Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 10, 2016

Jill Stein, the South Front and the lesser evil

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:58 pm

For the past month or so, I have seen vitriolic attacks on Jill Stein from people I am close to on the question of Syria. I have already dealt with the question of whether Syria should be a litmus test for the Green Party but want to look at the question from a different angle now, namely how it is that she came to embrace a position that my pro-Syrian revolution friends label as “pro-fascist”. Like the friends of the Hillary Clinton campaign pouring over every Jill Stein speech looking for “anti-science” pandering, there is now a concerted effort by Syrian solidarity activists to discover evidence of this “pro-fascism” in her every utterance. The latest discoveries are that she attended an RT.com conference in Moscow in December, had dinner with Putin when she was there, and that her VP candidate has been writing some truly awful stuff about Syria.

With respect to RT.com, it has published 105 articles in praise of Jill Stein so naturally she might have accepted an invitation to their conference. Since she has given no evidence that she has a mastery of the Syrian struggle and only reflects the left consensus, it is probably unrealistic to think that she would have turned down the invitation.

As for Ajamu Baraka, my guess is that he will be speaking mostly about domestic politics rather than Syria in his various speaking engagements but that can’t be guaranteed. However, it is quite likely that if he says anything about “regime change” and the jihadist threat, he will be preaching to the choir. Is there any reason to think that there will be people in the audience who have somehow learned to think outside the box when it comes to Syria, especially when their understanding of the country is likely drawn from The Nation, ZNet, Salon, CounterPunch, Consortium News, WBAI news, and countless other zines and print publications that have been making the same points as Baraka for the past five years? It baffles me that anybody could think otherwise.

I was reminded of how left opinion is shaped when I stumbled across a website called South Front this morning when trying to find out the latest news about the battle for Aleppo.

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In a nutshell, this is just one more website that is pushing the Kremlin/Baathist agenda. The first thing I did was look up the domain. Unsurprisingly, it is registered in Russia.

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But what is somewhat surprising is how a website based in Russia can put out a product that is so professional looking and whose articles are obviously written by people whose first language is English. And if it is not the case, it written by Russians who have been trained to write exactly like they were.

For most people unfamiliar with the logistics and economics of websites, it might be easy to take South Front for granted but I can tell you that this is an expensive proposition both in financial and human resources terms. The website would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to maintain, if not more. Meanwhile, pro-Syrian revolution websites are run on a shoestring and count on people like me to supply content. If some rich bastard in the USA had given me that kind of money back in 2011, I could have put together a website that might have not only competed with the Baathist amen corner but crushed it. But what is the likelihood that a hedge fund billionaire would have funded a website that took up the cause of scruffy, bearded, Quran-citing, poverty-stricken rural folk who fight alongside al-Qaeda militias when it suits them? This is not to speak of the American government whose main goal was to keep the rebels on a tight leash so that a neoliberal government sans Assad could be cobbled together in Syria as Michael Karadjis pointed out in an essential article in the New Arab.

I am afraid that those who are so ready to dismiss Jill Stein as “pro-fascist” have delusions that Hillary Clinton would step into the breach and come to the aid of the Syrian rebels. People somehow have forgotten that Clinton is a cynical politician who counts Henry Kissinger as a major source of wisdom on foreign policy. She does not act on principle but on the dictates of the billionaires who run the country who paid her handsomely for her tawdry speaking engagements. She will say and do things for their benefits, not for those of the Syrian people. To get an idea of how “flexible” she is, all you need to do is pay attention to what she said in a February 26, 2012 interview with CBS’s Wyatt Andrews:

WYATT ANDREWS, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the violence continuing in Syria and Assad refusing to allow medicine to reach the injured, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with CBS News argues the United States is doing what it can, but within limits.

CLINTON: I am incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something, but it is also important to stop and ask what that is and who`s going to do it.

ANDREWS: What to do about Assad was supposed to be answered last Friday when a global conference called “Friends of Syria” again demanded that Assad step aside. But several Arab countries starting with the Saudis argued for action to arm the Syrian resistance. The Obama administration is resisting that.

ANDREWS: The U.S. has repeatedly said that it`s reluctant to support the direct army of the dissidents, why?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, we really don`t know who it is that would be armed.

ANDREWS: Specifically, the administration fears that arms will wind up in the hands of terrorists including al Qaeda.

CLINTON: We know al Qaeda, Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al Qaeda in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition, are we supporting Hamas in Syria?

So I think, Wyatt, you know despite the great pleas that we hear from those people who are being ruthlessly assaulted by Assad. If you are a military planner or if you are a secretary of state and you`re trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, we don`t see that.

In contrast to Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein stakes out positions on the basis of principle even if unfortunately the position is based on an incomplete understanding of history and politics. If you spent five years reading Salon, Counterpunch and The Nation and had never heard of Robin Yassin-Kassab or Idrees Ahmad let alone read them, what are the chances that you would have developed an analysis that favored a rebel victory over Assad?

Back in 1965, when I first faced the draft, my thinking on the Vietnam war was foggy at best. I hated Communism, or at least what I had been told about it, but never considered the possibility that the NLF’s cause was just. It took a full year of debate and discussion with an SWP member at the New School in New York to convince me that the USA had violated the Vietnamese right to self-determination and that the NLF were patriots fighting an occupying power.

And then it took another year for him to convince me that socialism was a more rational and just system than capitalism. What if I had not run into him? There was a good chance that my ideas about Vietnam and socialism would have remained as they were, even if my mind would have never been changed on the existential question of staying out of the army. My main goal in life was to read novels, smoke marijuana and listen to jazz. Politics? No thanks.

I really wonder whether most of my pro-Syrian revolution comrades have given much thought to how their thinking evolved about Syria. It is obvious that someone like Robin Yassin-Kassab, who is Syrian, would have come to the right outlook since he knows people from his homeland who were being brutalized by the dictatorship and could read authoritative analyses in the original Arabic.

Speaking for myself, it took a while to wrap my head around this question since I had, like most CounterPunch readers, seen American intervention in the Middle East after 2011 in the same way I saw Iraq in 2003—just another case of meddling that had to be resisted. I should add that I remain anti-intervention but along a different axis, namely opposed to CIA efforts to keep MANPAD’s out of the hands of the rebels.

Accepting the self-evident bankruptcy of the Green Party’s official position on Syria raises the question of its relevancy to the ongoing struggle to create a party of the left in the USA. For some of the British comrades who are outspokenly against Jill Stein, there seems to be little interest in the key question facing the left in the USA, namely how to build a party of the left. If Syria is a litmus test, then we have to wait until the Greens adopt a new position that is unlikely to happen given the ideological balance of forces in the USA, to a large extent one that has the Kremlin’s fingers on the scale. For all of the uproar over a “new McCarthyism” about Trump and Putin, there is plenty of evidence that the Kremlin does use RT.com, South Front, and other outlets to shape American public opinion.

In the long run, the only way to combat these ideas is to build a left that is predicated on the idea of working class internationalism and solidarity with the oppressed. Unfortunately, the left has been afflicted by a tendency to consider the nation-state as an instrument of struggle rather than the working class and its allies. Someone like Jill Stein’s vision of peace and global progress is based on the idea that Russia is a lesser evil to the USA. How ironic that a politician who has so effectively rebutted the idea that we need to choose a lesser evil on election day can turn around and apply in effect the same discredited logic to vote for Vladimir Putin.

August 1, 2016

Is Jill Stein anti-science?

Filed under: Green Party — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

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In addition to the charge that a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump, the “lesser evil” contingent in various liberal and left outlets maintain that she is “anti-science”.  We of course understand that if her views on mercury in vaccines were in conformity with “science”, this would matter little to the vote-for-Hillary brigades that would go digging up some other dirt on her.

A lot of the “anti-science” stuff has been posted on the Patheos website, one that describes itself as devoted to the subject of religion and that was founded in 2008 by Leo and Cathie Brunnick–two web developers in Denver, Colorado. It is not exactly clear why a website investigating spirituality and the like would become a forum for anti-GP attacks but a search on “GMO” reveals numerous articles there making the case for genetically modified crops, all by self-avowed atheists who are the same people bashing Jill Stein. One has to wonder if the real beef with Stein is less about her views on mercury but on Green Party concerns about GMO’s.

Articles about Jill Stein being “anti-science” have been written by Dan Arel, a leftist who has written for CounterPunch, Michael Stone, a self-described progressive secular humanist, Matthew Facciani, a neuroscience PhD student and activist, and Bo Gardiner, an environmental scientist. Gardiner is probably the most obvious example of the sort of understanding that these people have of science since she is gung-ho not only on GMO but nuclear power. In a July 27 article titled “Dr. Jill Stein Is Anti-Science, Bad for the Environment, and Deserves Her Anti-Vax Label”, Gardiner writes:

Perhaps the most obvious point anti-GMO activists leave out is that banning GMOs would mean the conversion of thousands more square miles of land to agriculture, creating more pesticides, more waterway-killing fertilizers, and more carbon emissions. And, of course, the story of the mass farmer suicides in India due to GMOs has been thoroughly debunked. In other words, Stein is willing to sacrifice biodiversity on the altar of bourgeois, pseudoscientific food purity.

The link for “thoroughly debunked” takes you to a website titled Neurologica: Your Daily Fix of neuroscience, skepticism and critical thinking. I wonder if there is some connection between neuroscience and this sort of “scientific” thinking that more often than not is funded by Monsanto. I do know, however, that the organized Skepticism movement is very much pro-capitalist and pro-GMO as this would indicate. You can find out more about how rancid these skeptics are in my article on Michael Shermer who is one of its leading lights. Although I haven’t done any deep investigation of the matter, my guess is that atheist and skeptic associations have overlapping memberships.

