Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 1, 2012

Public opinion polls and the left

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis,press,psychology — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

On December 12th the Gallup Poll issued a press release about their latest findings: fear of “big government” was at a near record level. And even more strikingly, Democratic voters represented the largest uptick since the last poll was taken. In 2009 32% of Democrats told Gallup that they were afraid of big government, now the number is 48%. As might be expected, conservative pundits embraced these findings as proof that the country was tired of Obama, tired of liberalism, tired of socialism, etc. David Brooks, the oleaginous NY Times op-ed contributor, wrote:

The members of the Obama administration have many fine talents, but making adept historical analogies may not be among them.

When the administration came to office in the depths of the financial crisis, many of its leading figures concluded that the moment was analogous to the Great Depression. They read books about the New Deal and sought to learn from F.D.R.

But, in the 1930s, people genuinely looked to government to ease their fears and restore their confidence. Today, Americans are more likely to fear government than be reassured by it.

According to a Gallup survey, 64 percent of Americans polled said they believed that big government is the biggest threat to the country. Only 26 percent believed that big business is the biggest threat. As a result, the public has reacted to Obama’s activism with fear and anxiety. The Democrats lost 63 House seats in the 2010 elections.

My first reaction to all this was to laugh at the idea of using a pejorative term like “big government” in a poll. This of course is the commonly used buzzword of Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the talk radio right. Like a bell being sounded with Pavlov’s dogs, who would not salivate?

Even more laughable is the idea of getting a clear idea of what the term means to different people being polled. For example, one of the hallmarks of “big government” are entitlement programs such as social security. But according to a Lake Research Partners poll taken in November 2010, 67% of all Americans oppose cutting Social Security to help make the government more solvent with 51 percent of Tea Party supporters being opposed.

A few days later those of us who were disheartened by the findings might have been convinced to come down off the ledge after hearing from Pew Research that young people are more positive about “socialism” — and more negative about “capitalism” — than are older Americans.

My first reaction to this was to wonder what young people think of when they hear the word socialism. Back in the 1960s, when I used to sell subscriptions to the Militant newspaper door-to-door in college dormitories, my opening pitch for a “socialist newsweekly” elicited more often than not the query “you mean like in Sweden or Israel?” That in fact is what the word meant to most young people. I guess we could have called the newspaper “communist” to avoid confusion in the same manner that the SWP eventually began to refer to itself but wiser heads back then understood that the choice of such a word would have resulted in the incredible shrinking party, something that its Wise Leader evidently intended.

Polling dominates the political sphere since it serves as entrails for those of us with a soothsaying bent. Back in the 60s SWP members would fixate on every poll taken about the Vietnam War, looking at the numbers as closely as a physician looking at a patient’s chart. Part of the problem in interpreting such numbers is that the question attached to them was often phrased in such a manner as to undercut the antiwar movement. While not quite using the words “Do you favor a precipitous withdrawal in order to guarantee a communist victory that will lead to gulags in Indiana”, they often were nearly as bad.

David Moore was a vice-president of Gallup for 13 years and knows the tricks of the trade. In 2008 the leftwing Beacon Press published his “The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth Behind the Polls”, the first chapter of which can be read on their website. As it deals with the war in Iraq, it has many of the same lessons I learned about polling during the Vietnam War. Moore writes about an experiment he conducted with a fellow Gallup professional about the way that the polls were being used to create a war hysteria:

In the February 2003 poll, we asked a standard version of the question that all the other pollsters asked, “Would you favor or oppose sending American ground troops to the Persian Gulf in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?” And like the other polls, we found a substantial majority in favor of the war—59 percent to 38 percent, a 21-point margin. Only 3 percent said they did not have an opinion. We followed up that question with another, which essentially asked if people really cared that their opinion might prevail. And the results here revealed a very different public.

To people who said they favored the war, we asked if they would be upset if the government did not send troops to Iraq. And to people who opposed the war, we asked if they would be upset if the government did send troops. More than half of the supposed supporters and a fifth of the opponents said they would not be upset if their opinions were ignored. The net result is that 29 percent of Americans actually supported the war and said they would be upset if it didn’t come about, whereas 30 percent were opposed to the war and said they would be upset if it did occur. An additional 38 percent, who had expressed an opinion either for or against the proposed invasion, said they would not be upset if the government did the opposite of what they had just favored. Add to this number the 3 percent who initially expressed no opinion, and that makes 41 percent who didn’t care one way or the other.

