Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 24, 2014

Right-left convergence? Phooey

Filed under: antiwar,conservatism,tea party — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

Wants to hook up with the right

Maybe because unlike most leftists I actually went through the experience of being a conservative, the prospect of a right-left convergence leaves me cold. This project has been around for a long time, exemplified by Justin Raimondo’s antiwar.com. Since I remember all too well what an asshole I was back in 1960 as a 15-year-old member of the Young Americans for Freedom, my tendency is to avoid anybody with even a glancing similarity to what I once was, starting with the creepy Raimondo. There, but for the grace of god and immense peer pressure from Bard College classmates, go I.

A couple of days ago I found out that David Bromwich, a big-time literature professor at Yale, has decided that he has lots in common with the right—at least what used to be called the isolationist wing of it. You got a glimpse of what that was about when Rush Limbaugh, who always puts a minus where Obama puts a plus, told his listeners that the USA had no interest in supporting the Islamic radicals in Syria. Guess what website he cited in support of this? Global Research. What strange bedfellows…

People are probably aware that Bromwich has been one of the more vocal defenders of the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in snooty venues such as the NY Review of Books and the London Review of Books. Here’s an excerpt from an interview that might put that into context:

Q: Who, specifically, are the “right-wing libertarians” you just mentioned and whose intellectual and political company you’re finding increasingly congenial?

A: Some of the political commentators you find in The American Conservative—for example, Daniel Larison. Some of the sharpest critiques of American imperialism under Bush-Cheney and now under Obama have come from Patrick Buchanan. In some ways he’s a very bad man, but he’s a consistent anti-imperialist. When I say this to liberal friends, they say, “How dare you read this man!”

The aforementioned American Conservative is a big favorite with those favoring a left-right convergence including Ralph Nader who reached out to its editor for a conference in Washington 3 days from now. Both Bromwich and Nader are infatuated with a libertarian right that at least on some issues is to the “left” of Obama even as its economics are pure Ayn Rand and its racial views White Citizens Council.

Unstoppable Right/Left Convergence Event on May 27th

Join us Tuesday (May 27, 2014) for an unprecedented one day gathering that will convene leading experts from the Left and Right (such as Jim Hightower, Judson Phillips, Medea Benjamin, Bruce Fein, Ron Unz and more) to find common ground on many of the key issues of our time.

In his new book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, Ralph Nader explores the emerging political alignment of the Left and the Right against converging corporate-government autocracy and crony capitalism.

The purpose of the gathering is to convene unlikely allies to tackle the bold ideas of convergence presented in Unstoppable and turn them operational.

Call me dogmatic or something but I would not have anything to do with the likes of the Cato Institute or the Tea Party, whose representatives will be speaking there. Again, unlike most people on the left, I pay close attention to what these people are saying on AM Talk Radio and it is truly toxic. A close look at some of the speakers from the right at Nader’s conference should persuade you why it is dead wrong in its approach.

I am sure that Nader invited Daniel McCarthy, the editor of the American Conservative magazine, to speak on a panel about the defense budget because he is for shrinking it and for staying out overseas wars. The magazine extols Edward Snowden and opposes torture, so what’s not to like? At first blush, their praise of Walter Jones, a Republican Congressman from North Carolina might make sense since Jones is “antiwar” in the approved manner.

But somehow there’s some disgruntled Black people in his state that are unhappy with his appearance on a white nationalist radio show as Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy pointed out:

A North Carolina Republican congressman appeared on a notorious white nationalist radio program on Saturday to talk up legislation he coauthored accusing President Barack Obama of committing impeachable offenses. Rep. Walter Jones, a fiercely anti-war congressman who often breaks with his party on key votes, appeared on the Political Cesspool, a Memphis-based program hosted by ardent white nationalists James Edwards and Eddie Miller.

An avowed white nationalist who says David Duke is “above reproach,” Edwards has referred to African Americans as “heathen savages” and “subhuman” and suggested that slavery was “the greatest thing that ever happened” to blacks. The show’s mission statement is blunt: “We represent a philosophy that is pro-White and are against political centralization,” it declares. It then outlines a series of issues the show exists to promote. “We wish to revive the White birthrate above replacement level fertility and beyond to grow the percentage of Whites in the world relative to other races,” reads one plank. Another bullet point endorses the Confederacy: “Secession is a right of all people and individuals. It was successful in 1776 and this show honors those who tried to make it successful in 1865.”

