We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The strangeness of Russia and western reporters

I was just watching a BBC Two special on the TV on political youth movements in Putin’s increasingly repressive Russia. During the programme a member of Yabloko was interviewed, the voice-over describing it as a ‘liberal’ (in the British sense of the word) opposition group, which according to its stated platform it sort of is (at least by local standards).

And on the wall behind the Yabloko spokesman being interview was a large picture of… Che Guevara.

So let me get this straight, some of their activists have a fondness for a mass murdering communist whose ‘philosophy of the wall’ was to simply execute ‘class enemies’, but they are ‘liberal’? Really? How liberal exactly? It reminded me of the commentary during the attempted military coup d’etat against Boris Yeltsin in August 1991 in which a CNN reporter described the orthodox communists in the military attempting to roll back the collapse of the Soviet Empire as ‘right wing’. Well what constitutes ‘left wing’ if being a communist does not? I would say that CNN reporter was just using the term to mean ‘the bad guys’.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

24 comments to The strangeness of Russia and western reporters

  • John K

    You are quite right about this lazy use of the term “right wing.” It is indeed journalist shorthand for “bad”, and merely serves to demonstrate their instinctive left liberal bias.

    I have heard the Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran described on the BBC as “right wing.” Inasmuch as their is any thought process behind this use of the term, it must be that the Islamic government is repressive, and of course only right wing governments can ever be repressive, QED.

    It’s all part of the continuum whereby the BBC only advertises its jobs in the Guardian, thus indicating that it only wishes to recruit Guardian readers, a policy which seems to have worked very well. There is no solution to this, the BBC cannot be reformed, and as long as it is allowed to tax the serfs of Britain on pain of imprisonment, it will never change. Why should it? Life is good on the public tit, and the management have just voted themselves large pay rises. Trebles all round! Only a real right wing bastard would want to upset that gravy train.

  • permanent expat

    Freedom is relative (as we are beginning to find out) and as the Russian people have never known the freedom we blithely talk about, it’s not surprizing that they have no idea of the constituent politics thereof…what a ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ is, for example. Its more than probable that they see Che Guevara as a liberal…..why not? We also have contradicting definitions & reporters who are mostly to the left of centre are the most ignorant of all. Even I know the difference between a terrorist & a militant.
    So what’s new?
    “You armed these bastards,” says Mr. Putin (NKVD), ” so serves you bloody right.”

  • permanent expat

    Let’s hope that a Conservative Gumment has the guts to get rid of, or at least drastically reform, the BBC & form a National Broadcaster that is unbiased, straight-talking & responsible. It really is ‘the parson’s egg.’ They might even get an audience back.

  • Resident Alien

    form a National Broadcaster that is unbiased, straight-talking & responsible.

    No. The state should not be in the media business at all. Also, there is no such thing as an unbiased media outlet; the best you can hope for is honesty about biases.

  • Also, there is no such thing as an unbiased media outlet; the best you can hope for is honesty about biases.

    That is SO true.

  • The common western left propaganda about the USSR is that it was not a communist state, but an example of “state capitalism”, which if you go by strict originalist marxist theory, is a relatively accurate view, though “state mercantilist military-industrial complex” would be a more accurate description.

    The plenum they are viewing is that any group intent on reactionary politics, turning back the clock, reinstituting authoritarian policies, is, by definition, right-wing.

    On another plenum, “more free” would be viewed as left wing and “less free” as right wing, although both of these arguments describe in actuality, on the Nolan Chart, left as “up” and down as “right”.

    However, I recall that a political quiz by some british poli-scis tends to draw the axes 45 degrees counterclockwise from those we are used to with the Nolan Chart, as a means of capturing “libertarian” into the socialist left and excluding right leaning American libertarians as frauds.

    Now, how deadly a given revolutionary leader is has rarely been used to condemn him. Washington had his own butchery during the French and Indian War, and plenty of Tories were abused during the Revolution. Bolivar wasn’t that generous either, and don’t get me started on the French Revolution. Andrew Jackson was the primary motivator of indian genocide in the South, and many Union POW camps were as bad as any in the South during the Civil War.