These results from the follow-up question reveal the absurdity of much public opinion polling. A democracy is supposed to represent, or at least take into account, the “will” of the people, not the uncaring, unreflective, top-of-mind responses many people give to pollsters. If people don’t care that the views they tell pollsters are ignored by their political leaders, then it hardly makes sense for pollsters to treat such responses as the Holy Grail. Yet, typically we do, making no distinction between those who express deeply held views and those who have hardly, if at all, thought about an issue.

Maybe it is because of my unrepentant nature, I have stopped paying attention much to polls ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ascendancy of Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis. Frankly, I could care less if I was the last person in America who thought that the capitalist system was insane. My inspiration would remain Henry David Thoreau who when jailed for refusing to pay taxes that would have supported a war with Mexico was visited by Ralph Waldo Emerson who asked him what he was doing in there. Thoreau’s reply: “And what are you doing out there?”

It has taken two decades but a good portion of America has come to conclusions similar to my own, especially the young people who braved cold weather, discomfort and police brutality to demonstrate their opposition to the One Percent. They had the good sense to occupy Zuccotti not on the basis that a Gallup Poll thought it would be a good idea but because social justice demanded it. And once they started raising hell, the poll numbers reflected sympathy for their action.

In an article titled “Polling Prejudice” in the American Prospect, Taeku Lee wrote:

Some of the earliest public-opinion polls in the 1940s found that an overwhelming majority (about two-thirds) of whites were willing to support segregated schools. By the mid-1990s (the last time questions on school segregation were asked), only one out of every 25 whites held to the same view. Similarly, on interracial couples, polls from the late-1950s and early-1960s found nearly universal disapproval among white Americans; by the 1990s, only a small fraction of whites favored anti-miscegenation laws and a majority actively indicated their support of interracial marriages. Over an even shorter time period, the prevalence of invidious stereotypes of African Americans as less intelligent and less industrious than whites declined between the early-1990s and the mid-2000s.

What do you suppose accounts for the declining poll numbers for racism? Isn’t it obvious that the bold and determined action of civil rights activists is key? Like the OWS, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other groups threw caution to the wind and went into the belly of the beast to confront Jim Crow. Their actions galvanized public opinion and made it inevitable for voting rights and desegregation to prevail.

In order to challenge the capitalist system, we have to assume that we are swimming against the stream. With a superstructure controlled by the rich, “public opinion” will inevitably reflect that of the dominant class as Marx wrote in the German Ideology:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.

However, when the “dominant material relationships” begin to fail, more and more people will be open to alternative ideas about the social order.  That time has arrived. With support for the political classes in Washington at an all-time low, this is an invitation for us to raise all kinds of hell. And when Gallup reports that such support continues to slide, you can bet that I will take them at their word.

October 17, 2010

Revolutionary politics and social networking

Filed under: media,press,revolutionary organizing,socialism,technology — louisproyect @ 11:19 pm

In a recent issue of the New Yorker Magazine, Malcolm Gladwell found fault with activism based on Twitter and Facebook. Titled Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, it draws a contrast between the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s and more recent protests that rely heavily on social networking.

Ironically, one of the iconic images of this period was a Woolworth’s sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi on May 28, 1963 with a young Native American professor named John Salter sitting next to Black civil rights activists being assaulted by racists:

Salter describes the incident thusly:

This was the most violently attacked sit-in during the 1960s and is the most publicized. A huge mob gathered, with open police support while the three of us sat there for three hours. I was attacked with fists, brass knuckles and the broken portions of glass sugar containers, and was burned with cigarettes. I’m covered with blood and we were all covered by salt, sugar, mustard, and various other things.

John Salter goes by the name Hunter Gray nowadays. Now I don’t know if Hunter uses Twitter or Facebook, but I do know him as an enthusiastic user of Internet resources from his authoritative website http://www.hunterbear.org/ to his participation on Marxmail, a listserv I launched in 1998. Hunter also moderates at least two listservs himself, not worrying about whether this passes muster with Malcolm Gladwell.

