In the last decade Western audiences have often been fed a narrative of Russian interference in our domestic affairs. The Western media abounds with horrifying stories of how the Russians are seeking to exploit social division and subvert us. What the precise outcome of such a malicious plan is, remains unclear. After all the great ideological battle of the past is no more, but we assume it must be to construct chaos, to weaken us or even to destroy us. Perhaps it’s simply to keep us preoccupied with ourselves? The headlines beneath offer a brief snapshot of the typical message we are being spoon fed.
So in view of these headlines how do we subvert a society? Well, by placing a magnifying glass over every social issue, to constantly highlight social division. More simply to try and split the people. This last point is perhaps the true crux of the matter and as a hint of what’s to come. It’s important for us in the West to examine how exactly in the 21st century we refer to the people.
During the cold war, much like today, methods of subversion fixated on key areas. Initially the aim of espionage was to demoralise the target state. This could be achieved by what appear to be legitimate and subtle means. One could send ideologically laden foreign exchange students, inundate a target nations media with stories on justice and inequalities. Send professors to teach specific courses at university. Use foundations to support causes which counterintuitively increase social weaknesses. Plant journalists within the target nations media landscape, lobby parliaments or seek to influence legislature. In addition an enemy power might wish to change a country’s main reference points, to blur the boundary between right and wrong. These elements enable one to get under the skin of a foreign culture, to infiltrate its very core.
To weaken a states social cohesion, foreign espionage would target its adversaries religion, the social life of the population, a nation’s educational and law enforcement systems, before ultimately seeking to undermine its entire power structure. Naturally by targeting all the former a void opens up which facilitates a move on the final target, i.e. the power structure.
Undermining a religion plays a fundamental part in breaking down a society. As work by Durkheim shows, religion used to be the main bond by which groups are socialised and kept in control, it operated as a base for the group morality, hence generating shared values and expectations, in other words, civilities. Its removal could create an opening by which to degenerate populations into nihilism, but it may also open a window which can make individuals highly receptive to foreign interference. The aim of this is the establishment over time of a conscious or subconscious fifth column. In this respect an enemy power will aim to ridicule faith and destroy the dominant religious dogmas. If people can be persuaded that there is no superior moral being, that nothing exists beyond the material, then a clear barrier to the intruders message has been removed. Religion therefore played a primary role in inoculating against intrusive ideologies, by helping to guard against nihilism or chaos when the material can no longer be relied upon.
To this end the educational system can perform a vital function. Here it’s not just about foreign exchange students or guest professors introducing new ideas or sowing seeds into receptive young minds, but its aim is a dumbing down, to shift focus from academic fundamentals such as maths, foreign languages, or the natural sciences, to pseudo-science, or scientism examples could be “gender studies” or “inequality studies among ethnic minorities”. The aim must always be to break the population down into ever increasingly smaller groups, to ruin the concept of a single and united people. Of course this is achieved under the guise of unity. The participants need to be oblivious to its corrosive effects. Or if they are receptive political agitators the true damage they wreck must be concealed and turned into something positive. In this way it logically aids further dissemination.
The church used to represent a key institution in peoples social life’s. For those wishing to subvert, targeting religion is like killing to birds with one stone, then it can deprive not only a belief system that stretches beyond the material, but also an institution to instill moral guidance and offer support. To this we can add the destruction of trade unions which used to provide men with a mission that once more went beyond the experience of the immediate individual. These institutions provided an arena where members of society could freely congregate and act in unison. In conjunction with this, attacks on the institution of marriage can have far reaching consequences. The family unit too offers stability and socialisation of moral values: its ruin contributes to dysfunctional and hurt members of a community. The enemy of the subverter is the unified collective. He wants to see atomised and vulnerable individuals, people upon whom he can impress radical ideas or at least create disorientation. Where cohesion is the subverter’s enemy, psychological dislocation and nihilism are his friends.
Changes in the labour market too can create uncertainty. To attack the position of the workers, zero hour contracts or short term contracts, even employing agency staff, break the links to the employer. More importantly is to increase competition in the labour market. This all drives down costs, but does it help create a sense of community or unity? What about if we add greater and greater inequality into the mix?
