Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 11, 2017

Patrick Cockburn, Charles Glass and the fake news from Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:46 pm

Patrick Cockburn

When Patrick Cockburn sets himself up as a critic of “fake news” from Syria, you are reminded of Donald Trump castigating CNN or the New York Times. In a February 2nd LRB article titled “Who supplies the news? Patrick Cockburn on misreporting in Syria and Iraq”, you can expect the worst as the LRB has been a prime purveyor of Assadist propaganda as I pointed out in an article submitted to Critical Muslim that was not published because it risked violating Britain’s draconian libel laws. In the first paragraph of Cockburn’s article we read:

NBC news reported that more than forty civilians had been burned alive by government troops, vaguely sourcing the story to ‘the Arab media’. Another widely publicised story – it made headlines everywhere from the Daily Express to the New York Times – was that twenty women had committed suicide on the same morning to avoid being raped by the arriving soldiers, the source in this case being a well-known insurgent, Abdullah Othman, in a one-sentence quote given to the Daily Beast.

It would be helpful if Cockburn supplied the date for the NBC news article that appears to be the one cited by the regrettable Rania Khalek in her FAIR article making the same points as his. Anybody who has spent much time reading such people will recognize that the same talking points get circulated like a sexually transmitted disease. Her article “In Syria, Western Media Cheer Al Qaeda” written for the pro-Assad FAIR alluded to this:

NBC News (12/13/16) reported that “scores of civilians were burned alive by regime forces.” The source for this accusation was unspecified “reports from Arab media.”

If you go to the actual NBC News article, you will find this caveat:

Arab media reported that scores of civilians were burned alive by regime forces, although this was not confirmed by observers at the Aleppo Media Center or the U.K.-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights.

Do yourself a favor and Google “Aleppo Media Center” and you will discover that Khalek’s co-thinkers at 21st Century Wire, the Off-Guardian, Global Research and Moon of Alabama all consider it to be strictly al-Nusra. So, if you are inclined to put a minus where al-Nusra puts a plus, couldn’t you say that it was confirmed that scores of civilians were burned alive? After all, that’s the way these people think. As far as the Syria Observatory for Human Rights is concerned, this is supposedly another pro-jihadist outfit so you get the picture by now. If it didn’t pass muster with these two sources, why would Cockburn and Khalek even bother to refer to this unsubstantiated report? I think I know. It is meant to deflect attention from the much easier to verify reports about East Aleppo being bombed into oblivion.

In terms of the NY Times report on twenty women committing suicide to avoid being raped by the arriving soldiers, you must wonder once again why Cockburn did not bother to supply a link or even a date. I can’t blame him. If he did, you would find out that the item was not in the newspaper of record but in a blog post of something called Women in the World that has a rather tenuous connection to the Times. It is a LLC corporation founded in 2010 whose main purpose is to hold yearly conferences on women’s empowerment. The women who write for it are not on the NY Times payroll and do not speak in the paper’s name.

Cockburn obviously sought to convey the idea that this unsubstantiated tale of women killing themselves was written by a Times reporter to buttress his argument that there was a shit storm of “fake news” about East Aleppo. The only shit I see flying around is his own.

Cockburn admits that 85 civilians were executed by forces loyal to Assad but derides a comparison with real atrocities:

But it remains a gross exaggeration to compare the events in East Aleppo – as journalists and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic did in December – with the mass slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994 or more than 7000 in Srebrenica in 1995.

I am not sure who is going around making such a comparison but the facts speak for themselves. A half-million have been killed in Syria and more than half the country has been forced to flee their homes. If there is a more brutal regime in this century than Assad’s, I would be hard put to name it.

Cockburn does admit that East Aleppo has been the target of indiscriminate Russian and Syrian air strikes but tries to balance that devastation with the fact that there were between 8000 and 10,000 rebel fighters in East Aleppo. Sure, everybody knows that when terrorists are immersed in a civilian population, there is no reason to turn pacifist. The proper comparison is with the IDF that resorts to the same kind of aerial bombardment of Gaza to destroy Hamas, which had the temerity to hide out in apartment buildings. It would have been best for the fighters in East Aleppo to assemble in some open field far from East Aleppo and wave their jihadist flags so that the MIGs would have a much easier job of exterminating them without collateral damage.

He points out that when the residents of East Aleppo were offered a choice over where they would go after the Baathists took over, most decided to go to government controlled territory. This was proof in his eyes that they were afraid of the jihadists in rebel-controlled territory like Idlib that would behead them for smoking cigarettes and the like. How silly of some people to conclude that Idlib was avoided because it was being bombed back into the stone age as well. A few weeks ago, I got a FB message from a law student who had been driven out of East Aleppo and had relocated to Idlib—probably because he was a known enemy of the dictatorship (why else would he have sent me a FB friend request?) and would have been murdered by Assad’s goons in Damascus. Not long after he got there, he broke a leg fleeing from a Russian bombing attack rather than a jihadist intent on beheading him for a failure to follow sharia law.

Charles Glass

Turning to another high-toned purveyor of Assadist propaganda that was included in my Critical Muslim article, there’s the NY Review of Books that has had the reputation of being in line with Samantha Power who has written many “humanitarian intervention” articles for them over the years. When it comes to Syria, however, the friends of Obama who run the magazine were much more inclined to feature pro-Assad hacks like Charles Glass who has a piece in the latest issue titled “How Assad is Winning”.

Glass was a reporter for such outlets as ABC News, where he was the Mideast correspondent between 1983 and 1993, and Newsweek. So where does he get the balls to lecture about guerrilla warfare as if he were John Reed who rode with Pancho Villa? He pontificates:

In both cases, opposition fighters failed to shield people from the regime’s sieges and assaults as well as the misbehavior of their own “rogue elements.” Rather than wage a mobile guerrilla war and build a solid coalition within the population, they occupied land they could not hold.

Right, as if you could ward off MIGs with an AK-47 or an RPG. The only way that the people could have been shielded was if the CIA had not intervened to block MANPADs from entering Syria.

Glass’s fundamental premise in this article is that “The government, with its known record of harsh human rights abuses including torture, demonstrated more flexibility than its opponents.” By flexibility, he means that it could act as both soft cop and hard cop. If rebels and their civilian supporters accepted a “deal” (ie. surrender), they’d be spared; otherwise the barrel bombs would keep falling. You wonder how the liberal editors could read Glass’s manure and not see right through it. The soft cop and the hard cop were the same person. You keep dropping barrel bombs until the obstinate rebels cried uncle. It was the same strategy Reagan used against the Sandinistas, after all.

The remainder of the article is a report from what Glass is honest enough to describe as a “Potemkin Village” where the rebels and civilians who have cried uncle can be spared from future torment:

The camp, which the regime must regard as a “Potemkin village” to attract other rebels to accept amnesties, was achieving a kind of normality in an abnormal environment. The children attend school in Harjallah, and they receive remedial lessons in mathematics, Arabic, and English to make up for four years of lost education. “Fifteen women are giving birth,” Dib said. “There will be a wedding for five couples in two days.”

I left Dib’s office to walk through the camp. Four women sitting on the doorstep of a house invited me inside for coffee, as they would have done with a stranger in any Syrian village. My hostess was Ghousoum al-Ghazi, the thirty-three-year-old wife of a farmer whose two children followed us in. Her friend, fifty-four-year-old Ruweida Abdel Majid Naccache, came as well and asked me to sit on a cushion. The house had one bedroom, a bathroom, and a modest front room with a kitchen built into the far wall. Paper-thin mats marked “UNHCR” for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees covered the freshly washed floor. Mrs. al-Ghazi told me she had moved into the house on August 26, weeks before the final surrender, when civilians were fleeing Daraya. “We were very hungry,” she said. “There was fighting every day. The children were afraid at first. Then they got used to it.”

Mrs. Naccache recalled life in Daraya: “When there was an airplane, we fled to a shelter. It was just a hole in the ground. We stayed like that for five years. I was there when they besieged the town. I lost a lot of weight. There was no food. Here we are living in heaven.”

So this is how Assad is winning the war. You bomb, starve and terrorize an obdurate anti-Assad population until they agree to surrender their arms and move to a pacified refugee camp where they live like they are “in heaven”. (You can bet that an Assadist handler was watching over the interview to make sure that this is the sort of thing Glass would hear.)

Glass called it a Potemkin Village. There’s another word for them: strategic hamlets. The USA herded Vietnamese peasants into them to deprive the NLF of its base of support. Despite this, the American puppets lost in the long run in the same way that Assad will fall as well. No matter the “freshly washed floor” and the remedial lessons in mathematics. Syrians will never forget how they suffered under Assad. As long as the penalty for opposing the regime is torture or death, there will be an unquenchable desire for freedom by any means necessary. This is obviously something a reporter for ABC and Newsweek will never understand.

November 18, 2013

A tale of two conferences

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:41 pm

This is a tale of two conferences, one billed as a teach-in on Syria that occurred yesterday at New York University; the other to be held in London on November 30th on Syria as well. They could not be more unalike even though Trotskyists (loosely defined) were in the driver’s seat of both events. As is the case in my write-ups of many movies that I walk out of in disgust after 15 minutes, I will rake the London event over the coals though I will not be attending it, even if someone paid for the airfare.

