‘We reject media demonization of Russia’: Lugansk interview with U.S. activist

Greg Butterfield: U.S. media demonize Putin and Russia

Lugansk “Comments”

March 14: The presidential election campaign in Russia is coming to an end, and the attention of most of the world’s media is riveted on it. Many Western media, fulfilling the will of their owners, oligarchs and governments, continue to misinform the population of their countries about the real state of affairs during the most important election campaign for Russia. Of course, no one is surprised that the propaganda machine of the Western media carries absolutely unreliable information about what is really happening in Russia. The whole product of the media machine of the West is aimed at justifying to its own population the bloodthirsty position of the state in relations to others. But do the residents of Europe and the U.S. believe in such propaganda?

In order to find out what they think about Russia in the U.S. and what politicians say about it, journalists of the website Lugansk “Comments” talked to Greg Butterfield, a public figure, journalist, and member of Workers World Party in the U.S. 

Greg Butterfield (center) at the office of Lugansk Communists in 2016.
Lugansk Comments: The U.S. media accuse Russia of not being transparent about its presidential election, but weren’t the U.S. elections also very problematic?

Greg Butterfield: The 2016 presidential elections in the United States were deeply flawed and profoundly undemocratic. The corporate media conspired with the Republican and Democratic parties to keep other candidates out of nationally televised debates. Widely divergent rules and expensive requirements in every state made it nearly impossible for third party candidates, especially from working-class parties, to get on the ballot. Millions of nationally-oppressed workers are completely disenfranchised because of rules against voting by prisoners and former prisoners. And then there is the so-called Electoral College. This undemocratic institution, originally established to protect slavery, has the final say in who becomes president, not the voters. So in 2016, as in 2000, the candidate with the lower popular vote became president.

It’s absurd for the U.S. to criticize any other country’s electoral process when both Republican and Democratic regimes have interfered in so many foreign elections over the past century – sometimes with massive infusions of cash and “experts,” as in the 1996 Russian presidential elections, and sometimes by direct military intervention.

LC: In connection with the forthcoming elections, pressure on Russia has increased under the auspices of various international institutions: this is the sanction list, which includes the whole government of the Russian Federation, and the refusal to allow a number of athletes to participate in the Olympics. What goals does the U.S. government pursue in this matter?

GB: The U.S. government wants to isolate Russia and lay the basis for regime change that favors the Western imperialist powers. Some in the U.S. would prefer a scenario like Ukraine in 2014, where forces loyal to them can take power without a direct military confrontation. Others have determined that this is impossible, and a military confrontation is inevitable.

In 1992, the Pentagon published a “post-Soviet” strategy document which called for the U.S. to prevent the rise of any rivals on the world scene. The main targets of this document were Russia and China. In all the years since, the strategy of U.S. imperialism has not fundamentally changed, although different factions of the ruling class and political establishment have different priorities.

Today, the Trump regime is focused on confrontation with the DPRK, Iran and China, while the Democrats and some mainstream Republicans like Senator John McCain believe Russia should be the focus. But ultimately they have the same goal: to break up the Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China into easily digestible and exploitable pieces for Wall Street and the Pentagon. The danger is apparent when we see how the Trump administration has decided, for example, to openly provide heavy weaponry to the Ukrainian junta.

The recent turmoil on the U.S. stock market is a warning sign. The stability of the U.S. economy and the global capitalist system are precarious. Traditionally, Washington’s first instinct in times of economic crisis is to wage war, and Trump shows every sign of following this pattern. A war that begins in North Korea could quickly grow to encompass China, Russia and beyond.

LC: How do you assess Putin’s desire to be re-elected again?

GB: I think it shows a fundamental weakness on the part of the capitalist oligarchy that rules the Russian Federation. By putting Putin forward again, they demonstrate a lack of confidence in themselves. They lack unity and a strong bourgeois political culture that can withstand change while faced with the political, economic and military pressure of the U.S.

It seems to me that this presents a good opportunity for communists in Russia to put their arguments forcefully before the people.

LC: How do ordinary citizens of the U.S. evaluate Russia and President Putin?

GB: Today there is an overwhelming drumbeat of anti-Russia chauvinism and war-mongering in the mainstream media and by “liberal” Democratic politicians who pose as the resistance to Trump. They are not the real resistance, of course, but are using Trump’s unpopularity to push forward their own imperialist agenda.

This propaganda campaign claims Russia influenced the 2016 U.S. elections in favor of Trump. It is being used as an excuse to censor leftist and other independent media on Google and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Much of the propaganda is focused on demonizing President Putin, a strategy the U.S. has used many times when trying to prepare the population for a new war of aggression, notably against national leaders like Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad.

