But any doubts were swept away after the Ukraine crisis of 2013-14.

Cohen reminded the audience that the 40-year cold war between the U.S. and Russia (Soviet Union) was a negotiated settlement agreed to be in the interests of both parties and that there were no losers. All western leaders at the time acknowledged this fact. But during his re-election campaign, George H.W. Bush claimed that the U.S. had won the cold war and the conflation of the end of the cold war and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union began.

Cohen pointed out that it was now “axiomatic” and accepted as fact that the U.S. “won” the cold war. He cited the history books that his grandchildren now read in school as perpetuating this falsehood and the dangerous triumphalist attitude that goes along with it. Furthermore, most academic literature apportions blame for the current cold war on Russia, particularly on Putin. By contrast, most serious academic literature apportions blame in a more balanced way for the previous cold war.

He also discussed, of course, the media’s dangerous propagating of this misinformation and the blackout on alternative voices in the NYT/WaPo/MSNBC/CNN and, to a lesser degree, The Wall Street Journal and Fox which are both conflicted about Trump.

He reiterated that this was one of the things that made this cold war more dangerous than the last one: back then, some debate was allowed in the media and advocates of detente were organized and had a voice.

Other conditions that make this cold war more dangerous include the fact that the military divide is now on Russia’s borders instead of Berlin, providing no buffer zone. The proxy wars, such as Ukraine and Syria, are much closer to Russia’s borders rather than somewhere like Africa. Of course, they are very far away from the U.S.

Moreover, the zealous political and media project of characterizing Trump as a Russian asset or agent compromises his ability to effectively negotiate a deescalation of any possible military confrontation that may arise from the above mentioned proxy wars or an accident.

Cohen believes that in order to end this new cold war, Washington must accept that Russia has major power interests. This translates into no U.S./NATO military bases on Russia’s borders. He also believes that existential cooperation needs to happen, such as a partnership against terrorism.

My own thought on this last point is that Washington is not likely to be genuinely interested in going after terrorism when it has such a history of using terrorists to indirectly attack its perceived opponents’ interests. Examples include the use of terrorists in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s and Operation Timber Sycamore in Syria in recent years. But the more general point of actively cooperating on major areas of real interest is well taken.

Vanden Heuvel spoke after Cohen. She had a different emphasis with her remarks. One of the first points she made was the toxic effects that “cold wars” have on progressive interests domestically. They narrow the space for dissent, adversely affecting civil liberties and stifling debate on critical issues. They also serve as a self-perpetuating excuse to funnel disproportionate amounts of the budget into “defense,” thereby hobbling the funding of much-needed domestic programs that most Americans want, such as Medicare for All and infrastructure projects.

Another point vanden Heuvel made, which was touched on by Cohen, was the very disturbing trend of criminalizing diplomacy. Anyone who has had contacts with Russia is now being cast under suspicion of traitorous intent. First, it was individuals associated with Trump – many of whom are admittedly shady and corrupt in their financial dealings – but the net seems to have been cast so broadly by investigators that actions that were previously considered a normal part of possible diplomacy have been characterized as disloyal.

Then it spread to those of Russian nationality who have been studying in the U.S. and networking with like-minded Americans to expand civics projects in Russia.

Now Vanden Heuvel recounted the recent experience of a respected independent scholar she knows who specializes in arms control issues who has been asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee to provide all documentation involving his contacts with Russians and travel to Russia.

Cohen has made reference to the fact that he and his wife don’t always agree with respect to their analysis of the domestic Russian political scene or the value (or lack thereof) of the Mueller investigation. This became evident in the Q&A portion of the event, with vanden Heuvel a couple of times interjecting probing questions as Cohen was finishing his answer – a sign that she didn’t entirely agree with what he was saying.

One of these questions had to do with whether they thought Trump could possibly be a vehicle for peace with Russia. Cohen said that even if we disagree with other things that Trump does, we should support his intent and any actions he may take to deescalate with Russia. Vanden Heuvel made it clear that she didn’t think Trump’s actions indicated he was capable of being a vehicle for peace. She asked Cohen whether he agreed that peace wasn’t just the absence of conflict or the aversion of crisis.

A man in the audience behind me shouted out, “But that would be a great start right now, wouldn’t it?”

I couldn’t disagree with him.