Photographer: Chris duMond/Rex/Shutterstock
Most collaborators in the West are at least making excuses after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That is not the case in Britain.
Across the west, the institutions that collaborated with Vladimir Putin’s Russia are having a moment of revelation. Lawyers who persecuted investigative journalists and a financial services industry that fed on oligarchic loot are shocked beyond measure by the Ukraine invasion.
They happily overlooked the destruction of Grozny, the war crimes in Aleppo, the missile attacks on civilian flights, the invasion of Crimea, the destructions of Russian democracy, the endemic corruption, the endless lies and the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei and Julia. Skripal and Alexei Navalny. Only now do they realize that the Kremlin may not be a reputable business partner after all.
In the 20th century, opponents of left-wing totalitarianism spoke of their “Kronstadt moment,” the moment when they realized that Soviet communism was not an emancipatory force but a filthy tyranny. Today we see “Mariupol moments” as everywhere the men and women who excused and profited from the Russian empire express their determination to do better. Everywhere, except where self-criticism is most needed: the Anglo-American right.
If Britain ever had an authoritarian leader, this government would have cleared their way.
No Conservative leader has matched Keir Starmer’s instructions to tyrannophile MPs to quit Jeremy Corbyn’s Stop the War movement for providing “relief to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies”.
The Tory press will publish as many pieces as it can about the inability of Corbyn and his allies to call imperialism and militarism by the right names even as the cruise missiles land. Yet nowhere do they find space to examine their failure to confront Nigel Farage about his “admiration” of Putin’s skill as an operator, or to ask why the Russian ambassador liked Farage’s delivery man, Arron Banks, so much that he it offered him “opportunities not available to others.” “in the form of Siberian gold mines and the support of a Kremlin bank. Nowhere do we hear conservatives speak of his determination to build an impassable border between democratic conservatism and the authoritarian right.
The Conservatives in power have allowed corruption to flourish. His failure to come to the immediate aid of the Ukrainian refugees dishonored his party and his country. But you can’t pretend that Russian money has bought conservative foreign policy. Boris Johnson and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace are feted in Ukraine for supplying weapons and training to the resistance. They fight Putin abroad but do not condemn their admirers at home.
Similarly, Republicans in the US Congress have implicitly rejected Donald Trump by voting for Joe Biden’s vast military aid package for Ukraine, while refusing to explicitly embrace Trump’s tenderness for the regime. Russian.
The only attempted reckoning I have seen in our right-wing press was by Eric Kaufmann, a populist professor of politics (if such a creature can be imagined) at Birkbeck, University of London. Writing more in pity than anger, the greasyst of styles, he sighs that it is a “real shame on populist conservatism” that Steve Bannon, Trump, Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour and Viktor Orbán have “brought water to this murderer.” ”. If only they had focused on attacking awakening, crime, and immigration, everything would have been fine.
Didn’t he realize that his water transport was not some eccentric aberration? Trump subverted the US election and Orbán nearly abolished press freedom in Hungary. Putin’s indulgence of the “alt-right” was not a mistake but characteristic, because he offered a path to autocracy that his Western admirers longed to follow.
The partisans do not like to take their “side” for fear of giving comfort to the enemy. Perhaps more conservatives than said so publicly admired Putin as a muscular, white Christian leader who opposed the evils of liberalism. Or perhaps they hated the EU as much as Putin hated the EU and, in the words of Trump’s colleague Bannon, “they think that at least Putin is defending the traditional institutions.” But the best explanation for silence is that the accomplice has a hard time convicting. There is no clear dividing line between the right and the extreme right in the 2020s.
Perhaps more conservatives than said so publicly admired Putin for being a muscular, white Christian leader.
The supposedly domineering Johnson threatens to institute voter suppression and attacks the independence of every institution, from the BBC to the House of Commons. He is not on the same level as an Orbán, let alone a Putin, but if Britain ever had an authoritarian leader, this government would have cleared his way. In an episode too quickly forgotten, the Conservative Party and the Brexit The The party functioned as an alliance in the 2019 general election and, who knows, it may need an electoral pact in the future. Finally, to return to the oligarchs and their lawyers, the chilling effect of English law on public debate should never be underestimated. The banks’ decision to sue the Observer‘s Carole Cadwalladr personally, so she faces ruin if she loses, is a sobering deterrent to Tories seeking the courage to speak out.
Conservatives can always find reasons to postpone their Mariupol moment, particularly when any investigation into Russian influence collides with the Brexit referendum, whose sacred purity can never be questioned.
The story on the left shows why they should make the effort. In 1948, the Labor politician Richard Crossman edited The God who failed, a collection of essays by writers who had lost their illusions about Russian communism. Louis Fischer, who had been a foreign correspondent in Moscow, blamed himself for not seeing the truth about communism in 1921 when sailors at the Kronstadt naval base outside St. Petersburg were shot for demanding freedom of expression. expression, trade union rights and the release of political prisoners. .
Fischer had his Kronstadt moment after seeing Stalin use the secret police to settle political disputes in the 1930s (plus change, you might say). Others had theirs when Hitler and Stalin agreed to carve up Eastern Europe in 1939, or when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary in 1956.
Some never reached Kronstadt. They switched their allegiance from Soviet communism to Putin gangsterism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and carried on as before. They became Corbyn’s top advisers and led the Labor Party to a devastating defeat in 2019.
His lesson is that if you don’t remove the rot from your own side, your house will fall. That silence on the right will one day be broken by the tolling of a funeral bell.
• Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer