(Prologue to Supremacy Unravelling: Crumbling Western Dominance and the Slide to Fascism)
27th May 2020
Many of the chapters in this book were originally published on RT.com, the website of the Russian state’s English-language news channel RT (formerly Russia Today). Back in 2011, when the war on Libya was raging, RT’s coverage was a breath of fresh air. The major western news channels have never been much more than state propaganda outfits during times of war, and the NATO bombardment of Libya was no exception. Even Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned channel that made its name with its no-holds barred coverage of the 2003 attack on Iraq, had seemingly cashed in its hard-won credibility as a voice speaking truth to power to become an unashamed mouthpiece of NATO. This should, perhaps, have been no surprise, given how deeply invested Qatar was in the NATO aggression, providing the foot soldiers and much of the training for the operation to kill Gaddafi and destroy the state he had built. But RT – despite Russian support for the UN Security Council resolution that paved the way for NATO’s attack – stepped into the vacuum created by Al-Jazeera’s conversion to the war party. Their uncompromising output combined reports on the brutal reality of NATO’s actions and allies with critical, forthright anti-war analysis of a type formerly relegated to the very margins of the internet.
I had been recommended to the channel by my old friend and comrade Sukant Chandan, who had spent much of 2011 in Libya in solidarity with those resisting NATO’s criminal bombardment. My first interview with them seemed to go well, and received 39,000 views on youtube. Having until that point been the author of articles and leaflets that rarely went beyond the confines of the anti-war meetings and demos in which they were distributed, this was by far the biggest platform I had ever had. A few weeks later I was asked to appear again, and soon I was appearing every month or so. Later it was suggested to me that I pitch some articles for their website. I did, and they were accepted. I started writing regularly for them, and my broadcast appearances increased in frequency also. By 2013, my output had drawn the attention of Middle East Eye, who started to commission pieces from me as well. This writing work became regular – and relatively lucrative – enough that I was able to reduce my teaching workload, and focus one or two days per week on writing. This was, in many ways, my dream job, allowing me to dedicate serious time to researching and writing about the things I considered important, helping (as I saw it) to produce analysis that would inform and equip the anti-war movement to really understand the machinations of a crisis-ridden western capitalism. For the first time in my working life I felt like I had real freedom: my pitches were almost always accepted, and they were never edited or tinkered with in any way.
RT had always hosted some dodgy characters, however. That was no surprise; I knew it was a not a left-wing operation per se – it was funded and run by the oligarchic-capitalist Russian state, after all – but if they were prepared to give a platform to socialists, I thought, in amongst all the conservatives and nationalists, that was surely a good thing. Wasn’t it?
But over the years, I started to notice more and more coverage being given to the hardcore far right and neofascists. Representatives of France’s Front Nationale, Austria’s Freedom Party, Germany’s Pegida and AfD seemed to be getting slots almost every day, giving their ‘interpretation’ of the day’s events. Tommy Robinson even got an entire half hour slot. Sukant pointed out that, disturbingly, much of the far right seemed to be saying very similar things to us about Syria, and that if we did not make a clear distinction between our analysis and theirs, we were effectively legitimising them.
For a while I kept my head in the sand, and even justified it – ‘oh well, they have lots of different viewpoints, of course they are going to have some right-wingers as well as left-wingers – they want a diversity of opinion’ blah blah blah. And anyway, I managed to convince myself that nothing would be improved by me cutting my ties, which would merely be cutting off my nose to spite my face. My position was – I will speak on any platform that lets me state my piece uncensored. That’s it.
But the dirty role RT was playing just became too blatant to ignore. Even more insidious than the guests being invited were the increasingly frequent ‘news items’ that whipped up a barely-veiled hatred of migrants. It seemed that every half-hour news slot would contain at least one piece on a ‘migrant crimewave’, ‘migrant stabbing’, ‘migrant rape’ etc etc – always inevitably followed up with an interview by some fascist or other telling us what to think about it. On the website, too, I noticed some really toxic pieces going up, consisting of base migrant-baiting, or pushing the ‘death of Europe’ fantasies about European civilisation being swamped by alien cultures. The comments on these articles – my own included – were, it is no exagerration to say, pretty much wall-to-wall antisemitic conspiracies.
By this time, Sukant had become persona non grata with the channel for his candid denunciation of the new fascism and forthright defence of immigration on their flagship panel show Cross Talk. But still my line was – I’m not being compromised: I stand by what I publish, and as long as they are giving me a platform to say what I like and get it out there, I will take it. I’m not endorsing any of these fascists.
