Don and dissident: Murphy on Navalny

24 Feb

The Independent, February 24 2024

Good people, incisive documenters of the criminality of those in power, can have worrying blind spots. Take tax specialist and modern monetary theorist, Professor Richard Murphy. Just today he’s penned a fine piece – I recommend it wholeheartedly – on the price gouging of Britain’s privatised energy suppliers. It’s worth a read for its lead up to this penultimate paragraph:

If you want to know why the UK economy remains a mess and why we are still suffering inflation, it is precisely because we are being exploited by large companies who are exploiting the uncertain economic environment that the Bank of England has deliberately created to extract profit from us all, and wholly unnecessarily.  Despite that, the Bank of England is still claiming that it is wage rises that are troubling them.

Actually there’s more to Britain’s economic woes than this. Some of it the professor sees. Some of it – crucially the US-led West as a dying hence dangerous empire – he does not. But his bang on-the-nail if limited assessments, backed by facts and reason, make me a repeat visitor to his Funding the Future  blog.

Attendant on that narrowness, however, is a startling credulity on matters beyond the fiscal and monetary mismanagement of Britain by and for its rentier  elites. He’s more than once spoken of “Putin’s unprovoked war”, when the only basis for doing so …

This is by no means the only refutation of the industrial scale ‘unprovoked’  whopper – just the least wordy!

… is wall to wall repetition of so fact-defiant an absurdity by media whose ‘upmarket’ sections, no less than organs more strident of tone, do vital work for those in power. They just do it with a shade more subtlety, and in times of crisis – such as proxy war on a rising economy declining to accept US overlordship 1not even that.

Intellectuals, whether we know it or not – and usually we don’t since propaganda, whether of political or advertising stripe, leverages our vanity to leave us believing we arrived at our views and market behaviour all on our clever lonesome – conclude subliminally that if Guardian and Economist say Putin’s a new Hitler who launched a landgrab on Ukraine – and if we  don’t stop him there, then we  will soon be fighting him in Paris – well, it must be right.

(No need to bother our pretty little heads – when censorship both de facto  and de jure  see to it that it will be a bother 2 – finding out in his own words what Evil Vlad says. Not when we have our highly trustworthy, oligarch-owned, and/or state-funded, and/or advertising-dependent, and/or Bill & Melinda Gates/George Soros-sponsored media to explain his motives for us.)

On many matters ‘quality’ media serve us tolerably well but this truth enables a greater lie. They need to show good faith even when doing so may embarrass those in high office. (Not only does their long term capacity to influence opinion and manufacture consent depend on it. So too, on pain of losing market share, do their business models.) But the trust so gained helps them mislead us, more by omission than commission, on matters critical – above all the vilifying of states and leaders in the way of empire designs – to the power they ultimately serve. 3

See Britain decides! and Monolithic control at the Guardian? Both explore how journalists, in the main honest but self-interestedly credulous, 4 unwittingly serve the agendas of power. A more recent post, What of ideology, when reality intrudes?, has different but equal relevance.

But let me get back to Professor Murphy. Here’s what he wrote a week ago, on February 17

Fascism is much closer than we ever imagined

The world is in agreement that Alexei Navalny was murdered. The only surprise is that, unlike most of Putin’s opponents who seem to suffer this fate, he did not fall out of a window.

Navalny’s early politics were far from liberal. Few, however, can doubt that he appeared to leave them behind as his campaign against corruption and for democracy brought him into conflict with Putin. He has now paid the ultimate price for that. His wife and children live with the consequences. They have my sympathy. Too few seem to be saying that today.

Why note this? Three reasons. First, this is the reality of Putin’s Russia. Second, Trump models himself on and admires Putin and his methods. Third, where Trump goes many on the far-right follow, only a little behind.

This is a dangerous world for the opponents of the far-right. That said, Navalny was right that the opposition has to continue. There is no choice.

There is no evidence of Putin being a fascist but plenty of his being a socially conservative and deeply patriotic nationalist who enjoys levels of popularity Western leaders can only dream of. The why of that is painfully simple for those who look beyond the propaganda blitz on this man. Even before overseeing in Ukraine an imminent and humiliating defeat on the West, which for decades heaped lies, insults and broken promises on his country, Vladimir Putin rescued Russia from the impoverishment, chaos and ripeness for dismemberment inflicted by the IMF disaster-capitalism on Boris Yeltsin’s watch. 5 6

But my comment on Richard’s post – which to his credit he did not censor, not even to remove the link back to this site – set such considerations to one side and confined itself to the matter in hand.

News of Navalny’s death has been seized on – predictably is too weak a term – by ‘our’ politicians and media. Any headway made by the Tucker Carlson interview in shifting perceptions of Putin and the country he leads has, since humans are more psychological than logical animals, been set back. For the same reason the chances of a successful passage of the “aid package” for Ukraine in the US House of Representatives have been given a fillip. On these grounds – plus his having never exceeded 5% of domestic approval even in Western polls – the idea of Navalny being rubbed out by order of the Kremlin fails the cui bono?  test.