Gardiner’s position on nuclear power is clearly in the same vein:

Then there’s her party’s inflexible stand opposing nuclear power, which almost certainly will have to be part of the solution in accelerating the weaning off of fossil fuels before we do further irreparable planet-wide damage. The climate and oceans can’t afford to wait until better solutions are widely available.

I haven’t seen Gardiner cited by my FB anti-Stein friends (isn’t there a better word for such people you have never met or spoke to on the phone even, like maybe acquaintances, which is really what they are). They tend to post articles by Dan Arel, who has a bit more credibility on the left. Why you can even find an article by Arel on CounterPunch titled “The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party” so naturally one might conclude that he is no ordinary “lesser evil” talking head. He even declaims, “if Sanders stands on the podium at the Democratic National Convention and asks supporters to rally behind Secretary Clinton he will be betraying his revolution but that does not mean the revolution must come to an end.” Whoa, big fellow. Make sure when you write stuff like this you don’t get the FBI breathing down your neck.

For those leftists arguing for the “lesser evil”, Dan Arel is a rather double-edged sword. Despite his fulminations about Jill Stein’s views on mercury and GMO’s, he still supports her. If anything, he is critical of her from the left stating that the Greens have to catch up with his bold call for socialist revolution.

There was a time when such a position on GMOs was more widespread on the left when Frank Furedi’s group in England was publishing Living Marxism and had some credibility in leftist circles. If there is any barometer of leftist opinion on GMO’s, a search for articles in support of the technology on Counterpunch would be a good place to start. There are none.

Although I can’t be sure that Arel has still decided to vote for Stein, his reaction to a Washington Post interview with her suggests someone at a breaking point—sort of like Leon Trotsky trying to decide in the late 1920s whether Stalin had degenerated to the point where a new International would be necessary. The video interview only lasts 2 minutes and 38 seconds and contains these two statements:

I think there’s no question that vaccines have been absolutely critical in ridding us of the scourge of many diseases — smallpox, polio, etc. So vaccines are an invaluable medication,” Stein said. “Like any medication, they also should be — what shall we say? — approved by a regulatory board that people can trust. And I think right now, that is the problem. That people do not trust a Food and Drug Administration, or even the CDC for that matter, where corporate influence and the pharmaceutical industry has a lot of influence.

Monsanto lobbyists help run the day in those agencies and are in charge of approving what food isn’t safe. There is rampant distrust of our institutions of government right now. The trust level for the presidency is somewhere around 15 percent. The strong confidence in Congress is somewhere around 4 percent, and the same is true of our regulatory agencies.

Let’s take up the GMO question first. With all due respect to Stein, I don’t think the question is whether GMO foods are safe or not. It is more about the possibility that they will allow corporations like Monsanto to use their intellectual property rights to bring farmers under their thumb and also lead to the development of superweeds that develop a resistance to Monsanto’s glyphosate in the same way that pests developed a resistance to pesticides. When such a resistance develops, there is a tendency to increase the amount of chemicals that get poured into the air, water and soil in a vicious cycle. This is the real problem, not whether eating a GMO tomato will give you cancer. I searched in vain for any article written by Arel that mentions glyphosate. If you can find one, your researching skills are better than mine and mine are pretty good.

After reading what Stein had to say about vaccines, it would be difficult to maintain that she is an anti-vaxxer so Arel takes a somewhat different tack. He refers once again to the Washington Post interview:

As a medical doctor, there was a time where I looked very closely at those issues, and not all those issues were completely resolved. There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant, the toxic substances like mercury which used to be rampant in vaccines. There were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don’t know if all of them have been addressed.

For Arel, this is pandering to those parents who believe that there is a connection between autism and the mercury that was used in vaccinations to kill bacteria and fungus. In reality those concerns came from within the establishment itself as the NY Times reported in a November 10, 2002 article titled “The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory” that profiled Neal Halsey, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins. He was also the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious diseases between 1995 and 1999 and often quoted in places like the NY Times saying things like: “Many of the allegations against vaccines are based on unproven hypotheses and causal associations with little evidence.”

Reacting to parents’ concerns about mercury, a Congressman from New Jersey directed the FDA in 1997 to take inventory on the amount of mercury (called thimerosal) that was being included in vaccinations. The NY Times reported on Halsey’s reaction to the findings:

The F.D.A. team’s conclusions were frightening. Vaccines added under Halsey’s watch had tripled the dose of mercury that infants got in their first few months of life. As many as 30 million American children may have been exposed to mercury in excess of Environmental Protection Agency guidelines — levels of mercury that, in theory, could have killed enough brain cells to scramble thinking or hex behavior.

”My first reaction was simply disbelief, which was the reaction of almost everybody involved in vaccines,” Halsey says. ”In most vaccine containers, thimerosal is listed as a mercury derivative, a hundredth of a percent. And what I believed, and what everybody else believed, was that it was truly a trace, a biologically insignificant amount. My honest belief is that if the labels had had the mercury content in micrograms, this would have been uncovered years ago. But the fact is, no one did the calculation.”

Making matters worse, the latest science on mercury damage suggested that even small amounts of organic mercury could do harm to the fetal brain. Some of the federal safety guidelines on mercury were relaxed in the 90’s, even as the amount of mercury that children received in vaccines increased. The more Halsey learned about these mercury studies, the more he worried.

”My first concern was that it would harm the credibility of the immunization program,” he says. ”But gradually it came home to me that maybe there was some real risk to the children.” Mercury was turning out to be like lead, which had been studied extensively in the homes of the Baltimore poor during Halsey’s tenure at Hopkins. ”As they got more sophisticated at testing for lead, the safe level marched down and down, and they continued to find subtle neurological impairment,” Halsey says. ”And that’s almost exactly what happened with mercury.”

The only thing I would add to this reporting is to link it to the lead poisoning that has afflicted the people of Flint, Michigan who were victims of the state’s regulatory bodies failure to do their job. Arel should really take heart at Stein’s statement that it is “really important that the American public have confidence in our regulatory boards so that all of our medical treatments and medications actually are approved by people who do not have a vested interest in their promotion.” If anything, that is a sign that she sees the real need to make sure corporations and capitalist politicians don’t put a muzzle on regulatory bodies. One would think that someone in favor of socialist revolution would understand that.

 

July 29, 2016

The demonization of Jill Stein

Filed under: Green Party,third parties,two-party system — louisproyect @ 6:09 pm

After it became clear that the Sanders Political Revolution was history, the pro-Clinton propagandists redirected their fire at Jill Stein. The contrast between Sanders and Stein could hardly be greater but that made little difference to those who not only favored the two-party system but the hegemonic role of ruling class politicians like the Bushes, the Clintons and Barack Obama within it. Even though Sanders never had any intention of making a breach with corporatist Democrats, he was considered a trouble-maker for pointing out the obvious, namely that the system was rigged in favor of Wall Street.

As a standard-bearer of the anti-Sanders propaganda offensive, it was to be expected that the Washington Post would turn its attention to Stein once the relatively toothless Senator from Vermont was out of the way. On July 26th an article titled “As Green Party’s Stein woos Sanders backers, some see unhappy flashbacks to 2000” appeared. Like the last time a relatively successful Green Party campaign for President made an impact on American society, the Democrats worry that Stein might steal votes from Clinton just like Nader supposedly stole votes from Gore:

“I’m sure she’s a great person, but I can’t see how the effort can lead to anything but helping Trump,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), who had been one of Sanders’s most high-profile supporters but is now urging the party to unify behind Clinton. “Trump is such a clear and present danger to the republic that we’ve got to get behind the candidate who gives us the best chance of defeating Trump.”

To make sure that people got the message, an op-ed piece titled “A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump, and that’s the point” appeared the very next day making the same point. Tom Toles, the Post’s cartoonist, warns: “This is one where there doesn’t need to be any confusion. Voting for Jill Stein (in a competitive state) is voting for Donald Trump to be president. There isn’t any room to quarrel on this.” The repetition of basically the same article in the Post and others referenced below remind me of Adolf Hitler’s observation: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

The same basic article appeared on the Huffington Post: “Think Really, Really Hard Before Voting For A Third Party Candidate. Really Not content with just one such article, Huffington ran another a day later: “The Progressive Case Against The Green Party’s Jill Stein”.

At one point Salon.com was relatively fair-minded about Stein’s campaign in keeping with its liberal pretensions but since the demise of Sanders’s Political Revolution, the gloves have come off. Amanda Marcotte, a typical “progressive” hack of the sort that Salon hires, crapped on both the disaffected Sanderistas and Jill Stein in an article titled “Hanging with “The Bernouts” and Jill Stein: The Bernie-or-bust crowd is loud at the DNC — but they’re powerless”:

Like the Cleveland rally, this one was composed mostly of white men who really, really hate Hillary Clinton and aren’t afraid to make wild accusations about the first woman to be a major party nominee for president. Or to carry signs that they probably did not realize communicate subconscious phallic fears of Clinton’s ascension to power.

“White men” and “phallic fears”? Very transparent use of racial and sexual demagogy, isn’t it.  Maybe the problem is that people don’t want to vote for a candidate who represents everything the left hates.

A day later Salon reporter Sean Illing conducted a hostile interview with Stein that included questions in the “When did you stop beating your wife” vein:

In 2000, people implored Ralph Nader to run only in “safe states.” (non-swing states). He refused to do so and we know what happened. The idea was to allow progressives to vote their conscience in greater numbers and send a message to the Democratic Party without empowering the GOP. Voters know the Green Party or the Libertarian Party candidates aren’t going to win. These are protest votes, and more people would cast them if they were confident they weren’t doing Donald Trump or George W. Bush a solid. This matters a great deal to people who detest the two-party system but care deeply about core liberal principles or the balance of the Supreme Court. Why won’t you do what many now wish Nader did?

