You are here:   Andrew Murray > Putin has his Useful Idiots on the Left and the Right

Stalinist solidarity: Communists protest outside the Ukrainian embassy in London in May (credit: PA)

With Russia's seizure of the Crimea, one European state has annexed the territory of another through force of arms for the first time since the Second World War. While since 1945 there have been cases of European states sending in their troops to occupy the territory of their neighbours — Turkey in Cyprus, Serbia in Croatia and Bosnia, Armenia in Azerbaijan, Russia in Georgia — this has always been done by the establishment of proxies and a proclamation of "independence" of these puppet states, never through the formal annexation of another state's territory. Russian President Vladimir Putin's behaviour has broken what had seemed a very solid, unbreachable taboo.

One might have imagined that this would have been universally condemned by British politicians and opinion-formers. Putin has, however, found his defenders, or at least apologists, across the political spectrum. They include the usual suspects — those who can be relied upon to stand up for the West's enemies whoever they may be — but also more unlikely converts. It encompasses figures who have consistently been pro-Moscow and who now have great influence upon the decisions of the Labour party and also former Conservative party leadership hopefuls who had been strong Cold Warriors. These apologists for the Kremlin have not been bribed, blackmailed or otherwise cajoled; they are taking the positions they are due to misguided ideology.

The London-based Australian journalist John Pilger has since the Sixties and the Vietnam War been seen by some as an intrepid lone voice willing to uncover the machinations of powerful, opaque vested interests and to stand up bravely to the perfidy of the United States — a journalistic Noam Chomsky with an Antipodean accent, if you will.

So what did Pilger have to say in the Guardian about the overthrow of the brutal and deeply corrupt regime of Viktor Yanukovych after its forces had opened fire on protesters? "In February, the US mounted one of its proxy ‘colour' coups against the elected government of Ukraine . . . Since Washington's putsch in Kiev — and Moscow's inevitable response in Russian Crimea to protect its Black Sea fleet — the provocation and isolation of Russia have been inverted in the news to the ‘Russian threat'."  

In Pilger's world, the United States is the aggressor and Russia's invasion of the Crimea-Ukrainian, not Russian territory whatever he might imagine — is merely an act of self-defence. The "Russian threat" — all too real when parts of your state have already been annexed, Russian forces, albeit without insignia, have entered the east of your country and are supporting surrogate militias there and the Russian army is massing on your borders — is merely a US-contrived chimera.

A month later Pilger wrote, again in the Guardian, "Why do we tolerate the threat of another world war in our name? . . . For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is threatening to take the world to war . . . Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington's planned seizure of Russia's historic, legitimate, warm-water naval base in Crimea failed." There was I thinking that Crimea had been seized by Russia — but no, Pilger tells us that Russia had merely  resisted the US's nefarious plans. This article was so outlandish — quoting supposed victims of "pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals" from spurious, since deleted Facebook pages — that the Guardian's own Moscow correspondent, Shaun Walker, described it as "inexcusable".

Pilger is not the only Guardian columnist to have sprung to Putin's defence. Seumas Milne, the paper's Old Wykehamist erstwhile comment editor who started his journalistic career on Straight Left, the paper of a hardline, some would say Stalinist, faction within the Communist Party, wrote, "Putin's absorption of Crimea and support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is clearly defensive. . . the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by Nato or the EU." No — it might well be "swallowed up" by Russia instead.

Pilger and Milne have organised supporters for their standpoint. The Stop the War coalition — the people who planned the massive demonstrations in London against the Iraq war in 2003 — and its leading lights have taken a stand, this time seemingly on the Start the War side.

Andrew Murray, its chairman until 2011 and a leading member of the Communist Party of Britain, has launched a new campaign, Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine. This is solidarity not with the Ukraine or with those opposing Russian aggression but solidarity with Russia's proxy forces in the eastern Ukraine illegally occupying Donetsk and Luhansk. Murray only appears to have a problem with the use of force if it is wielded by the West, never if employed by the West's enemies.