The London event is organized by the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) that played a key role in opposing George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. To put it as succinctly as possible, they see Syria as a new Iraq war in the making and their mission revolves around the need to oppose Obama’s war plans—something that amounts to busting down an open door. It does not matter to them that Obama never had any intention of invading Syria and imposing “regime change”; nor does it matter that there has been a revolutionary struggle in Syria. Their analysis is based on the struggle between nations and not between classes. In the case of Syria, people like John Rees and Seamus Milne back the neoliberal family dynasty that is bombing working-class tenements simply because the USA opposes it even if that opposition is only verbal. As long as there is a single op-ed piece by Nicholas Kristof taking the Baathists to task or a single speech by Obama filled with crocodile tears about the “Syrian tragedy”, they will remain on Bashar al-Assad’s team.

With almost no interest in what is taking place inside Syria, the STWC conference naturally included only a single Syrian citizen, one Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, a diehard supporter of the Baathist dictatorship. When a hue and cry arose over her participation, Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill told the organizers that they were dropping out. To the great pleasure of those who were protesting her presence, she withdrew. But they are still raising hell over the initial invitation. What would compel “peace” activists like John Rees and Lindsay German to extend an invitation to someone whose reputation as a liar and a warmonger is so well known? I invite you to look at Not George Sabra’s post on Mother Agnes that I am sure helped Scahill make up his mind.

Although the conference has not yet been held, I imagine that it might have a session in which this satire might not be far from the truth:

Jonathan Steele: Many thanks to all of you for coming to what I hope will be our most enlightening panel, on what is perhaps the most important and dangerous conflict facing the world today. Of course, we all know the mainstream media has been totally one-sided on the so-called Syrian “uprising,” and what’s needed more than ever is to put this war in its proper context, free from nefarious state-sponsored propaganda.

Mother Agnes-Mariam: You have to understand, all Free Syrian Army fighters are terrorists.

Steele: That’s a great place to start, thank you Mother Agnes. It’s a great irony that, while one of the most perfidious lies of the War on Terror propagated by Orientalist imperialism is that all Muslims carrying guns are “terrorists,” this has in fact turned out to be entirely accurate in Syria.

Tariq Ali: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.

Steele: Indeed.

Seumas Milne: If I could just jump in here, on that point, what’s been especially depressing for me to watch is the decline of al-Qaeda in Iraq from a resistance force, as I described them in 2011, to a reactionary, counter-revolutionary one in Syria.

Ali: Hamas, too. Don’t forget they’ve become terrorists now as well.

Milne: Right, yes. The very Palestinian cause itself is threatened as never before by imperialism.

Steele: Is anti-Zionism the new Zionism?

Milne: We should have called one of our sessions that. Next year.

Steele: We could invite Galloway.

Milne: Definitely. But back to the point, obviously propaganda-wise what we’ve seen in Syria fits a familiar pattern. Just as the number of Stalin’s victims has long been inflated by capitalist agitprop, so the alleged crimes of President Assad have been hugely exaggerated, if not outright fabricated. And this is something I know Mother Agnes has often spoken very courageously about.

Agnes: Yes. Whether it’s the Houla massacre, or the chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta, there’s never been any evidence of Syrian government responsibility.

Owen Jones: I’ve said that too.

Milne: Me too.

Steele: We’ve all said that. It’s disgraceful how so-called journalists rely on YouTube videos for their reporting nowadays.

But I think more broadly the problem is a fundamental refusal to understand that Assad is not the problem in Syria. As I’ve often written, it’s the rebels themselves who are responsible for the continued violence.

Agnes: Assad is a merciful man. Let me give you a personal example. When I negotiated the handover of hungry civilians from Moadamiyah to government forces last month, not all of them were arrested.

Milne: Remarkable. Even though they were Sunnis.

Agnes: Yes.

Milne: And people have the gall to say Assad’s government is sectarian.

Steele: They use the same smear on Hezbollah, even though Sayyid Nasrallah has made it very clear that his fighters are in Syria to save Sunnis as much as Shiites.

Milne: And what do they get in return? Human hearts eaten out of corpses. I mean we’ve all seen that YouTube video.

Agnes: Can I just say, it’s so nice to be here in Britain. I deeply regret that, during his recent visit to Syria, I wasn’t able to meet with the head of your National Party, Nick Griffin.

Steele: [Coughs] Coffee break! Anyone fancy a coffee break?

A new group called the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Solidarity Network-US that includes the ISO and a number of smaller left groups organized the NYU event. Billed as a teach-in, it was a great success with a hundred people in attendance on a Sunday afternoon. One hopes that other such events can be held at campuses around the country on weekdays, just as was the case during the Vietnam era teach-ins. As Gilbert Achcar stated in his presentation, the objective conditions that gave rise to the Arab Spring have not gone away. One can expect that Egypt, Syria, Libya et al will remain convulsed by class struggle and that imperialism will continue to maintain a presence in the region for the foreseeable future. While the organizers of this event share the British coalition’s opposition to American intervention, they go one step further and seek to support revolutionary forces in MENA even if goes against the prevailing “wisdom” that the Syrian rebels are no different than the Nicaraguan contras or UNITA in Angola. Indeed, it was the main goal of this teach-in to take these lies and wash them down the toilet where they belong.

Since the sessions will eventually make it to Youtube, I will only cover the high points. To start with, it is important to note that 6 out of the 9 featured speakers were Syrian and that of the three who weren’t, one was Lebanese (Achcar), one was Palestinian (Bodour Hassan), and the other was a graduate student whose dissertation is focused on Syrian politics and who reads and writes in Arabic. What a contrast to the London event where a number of people will essentially be giving the same speech (is there any real difference between Milne, Ali, and Steele? I couldn’t tell the difference between their columns.)

The first panel on Roots and Grassroots of the Syrian Uprising brought together four women: Leila Shrooms, Ella Wind (the American grad student), Mohja Kahf, and Razan Ghazzawi.

Leila Shrooms blogs at Tahrir International Collective http://tahriricn.wordpress.com/, that describes itself fighting for “a free and self-governed society based on tolerance, equality and openness, the society in which the social side is placed above the mercantile.” Shrooms focused on the myth of Baathist “socialism”, putting forward hard facts such as the unemployment rate rising from 11 percent under the early period of Baathist rule to the 34 percent that existed in the Spring of 2011 (the rural unemployment rate was 62 percent.) My impression is that the Tahrir International Collective is anarchist. Seeing what I see put forward by someone like John Rees in the name of Marxism, I am almost ready to hoist the Bakunin banner (well, maybe not Bakunin, but Kropotkin for sure.)

Ella Wind talked about the supposed rural/city divide that allows some commentators to describe the revolution as happening outside of Damascus, where she was conducting her research. She explains that it was too dangerous to protest there and that many opposed to the Baathists went back home to the countryside where it was safer to hold demonstrations. Damascus, like many cities in the region including Istanbul, include many people only one generation removed from their rural roots.

Mohja Kahf spoke about the women’s movements against Bashar al-Assad, including the Stop the Killing protests sparked by Rima Dali and the Brides of Freedom marches. She used Youtube clips of these activities to drive home the point that the nonviolent protests were more frightening to the dictator than any jihadist, thus the necessity for al-Assad to provoke an armed resistance as soon as possible. Kahf teaches at Rutgers and blogs at the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I urge you to look at her latest post titled Syria: It’s Still a Revolution, My Friends that is addressed to the kind of people who are organizing the London event:

Try to remember to have some compassion for a Syrian who might be in the vicinity, before you mouth off in the abstract on the issue; we face news every day of our friends and our relatives being killed and imprisoned. Take time to get to know about a few of them, the Syrian rev youth activists who started it all, in hundreds of towns across Syria, before you speak about Syria based on what happened in Iraq or Lebanon or Country X.

Razan Ghazzawi Skyped in from rural Syria, where she lives in a liberated and very traditional village where she is accepted on her own terms as an unveiled and single woman. In 2011 she began blogging in support of the mass movement against the Baathists, for which she was arrested. The charge? Spreading false information and weakening national sentiment. It continues to amaze me how people like John Rees and Tariq Ali can get worked up over what happens to Edward Snowden or a Julian Assange but remain utterly indifferent if not hostile to someone like Ghazzawi. She blogs at http://razanghazzawi.org/. Bookmark it!

The second session was titled Myths and Realities of the Syrian Uprising that featured Sara Ajlyakin, Nader Atassi, and Budour Hassan.

Sara Ajlyakin is a member of the International Workers League in Brazil, a Morenoite group that has a good position on Syria. Unfortunately she spent far too much time in her talk offering a “Bolshevik” attack on the late Hugo Chavez who deserves blame for backing Bashar al-Assad. But her remarks were mostly about “betrayal” of the workers in Venezuela, a topic that really was off-topic. She is also quite strident, an understandable tendency given her training. From what I can gather, the Morenoites have a branch office in NYC that is working with the MENA Solidarity network. I hope that they are behaving themselves.

Nader Atassi is a Facebook friend who I met through Pham Binh. He is now working on the arts page for Jadaliyya and blogs at Darth Nader (http://darthnader.net/). He gave a brilliant presentation on the problems of demonization and oversimplification that pervade the Baathist left. Instead of trying to recapitulate his analysis, I urge you to read his interview with Truthout titled Syrian Anarchist Challenges the Rebel/Regime Binary View of Resistance that once again makes anarchism look much more attractive when compared to the “Marxism” dispensed by John Rees.

Bodour Hassan spoke about the affinities between the Palestinian and Syrian struggle and challenged the opportunism of the Palestinian leaders who are aligned with the Baathists. She blogs in both Arabic and English at http://budourhassan.wordpress.com/ and I urge you to look at her article Portrait of a Revolution: The Journey of Faiek al-Meer that opens with the question:

“Where are the secular rebels?” wonders one apprehensive Western “leftist”, whose main task has become to emulate his Islamophobic counterpart on the right by counting the number of beards he sees in a YouTube video and the “Allahu Akbars” the fighters and demonstrators shout out.