It does seem a bit out of character for the New Yorker Magazine to be dispensing advice about how to build any kind of mass radical movement. In the 1950s the magazine published Rachel Carson’s articles on DDT. In 1969, it published an article by Daniel Lang that documented American atrocities in Vietnam. But after Si Newhouse took it over, the magazine became less liberal and began catering more to the yuppie tastes of a targeted market of hedge fund managers and real estate brokers. The best analysis of the magazine’s decline (although it has prospered commercially) came from Daniel Lazare in the Nation Magazine, where he wrote:

How does a magazine bring itself to such a pass? The process probably began when Tina Brown took over in 1992. Politically, Brown wasn’t left wing or right wing so much as no wing. She fawned over Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Vanity Fair and then, a dozen years later, fawned over Bill Clinton in The New Yorker (“his height, his sleekness, his newly cropped, iron-filing hair, and the intensity of his blue eyes…”). While publishing the occasional exposé, such as Mark Danner’s memorable “Massacre at El Mozote,” she was more concerned with putting the magazine in the swim.

Gladwell is fairly typical of the new New Yorker. Wiki reports:

Gladwell began his career at The American Spectator, a conservative monthly.[10] He subsequently wrote for Insight on the News, a conservative magazine owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, before joining The Washington Post as a business writer in 1987.[11]

His most recent book, titled Outliers, tries to account for peoples’ success. We learn that Bill Gates became fabulously wealthy because he was fortunate enough to be sent to a high school that had computers. The fact that his father was a wealthy corporate lawyer matters less to Gladwell, who sees capitalist society as a kind of crapshoot. Of course, apologists for that society will always try to explain why some are losers and some are winners. Needless to say, the apologists themselves never have to worry much about where their next meal is coming from.

Before turning to Gladwell’s arguments about Twitter and Facebook, I want to offer my own reflections on the Internet as a way of uniting and strengthening the left. My own doubts about social networking software has more to do with their corporate nature. Anybody who has seen “The Social Network” or reads the left media online knows that Facebook’s founder is a complete scumbag who is not above censoring Facebook pages that he objects to. Look for Karl Friedrich’s comments under my review of David Fincher’s movie for more information on this.

About a year after I began working at Columbia University in 1990, I noticed an email announcement two or three times a week courtesy of the IBM Listserv system that the university’s mainframe supported. You could join a “mailing list” that would be devoted to southern quilts or model railroads, for example. Eventually I asked the email administrator who worked in a nearby cubicle what this was all about. Ah, he told me, that’s the Internet.

After he showed me how to get a listing of all the mailing lists that were based on IBM’s email software, I reviewed them carefully to see if any would be up my alley. It turned out that the Progressive Economists Network (PEN-L) would be my first mailing list. As someone who has been subbed to PEN-L from 1992, it must be emphasized that I have had a relationship to it for 18 years now—7 years longer than my stint in the Trotskyist movement. Of course, the relationship to the SWP was far more intense but also far more destructive. Gladwell would describe my relationship to PEN-L as a “weak tie”:

The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this [the civil rights movement] at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.

About a year after I subbed to PEN-L, I found myself in an intense debate about market socialism and Mondragon. A Columbia University sociology professor named John Hartman sent me some reading recommendations on Mondragon offlist that led to a friendship in real as opposed to virtual space. He made an observation once that has stuck with me over the years. He said that PEN-L was made to order for some 60s radical who went to graduate school and got a job as an economics professor in someplace like East Jesus, Nebraska. Without a soul to exchange ideas with at work, PEN-L becomes a crucial way to stay in touch with likeminded souls.

It was obviously the way that Hunter Gray saw the Internet. As a retired professor and longtime activist, it seemed to make perfect sense to launch a website and look for kindred spirits in mailing lists.

In 1994 or so, I learned of a new mailing list that was even more relevant to my background than PEN-L. Something called the Spoons Collective had started up a Marxist list that would complement their postmodernist/cultural mailing lists. They reasoned that since so many people like Bataille and Foucault referred to Marx, it would make sense to add a list on Marx. That was not quite the way I saw his importance, but was happy to subscribe to a list that would at least allow me to define things the way I saw fit.

That list turned out to be deeply problematic since the Spoons Collective was opposed to moderation on principle. It became permanent trench warfare between insanely sectarian Maoists and Trotskyists until I decided enough was enough and launched Marxmail. After seeing the wasted bandwidth on the original list, I stated that the new list would dispense with the Stalin/Trotsky debate. It began with 60 subscribers in 1998, largely defectors from the old Marxism list, and now has nearly 1300 subscribers from every quarter of the world.