    The Boxer Rebellion, ostensibly a very nasty but at the same time patriotic resistance as far as the Chinese were concerned, as was the Sepoy Mutiny for the Indians. Mao, despite the millions dead at his hands, is a hero to the Chinese.

    However, probably the main reason Che Guevara inspires young resistance in so many places, despite his many crimes, is that he died before he became a tyrannical despot running a country into a hellhole of genocide, concentration camps, etc like his contemporaries, Castro, Pol Pot, and others. Like James Dean, he died young, before becoming the political equivalent of a fat, drunk, drug addled Elvis, for the same reason you get so much Kennedy worship despite the widely available evidence of past and present corruption of its leading lights.

  • James

    So, a person representing a (relatively) ‘liberal’ organisation is meant to have a fondness for a mass murdering communist, all on the basis of them having a picture of Che Guevara on their wall?

    Surely you should know better than to reach this conclusion because someone has a picture of a cultural icon? I know a couple of right-wingers who have the universal image of him on posters and clothing. I’d still call them Conservatives and liberal.

  • felix

    Che was indeed beyond the pale. Torture, unfair trials for suspected insurgents, and ruthless military operations that kill innocent civilians are unacceptable no matter how good one’s intentions are, aren’t they?

    A shame that so many people can only apply those standards with 40 years of hindsight.

    As far as the use of his image goes, according to Wikipedia, which you sourced, German neo-Nazis have taken to wearing shirts with his image. Presumably that just shows how far to the left simple fascists are these days.

  • I don’t get the Che fashion moment. Talk to anyone who wears his image, and it’s clear that they have absolutely NO idea who he is, or what his actions or ideas were. It’s laughable.

    He was a murderous tyrant. He even murdered friends and allies upon the slightest shred of suspicion, due to his insecurity and paranoia. It disgusts me that people honor his image by sporting it so much.

  • michael farris

    I think there’s a popular usage whereas ‘right wing’ refers to more regressive political elements that which to turn back social changes and model their vision of their country on a selective vision of the past and are often fixated on a version of the country that never existed.

    By contrast, ‘left wing’ refers more to progressive elements that if anything want to speed up social changes within an optimistic vision of the future (which may not be achievable).

    So in that sense, yeah, Soviet generals and Iranian Mullahs are ‘right wing’ in that they’re backward looking pessimists who want to roll back ‘modernity’ toward a previous status quo.

    A healthy society needs a good mix of backward and forward looking people,

    I’d also submit that an image of Che Guevara isn’t really an image of the real person anymore (anymore than popular visualations of Santa Claus represent the ‘real’ Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. The famous image is an abstraction of visionary idealistic youth. You still might not like it but I personally don’t feel it’s worth getting upset about in and of itself.

  • rosignol

    Let’s hope that a Conservative Gumment has the guts to get rid of, or at least drastically reform, the BBC & form a National Broadcaster that is unbiased, straight-talking & responsible.

    Why does there have to be a ‘National Broadcaster’?

  • jb

    Yabloko is ‘liberal’ in the sense of not being communist. They are in fact socialists. Their last campaigns before Putin wiped them out of the public eye were about providing social guarantees.

  • Julian Taylor

    I’m not sure which I found more sinister, the idea of Liberal-socialist Che-admirers or Vasilii Yakemenko’s Nashi, an organisation that reeked to me of the US ‘Silver Ring Thing’ only without any subtlety or the niceties or religion and most definitely with the bovine blackshirts in close attendance while frightfully earnest party workers address each other as ‘kommisar’ and wear the Soviet komsomol headgear – sounds almost like the modern Tory party’s Conservative Future.

  • Nick M

    I saw the doc and found it quite disturbing. The one thing that didn’t disturb me was the che picture behind a student. That’s not a statement of anything and never was because it was screen-printed by Warhol who was capitalist as they come.

    The Nashi on the otherhand with their talk of “Mother Russia” uber alles, red-star t-shirts, political science classes, demos to “bury the dollar” and attempts to get their members to breed was disturbing. I kept thinking “What if a state sponsored youth movement like that came up in Germany with swastika T-shirts? What would people say about that?”

