|Anthony McIntyre & Mark Hayes|
AM: I think there are two conflict levels - geopolitical and regional. A society defending itself against the supreme international crime should be armed to resist but not to bomb Moscow or kill Russian civilians. The same argument exists for Palestinians. Were Ukrainians not armed Russia would be in control of the country right now. I think the Left must always pitch itself against invasion, occupation and aggressive war. I despise Azov myself but according to the Ukrainian Left they are a small part of this war, unlike 2014.
MH: I think the Right has leverage because it is extremely violent, it's not about numbers. Sometimes geopolitics is about making really uncomfortable judgement calls. Got myself in a lot of hot water with the “Left” because I supported the Soviets in Afghanistan. I just saw it as better than the Taliban. Of course we'd love workers’ revolution but the choice in reality was secular authoritarianism or maniac mullahs. My choice made me a “Stalinist cunt” apparently. “Bait and bleed” is the US strategy. I think this is the key reason for ambivalence on the Left. Many are prepared to say “a pox on both your houses” because it's clear that the CIA have manipulated this. Add to that the vested interest of the arms industry and lefties are bound to breakout in a cold sweat. Doesn't mean they support Putin. I don't know any that do. It's tragic for ordinary people but humanitarian aid is as far as it goes.
AM: I get that but I find a totalitarian strain within the Left which is more interested in building camps than it is concerned about the route to the camps. Is there any serious difference between the Holodomor and the Holocaust? Russia had options other than the supreme war crime. The Left fails if it can't defend societies against that. I think the Left has to remain true to its core fund fundamentals while mercilessly calling out the West. I think the Left needs to be saying what the neo-realists are saying without sharing their amorality. Russia has an imperialist mindset and simply cannot see other societies as nation states. The West will win out on the discourse around that.
MH: Yes the West has controlled the narrative but it's here that the hypocrisy is breath-taking. They have ruined Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan etc with no apologies. I think the Holocaust was unique but I take your point, but even here the West has a selective memory. Famines in Punjab and Ireland, Native American genocide, slavery and so on. I think the Left has an intuitive impulse not to fall in line behind duplicitous reactionaries.
AM: The Left just choose a different totalitarian to fall behind. I am suspicious of the narrative of the Holocaust being unique. It empowers the Holocaust Industry. The greatest crime of World War Two was the war of extermination in the East. The Holocaust figured in it but as a component part.
MH: I agree with that. Zionists have exploited it. And it was a progression. But the industrialised nature of it made it different. I don't subscribe to the totalitarian analysis because it's a false equivalence - we've been here before. I really wish I could support the Ukrainian regime but the baggage it carries stinks and the stench is too much for me and many others.
AM: The Nazis were not just about gas chambers. Like the Soviets, they engaged in murder by hunger. The war of annihilation in the East was industrial and methodological. If Russia can back Assad the Left can back Ukrainian society while holding its nose to the regime. The Russians have a significantly bigger fascist problem than Ukraine. I would be less critical if the Soviets had invaded Ukraine. But this is right wing Russia. Being neutral here is like being neutral in Israel-Palestine. Hamas theocrats repel me but the Left must stand with Palestinian society and not sit neutral on the fence
MH: I see that line of reasoning but I think there are problems. One is that I can't quite equate Hamas with Azov et al. Maybe Islamic State or al Qaeda might be a plausible comparator. Also Hamas are on the side of the victims. That's obvious. However, I think there is enough evidence from the UN and elsewhere that the Ukrainian regime sponsored aggression in Donbass. It was ethnic cleansing. So I don't see the regime as blameless. Therefore, I think people are entitled to their neutrality
AM: To me it's an abdication by the Left to claim a right to neutrality. When the supreme international crime is perpetrated neutrality between perpetrator and target is anathema to a Left ethic. The Russian state is right wing authoritarian to a much greater degree than Ukraine. Russia murdered far more people in Chechnya than were killed by Ukraine in Donbas yet people wave the neutrality flag and try to make Ukraine the equal of the aggressor. This is simply bankrupt but the Tankie left has been bankrupt for quite some time so I don't imagine it getting things right anytime soon. I guess being a Tankie is for them the equivalent of being a Young Earth Creationist. It's in the genes.
