Signaling left, turning right: The “radicals” rebranding populism

BY:Chris Butters| December 17, 2021
Signaling left, turning right: The “radicals” rebranding populism


A spectre is haunting America, the spectre of middle-class leftists turning to the right. Sadly, it’s happened before. As with most cases of history repeating itself, the first time was a tragedy — that was when Trotsky’s “New York Intellectuals,” grouped around the magazine Partisan Review, joined the Cold War against the USSR.

Today’s disembodied spirits, however, hovering over the graves of Trump’s failed January 6th insurrection, are more on the order of a political farce.

Take the strange cases of journalists Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi. Once darlings of the internet left, they seem to have ended up quite somewhere else. Duane Townsend of the Independent writes: “The journalism of Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi and their exposure of the crimes of police, the military, and Wall Street have been of great benefit. But lately they’ve both spouted conservative hyperbole about the left.” Indeed, these two increasingly seem to identify the main danger as “deep state” Democratic Party “authoritarianism,” rather than the increasingly fascistic power grab by Trump and the Republican Party.

An alarming chorus that fakes left.

What’s the deal? Greenwald and Taibibi are not alone: Others are lending their voices to an alarming chorus that fakes left but upon close examination objectively swings right.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s begin with Taibbi. Consider his take on one of Trump’s favorite “news” outlets: “Fox [News] is one channel that no longer represents real institutional political influence in this country anymore,” he says.  Really? Someone might have told Donald Trump.

Taibbi continues: “The financial/educational/political elite with all the power is on the other side, and I think they’re the people to be worrying about.”

Now listen to Greenwald on Fox:

I would be on [Fox News] every day if I didn’t say no sometimes. Why is that happening? It’s bizarre. You look at any article on my work and it’s “far leftist Glenn Greenwald” and now I’m the most frequent guest on Tucker Carlson’s show. How did that happen? I think the reason is so many people on the left and on the right . . . have so much more in common in terms of their political views and their common enemies than either want to recognize. . . . Those old labels [left and right] don’t really tell us much anymore.

 Before the election, Greenwald opined on enemies real and imagined:

The CIA and the Deep State operatives became heroes of the liberal left, the people who support the Democratic Party. They are now in a full union with the neocons and the Bush-Cheney operatives, the CIA, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street. That is the union of power, along with mainstream media outlets, that are fully behind the Democratic Party, which is likely to at least take over one branch of government, if not all of them, in the coming election and that’s a very alarming proposition, because they are authoritarian, they believe in censorship and suppression of information that exposes them in any kind of a critical light.

For Greenwald, the Democratic Party is “the epitome of fascism.” The struggle against Trump then, in his view, is a distraction. We have little to worry about Trump et al., supposedly now marginalized by the “global elites” on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. This despite the fact that 70% of Republicans believe the election was stolen.

A parallel and likely related ideological trajectory has occurred with another journalist, Caleb Maupin, who writes for the Russian news agency RT and the grouping around the Center for Political Innovation. Maupin writes in a popular style, speaks glowingly of the history of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and ’40s, has spoken out in solidarity with Venezuela and Cuba, and defended the Russian Revolution against detractors. In his video appearance of 2018 at the Anti-Globalization Conference with Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian “intellectual” (whom many have called a neo-fascist), Maupin claims to have once been a Marxist but now claims a newfound “populism.”

Maupin, like Dugin, also has a radical past and appears to be on the left. During the 2000s and early 2010s, Maupin was a figure in the  Workers World Party and a regular fixture at anti-imperialist conferences and events. In his current writings and reporting for RT, he still talks a lot of the same language he picked up in those days. Given this history, the notions of uniting the far right and the left that Maupin espouses might well be given a hearing among those new to left politics, particularly those not yet taking consistent working-class positions.

They dismiss the danger of the continuing Trumpist Republican power grab.

Consider that a fringe of the Bernie Sanders movement, after his defeat in the Democratic primary, refused to call for a vote against Trump in the general election. Indeed, some even voted for Trump. Even now, they dismiss the danger of the continuing Trumpist Republican power grab and echo GOP talking points in identifying the Democratic Party and a “deep state” as the main danger we face today.