    Putin has just re-invented the Young Pioneers. I was reminded of a scene in The Simpsons where, at the UN, the Russian delegate flips over the plate in front of him and so it now shows USSR, not Russia and says something like “We were only kidding you while we rebuilt our forces”.

  • permanent expat

    A National Broadcaster.

    Mea maxima culpa….not thinking, again….bad choice of words etc. I should have known that I would quickly end up under a pile of bodies……painful. Those of you less critical would have understood the sentiment so badly expressed. Be it henceforth known that I am against most things which include the word ‘National’, with the possible exceptions of ‘Anthem’ & ‘Interest’….I’m not oversure about the latter.

  • Pavel

    Che Guevara is a sex symbol more than anything else. A sex symbol that works with stupid or uneducated people, to be accurate.

  • Paul Marks

    Even with my dark view of life I am suprised that Yabloko people are fond of the Argentine playboy.

    Like others here I heard that they were welfare statists and interventionists – but also that they were quite supportive of things like freedom of speech (a bit like the old Labour party of Atlee and co).

    Of course the Marxist “Che” would never have tolerated such things.

    My guess (I am trying to be positive) is that the poster was a stupid style thing.

    Ignorance rather than wickedness.

    Sadly to most people in Russia freedom was descredited by the banking collapse under President Yeltsin.

    The age of Yeltsin (for all his flaws) was a golden age for Russia – freedom of speech, independent radio and television stations, trial by jury, even moves to end conscription.

    All brought down by a credit money boom.

    Rothbard was right – nothing discredits freedom more than the fallacy (supported by governments of all political colours and by so many in the world of private finance) that every bit of every loan does not have to be funded by real savings.

    If a bank or other financial institution (private or government) wants to lend out money every bit of that money most come from real savings (i.e. actual human beings choosing to save this part of their income, not to spend it).

    Clever book keeping tricks such as fractional reserve banking just lead to the boom-bust cycle.

    In Russia the Central bank also tried to support some of the Republics of the former Soviet Union so the problem was compounded.

    As long as “capitalism” is seen as people creating money out of thin air (some of which tends to stick to their fingers) and creating booms and busts, it will never be popular.

    The “masses” may not know much about economics, but they do have a vague feeling that they are being robbed (and they are right).

    Of course finance people will simply reply “we can not go back to be glorified money lenders, the modern world is much complicated” – fair enough, I do not expect words to change hearts.

    Before the Civil War (thanks to men like Martin Van Buren) the United States Treasury operated on the basis of bags of gold and silver comming in (tax money) and going out (government spending).

    No National Bank (as with the Whigs) and no “pet” State level banks (as with President Jackson).

    “But that is the middle ages” – I do not care, it is still the only honest way.

    As for private banks they must decide their own business. However, if a banker claims to be lending out money he must have the money to lend – if he does not have the physical money he is guilty of fraud (whatever the fraud statutes may say).

    Of course none of this would stop bank failures.

    Honest banks can go bust the same as any other honest business can go bust (by bad judgements or simply bad luck).

    But as there would be no credit money “boom”, the effect on the economy of a bank going bankrupt would be much less – and nor would some banks going down tend to lead to other banks going bankrupt.

    A financial system does not have to be a house of cards, endlessly needing aid from government.

  • toolkien


    Anyone remember this chestnut from 2003? Pretty much lumps Reagan, Hitler, Stalin etc as “conservative” when naming the bad side of town Statism-wise. Is it any surprise then that neo-communists are seen as “right-wing” by these axiomatic definitions? Of course these fellows go so far as to paint ‘conservatism’ (which I assume would contain libertarians of the right-ward persuasion) as being mentally afflicted, psychologically damaged.

    The irony, of course, is that this “study” was paid, by and large, by the “apparatus” of State, and these fine fellows stink of the apparatchiki,. The old Soviet State would tar anyone who didn’t buy into the paradise as being psychologically disturbed. The similiarities are nauseating.

    As for the Che love fest, history doesn’t matter, he’s regarded as a romantic revolutionary of “the people” AGAINST Republican/Tory/Fascist/Stalinist, pretty much any grand Statist construct that is regarded “backward”. The Che’s and Leon’s of the world are venerated by the Progressives/Social Democrats because of what they represent to them, revolution, not what they would have become IF they had ever attained power. As they struck their enemies who dared unseat them, they certainly would have evolved into the very “conservatives” the Democratic Socialist lament.