The sociologist Kathryn Edin notes in her research paper “Tenous attachments of working class men” how large sectors of the US population have succumbed to a deep sense of anomie. The following passage illustrates this well:
Detachment is becoming more common among men with a high school diploma but no four-year college degree, especially when the official unemployment rate is so low. It is tempting to look for a single explanation for this increase. Although only a starting point, our findings suggest that these changes may be driven by the fact that the workplace, the family, and religion have all been transformed, along with men’s sense of what constitutes fulfillment in all these domains. In addition, the salience of manual labor in identity formation seems to have weakened, compared to prior generations. If significant changes in any one of those arenas can be life-altering, the combined effect of all these changes will be quite unpredictable
This assessment, while recognising the importance of institutions in the stability of working class men, blames not the eternally “malicious” Vladimir Putin for a growing sense of anomie in the US, but rather the atomising nature of globalisation and its neoliberal economic base. It goes without saying that liberalism’s sense of individualism is inherently atomising. Is it not clear just from our economic model that we are undermining the very links that hold a community together?
Other targets that are prominent in the eyes of the subverter are the law enforcement agencies. After all the aim is chaos, therefore a public must be taught to mistrust those assigned to prescribe law and order. To present them as antithetical to everything they should stand for. This is currently a very topical subject after George Floyd’s death. Since then we have seen calls for the defunding of the police, Not to mention violent attacks against law enforcement representatives. Is defunding the police really in everyone’s best interest? Unlikely.
Above all these layers we find the power structure, itself susceptible if the above pillars upon which it was built have been infiltrated and exposed. The aim here of the malicious foreigner is to wither away its power, to compromise its ability to govern, even to weaken its democratic standing. In the West democracy has become essential then it has been universally accepted as some kind of golden principal. To denigrate the power structures legitimacy an enemy can seek to deprive it of democracy by establishing unelected committees and NGOs that will not only attack government, but also limit its maneuverability. Further one could seek to place our institutions beyond the democratic control of the citizen. These aims can be facilitated by seeking to transform the concept of democracy, by using Orwellian double speak. But when we examine our modern European home, we discover that it is not our enemies who have sought to bind us to these structures: we do this voluntarily. This is an issue of civil society, that equally has been seen as essential to the democratic state. The trouble is when elements or whole sections of civil society have a negative impact on the overall well being of society. It is a sphere where there is no accountability, driven by interest groups, by individuals who may even be driven by a desire to do good, but don’t have an ability to understand the deeper workings of the state, or to fully comprehend what damage they are doing. The subverter is always keen on naive utopias who believe in deontological methods, rather than more pragmatic utilitarian ones. Whats the difference? The former is destructive, the latter maintains and protects.
So when we examine the forces unleashed in our societies, who is it that is undermining the police? Who has developed the concept of individualism and the subsequent atomisation of society? Is it the Russians who are funding civil society? No, its our very own government, its our philanthropists. It is not the Russians who are splitting the people into ever greater units, into multiple genders or minorities. It is not the Russians who are forcing the BBC and the Guardian to then incessantly refer to and underscore these divisions. Neither was it the Russians who created Facebook, where millions of angry people spit vitriol at an imagined enemy out there somewhere in society. In truth our NGOs have gone from being a force for good, to generating exactly the opposing effect they wished to promote. In their search for funds they have skewed and enraged public debate, to which there is a growing backlash. Only everyone is too scared to say so. They have become the unconscious rogue element in our state security, aided and abetted by our media. Despite the all encompassing human rights acts these NGOs determinedly trudge divided forth. And what do we see? A sharper radicalisation of society, a place where problems can no longer be solved amicably.
In 2016 Donald Trump became the 45th US president. As we all know the Democrats pointed the blame for his victory on Russian interference. This was the ultimate act of subversion by a foreign power, after all the Russians had allegedly just captured the head of state. This line has been repeated so often that it has become a fixed social myth, indelibly woven into the public mind. But to give it some perspective the Russians are deemed to have spent $46,000 on Facebook ads. That amounts to about 0.05 percent of the $81 million spent on Faceboook ads by the Clinton and Trump campaigns.
So why the never ending saga about Russia? Well, in this highly charged climate of political correctness that we have inflicted upon ourselves, how can we rally the people? Certainly not on a concept of the nation state, then even this is seen as racist and and runs contrary to our globalised vision. The economic model? Well no, then the Western state has a vested interest in this too, hence we need to create the image of a hostile foreign other by which to rally around the flag. Russia for historical reasons is the perfect fit. But to to blame Russia for highlighting our social divisions is almost ludicrous, then what is coming from Russia is a mere drop in the ocean compared to what we are producing ourselves. Simply turn on the radio, TV or open a newspaper, you can’t miss it.
As for Putin, well by contrast he is seeking to build a state on traditional values, on the nation state, in which the church has once more been placed at the centre of society. The Russians after all learnt a lot about the effects of subversion when the Soviet state collapsed in 1991. Has he anything to teach us, probably yes? Would we listen? Never.