The Faiek al-Meer in her title is a revolutionary whose career should give you some idea of the sort of people who are now risking their lives to oppose Bashar al-Assad, the bloodsoaked dictator beloved by Vogue Magazine and invited to meet Queen Elizabeth. What a contrast:

Al-Meer’s first arrest came in April 1979 when he was detained for a month by the military intelligence for distributing pamphlets. That brief stint in jail would prove to be only but a first step in a journey crammed with persecution and arrests. In March of 1983, al-Meer was fired from his job at the Euphrates Dam at the request of the political security branch due to his political activism. In 1987, he was indicted for participating in a banned party. The indictment forced him into hiding when his daughter Farah was only two months old. Al-Meer was eventually arrested in 1989 and was sentenced to ten years in jail for the crime of being a communist striving for democracy. He could not see his daughter until 1992 in Saidnaya prison; those rocky five years changed his complexion so much that Farah failed to recognise that he was her father.

How tragic that a John Rees or a Tariq Ali should be part of a conference designed implicitly to make the repression of people like al-Meer more effective.

The final session was titled Syria in the Context of the Arab Uprisings that featured Yasser Munif and Gilbert Achcar.

Yasser Munif teaches at Emerson College and was the butt of an Angry Arab spitball titled “leftists for Qatar and Saudi Arabia”. When Angry learned the identify of the “leftist” he slandered, he issued an apology. Maybe Angry would not get himself in trouble if he stopped writing bullshit about Syria. His talk was focused on the real revolution taking place in Syria that is invisible to much of the left and that this teach-in was designed to correct. Instead of recapitulating his remarks, I will direct you to the interview he did recently. One of the important points he makes is that the revolutionaries are fighting against two different counter-revolutions, one from the state and the other from the jihadists. When enemies of the Syrian revolution conflate the FSA with al-Qaeda, they do so in complete defiance of this reality:

The revolutionaries are actually fighting on two fronts. On the one hand there is the regime, on the other hand there is the Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda-created groups, the jihadists. And the jihadists are actually arresting, torturing, killing many activists — people who have been resisting since day one. Most of the Al-Qaeda-created groups are not really fighting the regime. They are staying in those northern parts. They are letting the Free Syrian Army and other factions to fight the regime and they come behind them and take over whatever liberated cities or villages there are. So they’re very vicious. As I said, they’re arresting activists. Anyone who criticizes them is arrested, tortured, sometimes killed. Right now they have more than 1,500 activists in their prisons.

I also strongly urge you to read Munif’s report on Manjib, a liberated city that he visited recently that encapsulates the challenges and the hopes of the new Syria.

Manbij is a poor and rural town of some 200,000 people in north eastern Syria. The city is half an hour’s drive from the border with Turkey and the vital Tishrin Dam. It sits in the agricultural hinterland of Aleppo with one of the largest mills in the region, grinding some 500 tonnes of flour a day. Control over Manbij is a strategic prize for the Syrian revolution.

The town was one of the first to free itself from the control of Bashar Assad’s regime. Its poverty, and economic marginalisation, became an advantage when the peaceful revolution turned into an armed uprising. Unlike other cities, the regime did not surround Manbij with military bases.

The story of the Syrian Revolution is written into the town’s tumultuous events that began before the outbreak of the Arab Spring. It is a story about the struggle to drive out Assad’s forces, to put in place effective popular control, and what has become a new struggle between the revolutionary forces and Al Qaeda affiliated Islamist organisations.

Finally, there is Gilbert Achcar who I had the very great pleasure to meet for the first time and to chat with. He made the case that the Syrian revolution was for real and that activists have to be prepared for a long struggle just like people on the ground in the Middle East and North Africa. That is why the formation of the MENA network is so auspicious.

Gilbert is speaking again tonight at 31 Washington Place, room 405 from 7 to 9pm. I plan to be there and suggest you come by as well.

July 23, 2012

Libya, Syria, and left Islamophobia

Filed under: Islamophobia,Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

Pepe Escobar’s inspiration

In his brilliant analysis of leftist hostility to the revolutions in Libya and Syria titled Blanket Thinkers, Robin Yassin-Kassab described the way that the Syrian rebels are viewed in those quarters:

They are also depicted as wild Muslims, bearded and hijabbed, who do not deserve democracy or rights because they are too backward to use them properly. Give them democracy and they’ll vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, and slaughter the Alawis and drive the Christians to Beirut.

Exactly.

This has been on my radar screen ever since the struggle against Qaddafi got off the ground, but Yassin-Kassab’s article persuaded me to investigate a bit further. Basically what seems to be taking place is a hatred for Islamism that is reminiscent of what we heard from Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman during the heights of the war in Iraq, but deployed on behalf of an “anti-imperialist” narrative.

Perhaps the most prominent exponent of left Islamophobia is Asia Times’s Pepe Escobar. In an article on Libya titled How al-Qaeda got to rule in Tripoli,  Abdelhakim Belhaj became an object of hate:

Abdelhakim Belhaj, aka Abu Abdallah al-Sadek, is a Libyan jihadi. Born in May 1966, he honed his skills with the mujahideen in the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.

He’s the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and its de facto emir – with Khaled Chrif and Sami Saadi as his deputies. After the Taliban took power in Kabul in 1996, the LIFG kept two training camps in Afghanistan; one of them, 30 kilometers north of Kabul – run by Abu Yahya – was strictly for al-Qaeda-linked jihadis.

After 9/11, Belhaj moved to Pakistan and also to Iraq, where he befriended none other than ultra-nasty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – all this before al-Qaeda in Iraq pledged its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and turbo-charged its gruesome practices.

(For what it is worth, Escobar’s article contains an ad for the Central Intelligence Agency. Talk about crowning ironies.)

Escobar adds that “In Iraq, Libyans happened to be the largest foreign Sunni jihadi contingent, only losing to the Saudis.” Well, how despicable, Libyans going to Iraq to fight against the American occupation. He also considers Belhaj a rather shifty sort, “not remotely interested in relinquishing control just to please NATO’s whims.” What an ingrate.

Not long after the overthrow of Qaddafi, left Islamophobes held up a magnifying glass to detect any evidence of Jihadist influence in the new Libya. Last November word went out that the al-Qaeda flag was flying over the Benghazi courthouse. Not surprisingly, this became a cause celebre for the rightwing but the vanguard of the “anti-imperialist” left got just as worked up. Voltairenet.org, a website devoted to 9/11 conspiracy-mongering and the defense of Qaddafi and al-Assad, alerted its readers through an article that included a graphic of the flag:

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former Justice Minister of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya who became chairman of the National Transitional Council, announced the rebels’ intention to turn Libya  into an Islamic state and implement Sharia as the only law.

For some odd reason, the Libyan people were never clued in that they were about to willingly accept such a state of affairs. As it turned out, the vote for the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was a paltry 130,000 nationally, just 21.3%. Today’s Australian  explained the low total:

But another reason for the strong “liberal” turnout is the “blood” factor. “I am not giving my family’s votes to the MB. Two of my cousins died because of them,” Mohamed Abdul Hakim, a voter from Benghazi, told me. He agrees that Islam should be the source for legislation, and his wife wears a niqab. Nonetheless, he voted liberal: his cousins were killed in a confrontation in the 1990s, most likely between the Martyrs Movement (a small jihadist group operating in his neighborhood at the time) and Gaddafi’s forces.

But many average Libyans, including Hakim, do not distinguish between Islamist organisations and their histories. For them, all Islamists are “Ikhwan” (MB). The “stain” of direct involvement in armed action, coupled with fear of Taliban-like laws or a civil war like Algeria’s in the 1990’s harmed Islamists of all brands.

A third reason for the Islamists’ defeat had to do with their campaign rhetoric. “It is offensive to tell me that I have to vote for an Islamic party,” Jamila Marzouki, an Islamic studies graduate, told me. Marzouki voted liberal, despite believing that Islam should be the ultimate reference for Libyan laws. “In Libya, we are Muslims. They can’t take away my identity and claim that it’s only theirs.”

So much for Libya turning into a Taliban state.

Without skipping a beat, the dreadful Pepe Escobar now has Syria in his sights, using the same hackneyed analysis:

Syria, the new Libya

A Kalashnikov in Iraq, until recently, sold for US$100. Now it’s at least $1,000, and most probably $1,500 (those were the days when Sunnis joining the resistance in 2003 could buy a fake Kalashnikov made in Romenia [sic] for $20).

Destination of choice of the $1,500 Kalashnikov in 2012: Syria. Network: al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI. Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing last Friday in Aleppo.

Who would have thought that what the House of Saud wants in Syria – an Islamist regime – is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?

Christopher Hitchens couldn’t have put it better.

For left Islamophobes, the idea of a secular, nationalistic and populist Syria serves as a kind of rallying point in the same way that “existing socialism” in the USSR once was for a gullible left, whether or not either proposition was true.

Syria Freedom Forever, an antidote to the stupidity found in Escobar’s columns, Global Research, MRZine, Voltairenet.com et al (Counterpunch fortunately never bought into this junk for the most part), had an article titled Understand the Syrian regime and the dialectics of the Syrian revolutionary process  that is most useful for separating the truth from bullshit.

It explains that al-Assad, just like Saddam Hussein, was not above catering to the needs of the Islamic clergy in the interests of wielding power Machiavelli-style:

The last important base of support for the Syrian regime is the high religious establishment of all sects, which has benefited the regime for the past twenty years and supported it since the beginning of the revolution. The Syrian regime and its security services established political and economic links with the religious establishment, especially from the Sunni community following the repression of the 1980s. The high religious establishments of all the sects have increasingly been presented by the regime as actors of the “Syrian civil society” in the past as soon as a foreign delegation would visit the country.