Slate Magazine, which is much more in tune with Hillary Clinton’s political agenda than Salon, chimed in with “Jill Stein’s Ideas Are Terrible. She Is Not the Savior the Left Is Looking For”. The author is Jordan Weissman who also complained about Sanders’s attack on free trade. Since he believes that “The fact is, most of the world has seen its standard of living improve quite a bit in the era of free trade,” naturally he would have no use for Jill Stein.

One of the more vitriolic attacks on Jill Stein came from a character named Dan Savage who writes for an alternative newspaper in Seattle called The Stranger and produces radio show podcasts at http://www.savagelovecast.com/. In May, after someone called in to express support for Jill Stein, Savage went postal:

Disaster will come. And the people who’ll suffer are not going to be the pasty white Green Party supporters — pasty white Jill Stein and her pasty white supporters. The people who’ll suffer are going to be people of color. People of minority faiths. Queer people. Women.

Don’t do it. Don’t throw your vote away on Jill Stein/vote for, bankshot-style, Donald Trump.

Since Savage is gay, the demagogy about “pasty white” Jill Stein and suffering gay people was to be expected. It is also worth mentioning that he was a big-time backer of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, saying “Because we’re not just at war with al Qaeda, stupid. We’re at war with a large and growing Islamo-fascist movement that draws its troops and funds from all over the Islamic world. Islamo-fascism is a regional problem, not just an al Qaeda problem or an Afghanistan problem.” So naturally he might be motivated to support Hillary Clinton who voted for the war like him and also like him ultimately admitted that it was a “mistake” to back the war in 2002. You can bet your last dollar that if the war in Iraq had gone smoothly, neither Savage or Clinton would have decided it was a mistake.

This brings me to the matter of Jill Stein’s problematic position on Syria that shares most of the left’s tendency to see it terms of a potential repeat of 2002 as if the USA ever had any intention of “regime change”. In 2013, a year after her last campaign for president, Stein assembled a Shadow Cabinet that included David Swanson as “Secretary of Peace”. In brief, Swanson’s views on Syria are identical to those of most on the left. He has written nothing about the uprising and focuses exclusively on alleged American plans to remove Bashar al-Assad going back to 2006.

He has written: “In 2012, Russia proposed a peace-process that would have included President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, but the U.S. brushed the idea aside without any serious consideration, suffering under the delusion that Assad would be violently overthrown very soon, and preferring a violent solution as more likely to remove the Russian influence and military — and perhaps also due to the general U.S. preference for violence driven by its weapons industry corruption.” In fact no such proposal was ever made as I pointed out in a September 2015 article.

Furthermore, her statements on Syria have not been so much in the Swanson apologetics mode but more in the vein of wishful thinking:

The US and Russia should support diplomacy leading toward a peace settlement in Syria. A peace settlement should include provisions for civil society in Syria that has been working for democracy. The US and Russia should work cooperatively to help resettle refugees feeling the war and the drought.

There is about as much chance of this happening as Hillary Clinton breaking up Wall Street banks.

While I consider Syria to be a kind of litmus test for the left, I tend to apply it a little less forcibly when it comes to someone whose speeches are almost totally about Wall Street criminality, fracking, immigrant rights, single-payer health insurance, and police killings.

Unlike Swanson, I doubt that Stein has ever paid much attention to Syria, something backed up by a search of Nexis. From 01/01/2012 to 07/29/2016 there were 132 articles that turned up in a search on “Jill Stein” and “Green Party” but when you add Syria to the search, nothing comes up.

In fact, the candidacy of Jill Stein and Ralph Nader’s should be understood less as a smorgasbord  of positions than about the possibility of opening up a space on the left that can facilitate coordination and common struggle around burning questions facing American working people. When I attended a sold-out Madison Square Garden rally for Ralph Nader in 2000, I was less interested in what he had to say than I was at the sight of nearly 18,000 warm body in the seats. I said to myself that if only ten percent of these people could become serious activists in a nationally coordinated organization that could fight for clean air and water, jobs for all, civil rights, etc., Nader’s bid would be worth it even if much of what he said was beside the point. If I remember correctly, he went on for ten minutes about how bad Coca-Cola was for youngsters. While I don’t think that he was wrong to attack a drink that apocryphally has been used to clean car batteries, it might have been a better use of those ten minutes to explain why Al Gore was a fake on the question of climate change. I doubt that Nader had any ability to expound upon Marxist economics given his preference for Jeffersonian small businesses, but it would have also been great to hear something about the capitalist system’s contradictions.

After Nader was blamed for Gore losing the election, the Green Party became demonized by the same sorts of people who are demonizing Jill Stein today. In 2004 the pressure exerted by people like Eric Alterman and Todd Gitlin resulted in the nomination of David Cobb, an obscure figure who the “Demogreens” felt would pose no threat to John Kerry. It turns out it was Kerry’s terrible campaign, just like Gore’s in 2000, that led to his defeat.

Jill Stein has the courage of her convictions. In an interview with Paste Magazine, she was emphatic: “The lesser evil thing is false. It’s not going to fix this problem. We’ve been using that strategy since Bush-Nader-Gore and where has it gotten us? The politics of fear has delivered everything we were afraid of. All the reasons you were told you had to vote for the lesser evil is exactly what we’ve gotten: expanding wars, the meltdown of our climate, the prison-industrial complex, more student debt, police violence, the off-shoring of our jobs, Wall Street.”

It is her stiff-necked determination to push forward that will help to build the Green Party. There is an enormous potential for the growth of the left that hasn’t been seen since I was in my 20s. On February 5, 2016 the Washington Post reported that in a poll on socialism versus capitalism, respondents younger than 30 rated socialism more favorably than capitalism (43 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively). Now, of course, these are likely people who understand socialism in terms of Sweden rather than Cuba but if you have the ear of someone who simply has little use for capitalism, you at least are dealing with someone who can be reached politically.

Furthermore, a WSJ/NBC poll revealed that there was a big opening for Third-Party candidates due to the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump. Reporting on the poll, the Washington Post noted:

Those whose views on the race haven’t hardened seem open to choosing Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein. These “persuadable” voters comprised nearly three in 10 of those surveyed.

Of them, 28% leaned toward Mr. Trump and 25% toward Mrs. Clinton. Some 21% favored Mr. Johnson and 12% went for Ms. Stein.

To me those are jaw-dropping figures. Imagine that, Stein’s favorability was only half that of Hillary Clinton even though the media has been hostile to the Greens as indicated at the start of this article. Actually, that’s probably one of the reasons people are leaning in her direction.

July 2, 2017

When Seymour Hersh was interviewed on Infowars

Filed under: Fascism,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

This week, when a Facebook friend referred to a Seymour Hersh appearance on Alex Jones’s Infowars, I did a double-take. Could that be possible? I understand that his judgement is poor but nobody with an ounce of sense would agree to be interviewed by arguably the worst rightwing demagogue in the USA. It turns out that he spoke with Jones on December 30, 2015–timed with his LRB article about how American Generals sidestepped Obama to provide critical intelligence that the Russians and Assad used against the opposition. Not only did Hersh consent to the interview, it was about as amiable an encounter as Barack Obama being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Is it possible that this shows signs of senility? That might be one way of explaining the inexplicable. You saw similar behavior from another elderly celebrity of the left. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Ryan Dawson did a podcast with MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol on August 25, 2014 in order to blame the rebels rather than Assad for using Sarin gas in East Ghouta a year earlier. Much of the show consisted of Postol crediting the Syrian Girl for help on clearing Assad’s name. Also known as Partisangirl, Maram Susli is a fascist (I use the word advisedly) who has appeared on David Duke’s radio show. It’s a small world when it comes to Assadism, senility and fascism apparently.

In making the case for Bashar al-Assad as a big improvement over the opposition, Hersh says that the mass murderer was responsible for major reforms. One of them is that now “you can bank there”. There are ATM machines everywhere. There were 30 different foreign broadcasts on TV as well.

So you can understand why with all those ATM’s and foreign broadcasts, a revolution in Syria would be unnecessary. Yes, it’s true that back in 2011 there might have been some “moderate” rebels but in no time at all, the rebels became fanatical supporters of Sharia law and determined to oppress Christians and Alawites if they took over. With such an analysis, it makes perfect sense why Hersh would accept an invitation to speak on a podcast hosted by a fanatical Islamophobe.

Hersh admits to Jones that Assad was a dictator but the opposition was worse. Hersh states that ISIS executed 200 of his soldiers in one fell swoop. On the other hand, Amnesty International reported that 13,000 prisoners have been secretly hanged in Assad’s prisons but you can’t believe a word that they say since they are a tool of imperialism (except when they are reporting on rebel war crimes). Same thing with Doctors Without Borders. When they claim that Assad bombs hospitals, they are lying but when they report on Saudi Arabia doing the same thing in Yemen, they are telling the truth. How postmodern.

Hersh understood the value of Alex Jones, at least on his own terms. In the old days, it was the NY Times and the Washington Post that controlled the agenda but now because of the Internet and what guys like Jones do, the word gets out there automatically. In his view, “that’s good” because now we have more and better communications. So let’s applaud Infowars, Breitbart News, Global Research, Al-Masdar News, Duran, 21st Century Wire and SOTT for providing a much needed alternative. Along with WBAI, we can now get an alternative to the mainstream news. As far as I know, Jones does not give away Gary Null tapes.

Just this week Alex Jones made the news by both inviting and appearing to take seriously a guest who charged NASA with operating a child slave colony on Mars. Largely through his connections to the Donald Trump campaign, Jones has become infamous in the last year or so as a close ally of the emerging alt-right. But for those who have been aware of Jones for the past decade or so, the NASA slave colony stuff comes as no big surprise since Jones is a major league conspiracy theorist whose attorney even defended him as a purveyor of entertainment rather than a reporter. Taste, they say, is largely in the mouth.

