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Enter Putin’s Russia, Stage Right (Putin With Carlson)

According to Putin, Poland started World War II by refusing to give up Gdansk. Hitler had no choice. In a way, Putin is telling us about today. What's truly amazing about our time, however, is the emergence of the GOP as Putin's ally.

For several reasons, Putin and Russia have been at the top of the news in the past ten days.

This morning, Feb. 16, we learned of the death of Aleksei Navalny, age 47, in a remote Siberian prison above the Arctic Circle. No cause of death was yet given. But we know for sure only a few years ago, Navalny survived an attempt to kill him with a nerve toxin unavailable to anyone outside certain circles.

Russia's courts imprisoned Navalny for a list of crimes. Included at the top was his opposition to Putin's 'special military operation' against Ukraine (In Russia, you can be busted simply for calling it a 'war’). But Navalny committed a much greater 'crime,' leading a significantly powerful antifascist opposition to Putin's rule, one offering a different vision of both Russia's past and for a different and more democratic future. It's worth noting that minor parties are allowed in Russia's elections. But they must observe an unwritten rule carefully: always remain 'minor' and not too critical of the new tsar at the top. Whatever other charges were made against him, breaking this one made Navalny a subject of imprisonment and assassination plotting. Our theoretical piece in this week's issue offers a Navalny article published in 2022. Make what you will of it. We'll also include a report on Boris Kagarlitsky's recent re-imprisonment.

But a second matter, the topic of our weekly cartoon above, also put Putin on page one. Tucker Carlson had made his way to Moscow to interview Putin, not quite knowing what to expect. At the opening, Putin asked whether Tucker wanted 'a show' or 'a dialogue.' Tucker chose the latter, although it might be better described as a two-hour monologue.

Our major media outlets plucked out a few juicy bits about Ukraine, but mainly panned Putin's talk as 'boring medieval history.' As Marxists, however, we're quite interested in history, both our own views of it and the views of our adversaries, both domestic and abroad. So boring or not, we looked it over.

For starters, Putin reminded us that Russia's history was long, over 1000 years, much richer, by implication, than any 250-year-old youngsters still wet behind the ears. What was more interesting is how he told it, not as a history from below but from the top. It was a tsarists' version of history (note that 'Tsar' is derived from the Russian version of 'Caesar'). For those of us familiar with Lenin's account of the Russian Empire as 'a prison house of nations,' the first thing we'll note in Putin's account is the absence of the term. It's replaced by Russia as 'family,' and a family that kept gathering a variety of lost relatives back into the fold, and thus welcome at family reunions.

Putin starts in the 900s CE, but really attributes the first in-gathering of relatives to Tsar Ivan IV, aka 'The Terrible,' 1547-1584. This Ivan was the first to be named 'Tsar of all Russia,' meaning he asserted dominance over the entire prison of nations and started the streltsy (standing army) and the oprichniki (secret police) to make it so. For curious reasons, Putin brushes over the first tsars, including the various Vladimirs. Most likely, the reason was they were Swedes or too intermarried with Swedes, and thus largely vassals of Swedes. The Swedes called the people in the area they dominated 'the Rus,' which is how Russia got its name.

So Putin plants a flag with Ivan IV and briskly moves forward, weaving a tale that quickly brings Ukraine into Russia's fold. It's not really a separate country, you see, even the name simply means 'lands on the edge' of the Empire. In brief, for Russia to be Russia again, this wayward cousin needs to be brought back to sit at the family reunion table. Those asserting otherwise are expressing the views of the Germans and, later, the Nazis who occupied that 'part of Russia' for a spell. Can a negotiated settlement with Ukraine bring an end to the conflict there? 'Of course,' Putin tells Carlson. But not without 'DeNazifying' the territory. Elsewhere, Putin had dismissed Lenin's position on 'self-determination, including the right to secede,' for all the imprisoned nations under the tsars, as simply a 'mistaken' viewpoint.

Much of this was reported, in bits, about Carlson's interview. But one fascinating piece was not, and it says something about Putin's views of fascism and World War 2. Today it's widely held, both by the left and others as well, that WW2 got its start with 'appeasement' at Munich followed by the Third Reich's takeover of Czechoslovakia and adsorption of Austria, then again followed quickly by Hitler's invasion of Poland, knowing full well, due to Poland's treaties, that this meant war with the U.K. and others in Europe.

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But according to Putin, we would be wrong. Here's what he told Tucker:

"So before World War II, Poland collaborated with Hitler and although it did not yield to Hitler's demands, it still participated in the partitioning of Czechoslovakia together with Hitler. As the Poles had not given the Danzig Corridor to Germany, and went too far, pushing Hitler to start World War II by attacking them. Why was it Poland against whom the war started on 1 September 1939? Poland turned out to be uncompromising, and Hitler had nothing to do but start implementing his plans with Poland."

So the Poles started it by refusing to give up Gdansk. Hitler had no choice. In a way, Putin is telling us about today. Applying the same logic, his 'little green men' (aka, Russian volunteers with their military uniform's insignias removed and sent into the Dombas circa 2014), just wanted Ukraine's easternmost provinces (for starters). But the stubborn 'Nazified' rulers in Kiev refused to give them up, and thus they started the war, leaving Putin no choice. Putin, you see, is fighting fascism and defending Christendom.

Nice try, Vlad, but no cigar--at least from this corner of the left. What's truly amazing about our time, however, is the emergence of the GOP as Putin's ally. Ideologically, they share a contempt for democracy, especially if it means practicing consistent democracy regarding sexuality and gender roles. Pussy Riot, the Russian girl rockers, got busted for that.

It's easier to understand if we look at Trump's past using the well-known tool, 'follow the money.' Long before Trump aimed at being POTUS, he was in bed with Russian oligarchs. After Trump's failures in his Atlantic City casinos, they bailed him out from near bankruptcy. At first, all Trump wanted was a hotel in Moscow and beauty pageants there. But Putin, the KGB expert on handling 'assets,' aimed higher. Keep this naive mark on a leash. We have bigger plans for him.

So long story short: we now have a Trump bloc in Congress willing to hand over Ukraine and even consider wrecking NATO. The old curse attributed to ancient Chinese seers is: 'May you live in interesting times.' For those of us who cut our political teeth in the years of Cold War, the political terrain today is certainly something we never imagined. But here it is, and it's wise to deal with it, and not deny or minimize it.

Carl Davidson is a Truthseeker, changemaker, pilgrim on the road...Online University of the Left, LeftRoots Compa. CCDS, DSA, Liberation Road

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