ESR on Soviet Ideological Warfare against the US

In 2006, Eric S. Raymond discussed "ideological warfare" used against the United States by her enemies. I ran across this recently and it's an interesting article.

I disagree with his claim that Americans don't expect ideas to matter because what really matters is material prosperity. That is, we think crime, terrorism, etc., are the effects of economic problems, not ideology. That probably is the view of secularists, who became increasingly numerous from the late 19th century on, but not of all Americans. However, his point is to debunk the view that ideology and ideas don't have consequences, so I am happy he's on my side (ideas have consequences) overall.

The interesting part begins with:

By contrast, ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions. Yes, the Nazis did this, through organizations like the “German-American Bund” that was outlawed when World War II went hot. Today, the Islamists are having some success at manipulating our politics through fairly transparent front organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.


On a different level, in the 1930s members of CPUSA (the Communist Party of the USA) got instructions from Moscow to promote non-representational art so that the US’s public spaces would become arid and ugly.

Americans hearing that last one tend to laugh. But the Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.’s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans’ will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America’s ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.

And they've been very successful. Below are some of the ideas Raymond identifies as promoted by Soviet disinformation programs.

In a previous post on Suicidalism, I identified some of the most important of the Soviet Union’s memetic weapons. Here is that list again:
  1. There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  2. All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  3. There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  4. The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  5. Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  6. The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  7. For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  8. When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
If this article interests you, his article on Suicidalism and how it undermines the West's will to defend itself might as well.

A lot of his information seems to come from  Stephen Koch's Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals. At some point I'd like to read that, after the 1.7 million other books on my list.

I don't know if I buy his (and Koch's) claims about Soviet disinformation being responsible for the widespread adoption of these ideas, but it seems possible. I'd be interested to hear what everyone else here thinks.

Update: I changed ESR's bullets to numbers so that they are easier to discuss.


Grim said...

Most of these things he's presenting as "disinformation" are really consequences of Marxist philosophy. It's not that there's no truth; it's true that economic systems determine what we are prepared to accept as true, so that different groups with different agendas have 'different truths.' (But notice that all those 'truths' are different from the truth that economics determines social systems.)

It's not that Western racism and colonialism vitiate claims to moral superiority. It's that all moral claims whatsoever are really efforts to subordinate others to your economic agenda, according to your place in the extant means of production.

The treatment of the Third World is not merely ruthless in a way that deserves punishment, it is a colonialism that is exactly parallel to the earlier exploitation of the workers and agricultural producers by the capitalist class.

However, the bit about virtuous people never having justification to violence is disinformation. The Marxists never believed that. They believed that revolution was warranted, and indeed the duty of a moral person.

Tom said...

That's a good point, though I'm not sure about a few of them.

Marxist philosophy is materialistic and I think would claim that there is objective truth, although deception became so ingrained in Marx-influenced governments that I may have to cede the point here. However, Marxism bills itself pretty much as a way to compare and judge cultures, the closer to communism the better.

I think you're right about 5 & 6, but (in their world view) only in non-communist countries. In communist countries, they would say crime is the result of greed and corruption, and "victims" are really just traitors to the system.

Grim said...

I'm not trying to be very precise here. I'm just trying to draw a critical distinction in analysis of this kind of warfare. Some of what the Russians were doing was disinformation, which has several purposes. But a lot of what they were doing was indoctrination, in which the conclusions of their philosophy are given non-ideological sounding frames to get people seeing the conclusions as plausible. Once you accept several of these conclusions as plausible, then the ideology that reliably points to all of these conclusions becomes even more plausible.

Chesterton said something to the effect that he's less easily convinced by five arguments than by one argument, a book, a letter from a friend, and a song that all point in the same direction. This is persuasion of that sort. I'm not trying to convince you of the perfect acceptability of any of these philosophical conclusions. I just need to convince you that they're all plausible. Then, I give you the philosophy that points you to realizing that all of them are 'true' (within the terms of the system). You didn't accept any of the five things independently, but you'll accept the system whole hog because it 'proves' to you all of the five things you only found plausible before.

Anonymous said...

Well. The article explains something I observed over the last few days where the computer kiddies hang out.

They call it "meme magic" over at The_Donald at Reddit. Memes can be defined as running jokes. They may be based on a play or words, or cartoons.

The interesting thing is, some of the late-night kiddies decided to take on the DAESH, or ISIS. With their gay friends who helped them elect DJT president, they put together an array of memes to the effect that ISIS is gay, and a plan to hit Daesh communication nodes (on Twitter, for instance).

Over the course of about three hours, they mapped out what I would call an advertising campaign, and identified various requirements (such as translators). They realized that this was dangerous, and advised people to use throw-away accounts. They cited bits and pieces of something like this article as they framed an attack.

And after about two days of feverish activity, it nearly all disappeared.

I don't think they quit: I think they went someplace else, and I have no intention of tracing them.

But somehow, I think our country is in good, but surprising, hands.


Grim said...

Some of those kids have potential.

Tom said...

Yeah, Grim, on that kind of broad meaning, I think you're right, and it seems like an important point to make as well. Communist-sympathizers in the US were probably (and I'm guessing) more willing to spread ideas they actually believed in than simple disinformation.

I'm glad to see anyone take on Daesh, but I don't really believe that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The script kiddie / hacker world is overwhelmingly against liberty except when it comes to pirating stuff or smoking pot. They may be happy to champion gay rights against Daesh, but don't really care when Christians are martyred by them. One day they're attacking Daesh, the next they're hacking the US government whom they see as equally evil and oppressive.

Maybe the kids you're talking about are different. That would be great. But I'll wait and see.