Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 23, 2004

Frank Smyth, Marc Cooper and Naomi Klein

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:19 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 23, 2004

Recently Naomi Klein wrote an article in the Nation Magazine (a US liberal publication dating back to the 1860s) that has angered some of the magazine’s other contributors. Written on the occasion of the Republican convention in NYC and titled “Bring Najaf to New York,” it states:

“Najaf is not just another Iraqi city; it is the city of the dead, where the cemeteries go on forever, a place so sacred that every devout Shiite dreams of being buried there. And Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers are not just another group of generic terrorists out to kill Americans; their opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq. Yes, if elected Sadr would try to turn Iraq into a theocracy like Iran, but for now his demands are for direct elections and an end to foreign occupation.”

full: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040913&s=klein

This prompted Marc Cooper to write a nasty attack on his blog (www.marccooper.com), which concludes that Klein’s “column is a forthright apology for the religio-fascist militias of Muqtada Al Sadr. Indeed, it’s damn near a call for the peace movement to join in solidarity with his Mahdi Army.” He also says that there is “no evidence” whatsoever that the militia represents “mainstream sentiment” in Iraq.

I reminded Cooper that the May 20 Financial Times reported the following: “An Iraqi poll to be released next week shows a surge in the popularity of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical young Shia cleric fighting coalition forces, and suggests nearly nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers and not liberators or peacekeepers.” The FT adds, “Respondents saw Mr Sadr as Iraq’s second most influential figure after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most senior Shia cleric.”

(I should mention, by the way, that Cooper has refused to allow any of my comments–at least written under my own name–to be posted to his widely read blog after the FT item was posted. I am under the distinct impression that high-profile liberal journalists such as Cooper, Alterman, Doug Ireland and others have recently begun publishing blogs because they perceive the Internet as an important venue. What they are not comfortable with is the give-and-take of listservs such as PEN-L or Marxmail. A blog allows them to have their cake and eat it too.)

While Cooper’s piece is little more than an incoherent rant, you get a much more polished version of the same self-serving nonsense from Frank Smyth on the Foreign Policy in Focus website (http://www.fpif.org/papers/0409progiraq.html). Titled “Who Are the Progressives in Iraq? The Left, the Right, and the Islamists,” it broadens the attack on Klein to include Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” radio show. All are tarred with the brush most favored by left-liberals–an alleged link to the ANSWER coalition led by Ramsey Clark:

“Unfortunately the knee-jerk, anti-imperialist analysis of groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R. has wormed its way into several progressive outlets. Dispatches and columns in The Nation as well as reports and commentary on the independently syndicated radio program ‘Democracy Now’ have all but ignored the role of Iraqi progressives while highlighting, if not championing, the various factions of the Iraqi-based resistance against the U.S.-led occupation without bothering to ask who these groups are and what they represent for Iraqis.”

Basically, Smyth views the armed resistance as a mixture of evil ex-Baathists and Shia fanatics led by the woman and gay hating Muqtada al-Sadr. He writes:

“Others like The Nation’s Naomi Klein, meanwhile, seem to have naively fallen for the al-Mahdi militia that recently fought U.S. Marines in Najaf. The al-Mahdi militia is a loosely organized Shiite opposition group led by Muqtada al-Sadr. He is a young man who inherited his role after his father and two brothers were murdered by Saddam. Lacking either the maturity or training of a senior cleric, al-Sadr has tried to lure supporters from more-respected Shiite clerics by promoting militant enforcement of the most fundamental tenets of Shiite Islam, including the explicit repression of gays and women.”

Without denying for one instant that al-Sadr has some really backward ideas on gays and women, he does have the right idea about the US occupiers. He has said, “I appeal to the fighters and mujahedeen in Karbala to stand together so as none of our holy sites and cities are defiled. We are prepared for any American escalation and we expect one…Let remind you of Vietnam. We are an Iraqi people that has faith in God, and his prophet and his family. The means of victory that are available to us are much more than what the Vietnamese had. And, God willing, we shall be victorious.”

Against these gun-toting and women-hating fanatics who would certainly never be invited on a Nation Magazine Caribbean cruise, Smyth much prefers the Communist Party of Iraq which is supposedly hostile to American interests. In voting for the quisling Iraqi National Council, the CP came in second with 55 votes.

