Yesterday I was informed that Edward Herman and David Peterson had responded a few months ago to my February 20, 2010 article titled The Latest Idiocy from Edward S. Herman and David Peterson.
There was a time when I would have paid closer attention to what the two had to say but have tuned them out because of their repetitiveness and prolixity. Basically, their methodology is the same one used by Michel Chossudovsky, MRZine, and some bloggers who have learned to put a minus where the U.S. State Department puts a plus as Leon Trotsky commented:
In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.
A few words about these two would probably be in order. Herman is an 85-year-old Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, something that amounted to a kind of day job I guess. (His first book was Principles And Practices Of Money And Banking.) He is best known for co-authoring “Manufacturing Consent” with Noam Chomsky. Unlike Chomsky—an anarchist—Herman has never written anything that amounts to a program for revolutionary change. His main preoccupation is with the propaganda system that American imperialism uses to make war on its enemies.
Somewhere along the line Herman hooked up with someone named David Peterson, who is a lot younger from what I can gather. About all I know about him is that he describes himself as an independent journalist based in Chicago. My guess is that he has never been involved with socialist politics. And if he has, the tracks are well covered.
As I said, the two are never at a loss for words. Their reply to me is contained in the third part of a 33,000 word article titled Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System: How the Left Climbed Aboard the Establishment’s Bandwagon in obvious defiance of the stricture that brevity is the soul of wit.
After fortifying myself with a second cup of extra-strong coffee, I waded into their 3-part article to see what had motivated them to write such a tome. I suspect that they are incapable of writing fewer than 20,000 words but I am not sufficiently motivated to do the necessary research to verify this.
The main thrust of their article is to demonstrate that the U.S. has a double standard when it comes to Iran and Honduras.
The Honduran military executed its coup d’état against President Zelaya only 16 days after the presidential election in Iran, in the middle of a tsunami of U.S. and Western media coverage of Iran’s election and its aftermath, which saw the opposition’s claims of vote fraud5 spark massive public demonstrations against both the official results and Iran’s clerical regime itself, and also saw large and sustained expressions of solidarity with Iran’s “democratic movement” dominating the metropolitan centers of the West. Yet, when the coup in Honduras took place against its democratically-elected and populist president, nothing comparable was to be observed in U.S. and Western media interest in this event and its aftermath, much less in public displays of solidarity on behalf of Honduras’ ousted president and its anti-coup protestors.
They liken Iran’s most recent election to the ones that took place in Nicaragua in the 1980s, equating a demonized Ahmadinejad to a demonized Daniel Ortega. As someone who was part of a delegation in Nicaragua to observe the election of 1984, I wonder where the authors get the audacity to compare the two. In Iran the election was between two candidates who had been sanctioned by the Guardian Council, a small group of clerics that operate independently of the will of the people. Furthermore, in Iran there is no freedom for political groups or newspapers that would challenge the right of clerics to set the terms of democracy. Imagine if people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell had the ultimate say on who could run for office in the U.S.A. And if you had started a socialist newspaper, you risked imprisonment or death. These are the brutal realities behind Iran’s electoral system that could barely interest Herman and Peterson. Perhaps if questions of class interested them a bit more, they would be a bit more sensitive to them.
When they get down to brass tacks in part three, they group me with Joanne Landy and Danny Postel, two individuals who would be shocked to discover me as a bedfellow. Landy was a member of the Council of Foreign Relations at one point, and used to attend events with Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Just my kind of folks. I won’t say anything much about Postel except to take note that he orients to the Iranian liberal intelligentsia while I am close to Marxist bloggers. I guess it is all the same to the nearsighted anti-imperialists Herman and Peterson.
To start off, the two intrepid anti-imperialist sleuths misunderstimate me, as George W. Bush would say: “As the U.S. wars of the post-Soviet era caused a peeling-off of leftist after leftist, the Marxmail administrator and blogger Louis Proyect resisted, remaining staunchly anti-imperialist.” Sorry, comrades, I am not just an “anti-imperialist”. I am an anti-capitalist, and—with all due respect to people like Naomi Klein–I am not just an anti-capitalist. I am an unrepentant Marxist. This means that while I am willing to take the side of Iran on the question of opposing sanctions and supporting its right to develop nuclear power (and arms, for that matter), I will not back any government that jails and tortures bus drivers for trying to start a union. Maybe Edward Herman got the idea when teaching finance at Wharton that it is sometimes necessary to keep labor costs down when raising capital for a bond issue but that is alien to me. It is all the more alien when trade unionists in Egypt and Wisconsin are fighting for their own rights as well. Don’t Iranian workers also have such a right? Or does that matter to people like Herman and Peterson who only understand the conflicts between states and not those between classes?
Apparently, I violated my oath to the anti-imperialist cause when “the eruption of election-related turmoil struck Iran in June 2009, and the Western establishment threw its collective weight behind the ‘Green Wave’ opposition.” They claim “Proyect suddenly did an about-face, and enlisted in the cause.”