Also important here is the reaction among sections of the progressive movement to the big business media and Democratic Party–led “Russiagate” campaign, which scapegoats Russia for Trump’s election. This led some elements, in the name of fighting U.S. imperialism, to believe that Russia was not in any way consorting with Trump — fertile ground for those promoting notions of an anti-imperialist left/right convergence.

Another consideration are leftists who argue that having Republicans in power is actually preferable. Why? Because, in their view, liberal policy softens the blows of big capital and helps promote illusions among the working class. But GOP rule takes off the velvet glove, increasing exploitation and thus driving the mass movement towards anti-capitalist conclusions.

Maupin’s intervention occurs in this near perfect storm of ideological confusion. See the problem?

Maupin’s viewpoints mirror not only those of Dugin but also in some respects those of Greenwald:

1) Both identify the main enemy as a “deep state” “liberalism” rooted in the Democratic Party, behind whom stand big business and the “woke left.” In his book We Are City Builders, Maupin writes: “The United States is, overall, dealing with a crisis of liberalism.”

Since the Black Lives Matter protests and the election of Biden, both increasingly concentrate their fire on the supposed “cancel culture” of the left, including everything from Democratic leadership to BLM, while saying nothing about the cancel culture of the right.

2) By railing against left “wokeness,” they throw the baby out with the bathwater. The bathwater is the excess of some on the left — the eagerness and self-righteousness of “cancel culture” — but the baby is the struggle against racism, sexism, and gender equality, in other words, the broader fight for democracy. These struggles diminish, if not disappear, from their talking points.

3) Finally, they both rail against a supposed “synthetic left” extending from Clinton and Obama to the Democratic Socialists of America, the Working Families Party, Black Lives Matter, and no doubt including the Communist Party as well, which they claim is ensconced in an alleged neoliberal identity politics.

Maupin, again somewhat channeling a view held by Greenwald, argues that “left” and “right” are relatively new terms in history and may disappear. Longer standing are historic trends he calls “the city builders” and vandals.” Vandals, he avers, range from ancient Carthaginians and the Roman Empire to British bankers and imperialists and the U.S. left, all supposedly afflicted with the “Atlanticist pathology.”

Maupin invokes . . . a grab-bag of American pioneers such as the right-wing populist Huey Long.

Greenwald opposes the “elites” and proponents of a general “globalization,” but Maupin weaves the history of these two camps into his own framework, using anti-capitalist language.  Rather than calling for the unity of the workers of the world, he calls for unity with “city builders” and the “can-do spirit” of China and Cuba, while invoking a grab-bag of pioneers such as the right-wing populist Huey Long, the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, and, farther afield, Gaddafi in Libya and Putin in Russia.

Maupin offers a program that calls for “a government of action,” which sounds good as far as it goes, except there is no mention in his program of the fight against racism, sexism, or national chauvinism. (It’s worth noting that “a government of action” was the rallying call of many fascist theorists in the 1930s, such as Oswald Mosley.)

In an analysis that recalls that of Lyndon Larouche’s National Caucus of Labor Committees in the ’70s, Maupin dismisses with one fell swoop the “synthetic left” and asks potential followers to “get out of the movement and get to the masses.”

In an August 22, 2021, Facebook video, he complains that he is being “cancelled” “by the frenzy of the mainstream left.” Maupin says, “I have been making videos and immediately was called a ‘Nazbol’ [National Bolshevik] because I spoke with a respected Russian intellectual [Dugin] who has his own views, whom I have disagreements with.” “You have to be strong. . . . You can never please these people,” he pleads.

An admirer of Hitler in his youth and then an associate of nationalists in the Communist Party of the Russian Federation around the time of the Soviet Union’s demise, Dugin helped organize the “National Bolshevik Party” and later became a leader of the Eurasian Party in Russia. His writings have reportedly influenced Putin, and are purportedly required reading in the Russian military. Dugin also has a major following in right-wing circles in Europe.

Dugin envisions a world battle between “Eurasianism” and “Atlanticism.” 

He has developed a geopolitical analysis of a coming world battle between “Eurasianism” and “Atlanticism,” represented by the U.S. and Western Europe, which are “run by global elites.”