Would Hersh have had agreed to be interviewed by someone like Jones if he knew in advance that he was obviously so deranged? Maybe Jones hadn’t come up with something so outrageous back in December 2015 but it didn’t take much research to find out that he had already described the Sandy Hook Massacre as “staged”.This is not to speak of Jones’s long-standing affiliation with the 9/11 Truther movement.Why would a “legendary” Pulitzer Prize winning reporter want to even take part in a podcast interview conducted with someone that detached from reality? Would he have gone on the David Duke show? I really have to wonder.

This week I have seen repeated credit given to Hersh by people who should know better. For example, Jeff St. Clair touted his Die Welt article as a “landmark piece of investigative reporting”, while the Monthly Review website has linked to the article as well as one Ray McGovern’s wrote in support of Hersh’s article that also appeared on CounterPunch. Does John Bellamy Foster, who has devoted many hours reading about soil chemistry in conjunction with his research on the “metabolic rift”, believe that it is possible to create a toxic cloud that killed 58 people and wounded 300 by dropping a bomb on fertilizer? What about Fred Magdoff, the son of the late editor that Foster replaced after his death? Magdoff is Emeritus Professor of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont. What if one of his students wrote a paper that made such a claim? What kind of scientific evidence would Magdoff expect from his student? Wouldn’t he be as exacting with a journal edited by his respected father? Would the fact that they must have deemed it a waste of time discomfit him? They must have figured that anything written by Seymour Hersh didn’t have to be read with a critical eye. As Donald Trump would say, how sad..

The other day Paul Street, a guy I have a lot of respect for, posted a link on Facebook to a CounterPunch article by Jonathan Cook along the same lines. When, probably to his surprise, a number of people became indignant over this, he understandably didn’t try to defend Hersh (which would have required defending the idea that a bomb dropped on fertilizer can have the same effect as Sarin gas). Instead, he fretted over how the left can become so divided over “foreign” affairs and urged the need for a united front against the capitalist class in the USA. Surely that will be necessary as I tried to indicate in my defense of a Jill Stein vote in 2016.

However, there is something that Paul probably didn’t quite grasp. In the six years of leftist propaganda for Assad, the truth has become less and less important. I first noticed this on CounterPunch articles about East Ghouta that motivated me to resign in 2013. It was not just disagreeing over how to assess Assad. It was how so many people were willing to argue along the lines that it was “illogical” for Assad to carry out such an attack since he was winning the war and since UN inspectors were in the area.

I always wonder why people who raise such cavils never seem nearly so interested in what was in the minds of the rebels they accuse of mounting a “false flag”. Between the two Sarin gas attacks blamed on the rebels by Seymour Hersh, Theodore Postol, et al, 1800 supporters of the rebels were killed and 5000 wounded. What are we to make of men who are so heartless as to kill their own supporters, including many family members, on a gamble? And if they are so heartless, why haven’t they used such a deadly weapon a single time in 6 years of war on Assad’s military, his government bureaucracy or his wealthy supporters who could be reached by sarin-weaponized artillery in the Damascus suburbs that Postol blamed for the East Ghouta massacre. None of this makes any sense, of course.

There’s a real danger when the left embraces such lies in order to pursue “anti-imperialist” goals. As Leon Trotsky points out in “Their Morals and Ours”, the ends do justify the means but under no conditions would a revolutionary socialist like Trotsky accept telling lies to further justifiable ends. The more we bend the truth to support a political agenda no matter how laudable (giving support for Assad the benefit of the doubt), the greater the danger it will finally break.

 

January 12, 2017

Beyond the Golden Showers

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 12:47 am

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-7-47-43-pm(click to animate)

I have finally gotten around to reading the 35-page dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia that has only become viral because of the Golden Showers reference. I will take the president elect’s denial at his word and accept that this lurid tale is the result of a prank on the spook who collected various memos into a dossier.

You can get that side of the story on Zero Hedge, the conspiracist website that is party of the Putin/Assad old boy’s network:

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

Here is 4Chan’s explanation of how the story came to light:

>/pol/acks mailed fanfiction to anti-trump pundit Rick Wilson about trump making people piss on a bed obama slept in

>he thought it was real and gave it to the CIA

>the central intelligence agency of the united states of america put this in their official classified intelligence report on russian involvement in the election

>donald trump and obama have both read this pol/acks fanfiction

>the cia has concluded that the russian plans to blackmail trump with this story we made up

just let that sink in what we have become.

There’s only one problem with the claim that this “fanfiction” about Golden Showers was transmitted to the CIA via Rick Wilson, namely that the dossier was apparently put together by a man named Christopher Steele who is reputedly a former MI6 agent and who is a top executive at Orbis, a private intelligence company similar to Stratfor. While Steele has not admitted to being the man behind the Golden Dawns dossier, there are reports that support such a claim including the Wall Street Journal:

A former British intelligence officer who is now a director of a private security-and-investigations firm has been identified as the author of the dossier of unverified allegations about President-elect Donald Trump’s activities and connections in Russia, people familiar with the matter say.

Christopher Steele, a director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., prepared the dossier, the people said. The document alleges that the Kremlin colluded with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and claims that Russian officials have compromising evidence of Mr. Trump’s behavior that could be used to blackmail him. Mr. Trump has dismissed the dossier’s contents as false and Russia has denied the claims.

Mr. Steele, 52 years old, is one of two directors of the firm, along with Christopher Burrows, 58.

What is left out of the WSJ article and every other I have read about the dossier’s provenance is who commissioned it. These sorts of reports cost a bundle of cash and it would be interesting to see who paid for it. Likely, we’ll never know. (Update: The Guardian reports that it was a unnamed opponent of Trump in the Republican Party that paid Orbis for the dossier.)

Once you get past the Golden Showers business, which occupies only a couple of sentences in a 35-page document, you’ll find that most of it is a rather unsurprising account of how Russia worked with the Trump campaign to get him elected. Quelle surprise. Towards the end of the dossier, you’ll discover that Putin encountered “buyer’s remorse” over being outed in the American press as responsible for getting Trump elected, who does not quite seem to be regarded as a reliable asset by the Kremlin. That would explain why they were so anxious to accumulate damaging material on Trump even if the Golden Showers business does seem unlikely. Why would Trump spend good money to have prostitutes put on a pee show when the guy was much more interested in “grabbing their pussy”.

Most of the 35 pages are about efforts being made to intervene politically in the American elections after the fashion of the report made by American intelligence agencies on January 6th that had less to say about hacking than it did about the open propaganda such as the kind RT.com traffics in:

In an effort to highlight the alleged “lack of Messaging on RT prior to the US presidential election democracy” in the United States, RT (RT, 3 November) broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a “sham.”

Holy fuck. I never thought I’d end up as a Kremlin propagandist myself.

As many on the left have noted, there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy involved with such accusations. The USA has openly admitted if not bragged about doing exactly the same thing in countries that had the impudence to stake out an independent course.

During the late 80s, when I was co-editor of the NY Nicaragua Network newsletter, I was always writing about how the USA was basically buying candidates to run against Daniel Ortega. The National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and other groups operating sub rosa like the CIA spent millions of dollars to unseat Ortega in 1990. On its own, the CIA spent $38 million—an amount that far exceeds proportionately what the Koch brothers routinely spend buying candidates here.

Obviously acting on behalf of its own interests, the Kremlin curried the favor of Americans predisposed to its political agenda. And if there is a more motley crew than those named in the dossier, I’d be astonished. It seems that Putin cultivated the support of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the Larouche cult, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who attended an RT banquet alongside Stein, and a key Trump adviser named Carter Page.

From left to right: Flynn, Putin and Stein

Page’s name keeps cropping up in the dossier like a bad penny. He is cut from the same cloth as Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who was dropped in favor of Steve Bannon. Page and Manafort were big-time operators in Russia seeking to promote the interests of Putin and his flunkies like the toppled Ukrainian president Yanukovych.

Page is an investment banker who formed an energy oriented firm in partnership with Gazprom executive Sergei Yatsenko. In other words, Page has the same relationship to Russia as Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil and a close associate of Vladimir Putin.

People like Diana Johnstone are tickled pink that people like Tillerson and Page are key players in the Trump administration. Supposedly this will forestall any moves toward WWIII as the beady-eyed conspiracists at WSWS.org keep warning about even though many on the left are far more worried about a war with China since Trump’s saber-rattling against a country supposedly cheating the USA is well known.

What I found intriguing was a comment in the dossier that claimed Trump was far more interested in partnering with China than Russia: “Suggestion from source close to TRUMP and MANAFORT that Republican campaign team happy to have Russia as media bogeyman to mask more extensive corrupt business ties to China and other emerging countries.” That, of course, backs up what I reported on the article titled “Trumponomics as Professional Wrestling“.

Is there any reason to put a lot of confidence in this dossier? I wouldn’t since most of it is patently obvious, as if it hasn’t been clear for the longest time that Russia is using RT.com and perhaps hundreds of paid trolls to influence voters in the USA. Since I have found Stratfor next to useless over the years, I find no reason to take Orbis’s intelligence more seriously.

The only thing we can be sure about is that Trump, Putin, Obama and Clinton are united around the need to make money for the capitalist class that they orient to. Unlike 1914 or 1941, there is little evidence that the nation-state of today is bent on going to war with its adversaries over the control of markets and resources. With ExxonMobil in partnership with Putin, Lenin’s essay on imperialism cannot be applied mechanically even though some sectarians are in the habit of doing so. There is a war going on, however, and that is between the global capitalist class that these politicians serve and the rest of us who work for a living and would face imminent ruin if we lost our jobs.

Eugene V. Debs put it well:

And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.

