Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 24, 2015

In defense of Counterpunch

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 7:52 pm

Jeff St. Clair

On June 25th a guest post by Amith Gupta appeared on my blog criticizing Jewish Voice for Peace’s decision to terminate relations with Alison Weir, a supporter of Palestinian rights because of her appearances on the radio show of Clay Douglas, a reactionary racist according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Since their objection is not so much about what she said in the interview but about her mere appearance on the show, it begs the question about her views. Are you to judge someone by the venue they appear on or write for? I ask because I have now been Weired, to coin a term.

On June 19th a blogger named Elise Hendrick wrote a long attack on CounterPunch for supposedly promoting the agenda of the far right and named me as an enabler. Three days later Tony Greenstein crossposted the same article and embellished it with a nice photo of me taken by my good friend the late Fred Baker about 17 years ago. Greenstein added a caption characterizing me as an “ex-Marxist”. Very nice.

I know Greenstein by reputation as a very sharp critic of Zionism but like many pro-Palestinian activists he has the unfortunate tendency to repeat Baathist propaganda such as blaming the FSA for carrying out a slaughter of villagers in al-Houla. He followed that up with the standard pro-Assad propaganda about the Syrian rebels using sarin gas on their supporters in East Ghouta as a false flag operation. I can understand why well-meaning people like Greenstein, Tariq Ali and Robert Fisk would serve Baathist aims even if unintentionally. When so much of the left is ready to put a plus where the American ruling class puts a minus, why swim against the tide? Their heart is in the right place even if their brain is not.

Since Greenstein is a pretty smart guy (just ask him), it is astonishing why he would swallow the statistics that Hendricks put together that supposedly proved CounterPunch was promoting the far right:

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This is really quite pathetic, a classic example of “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. If you really want to characterize CounterPunch, it would be necessary to conduct an analysis of all of the articles that appear there, not just a sampling. How do I and the other “left/progressives” (god, what an awful term) exhaust the inventory of all those on the left who write for CounterPunch? All you need to do is look at a typical weekend edition, like the one that came out today, to get a handle on what it stands for. There are 40 articles and not a single one has even the slightest whiff of rightwing politics. Speaking of which, one has to wonder what criteria Hendricks used to categorize some of the people as rightwingers. She includes Franklin Lamb and Paul Larudee. Unless I am missing something, they have never written anything I would associate with the Republican Party. For that matter, mostly what they do is circulate pro-Baathist propaganda after the fashion of Tony Greenstein.

It would seem to me that the bloggers at Jews sans Frontieres have served as the shock troops on all this and particularly someone known as “levi9909” (Mark Elf, I am not sure?) who posted 18 times underneath Amith’s article and who shows an alarming interest in my activity on the Internet that makes me feel like I was being stalked. To some extent, I have become a proxy for Amith Gupta who had little interest in debating someone like “levi9909” who reminds me of how James P. Cannon once described Trotskyists: the kind of people who stayed later at meetings than anybody else trying to get called on by the chair to make their point one more time, all along hoping that everybody else would get exhausted and go home.

Unlike “levi9909”who has written me frenzied emails on several occasions demanding that I confess for my sins, Amith is someone I know in real space as opposed to the lunatic asylum cyberspace can often resemble. He first came to my attention when Leon Botstein had fired Joel Kovel at Bard College. Amith, who was a leader of the International Solidarity Movement on campus, was an outspoken supporter of Kovel in a place where hipster liberalism was hegemonic. As a graduate with the class of 1965, I am always happy to be connected to someone who represents the real values of Bard College, the place that Walter Winchell called the little red whorehouse on the Hudson.

I want to conclude with some words about CounterPunch, which I am proud to have written for since August 2012 (I should add that I have written 168 articles not the 59 that Hendricks counted, at least according to the grep/wc command I ran on my server.)

It really has a lot to do with my esteem for Alexander Cockburn who I count as my most important political influence next to Peter Camejo. No matter how many times I wrote attacks on his global warming denialism, he was always someone who held a special place in my heart for helping me rebound from the post-traumatic stress syndrome I was experiencing after 11 years in the Trotskyist movement. In 1979 when I moved to New York from Kansas City, I had resolved to put politics behind me but when I stumbled across his column in the Village Voice, it was like being reborn. The clarity of his prose, the sharpness of his analysis and his biting humor were like nothing I had ever read in the Militant newspaper. Three years later, when I was still sorting out my experiences in the SWP, I read Camejo’s “Against Sectarianism”, an article that had the same bracing effect as Alexander’s columns. With their help, I was able to land on my feet and keep going for another 36 years.

It is Alexander’s spirit that lives on in CounterPunch and it is to Jeff St. Clair’s everlasting credit that he has kept the ship afloat after the captain passed on. No matter how many times people complain about articles in CounterPunch, it is the essential voice of the left in the USA and one that has a global presence. When I began writing about Swedish Marxist detective stories, a Swede contacted me with his own take on the country’s darker side and remains an occasional correspondent.

The idea that it is promoting rightwing ideas is patently absurd. While everybody knows that Paul Craig Roberts was a member of the Reagan administration, there’s not a single word that he writes that can be mistaken for a Fox News report. Like Kevin Phillips, he has turned against the increasingly plutocratic nature of American politics. In fact, the idea of a left-right alliance is not limited to CounterPunch. Ralph Nader has promoted the same strategy, including on CounterPunch. In years past, he was vilified for saying things that sounded like Pat Buchanan. If we are about building a movement based on ideological purity, we might as well go the route of the Marxist-Leninist left that has largely proven itself irrelevant. In any movement with the social weight capable of confronting the ruling class, you can expect that there will be clashing ideas in our ranks. It happened in Cuba in the late 50s and it will happen here. You’d better get used to the idea.

While the Marxism mailing list is obviously more ideologically focused than CounterPunch, we try to maintain diversity even if some disgruntled souls believe I am a tyrant (don’t listen to a word they say or you’ll regret it.) Mark Jones, one of my closest comrades who died of oral cancer in 2003, was an ardent admirer of Joseph Stalin who argued that it was necessary to purge the Soviet officer corps on the eve of WWII. Despite that, our views on the environmental crisis and the character of American imperialism bound us together as comrades. Another Marxmailer, who I hold in the highest regard, was a global warming skeptic and vociferous about it (until he changed his mind.) Sol Dollinger, an old-timer who died in 2001, was a member of the Socialist Union, a group led by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman in the 1950s that I strongly identify with. During his time on Marxmail he stated his concerns about undocumented workers undermining the trade union movement on numerous occasions sounding for all the world like someone writing for VDare, the nativist magazine that Paul Craig Roberts writes for. In the radical movement we need to build in the USA, you can expect all sorts of differences to develop. That’s the kind of party we need if we are to have any possibility of attracting millions of people rather than hundreds.

I am enormously glad to have the opportunity to write for CounterPunch even though there are articles that I obviously disagree with, starting with what Franklin Lamb and Paul Larudee write about Syria. I am reconciled to the reality that my views are in a distinct minority and that those of Lamb, Larudee and Greenstein are those of the overwhelming majority.

That being said, I give Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank a lot of credit for publishing an article I had written about Syria that went against the current. For that matter, Jeff invited me to become a regular contributor to CounterPunch after I had blogged a complaint about how one article supported the arrest of Pussy Riot. Jeff said that if I disagreed with the article, why don’t I write my own. Frankly, if we had more people like Jeff St. Clair editing electronic and print media nowadays, the left would be in a lot better shape.

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