But what I was doing, I came to realise, was helping to bring these fascists an audience.
What I eventually had to admit was that the presence on RT of people like me and others on the left was giving the channel a credibility and reach amongst a large section of people that would not have touched an out-and-out far right platform with a bargepole. Myself and others like me were being used to pull in people from the anti-war movement and the anti-austerity movement, and draw them in to an anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, antisemitic mileau, which rendered them harmless to capital but deeply harmful to the global proletariat. And I am not talking about small numbers of people; RT was the first youtube channel to reach a billion views, and RTUK has more viewers than Al Jazeera; it is, I would argue, the most powerful ‘alternative’ news channel/ site in the world. And it is a gateway drug to fascism.
But it was only when I started really researching into some of these neofascist currents and people that I realised that this is a very carefully crafted strategy. Up until around the new millenium, most of the fascist movements in the west had always been about bashing the left, the ‘reds’ and the ‘commies’. But around the year 2000, some of them underwent a shift in strategy. Witnessing events like the ‘Battle of Seattle’ – when anarchists fought cops in an attempt to close down the World Trade Organisation – they thought, ‘here are angry kids, ready to take militant action in the streets against [what they saw as] the ‘Jewish power structure’. We shouldn’t be fighting these kids. We should be recruiting them’.
Fast forward to today, and this strategy has made serious headway. The boundaries between militant left and militant right have become more porous, to the benefit of the right, and RT has played a major part in facilitating this phenomenon. Fascists like Alexander Dugin in Russia and Steve Bannon in the US – with deep ties to the Russian and US bourgeois state leadership – are leading this new type of fascist recruitment drive which aims to unite far left and far right under the leadership of the far right. Leftwingers like George Galloway are now defending Steve Bannon and people who consider themselves leftists are reposting fascist websites and talking points without even realising it. The new fascist strategy – of reaching out to the left and slowly, subtly, bringing them round to neo-fascist positions – has been very effective. One example of how successful this strategy has been is on the issue of migration. There is a theory very popular amongst the RT crowd, that Muslim immigration is a Jewish plot to weaken Europe by diluting its cultural identity and virility, and ultimately wiping out its white population. Even prominent figures like Julian Assange have given credence to these theories, which have gone on to inspire massacres such as those in Christchurch New Zealand in March 2019.
I am not saying RT is a ‘fascist channel’ per se; it is more subtle than that. Rather, it is doing the spadework for fascism. Alain de Benoist (see the chapter in this book on politically correct fascism) came to the view back in the 1960s that, for fascism to become acceptable again, a long-term battle of ideas would need to be fought, to slowly shift the contours of debates on race, identity and ethnicity such that a reformulated fascism could be cast as a legitimate response to these debates. The mainstream has already been doing this for decades of course, but RT is taking it to the next level, through its steady drip-drip dehumanisation of migrants and refugees and the normalisation of fascist parties. It is working hard to create what Hitler called “a people ready for” fascism.
So, finally, the nature of the project I had been involved in dawned on me. I had been extending the reach of fascism, for money. I had a vested interest in not seeing what was going on.
The way I squared it with my conscience was to call them out on air. Every time I did an interview, I would criticise RT or the Russian state (or both) for their facilitation of fascism. The first time I did it, I assumed I would not get called back. But I did. It became a running joke with the guy at the studio – ‘I don’t think you’ll be seeing me again’ I would tell him, again and again. But eventually, on maybe the 6th or 7th time, my final interview did come. I think the interviewer was a bit of a novice; she didn’t cut me off like the others had as soon as I started going ‘off piste,’ so I just carried on, calling out Russia for selling out Iran, collaborating with Trump, facilitating fascism in a totally self-defeating manner, and on and on. I haven’t heard from them since, nor have I pitched to them.
Unfortunately, others have not taken the same view. Leftwingers still contribute regularly, and RT have now added big names like John Pilger, George Galloway and Slavoj Zizek to their writers’ roster. A brief glance at the site shows their work nestling in amongst a piece painting Nigel Farage as a courageous truthteller unfairly victimised by the powers-that-be, a flattering interview with Hungary’s far right foreign minister, and an article bemoaning “record numbers of non-EU migrants” arriving in the UK. The normalisation of anti-migrant fascism continues – and sections of the left continue to facilitate it.