 

December 29, 2016

A conversation with Anthony DiMaggio about Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

Anthony DiMaggio

Anthony DiMaggio, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University and long-time contributor to Counterpunch on American politics, wrote an article about Syria on December 28th that is distinguished by its attempt at evenhandedness. Titled “The Pathologies of War: Dual Propaganda Campaigns in Reporting on Syria”, it adopts a “plague on both your houses” stance toward RT.com et al on one side and the American bourgeois media on the other. What is missing unfortunately is any engagement with the reports from those who have taken up the cause of the Syrian rebels such as Robin Yassin-Kassab, Idrees Ahmed, Gilbert Achcar and Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, a Syrian communist who spent 16 years in prison for writing articles critical of the system in the same manner that DiMaggio does on Counterpunch.

I recommend reading the article since it is noteworthy for taking exception to the dominant narrative at Counterpunch put forward by Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek, Rick Sterling et al. It is not as if Counterpunch is censoring writers critical of Assad; it is more that there are so few of us who have decided that the cause of the Syrian rebels is worth taking up. DiMaggio writes, for example:

Despite the documentation of war crimes and human rights atrocities, pro-Russian, state funded media outlet Russia Today denies responsibility for the attacks. Pro-Russian citizens of the west who indulge in Russian and Syrian government propaganda are given free rein on the network to exonerate these countries from moral condemnation or blame (Wahl, 3/21/14; Bartlett, 12/17/16). Numerous Americans I’ve spoken with on “the left” accept this propaganda, and are willing to accept any claim from countries opposing U.S. military power, no matter how outlandish.  No evidence, no matter how thoroughly documented, is strong enough for them to take seriously if it threatens to harm the image of Putin and the Assadists.

This, needless to say, is a statement that would have been more difficult to put forward a couple of years ago. I suspect that “quantity has become quality”, to put it in crude Marxist terms. There is nothing like a year’s worth of Russian bombing on everything that moves in East Aleppo to focus one’s attention if not break down sobbing.

After raising some concerns with DiMaggio privately about the value of Patrick Cockburn’s reporting, he asked me to provide some detail that would help penetrate the propaganda haze surrounding Syria. In focusing on the part of his article that deals with the alleged problem of pro-rebel propaganda, I will try to differentiate my own Marxist perspective from that of John McCain, Nicholas Kristof, Hillary Clinton or any other bourgeois politician that many on the left amalgamate with my views. I should add that those views are different from many of those who support the rebels, starting with being opposed to no-fly zones and supporting Jill Stein for president in 2016 even though her ideas are obviously in sync with Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Stephen Kinzer, et al.

Turning now to the section of DiMaggio’s article that seeks to debunk the mainstream media’s portrayal of the USA as a disinterested party in the Middle East only concerned with peace and fair play, there a familiar approach that pivots on the use of Wikileaks and a selective reading of the bourgeois press to show that Obama’s real intentions were anything but. He writes that the USA was responsible for helping to destabilize Syria by supplying weapons to the rebels early on despite pretending that it sought “to protect regional order and stability in the Middle East.”

He cites the WSJ:

U.S. officials said the Obama administration is pursuing what amounts to a dual-track strategy, which aims to maintain military pressure on Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters while U.S. diplomats see if they can ease him from power through negotiations. U.S. officials said the pressure track was meant to complement the diplomatic track by giving the U.S. leverage at the negotiating table.

Despite DiMaggio’s take on the WSJ article as revealing some deep, dark secret, the sad fact is that applying military pressure on Assad in order to ease him from power through negotiations was exactly the strategy Washington hoped would protect “regional order and stability in the Middle East”. Basically, the American ruling class sought the same kind of solution that it sought for Yemen and Egypt when unpopular dictators were eased out of power in order to keep the system intact. As Count Tancredi says in Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, “For things to remain the same, things will have to change.”

Washington was never opposed to Baathist rule, only to the sort of excesses that had driven the country’s desperate peasantry to rise up. In the spring of 2011, when peaceful protests began taking place in Homs, Daraa, the suburbs of Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere, Washington hoped that Assad would be forced to resign by members of his inner circle who thought like Tancredi. Instead, he directed his cops and soldiers to begin firing on protests, which led to the formation of militias whose only goal was to protect protestors—not overthrow a government that had a powerful air force and armored divisions. When the USA began arming the rebels in the early period, it was only with an eyedropper. From the very beginning the FSA complained about being inadequately armed. For the full report on the US role in arming the rebels, I recommend Michael Karadjis’s thoroughly researched article on “Yet again on those hoary old allegations that the US has armed the FSA since 2012”.

Karadjis makes the essential point that the USA had to supply light arms such as RPG’s and automatic rifles in order to put itself in the position as a control monitor of arms shipments. Once it had ownership of the pipeline, it could more effectively block the shipment of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that could have ended the war as early as three years ago. He cites an article from the NY Times in 2013 whose title would at first blush indicate that the USA was “destabilizing” Syria: “Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.” But a careful reading of the article demonstrates that imperialism’s real goal was to put a leash on the opposition:

But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft. Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought.

I would recommend that DiMaggio have a look at the documentary “The Return to Homs” that illustrates what “destabilizing” Syria meant in practice. In 2011 the city’s poor began peacefully protesting Assad only to be shot down in the streets. Young men formed self-defense units that relied on RPG’s and automatic weapons, some obtained from the USA, others from Sunni-dominated states in the region and others on the black market. Once they were capable of preventing slaughter in the streets from Baathist cops and foot soldiers, Assad escalated his attacks on the neighborhoods opposed to his dictatorship. Tank cannons blew holes in tenements killing everybody inside and helicopters began dropping barrel bombs on street markets. In order to stave off such criminal attacks on civilians, the FSA needed anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that they could have received from Libya. And what happened? The CIA organized what amounted to an embargo on heavy weapons and prolonged the misery of Syria’s desperate, poverty-stricken masses.

Next DiMaggio addresses the perennial question of “jihadis” in Syria that has prompted so many to view Assad as a lesser evil even if he has killed far more of his countrymen than any group falling into this category. In fact, Assad militarized the conflict early on since he knew that it would provide an opening for groups with little interest in the democratic aspirations of the protesters in 2011. With support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, such groups could play a role all out of proportion to their actual political support just as ultraright street fighters were able to do in Ukraine during the Euromaidan protests.

DiMaggio quotes one of Clinton’s hacked emails to show how far the USA would go in building up the jihadists: “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the [Middle East] region”.

Well, if someone said this in an email to Hillary Clinton, it does not make it true. The truth is that ISIS gets no support whatsoever from the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia that have funded groups far more willing to take on ISIS than Assad ever did. A cursory glance at the historical record would bear this out in spades, starting with the Daily Star in Lebanon’s January 4, 2014 article “Syria rebels fight back against ISIS”.

But more significantly, ISIS has all the money and arms it ever needed, mostly acquired by driving the oppressive Shi’ite officials, cops and soldiers out of the Sunni regions in Iraq in 2014 that it then replaced with its own medieval rule. I tried to document this in an article that was written in reply to Ben Norton who like Patrick Cockburn relied on the Wikileaks email DiMaggio cites.

My article cites an Amnesty International report that identifies the heavy weaponry ISIS captured from fleeing Shi’ite soldiers in Iraq.

Most armoured fighting vehicles currently in use by IS are Russian-designed or US types captured from Iraqi military stocks. The main battle tanks deployed by IS are the Russian T-54/T-55 and T-62; IS has been able to capture some Chinese Type 69-II tanks and US M1A1M “Abrams” in Iraq. It appears, however, that all captured M1A1M tanks were later destroyed by IS, and there is no evidence of their use in further combat.

Additionally, during the current conflicts in Syria and Iraq, IS has captured hundreds of light ar- moured fighting vehicles of more than a dozen different types that were in service with the Syrian and Iraqi armies. However, the vast majority of light armoured fighting vehicles used by IS fighters comprise only a few models: the Russian BMP-1, MT-LB Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the US M113A2 Armoured Personnel Carrier, M1117 Armoured Security Vehicle, and up-armoured HM- MWV (Humvee) variants.

Furthermore, ISIS never needed a penny from the Qatari or Saudi governments (which it is a sworn enemy of) or even from wealthy Salafists acting on their own in those kingdoms. When it conquered Sunni cities in Iraq, it emptied the banks of their currency and gold to the tune of a half-billion dollars.

Even if it had not walked off with such a massive stash, it could have kept going on the same basis of any state in the world: through taxation and the sale of oil within territory it controlled. In 2014 the RAND corporation reviewed 200 documents captured from ISIS and concluded that only five percent of its revenues came from foreign donors. Mostly it relies on the following sources:

  • Proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets)
  • Kidnapping ransom
  • Material support provided by foreign fighters
  • Fundraising through modern communication networks

Finally, there is no engagement in DiMaggio’s article with the all-important question of whether receiving training and arms from the USA and its allies constitutes prima facie evidence of a “destabilizing” presence in the region. If being backed by the USA is a kind of litmus test, I am afraid that we would be forced to condemn Ho Chi Minh for “destabilizing” Asia. While he would eventually find himself locked in a deadly struggle with American imperialism, Ho Chi Minh had no problem connecting with the OSS during WWII as recounted by William Duiker in his 2000 biography “Ho Chi Minh: a Life”:

While Ho Chi Minh was in Paise attempting to revitalize the Dong Minh Hoi, a U.S. military intelligence officer arrived in Kunming to join the OSS unit there. Captain Archimedes “Al” Patti had served in the European Theater until January 1944, when he was transferred to Washington, D.C., and appointed to the Indochina desk at OSS headquarters. A man of considerable swagger and self-confidence, Patti brought to his task a strong sense of history and an abiding distrust of the French and their legacy in colonial areas. It was from the files in Washington, D.C. that he first became aware of the activities of the Vietminh Front and its mysterious leader, Ho Chi Minh.