The State’s behavior these past years has been in total contradiction with the official picture of a secular country. A religious vocabulary appeared more often in political discourse, along with a massive increase in the building of religious sites from the eighties until now. These government measures were also accompanied by censorship of literary and artistic works, while promoting a religious literature filling more and more the shelves of libraries and Islamizing the field of higher education. This is true particularly in the humanities and expressed itself in the rather systematic referral to religious references of any scientific, social and cultural phenomenon. Around 10,000 mosques and hundreds of religious schools were built. More than 200 conferences headed by clerics were held in cultural centres of important towns during 2007.

Of course you wouldn’t know any of this if your reading material was limited to the Islamophobic left.

When you are dealing with a phobia, facts do little to change the mind of the stricken. No matter how many times you might have told Howard Hughes that washing one’s hands 2 or 3 times a day was sufficient, only 25 times would suffice. No matter how many times you tell the Islamophobic left that the purpose of the struggle in places like Libya and Syria is to get rid of an oppressive regime, it will not overcome the deep belief that the real purpose is to reestablish the Caliphate, sharia law and the cult of the suicide bomber.

Speaking for myself (and who else matters in the long run), this is what I think of when Islamic resistance to Bashar al-Assad is cited. I don’t find it threatening at all. In fact I am inspired by it:

May 29, 2019

Paul Le Blanc’s lamentations

Filed under: ISO,Lenin,socialism — louisproyect @ 7:56 pm

paulleblancphotobyalexbainbridge
Paul Le Blanc

Despite being highly critical of Paul Le Blanc’s dead-end support for “Leninism”, I found something poignant about his 6,100 word attempt to provide an answer to “What happened to the International Socialist Organization?” This is now his third attempt at constructing or reconstructing a Leninist party in the USA. In the first go-round, he was one of the many long-time members of the SWP who was expelled for opposing Jack Barnes’s ideological assault on Trotskyism that was carried out bureaucratically. He then became part of a group led by Frank Lovell and George Breitman that published the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, a futile attempt to persuade the SWP membership to return to the party’s roots. His next stop was Solidarity, a group that wisely eschewed “Leninist” norms but was never able to become much more than a network of people around the magazine Against the Current. His final stop was the International Socialist Organization, a group he joined a decade ago and that has just disbanded. My guess is that this will be his last hurrah as far as Leninism is concerned unless in the next decade or so there is a massive radicalization in the USA that will help to foment a revolutionary socialist organization that is the counterpart of Lenin’s party. If that happens, you can be assured that such an organization will look nothing like the myriad of groups that sought to construct one from scratch. As a rule of thumb, revolutionary organizations can only emerge out of a mass movement and all such attempts to create an embryo of one according to some ideological construct will either implode like the SWP or ISO, or muddle along like the British SWP, Lutte Ouvriere or others too obscure to mention.

Paul states that the analytical framework he uses in trying to make sense of what happened “can be found in various writings (particularly the essays in Unfinished Leninism published by Haymarket Books in 2014).” Since there are arguments against my critique of Leninism in that book, I was obviously motivated to compare his analytical framework to mine on the passing of the ISO.

Paul subheads the section that deals with the ISO’s failed attempt to live up to his Leninist ideals Avoiding sterile ‘vanguardism’, which leads me to pose the question whether ‘vanguardism’ can ever be anything but sterile. For Paul, this is an opportunity to find a silver lining in the SWP’s dark cloud. He writes that George Breitman and Frank Lovell were quite open and non-dogmatic in their approach, as opposed to the younger leadership loyal to Barnes. I didn’t know Breitman and Lovell all that well but since they gave their blessing to Jack Barnes’s “turn to industry”, I have my doubts. In fact, just before I left NY to save my soul in a Kansas City factory, I challenged Lovell’s assertion at a city-wide meeting that in 1978 the American working class was more radical than ever. It was only in the hermetically sealed environment of American Trotskyism that such a workerist dogma could be expressed.

Paul saw the ISO as better and more open than this, which I would describe as setting the bar about an inch off the ground. He assures us that by the time he joined, there were no delusions of grandeur about it being the revolutionary vanguard party or even the nucleus of the future mass revolutionary party. Unfortunately, this concession to reality made little difference since the group dynamics were pretty close to that of the SWP or any other “Leninist” group. As a rule of thumb, any group that publishes a magazine and newspaper, which for its entire history hosts not a single debate by party members, is willy-nilly creating a homogenous political culture that fosters “sterile dogmatism”. In contrast to Lenin’s party that used Iskra to provide a platform for debates, the Socialist Worker newspaper has never reflected the diversity of opinion that exists on the left. It was always seen as the voice of an ideological current associated with Tony Cliff seeking to preserve market share on the left. Who knows how they envisioned a future revolutionary party? Would it be something like a holding company that had different brands, with state capitalists being offered to consumers alongside Maoism and old-school Trotskyists like those in Alan Woods’s orbit? That has been tried both in England and Australia with meager results. When a true Leninist party emerges in the USA, it will likely be focused on contemporary American issues rather than when Russia became state capitalist. That, of course, pretty much describes the DSA and what would be exactly what is needed right now if it stopped functioning as the leftwing of the Democratic Party.

Some of what Paul writes strikes me as buyer’s remorse. He extols the practical activism in social movements that was essential for SWP branches but not the norm for the ISO. Practically sneering, he describes this as a deficiency all-too-often justified by what struck him as pseudo-revolutionary strictures against “movementism.” Now I have no idea what ISO norms were like but I would guess that given the low ebb of social movements in the past 30  years or so it reflected a more realistic expectation of membership. After 1973, I saw the “activism” of the SWP as artificially generated, an attempt by the party tops to provide “busy work” to keep us from drifting away. By 1977, this was superseded by the “turn to industry” with its absurd job committees meeting 3 times a week to figure out how to place members in factories or, failing that, at least getting them to go out six in the morning to sell the Militant at plant gates to bleary-eyed workers speeding by en route to the parking lot.

Missing from Paul’s analysis is any engagement with the obvious growing resistance to “democratic centralist” norms suffocating the ISO. Sometimes I wonder whether Paul bothered to reply to a crank like me when he wrote Unfinished Leninism on the outside chance that ISO’ers were being seduced by my anti-Leninist notions. Among the documents submitted to the most recent convention of the ISO was one titled “For building a new model of revolutionary socialism” that was signed by 133 members. Here is a relevant paragraph:

Since our break with the British Socialist Workers Party, the ISO has asserted that it is not the nucleus of a revolutionary party. While we understood this in the most vague and long term of ways, the seeds of that conception remained, as reflected in the distorted way that building the ISO as the ISO became an end in and of itself. Democratic centralism meant two people holding the information and building based on what ended up being unwarranted trust. [emphasis added]

In the concluding paragraphs of his article, Paul writes:

How should revolutionaries organize themselves today in order to do what must be done?

We are not starting from scratch. There are residual elements from the ISO itself – formally independent entities that it helped bring into being and sustain: the Center for Economic Research and Social Change (CERSC), connected with both the immensely valuable publishing operation of Haymarket Books and the yearly Socialism conferences. Former ISO members can connect with these and various other publications and conferences. There are also other socialist organizations, some avoiding the pseudo-Leninist trap of “vanguardism” – and former ISO members are considering options and possibilities. Realities are fluid, and other structures might be developed to facilitate networking and collaboration, as we seek to transform this defeat into a luminous victory.

In my view, there are some encouraging signs on the left. Despite my sharp disagreements with the hopes of the people around Left Voice to breathe life into the Leninist project, they at least have the courage of their convictions to challenge the “democratic socialist” circumlocutions of the Jacobin/DSA. They have not yet cohered into a cadre organization and might yet be convinced that a united revolutionary organization around basic core agreements on the environment, class struggle unionism, anti-imperialism is still possible. You also have the Marxist Center that has brought together groups like the Philly Socialists. What they might lack in numbers as compared to the DSA, they certainly make up for with class struggle principles and rootedness in communities of those fucked over by capitalism. I also have hopes that Howie Hawkins’s campaign for President will help generate some momentum back into the Green Party. There was a time when the ISO made up the activist core for Peter Camejo’s campaign for governor in California and perhaps the ex-members can see the wisdom of helping Howie’s campaign serve as an alternative to whatever the Democrats offer up, even—dare I say it?—if it Bernie Sanders.

Speaking of Peter Camejo, the last time I saw him before he died, he was a guest speaker at an ISO regional conference at CCNY. We briefly spoke about the prospects of the ISO that he regarded as the best thing happening on the left. That was something I also heard from Sol Dollinger who was a member of Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman’s Socialist Union in the 1950s, a group I strongly identify with.

Although I obviously had much less of a commitment to the ISO than either of these two old friends and comrades, I—like Paul—was sorry to see it fold. I had been sustained for the past 7 years by the courageous and principled articles about Syria in Socialist Worker, as well as the uncompromising resistance to joining the leftwing of the Democratic Party.

I plan to be at the Socialism 2019 conference in Chicago between July 4—July 7, the first ISO conference I have ever attended. Ironically, I am still looking forward to it even if it is now being co-sponsored by Jacobin/DSA. There is intense interest in how to move the left forward in a period of deepening social and political crisis and I would hope that others make plans to attend this conference since it will surely draw the lessons of the passing of the ISO and enhance the prospects of something rising Phoenix-like from its ashes.

