Timothy Snyder is a historian and award-winning Yale professor. On the basis of (undeserved) cred as an expert on “tyranny” and how to oppose Trump,1 Snyder is widely promoted now by liberal ruling class media to shill for U.S. capitalism-imperialism in its proxy war with Russia in Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a criminal act by a capitalist-imperialist power. But Snyder is a cheerleader behind the U.S. transformation of that conflict into a proxy war against Russia, using Ukrainian soldiers and people as cannon fodder to advance U.S. imperial interests. And he openly minimizes the risk of nuclear war this entails.2
The U.S. Is Not Pumping Tens of Billions of Dollars of Death Machinery into Ukraine to Defend Rule of Law and “Democracy”
The record of U.S. imperialism staging or orchestrating coups to overthrow democratically elected governments around the world disqualifies any of its apologists from claiming it is a champion of “defending democracy.”
The U.S.-sponsored coups against the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran; Lumumba in (what is now) the Democratic Republic of Congo; Sukarno in Indonesia (in a coup that resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of people or more); Allende in Chile; and many more when those governments stood in the way of the economic, political, and/or military objectives of the U.S. (See the American Crime series at revcom.us.)
And in 2014, the U.S. and its “free world” Western European allies orchestrated a coup in Ukraine that ousted Russian-leaning Ukrainian President Yanukovych (whose election in 2010 was reported as an “impressive display of democracy” by international observers closely aligned with the U.S. and its European allies).
As the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian put it in BAsics 1:3:
The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.
Top U.S. officials are on record with actual motives that have nothing to do with “defending democracy” in Ukraine. Biden called for regime change in Russia, declaring that Putin “cannot remain in power.” U.S. Secretary of “Defense” Austin declared U.S. objectives in the Ukraine war are for Russia to be “weakened.” And Austin gloated that Russia “has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, quite frankly, and we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”
Snyder Whites Out U.S. Provocations and Moves on Russia
Snyder insists the U.S. did nothing (or at most, maybe “some little thing”) to provoke Russia to invade Ukraine.4 Snyder, who brands himself an expert on Ukrainian history, somehow missed a decade of moves by the U.S. to draw Ukraine more tightly into its economic, political, and military orbit, posing the prospect of U.S. and allied troops positioned on Ukraine’s border with Russia.5
And before that, there were decades of massive expansion of NATO, a military “alliance” run by the U.S. Over those decades, NATO countries came to encircle Russia in Europe.6 This despite the fact that in February 1990, U.S. Secretary of State Baker promised Soviet leader Gorbachev (who was the last leader of the Soviet Union before its collapse and the emergence of the Russian Federation) that “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.”7
Nuclear War? Snyder Says “Rather Unlikely” but Worth the Risk
Snyder blithely dismisses the danger of nuclear war erupting out of the proxy war in Ukraine as “rather unlikely.”8 That’s not what the two people in position to make that happen are saying. In September of 2022, Putin declared, “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.” And it was clear he meant that to include territory seized by Russia in Ukraine. A month later Biden said, "[I]f, in fact, things continue down the path they are going” in Ukraine, the world faces “the prospect of Armageddon.”
Snyder even insists (by extension) that the “rather unlikely” risk of nuclear war is worth it because a “Ukrainian victory” (even if it takes nuclear war!) “will improve the world we live in.” In other words, risking nuclear war, with unimaginable suffering and death to humanity, is worth it to maintain the U.S. atop a world of exploitation and oppression.
An Outlook That Is the Product of and Serves an Empire of Exploitation and Oppression
Snyder’s “tyranny vs. democracy” framework is a variant of “anti-authoritarianism” that, particularly since the end of World War 2, has been invoked to blind people, particularly liberals, to the endless crimes of the U.S. empire.
Bob Avakian concludes a timely and essential article, Shameless American Chauvinism: “Anti-Authoritarianism” as a “Cover” for Supporting U.S. Imperialism, with this challenge:
For those of us who are not willing to be blinded by this, we can and must confront and analyze reality as it actually is, and draw the necessary conclusions. Besides the fact that the U.S. is today, and has historically been, allied with many “authoritarian” governments throughout the world (and, in fact, has forcibly installed such governments in many countries), the even more fundamental fact is that the essence of the conflict between the U.S. and countries like Russia and China is not one between “democracy” and “authoritarianism,” but is a matter of rivalry among imperialist powers, all of which are monstrous oppressors of masses of people, and none of which represent or act in the interests of humanity. What is called for, and urgently now, is to oppose all imperialist marauders and mass murderers, and all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation, while giving particular emphasis to opposing “our own” imperialist oppressors who commit their monstrous crimes “in our name” and seek to rally us to support them on the basis of a grotesque American chauvinism, which we must firmly reject and fiercely struggle against.
Timothy Snyder Falsely Equates Opposites: Communism and Fascism
In addition to acting as shameless shill for U.S. proxy war, Timothy Snyder is a prominent follower and promoter of the work of Hannah Arendt, the most celebrated exponent of “theory” of “totalitarianism,” which conflates communism and fascism. Snyder’s book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, is framed by this in the Prologue:
[T]he precedent set by the Founders [as Snyder rebrands the founding fathers: slaveowners, genocidal Indian-killers, for whom women had no rights at all!] demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century [emphasis added].
The revolutionary leader Bob Avakian (BA) has deeply and systematically exposed the attempt by “anti-totalitarians” to equate communism and fascism. The article Fascists and Communists: Completely Opposed and Worlds Apart, by BA begins:
Fascists stand for and are determined to intensify, to grotesque and hideous dimensions, every dimension of oppression and exploitation and all the horrors perpetrated by the system of capitalism-imperialism. Communists, and in particular the advocates of the new communism, are determined to put an end to all these horrors, and potentially even worse horrors, through the overthrow of the system of capitalism-imperialism and the abolition of all relations of exploitation and oppression, throughout the world.
That entire article is important reading, including for timely applicability in many dimensions.