Political subversion by foreign agents was a common topic in defence policy contexts during the Cold War. Supposedly the KGB was the great puppeteer behind every left wing opinion, group, financing, campaign - and in the event of WW3 leftist saboteurs and sleeper agents would sabotage us politically and our infrastructure, maybe even produce uprisings.
Much of that was bollocks, though the KGB no doubt attempted to become at least a fraction that effective in the West.
Yet WHY were such suspicions , allegations and accusations so widespread?
Aside from some lunatics I suppose they provided a very comfortable excuse for treating the political opponents (the left wingers) as illegitimate. This denial of legitimacy of the political opposition is extremely dangerous to democracy, of course. Democracy depends on the respect for disagreeing positions, and on the idea that elections have consequences - and both legal and legitimately so. The United States had for almost eight years a continuing crisis in this regard, since many whites seemed unwilling to accept hat a biracial man could possibly be a legitimate president.
These days we have a different situation in Europe (and as an even more recent development in the U.S.); the right wing is under suspicion of serving some puppeteer in Moscow. This is particularly visible in the German AfD, slightly so in Hungary, to some extent post-coup attempt in Erdogan and now also in Drumpf and his followers.
The story goes differently this time; supposedly Putin - a former KGB officer - reactivated old KGB expertise and is turning right wing populists and autocrats against the West, using distrust of the establishment as fault line in democracies and the EU's aversion to autocracy in Europe as fault line in authoritarian-ruled countries. I suppose this confuses many old Cold Warriors to no end.
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Well, how does such influence happen - if at all?
I suppose the part about autocrats is fairly obvious, but how do anti-establishment radicals attract the suspicion of being Moscow's puppets?
I suppose there's a substantial distrust in the establishment, and this isn't centred on the most poor people. It's the same story with European terrorists of the Cold War, pseudo-jihadists, racists and communism dreamers; the core of such groups aren't those who are at the bottom of society. The core are at least modestly educated people who fear to lose their relative standing in society.
There's an old anecdote that I remember well because I like it so much:
A father and his son watch a KKK rally and the father instructs his son to not look at the white hoods, but at the feet. The boy looks at the feet and sees cheap and worn-out shoes. The KKK asswipes weren't at the bottom of society (the blacks were), but they feared that -being relative losers- they would end there if blacks became emancipated. They fought against an end of segregation because segregation was probably the only thing that kept them from being at the bottom of society, and they feared this drop in standing.
The poorest of the poor - homeless, beggars, day labourers - have incited much less (if any) revolts and revolutions in history than people who feared dropping into (even) worse times or greedy wealthy people who envied the privileges of the status quo elites (such as merchants and master craftsmen revolting against nobility).
Enough of this detour. For whatever reason, many people mistrust the 'establishment', the most influential and best-of tiny share of the population that's under suspicion of being in control of our lives, rigging both political processes and the economy in their favour. This mistrust is then in search of an alternative ideology and alternative interpretations of events than what we get fed by establishment media.
Religious reformers / extremists offer one such alternative ideology, and with it the alternative interpretations. The so-called communists (Bolshevists) offered an alternative ideology, extend alternative interpretations and to some extent alternative mass media as well.
Putin no doubt is offering alternative ideology (masculinity/anti-feminism, "strong man" politics etc.), alternative interpretations (all too-often lies) and with RT and other outlets also alternative mass media sources (then multiplied by Western laymen with blogs and other publications) as well.
Let's just look a the case of the Crimea conflict.A conventional view on the conflict of Crimea would stress that Russia guaranteed Ukrainian sovereignty in the then-existing (Crimea = Ukrainian) borders and the annexation is doubtlessly an aggression. Russia exposed itself as untrustworthy and aggressive, and the way to go is to punish it with non-violent sanctions and to never recognize the annexation as legal or legitimate.
But that's the "establishment" view supposedly. There's another view, and I was quite astonished by how much of reality has to be ignored in order to believe it - and many people appear to believe it.In this other view the Crimea was never really Ukrainian because only an unjustified change of internal SSR borders in the USSR made it Ukrainian for the first time, early in the Cold War. The West (USA and EU) is the real aggressor against the Ukraine because it subsidised and incited a coup against the real government of the Ukraine with billions of dollars, including fascists in the coup mob. The people of Crimea didn't want to be Ukrainians and voted so overwhelmingly in a plebiscite that should really be taken seriously. They wanted to rejoin Russia because Ukraine is (after the "coup") the most corrupt country in Europe and "knowledgeable" people like Trump know this well, but the Western mainstream media will never tell anything about this.There's plenty wrong with this - Western meddling in the Ukraine was likely much softer than the Russian one, the Russian-backed president was ludicrously corrupt, Trump is basically a know-nothing because he has the attention span of a four year old boy and the plebiscite is irrelevant because it was under Russian control without neutral observers and had a suspiciously one-sided result.
The proper way to deal with the Crimea issue would have been to be honest about Crimea likely having a majority pro-Russian population, recognise the right to self-determination and ask the Ukraine to conduct fair and well-observed plebiscites to determine which districts want to secede and join Russia. This could and probably should have been a requirement for joining the EU (once that's a major topic at all), but we know all-too well that several EU countries (*cough* UK, France, Spain) would not go along with this.
In conclusion, there is an in itself somewhat conclusive alternative world view being offered, and whatever people are in search of an alternative to the status quo tend to be susceptible to this offer. The alternative view is so disruptive because it supposedly delegitimises our governments and splits our societies into believers of different "realities" (or reality and fiction, but most likely different fictions).
Now the typical "experts" claim that the West needs to get better at its propaganda to counter Russian propaganda, pseudo-jihadist propaganda et cetera. They want an active info war. I think that's primitive nonsense.
The answer to such alternative view ideology and propaganda is (if I am at least somewhat correct) not to get louder with the Western mainstream message. The answer is to allow Western non-mainstream messages that are not as harmful as other alternative views to gain more attention. Preferably some non-mainstream messages that remain tethered in reality most of the time and not focused on bigotry and other society-dividing nonsense.
Pseudo communist ideologies were effectively defeated by social democracy in the West, and I suppose the 700+ million people in the EU and North America can come up with modern alternatives as well. The greens and certain progressives won't do, for they drive the emancipation of minorities and women, which triggers aversions in a lot of embarrassingly insecure white men.