There is a growing divide in the U.S. Left, between those who simply oppose U.S. intervention in Ukraine, and those who defend, or even praise, Russia’s strongman, Vladimir Putin. Things haven’t always been like this. If I remember correctly, during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, only the Workers World Party and its front groups defended Saddam Hussein. The rest of the left had no illusions about the dictator. I think a change began in the Left after the anti-war movement failed to prevent the invasion. There began to be talk about a “red-brown” strategy, that is, forming alliances with right-wing, or even fascist, groups that claim to be opposed to U.S. imperialism. The thinking was that the Left by itself was not strong enough, or maybe not committed enough, to successfully struggle against imperialism. And if it is permissible to work with groups with terrible politics, then it is permissible to support governments with terrible politics. Thus, it became possible to see any dictator who ran afoul of the US as an ally against imperialism. Gadaffi and Assad were now on our side, according to this view.
Putin has acquired a special place in these people’s eyes. During Russia’s 2008 border war with Georgia, Bush was unable to do anything. Many on the Left saw this as a humiliation for the hated Bush. (Although I suspect that Bush really didn’t care.) So now Putin can do no wrong in their eyes. He can imprison his critics and persecute gays and ethnic minorities, and they will simply explain it away or ignore it. And as Putin has grown a halo, Obama has become the embodiment of pure evil in these people’s eyes. John Pilger, for example, has claimed, on the basis of no evidence, that Obama was plotting to seize Russia’s naval base in Crimea and start a war. How can anyone take this seriously?
If the Left is to avoid becoming completely irrelevant, it needs to return to the principled anti-imperialism of the past.