November 15, 2018

Cornered: Trump Gets Thumped on Cuba at the UN 

Filed under: cuba,Guest Post — louisproyect @ 8:02 pm

By IKE NAHEM

On November 1, 2018, for the twenty-seventh straight year, the full United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted by a near-unanimous 189-2 for “the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The Israeli government, as usual, voted automatically with the US without saying a word on the floor. There were no abstentions, but Moldova and the Ukraine chose not to vote at all.

[Footnote 1:  The Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli government generally jerks its knee behind the US position on the Cuba anti-US blockade votes, abstaining in the last vote in 2016 when Barack Obama was in the White House. Netanyahu’s UN representatives reverted to a No vote this time under Trump. While diplomatic relations between Israel and Cuba have not been restored since being broken in the aftermath of the 1973 Middle Eastern War, which saw major combat between Israeli forces and the armies of Egypt and Syria, Israel and Cuba carry out significant two-way economic trade and commercial relations. There is important Israeli-based capital investment in several Cuban projects and industries including irrigation technology, office towers, and agricultural production. There is also fully legal travel from each country to the other. The many thousands of Israeli travelers to Cuba, and the travel agencies that work with them, have found no anti-Semitism in Cuba and no personal hostility towards Israelis even though the Cuban government is a strong supporter of Palestinian self-determination and has normal or friendly diplomatic relations with all the Arab countries as well as Iran. Cuba promotes a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine based on UN Resolution 242, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.]

“Clever” Tactic Fizzles Fast

The final vote had been delayed a day as the Donald Trump White House wheeled out what they apparently thought was a very clever tactic aimed at diverting attention away from Washington’s annual political isolation and defeat. The tactic was to propose a series of no less than eight “amendments” to the anti-blockade Resolution with bogus attacks against Cuba over “human rights” and political freedoms inside Cuba.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, in her last hurrah before resigning the post by year’s end, presented the “amendments” as being formulated by directly using the past words from Washington’s NATO allies in the European Union and Canada. This year, as usual, the EU and Canadian representatives made perfunctory statements after the vote with implicit criticisms of Cuba along the lines of restrictions on democratic rights, freedom of speech and assembly, and so on, which are sometimes put in the context of the US blockade. (See my Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Geneva, Switzerland, “The Case of Cuba: “Human Rights” as a Club” https://dissidentvoice.org/2017/10/the-case-of-cuba-human-rights-as-a-club/)

Both EU and Canadian diplomatic spokespeople quickly disabused Haley of any hope that Washington’s maneuvers would gain traction this year and bottle up the works. An Austrian diplomat speaking for the EU and the Canadian representative both made forceful statements rejecting all the “amendments.” They reiterated that the “amendments” had “no place in the current Resolution” and that the question of the “extraterritorial” US economic, commercial, and financial embargo against Cuba should not be “mixed up” with the issues raised through the “amendments.”

The General Assembly was required to vote on each Amendment separately. Haley and her boss Trump were isolated and cornered with no political way out. Each “amendment” went down in flames with 3 votes in favor (the US, Israel, and the Ukraine, which managed this time to press a button, 114 against, with 66 abstentions.

The common denominator in the near-unanimous votes, year after year in the UNGA, is the question of “extraterritoriality,” whereby the United States government gives itself the right to impose its economic, political, and travel blockading of Cuba on other countries and commercial entities who have normal or friendly relations with the Cuban workers’ state. It is this US posture, long before Trump’s regime came into power, that determined the votes of the European Union – a major capitalist trading and economic bloc with its own great political pretensions – with Cuba against US policy. Trump and Haley’s amendments ploy fizzled fast and was labeled correctly by EU and Canadian representatives as a “diversion” from the real issue, for them, of “extraterritoriality.”

The General Secretary’s Report

Most speakers from the floor referred positively to the report issued by UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese President and former President of the Socialist International, on the UNGA Resolution against the US blockade. It is a 168-page long comprehensive document. (http://undocs.org?A/73/85). Virtually every member-state plainly gives their opposition to the US blockade in their own words, as well as statements from 36 “organs and agencies of the United Nations system” from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization to the United Nations Children’s Fund to the World Trade Organization, all attacking from their own angle and perspective the US blockade and solidarizing to some degree, mostly strongly, with Cuba.

From Obama to Trump

The Trump Administration has re-tightened aspects of the US economic and travel sanctions that had been marginally loosened during the last two years of the second Barack Obama White House. Full diplomatic relations were restored between Washington and Havana in July 2015 and Trump has stopped short of moving to abrogate them. He has, however, virtually frozen US embassy functions in Havana, making it very difficult for Cuban citizens to travel to the United States. This includes family members, trade unionists, doctors and scientists, and artists and musicians. “People-to-people” licensed travel to Cuba by US citizens is still possible and Cuban-American citizens remain able to travel back and forth to the island with no special requirements.

Trump has consciously ratcheted up bellicose and provocative anti-Cuba rhetoric. This plays badly with the “public opinion” of the peoples and governments of the world, including inside the United States and among Cuban-Americans. The fusillades of hostile demagogy against the Cuban government by Trump, Nikki Haley, and National Security Advisor John Bolton only produces disdain and contempt across the political and ideological fissures in world politics. This is because the Cuban state and government practice of international solidarity – including Cuba’s vanguard role in medical internationalism and worldwide emergency disaster relief efforts – and its political principles is universally admired. It is universally recognized that Cuba’s quick action and dispatch of medical personnel was the decisive factor in containing and conquering the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa on the ground. Also very clear factually are the example of Cuba’s great human indices for the health and education of the Cuban population as a whole despite the terrible impact of decades of US economic and political aggression, and recurrent military and terrorist threats. These are all settled questions around the world. And all the huffing and puffing of Trump and his lackeys cannot change that.

For many years before Trump, the UNGA annual vote around Cuba have registered an accumulating political problem for Washington in the world, particularly across the Americas. This was the case under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses. Considerable political damage was absorbed by the US government. Well into his second term, President Barack Obama, backed by his former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the bulk of the Democratic Party, and some Republicans, decided that a political retreat was necessary. (https://dissidentvoice.org/2010/03/obama-and-cuba-end-of-an-illusion/)

Months and years of serious diplomatic talks preceded the December 2014 “breakthrough” announcements by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro. The political retreat and shift by Obama required him to order the release of the Cuban Five and for the US State Department to formally remove Cuba – an historic recipient of US-sponsored terrorism in the actual world – from its “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. But the US economic, financial, and commercial embargo – which openly aims to use US power to universally blockade Cuba – remained in place and was barely tinkered with by Obama even in areas he could have.

[Footnote 2: In the 1990s, Cuba’s economy contracted sharply, and virtually overnight, following the evaporation of the island’s exchange and commercial ties with the former Soviet Union and allied Eastern European governments during the “Cold War.” Long-defeated counter-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations, with histories of violence and terrorism against Cuba, felt wind in their political sails. They illegally organized from US territory, stepping up subversive provocations against Cuba. These groups particularly targeted the rapidly expanding Cuban tourism industry which was generating much-needed foreign exchange. A terrorist bomb killed an Italian tourist. After repeated attempts to get the US government to act against all of this, a team of trained Cuban revolutionaries were dispatched to South Florida to infiltrate and monitor these groups clandestinely. Until they were arrested and convicted in a rigged Miami Courthouse in 1998, the Cuban Five – Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, and Ramon Labanino – preempted a number of planned attacks. A major international campaign organized over many years demanded freedom for the Cuban Five. The last three incarcerated Cuban heroes were released in December 2014, as part of the agreement between Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama to restore US-Cuban diplomatic relations.]

 John Bolton Whips it Up

John Bolton, who replaced the harried Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor in April 2018, has a history of ranting and railing hard against Cuba. In 2002 he ran up the propaganda flagpole the idea that Cuba was involved in production of chemical and biological weapons. Inside the George W. Bush Administration, Bolton pushed for international inspectors to monitor Cuba’s biological facilities. This clear attempt to frame Cuba was not, and could not, gain any political traction, insofar as it was: 1) made up out of whole cloth; and 2) then-President Fidel Castro responded quickly, forcefully, and with full political impact. Bolton crawled back in his hole.

[Footnote 3: At the time Bolton thundered, “The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort. Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states. We are concerned that such technology could support [biological weapons] programs in those states. We call on Cuba to cease all [biological weapons]-applicable cooperation with rogue states and to fully comply with all of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.”]

On November 1, 2018 in Miami, at a campaign rally in support of Florida Republican candidates in Miami, Bolton conjured up a “troika of tyranny” with Venezuela and Nicaragua as US-anointed members and Cuba the communist mastermind. The crowd of hundreds was populated with veteran Cuban counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries from Washington’s wars and terrorism against the Cuban Revolution since the 1960s.

The Last Ordeal of Nikki Haley at the UN

If I was a talented cartoonist, I would portray Nikki Haley up there at the UNGA podium, and John Bolton among the defeated, aging counterrevolutionaries, as caricatures with steam coming out of their ears. The cornered Haley could only strike the pose of relishing in her government’s isolation and pathetically trying to make a virtue out of political humiliation. Haley pouted: We. Are. Alone. We are proud of it! We are defiant!! (And we are screwed.)

The most revealing statement of all from Haley was her labeling of the proceedings as a “a total waste of time.” To begin with, the annual vote and previous votes represents a particularly powerful marker that acts as a restraint on US aggression. It is part of the world political atmosphere that creates space for the international political defiance of US policy and solidarity with Cuba. It is this solidarity that has eroded the blockade politically and economically, objectively helping revolutionary, socialist Cuba survive the economic cataclysm of the 1990s following the near-overnight collapse of its then-extensive economy ties with the former Soviet Union and the so-called “socialist camp in Eastern Europe.”