Nothing about Murray should surprise us. In his column for the Communist Party of Britain-controlled newspaper, the Morning Star, Murray reflected some years ago on the anniversary of the death of Josef Stalin:

His career is the subject of a vast and ever-expanding literature. Read it all and, at the end, you are still left paying your money and taking your choice. A socialist system embracing a third of the world and the defeat of Nazi Germany on the one hand. On the other, all accompanied by harsh measures imposed by a one-party regime. Nevertheless, if you believe that the worst crimes visited on humanity . . . have been caused by imperialism, then [Stalin's birthday] might at least be a moment to ponder why the authors of those crimes and their hack propagandists abominate the name of Stalin beyond all others. It was after all, Stalin's best-known critic, Nikita Khrushchev, who remarked in 1956 that, "against imperialists, we are all Stalinist".

Not a word of criticism, of course, of Soviet or Russian imperialism; imperialism is here meant in Lenin's sense as he extrapolated in 1916 when contemplating the then imminent collapse of capitalism in his pamphlet Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism.

The 56-year-old "we are all Stalinists" Murray is a passionate advocate for the North Korean regime but he should not be lightly dismissed as a figure on the outer periphery of political life who had a brief success with the anti-Iraq war campaign. He is now chief of staff to Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, Britain's biggest trades union and the largest affiliate to the Labour party, indeed the  party's largest donor. Unite cast 47,439 votes in support of Ed Miliband in the Labour leadership election in 2010, helping him to win.  

The union has been explicit in its attempts to move Labour in a leftward, workerist direction and has been accused by others in the party of dubious machinations, most notably in the constituency of Falkirk in Scotland but also elsewhere, in seeking to ensure that its favoured candidates would be selected to stand in safe Labour seats at next year's general election. Informed observers have argued that Murray is the most influential person in Unite, the power behind its strategy, with much day-to-day management and decisions left to him, while McCluskey is the union's public face.

In their defence of Russia over Ukraine, Pilger, Milne and Murray stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain's homegrown fascist, BNP leader Nick Griffin. For all the attacks on the Ukrainian government by British leftists for being a cauldron of fascists, virtually all of Europe's far-right parties — from Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece to the Front National in France — are cheerleaders for Putin's adventures in Ukraine.  One might feel rather sorry for the genuine fascists that do exist in the Ukraine, for however hard they try to prove their credentials their ideological soulmates in the rest of Europe nearly all support their deadly enemy.

Putin's leftist apologists must face the anguish of making common cause with dedicated followers of fascism. What may however be even more galling for them is that they also find themselves comrades-in-arms on this issue with a phalanx of Conservative MPs. Milne wrote in the Guardian, "The reality is that, after two decades of eastward Nato expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west's attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defence structure, via an explicitly anti-Moscow EU association agreement." It is a view that could just as easily have been expressed by a number of Tory MPs.

Whether intentionally or not, the Eurosceptic Bruges Group has become an apologist for Putin. The group was established in 1989 to support the views expounded by Margaret Thatcher in her Bruges speech of the previous year calling for an end to the federalist project and a more decentralised Europe. It has now produced Someone Had Blunder'd, a 30-minute film attacking UK and EU policy on Ukraine for provoking Russia, indeed for being the cause of the current crisis. It is fronted by Bruges Group director Robert Oulds and features Conservative MPs Peter Bone, Bernard Jenkin and John Redwood, twice a leadership candidate, as well as erstwhile party chairman Lord Tebbit. They are now exploring a follow-up film with Sir Bill Cash MP.

The argument of these critics is that, in the phrase of Bernard Jenkin, the Euro-neocons — surely as mythical a beast as any yet imagined — running the EU have pursued an aggressive policy of eastward expansion which has encroached on Russia's sphere of influence and thus made it feel threatened. In their view it is the EU's rather than Russia's expansionism which has provoked conflict. Jenkin argues that the EU has been "fomenting divisions in order to bring Ukraine into the European orbit". Redwood says: "It was EU action seeking to expand their empire to the West [sic] which first started the reaction of Russia." 

