One of the reasons that I identify with the Left is that leftist movements bring analyses of power relationships to their politics. Conservatism is premised on preserving systemic power relationships, and typically does so by either ignoring them or by arguing that they are necessary, “natural,” or otherwise beneficial. Liberalism, by contrast, is committed to a more just society, but frequently fails to recognize that well-meaning policies will not necessarily help if the person proposing them is ignorant of the structural power dynamics at play. We see this, for example, when Yglesias doesn’t understand why a Black property owner wouldn’t want to be dispossessed against her will. The Left, however, generally does not have a problem with failing to understand power.
Which brings us to the referendum in Crimea.
According to preliminary reports, 95.5% of Crimean voters want to be annexed by Russia. This is, frankly, not believable. The Left is, to its credit, usually critical or skeptical of U.S. foreign policy, and unwilling to accept American claims at face value. However, some sectors of the Left suspend their critical thought when speaking of countries that are critical of the United States or who have styled themselves as socialist, but there is no good reason to check your usual analytical tools at the door. In geopolitics, as in all politics, underlying relationships of power matter, and cannot be ignored.
Some on the Left, like CounterPunch, are parroting the Moscow line like it’s 1947 and Comrade Stalin can do no wrong. The only news source (as opposed to commentary blog) that the article cites is Voice of Russia, which is literally run from Moscow by the Russian government and is the direct successor to a Soviet-era propaganda broadcaster. Granted, this article was written before the referendum, but one expects CounterPunch and others like them to cite the 95.5% statistic uncritically, as though this was a simple exercise in direct democracy and not pawn push on the part of an authoritarian great power. Considering that 42% of Crimea’s population is not ethnic Russian, that Russian troops currently occupy the Crimea, and that a status quo option was not even included on the ballot, 95.5% is an awfully suspicious statistic. To give you some comparison, here in Texas the Republicans did not even break 90% in voting for expanding the locations that permit the concealed carry (“Expand CHL locations”) of firearms. In other words, supporters of Putin want us to believe that ethnic Tartars and Ukrainians like Russian rule more than Texas conservatives like handguns.
Imagine if the United States military had invaded and occupied the Mexican state of Baja California, publicly denied doing so, and placed a local secessionist eccentric in power. Let’s then imagine that this local eccentric called a ballot initiative in which the citizens of Baja California were not given the option of remaining as a state in Mexico, and that 95.5% of them voted to join the United States. Would leftists carry on the fiction that this was the spontaneous will of the people living in Baja California? No, they would not. They would point out, rightly, that to say so is to be ignorant of power.