MH: We can agree that Russia is awful but it's interesting to see Chechens on the frontline in Mariupol - they must have short memories. Similarly, the Chinese regime may be awful but so are the Americans and the British when it comes to geopolitics. I see few redeeming features in the Ukrainian regime. Zelensky is a puppet and a PR man, albeit a pretty good one. I certainly don't think any side is worth shedding blood for. I think longer term - in geopolitical terms - preventing the United States’ global hegemony maybe a positive. I realise that as a controversial view but my expectations are very low. I could call it realism. And negotiated peace deal and a very uneasy multipolar future is the best we can hope for
AM: The Left should never side with right-wing authoritarian aggression. It loses its soul and its credibility.
MH: OK. Let's assume the Ukrainians were able to win this conflict and this emboldens the worst of the Nazi vipers buried deep in Ukraine's institutions - how would you propose they are dealt with? It seems to me that destroying those shitbags is at least a silver lining in this shit-show.
AM: The Nazi element is being invigorated by the invasion much as it grew from state violence in 2014. Russia has a greater far right problem than Ukraine. Why not support a NATO attack on Russia to curb the Far Right? This is where the logic takes us. See what the Ukrainian Left are saying - the Left surely must back the Ukrainian Left against the Russian Right.
MH: I think NATO is run by maniacs as well to be honest. The problem with any analysis here is that the die has already been cast. The Left “no war - Russian withdrawal” position is absurdly utopian. The best we can hope for is a negotiated settlement which constitutes a genuine compromise. I think the difference between my own position and the Left (with deluded Tankies on one side and warmongering liberals on the other) is that I don't see any good guys here. Many of the combatants are either evil or have been complicit in evil. The tragedy for ordinary people in this context is beyond endurance.
AM: The good guys have to be the invaded and the bad guys are the invaders. Once that is laid out the rest can be tackled. NATO needs to be replaced with a new security system. But Russia has made NATO an attractive option for states who do not want to be Russian vassals.
MH: I don't see it like that because of Ukraine CIA provocation which has been going on for years - you can't keep kicking someone in the balls and expect them to put up with it.
AM: Ukraine like any society has the right to be free from right-wing invasion. It has the right not to be a vassal state of Russian capitalism. It has the right to resist. These are fundamental Left positions. The strongest support/sympathy for Russia in the West comes from the Right.
MH: Maybe. But I did a straw poll of my lefty mates (totally unscientific of course) and most of them, if made to choose, opted for Russia. That may reflect the company I keep. You'd get a different answer from the liberal Left I imagine - lots of them are gagging for war with Russia. Warmongering isn't a Left position either but plenty of them are willing to fight to the last drop of Ukrainian blood.
AM: The bulk of the Left outside of Tankies is opposed to the Russian war. Even to think of a leftist supporting the supreme international crime goes totally against the grain. It is as incongruous as Republicans supporting the DUP. To me it confirms that the attraction is not Left ideas but authoritarianism. This is why communist parties the world over shaft the working classes in pursuit of privilege. Hitler allowed former communists into the Nazi party but not former Social Democrats - his reasoning was that they thought much as Nazis did. Hated democracy. The Left supporting right wing invasion is merely an abdication of the Left ontology. It makes not the slightest sense.
MH: Yes, but hundreds of thousands of communists died at the hands of Hitler and more died courageously fighting him. We've been down this road before. I don't agree with making that kind of equivalence at all. Apart from the ideological arguments (pro and anti-equality etc) I think it undervalues the sacrifice of many honourable people. I guess we agree to differ on this as with much else, but I respect your view because it's consistent. I would not question your motives. However, I can't say the same for a lot of other people who adopt a similar position.
AM: Just one crowd of authoritarians fighting another. Nazis also died courageously fighting Russian authoritarians. We supported the Russians in that war for the same reason we support the Ukrainians. Imperial invasion is always wrong. There are no honourable authoritarians. Scratch a Stalinist and a Nazi bleeds.
