Tankies Versus Democratic Progress
There is no common good in ethnonationalism, oligarchy, or militarism
Thinking for yourself takes a lot of work—and an ability to resist social pressure—which is why I take pride in being a dissident thinker.
I’m lucky to be in a position where I can spend a lot of time struggling with how best to make sense of reality, and to do so with not just political convictions but also a disciplinary social-science toolkit and a historian’s sensibility.
But insistence on intellectual independence makes me wary of anyone doing analytically shoddy political advocacy on behalf of a larger tribe of herd-like opinion.
Often, that’s the basis for me going hard in the paint on Washingtonians. It’s also why I resent tankies—nominal leftists who see the world in a way that apologizes for foreign autocracy and militarism in the name of opposing US imperialism.
Tankies are named after those who cheered Soviet tanks rolling in to crush the pro-democracy uprising in Hungary in 1956. It was flagrantly anti-democratic, violently oppressive imperialism. To rationalize Soviet aggression then—or foreign aggression now—is to lose all credibility as a voice against American imperialism (and there’s no shortage of valid critiques to be made of the US on its own terms!).
Why am I talking about this?
Because the New York Times published an exposé about a couple tankie antiwar organizations that triggered Senator Marco Rubio to send a letter to the attorney general accusing the organizations of violating US law by not registering as “foreign agents.”
I’ve never heard of half of these organizations, and I (along with everyone who’s not a tankie) knew the other half were trouble for a couple years at least. But red-scare Rubio is engaging in McCarthyism, pure and simple. In so doing, he’s propelling America down a dark path that actively threatens American democracy, just like in the 1950s. If you know the history, it’s uncanny.
But this really underscores why tankies are a problem for democratic progress.
The orgs in that NYT story (Code Pink and “No Cold War”) are deeply problematic. They weaken the progressive movement. They make it harder, not easier, to oppose the forces of militarism and imperialism around the world. And they needlessly give ammunition to the most violently reactionary impulses in American political life.
Let me explain.