Recently, a certain political concept has been resurrected that warrants interrogation. The notion of a ‘red-brown’ alliance has been thrown around so ubiquitously as a form of political slander that any substantive meaning to the term has been evacuated. Rather than accurately designating any associations that may exist between the left and far right, the idea of a ‘red-brown’ coalition, or ‘querfront’ (cross-front in German), is a generic abstraction cited to mischaracterize a perceived convergence of political opposites. In many respects, it is a stand-in for a similar hypothesis used by liberals — that of ‘horseshoe theory’, or the impression that the far left and far right intersect at both ends of the ideological spectrum — so as to be permitted diction for self-identified leftists. The application of the ‘red-brown’ smear produces the same result in that it situates politics from a centrist vantage point and likens the actual left to fascism. It disappears the anti-fascism of the left and anti-communism of the right while leaving the moderate center at a comfortable distance from the right-wing of which it is the more frequent collaborator.
The ‘red-brown’ character assassinations make analogies about the present day based on a counterfeit history of World War II. No analysis of the mythos would be complete without the inclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, one of the most misunderstood and historically falsified events of the war. During the 1930s, the USSR tried to maintain its autonomy during a period of rapid industrialization that accomplished in a decade what the British needed a century to achieve. In self defense, Moscow was forced to exploit the contradictions between the ‘democratic’ imperial nations and the authoritarian Axis powers when it came under dual threat. If war could not be avoided, the USSR certainly did not wish to take on the Wehrmacht alone. Stalin made diplomatic attempts in the lead up to the war at aligning with Britain and France, who were as keen on the idea of putting an end to the Soviet Union as Germany, which were rebuffed. In reply, the British and the French did everything within their power to try to push the Hitlerites into a war with the Soviets by signing the Munich Agreement with Germany and Italy in 1938.
More than an appeasement, the Munich Betrayal essentially handed over Czechoslovakia to Hitler as a deposit to try to persuade Germany to begin his ‘Master Plan for the East’ where the West would be in a position to play peacemaker. Meanwhile, Poland, Turkey and the Baltic states all signed treaties with Hitler as well, but for obvious reasons history only chooses to remember the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression agreement which followed a year later. Stalin knew Germany would eventually ‘drive to the East’ but needed time if the USSR was to withstand a Wehrmacht invasion and the agreement thwarted the West’s plans of using Hitler to weaken Moscow. After the treaty was signed in 1939, The New York Times declared that “Hitler is brown communism, Stalinism is red fascism” and to this day the cult followers of Trotsky are repeating this lie.
If it isn’t the distortion of the Hitler-Stalin pact, the infamous 1934 Night of the Long Knives in Germany is adduced to illustrate the historical instance of a supposed red-brown coalescence and its inevitable results, when the so-called ‘left wing’ of the Nazi Party led by Gregor Strasser and his supporters were murdered in Hitler’s Röhm purge. While the Strasserites may have self-identified as ‘socialists’, they were just as steeped in anti-semitism and were anything but left — much less ‘red.’ Strasser made his brand of pseudo-socialism discernibly anti-Marxist when he distinguished it as free of a “soulless Jewish-materialist outlook” while addressing the Reichstag in 1925. Once Hitler was finished using the Strasserites in his cynical and cunning scheme, they were liquidated in order to appease his real backers in big business and the German ruling class. Hitler did the bidding of monopoly capital while directing the machinery of government to repress any of his supporters who had been credulous enough to anticipate anti-capitalist policies from the Third Reich. No, the Nazis were not socialist despite their unabbreviated name, nor does chocolate milk come from brown cows.
History has been tampered with to blame the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) for the rise of the Nazis and those weaponizing the red-brown mythology are perpetuating this falsehood. Germany’s economic depression destabilized the country while various political tendencies vied for power against the Weimar government and while the Nazis ultimately emerged on top, there was no ‘collaboration’ between what were mortal enemies. Furthermore, it is assumed that if not for the KPD’s policy towards the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) as ‘social fascists’, things would have turned out different. To the contrary, in 1932 it was the Social Democrats who rebuffed Ernst Thälmann and the KPD’s repeated pleas to form a coalition once the German Reich’s other conservative parties joined forces with Hitler and his seizure of power appeared imminent. To be sure, the Nazis benefited from the left’s infighting due to this repudiation. After the SPD refused to form a popular front or organize a general strike, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany and the rest was history. It was the rejections of the appeals for a united front by the anti-revolutionary Social Democrats, not the KPD, which ensured the power grab. There is a reason it was the communists who became the most heavily persecuted political group following the consolidation of power after the Nazi-engineered Reichstag fire ‘false flag’ operation was blamed on them.