MH: Yes that's totalitarian theory. Invented by Americans like Shapiro and Brzezinski to discredit all forms of communism. It isn't convincing even on its own terms. There are different types of authoritarianism like there are different diseases. It's just not helpful to lump them altogether. We need more precision. To take a single example a system that socialises the means of production isn't the same as a system based on profit. They are qualitatively different. Even if you take your assumptions at face value that they both imprisoned and killed people - they have different enemies. It might make them both very unpleasant - but they aren't the same. Differentiating isn't a capitulation it's just a matter of being accurate. It also acknowledges that they can be ideological enemies. Which they are.
AM: Both systems hate democracy, suppress freedom of thought, build camps, perpetrate mass murder and enrich their leaders - the similarities are endless. One gang claiming it does so to socialise the means of production is hot air. They seek to maximise their own power and privilege over others. They just do it in a different way from the opposing totalitarian. Theological distinctions between dictatorships are never persuasive. Few believe them. The American theorists were right about totalitarianism. They were wrong in trying to differentiate left totalitarianism from right authoritarianism.: all pigs of the same sow. There is no qualitative or ethical or political difference between the Holocaust and the Holodomor. Process justifies outcome, and the ends don't justify means. The Tankie Left just end up sounding like the Westboro Baptist Church. How they support regimes bordering on the fascist only they can explain.
MH: But they clearly aren't the same. Different methods, aims, different enemies and so on. Mackers, my team (Saints) gets dicked regularly. The impact on me is the same every time - depression and misery. That doesn't mean that Chelsea and Man United are the same. The impact might be, but they are obviously different. And I reserve the right to hate one more than the other because of the qualitative differences. So, the context matters. There is a massive difference between the Holocaust and famine, not least because who the victims were. One targeted Jews specifically and used industrial methods of extermination. That's an enormous difference. Moreover, why would communists form a key part of resistance to fascism in Italy, France, Greece etc if Nazism is exactly the same as the ideology they profess? It makes no sense.
AM: Different methods? Mass murder by hunger or gassing hardly amounts to a qualitative difference. Chelsea and Man U are different teams playing the same game. Just like the Stalinists and Nazis. Context too often is an alibi. Stalinists, to all intents and purposes, might as well be Left fascists. Stalinism draws the same type of character as Nazism. Those with the urge to dominate and oppress through systemic violence. We need to stop privileging the Jews. Stalinist mass murder of millions of human beings is as vile as Nazi mass murder of millions of humans. The Israelis made a Holocaust industry out of privileging Jewish suffering above all others. It was a racist play by Israel. There is no good mass murder, no privileging of one group of victims of mass murder over another, no excusing one set of mass murderers over another. Communism and Nazism are to be judged not by the ideological differences they profess. That's just PR. They are to be judged by the mass murder they inflict. Far right fight far right in Ukraine. Azov once hero-worshipped Putin as the authoritarian right wing strongman. Communists fighting Nazis in all countries listed was just a power grab. That was shown post World War Two. Attributing noble motives to Stalinism is as implausible as attributing them to Nazis. We have no communists invading Ukraine, just right-wing authoritarians
MH: We will have to agree to differ. I will never see them as the same. Cancer and heart disease kills people. They aren't the same although the ultimate effects are. It therefore requires a different remedy for each. What you see as PR I actually think is very significant. Only by understanding the ideology and the key differences can you rectify and resist effectively. I think I agree with you about Israel. It's a good point because the Holocaust has been manipulated (pace Finkelstein). It's a strange fact that Israel claims victim status but the ideology of Zionism has a lot in common with fascism – racist, cultural and ethnic supremacism etc. Of course, I'm a Marxist so I do believe communism can be different. You might argue that is utopian but I think your position, which sounds like a type of instinctive anti-authoritarian anarchism, is more utopian.