I have never seen the list in terms of social networking and even resisted efforts to see it as a kind of nucleus of a revolutionary party. My good friend the late Mark Jones, who tended to the manic on occasion, was always writing about the need to “start something”, which in his eyes meant calling together a conference of Marxmail subscribers somewhere to declare a new international or something.

I had a different take on things than Mark. I saw Marxmail as performing something of the same role as Iskra in the early 1900s. Lenin thought a newspaper was necessary to tie Russian socialists together so as to facilitate debate. Of course, that debate was integrated with the need to build a party—something that does not make sense in terms of the “weak ties” Gladwell refers to. On the other hand, given the debacle of the Soviet Union and the collapse of organized Marxism nearly everywhere, Marxmail had a big job on its hands trying to figure out what “went wrong” and what was needed in the future.

Gladwell, never at a loss for an opinion, tries to draw a contrast between organizing based on social networking software and traditional organizing in terms of networks versus hierarchies:

This is the second crucial distinction between traditional activism and its online variant: social media are not about this kind of hierarchical organization. Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose.

I found this distinction intriguing. Back in 1982 when Peter Camejo launched the North Star Network, I found the idea of a network compelling. Not only was it a departure from the hierarchical structure of the SWP, it was also the model for the kind of database I had just begun to work on. I had started out working on IMS databases, a proprietary IBM product, a few years earlier but switched to IDMS, a competing product based on the CODASYL, or network model. The industry considered IDMS a much more useful database because it was able to mirror business realities more accurately. There are many instances when there is no “top” or “bottom” that the IMS database was modeled on. And, as far as I was concerned, the last thing the left needed in 1982 was an organization based on a pyramid. I had had my fill of that.

Gladwell tends to shoehorn reality into this schema. It is particularly glaring when he discusses the P.L.O.:

The Palestine Liberation Organization originated as a network, and the international-relations scholars Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Calvert Jones argue in a recent essay in International Security that this is why it ran into such trouble as it grew: “Structural features typical of networks—the absence of central authority, the unchecked autonomy of rival groups, and the inability to arbitrate quarrels through formal mechanisms—made the P.L.O. excessively vulnerable to outside manipulation and internal strife.”

This bit of pedantry obscures the real problem that the P.L.O. faced. It was not doomed because it adopted a network model but because the Arab bourgeoisie decided it was expendable. Since Gladwell is a good buddy of ex-New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who is a past master of obfuscating Mideast realties, I am not surprised that Gladwell follows suit.

I doubt that most people using Facebook or Twitter to publicize one struggle or another view these products as a substitute for traditional organizing. Gladwell simply does not get why they are resorting to such technologies. As A.J. Liebling once said, freedom of the press belongs to those who can buy one. In an age of growing corporate control and monopolization, the Internet provides an alternative to the ruling class’s political agenda.

The Internet has as revolutionary a potential as the Gutenberg press had in the 1600s. Back then a press could be used to churn out tracts that the Protestant rebels could use against the Catholic Church and its allies in the feudal estates. A peasant was no longer at the mercy of the clerical scribes who were the only ones who could turn out printed material approved by the Establishment.

That’s the position we are in today. We no longer are at the mercy of a crappy magazine like The New Yorker that propagandized relentlessly for the war in Iraq. Through the Internet we can spread the word without relying on the high priesthood of the corporate media, like Malcolm Gladwell, Jeffrey Goldberg, Thomas Friedman or Bob Woodward. That, I think, is what disturbs Gladwell more than anything even if he doesn’t admit it.

In my final post in this series, I will discuss social networking, focusing more on the personal rather than political relationships, and the Facebook phenomenon in particular.

December 10, 2008

Marc Cooper: a true Annenbergian

Filed under: cuba,press,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 9:16 pm

Walter Annenberg: after Rupert Murdoch bought the TV Guide from him, it became more liberal

When the ultraright was pursuing a guilt by association attack on Obama for serving on the same board of directors as “terrorist” Bill Ayers, his supporters pointed out that it was the late Walter Annenberg who launched the nonprofit dedicated to improving public schools upon whose board they served. Since Annenberg was Richard Nixon’s Ambassador to Great Britain as well as a close friend of Ronald Reagan, how could anybody accuse Ayers or Obama of being some kind of dangerous radical? Considering the assault on public education that the Republican Party right has led since the early 1970s, it might seem a bit of contradiction for Annenberg to be lavishing his millions on such a project. Of course, if your goal is to eliminate state funding of public schools and replace them with a “thousand points of light” type charities, then Annenberg’s largesse begins to make sense.