Maybe the fact that there is not a single panel on race issues or a single Black speaker at Nader’s confab is related to the fact that Daniel McCarthy’s nod to a slug like Walter Jones gets overlooked.

Moving down the line, we see that Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips was invited to speak at a panel on trade that is moderated by Nader. I wonder if Nader will be motivated to ask Phillips some questions not exactly about trade during the Q&A. Or if anybody would, for that matter?

Phillips is on record as favoring the vote for property owners exclusively, a key weapon of the Jim Crow south. He also urged a vote against Keith Ellison because he is a Muslim. Finally his website publishes articles like “Cliven Bundy Racist? So What?” that asserts “there is no institutionalized racism in the United States.” Oh, right. But I guess this is outweighed by his opposition to NAFTA. This, of course, is old news with Nader. Ten years ago he courted the Right over their shared protectionist views.

Bruce Fein is probably the most prestigious rightwinger invited to speak there. On the final panel, he shares his views on Empire that are about the same as you can find on antiwar.com or American Conservative. Fein was Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Attorney General and now works with the Future for Freedom Foundation, among other libertarian-oriented causes.

It takes a little bit of digging to find out more about Fein’s opinions on different matters that require some consideration by the left beyond his “antiwar” views. Going through the NY Times archives, I discovered:

Right wingers? You can keep ‘em as far as I am concerned.


  1. “Some of the sharpest critiques of American imperialism under Bush-Cheney and now under Obama have come from Patrick Buchanan. In some ways he’s a very bad man, but he’s a consistent anti-imperialist. When I say this to liberal friends, they say, “How dare you read this man!””

    Yeah, I picked up Buchanan’s last book from the library for a sampling. So he is anti-interventionist? He is also explicitly racist! If crawling into bed with racists is what is required of left-right alliance, then fuck no!

    Comment by Sheldon — May 24, 2014 @ 8:42 pm

  2. there’s one fallacy with this post, Ralph Nader, Jim Hightower and Medea Benjamin aren’t left, can’t speak about Bromwich, but I doubt he is, either, especially if one evaluates them in terms of worker support, at best they might be soft Keynesians

    Nader is Jeffersonian in his economics, to the extent that he ever talks about them

    Benjamin comes from a UN NGO background, she really acts as a dissident within that framework, I still remember how an immaculately dressed young blond staffer during my 2005 Global Exchange trip to to Venezuela, a guide that I nicknamed “Young Dianne Feinstein”, offered that they thought that Chavez was too outrageous at times, and had told him that he should consider toning down his rhetoric

    so, I don’t know what to call this, other than a group trying to make themselves important

    curiously enough, it’s similar to the kind of alliance that has existed in my old college town, Davis, California, for over twenty years, a rickety configuration of progressives, anti-taxers, anti-development and people hostile to having too many poor people, working class people and people of color in town

    it operates as a counterweight to the corrupt Democratic Party establishment

    city council races there has been fought along this fault line since the early 1990s

    at the country level (Yolo County), the participants, with a few exceptions (usually people who still operate inside the local Democratic Party) invariably support the old guard white farmer/rancher candidates over the Latino ones

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 25, 2014 @ 12:45 am

  3. The radical petty-bourgeoisie has ALWAYS been for a left-right red-brown alliance against big capital. That was the grounds for national socialism after all, and it was warned against as early as Marx’s day.

    This again shows why class matters infinitely more than stated political positions. Political positions can change with the wind. A worker is a wage slave exploited by capital until they die or emancipate themselves through revolution.

    Comment by Steve D — May 25, 2014 @ 6:57 am

  4. “they thought that Chavez was too outrageous at times, and had told him that he should consider toning down his rhetoric”

    At the risk of being labeled a heretic allow me to say that almost everyone in the world with a brain pretty much agreed, especially after he claimed that the US Army caused the Haitian earthquake.