AM: Heart disease and cancer are malignancies. The differences do not make them less malignant. Likewise with Nazism and Stalinism. They are just different routes to monopolise power over others. The remedy to each is the democratic usurpation of both. The ideology merely masks the power lust. They function as regimes of truth. Nazis and Stalinists are zebras. One claims to be white with black stripes, the other claims to be black with white stripes. To the rest of us there is no visible difference. Zionism and Russian imperialism are mirror images. Anarchism is a useless position to hold. Marxism is the opium of the Marxists.
MH: I agree with Primo Levi - it is perfectly possible to conceive of a communism without camps and murder. Fascism without those things is inconceivable. Therefore, they are fundamentally different ideologies. You obviously draw some similarities in practice. Fair enough. But I also see distinct similarities in practice with western imperialism. Yet strangely no one is anxious to draw those parallels. I wonder why? I think your solution of democracy sounds wonderfully liberal but even liberal democracies have been constructed on a mountain of corpses - slavery exploitation etc. Yet few are anxious to acknowledge it. Counting corpses and assuming equivalence is a farce unless it's applied to everyone and all systems. And once you do that it just degenerates into a facile moralism. Well, you are against murder. Great. But it doesn't get us very far. In order to do that you have to expand on what you mean by democracy. Not an easy concept to pin down - it's far too promiscuous (social/political/economic etc). It's far easier to be against something than to articulate a coherent alternative. I do genuinely think you do certain decent people a disservice by assuming their political beliefs simply masked a lust for power. We both know people for whom that isn't true. I'm also not even sure formal democracy gets you very far. What if 51% vote to enslave the other 49%? It might be a facetious point but there is a kernel of truth in this - we have to construct an ideology which progressives can buy into. Therein lies the problem.
AM: It is perfectly possible to dream of a fascism without camps for mass murder. It would only be a dream. Communism and fascism are what communism and fascism do not what they say they will do. Liberal democracy is a system that conceals a mountain of crimes which the Left are duty bound to oppose. But the Left cult that supports the Russian war of aggression has lost all moral authority with which to object to the failings of liberal democracy. Decency and dictators can hardly be spoken of in the same breath unless in terms of binary opposites. The decent dictator is something Charlie Chaplin might act in. Name one. To me decent dictator is like a decent rapist. The 51% to 49% is majoritarianism not democracy. Lenin had a critical view of those who would not see the difference between bourgeois democracy and illiberal or absolutist regimes.
MH: I don't think many on the Left favour dictatorship. I don't. My concern in equating communism and fascism as you do isn't in terms of some outcomes - clearly there are some similarities in terms of consequences, but I still question that. The real problem is the assumption you make about intentions, and thereby the ideology. It puts you in the reactionary camp that exonerated Hitler because he was only reacting to communist ideology. If you follow that argument then the Viet-Cong are the same as the KKK. That is absolutely inconceivable. The difference is I never questioned your motives. You questioned the intent of communism. That is a severe position. You are herding people into a conceptual prison that means they cannot escape no matter what they do or say because we are always “the same as them”. That particular conceptual device mirrors the authoritarianism you claim to oppose.
AM: The Left that oppose dictatorship seems very much opposed to the Russian war. The Tankie support for the war seems inseparable from their penchant for dictatorship. How else can any Left support the war crime from which all war crimes flow? I question the intent of communists. We don't as a rule listen to what the person tells us about themselves. We assess them on what they do. Same with fascists and Stalinists. Hitler was not only reacting to communism although his hatred of it was so strong he planned to eradicate it before planning to exterminate Jews. Nor was communist mass murder a response to Nazism. They were at it long before the Nazis. They even collaborated with the Nazis to divide Poland. The reactionary Right and the regressive Left are in the same camp - it despises democracy. We see them in bed together on the Russian war of aggression. Just as they were when they did Poland over. I always question the intent of fascists and Stalinists. Every thinking person should too. There is no difference between the mass murdering Stalinist and a mass murdering Nazi other than as semantic one. The Stalinists and Nazis herd themselves into the same camp. I merely point it out. They wish to object, I point to the data of what they do not to the discourse of what they say. They mirror each others’ authoritarianism and I call it by its name.
⏭ Mark Hayes has published widely on a variety of subjects. He is a republican and a Marxist, unapologetic on both counts.
⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.