Let’s assume that the allegations about Russia’s involvement in the US election are true. What then?
Well, we can dismiss the moral argument instantly. The US, of all the countries in the world, has absolutely no moral right to complain about another country meddling in its elections. Indeed, a country that only meddled by revealing private information about a candidate ought to be thanked for such restraint, when we look at how the CIA has gone about installing dictatorships, overturning democracies and inciting civil wars for more than half a century.
What next? A threat to democracy? Please. Before Trump even announced his candidacy there was still the reactionary, anti-working class, racist “war on drugs” that was busily disenfranchising huge sections of the population. There was NSA spying on civilians, increasing police terrorism, “constitution free zones,” a press that was overwhelmingly afraid to publish anything not approved by the intelligence community, brutal persecution of whistle blowers, “free speech zones”—you name it. All sorts of things that threaten democracy one hell of a lot more than revelations that a candidate engaged in backroom deals to win the nomination and had close ties to Wall Street that everyone knew about anyway.
So, what are we left with regarding Russia? An opportunity to use patriotism and nationalism against Trump. We all hate Trump. We hate him so much that Bush and Obama appear decent by comparison. So, the thinking goes, many of those who supported him consider themselves patriotic. All we have to do is show them that the patriotic thing to do is oppose Trump and we’re home free, right? So, why not invoke patriotic illusions and nationalist phrase-mongering to get him out of office?
That is the more difficult and important question, because it leads us to the question of how we move forward. Here is my position as succinctly as I can put it:
Patriotism is a tool that is used to tie the working class to their enemies; it is the excuse used, especially in time of war (and these days, “time of war” means always) to justify violent repression against anyone speaking out against their conditions. In a 21st century capitalist country it is, in a word, thoroughly, irredeemably reactionary. Moreover, many of you are aware of this. Until this recent rather pathetic call to “reclaim” patriotism most of those who considered themselves leftists recognized that nationalism of any sort must be utterly rejected, and even those who were close to liberalism without rejecting capitalism got sort of nervous and twitchy around flag-waving and jingoism.
Trump did not materialize out of thin air. He’s the product of a system unable to solve its own contradictions, voted for (or, at least, not voted against) by millions of hopeless and desperate people who saw no way out. He exploited the backwardness, ignorance, fully justified anger, and, above all, the lack of an alternative among broad sections of the oppressed. Since his election, we have seen an even greater unleashing of backwardness and ignorance.
Patriotism—the notion that the oppressed within certain geographical boundaries ought to feel more loyalty to the oppressors within those boundaries than to the oppressed outside of them—is exactly an expression of ignorance and backwardness.
We do not fight ignorance and backwardness by appealing to and reinforcing it, we fight it with knowledge and reason and showing that there is an alternative, a way forward; by showing that the problems that produced Trump can be addressed by a revolutionary socialist program uniting all of the oppressed internationally. This has the additional benefit of being true.
The criminality of Putin is not in question, and we ought to give our support to the Russian working class in their struggles against him. But by evoking Russia—that is to say, patriotism—against Trump, you are contributing to Trumpism. You think there aren’t others, maybe more civilized in appearance, maybe even less so, waiting in the wings? To get rid of Trump without tackling the conditions that produced him would be the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory. We can’t afford any more of those.