The Third Reich was a reaction of the ruling class to the rising militancy of German workers and their increasing revolutionary readiness amidst the Weimar Republic’s collapse, not any strategic failure on the part of the heroes who were murdered by the Hitlerite regime. To propagate this fable is to spit on the graves of those who perished. Nazi authoritarianism became the weapon of choice once the duplicitous arm of Social Democracy became ineffective in deflecting workers away from revolution, as it had done following the end of WWI to put down the Spartacist uprising. The KPD had no choice but to regard the Social Democrats as ‘fascism’s twin brother’ considering the SPD leadership had sided with Kaiser Wilhelm, who killed as many Namibians as Hitler killed Jews in the Herero genocide, against the revolutionaries. Ten years later during the 1929 May Day demonstrations, Social Democratic Interior Minister Carl Severing oversaw the Blutmai massacre where many workers and communists were gunned down by Berlin police. Nothing had changed between the failed 1919 German Revolution put down by the Freikorps which took the life of Rosa Luxemburg and the Bloody May Day in 1929.
Underlying the ‘red-brown’ concept is essentially a false equivalency between the Soviet Union and fascism. One of the other primary sources of this big lie pertains to the doctored history of the Spanish Civil War, a conflict that ended exactly 80 years ago last month. Like Hitler in Germany, General Francisco Franco became the Caudillo of Spain while there was a schism on its political left and since history is written by the winners, decades of anti-Soviet propaganda have placed the blame on those who tried to save the Spanish Republic in 1939 for his rise to power. In reality, the loyalists were defeated not just because of extrinsic reinforcement by Germany and Italy but the debilitation of the Republican forces by the Trotskyite POUM who have since been championed as heroes by those suffering from ultra-left misapprehensions.
During the 1930s while fascism was ascendant, Spain was in a deep political crisis with a monarchist right-wing government. In reaction, the Spanish left mobilized and formed a Popular Front coalition of communists, anarchists and socialists in 1936 to win the Spanish elections. When Franco and his alliance began their insurrection and military coup, the Republican government was refused assistance by the Western imperial nations and the Soviet Union stepped in to provide the anti-fascist resistance political and military aid. They also received reinforcements from Mexico as well as militias from the International Brigades which included the Abraham Lincoln Battalion consisting of American volunteers, the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Meanwhile, Franco became the recipient of external support from the strongest military power in the world at the time in Nazi Germany.
The Luftwaffe began its intervention with the aerial bombardment of the Republican-held Basque town of Guernica, inspiring one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous paintings. Seeing as this was no time for games with the very real danger of ultra-nationalism taking power, the Spanish communists mustered together a resistance army that was repeatedly sabotaged by the POUM’s lack of discipline and intrigue. As a result, their unworldly tactics and opposition to any practical alliance with a broader left ultimately led to their expulsion from the Republican government and the Popular Front. Following their banishment, the POUM quislings continued their factionalist disruption and along with the CNT anarchists attempted to overthrow the Republican government, on the basis that a ‘Stalinist regime’ was as undesirable an outcome as fascism. Although the putsch failed, ultimately Franco benefited from this strife which weakened the Comintern-backed forces and the military strongman would advance to become dictator of Spain for the next four decades following the Republican defeat.
Much of the disinformation pulled from this period stems from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which is unfortunately the sole account most people will ever read of the Spanish Civil War. It’s reliability is even doubted by Western historians in its demonization of the loyalist cause and Orwell himself admitted its many inaccuracies while regretting the passages that appeared to actually welcome a Franco victory over the Republicans. The avowed “democratic socialist” based the work on his own experiences as a volunteer for the Republican cause fighting alongside the POUM before fleeing the country in 1937. Like his other writings, Homage to Catalonia became weaponized during the Cold War by the political establishment in order to push the anti-communist Western left toward liberal democracy and away from Soviet sympathies. The great Michael Parenti wrote of Orwell and his descendants in Blackshirts and Reds:
“A prototypic Red-basher who pretended to be on the Left was George Orwell. In the middle of World War II, as the Soviet Union was fighting for its life against the Nazi invaders at Stalingrad, Orwell announced that a “willingness to criticize Russia and Stalin is the test of intellectual honesty. It is the only thing that from a literary intellectual’s point of view is really dangerous.” Safely ensconced within a virulently anticommunist society, Orwell (with Orwellian doublethink) characterized the condemnation of communism as a lonely courageous act of defiance. Today, his ideological progeny are still at it, offering themselves as intrepid left critics of the Left, waging a valiant struggle against imaginary Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist hordes.”