The next day, Patti arrived at Debao airport, just north of Jingxi, and after consultation with local AGAS representatives, drove into Jingxi, where he met a Vietminh contact at a local restaurant and was driven to see Ho Chi Minh in a small village about six miles out of town. After delicately feeling out his visitor about his identity and political views, Ho described conditions inside Indochina and pointed out that his movement could provide much useful assistance and information to the Allies if it were in possession of modern weapons, ammunition, and means of communication. At the moment, Ho conceded that the movement was dependent upon a limited amount of equipment captured from the enemy. Patti avoided any commitment, but promised to explore the matter. By his own account, Patti was elated.

As Leon Trotsky pointed out in an article written in 1938, you can’t automatically put a minus where the ruling class puts a plus. If that was the case, Lenin never would have gotten on that German train bound for the Finland Station in 1917. Trotsky writes:

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.

Let us imagine that in the next European war the Belgian proletariat conquers power sooner than the proletariat of France. Undoubtedly Hitler will try to crush the proletarian Belgium. In order to cover up its own flank, the French bourgeois government might find itself compelled to help the Belgian workers’ government with arms. The Belgian Soviets of course reach for these arms with both hands. But actuated by the principle of defeatism, perhaps the French workers ought to block their bourgeoisie from shipping arms to proletarian Belgium? Only direct traitors or out-and-out idiots can reason thus.

Let me conclude with a reference to the very best article on the nature of the Syrian uprising that was never reflected in either RT.com or the NY Times. Very few Western reporters, including Patrick Cockburn, ever took the trouble that my friend Anand Gopal took in 2012 when researching the article titled “Welcome to Free Syria” that appeared in Harpers. Gopal took considerable risk in sneaking across the Syrian border from Turkey in the dark of night to reach the men and women Cockburn has entirely ignored in preference to Damascus hotels and being escorted around by the Baathist military. Gopal writes:

Matar brought me to a mosque that sits next to one of the mass graves. Inside, there were heaps of clothes, boxes of Turkish biscuits, and crates of bottled water. An old bald man with a walrus mustache studied a ledger with intensity while a group of old men around him argued about how much charity they could demand from Taftanaz’s rich to rebuild the town. This was the public-affairs committee, one of the village’s revolutionary councils. The mustached man slammed his hands on the floor and shouted, “This is a revolution of the poor! The rich will have to accept that.” He turned to me and explained, “We’ve gone to every house in town and determined what they need”—he pointed at the ledger—“and compared it with what donations come in. Everything gets recorded and can be seen by the public.”

All around Taftanaz, amid the destruction, rebel councils like this were meeting—twenty-seven in all, and each of them had elected a delegate to sit on the citywide council. They were a sign of a deeper transformation that the revolution had wrought in Syria: Bashar al-Assad once subdued small towns like these with an impressive apparatus of secret police, party hacks, and yes-men; now such control was impossible without an occupation. The Syrian army, however, lacked the numbers to control the hinterlands—it entered, fought, and moved on to the next target. There could be no return to the status quo, it seemed, even if the way forward was unclear.

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

It was Gopal’s article that convinced me that the Syrian revolution had to be supported in the same manner that I supported the Vietnamese in 1967 and the Nicaraguans 20 years later. What others on the left decide to do is their own business. I only hope that they at least take the trouble to get all sides of the story before taking up the cause of Bashar al-Assad who was determined to crush the kind of developments Gopal reported on.

December 4, 2016

Mark Lause: Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory

Filed under: North Star,two-party system — louisproyect @ 12:35 am

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Here we are, weeks after the 2016 election and Green candidate Jill Stein and her campaign committee are looming larger in the news than they ever did during the presidential race itself.   Her efforts to raise money for a formal recount in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have gained regular national attention and involves much more money than the campaign itself had raised.  Proponents insist that this drive to win a recount in three pivotal states that turned the election against Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with cozying up to the Democrats and is about nothing less than the integrity of the electoral process itself.

However, much of the Green Party itself has thus far remained aloof, and prominent party figures have declared themselves against the effort.  (See Daniel Marans, “Jill Stein’s Recount Campaign Is Winning Her New Fame — And Losing Her The Green Party,” Huffington Post, December 1, 2016.)  Brandy Baker has drawn stark conclusions about it in “The Stein Campaign and the Fight for Green Party Independence,” Counterpunch, November 28, 2016.  Stein’s vice presidential running mate, Ajamu Baraka called the recount “a potentially dangerous move” that gave the public the impression that the Greens were “carrying the water for the Democrats.” (Eli Watkins, “Jill Stein’s running mate: ‘I’m not in favor of the recount'” CNN, November 30, 2016.)  Discerning conservatives have been delighted to see the candidate go one way and the party the other.  (Warner Todd Huston, “Green Party releases statement distancing itself from Jill Stein,” Bizpac Review, December 1, 2016.)  Nevertheless, the Democrats generally seem to follow the lead of President-elect Donald J. Trump in describing the recount project as the work of the Green Party.

Some backstory on this might be helpful.

The Origins

According to published accounts, the recount project began with John Bonifaz, a Boston attorney who has founded and/or officered a series of organizations around voting rights.   Although he reportedly voted Green once, he is a registered Democrat and has run for statewide office as a Democrat. (See his bio on Wiki  or on his Free Speech for People site.)  Almost as soon as the 2016 election was over, he raised the concerns of what he calls “the electoral integrity community” about the integrity of the elections based on what some cited as statistically anomalous “indicators” in the three states that Clinton had hoped to win but lost to Trump.  Bonifaz dutifully took those concerns to his party.  (See Gabriel Shermen, “Experts Urge Clinton Campaign to Challenge Election Results in 3 Swing States,” Daily Intelligencer, reposted New York Magazine.)

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November 21, 2016

Reading the fine print in Seth Ackerman’s blueprint for a new party

Filed under: socialism,two-party system — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

Seth Ackerman

Issue #23 of Jacobin, which I received today, is devoted to an examination of “The Party We Need”. Since I have been advocating a new left party for the past 35 years both on and off the Internet, I was curious to see what the DSA supporters on the editorial board had to say on this topic. I probably will be evaluating other articles in the issue but want to start off with Seth Ackerman’s “A Blueprint for a New Party” that was available at least a month before it came out. It made sense that Ackerman’s article would be highlighted since it encapsulates perfectly the fence-straddling politics of DSA today, especially the youth wing that has made Jacobin its semi-official organ.

To start with, I was wary about Ackerman’s title since the word blueprint is antithetical to Karl Marx’s approach. Keep in mind that he once wrote in defense of the “critical analysis of actual facts instead of writing recipes for the cook-shops of the future”. Of course, when Marx wrote this he was referring to the sort of grand designs for classless societies found typically in Albert-Hahnel’s Parecon and not how to build parties. That being said, Ackerman has displayed a susceptibility to recipe-writing in the past as we can see from his Jacobin article “The Red and the Black”:

Why, then, are radicals so hesitant to talk about what a different system might look like? One of the oldest and most influential objections to such talk comes from Marx, with his oft-quoted scorn toward utopian “recipes” for the “cookshops of the future.”

Ackerman felt that Marx violated his own rules in “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, where he supposedly wrote “his own little cookshop recipe” that “involved labor tokens, storehouses of goods, and an accounting system to determine how much workers would get paid.”

One imagines that Ackerman was referring to Marx’s reference to a worker receiving a certificate based on the amount of labor he or she has contributed and that could be used in turn to purchase goods equal to the amount of labor embodied in the certificate. That is not only the sole reference to such a mechanism in “Critique of the Gotha Programme” but in Karl Marx’s entire body of work.

Indeed, the opening sentence in the relevant paragraph should give you a better idea of Marx’s approach: “What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” If you want to get a handle on Marx’s concept of a socialist society, the place to go is the 1871 “Civil War in France” that puts forward the Paris Commune as its concrete realization. The book is focused entirely on the steps workers had taken to reshape society according to their own class interests with nary a word about certificates.

After recruiting Karl Marx as a fellow blueprint writer, Ackerman shows his true colors by recommending Albert and Hahnel’s Participatory Economics:

Parecon, as it’s called, is an interesting exercise for our purposes, because it rigorously works out exactly what would be needed to run such an “anarchist” economy. And the answer is roughly as follows: At the beginning of each year, everyone must write out a list of every item he or she plans to consume over the course of the year, along with the quantity of each item. In writing these lists, everyone consults a tentative list of prices for every product in the economy (keep in mind there are more than two million products in Amazon.com’s “kitchen and dining” category alone), and the total value of a person’s requests may not exceed his or her personal “budget,” which is determined by how much he or she promises to work that year.

Preposterous, isn’t it? And any connection between this and the 104 words in “Critique of the Gotha Programme” about labor certificates is purely coincidental.

Ackerman’s article on a blueprint for a new party starts out promisingly enough:

This political moment offers a chance to fill in some of these blanks — to advance new electoral strategies for an independent left-wing party rooted in the working class.

Yeah! Gosh-darn-it. Let’s get on board with this.

But there are obstacles in the way of implementing such a proposal as should be obvious by Ackerman’s discussion of the stillborn Labor Party of 20 years ago, an effort I was quite familiar with. It was initiated by Tony Mazzochi, a leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union (OCAW). After an initial flurry of interest, it withered on the vine because the left bureaucracy that was willing to endorse it was not ready to “go all the way”. Ackerman describes why. “Running candidates against Democrats risked electing anti-labor Republicans. For unions whose members had a lot to lose, that risk was considered too high.” In other words, the same kind of union officials who urged a vote for Hillary Clinton this year would have been reluctant to run candidates who might siphon votes away from Al Gore in 2000 just as the NY Times reported that year:

This outpouring of enthusiasm for Mr. Nader worries many Democrats, who fear that so many steelworkers, auto workers, teamsters and other union members will vote for him this fall that Mr. Gore could lose in Ohio and other Midwestern swing states. For the Democrats, an added concern is that two of the most powerful unions in the Midwest, the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers, have flirted with Mr. Nader and have not endorsed Mr. Gore, even though the A.F.L.-C.I.O. is backing the vice president.