It is true that the demonstrations against Yanukovych began last November when he announced that he would not be signing an Association Agreement with the EU but would instead throw in his lot with Putin's Eurasian Customs Union.

The critics are right that the Association Agreement is much more than a free-trade agreement. In Article Seven it commits Ukraine to "promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy". Article Ten of the agreement provides for "increasing the participation of Ukraine in EU-led civilian and military crisis management operations" and exploring the potential of military-technological cooperation.

The agreement may indeed undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, but surely is nothing compared to the Russian-dominated Eurasian Customs Union. While the latter may on paper be nothing more than a customs union does anyone seriously believe that it will remain as such? Has Putin's aggression in Ukraine not rather proven the point that Ukrainian sovereignty is not high on his list of priorities?

Until Russia's assault on Ukraine, Conservatives and Putin's party, United Russia, have been institutionally linked. Both the United Kingdom and Russia are members of the Council of Europe, a body wholly separate from the EU but including its 28 members along with 19 other non-member states.

This body has its own talking shop of parliamentarians drawn from the members' legislatures, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. In this body the 18-strong delegation of British Conservatives, which includes one Democratic Unionist from Northern Ireland, sits in a faction, the European Democratic Group (EDG), which includes  Putin's party, United Russia.  

Before the Ukraine crisis the EDG was chaired by a parliamentarian from United Russia, Alexey Pushkov, with British Conservative MP Christopher Chope as its first deputy chairman. Its other deputy chairman, Reha Denemeç, is from Turkey's ruling authoritarian and soft-Islamist Justice and Development Party. With the occupation of Crimea, the parliamentary assembly voted to censure Russia; this led to its delegation withdrawing. Chope thus finds   himself acting chairman of the EDG with Denemeç as his deputy.  

When I asked Chope if he was comfortable with the alliances they had made, he explained that the alternatives to the EDG would have been sitting alone or with the main centre-right group of the European People's Party (EPP). The EPP are European federalists whereas the members of the EDG believe in national sovereignty — presumably in the case of United Russia its own national sovereignty rather than that of any other country.  

Chope further claimed that at least one faction of the EPP is heavily influenced, if not controlled, by the Pope, and sitting alongside such people would be rather difficult for an instinctive liberal like himself — presumably more difficult than sitting alongside supporters of those instinctive liberals Putin and Turkey's prime minister Recep Erdoğan.

The Tory apologists for Putin are not in the pay of the Kremlin; none of them have any declared business interests which would put them in hock to Russia. Instead, they seem to have been so blinded by their hatred of the EU that they have persuaded themselves that in any conflict the EU is always at fault.

They seem to have failed to grasp there are threats to the sovereignty of European nations that are far more serious than anything emanating from Brussels.
View Full Article
Philip Arlington
October 15th, 2014
8:10 PM
Most of the article is sound but the last sentence is a nonsensical rhetorical flourish. The EU is working hard to destroy the sovereignty of every single nation in Europe and has already made giant strides in that direction, but even in a worse case scenario a resurgent Russia will only seize the nations of Eastern Europe.