Annenberg became one of America’s top philanthropists in the 1980s, using the profits of an ill-gotten media empire to finance a host of “do gooder” projects. There is obviously a long tradition of unsavory capitalists trying to burnish their reputation through such deeds, the most famous example being Andrew Carnegie. If the board of directors of Carnegie-Mellon Institute or Carnegie Hall ever thought much about their institutions being financed by the blood money drained from the dead bodies of steelworkers, they probably would have never ended up on such a board to begin with. Nominations to such boards are carefully vetted to make sure that the candidates are carefully trained in the core values of the capitalist system, evidence of which is most manifest in the inclusion of solid citizens like Bill Ayers and Barack Obama.

Like many other members of the American ruling class, Walter Annenberg was born rich. His father Moses “Moe” Annenberg published the Daily Racing Form, just what one might expect from a career criminal who worked as a circulation manager for William Randolph Hearst. In the circulation wars of the early 20th century, Moe and his henchmen used “robber baron” type tactics. Newsboys were beaten, newsstands torched, and delivery vans overturned if they were identified as working for Hearst’s competition. Moe Annenberg was convicted of tax evasion in 1939 and his son, now a company VP, was indicted on charges of “aiding and abetting.” In a deal struck with prosecutors, Walter’s charges were dropped in exchange for his father’s guilty plea.

Moe Annenberg died a few weeks after being released from prison and Walter Annenberg took over the family business, which now included two Philadelphia dailies, the Inquirer and the Daily News. The Philadelphia Daily News distinguished itself by boosting the career of Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, an out and out racist who eventually became mayor. Rizzo’s cops carried out a raid on the Black Panther Party on August 31, 1970 that included a strip search of the arrested men, a picture of which ran on the Philadelphia Daily News front page the next day and that was then circulated around the world.

The Philadelphia Inquirer was not much better. In 1966, Annenberg used the paper as a cudgel against Democrat Milton Shapp, who was running for governor. Shapp made the mistake of opposing a merger of the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad, a corporation that counted Walter Annenberg as the largest individual stockholder. Annenberg had one of his reporters ask Shapp at a press conference if he had ever been a patient in a mental hospital. Since he had not, he simply replied “no”. A day later, a front page Inquirer headline screamed: “Shapp Denies Mental Institution Stay.” Shapp lost the election largely because of this smear.

While TV Guide, a property that Annenberg acquired in 1952, might seem to be last place to serve as a rightwing outlet, he used it to rail against the liberal media culture. This led Jack Shafer, author of a 2002 Slate obit titled “Citizen Annenberg: So long, you rotten bastard” to opine that “TV Guide may be the only publication to become more liberal after Rupert Murdoch purchased it.”

Shafer describes Annenberg’s retirement years as follows:

President Richard Nixon rewarded Annenberg for his anti-communism and pro-Vietnam-War views by appointing him ambassador to Great Britain, where he attacked U.S. student radicals in his first speech. Ambassador Annenberg, as he thereafter preferred to be called, returned to the States and expanded both his media properties and burgeoning art collection. He also entertained the flow of human sewage that visited him at his own Xanadu, a mansion set on 250 acres (complete with its own golf course) in Palm Springs. There at “Sunnylands,” he hosted the disgraced Nixon (“Life is 99 rounds,” he told Dick), the detestable Frank Sinatra, and offered refuge for his political soul mate, the shah of Iran. Talk about guilt by association.

Among the institutions that have been the benefactors of Annenberg’s deep wallet is the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication, reflecting its founder’s ostensible commitment to the mass media.

Marc Cooper: on the side of American interests in Cuba and Venezuela

Among the faculty is Marc Cooper, who, like Bill Ayers, can be described as a chastened 1960s radical. One has no idea how Cooper comports himself in the classroom, but his public utterances on Latin America can certainly be described as Annenbergian. For quite some time now, Cooper has carried out a campaign against Cuba and Venezuela in print and electronic publications that can scarcely be distinguished from what you would read in the mainstream media. When actor Sean Penn had the temerity to write about his trip to Cuba in the pages of the Nation Magazine, Cooper fulminated on his blog: “But now Penn pops up giving his own tongue bath to Raul — complete with poems and everything.”