The reality is that the accumulation of political defeat for Washington year-after-year, in forum after forum, has become a material factor in world politics. Haley’s arrogance barely veils the accumulated political damage that Washington continues to endure on the “Cuba Question” in Latin American and world politics.

Haley engaged, on the stage of world politics, in what in psychology is called “minimization,” that is “a type of deception coupled with rationalization in situations where complete denial is implausible,” as defined in Wikipedia. Practitioners such as Haley are engaged in “downplaying their misdemeanors when confronted with irrefutable facts.” Haley’s bleating went so far as to portray the world body gathering as ganging up and bullying poor old Uncle Sam. Here we have Goliath turned into David. Here the schoolyard bully finds the entire school united against him and the bully cries foul. But with no allies and collaborators, the bully’s aura and the fear he counts on evaporates.

Haley and Bolton’s Bombast is Not Politically Sustainable.

All the bluster in the world cannot hide the political weakness in the Trump Administration’s policy. After the latest thumping for US policy at the UN can Trump move to implement new anti-Cuba actions beyond what he has already done? Will legal travel between the US and Cuba, including for Cuban-Americans, be closed even more, or altogether? Will diplomatic relations be unilaterally abrogated by Trump? Are subversive US “regime change” programs being reactivated and stepped up? 

US embarrassment and political isolation at the UN would likely become a political disaster and crisis for Washington at home as well as worldwide if US anti-Cuba moves sharply escalate with interventionist threats and deeds. Such moves would be far more likely to increase demands to defy Washington and back up the UNGA Resolutions with concrete deeds, despite the US veto in the UN Security Council (UNSC). Bullying in full view is rarely a winning tactic in the long run, especially when the bully is up against a politically savvy opponent full of principle and dignity such as the Cuban revolutionaries.

In any case, Trump and his team are nowhere near creating the political conditions for a US-backed military coup in Venezuela, let alone direct US military aggression.

 The interventions from the General Assembly floor began with the “geopolitical” and other groupings that claim to speak as one, from time to time, on issue by issue. On the Cuba-sponsored Resolution, top diplomats from one country lined up to denounce US policy for the bloc or group: Ethiopia for the African Group, Egypt for the Group of 77 Plus China; Venezuela for the Non-Aligned Movement; El Salvador for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC); Singapore for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); the Bahamas for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); and Bangladesh for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Solidarity with Cuba was most pronounced by the representatives of countries that have benefited directly from Cuba’s socialist internationalism. The representative from the Bahamas, who spoke for the Caribbean Community gave a heartfelt tribute to Cuban medical assistance, including the free medical training of Bahamian and Caribbean doctors. These were echoed by strong language from the representatives of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica. Jamaica’s representative called the US blockade “an affront to the world.” He was echoed by many speakers when he expressed “profound disappointment that we are still meeting on this question, that this is still happening” following the steps taken under Obama’s last years which raised hopes (and illusions) worldwide and in the United States.

Part of the campus of the Latin America School of Medicine (ELAM). Since 2005 ELAM. has graduated tens of thousands of physicians from oppressed and exploited populations in Africa, Asia and the Americas, including working-class and impoverished communities in the US, with full scholarships offered by Cuba. These new young doctors make a commitment to work in underserved areas upon graduation.

South African and Namibian representatives spoke with sharp emotion of Cuba’s decisive part in the defeat of the apartheid South African state and the “democratic dispensation” in South Africa, and the winning of the independence of Namibia.

The Bolivian representative gave a militant defense of the Cuban Revolution – “the enormous island of dignity.” He called US aggression against Cuba “one of the most important issues facing the UN system…One of the most powerful countries – the host country – refuses to comply with General Assembly resolutions year after year…Cuba is an example for all humankind [with its] selfless assistance to the rest of the world. Cuba was there in Africa! Cuba was there!” He ended his rousing remarks by quoting the legendary Ernesto Che Guevara, who said “the people of Cuba are stirred when any injustice occurs in the world.”

Cuba Speaks for Itself

Before the final vote on November 1, 2019, after Haley’s amendments were defeated, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez took the floor in a powerful presentation. (http://misiones.minrex.gob.cu/en/un)

Rodriguez spoke in the tradition of Cuban revolutionary diplomacy around the world and at the UN going back to the work of the legendary Cuban UN Ambassador Raul Roa and the speeches of Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara before the General Assembly. In those early decades of the Revolution, when the US blockade was at its tightest, and when the military threats and interventions of Washington and the militarized counterrevolutionary exiles was at its height, Cuba boldly made its case and defended itself politically from the platform of the UN.

[Footnote 4: It was a time when a Cuban diplomat was assassinated in the streets of Queens, New York. It was a time when terrorist bombs were set off at the offices of the 1199 Health Care Workers Union, which courageously opposed the US blockade of Cuba, in the heart of Manhattan, the offices of Casa de las Americas, Cuban-Americans who defended the Revolution, and elsewhere. The Cuban Mission to the United Nations made networks of friends and supporters of revolutionary and socialist Cuba in the 25-mile-radius New York City-area where Washington, as the host country of the UN, could not prevent a Cuban presence or Cuban revolutionary freedom of speech at the UN. These friendships and solidarity have become deeply rooted over many decades. This was recently exemplified when newly elected President of the Cuban Council of State, Miguel Diaz-Canel, came to the United Nations for the Fall 2018 opening of the General Assembly and spoke to some 2300 people from New York, New Jersey and many other cities, who packed into the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan, for a rousing evening of solidarity.]

Raul Roa and Fidel Castro at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960

Rodriguez spoke not only as Cuba’s top diplomat in making a comprehensive presentation of the human impact of the US blockade, including in Cuba’s exclusion from US-based life-saving or life-enhancing medical products, medications, technologies, and devices. Much of Rodriguez’s presentation took this up in moving detail. But he also spoke as a representative of the Cuban socialist revolution, which holds up the banner of international solidarity with the oppressed and exploited overwhelming majority of humanity in opposition to the world of capitalist exploitation and imperialist war.

Rodriguez began his speech with an expression of solidarity with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where a Jew-hater inspired by Nazi ideology and anti-immigrant hatred gunned down eleven Jewish people in their Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27.  The Temple congregation was prominent in aiding war and other refugees migrating to the US. This evidently sparked the carnage. Rodriguez also expressed solidarity with the victims of floods and landslides in Indonesia which killed dozens.

Most powerfully the Cuban Foreign Minister was not about to listen to any lectures from Donald Trump, Nikki Haley or the United States government on Human Rights:

“The US government does not have the least moral authority for criticizing Cuba or anyone else with regards to human rights.  We reject the repeated manipulation of human rights with political purposes as well as the double standards that characterize it… The US government is the author of human rights violations against its own citizens, particularly Afro-Americans and Hispanics, minorities, refugees and migrants. In the midst of the opulence of that country, 40 million of its citizens live in conditions of poverty and 52 million live in impoverished communities.  More than half a million sleep in the streets. Twelve per cent lack medical insurance and millions of low-income persons will be left without it. Quality education is not accessible to the majority. Equal opportunities are a pipedream. It is a government of millionaires imposing savage policies…There is a different racial pattern with regards to the inmate population, the length of imprisonment terms, the application of the death penalty -which is also applicable to minors and the mentally disabled; and the number of persons being shot dead by the police. The US government builds walls and separate children -even young children- from their migrant parents and put them in cages. The United States is party to only 30 per cent of human rights instruments and does not recognize the right to life, peace, development, security, food or the human rights of boys and girls.”

Rodriguez’s speech included a strong socialist critique of the “democratic” pretensions and highfalutin words of Washington’s mouthpieces vs. the realities of capitalist politics in the United States:

”The ‘special interests,’ that is, the corporate interests, have kidnapped the US political system, which is corrupt by definition…Words and political statements do matter. While demonizing and turning political opponents, institutions, social groups and nations into enemies through the use of propaganda, division, violence, hatred, [then] crimes and wars thrive and take root…Dirty politics, indecency, amorality, lies, the redesigning of electoral districts out of political convenience and the manipulation of voters are all exacerbated. Six million low-income US voters are prevented from voting.  In Florida, 21 per cent of Afro-American voters are not entitled to cast their vote. [There is] [f]ake information [and] the monopoly over communication…The US government unscrupulously interferes in the electoral processes and internal affairs of most States in this planet.” (See Isaac Saney’s Submission to the UN Human Rights Council, “Cuba, Human Rights and Self-Determination for a clear look at Cuba’s highly participatory electoral procedures. https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/06/cuba-human-rights-and-self-determination/)

A Post-World War II, Post-Cold War World is Emerging

This year the UN vote highlighting the US economic war against Cuba converges with Washington’s – which is now Trump’s Washington – tendentiousness and political isolation on other burning issues and existing and looming crises worldwide:  Trump’s unilateral pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was reached between Iran and the United States, the UK, Russia, France, China, Germany and the EU in July 2015 and confrontations he is pushing with the EU and other powers over US “extraterritorial” pressures to tow the US line; unfolding political developments on the Korean Peninsula; Saudi Arabia’s US and UK-backed murderous war on Yemen and the mounting political crisis in the Saudi bastion of reaction in the entire Middle East region; the political aftershocks of the brutal Syrian war; prospects for a two-state settlement in Israel-Palestine; and Trump’s pulling out of the (already weak) UN “Framework Convention on Climate Change” after 2020, an issue where Washington is even more isolated than on Cuba.