    That pretty much sums up the average liberal/labor/democratic socialist. They want to tear down what exists, as it is oppressive (which it certainly is), but not replace it with nothing, but their own version of Statist paradise, where everyone is above average and economic constraints don’t exist (and anyone acting as if they do is an enemy of the people).

    But anyway, it comes as no surprise that those squarely in the Social Democrat sphere will label ANY challenge to their brand of Statism as “right-wing” and the psychological impairments that necessarily go with it.

  • Nordia

    The Nashi have a ridiculous tendency to denounce all and sundry as “fascists”- upto and including a political opponent of partially Japanese ancestry. If anything, this only proves how useless the term fascist actually is, unless one is refering to an inter-war Italy ex-Socialist extreme anti-Socialist.

    Wise words from toolkien there, tracing very well the perverted psychology of many State-suckling anit-statists.

  • HJHJ

    I have noticed a very unfortunate tendency for the meaning of the word ‘liberal’ to be increasingly misused here as it has been in the US, where if you accuse someone of being a ‘liberal’ it somehow means that they believe in the government subsidising people to do as they please, providing it is ‘polically correct’.

    In my view this is the opposite of being a liberal. A true liberal surely believes in people being left to make their own choices as far as this is consistent with not interfering with the rights of others to do the same, but also to be responsible for the consequences of their actions.

    I would say that I hold quite socially conservative views, but I am a liberal because I don’t believe in imposing my views on anyone else, as long as they don’t expect me to subsidise whatever choices they make.

  • Paul Marks

    Language – not the stong suit of dyslexic like me, but I will have a go.

    Libertas in Latin may have meant liberty, and libre in French may mean liberty – hence a French “liberal” may indeed be a free market type.

    But it has never been so simple in English.

    “Liberal” does have a connection with “liberty” but it also has a connection with “liberality” – being broad or generous.

    Even as far back as the 1830’s a “liberal” interpretation of the U.S. Constitution meant one that allowed a broad interpretation of the powers of the Federal government – and the Whig party was supportive of trade taxes, government “internal improvments” and a national bank.

    In Britain J.S. Mill (one of the best selling “liberal” thinkers of the 19th century) was not really the free market person that most libertarians think it was (it is a mistake to judge him by a few quotes, books like his “Principles of Political Economy” and “On Liberty” have to be read with care, as they were at the time, and they contain a lot of bad stuff).

    Nor in practical policy was it always “liberals good, conservatives bad” – it is a lot more complex that that. Many liberals were on the wrong side of tax, spend and regulation matters a lot of the time – right from the start.

    Still people like Herbert Spencer in Britain and Perry (the best selling 19th century economist) in the United States called themselves liberals – and the certainly were free market people.

    As for Felix:

    A lot of people kill and torture in war (on all sides), this is called “trying to win” – that is not the issue with “Che”.

    The point about him is that he wished to undermine private property and create an all powerful state. As this is so it does not surprise me that he is popular with neoNazis in Germany (the antiAmericanism would please them as well).

    Whether you call National Socialists in Germany or Argentine playboy Marxists “right wing” or “left wing” is of secondary importance to the fact that they are collectivists.

  • I would suggest that libertarians need to give up trying to reclaim the word “liberal”. Its hopelessly stained with nanny statism, weakness toward totalitarians and thugs, and pussilanimous toward violent criminals (but I repeat myself).


    Mike, that’s only true in the USA. In most of the rest of the world is it still the opposite of a socialist.

  • Actually, CNN once did a major piece on Russian corruption in which it referred to Boris Berezovsky, a leading mafia kingpin, as “one of the good guys.” Meanwhile, the American media is missing most of the story as Vladimir Putin recreates the Soviet Union in Russia, jailing various elected officials, destroying the media, obliterating local government and even bringing back the old Soviet national anthem which was written to glorify Josef Stalin, who killed more Russians than Hitler. That disgusting music played on behalf of Russian athletes at the last Olympics. Looks like Sanayana sure was onto something.