Considering the fact that Cooper suffered a massive heart attack in 2007, he might be well-advised to shun articles that have the capacity to make him so upset. Since I am forced to read 100 anti-Cuba articles (including an interminable piece by Roger Cohen in the Sunday NY Times Magazine section) in American newspapers for every one praising Cuba, I should be under much more stress than him. Of course, I make sure to stay away from 3rd dessert helpings.

Using his credentials as a veteran journalist, Cooper focuses his attack on media censorship in Cuba and Venezuela. It does not matter to him that much if poor people have access to education, health care and a home for the first time in their lives if the freedom of Venezuelan TV stations that participated in a coup attempt against the elected president is threatened. After all, the rights of the Venezuelan Annenbergs are much more important than those of the slum dwellers.

Cooper’s latest rant against his radical neighbors to the south can be found on the Mother Jones website, where he takes up the cause of a blogger who has run afoul of the Cuban authorities.

It seems that the Cubans are always curtailing the rights of writers who feel compelled in some way to cooperate with the country that has tried on and off for nearly a half-century to violently overthrow its government. Try and put yourself in the shoes of a Cuban leader. You have just seen the United States allow Luis Posada Carriles, a man convicted of blowing up a civilian airliner filled with your countryman, to go free. As a mental exercise, let us imagine that a Cuban national who blew up a TWA airliner in 1976 (a real stretch since the Cubans are opposed to terrorism) is allowed to go free once he is back in Cuba.

As another stretch of the imagination, let’s say that the Cubans are allowed to continue operating a quasi-embassy in the U.S. where American writers hostile to capitalism go for weekly visits to get political directions and buckets of money. How long would it take for the U.S. to crack down? In the real world, such comparisons do not obtain because the U.S.’s GDP is a thousand times larger than that of Cuba’s. When there is such a mismatch in military and economic power, naturally the bigger country can bully the smaller country. Apparently Marc Cooper enjoys making the case for bullies, just as another one-time Nation Magazine (to their credit, the Nation has found little motivation in publishing Cooper lately) contributor Christopher Hitchens does.

For Cooper, Cuba and Venezuela serve as some kind of evil twin example of socialism that is always compared unfavorably to its good twin brother-Salvador Allende’s Chile. The fact that Allende was very friendly with Fidel Castro has never bothered Cooper who is as adept at cherry-picking facts as Judith Miller.

Another fact that Cooper cannot be bothered with is Allende’s crackdown on the imperialist-backed media that in its day was exploited by enemies of the Chilean experiment just as Cooper is doing today. According to Ralph McGehee, former CIA agent, the CIA literally purchased Chile’s largest newspaper, El Mercurio, and turned a paper once considered the “New York Times” of Latin America into a screaming scandal sheet in the Philadelphia Daily News mold. El Mercurio’s radio stations also attacked Allende daily.

Instead of tolerating these attacks in the meretricious spirit of “free speech” and “democracy” that Cooper wants to foist on Cuba and Venezuela, Allende–to his credit–took action. When he did, Juan de Onis, who played the same role with respect to Chile that people like Juan Forero and Marc Cooper play today with respect to Venezuela, raised a stink in the N.Y. Times. In an article titled “Chile Suspends a Radio Station” that took up the cause of the poor, repressed Christian Democratic Party, de Onis helped the CIA make its case. As a defender of freedom of the press and democracy just as vigilant as Marc Cooper today, de Onis called attention to Radio Balmaceda being shut down and how the legal powers of Allende to act against hostile newspapers and radio stations were being expanded. De Onis pointed to the harassment of El Mercurio, whose offices were being visited on almost a daily basis by tax inspectors. El Mercurio and other anti-government newspapers were on a campaign against Allende, who had declared his intentions to nationalize the major private manufacturer of newsprint, a sure sign that the country was on the road to a totalitarian dictatorship of the kind that the Castro brothers were running in Cuba.

If Allende is to be faulted for anything, it is not being repressive enough. When your country is being subverted by the CIA, Henry Kissinger, ITT and the Chilean bourgeoisie, it is in the interests of democracy and human rights to stamp out counter-revolutionary newspapers. Indeed, the sad and inescapable conclusion one must draw from Cooper’s incessant attacks on Cuba and Venezuela is that he hopes that they will suffer the same fate as Allende’s Chile. When Cooper was younger and less established in his profession, he would have understood what a tragedy that would be. Now that he is older and a faculty member at a prestigious California university, he could care less-an example once again of the primacy of class.

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