Seeing Russia everywhere
Liberal paranoia about Brexit and Trump has dark echoes of past Red Scares.
We have all heard the new conspiracy theories: Russians got Trump elected and Brexit is the work of Russian bots and dodgy, Russia-linked donors.
Three years on from the 2016 referendum, Remoaners like Alistair Campbell are still trying to blame the outcome on Russian interference. Unable to get over the fact that Brexit was the conscious decision of the majority of voters, he and his ilk instead search for evidence that its proponents are crooked or the result was manipulated. A few months ago, he sarcastically congratulated Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice on the party’s success in the European elections. He spoke of ‘all the roubles coming in’ to the party’s coffers. Naturally, Campbell had little basis for this claim (though it is not the first time has been undeterred by a lack of evidence).
In the US, Democrats have spent most of Trump’s first term trying to impeach him for alleged collusion with Russia. The Mueller Report failed to find any conclusive evidence of Russian collusion. It turned out that Trump’s loudest critics had put an enormous amount of stock into a story that amounted to little more than hearsay.
A little bit of theorising about what goes on behind the scenes in politics is normal. Our politicians are hardly the most honest people, so it is natural to wonder if they are making questionable deals with questionable people. But conspiracy theories have now reached fever pitch. The current anti-Russian hysteria in the US has a great deal in common with the McCarthyism of the 1950s and even the first Red Scare of the late 1910s. In both these periods, people were accused of being under Russian influence, often without evidence. Left-wingers were silenced by state authorities and were subjected to trial by mass media. The establishment was searching for an enemy within. The consequences for free speech and due process before the law were dire.
The similarities today are striking: with very little basis, prominent people in politics and the media are attempting to discredit politicians they don’t like by linking them to the Russian government. But the difference today, of course, is that it is liberals and the left who are doing most of the accusing and the silencing. It is the anti-Trump Resistance that still clings to the belief he is in the pay of the Russians. And it is woke folk who see Brexit as a conspiracy of Russian bots and oligarchs.
How depressing. You would think the left would recognise the dangers of this approach to politics, given the long history of silencing left-wing voices with such smears. Perhaps it is because the left is straying further and further from its roots. Not only is the class make-up of those who identify as left more bourgeois than it was in the past, but the left has also abandoned many of the values it once cherished, especially free speech. The attempts to link dissenting opinion with malign foreign influence are just one of many ways that today’s left tries to silence those with different views.
The embrace of conspiracy theories reveals a childish inability to deal with difficult political realities. It is always better to engage with your opponents’ actual arguments and to try to defeat them on the intellectual battlefield than to resort to baseless smears.
Paddy Hannam is a history student based in London.
Picture by: Getty.