In Post-Soviet Russia, media trumps you
December 4, 2016 4:46 PM   Subscribe

How do I communicate to my older leftist American friends and relatives that criticism of Russian propaganda and international meddling is not neo-McCarthyism?

I've been having difficulties talking to my older relatives and friends about the Russian government's possible interference in this election, and about the dangers of Putin's government in general. They are used to decades of America using the bogeyman of "communism" or USSR support as an extremely effective way to violently shut down leftists, black civil rights, feminism, and any kind of social justice movement to have cropped up in America during the 20th century, as well as international coups against self-determination and human rights like the assassinations of Mossadegh and Lumumba.

When I try to talk about the experiences of my friends (especially LGBT friends) in actual, present day Russia or post-Soviet states, who know Putin to be a terrifying gangster and dictator who has been installing corrupt right wing nationalists throughout Eastern Europe, I get a wall of total disbelief, "they've been saying that stuff since the fifties." They are shocked that I've been brainwashed into talking like a HUAC supporter, and think journalism like the WaPo's article calling the RT a propaganda outlet-- which every Russian person I know knows to be true-- is an ugly return to "are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party." Does anyone have good media resources-- websites, individual journalists or twitters, anything really-- to try to break through to this mentality? How do I communicate to my boomer loved ones that there has been a major paradigm shift, and that Putin's program of installing right-wing populist autocrats who are loyal to him is real?
posted by moonlight on vermont to Human Relations (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
i am not sure your approach will work - why won't they dismiss whatever you present in the same way they are dismissing things now? but anyway, i found nothing is true and everything is possible to be quite convincing (one possible downside is that it's more from a uk than a usa perspective).

second time in a few hours i've mentioned this book; think i heard of it here.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:04 PM on December 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I guess the strongest argument would be how much Putin is supporting Le Pen in France, if the fact that he supported Trump doesn't persuade them.
posted by ambrosen at 5:08 PM on December 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Honestly, it seems like these people don't even read the newspaper if they are making the leap that criticism of present-day Russia is just a holdover of McCarthyism. Literally the Wikipedia article on the Russian Orthodox Church goes into Putin's exploitation of church values to distract his public.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:05 PM on December 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe Samantha Bee's interview with paid Russian trolls?
posted by BungaDunga at 6:10 PM on December 4, 2016

When they specifically say "neo-McCarthyism", perhaps they are reacting to a specific criticism making the rounds about the Washington Post article? You can find the argument in the New Yorker and most stridently The Intercept. (Greenwald is the one who invokes McCarthy.)

Both editorials have a very specific bone to pick with the WashPo, that their article was poorly sourced. Specifically that it was sourced to PropOrNot, an anonymous organization with a very short history. As both the New Yorker and the Intercept points out several of the souces named as "Russian propaganda" are very unlikely actually Russian propaganda, and the anonymous organization saying they are is not offering any evidence beyond "because we say so".

So to argue with your leftist friends, draw a clear line around organizations we know are Russian propaganda like RT, which is literally Russian state media. Things get murky when you look at sources that frequently post crap stories without verification, like Drudge Report or Huffington Post. It's likely some of them have run propaganda without intending to.
posted by Nelson at 7:01 PM on December 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

I've observed that socialist organisations with an explicitly anti-Stalinist tradition tend to be pretty clear that Putin is a reactionary authoritarian. See, for example, Solidarity's Perspectives on Putin's Russia (though their assertion that "Putin's time is running out," written five years ago, seems to have been optimistic), the International Socialist Organisation's Standing for Truth Against Tyranny and Where Is Putin's Russia Going?, Socialist Alternative's Russia: Twenty-Five Years Since the Coup Against Gorbachev, and Tom Parfitt's interview with Gleb Pavlovsky in the New Left Review.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 7:14 PM on December 4, 2016 [11 favorites]

Another one: Socialist Review's characterization of Putin as "a vicious, populist autocrat" in Ukraine: Torn Apart By Imperialism.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 7:29 PM on December 4, 2016

McCarthy wasn't wrong about the USSR though right? It sucked. If they were really aware of the history of the left in the 20th Century they'd know that there was a large group of anti-Stalinist/USSR leftists, from Orwell to Camus to Noam Chomsky. And there were plenty of socialists who supported Russian communism who were devastated and embarrassed when they finally faced facts about the oppression and hypocrisy over there.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:43 AM on December 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

The problem in the 50s wasn't that right-wing people were wrong about the Soviet Union, it was that they were wrong about what should be done in the U.S. If your older leftist friends still don't realize that after all the information that has come out in the past decades about the evils of Stalinism, the gulag, etc., there may not be much you can do for them.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:23 AM on December 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

If they're unfamiliar with exactly who and what Putin is, perhaps this episode of PBS Frontline, "Putin's Way."
posted by dnash at 5:14 PM on December 5, 2016

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