Trump, in his crude branded way, blurts out US imperial arrogance in a world today that is marked by an emerging post-World War II, post-Cold War era where the full-spectrum economic, financial, and political dominance of the American Colossus is receding more and more from sight in history’s rear-view mirror. Recently, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in floated the idea of lifting some of his country’s sanctions against the North, Trump said, “They won’t do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval.” (Both “South” and “North” Korea voted with Cuba at the UN.)

The relative decline of US capitalist power in the world of today means that the still-overwhelming military dominance Washington holds – in terms of nuclear arsenal and other unmatched firepower capability; the worldwide reach and projection of US naval and air power, with hundreds of military bases in operation worldwide – still finds great pressures and limits on the political ability to use it, particularly since the unintended consequences of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. I think this is particularly true across the Americas, even with the recent electoral advances of conservative and reactionary forces on the South American continent.

Brazil’s Election and Potential New Alignments

With the election on October 28, 2018 of Jair Bolsonaro, a rightist demagogue, Trump and Bolton quickly saw a potential weighty ally in Latin America for the perspective of putting together a political bloc against Cuba and to breach the wall of continental solidarity with it against the US blockade. Bolton welcomed Bolsonaro’s election saying, “The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable governance… today, in this hemisphere, we are also confronted once again with the destructive forces of oppression, socialism and totalitarianism…Under this administration, we will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores in this hemisphere. We will not reward firing squads, torturers, and murderers … The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – has finally met its match.”

Bolton shameless demagogy, as with Haley, correlates to another classic scientific category called “psychological projection.” This is, in Wikipedia’s definition, “a theory in psychology in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.” Insofar as the United States government has a crystal-clear history and legacy of supporting, sustaining, or directly installing virtually every blood-soaked military or rightist family or oligarchical dictatorship in Central America, Latin America, and the Caribbean in modern times, this is “projection” of the highest order. (Check out this US interventionist history in https://www.zompist.com/latam.html)

And let us underline that Bolton is praising a political and military figure, Bolsonaro, who came out of and defends wholeheartedly the right-wing military regime in Brazil from 1964-1986, with its documented history of death-squads, murder, and torture on a mass-scale. Bolsonaro has publicly said that the military dictatorship did not murder and torture those who resisted and fought it enough.

[Footnote 5: It should be noted that the democratically elected government of João Goulart, which attempted to carry out progressive measures in education, voting rights, taxes, and land reform that infuriated the Brazilian capitalists and large landowners. It also enraged bipartisan Washington, in this case under the liberal Democratic White Houses of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. This was mainly because Goulart opposed the US blockade of Cuba and refused to break diplomatic relations as demanded by Kennedy and Johnson. Between 1961 and 1964, the CIA performed so-called psyops, or “psychological operations” against Goulart, poured money into opposition groups, and was essentially the architect of the coup.]

Bolsonaro was elected with a ten-point margin, culminating, for now, a deepening political crisis in Brazil that was set in motion by the sharpest economic retraction and recession in modern Brazilian history that kicked in starting in 2014. This drawn-out political earthquake saw the 2016 impeachment and removal from office of Workers Party (PT) President Dilma Rousseff on dubious charges of manipulating budget statistics followed by the 2018 imprisonment and barring from running for President of PT leader and former president Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva on the relatively petty charges of receiving access to an apartment on the beach. Denied strongly by da Silva, the charges rose to the level of the absurd given the massive corruption that marks capitalist politicking in Brazil with its rampant wheeler-dealerism, kickbacks, and bribe-taking. This was the case before, during, and after Lula da Silva and the PT won the Presidency in January 2003, starting with the political forces that moved against Rousseff and Lula da Silva.

Among the aftershocks over time from the 2007-08 world economic crisis and depression was the collapse in raw materials, energy, and other commodity prices in world capitalist markets. This expedited the economic crisis in Brazil, the eighth largest capitalist economy in the world. Brazil has built up giant export platforms for oil and other raw materials to markets in advanced capitalist countries such as the US and the EU, as well as to China, over many decades. Huge capitalist farms in Brazil export products such as soy beans, sugar, and meat that brought in large sums in foreign exchange. It is an example of how even the most developed (semi-industrialized) capitalist economies in “Third World” nation-states like Brazil are dependent on the advanced capitalist economies of the United States, western Europe, and Japan and the international institutions they control like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) for markets and credits (that is, debt).

In that cyclical period of expansion driven by high commodity-raw material prices, the successive PT governments funded social-welfare programs that created real – but tenuous and ephemeral as it turned out – alleviation of extreme poverty, of which there is a tremendous amount in Brazil. These policies marginally advanced working-class access to education and health care and fueled Lula’s high levels of political support and popularity. This popularity was apparently the decisive factor in banning him from being on the ballot in the Presidential election, where most surveys had placed him in the lead.

Politically, the PT policies delivered relative class and political stability, without any disruption of the financial, economic, and social dominance of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and landowning ruling classes. The Workers Party in the October 2018 elections paid the political price for the sharp economic recession that unfolded from 2014-16, with a stagnant “recovery” today. Bolsonaro was able to exploit other issues such as the miserable living conditions in the favelas, controlled by criminal gangs running organized drug rackets that are tangled up with corrupt and murderous police forces. The Brazilian ruling classes and media oligopolies swung behind Bolsonaro decisively in the elections, burying previous derisions of him when he was “on the fringe” of bourgeois politics in Brazil.

It remains to be seen if Bolsonaro is prepared to – or is politically able to – unite with Trump in an anti-Cuba, anti-Venezuela crusade. In a November 7, 2018 Financial Times article titled “Brazil version of Trump to play hardball with Bolivian autocrat,” writer Gideon Long relishes a coming confrontation between Bolsanaro and Bolivian President Evo Morales (“one of the last survivors of the leftist ‘pink tide’”) over a natural gas deal that is up for renewal. Long further asserts the ascendancy of “a new regional order” in a Latin America that he says has “shifted rightward.”

Bolsonaro Forces Out Cuban Doctors

On November 14, 2018, the press office of the Cuban UN Mission in New York issued a Declaration from the Ministry of Public Health announcing the withdrawal of Cuban doctors from Brazil following Bolsonaro’s attacks and threats on them and the Program More Doctors organization the Cuban volunteers work through. The Declaration states:

“Jair Bolsonaro, president-elect of Brazil, who has made direct, contemptuous, and threatening comments against the presence of our doctors, has declared and reiterated that he will modify the terms and conditions of the Program More Doctors…he has questioned the qualification of our doctors and has conditioned their permanence in the program to a process of validation of their titles and established that contracts will only be signed on an individual basis…These unacceptable conditions make it impossible to maintain the presence of Cuban professionals in the Program…The decision to bring into question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of Cuban cooperation workers who, with the support of their families, are currently offering their services in 67 countries is unacceptable. During the last 55 years, a total of 600,000 internationalist missions have been accomplished in 164 nations, with the participation of 400,000 health workers who, in quite a few cases, have fulfilled this honorable task more than once. Their feats in the struggle against the Ebola virus in Africa, blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean and cholera in Haiti as well as the participation of 26 brigades of the International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Great Epidemics “Henry Reeve” in Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Venezuela, among other countries, are worthy of praise…Likewise, 35,613 health professionals from 138 countries have been trained in Cuba at absolutely no cost as an expression of our solidarity and internationalist vocation. The peoples from Our America and from all over the world know that they will always be able to count on the solidarity and humanistic vocation of our professionals.”

Cuban Doctors in Brazil

“Pinochetism” Without Pinochet?

Bolsonaro is gearing up to carry out a “neoliberal” austerity program of attacks on industrial workers, agricultural workers, landless peasants, and small and medium farmers. He looks to the “model” of the policies carried out with extreme violence by the US-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew the elected, constitutional President Salvador Allende in a 1973 US-backed military coup.

At each step of the consolidation of his brutal dictatorship Pinochet consulted with and was advised by various US government and academic figures. These included, famously, a group of University of Chicago (UC) conservative and reactionary economists, spawns of Milton Friedman and Frederick von Hayek. These “Chicago Boys” found themselves dominating the Economics Department at UC and were available for the cause of crushing the workers and peasants of Chile into the dirt.

Survivors and would-be revivers of that “Chicago School” are very enthusiastic backers of Bolsonaro, starting with incoming Finance Minister Paulo Guedes. In an interview with the November 2, 2018 Financial Times Guedes said Bolsonaro’s election presents a “Pinochet” moment for Brazil. “The Chicago boys saved Chile, fixed Chile. Fixed the mess.”

Of course, when class and political polarization reaches the intensity of the last years of the Allende government, the room for “parliamentary democratic” resolution diminishes. Washington and the Chilean bourgeoisie and oligarchy, including in the officer corps of the Chilean armed forces, were baying for blood and carried out economic sabotage, covert subversion, and terrorism against Allende’s Popular Unity (UP) coalition, whose mass and electoral support was increasing at the time of the coup. Nevertheless, the UP government and Chilean revolutionists were unable to counterattack effectively and derail the more-and-more open coup plotting, US covert action, and right-wing mobilizations.

[Footnote 6: See Fidel Castro on Chile, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1982 with an introduction by Elizabeth Stone, a comprehensive compilation of speeches, interviews, press conferences, and interactions with Chilean workers and trade unionists, peasants, and students from November 10 to December 4, 1971 when the Cuban revolutionary and President visited the country. In speech after speech, Castro foresees – in a cumulative master class in the Marxist method – the gathering, impossible-to-be-avoided political, social, and class showdown. Castro did everything in his power to prevent a historic defeat and slaughter of working people in Chile similar to what Ernesto Che Guevara had witnessed in 1954 Guatemala. The classic documentary The Battle of Chile, shot during the Allende years and during the coup, smuggled out of Chile, and finished in Cuba, shows how workers and peasants, ready to defend their gains, arms in hand, waited, Godot-style, to be mobilized, armed, trained, and organized as the defense of democratic space and constitutional legality was being abandoned by the Chilean ruling classes and was, in fact, collapsing.]