“The world is in agreement that Alexei Navalny was murdered.”   When such claims are made, it’s often due to confusing “the world” with “the collective West”. Is that the case here?

Map of the world (not included in my comment on Richard’s post) as envisaged by Western media

I read Richard several times a week. His posts offer valuable insights on what is happening in Britain and, though he rarely makes the leap himself, in a hyper-financialised Western world at large. In truth though his blind spots are not blind spots at all. They are limitations inherent to the liberal worldview, even in adherents as intelligent, informed and well intentioned as he. 7

This being the weekend, I’ll leave you with three video accounts, more considered and informed than Richard’s, of Navalny’s life and death. 8  All – a former US Marine, a retired US judge, and a former UN Weapons Inspector – are gamekeepers turned poacher; their proliferation but one marker among many of the West’s moral and hegemonic decline.

Sour grapes propagandists? Well our rulers and hired hacks would say that, wouldn’t they? But why so many? Brian Berletic, Peter Ford, Katharine Gunn, Philip Giraldi, Daniel Hale, Karen Kwiatkowsky, Ray McGovern, Doug MacGregor, Chelsea Manning, Craig Murray, Andrew Napolitano, Peter Oborne, Scott Ritter, Jeffrey Sachs, Ed Snowden …

I could go on, really I could. The name of these ‘sour grapes propagandists’ is Legion. And isn’t it the raison d’etre  of state political propaganda to make the truth sound deceitful and so far-fetched as to invite ridicule? Herbert Hildebrandt had it right:

In a world of propaganda, the truth is always a conspiracy.


* * *

  1. “… a proxy war on a rising economy declining to accept US overlordship …”  For the few who prioritise facts over narratives however dominant, this characterisation of the West’s war on Russia in Ukraine is beyond dispute. At the general level we have Washington and PNAC repeated insistence that the ‘Indispensable Nation‘ will brook no peer, and strive for full spectrum dominance. More specifically, the 2019 Rand Report cited at length in my post of January 2022 – see Kazakhstan: why is the steppe on fire? – spells out, with chillingly prescient amorality, US options for making trouble for Russia in Ukraine.
  2. For a modern ruling class it is neither easy nor for the most part necessary to impose full blackout of inconvenient truths. It usually suffices to make them hard to access, thereby marginalising the few who do.
  3. Misplaced trust in ‘quality’ media is not always or even usually diminished when those media are found to be unreliable on given issues. See the Gell-Mann amnesia effect.
  4. Self-interestedly credulous? Journalists who know what’s good for them please editors. Editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. Proprietors not only crave seats at the high table. They also need advertisers and/or wealthy sponsors. We might also note Noam Chomsky’s 1996 reply to BBC interviewer Andrew Marr. When Marr asks, “how can you know I’m self-censoring?”, Chomsky replies: “I do not say that you are self-censoring. I’m sure you believe all you say. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you would not be sitting in that chair.”
  5. Chapters 10-11 of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine give a compelling and impeccably documented account of “IMF disaster-capitalism on Boris Yeltsin’s watch”.
  6. “Putin rescued  Russia”  is not meant literally. One of many crassly simplistic depictions is of this vast and federal country as the fiefdom of one demonic man. If I seem to endorse so infantile a fabrication (stripped of the “demonic” component) it’s merely shorthand; a convenient fiction. Neither Mr Putin nor the extraordinary team he assembled could have rebuilt their IMF-savaged country by Kremlin fiat.  Sergey Lavrov, Sergei Shoigu, Maria Zhakarova and other outward-facing figures exude a maturity which shines a powerfully unflattering light on the short-termism and revolving door venality of Western leaders, but they too have to negotiate every step of the way with multiple power centres in this sprawlingly decentralised transcontinental entity. The rebuilding I speak of is not just of armies and a productive economy. It’s also the settlement, in the bag or ongoing, of a thousand internecine frictions: most notably in Chechnya, where diplomacy and deal-making of a kind forgotten in the West brought that republic, its CIA-backed Islamism notwithstanding, back into the fold.
  7. As Caitlin Johnstone put it ten months ago:

    Even relatively politically engaged people tend to believe society’s biggest problems are things like sexism or drag shows, and they generally support one of the two mainstream political factions who are both driving us toward destruction.

    And this is of course because we live in a mind-controlled dystopia where everything is fake and stupid. Western civilization is dominated by a power structure that has invested more heavily in “soft power” (mass-scale psychological manipulation) than any other power structure in history. It pervades our media, our internet services, our art — literally all of mainstream culture.

    The politicians lie, the news media lie, the movies lie, the internet lies, the ads lie, the shows between the ads lie. They lie about our world, they lie about our government, they lie about what’s important, how we should think, what we should value, and how we should measure our level of success and worthiness as human beings. That’s what you get when you live in a civilization that’s made of lies, under an empire that’s held together by lies.

  8. A fourth video appeared within hours of the news of Navalny’s death. On the death of a dissident features a 24 minute response from Alexander Mercouris.

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