Parenti isn’t exaggerating in his representation. Although little known by his casual admirers, one year before his death in 1950 at the dawn of the Cold War, Orwell secretly provided the British Foreign Office’s anti-Soviet propaganda branch known as the Information Research Department a list of people he believed to be “crypto-communists, fellow-travellers or inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists” for MI6’s information warfare. Orwell’s role as an informant for the British secret services and the existence of the list, which included everyone from Charlie Chaplin to foreign correspondents for major newspapers, was not revealed until 1996 and only became public in 2002. He based the list on a longer, unofficial version contained in a personal notebook which even slandered legendary black actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson as a “very anti-white Henry Wallace supporter.” Unlike Hollywood filmmaker Elia Kazan’s shameful testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1952, Orwell’s blacklist was provided voluntarily to the assistant of anti-Soviet historian Robert Conquest, then working for the UK Foreign Office, after she asked him to lend a hand picking out communist sympathizers.
Orwell’s disillusion with the Spanish communists backed by the Comintern and allegiance to the POUM and CNT anarchists was solidified during the 1937 Barcelona May Days where the opposing factions clashed and the Republican government ultimately regained control. In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell heavily criticized a journalist working under the pen name Frank Pitcairn of The Daily Worker, official newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and now known as The Morning Star, and challenged his coverage of the events. It turns out that ‘Frank Pitcairn’ was the pseudonym of none other than Claud Cockburn, father of legendary journalist Alexander Cockburn who co-founded Counterpunch newsletter in the mid-90s. The younger Cockburn ruthlessly denounced Orwell when “St. George’s List” became public knowledge, no doubt feeling vindication for the defamation of his father’s work by the English essayist.
For many years, the formerly prestigious Counterpunch edited by Alexander Cockburn until his death in 2012 was a sanctuary of high quality left-wing journalism and commentary. Under his successors, however, the website has gradually declined in its caliber, especially after it became mired in controversy following the 2016 U.S. presidential election when it was included in an investigation in The Washington Post for having publishing articles of a pseudonymous writer working under the false name ‘Alice Donovan’ supposedly on behalf of the Russian government that was tracked by the FBI. The website was then listed among a host of other anti-war pages as promoting a ‘pro-Russian and anti-Clinton’ agenda to influence the outcome of the election on the neo-McCarthyist PropOrNot blacklist. Evidently, Cockburn’s substitutes were too embarrassed to speculate as to whether or not Donovan’s stories could have been submitted by the FBI itself as a pretext for the subsequent widespread censorship of alternative media by big tech giants under the phony banner of stopping the spread of “fake news.” It was only after an in-house investigation by the editors themselves that Donovan was also discovered to be a serial plagiarist, a significant detail that went unnoticed in The Washington Post story. What if the mystery literary thief was a g-man?
Rather than digging in their heels and standing by what they published, Counterpunch has since embarked on an embarrassing quest for bourgeois respectability with the purging of popular contributors while smearing them as part of an imaginary “Sputnik left.” Shortly after the Alice Donovan affair, several of the remaining core authors for Counterpunch published hit pieces condemning progressive journalist Caitlin Johnstone for advocating a ‘cross ideological collaboration’ in the name of an essential policy based anti-war movement transcending the left-right paradigm. While Johnstone’s suggestion gave an admittedly poor and naive example in far right social media personality Mike Cernovich for cooperation — hardly the type of conservative to be taken seriously compared to committed anti-militarist libertarians — her recommendation was well-intentioned and harmless. Nevertheless, they seized the opportunity and pounced on her, but not for the stated reason of stopping an attempt to forge a ‘red-brown fascist alliance.’ Johnstone’s real crime was possessing the rare ability to disseminate subversive ideas to a wide range of people, a serious threat to the livelihood of the professional gatekeepers at Counterpunch.
Yet Johnstone’s opinions were hardly inconsistent with the newsletter’s own history as a longtime host of far-reaching anti-establishment views, nor with Alexander Cockburn himself. In a 2000 article entitled “25 Years After Vietnam: Beyond Left and Right“, Cockburn wrote of exactly such a scenario after receiving criticism for speaking at an anti-war conference that included conservatives Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan:
“I got an invitation to speak a couple of months ago from an outfit called antiwar.com, which is run by a young fellow called Justin Raimundo. “Antiwar.com is having its second annual national conference March 24 & 25, and we’d like you to be the luncheon speaker,” Raimundo wrote. “The conference will be held at the Villa Hotel, in San Mateo (near the airport). The theme of the conference is ‘Beyond Left & Right: The New Face of the Antiwar Movement.’ We have invited a number of speakers spanning the political spectrum. Confirmed so far: Patrick J. Buchanan, Tom Fleming (of Chronicles magazine), Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com), Kathy Kelly (Iraq Aid), Alan Bock (Orange County Register), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), representatives of the Serbian Unity Congress, and a host of others.”
Raimundo seasoned his invite with a burnt offering, in the form of flattery, always pleasing to the nostrils: “All of us here at Antiwar.com are big fans of your writing: we met, once, at a meeting during the Kosovo war where you bravely took up the fight for the united front left-right alliance against imperialist war. We can promise you a small honorarium, a lunch, free admission to all conference events — and a good time.” As a seasoned analyst of such communications, my eye of course fell sadly upon the words “small honorarium” ? a phrase that in my case usually means somewhere between $l50 and $350. I’d already noted that even though our task was to transcend the tired categories of left and right, I was the only leftist mentioned, with the possible exception of Kathy Kelly, from that splendid organization, Voices in the Wilderness, which campaigns to lift the UN sanctions on Iraq.