Was there a way for the Labor Party to advance its agenda without generating the opprobrium heaped upon the Nader campaign? Ackerman believes there was, namely to avoid creating a separate ballot line. Having a separate ballot line is practically a fetish in Ackerman’s eyes, the sort of exercise that reminds me quite a bit of my time in the Socialist Workers Party:

These parties are frequently forced to devote the bulk of their resources not to educating voters, or knocking on doors on election day, but to waging petition drives and ballot-access lawsuits. The constant legal harassment, in turn, ends up exerting a subtle but powerful effect on the kinds of people attracted to independent politics. Through a process of natural selection, such obstacles tend to repel serious and experienced local politicians and organizers, while disproportionately attracting activists with a certain mentality: disdainful of practical politics or concrete results; less interested in organizing, or even winning elections, than in bearing witness to the injustice of the two-party system through the symbolic ritual of inscribing a third-party’s name on the ballot.

Yes, this certainly evokes the days I spent collecting signatures for the party in the 60s and 70s standing in front of supermarkets in Vermont in 1972 with a clipboard in my hand, freezing my nuts off. I suppose that I must confess to being “less interested in winning elections” and “disdainful of practical politics” at the time although I didn’t find anything “symbolic” about getting Linda Jenness and Andrew Pulley on the ballot. The war in Vietnam was still raging and for someone like myself George McGovern did not begin to address the underlying cause of the war, namely the capitalist system. At the time the SWP had about 2000 members and was still growing rapidly. Our election campaigns were one of the primary ways that young people could be attracted to the socialist movement. We were right about the need for running such openly socialist campaigns even if none of us had an inkling of what a bizarre sect-cult the SWP would turn out to be.

Ackerman adds, “The official parties are happy to have such people as their opposition, and even happy to grant them this safe channel for their discontent.” Gosh, someone might have mentioned that to the FBI. That would have save them the trouble of trying to get me fired from my job as a programmer in 1968 when they sent Metropolitan Life a postcard fingering me as a red.

For Ackerman, a different strategy is needed, one that is more “creative”. Does that mean working in the Democratic Party? He answers his own question: “No. Or at least, not in the way that phrase is usually meant.”

After casting doubt on some of the traditional left-liberal and social democratic strategies for working in the DP such as supporting candidates like McGovern or serving as a tail to the DP’s kite after the fashion of the Working Families Party, Ackerman enunciates a spanking new approach.

The widespread support for Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, particularly among young people, has opened the door for new ideas about how to form a democratic political organization rooted in the working class.

The following is a proposal for such a model: a national political organization that would have chapters at the state and local levels, a binding program, a leadership accountable to its members, and electoral candidates nominated at all levels throughout the country.

Hmm. Intriguing. But be sure to read the fine print in a paragraph to follow:

But it would avoid the ballot-line trap. Decisions about how individual candidates appear on the ballot would be made on a case-by-case basis and on pragmatic grounds, depending on the election laws and partisan coloration of the state or district in question. In any given race, the organization could choose to run in major- or minor-party primaries, as nonpartisan independents, or even, theoretically, on the organization’s own ballot line. [emphasis added]

It could choose to run in major- or minor party primaries?

Oh, I get it. It could run in the DP primaries just like Bernie Sanders did, who asked us to vote for Hillary Clinton and now describes the execrable Charles Schumer as being better prepared and more capable than anybody else of leading the Senate Democrats–god help us.  (I have no idea what Ackerman meant by “minor party primaries”. Does the Working Families Party hold primaries? The SWP certainly doesn’t.)

The rest of Ackerman’s article takes up minutiae such as establishing a PAC, etc. But they are incidental to the overriding question of whether DSA’ers like Ackerman and the rest of the hustlers at Jacobin have any intention of breaking with the Democratic Party.

The title of the article is a complete fraud. When you penetrate through Ackerman’s prose, you will understand that it is not a “new party” he talking about at all. Instead it is a caucus of the Democratic Party that will not be encumbered by the need to go out and collect signatures to gain ballot status like Jill Stein did.

And if you think a bit more deeply about what this is about, it is really less about the onerous task of getting on the ballot that Ackerman exaggerates but remaining acceptable to the prevailing mood of the middle-class intelligentsia that Jacobin orients to at Vox, The Nation, Dissent, etc. Do you think that you will see fawning articles about the young intellectuals involved with magazines like n+1 or Jacobin if they got involved with a project that took a clear class line? Forget about it.

This debate about the Democratic Party has been going on for a half-century at least. In 1964, SDS adopted the slogan “Part of the Way with LBJ”. It took five years of brutal war to create a mood of resistance on campus and in the professional classes that produced the Peace and Freedom Party, a promising initiative that was hobbled by sectarian “intervention”.

This year there was significant support for Jill Stein’s candidacy that was undermined by an understandable fear of a Trump presidency. Unlike others who identify with the Greens, I was not disappointed by her modest vote total, which it must be noted was triple that of her last campaign. My problem is with the inability of the Greens to cohere as a membership organization that can begin to function as a nerve center for the left nationally even if it never wins another election.

A vacuum of leadership exists today that is crying out to be filled. There are basically three strategies that are being put forward. Groups such as the ISO and Socialist Alternative see work in the Green Party as a means to an end, namely the growth of their own group that is the nucleus of the future vanguard party that will topple the capitalist system. Even if they give lip-service to the idea of a broad left party (the ISO much less so), they continue to believe that it is only they who have the winning program that can rally the working class under the banner of socialism.

The DSA is both more modest and more circumlocuitous. Despite being on record in favor of the socialist transformation of the United States, their real orientation is to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that they see as the only political force capable of delivering Scandinavian type reforms even though the capitalist system in 2016 and for the foreseeable future is incompatible with such goals.

Finally, there is the liberal establishment itself that the DSA’s umbilical cord is attached to. It is the source of both intellectual and real capital. It exerts pressure on people such as Seth Ackerman that he is probably not even aware of. Like many of the contributors to Jacobin who are PhD students, there is a tendency to tailor their Marxism to the prevailing sensibility of the academy—one that encourages careerism and servility. The dissertation process is ultimately geared to reining in radicals and housebreaking them. When the rewards are a tenured professorship with the prestige, emoluments and job security that go along with it, the temptations to play it safe are irresistible.

Finally, the real challenge for people such as Seth Ackerman and the other Jacobin writers is to begin testing their ideas in practice. A magazine so invested in theory and “reading clubs” has little chance to test its ideas in practice. Granted, the low ebb of the class struggle today hardly gives people such as Ackerman the opportunity to assume leadership in the mass movement even though the responsibilities of completing a PhD likely would stand in the way to begin with.

In the 60s and 70s, there ample opportunities to learn about organizing people with so many different forms of rebellion both on and off the campus. I suspect that the Trump presidency will be providing brand new opportunities over the next four years as it begins to encroach on gains that were won over the past half-century. Let’s hope that people such as Seth Ackerman will avail themselves of the opportunity to build the movement, something that will be a lot more rewarding as I discovered in 1967 after dropping out of the New School and devoting every free moment to building the Vietnam antiwar and socialist movements.

October 4, 2016

The Green Party and Syria

Filed under: Green Party,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm

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Over the past five years, I have written 204 articles about Syria in the hopes that I might convince the left to support the Syrian rebels. The Syrian revolution is our generation’s version of the Spanish Civil War. Unlike the 1930s, however, much of the left today is backing the Syrian equivalent of General Francisco Franco’s fascist military in Spain.

Given my commitment to the struggle against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, many of my friends and colleagues wonder why I am supporting the Green Party candidacy of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, whose positions on Syria are exactly those I have been writing against for the past five years. The time has come to explain this paradox, but, before doing so, it would be useful to examine closely what Stein and Baraka have said on the Syria issue, if for no other reason than to confront the actual record.

The Left’s Syria Problem

To understand support for Assad on the left, it helps to think diagrammatically, in terms of concentric circles. The innermost circle belongs to people like Professor Tim Anderson, an Australian who is one of Assad’s most hard-core, Western leftist supporters. In circles closer to the middle, you have people like Baraka, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh, and others who would likely admit that Assad is a neoliberal who has collaborated with the CIA in torturing abductees (the facts are undeniable), but see him as a lesser evil to the “jihadists.” Close to the outer edges, you have someone like Stein, who likely never gave much thought to Syrian realities, but has relied on what she has read from those closer to the middle circles, in places like CounterPunch, Salon, The Nation, the London Review of Books, and ZNet. (If these references to concentric circles reminds you of Dante’s Inferno, I cannot blame you.)

While ignorance is no defense in a court of law, Stein is neither better nor worse than the vast majority of the left, which has made up its mind that the U.S. government is actively seeking regime change in Syria. Like most on the left, Stein sees Syria’s problems largely as an outcome of American intervention on the side of “extremist” groups funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Steeped in this belief, Stein issued a foolish statement on November 2, 2015, opposing American ground troops in Syria and accusing President Barack Obama of trying to engineer “regime change” in the country. In her statement, she urged the U.S. government to work with Syria, Russia, and Iran “to restore all of Syria to control by the government rather than Jihadi rebels.”

Unfortunately, Stein seems not to know that the Syrian uprising was sparked by suffering created by the Assad government. Even if Islamist groups have tried to hijack the uprising since then, the genie cannot be stuffed back into the bottle.

Unlike Stein, who superficially parrots the left’s prevailing “anti-intervention” viewpoint, Baraka’s Baathist sympathies are far more pronounced. Indeed, if he were the one running for president, I would not support his candidacy.