Actually, Klein’s got it right. Despite her autonomist leanings, she understands–perhaps instinctively–that the state is composed of bodies of armed men as Lenin put it in “State and Revolution.” Mao said something similar when he said that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

For left-liberal intellectuals in the USA like Smyth and Cooper who are susceptible to Democratic Party pressures, it is clearly inadequate to come out and defend the DP party line on the need to stay the course in Iraq. This smacks too much of Christopher Hitchens even if there really is no substantial difference between Hitchens and the liberal intelligentsia on the right of the USA to determine events on the ground in Iraq.

So the “communists” in Iraq become a surrogate for their own pro-imperialist politics. The argument goes: if the commies work with the PGA, how bad can it be? Figuratively speaking, wrapping an M-16 in a hammer-and-sickle banner might make it acceptable to some.

Smyth and Cooper are self-styled Latin Americanists. In the first case, you are dealing with somebody who wrote about the FMLN in El Salvador for the Nation Magazine with a degree of sympathy, while Cooper held down a job as a translator for Allende in Chile.

Perhaps lack of familiarity with Iraqi history might lead one to adopt a more benign view of the CP than what is reasonable given its tendency to temporize with bourgeois governments. Although Smyth makes a big deal out of the fact that Saddam Hussein terrorized the CP, the party had no trouble working out deals with Batista in Cuba. At its congress in 1939 the Cuban Communists promised to “adopt a more positive attitude towards Colonel Batista”. Batista was no longer “…the focal point of reaction; but the focal point of democracy”. (New York Daily Worker, October 1, 1939).

The Comintern stated in its journal: “Batista…no longer represents the center of reaction…the people who are working for the overthrow of Batista are no longer acting in the interests of the Cuban people.” (World News and Views, No 60 1938). Historian Hugh Thomas once commented that the Catholic laity had more conflicts with Batista’s dictatorship than the Cuban Communists did.

Meanwhile, the CP in Chile was also no slouch when it came to prettifying Uncle Sam. In 1938, Carlos Contrera Labarca, the General Secretary of the Chilean Communist Party explained to the workers of Chile why US investment was good for the country:

“As for foreign capital invested in Chile, the people have always respected and always will respect the provisions of the political Constitution of the state which guarantee the property of foreign capital and, in general, of all capital, requiring at the same time that the capitalists, national and foreign, respect them on their side. The people have never ceased to recognize the need for the cooperation of foreign capital and are still disposed to solicit that cooperation in the future, if the national interest requires it.”

Sounds exactly like the sort of thing that would endear the CP of Iraq to someone like Paul Bremer. It is also exactly the sort of thing that Naomi Klein has condemned:

The reconstruction of Iraq has emerged as a vast protectionist racket, a neocon New Deal that transfers limitless public funds –in contracts, loans and insurance–to private firms, and even gets rid of the foreign competition to boot, under the guise of “national security.” Ironically, these firms are being handed this corporate welfare so they can take full advantage of CPA-imposed laws that systematically strip Iraqi industry of all its protections, from import tariffs to limits on foreign ownership. Michael Fleisher, head of private-sector development for the CPA, recently explained to a group of Iraqi businesspeople why these protections had to be removed. “Protected businesses never, never become competitive,” he said. Quick, somebody tell OPIC and Paul Wolfowitz.

Full: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040105&c=4&s=klein

My suspicion is that it is this sort of outcry against the foreign economic domination of Iraq that has Smyth and Cooper upset, rather than her supposed adaptation to Islamic radicalism.

In any case, the fight of the Iraqi resistance to foreign occupation is progressive in and of itself whatever the failures of the largely religious based leadership to live up to Western liberal expectations. While nobody will ever mistake the Mahdi army for the NLF in Vietnam, there is one thing that Vietnam and Iraq have in common. They are battlegrounds whose outcome will determine whether the USA will be able to dominate the rest of the world with ease or difficulty. We hope that it will be as difficult as possible. A victory over the Iraqi resistance will serve as a beachhead for further control over the Arab world and its oil resources and geopolitical assets. The imperialist mouthpieces such as Thomas Friedman understand this completely, even it is lost on some of our left-liberal friends.

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