    Comment by Steve D — May 25, 2014 @ 6:59 am

  5. I think you are confusing the Derbyshires – there’s the white-supremacist Derbyshire, and then there’s the mild, leftish Derbyshire who edits Prospect. Bromwich was interviewed by the latter. Just how exactly did you think that the racist Derbyshire would be hired by Prospect when even he’s too much of a right-wing loon for the National Review?

    Comment by alex — May 25, 2014 @ 11:58 am

  6. Thanks for the head’s up. I will fix.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 25, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

  7. “At the risk of being labeled a heretic allow me to say that almost everyone in the world with a brain pretty much agreed, especially after he claimed that the US Army caused the Haitian earthquake.”

    I understand, but we didn’t take the comment in that spirit. Instead, we construed it as, “he shouldn’t be so harsh towards the US, it makes our jobs harder back in the states.” In other words, sound more conciliatory towards the US.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 25, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

  8. Perhaps the best example of left-right interpenetration (or whatever you wish to call it) is not the subhuman Buchanan, may he die screaming in agony, but Glenn Greenwald. Unlike Buchanan, Greenwald is not obviously a racist and is so routinely identified with the Left that it may come as a shock to some that he is–or was when last counted–a hard-core Libertarian and devotee of the Ron Paul franchise for whom the U.S. Constitution is the limit of human intellect and represents a boundary beyond which no thought or action is permissible or even conceivable.

    Without getting into the details of Greenwald’s surprisingly checkered career, it seems fairly obvious that his polemical ability and willingness to tell truth to power have made him indispensable to dissent in this country–and indeed in the world.

    I find the thought of an explicit left-right movement terrifyingly insane–especially because it is bound to have such an irresistible appeal to the delusional individualism of Americans in general (“vote for the best man, not the party” etc. etc.)

    But what do you do with the fact that Greenwald has played a role that no avowed Leftist has come close to and has acquired a degree of legitimate prestige and influence unmatched at present by anyone on the actual Left?

    Comment by William Garrand — May 25, 2014 @ 6:02 pm

  9. If Greenwald is a libertarian, he is keeping it a secret (I do know that he is but most do not.) He is definitely not the sort of person who would tolerate the kind of racism displayed in the pages of American Conservative.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 25, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

  10. Btw, here is Glenn Greenwald on the libertarian charge and other misrepresentations: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/01/30/1182442/-Glenn-Greenwald-Responds-to-Widespread-Lies-About-Him-on-Cato-Iraq-War-and-more

    Comment by louisproyect — May 25, 2014 @ 11:06 pm

  11. Where to begin? For now, I’ll point out that ex-eXile writer Mark Ames, and his Pando colleague Paul Carr, have long had a vendetta against Greenwald, precisely because of his libertarianism.

    And here’s another link about Greenwald fending off attacks from liberals, neocons, et al. http://www.thenation.com/blog/177417/glenn-greenwald-responds-critics-attacks-continue

    Comment by Poppa Zao — May 26, 2014 @ 8:50 am

  12. “[Chavez] claimed that the US Army caused the Haitian earthquake.”

    Did he though? Looking it up just now it seems highly uncertain that he ever made such a claim.

    The story originates in an article in the right-wing Spanish newspaper ‘ABC’, which begins with the line: “the anti-American government of Venezuela, in it’s habitual paranoia against the Yankee empire….”. The quotes are supposedly taken from what ABC describes as “a press release” and Venezuela Analysis describes as “an obscure opinion post” on the website of the state TV channel. This is apparently no longer available, and it’s unclear from ABC’s article who exactly is supposed to have written it: Chavez himself (as the headline says), “the Chavez government” (as it’s put in the main text) or someone at Vive TV?



    Other news sources then repeated lines from the ABC article as direct quotes from Hugo Chavez, with the obvious intention of discrediting him by making him look foolish, ignorant, stupid, paranoid, and maybe even insane. It’s part of the same propaganda that insisted that Chavez was somehow a “dictator” and the Venezuelan government democratically illegitimate despite repeatedly winning fair elections and referendums. Similar assertions are invariably made (rightly or wrongly) about every foreign leader or government that the US chooses as an enemy.

