Understanding the Selectively Anti-Imperialist (or Selectively Imperialist) Left

Dan Hanrahan
3 min readMar 29, 2022

I was trying to figure out what it was about the analyses of situations in Ukraine, Syria, China and beyond by people like Max Blumenthal, Caitlin Johnstone, Aaron Maté, the hapless Caleb Maupin and others — on what could loosely be described as the authoritarian or selectively anti-imperialist left — that I’ve found so off and even disturbing. It isn’t their critiques of US imperialism, facile as they often are. It isn’t their reflexive contrarianism or even their stubborn refusal to criticize in any serious way Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad or President Xi. It is that, for this group of political analysts, local people’s struggles for sovereignty, dignity, peace and self-determination are not really real. All such battles must only be understood as proxy wars waged on behalf of great military powers.

— Ukrainian people are not really seeking self-determination; they are merely a “client state” of the US and anything they want or seek or do must exclusively be interpreted through that lens — including their battle against the bombing campaign of an invading state.

— Syrians who rose up against the torture-centric regime of Bashar al-Assad as part of the Arab Spring are referred to by Caitlin Johnstone sarcastically and mockingly as, “… brave freedom fighters,” when the actual battle in Syria, according to the jargon-heavy Johnstone is, “Assad against a planetary unipolar hegemon using proxy forces to effect regime change.”

Do you see what happens here? Real humans, their wishes, their dreams and their tragedies all vanish when they meet the keyboards of these journalists. Actual people — whether battling a sadistic tyrant or military invasion — become abstractions. Local struggles for human rights or for independence are only viewed through a real politik-Henry Kissinger filter. Men, women and children bombed by Putin in Syria and Ukraine become mere US “proxies” — dehumanized, devoid of independent thought and agency, expendable. Uyghurs subjected to cruel reeducation camps against their will — they are just talking points exploited by dumb liberals on MSNBC. They have no independent worth, no humanity on their own as dignified beings independent of larger global power machinations.

Pull on a thread and the grimmest of ideologies emerges. Journalist Ben Norton migrated from the ham-fisted and strident textual realms of The Grayzone — whose every published piece seems to align itself identically to Kremlin talking points disseminated elsewhere — to preside over a newly launched bilingual English/Spanish news and opinion site named Multipolarista (whose every published piece seems to align itself identically to Kremlin talking points disseminated elsewhere). What is meant by the term “multipolar” in this context? It is a term referenced obsessively by contemporary crypto-fascist Russian thinker Alexander Dugin, Vladimir Putin's closest philosophical advisor. Dugin uses the geopolitics-derived word to refer to an envisioned world of multiple hegemons — each controlling entire continents or vast portions of them.

This dreary, medieval vision is then applied by the selectively anti-imperialist (or selectively imperialist) left to all conflicts anywhere on Earth. As Caitlin Johnstone declares in a recent essay, “I don’t know if the US will succeed in this grand strategic confrontation to prevent the rise of a multipolar world… But I do think it’s far too early for anyone to declare that the US-led world order is over and a true multipolar world has solidified.” A multipolar world. From what I can see, that appears to be the limit of the political vision of this camp of writers. Rather than seek a world free of polarities and hegemons, the best we can hope for is to increase the number of imperial, global hegemons from one to two or maybe three.

The social vision and imagination of the selective anti-imperialists is so reduced that they only permit themselves to envision a future of multiple imperialisms. These will all be brutally oppressive, hierarchical affairs, sure — but some are bourgeois democracies, while others are authoritarian states! Well, woop-dee doo. Forgive me if I find the prospect of such multipolarity to be a future as miserable-sounding as a future under one global hegemon would be.

It is 2022 and the world is burning. I think we can allow ourselves to dream of political self-determination and a world free of all such crushing imperial behemoths — whether American, Russian, Chinese or of any stripe.

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