Robert Oulds
August 14th, 2014
4:08 PM
Mr Mosbacher's attack on the Bruges Group film "Someone had Blunder'd" about the catastrophe in Ukraine disappointed me but should it have surprised me? Released in late March of this year, readers may have forgotten such a modest film by now so, to remind you, it was an attempt to understand the Russian (and therefore Mr Putin's) perspective and be critically analytical of the EU's clumsy attempts to realise its "drang nach osten" ambitions. Imposing its economic model as well as foreign and defence policy upon Ukraine. An analysis of which was sadly lacking from Mr Mosbacher’s article. Leading Conservatives were assembled for this film to make predictions that have since unfortunately come true The US and EU sponsored regime change of a democratically elected president in Ukraine was never going to end well. Billions of dollars were invested in opposition groups by the US and EU spent €496 million. Only the most ardent néocon would have failed to notice that this will exacerbate divisions in an already divided country. The state of Ukraine today is a sad outcome of Communist attempts to mix up nations and boundaries, disrupt natural historical ties and create a new Soviet man by turning original nations into mere ethnic residua and historical leftovers. Crimea is not the only example of this. The Bolsheviks also abolished the once independent ethnically Russian Republics of Donetsk that emerged during and after the First World War. Ukraine in its current shape could have been saved by several decades of peaceful development with a modest and sophisticated foreign policy, respecting the geopolitical position of the country and the rights of the regions, not just the wishes of one part of the country. The western backed overthrow of a government that wanted to chart a neutral course between Russia and the EU has now made this impossible. True conservatives know that attempts at radical change represent a fundamental threat in such a fragile, heterogeneous and politically sensitive country. How disappointing when people abandon the pragmatism of national self-interest, the virtue of peace-making and adopt a tribal loyalty to the EU as "us"? This is not a football match. There are consequences for British jobs and lives are being lost. The Bruges Group is not funded by Russians, not pro- nor anti-Putin. Unlike some political organisations in London that according to the Electoral Commission receive funding, in exchange for a game of tennis, from Russians. What is my defence of our film? We told you so! Robert Oulds, Director - Bruges Group

hegels advocate
July 9th, 2014
6:07 PM
How are our "inadequate western leaders" expected to respond to the evil dwarf Putin? Why assume Putin and his experts know what they`re doing or what`s going on ? The best of capitalism is over for rich countries (Paul Mason). A revolution or two (or three)is called for by the `Russell Brand` brigades. Caitlin Moran`s novel `How To Build A Girl` has been published. And bravo`d by Julie Burchill. England`s own Pussy Riot artists.

John Torode
July 8th, 2014
11:07 AM
Neo Stalinist? Proto fascist? Gangster state-capitalist? Whatever. Retired KGB boss Putin's appalling, 21st century Russia is - in foreign affairs - flexible, sophisticated, cynical, expansionist, brutal where necessary, and it rings rings round the EU, NATO and the Obama administration. Michael Mosbacher is to be congratulated for exposing Putin's "useful idiots" in this country and the influence they wield. The Guardian's Seamus Milne, a charming, intellectual, Wykehamist, and a life long Stalinist apologist, has held a number of opinion-forming editorial posts. Columnist and best selling author John Pilger (the unthinking man's Noam Chomsky,) accuses poor pacific Obama of "threatening to take the world to war" over Ukraine. Andrew Murrey, a leading light in the ultra Stalinist Communist Party of Britain is more importantly the powerful CEO of Labour's paymaster, Unite, the country's biggest, and probably most aggressive, union. Where Mosbacher goes wrong is to attack the Thatcherite Bruges Group for becoming another "apologist for Putin". Apparently John Redwood, Bernard Jenkins, Lord Tebbit etc are "blinded by their hatred of the EU" when they blame the EU expansionism for provoking Russian intervention in Ukraine. Surely it is possible both to regard Russia as the dangerous enemy of everything we hold dear..........and to blame the EU, NATO and the Obama administration for several years of ill thought out provocation over Ukraine. Of course Russia was going to respond. And all too predictably our inadequate Western leaders had not the slightest idea how to respond. If you are going to tweak the bear's tail, it would be wise to know what you are going to do when he shows his claws.

hegel`s advocate
July 2nd, 2014
3:07 PM
"a rational motive for taking Russia`s side" still sides with a (competing/corrupt) dinosaur-ideology. Peter Hitchens wants no engagement with the intellectual and cultural evolution in Uruguay ? Is he just being twee and quaint in his country`s "interests"/sovereignty he claims to put first? Or is he one of the idle (or workaholic) rich of today that Sir Ken Clark (of Civilisation) said were "as ignorant as swans." in his own day? It`s said the BBC producers of the new Civilisation2 series are in a stupor. Jeremy Paxman says Newsnight is run by 13 year olds. The London media elite call the most sadistic scum of the earth "radicalised" or "angry" muslims or "insurgents" or "militants". Caliphate/islamist- clones factories and slave labour will solve the unemployment problems there. Isis/Loco Haram/the Caliphate are also "as ignorant as swans". Zizek calls the present political dialogue "tartling". In Iraq it`s the violent tartling of the "male epic" dinosaur-ideologies in competitive conflict.