Among the workers and poor of the U.S., this propaganda creates a certain knee-jerk hostility to Russia. But it is shallow. Low-paid and precarious workers, students struggling with enormous debt, African Americans who face police brutality, immigrant workers who fear for the safety of their families – they understand that Trump’s white supremacy, chauvinism and xenophobia, sexism and anti-worker policies are not something that was brought here from outside. Trump’s presidency is the culmination of a decades-long war by the rich against the people, presided over by both Republican and Democratic governments.

Using facts and class arguments, we have found it is not difficult to help workers understand that Russia is not their enemy. Our great challenge is to find the means to reach the broad masses with this message. 

LC: How do communists in the U.S. evaluate Russia and President Putin?

GB: We are deeply opposed to the capitalist regime in Russia, built on the terrible counter-revolution that destroyed the Soviet Union 25 years ago. In the past year, Putin’s government has increased repression against opposition forces, especially the left, including the prohibition of anti-capitalist demonstrations in Moscow, blatant political interference in the World Festival of Youth and Students, and the recent judicial ban on the Interregional Trade Union “Workers Association” (MPRA). To us, this is a good indication that the ruling powers in Russia feel increasingly vulnerable to a class struggle movement from below, as privatization, austerity, and international sanctions take more of a toll on average Russian citizens.

On the international scene, we have observed several troubling moves by Moscow to make more concessions to Washington’s aggression. These include allowing more direct U.S. intervention in Syria, negotiations on the introduction of UN “peacekeepers” in Ukraine and Donbass, and support for U.S. measures against North Korea in the UN Security Council.

We feel it is essential to support our comrades of the communist left in Russia. We have closely watched the debates within the Russian left about the presidential elections, which candidate to support, or whether to boycott the process. My organization, Workers World Party, looks with a great deal of sympathy upon the candidacy of Natalia Lisitsyna, a St. Petersburg worker whose campaign was supported by the ROT Front, United Communist Party and New Communist Movement, among others. Lisitsyna’s campaign used the elections as an opportunity to agitate and organize among the masses, to build a base for future struggles. This is very similar to the election campaign of Workers World Party in 2016.

At the same time, it’s important for communists in the United States to avoid any perception that we are joining in with the imperialist demonization of President Putin. Our opposition to the Russian oligarchy has nothing in common with the U.S. imperialists’ pro-war, anti-Russia campaign. On the contrary, we say loudly and clearly: U.S. hands off Russia! No to sanctions and military threats! No interference with elections in Russia or any other country!

LC: What should the communists do in connection with the aggravation of the contradictions between the U.S. and Russia?

GB: In the coming period, we in the U.S. will be stepping up our efforts to build a strong anti-war, anti-imperialist movement among the working class to oppose Trump’s threats to Korea and the anti-Russia campaign.

The best and only real defense against U.S. aggression is to build an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-fascist struggle of people in both Russia and the United States. Certainly a revolutionary, socialist Russia would be in a far stronger position to defend itself and unite with the world’s people than the current capitalist regime in Russia.

LC: What will be the effect on Lugansk and Donetsk if the government changes in Russia?

GB: It depends of course on how the government changes. Since the main candidate seen as “pro-Western,” Alexei Navalny, has been disqualified, it seems unlikely that there will be an immediate change in the status quo concerning Lugansk and Donetsk. If, as is likely, President Putin is elected to another term, it will be important to watch closely to see if Moscow moves in the direction of formally recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk, or assumes a posture of compromise that could threaten the sovereignty of the people’s republics, such as agreeing to the introduction of UN peacekeepers, which is tantamount to agreeing to a U.S. occupation. In the latter case, it will be absolutely critical for the people of Donbass to raise their voices against such an outcome.

The best situation for the republics would be the rise of a powerful leftist, pro-socialist and anti-U.S. imperialist movement inside Russia that could lead to greater cooperation and assistance on the basis of solidarity, in the internationalist spirit of Soviet times.

LC: It’s been said that there is noticeable economic growth in Russia based on relations with China, India and other countries. Do you think the confrontation with the West has been a stimulus for Russia’s development?

GB: The growth of an economic and political pole independent of the U.S. and EU is important and welcomed by people all over the world.

It seems to me that economic developments in Russia, driven to a large degree by the Western sanctions, are an overdue corrective to the massive sell-off of resources and destruction of productive forces in the early post-Soviet period. But as long as the economy remains in private hands, this will not help the Russian working class much at all. A struggle is needed to demand that this development be used for the benefit of the masses, not the oligarchs.

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