Interestingly, Maupin in City Builders calls for “an axis within U.S. society that pushes for the rebirth of the country with central planning and integrating it into the Eurasian alternative.”

In his book The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin sets out a vast vision of a future Eurasian bloc. This empire will be led by “ethnic Russians” and involve a series of alliances with three other axes — Moscow-Berlin, Moscow-Tokyo, and Moscow-Tehran. Dugin also suggests a Russo-China axis.

His book posits a supposed alternative to what he says are the failures of liberalism, communism, and fascism, melding all these elements into a new whole. Dugin has been called fascist, a charge he denies at times and embraces at others. “What Russia needs,” Dugin has said, is a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary and consistent, fascist fascism.”

Dugin believes that the enemies of ordinary people are secularism, multiculturalism, democracy, and the egalitarianism of the left.

In his worldview, the true global ideological struggle is between a pluralism of culturally homogenous groups all practicing a supposedly more humane capitalism on one side and, on the other, an international crony-capitalist network of bankers and big business concentrated in Western Europe and the U.S. Much of his “analysis” consists of warmed-over takeaways of post-war neo-fascist thinking that billed itself as a “third position” between the U.S. and the USSR during the Cold War years.

Where does all this jumble of ideas lead in practice?

In 2015–16, Dugin vocally championed Trump’s presidential bid. Trump, Dugin enthused, is “tough, rough . . . rude, emotional and, apparently, candid.” Despite being a billionaire, Trump embodied the “real” America, in a heroic insurgency against the “globalist” beltway elites.

Germany, France, or Japan might seem unlikely to assume roles in Dugin’s Russian-led Eurasian empire, but the goal is to make them less “Atlantacist” and less bound to their U.S. imperialist brethren. “In Germany and France,” Dugin advises, “there is a firm anti-Atlanticist tradition.” “This tradition is embodied in ethno-nationalist movements like Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale,” whose cause Dugin urges Russia (and Putin) to promote by all means.

In We Are City Builders, Maupin devotes a whole section to the fight against the “Atlanticist pathology,” which he defines as U.S.-Europe imperialist cooperation through NATO. In his view, Western Europe and U.S. financiers are stricken with this pathology, especially those with a Rockefeller-controlled weakness for the “synthetic U.S. left.”

Fourth Way political theory claims to combine and surpass liberalism, socialism, and fascism.

Anxious to shake off any semblance of the left’s “wokeness” and the “cancel culture” he decries, Maupin, rather than calling for solidarity with workers of the world, prominently champions the “Eurasian” alternative, the very strategy Dugin champions. Maupin has spoken favorably about Dugin’s so-called Fourth Way political theory, which claims to combine and surpass liberalism, socialism, and fascism.

We need to study these developments. We have studied fascism and national socialism, as it manifested in Germany and Italy. Today, there are echoes of left-wing anti-imperialism and cultural relativism in the rhetoric of these figures, which differentiates it in appearance from classical fascism. However, these echoes are devoid of multiculturalism, democracy, LGBTQ rights, gender equality, and environmentalism, anti-racism, and labor rights.

To quote Eric Draitser in Counterpunch:

It is rather explicit what Dugin is arguing: his 21st Century politics is rooted in the idea of a necessary collaboration between a bygone left (communists, socialists, etc.) and a bygone right (fascists). Put another way, Dugin here is rebranding fascism as something distinctly new, separated from the tarnished historical legacy of Nazism and Italian fascism, something most necessary in our “post-modern” world. Of course, it should be noted that when Dugin says “post-modern” he means the deletion of multiculturalism, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, and generally everything that has become fundamental to the Left over the last 50 years.

We especially need to study the international dimensions of this development. Clearly, Dugin has his interpreters and acolytes in Hungary, France, Germany, Brazil, and the United States. The neo-fascist project is international and seeks to build coordination across national lines. In the U.S., we need to better understand any seeds of this as we continue to build the movement and our own Party, and as we fight the right-wing danger and build an alternative to both the Democrats and the Trump-led Republicans, for socialism.

Image:  Tyler Merbler, Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0).


    Chris Butters is an activist for peace and justice in Brooklyn, NY.

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