    Speaking of Haiti, much the same propaganda was directed against Aristide and Lavalas as part of the campaign to discredit, undermine, economically sabotage, and eventually violently overthrow them. And while the US government didn’t cause the earthquake, it certainly bears a huge share of the responsibility for the state of Haiti now and over the last century.

    Comment by JN — May 26, 2014 @ 11:40 am

  13. As others have mentioned here, such “convergence tendencies” should not come as such a surprise in the USA, where the mainstream historical tradition on the Left has not been socialism, but American institutionalist progressivism. This includes Noam Chomsky and followers – otherwise too smart to be caught in such a political bed – whom Anthony and I once interviewed for an article in a local SF mag called Culture Concrete in the 1990’s. In the interview Chomsky described himself as essentially “Jeffersonian” in political philosophy. Hey lookey, convergence with an imperialist planter-purveyor of a noxious addictive and harmful weed who occasionally used his female slaves as sex toys!

    I’d also toss in the neo-Georgist Michael Hudson, who has been popping up on RT lately (a channel that obviates the need to track US right-wing radio. One can now track “in stereo” :-). But that is a site of another well-known convergence with certain currents of the far right from within “socialism”, of which the MR and Socialist Review schools have a broad philosophical, if not political- for the same reasons as with Chomsky (too smart for that) – affiliation, centered on a sort of “critical” worship of the “awesomeness” of a supposedly almighty US capitalism and imperialism. But “monopoly capitalism” and its recent add-on, “financialization”, is an essentially “socialist” version of institutionalism.

    What they all, save these last mentioned, have as a common touchstone with the fanatically pro-capitalist libertarian right is worship of the 1787 constitution (+- amendments > 10 for the libertarians) as the be-all and end-all of human political progress. I don’t know about you, but I see a 227 year old constitution as more of a fetter on human progress – as in the fetters of the social relations of production per Marx’s 1859 Contribution – both in the US and around the world. It needs replacement, not strategic defense. Not tomorrow. Now.

    Because, dear institutionalists, here’s betting there will be no New New Deal.


    Comment by matthewrusso9 — May 27, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

  14. G. Greenwald is frequently attacked for any number of things. Many of the attacks–for example, those from the likes of Michael Kinsley–are misleading or downright fabricated; others (probably the minority) are not.

    Many of Greenwald’s admirers will be content with the Joe E. Brown response to the justified attacks: “Nobody’s perfect.”

    Attacks aside, however, Greenwald is basically a libertarian in the Ron Paul sense, and not e.g. a left libertarian in the Chomsky sense, which is something quite different. This is only a “secret” to people who– however understandably–don’t follow Ron Paul closely, (For fresh evidence of this, see http://www.ronpaulchannel.com/rons-conversation-glenn-greenwald-pt-1-2/)

    The purpose of mentioning this is neither to attack nor to defend Greenwald or anyone else, but rather to suggest that the strongest possible case for the left-right fusion idea would focus on Greenwald rather than Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader.

    This is simply because Greenwald has the largest following among identifiable left-wingers of anybody who fits anything like the standard American definition of a right-winger.

    To be sure, Greenwald makes a point of talking to avowed socialists as well as Ron Paul (see http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/06/29/glenn-greenwalds-speech-to-the-socialism-conference-with-transcript/). But this merely makes him, IMHO, not only an exemplar but a conscious advocate–and by far the strongest intellectually–of left-right fusion.

    Comment by John Petersen — May 28, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

  15. “Attacks aside, however, Greenwald is basically a libertarian in the Ron Paul sense, and not e.g. a left libertarian in the Chomsky sense, which is something quite different.”

    Yes, I believe that this to be true, and Greenwald can be best described as anti-statist, although he’d probably balk at it. He has become a prominent figure because of his laser like assault upon the excesses of state institutions in regard to surveillance and militarism, while highlighting their allies in the media. As a consequence, his condemnation of the surveillance state and hostility towards the war on drugs has a great allure across the spectrum, making him, as you say, the strongest possible case for left-right fusion. That, and his support among young people.

