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Russian propaganda

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

Russian propaganda is bad—everyone knows this is so, really it’s an insult to your intelligence. Why is it so bad? The Russian government has never had to justify itself to anyone—not under the Tsar, not under the Bolsheviks, not under Putin. Russia does not build legitimacy for her governments through the idea that the people are persuaded via rhetoric to support a particular government. That’s just not what Russians are. To adopt the formula from the 1980s joke: in America, you drive car; in Soviet Russia, car drives you! (Tesla?). Since Russian officials and the media have no experience in—only the vaguest conception of—persuasion, their lies are ridiculously stupid.

Communism also destroyed the private advertisement industry—and the Russians are yet to recover the art of commercial sales, aside from political sales. Additionally, Communism distorted Russian intellectual life, so that the intelligentsia became crippled with “bent” thought (Dugin)—Russians think in “odd” ways because the country’s intellectual continuity was destroyed and her intellectuals corrupted. Kołakowski, the Polish philosopher and chronicler of Soviet Marxism, concluded that no philosophy of value was done in the Soviet Union under Stalin (nor afterwards really)—the same went for the humanities.

So the Russians also have a “hole in their head” from the Soviet legacy. It’s ironic when Western conservatives say “just do STEM, forget humanities”—that is exactly what the USSR was for its entire existence, only STEM did anything real; and, in fact, the Western academy is more like the USSR in this respect than not—it is not possible to do real work in the humanities without acknowledgment that race and sex exist objectively; effectively, half the Western academy is devoted to bum picking—a full Soviet situation is only avoided because ideas like the link between race and IQ are disprivileged, not outright suppressed.

Why is American propaganda so good, so good you hardly think it’s propaganda? The American political process is built on highly competitive elections, often carried out in ridiculously short timeframes—so that a congressman might only be in his seat for two years before he faces reelection. Indeed, it is often remarked that all American politicians do is run for office and fundraise to run for office—in a tiny interlude between the “real business” of government, they almost govern. Although American political advertisements are spectacularly irritating, they convince the masses (“I like Ike!”); now, the masses are retarded—just because you can easily convince millions of drooling Monster-addled voters to support you does not mean “the system works”. Yet the system certainly works insofar as being a competitive environment where only the persuasive survive.

Further, America has Hollywood and an ultra-competitive advertising industry that has ruthlessly developed “the art of the sell”—so successful is this world that for a time people were entranced by Mad Men, a series all about men who sell junk (Monster soft drinks) to the ever-more greasy American masses. You cannot imagine a similar series called Pravda Comrades about the “glamorous” world of 1950s Soviet journalism—since in reality being a journalist in 1950s Russia meant living in fear you would be hoiked out of bed and whisked off to a camp. Not glamorous.

Sure, Soviet propaganda posters have an ironic kitsch appeal and can be quite attractive; and yet they were probably not so attractive—anymore than LGBT+ propaganda is attractive—when the gap between the mandatory clean-limbed athletes striding ahead with a hammer and sickle held before them on the poster and the actual grey watery-soup and gurgling gaseous tram-bound reality hits you on a dark November night in Moscow.

Even now, Putin justifies his invasion of the Ukraine in Soviet terms—roughly, in “conservative progressive” terms (progressive politics without the LGBT+); so Russia is supposedly involved in a “Special Military Operation” to “deNazify” the Ukraine. Indeed, the whole Putin rationale for the Ukraine is really the same old Soviet line: “This morning, in a response to a request from the Czechoslovakian Party, elements of the Red Army arrived in Prague in a fraternal act of solidarity against barbarous provocation by fascist and reactionary elements in the city…”

The great weakness in Putin’s approach is that it cannot canalise national sentiments—although people know it is a “national operation” implicitly. Yet he does not say: the Ukraine is the heart of Russia—there is no Russia without the Ukraine; well, he probably does—yet that is not the way Russia leads with her propaganda. Rather, she leads with an “internationalist” argument about the Ukraine and “Nazism”—along with a “human rights” argument about the Donbass.

So Putin’s justification is quasi-Soviet: Russia is a modernist universal state that fights for “true human rights” against “Nazis”. She is not primarily engaged in a national struggle—though the Ukraine has always been that, with Brusilov, a Tsarist general who turned Red, incensed when the Poles invaded the Ukraine (he saw it is as integral to what Russia is, remembered the lands his people were granted there centuries before).

The Ukrainian justification is national self-defence and freedom—clear objective: Russia out. Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS, mwah)—America in Vietnam, strategic hamlets and Operational Research; Vietcong, Yankees out!; America in Afghanistan, COIN and cultural studies at the University of Kabul; the Taliban, Yankees out!; Russia in Afghanistan, socialist reconstruction; the Mujahideen, Commies out!. The simple objective prevails in life, in war it prevails over vague projects to totally reorganise a society.

Idiot Western observers say the Ukrainians fight hard because they are a liberal democracy with each citizen enjoying a stake in the system (though if the Ukraine is that, it is a failed system—to judge from the political collapse in recent years): more simply, they fight for their homeland and their people—there is nothing more powerful. The Russians, by contrast, have no single set objective; instead, they have vague ideological goals (what does it mean to “deNazify” a town?) formulated in a universalistic quasi-Soviet way.


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1 Comment

Sep 26, 2022

I've sometimes noted that to be a western Ukraine supporter, you really must be a hypocrite. Either you are a "Democracy" supporter who doesn't care about whether their favorite of the week is a Democracy, or you are a some flavor of Ethno Nat, who'd rather see Ukraine be colonized by Africans then Russians.

That aside, I think you are somewhat underrating Russian propaganda. For one, their allies, the Chinese, are even worse at international propaganda. While the Russians have some popularity at the activist level, to the point that major figures like Tucker Carlson will come to their defense, really no US politician or political figure will openly defend China. Yes, China is more influential, they have made better…

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