34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America
July 20, 2018 1:43 AM   Subscribe

“What it basically means is: to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite of the abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.” "Bezmenov described this process as “a great brainwashing” which has four basic stages. The first stage is called “demoralization” which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve..."
posted by jbenben (12 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: This is not being received very well, I'm afraid. -- goodnewsfortheinsane

Bezmenov is huge in alt-right circles because they believe he predicted "cultural marxism". Funny how his bullshit can be used by anyone to discredit any social phenomena they disagree with.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:59 AM on July 20, 2018 [13 favorites]

and where are the historical examples of this happening? - surely history must illustrate this process at work?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:35 AM on July 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think the subtle problem is that the narrative that it's Russia's doing... is a kind of toxic Americanism that has zero to do with Russia. And that's why this defector's claims are another level of jingoistic conspiracy theory and propaganda. It's true that America as a sovereign nation has its adversaries. But before attributing causes, take a hard look at who has power and who is abusing it.
posted by polymodus at 2:37 AM on July 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

Although obvious, it bears repeating: USSR != Russia. The Russian state is, with great help from the US, captured by very capitalist and very obviously not Marxist-Leninist oligarchs. Which is a status quo not very far removed from the reality in the US. If anything the only version of events that have a - remote - resemblance to this demoralization - destabilization - crisis - normalization cycle that this defector is describing, is the triumph of neoliberalism over the last 4 decades across the world and the formerly Keynsian West in particular, and the workings of crisis / disaster capitalism and what Naomi Klein described as "Shock Doctrine" along with the, now normalized, antiliberal / authoritarian turn of policy that has resulted from the "War on Terror". This however was most definitely not the work of the KGB.
posted by talos at 3:13 AM on July 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

This sounds an awful lot like some of the things my spouse’s conspiracy-obsessed father used to spout before he passed away. He believed in a story that explained how the entire 1960s counter-culture and civil rights movements were orchestrated by the Soviets to undermine Western institutions and erode Western values using weaponized hippies.

It’s tempting to read this article and say, hey, maybe the paranoid old man was onto something...but upon sober reflection I doubt it. While I don’t doubt the existence of Soviet psyops I think crediting them with the wholesale genwashing of the Boomers is just a fanciful way for conservatives* to justify their antipathy to progressive values.

* That is, old style anti-fascist conservatives — not the modern reboot.
posted by Construction Concern at 3:32 AM on July 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you search for this piece, an awful lot of alt-right commentary comes up, indeed. One of them (purposefully not linking to it) has a transcript where it becomes clear that this is just ancient paranoia dressed up in dog-whistle trappings:
[...] In other words [for] these people the process of demoralization is complete and irreversible. To rid society of these people you need another 15 or 20 years to educate a new generation of patriotically minded and common sense people who would be acting in favor and in the interests of United States society.

ED: And yet these people who have been programmed and as you say [are] in place and who are favorable to an opening with the Soviet concept - these are the very people who would be marked for extermination in this country?

YURI: Most of them, yes. Simply because the psychological shock when they will see in [the] future what the beautiful society of EQUALITY and social justice means in practice, obviously they will revolt. They will be very unhappy [and] frustrated people, and Marxist-Leninist regime does not tolerate these people. Obviously they will join the [ranks] of dissenters; dissidents. Unlike the present United States there will be no place for dissent in future Marxist-Leninist America. [Now] you can get popular like Daniel Elsburg and filthy rich like Jane Fonda for being a dissident [and] for criticizing your Pentagon. In [the] future these people will simply be [he makes a squishy noise] squashed like cockroaches for criticizing the government. Nobody is going to pay them nothing for their beautiful [and] noble ideas of EQUALITY. This they don't understand and it will be the greatest shock for them, of course.
Vermin! Extermination! Programming! Irreversible!

AKA: extremism. Not sure why this is still on MeFi.

In case it needs to be said, no belief is irreversible if a person chooses. (Key there being that the person holding the belief is the one who chooses. History abounds with examples of individuals and groups rising above extremist systems.)
posted by fraula at 3:41 AM on July 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

A key problem is that defectors are like torture victims — they'll come out with whatever they think their audience wants to hear. Both are motivated by precarity: only the motive is different. The torture victim wants you to stop torturing them; the defector wants you to value and reward them.

(NB: this assertion is not valid for all defectors, but for the subset who try to earn a living by peddling scare stories. It can be quite lucrative ...)
posted by cstross at 4:07 AM on July 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

This might well be what the Russian government is trying to do, but it also describes normal societal change pretty well (e.g. 20 years in Scotland from Clause 28 to 3/4 party leaders in the Scottish Parliament being gay and it not being a thing). I would want much more proof before accepting a claim that someone can transform society deliberately in a chosen direction. I think it represents a conspiratorial mindset and too much theory (as you would expect from a KGB man) rather than a realistic methodology.

The broader point, that a free and open media is a huge vulnerability, is something that we kind of know about - oligarchs like Murdoch, Putin, Bezos, and the Kochs have all had some fun and profit from smashing the zeitgeist - but I think the patch for that is in the education system. We need more philosophers, as well as fewer social media thinkfluencers.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 4:11 AM on July 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

The man who interviewed the defector is G. Edward Griffin, a crank's crank. Even his wikipedia page calls his views false. (I did enjoy reading his "The Creature from Jekyll Island" about the Federal Reserve, just because the bonkers-meter is permanently set to 11.)
posted by chavenet at 4:37 AM on July 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

. . .using weaponized hippies.

It's all true! Those rubles kept I and my hirsute unbathed cohorts in earth shoes and granola for the better part of a decade!
posted by Chitownfats at 5:55 AM on July 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

If I keep reading on the subject, what are the odds I'll encounter John Birch lit about how Martin Luther King Jr. was a Soviet hire working to sow the seeds of the US's destruction?
posted by duffell at 6:42 AM on July 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Soviet attempts to influence US politics were a complete failure. With the exception of the CPUSA and a few marginal activist groups, the American left did not answer to Moscow. I can neither think of nor Google any coherent evidence that lefty disillusionment during the Cold War was somehow the KGB's handiwork.

Bezmenov's narrative lacks any concrete examples of how the Soviet Union actually executed this strategy. Anyway, I have to squint real hard to see any way in which he "predicted" the current state of affairs. To the extent a cynical demoralization campaign caused the Trump phenomenon, I'd say it began with Newt Gingrich and other congressional Republicans in the mid 90s, screaming hysterical lies about how the government was broken and Clinton was corrupt. To think that this was somehow a long term plan by a foreign actor is beyond baseless.

I recommend people read Masha Gessen's stuff about how blaming Russia for Trump is misguided. In light of her remarks, I'd say our present fascination with hacks like Bezmenov is a much greater source of dangerous cynicism than the Kremlin.
posted by andrewpcone at 6:49 AM on July 20, 2018

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