Progressives and Putin: Kindred Political Actors?
by Simon Maass
Earlier this year, retired Navy captain Stu Cvrk argued that “The US Democratic Party Imitates the CCP in several areas.” What about the resemblance between the radical (not the moderate) American Left and the Russian government? There are more of them than one might think.
American progressives love censorship when it comes to content that they can label “offensive” or “hateful.” This approach to the suppression of speech is strikingly similar to the one adopted by the Kremlin. According to a law passed and signed by Putin in 2019, the Russian government can deny access to websites considered to contain “factually inaccurate” statements (which may remind one of the times Facebook flagged an economist’s post for defining the term “recession”). More to the point, the legislation allows the state to jail individuals “who show ‘blatant disrespect’ online.” The comparison with the way leftists regard being “offensive” on the Internet as a cardinal sin practically makes itself. The two facts reflect a similar collectivist ethos, wherein certain generally accepted sensibilities are sacred, and questioning them is unacceptable. A similar strategy, where the superficially virtuous end of deterring “offensiveness” is invoked to justify crushing dissent.
And what of the idea of “hateful” speech? This April in Moscow, police arrested prominent Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza. The man was charged, writes Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute, “publicly spreading admittedly false information about the utilization of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” Specifically, the accusation stated that his action had been “[m]otivated by political hatred.” The text of the corresponding legal article reveals the significance of this detail. The spreading of “knowingly false information” is punishable by a prison sentence of up to three years. In contrast, the same infraction can entail up to five years behind bars if it is motivated by “political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred or enmity or [committed] out of hatred or enmity towards any social group.” This language contains a typical trick progressives like to use: the mentions of “racial, national [and] religious hatred” evoke sympathy because who likes bigotry? Then it turns out that “hate speech” includes legitimate disagreement – about the nature of gender in the United States and the Russian military’s actions abroad in Russia.
Putin and the American left have also employed similar tactics in other cases. For instance, both have used TikTok influencers as vehicles for their propaganda, underscoring their shared reliance on mindless bromides and disdain for serious discussion. Both have also sought to instrumentalize the public education system to promote political preferences.
Over at UnHerd, Aris Roussinos has described the deep theoretical similarities between the Kremlin’s imperialist ideology and the Western cultural left’s view of nationhood.
Small wonder, in light of the above, that many on the extreme left are worried about the possibility of the Putin regime’s collapse.
There may be a bright side to this similarity. Trapped in their masturbatory echo chambers, bullies like the American progs and the thugs who run Russia are likely to miscalculate and doom themselves through their own hubris. The tide in Ukraine seems to have turned against the invaders, and apparently in more areas than initially suggested by the counter-offensive near Kherson.
Likewise, the Democratic Party, having bitten off more than it could chew in its untrammeled radicalism, looks headed for disaster in this November’s midterm elections. This is no reason to grow complacent, of course. Still, hope for poetic justice appears.
Simon Maass is an International Relations student at the University of St Andrews. His work has appeared in your own Independent Sentinel, Intellectual Conservative,