Being a libertarian Justin had boldly added the prospect of a “good time”. Leftist invitations rarely admit this possibility in formal political communications, even in the distant days when the left supposedly had a lock on drugs and sex. I said I’d be happy to join in such an enterprise, and in due course got some angry e-mails from lefties who seem to feel that any contiguity with Buchanan is a crime, even if the subject was gardening and Dutch tulipomania in the seventeenth century.”
Cockburn received similar flack in the mid-90s for commending a right-wing Patriot rally opposing gun control in Michigan in a column for The Nation similarly titled “Who’s Left? Who’s Right?” So it’s one thing for the inner circle at CP to attack others with the red-brown libel, but entirely another to rewrite history and speak on behalf of the deceased Cockburn to claim their sectarian attacks on leftist colleagues are in spirit with his vision. Worst of all, the Counterpunch contingent has maligned the recently kidnapped Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a ‘crypto-fascist’ while continuing to use his endorsement of the magazine in advertising to raise money for its annual fund drive as he languishes in prison.
Most of those targeted like Johnstone are anti-war leftists willing to defend Russia and Syria beyond merely protesting U.S. military aggression but challenging the propaganda narratives villainizing such countries used to justify it. The war in Syria has even been compared to the Spanish Civil War where the chasm between those defending the Syrian government against Western-backed jihadists is seen as a repeat of the discord in the 1930s, with presumably the ‘libertarian socialist’ Kurds playing the role of the POUM. It is actually not such a bad analogy, considering the YPG are as objectively a U.S. proxy army as the POUM were Franco’s fifth columnists.
Russophobes on the left use a different line of reasoning to push the same agenda as the Washington war duopoly while Moscow is in the gun-sights of U.S. imperialism. The ‘brown’ component is said to be the reactionary philosopher Alexander Dugin whose alleged Svengali-like influence on the Kremlin is inflated, as is the prevalent misconception that he is the founder of Putin’s ‘Eurasianism.’ As a matter of fact, the initial author of a Eurasian union was the anti-Soviet liberal human rights dissident Andrei Sakharov back in the 1980s during perestroika who was beloved in the Western sphere. Meanwhile, the actual threat of right-wing extremism in Russia emanating from the U.S.-backed opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who seeks the secession of the Caucasus while comparing its Muslim inhabitants to cockroaches and insects, is of little concern to those making Putin out to be the enemy. In fact, it is the instigator against Moscow in NATO that has for decades incubated fascism, from Operation Gladio’s stay-behind networks of right-wing paramilitaries carrying out ‘false flag’ operations in NATO member states to Ukraine’s 2014 Banderite junta. Furthermore, the anti-Russia hysteria is a successful diversion from the actual source of foreign influence nurturing the current tide of nationalism that is traceable to Jerusalem, not the Kremlin.
The red-brown aspersion isn’t relegated to the periphery of leftist newsletters or historical debates about WWII but has even manifested in more mainstream discourse, from the smear campaign against journalist Angela Nagle for her brilliant “The Left Case Against Open Borders” article exploring the complexities of the immigration issue to Bernie Sanders’ willingness to do a town hall hosted by Fox News. Journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Max Blumenthal, Michael Tracey, and Nagle herself have all been denigrated as ‘red-brown collaborators’ for their willingness to make appearances on Tucker Carlson’s weeknight talk show. There is even an incomprehensible multi-axis political compass making the rounds on social media said to visually represent the red-brown or neo-“Strasserite” phenomena.
Last month, the International Socialist Organization (ISO)in the U.S. voted to dissolve itself after a period of a factionalism and infighting. The ISO was the American branch of the UK-based Socialist Workers Party (SWP) founded by Tony Cliff, which once included Orwell admirer and Trot-turned-neocon author Christopher Hitchens in its ranks during his youth. This was welcome news to anyone rightly disgusted by such an objectively pro-interventionist group that was one of the biggest mudslingers against those who have defended Russia and Syria from imperialism as ‘red-brown fascists’ during the past decade. Unsurprisingly, it was revealed that the ISO received a significant amount of its subsidies from the Soros-funded Tides Foundation and other Democratic Party-affiliated philanthropies. Hopefully its dissolution is a sign that the tide is turning against such groups that smuggle pro-imperial positions to be planted into a left that should unconditionally oppose them.
Max Parry is an independent journalist and geopolitical analyst. His work has appeared in Counterpunch, Global Research, Dissident Voice, Greanville Post, OffGuardian, and more. Max may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org