    But, beyond this, things become much more problematic. The surveillance state, militarism and the war on drugs are features of a global capitalist system, they don’t exist outside of it and don’t perpetuate themselves outside the primacy of capital accumulation. Greenwald appears to believe that these state excesses can somehow be trimmed away through the political process associated with liberal democracies (as he suggested in an interview with al-Akhbar). In this, he is more optimistic than Gore Vidal was, who nostalgically remembered Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy with fondness, and Chalmers Johnson, who believed that the US was caught in a nearly inescapable cycle of imperial decline.

    Greenwald does appear to have something in common with Nader. Greenwald went to work for a billionaire internet news provider, while Nader wrote a novel in which a billionaire progressive saves the US, and, by extension, the world.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 28, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

  16. Louis said: “If Greenwald is a libertarian, he is keeping it a secret (I do know that he is but most do not.) He is definitely not the sort of person who would tolerate the kind of racism displayed in the pages of American Conservative.”

    Well, first of all, the assertion you’re answering was that Greenwald’s a libertarian, not that he’s a racist, but on issues of race and ethnicity Greenwald is nevertheless a mixed bag. I realize we are never ever, no never, supposed to trot out unsavory details about Greenwald’s past — before his Bush-induced metamorphosis into a totally different person — but as you have gone back as far as 1986 to make some of your very worthy points, please allow me to go back as far as 2000. I am not aiming to prove that GG is a libertarian — these labels don’t mean a whole lot to me — but simply that he is, and always has been, very far from what most educated people consider left.

    Before the timeline, I’ll express complete agreement with whomever said that Greenwald epitomizes the ‘left-right’ convergence more dramatically than anyone else alive today. I would add that Greenwald reveals this ‘convergence’ for what it really is: a hybrid of libertarianism and neoliberalism rebranded (at least on the left) as left. The right side of this ‘convergence’ concedes almost nothing while the left concedes almost everything. In the midst of the Greenwald/Snowden simulacrum of dissidence, culminating in an alliance with a uniquely toxic billionaire, the left has even dispensed with trifles like opposition to capitalism and imperialism. Leave it to Old Left dinosaurs, though, to wring their hands over some impending Paul-family midwifed convergence, while applauding the unprecedented right-wing co-option of the left Greenwald and Omidyar are prosecuting right under their noses.

    It’s not at all surprising that Raimondo, who Proyect rightfully singles out as a creepy asshole, is among Greenwald’s most passionate advocates, along with such other right-wing libertarian luminaries as Lew Rockwell and Radley Balko.These people are perfectly correct to like Greenwald. It’s everyone else that is very much confused, due to a combo of Stockholm Syndrome and a revoltingly infantile love of spectacles like this Snowden farce.

    Now for some Greenwald history:

    Early 2000s — practiced corporate law in one of New York’s biggest firms; spent five years defending the First Amendment rights of white supremacists, something he still places among his proudest accomplishments. Was censured for covertly taping defense witnesses, whom he called ‘odious and repugnant’.

    2003 — By his own account, supported the attack on Iraq. From How Would a Patriot Act:

    I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.

    2005-2006 — On his then new blog, Unclaimed Territory, applauded Brazilians’ rejection of gun control laws, ridiculed South Americans for their opposition to Bush, complained of anti-Bush bias in the media, lamented the ‘national character’ of Venezuelans, and described illegal immigration as “a great evil.”

    2006-present — Supported the Citizens United decision protecting corporate speech; opposed the rights of communities to bar fast food chains owned by right-wingers who fund anti-LGBT organizations (Chik-Fil-A); applauded a Supreme Court decision upholding the First Amendment rights of animal torture pornographers.

    Greenwald has done Cato-funded work on the Drug War and attended Cato fundraisers.

    As far as I know, the only part of his past Greenwald has repudiated is his support for the attack on Iraq, which he frequently misrepresents in a way that completely contradicts the passage from his book, quoted above. I have never seen him repudiate his Chavista-bashing at the time, nor free market ideology that went with it.

    Don’t ask for cites. This shit is all readily searchable. I am tired of connecting dots for dimwitted children who long to believe in Greenwald the way so many of them did in Obama back in 2008.

    Comment by Tarzie — June 2, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

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