Well, this is utter nonsense. I began to pay close attention to the brutality and neoliberal character of the Islamic Republic back in 2006 when Yoshie Furuhashi, the editor of MRZine who published Herman and Peterson’s article, began her fulsome praise of Ahmadinejad not long after giving up on socialism. Who would want to mess around with small groups like Solidarity when Ahmadinejad was deploying vast numbers of Basiji. Something told me that this was a pile of crap and I was determined to get to the bottom of that.
This led me to write a multi-part review of a book titled “Iran on the Brink” in 2007, a book I recommend highly, especially to Herman and Peterson who evidently are rather virginal when it comes to Marxist analysis of Iran. Here’s an excerpt from part one of my review:
“Iran on the Brink” provides historical background on revolutionary movements in Iran, starting in the early 20th century. Attempts to break with colonial domination and the native comprador bourgeoisie kept being thwarted, the most notable example being the coup against Mossadegh in 1953 that led to the Reza Shah dictatorship that was finally overthrown in 1979.
The authors focus on the emergence of shoras that arose spontaneously in factories and oil refineries around the country shortly after the Shah’s cronies fled the country. The shoras started out as strike committees but were then transformed into workers control bodies. They very much reflected the kind of aspirations seen in Venezuela today and target number one of Khomeini and his followers, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad included. A worker at a shoe factory spoke for all Iranian workers when he said:
Nowadays you don’t need to tell a worker to go and work. He works himself. Why? The reason why he didn’t work [under the Shah] was because he was under the boss’s thumb. He couldn’t speak out. Now, he’ll say: “the work is my own. I’ll work.”
Unfortunately, the shoras failed to become the new state power, just as Soviets had become in 1917. Unlike Russia, the Iranians lacked a revolutionary party that could coordinate the shoras nationwide and press the struggle forward. This is not to say, however, that there weren’t groups in Iran that aspired to Lenin’s mantle. There were more than eighty of them, in fact. Unfortunately, the only thing that united them was sectarianism mixed with an eagerness to adapt to political Islam. In 1979, the Iranian left was still stuck in the same mode that would destroy the left in so many countries, namely a dogmatic understanding of what it meant to be a “vanguard”. The particular irony is that Iranian workers would have been more receptive to the leadership of a revolutionary party than anywhere else in the world.
Among the most prestigious of the revolutionary organizations was the Fediyan that had conducted a guerrilla struggle against the Shah since 1971. Its main rival was the Tudeh, the official Communist Party. Both groups were heavily influenced by Stalinist top-down methods and were hardly in a position to engage with so profoundly a bottom-up phenomenon like the shoras. It should be added that the Tudeh did have an interest in the shoras, but it could be described as the kind of interest that the Democrats had in Ralph Nader. The Tudeh’s goal was to replace the shoras with conventional trade unions of the sort that they had operated in historically. Eventually, the Tudeh made a bloc with the Majority faction of the Fediyan that shared its hostility to the shoras and its belief that political Islam was progressive. With the two most powerful groups on the left holding such beliefs, one might conclude that the rise of Khomeini-ism had more to do with the bankruptcy of the left than its own dubious merits.
Khomeini soon developed a substitute for the shoras that was called the shora-ye eslami, or “Islamic council”. Rather than operating on the basis of class struggle, the new bodies would stress Muslim brotherhood. This was a brotherhood that first and foremost would put a ban on strikes, effective in March 1980. Strikes were now considered haram, or sinful. Just to make sure that nobody lapsed into sinful behavior, the government set up Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) that would break strikes and enforce discipline within the workplace. One metal factory worker described the kind of punishment Pasdaran meted out to the unruly:
They flogged one of my colleagues to death. They accused him of having cursed Imam Ali. First they brought him to prison, but then they dragged him to the factory and bound him to a machine. All production was stopped and we were ordered to appear in front of the scene. I could only stand to have my eyes on him for two lashes. Then blood was gushing from his wounds. He died after 50, 60 lashes. He was about 50 years old.
At any rate such workers could matter less to Herman and Peterson. They are completely absorbed by the fact that Ahmadinejad is being demonized by the N.Y. Times.
Moving right along, I am found guilty of not writing about Honduras:
Although chiding the present writers for our alleged inattention to class, Proyect—in strict parallel with Danny Postel, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, the New York Times, and the State Department—had nothing whatever to say about Honduras, where the class nature of the 2009 coup and regime change is far clearer than it has been for the conflict in Iran.
I don’t quite know how to break it to these two jerks, but the fact that I have not written about Honduras should not be interpreted as support for the American-backed coup. I am not trying to compete with Counterpunch or ZNet. If you are looking for radical news analysis of current events, those are the places you are advised to go. My blog was launched with the intention of writing about whatever interests me at the moment, ranging from my struggles with glaucoma to musings on African music. And I have no plans to change that any time soon.