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September 24, 2016

Michael Ansara’s special pleading for Hillary Clinton

Filed under: corruption,parliamentary cretinism,student revolt,trade unions — louisproyect @ 7:16 pm

Michael Ansara

It makes perfect sense for Michael Ansara to be urging a vote for Hillary Clinton in Vox.com, the website launched by Ezra Klein in 2014. Klein is a 32-year old wunderkind who got started at the Washington Post, a newspaper to the right of the NY Times. Klein, who Doug Henwood once referred to as a “Neoliberal über-dweeb”, supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Like Hillary Clinton, he came to rue his decision but only because it went sour. As the dweeb put it:

I thought there was no way the Bush administration would neglect to plan for the obvious challenges of the aftermath. I turned on the war quickly when I saw how poorly and arrogantly it was being managed.

So who is this Ansara guy anyhow? Unlike Klein, he would seem to have some credibility as a radical, at least on the basis of how he describes himself in the Vox article:

I am a New England regional organizer for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the largest New Left student organization spearheading the opposition to the war in Vietnam. Living in Cambridge, I swim in a river of others just as young and just as committed — committed to ending the war in Vietnam; committed to radical change for black Americans; committed to creating an American New Left, rooted in American realities and traditions. But in this year of 1968, what we most want is to end the seemingly endless war in Vietnam, a responsibility that rests uncomfortably on our too-young shoulders.

To begin with, you have to unpack the statement “the largest New Left student organization spearheading the opposition to the war in Vietnam”. By 1968, SDS had largely abandoned opposition to the war except for campus-based actions such as opposing military recruiters, etc. It did very good work on campus but it stood apart from the mass demonstrations being organized by a coalition consisting of the SWP, the CP and pacifists that it regarded as ineffective. SDS had organized the first antiwar demonstration in Washington in 1965, largely through the prodding of the SWP, but had become disappointed by the continuation of the war. It combined anti-imperialist rhetoric with adventurist tactics that mirrored the frustration of much of the student left. By 1971 SDS had fallen apart with the Weatherman faction going underground to carry out foolish terrorist attacks on “enemy” buildings as if a pipe bomb could halt the war in Vietnam.

While some New Leftists went off in an ultraleft direction, others pinned their hopes on “peace” candidates like Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. In fact, the 1968 protests at the Democratic Party convention were designed to put pressure on the delegates to nominate such a candidate even if people like Dave Dellinger and Abby Hoffman were cagey about not putting it in exactly that way. Given the fact that the DP was still the party carrying out the war, it would have been inadvisable to give it carte blanche.

Referring to the 1968 elections, Michael Ansara is repentant for not supporting Hubert Humphrey:

We sit out the election. We organize street protests. We march. We mock. We do not organize young people to vote in one of the closest elections in American history. There are tens of thousands of young people looking to us for direction. We do not say, “Make history. Swing this election to Humphrey and show how powerful we as a group now are.” No, we say, “A plague on both your houses,” and walk away.

He depicts Richard Nixon as fomenting “a right-wing counter-reformation to hold power and warp American politics for most of the next four decades.”

Actually, Nixon looks pretty good in retrospect compared to Barack Obama. Keep in mind that Nixon was far more ambitious on environmental questions than Obama and directed all federal contractors to develop “an acceptable affirmative action program.” He also carried out an essentially Keynesian economic program that included a budget in 1970 based on “the high-employment standard”—ie, deficit spending.

Leaving aside the fiction that SDS organized street protests, Ansara likens SDS’s leftist opposition to the two-party system to those of us today who prefer Jill Stein to Hillary Clinton as he puts it:

The one irreducible fact of this bizarre election is this: The only way Donald Trump does not become president of the United States is if Hillary Clinton does. In any closely contested state, staying home or voting for a third-party candidate is, in its impact, a vote for Trump. It does not take a great leap of moral or political imagination to envision the damage a Trump presidency will bring to our nation and to the world.

Todd Gitlin

This business about how the left should have voted for Humphrey in 1968 is not new, especially coming from an SDS muckety-muck. Todd Gitlin, who was president of SDS from 1963 to 1964, argued this long before Trump reared his ugly head. In 2003, Todd Chretien took note of the Humphreymania in a review of Gitlin’s pompously titled “Letters to a Young Activist” in a CounterPunch review:

Playing fast and loose with the facts, Gitlin tells his young activist reader–who he prefers to call a “social entrepreneur”–that had the antiwar movement supported Democrat Hubert Humphrey (who personally helped escalate the war for the five previous years as Johnson’s vice president) for president in 1968, “he would have phased out the war.” Thus, the lesson is, if you don’t vote for the Democrats, you are morally responsible for Nixon and Pol Pot.

While not quite veering into the pro-war camp in 2003 like Ezra Klein, Gitlin came coquettishly close:

Hawks unquestionably have their arguments. Various pro-war cases deserve to be made, as does the point that they sometimes clash. If the administration makes these arguments shoddily, they still deserve to be made cogently somewhere.

I never met Michael Ansara but his name came up frequently in SWP meetings in 1970 when I arrived in Boston. Ansara was a leader of the SDS faction that was trying to ward off the Maoist Progressive Labor Party’s bid to take over the group that had already started to decline—mostly as a result of its abstinence from the antiwar movement.

After graduating Harvard in 1968, Ansara worked for SDS until the group split into three different Maoist sects, one led by PLP, the other by Mike Klonsky, and the last that still exists as a cult around Bob Avakian.

Like many others with a Harvard degree, Ansara was blessed by the doors that it opened for him. Eventually he started a citizen’s action group called Massachusetts Fair Share that was inspired by Nader’s Public Citizen. In 1983 auditors discovered that Fair Share had more than $1 million in debts, which led to Michael Ansara resigning in the face of criticism that he was responsible for its financial collapse.

That did not seem to faze Ansara who moved on to start a telemarketing firm called the Share Group that in a partnership with another money-raising firm called The November Group was hired by Ron Carey, a leader of the rank-and-file Teamsters group that Dan La Botz wrote a book about. Many people who were to become members of Solidarity were Carey’s most effective organizers.

The November Group was a part-owner of Ansara’s outfit. Its CEO was a sleazeball named Martin Davis, who made big money hiring out to big-time campaigns in the DP, including Clinton-Gore’s presidential campaign in 1992. Between 1992 and 1996 the November Group raked in $650,000 from the Teamster’s treasury. It also exercised influence on Carey to keep the nascent Labor Party at arm’s length.

All this worked to Ansara’s advantage. He also earned big fees and flattered himself into believing that his work had something to do with a renewed labor movement. The ability of some people to betray their youthful ideals in the name of upholding them is quite remarkable. One imagines that a Harvard education goes a long way toward helping the intellect get twisted into such knots.

In 1997, Ansara’s world collapsed after a Federal Grand Jury began investigating illegal kickbacks to Carey’s campaign for the Teamster presidency. Ansara’s wife Barbara Zack Quindel had donated $95,000 as part of a quid quo pro deal with the Share Group. The NY Times reported:

The teamsters paid the Share Group $48,587 last Oct. 22, and nine days later Ms. Arnold contributed $45,000 to the Carey campaign. The teamsters international paid the Share Group another $48,587 on Nov. 15, and Ms. Arnold donated an additional $50,000 11 days later.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. It is the same kind of dodgy backroom deals that the Clinton Foundation thrives on.

In September of 1997 Martin Davis pleaded guilty to mail fraud, embezzling union funds and conspiracy to commit fraud while Ansara pleaded guilty to conspiracy. For each count, they faced up to five years in prison and possibly a $250,000 fine or twice what they made from the scheme.

Ansara eventually was sentenced to probation and forced to make restitution of $650,000. But the biggest damage was not to him but to the labor movement. Carey’s culpability allowed Jimmy Hoffa Jr. to regain the Teamster presidency and help tighten the bosses’ grip over the labor movement.

Labor leftist and journalist Steve Early summed up the sad state of affairs in “In these Times”:

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in New York are continuing a criminal investigation. Three Carey associates have already pleaded guilty and face heavy fines and jail time for mail fraud, conspiracy or embezzling union funds on Carey’s behalf. They are: his campaign manager, Jere Nash, a onetime leader of Mississippi Common Cause and consultant to the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign; Martin Davis, a millionaire teamster political adviser, who also aided the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and brokered deals for the AFL-CIO’s Union Privilege credit card program, and Michael Ansara, a former community organizer and leader of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Harvard University in the late ’60s, who later became a “socially-responsible” businessman.

Other alleged participants in or casualties of this troika’s illicit scheming include the Teamsters’ political director William Hamilton, an alumnus of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a former business associate of Ansara. Hamilton was forced to resign in July and now faces Teamster Independent Review 3card charges of aiding the diversion of dues money to Carey’s campaign—a matter that a federal grand jury in New York is also investigating. Ira Arlook, director of Citizen Action and another ex-SDSer, has run up more than $200,000 in legal bills defending his organization against possible criminal charges over its Teamster money-laundering role. The scandal so damaged the fund-raising ability of Citizen Action’s national organization that the group just closed its Washington, D.C., office and laid off 20 staffers.

The biggest potential losers, however, are Teamster members—particularly those who have worked for change in the union. In the face of beatings, black-listing, redbaiting and other obstacles to reform, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU)—labor’s most durable and successful rank-and-file group—sacrificed and struggled for more than 20 years to eliminate corruption, gangsterism and sweetheart deals. The reformers’ efforts finally bore fruit six years ago with Carey’s victory in an election conducted as part of the settlement of a Justice Department lawsuit filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Working with TDU activists around the country and a minority of local officers, Carey has since put 75 troubled locals under trusteeship, cut waste, stepped up Teamster organizing, hired aggressive new staff and won significant bargaining victories like the recent United Parcel Service (UPS) strike.

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