Peter Hitchens
July 2nd, 2014
1:07 PM
Michael Mosbacher seems unable to accept that anyone might have a rational motive for taking Russia’s side in its current contest with the EU. He deals at length with various unreconstructed Cold Warriors of the Left, and I would concede that they (and their equally unreconstructed counterparts on the Right) may be confused by emotional loyalties. But he is I think less comfortable when he turns to the conservatives who have declined to endorse the actions of the Euromaidan. They are, he says ‘blinded by their hatred of the EU’. Like many opponents of British membership of the EU, I do not hate that entity, though I think it beyond doubt that it is the principal threat to the sovereignty of this country, whose interests ( as a conservative) I put first. In fact, I can see that it is some ways the best answer to the problem of German expansionism which has troubled all Europe since 1870. It is the continuation of Germany by other means, involving a tactful and gentle abolition of other people’s sovereignty, and using (so far) rather more civilized and peaceable means than those used in 1914 and 1939. Kept within limits, we can all smile upon that. But the real issue in both 1914 and 1939 was the desire of Germany to expand eastwards, and the countervailing desire of Russia to limit that expansion. Until the Association Agreement (which Mr Mosbacher rightly concedes is both political and military, and not merely economic), this eastward expansion had remained within uncontentious or at least tolerable limits, thanks to Russian weakness and (later) to Russian realism. But if Mr Mosbacher’s assessment of the Association Agreement is right, and it is, its acceptance in Kiev means the extension of EU power into Ukraine’s laws, its enforcement of its frontiers, its internal civil powers, its armed forces, its currency and its economy. And so it is a major eastward move, judged by the laws of physics, geometry or geography. Ukraine, previously neutral between the two blocs, has now aligned itself with the EU. This is obviously important, just as it would have been had it gone the other way. Traditional conservatives are quite reasonable in concluding that this is aggressive, rash and ill-considered. Neoconservatives have a different problem. The true nature of their position (cloudy in theory) reveals itself to them in practice, and they are perhaps alarmed to discover that they are, willy-nilly, partisans of the EU, and the EU is a neo-conservative project fully supported since its inception by the United States. I feel their pain, but they would be better off wondering how they got themselves into such company than in railing at those who have learned from history that European territorial aggression seldom ends well. Peter Hitchens 2 Derry St London W8 5TS

hegels advocate
June 26th, 2014
6:06 PM
Reading the title of Lenin`s pamphlet `Imperialism:the highest stage of capitalism` provoked the image of Clegg,Cameron and Milliband holding up their identical free copies of the Sun sports pages. I doubt if even Andy Warhol could have created images as vacuous,nihilist and submissive as these. The Noumenon`s New Clothes of british politics. The writer Will Self advocates reading Debord`s book `The Society of the Spectacle` for understanding the machiavellianisms of it all. Here we can see how Putin (and Pope Francis,Isis,Loco Haram,Greece`s Golden Dawn (to name just a few) are also "useful idiots" in what the philosopher Zizek calls global "tartling". Michael Mosbacher adds extra details to Zizek`s listing of the actual euro-fascist parties that support Putin. It`s essentially a "male epic" industrial scale anti-civilisation career/suicide movement for back-brain impulses and ideological taqiyya- by- any other- name. There`s something `rejected by women/still in the closet S/M gay male` about the ugly misogynist islamists and fascists. No guitars for the islamists only guns and demented anti-western, anti-Israel islamo-rap. How long before Isis produce their own social media-savvy version of the Village People`s `Down at the YMCA` called `Down At The YMIA` with a snuff video stuffed with `selfies` showing them murdering and raping men,women and children ? The space-age feudalism of the capitalist/islamo dystopias destroys the very people who create it. Simulacra theology to the right of them,sublime objects of ideology to the left of them,onward onward tartled the six hundred. Is the only real,radical option for Left and Right the transformation into utopia ? Viva Uruguay,Israel,the UK and the USA .

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.