It would have been impossible to carry out “the fix” Guedes crows about for Chile without the destruction of democratic rights and political space and murdering thousands of trade unionists and revolutionary-minded working-class and student youth, and anyone who stood in their way. Gruesome torture was institutionalized by the “fixers” on a mass, industrial scale after the initial bloodbath. This was a pre-condition for smashing trade union legality and driving the workers movement underground. Suppressing wages and worker’s rights laid the basis for renewed “confidence” and profitability for Chilean and foreign capital. Cyclical economic expansion primarily benefited a super-affluent minority.

The workers and mass struggles that pried open political space and trade-union legality in the 1980s, leading to Pinochet’s demise, used that space to fight to raise their living standards.

Can there be an updated Pinochetism against Brazil’s highly organized working-class movement, including mass trade unions and landless peasant organizations that Bolsonaro has made a career of making harsh attacks on? Bolsonaro spoke openly during and after the election of going after “delinquent Reds,” and organizations of landless peasants and homeless people, in addition to going after pension systems for organized workers, a centerpiece of Pinochet’s “reforms” in Chile.

While many on the Brazilian “left,” including PT activists, are no doubt shaken by the election of Bolsonaro, who obviously won the votes of many disillusioned and desperate working people, it should be said that the Brazilian workers and peasant class organizations and the mass, social movements, including for Afro-Brazilian rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights, have not been defeated in struggle and combat, as was the case in Chile. Bolsonaro’s “electoral mandate” will be tested in the actual class and political struggles ahead.

Operation Condor II?

With Pinochet’s triumph in 1973 there was increased collaboration and coordination of the Latin American military regimes (joined by Argentina in 1976) under Chilean leadership (and that of the US CIA in the shadows) in the so-called “Operation Condor,” which operated death squads and organized terrorist acts on a continental scale.

The Condor Years: How Pinochet And His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents by John Dinges

Trump’s team, to the degree that they have a coherent political focus on Latin America, certainly see opportunities to advance US policies through alignments with the series of more conservative and reactionary governments that won elections in Argentina, Chile, Columbia, and Peru in recent years. Economic conditions in all these states compel them, and they all are preparing, to take on the working-class and popular movements and to use the economic crisis to reverse the advances made in the period of the “pink tide” ascent. The Mauricio Macri government in Argentina, in particular, is in a real-time crisis after a disastrous decline in the value of the Argentine peso and consequent huge rise in the country’s dollar-denominated debt, topped off with a humiliating $57 billion “bailout” loan from the hated International Monetary Fund.

It should be noted that the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico will replace a conservative “neoliberal” regime with an Administration and legislature that campaigned as progressive, anti-establishment, anti-corruption, and opposed to US interventionist policies in the Hemisphere.

Venezuela

Trump and the Latin American forces he looks to bloc with certainly would like to pounce on Venezuela, which they portray as descending into ungovernability and endless economic cataclysm, and therefore is viewed as politically vulnerable. They dream and devise plans to sweep in a pro-imperialist government in an orchestrated “regime change.” There has leaked for public consumption US discussions and collaboration with pro-coup forces inside Venezuela’s military and other state institutions. These discussions were over the viability of a US-backed coup or a direct US military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro government. Nikki Haley has spoken openly to street actions calling for Maduro’s overthrow.

The Trump White House has spent over $20 million in “humanitarian refugee assistance” under the pretext of dealing with the some 2-3 million Venezuelan refugees who have been generated from the still-deepening economic crisis, crash in production, and runaway inflation in the country. These refugees have poured mainly into Colombia, with many transiting from there to Ecuador and other Latin American countries.

It is certain that the class struggle across the Americas will intensify and deepen in period at hand and coming. And that the political alignments of today may not be the realignments of tomorrow. The “Cuba Question” is bound to be at the center of all of this. The 2018 UN vote against the US blockade strengthens Cuba’s position in this volatile and explosive period in world and Western Hemispheric politics, and in the international class and national liberation struggles, that are now unfolding.

November 15, 2018

New York City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 15, 2018

The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment

Filed under: Red-Brown alliance,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:53 pm

​During his recent tour of Europe, disgraced former Trump strategist Steve Bannon declared “Italy is in the lead.”

Amid the historic resurgence of the Italian far right that returned right-wing populist Silvio Berlusconi to prominence, Bannon fantasized about “the ultimate dream” of unifying the anti-establishment Five Star Movement with the far-right League (formerly the Northern League) through a populist movement. Bannon’s international vision of nationalist populist movements is locked into the Kremlin’s geopolitical ideology of a “multipolar world.”

The League is tied through a cooperation pact to Putin’s Russia, and its deputy in charge of relations with foreign parties, Claudio D’Amico, explicitly called for a “multipolar world” in Katehon, a think tank created by fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. Following the ideological line Dugin put forward in his text, Foundations of Geopolitics, Katehon calls for uniting a “Eurasian” bloc in constant struggle against “Atlanticist” countries. For Dugin, the “21st century gamble” is to create a “multipolar” confederation of “Traditionalist” regional empires united under Russian sovereignty that will overthrow the “unipolar” empire of “postmodern” democracies.

Shortly after Putin’s election in 2000, the Kremlin released a set of foreign policy guidelines calling for a “multipolar world order” against the “strengthening tendency towards the formation of a unipolar world under financial and military domination by the United States.” Escalating with the Ukrainian Orange Revolution in 2004, the Kremlin’s production of soft-power networks throughout Europe and the United States involves- think tanksloansforumspropaganda outlets and cooperation agreements with far-right parties like the Austrian Freedom Party and the League. From Russia to Iran to Western Europe and the U.S., this international movement uses conspiracy theories and “gray material” to warp the political spectrum into a populist referendum along “geopolitical” terms set by fascist engagées.

Red and brown polarities

As a recent major report on syncretic networks exposed, the modern fascist movement’s obsession with geopolitics emerged in force amid the post-Cold War antiglobalization movement. In 2002, a front group formed out of the U.S.-based Workers’ World Party known as the International Action Center joined forces with the Assisi-based “Campo Antimperialista.” As Duginists infiltrated the Campo, opening a journal called Eurasia that garnered the influential involvement of Campo participant Costanza Preve, the International Action Center continued their cooperation.

Soon, a similar Russian group called the Anti-Globalist Resistance began to repost the Campo’s dispatches. Sharing support for Milosevic with the Campo and the International Action Center, the Anti-Globalist Resistance emerged simultaneously with the same tendency to fight globalization by linking far-right to hard-left. In 2008, they brought the Campo to Moscow for the third “All-Russia Anti-Globalist Forum,” introduced by long-time U.S. fascist Lyndon LaRouche. The next year’s conference included Duginist leaders like Leonid Savin and retired General Leonid Ivashov, along with LaRouche and Holocaust denier Israel Shamir.

As their work continued, the Campo and Anti-Globalist Resistance drew more anti-globalization activists into their syncretic orbit. In 2012, a group came together at a Campo Antimperialista event in Assisi and developed what would become the Syria Solidarity Movement. The movement’s steering committee came to include top figures from groups from the U.S. hard left, including the Workers World Party, its affiliate, ANSWER and a spinoff of the latter group called the Party of Socialism and Liberation.

After changing their name to the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, the group drew people from the Syria Solidarity Movement’s network to a conference called the “Right of Peoples to Self-Determination and Building a Multipolar World” in 2014. A delegate from the International Action Center attended, along with delegates from another Workers World Party front group called United Anti-War Coalition, including an editor with the Black Agenda Reportnamed Margaret Kimberly. Among the conference’s other attendees were Michael Hill of the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Texas Nationalist Movement, as well as the far-right Republika of Srpska and National Bolshevik Italian Communitarian Party.

The following year, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia met with a purported Cherokee Nation elder named “Mashu White Feather” and a representative of the Uhuru Movement, also connected to the Black Agenda Report. They then organized a state-funded conference that drew members of the fascist Italian group Millenium, Mutti’s associate Antonio Grego, and a leading member of the far-right Rodina party, as well as representatives of separatist groups like the Texas Nationalist Movement and the Catalan Solidarity for Independence party. The now-notorious troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, would later invite the Texas Nationalist Movement to join an armed, Islamophobic protest launched by the fake “Heart of Texas,” while also inciting counter-protestors.


This network map shows the flow of movement building from parties to front groups to participation in and creation of syncretic coalitions.

The Syria connection

The Syria Solidarity Movement lists on its steering committee a host of syncretic figures like DuginistNavid Nasr and an Australian representative of the fascist-modeled Syrian Social Nationalist Party affiliateMussalaha. Before a report revealed her associations with Global ResearchRon Paul and the right-wing British Constitution Party, conspiracy theorist Vanessa Beeley held a position on the steering committee as well.

As an editor at the alt-right-associated conspiracy theory site, 21stCenturyWire, Beeley’s repeated conspiracy articles attempting to link the White Helmets to al Qaeda and George Soros earned her a visit with Assad in Damascus and senior Russian officials in Moscow; however, they have been thoroughly debunked. A defender of right-wing Hungarian president Viktor Orban, Beeley promotesantisemites like Gilad Atzmon and Dieudonné, even speaking at a conference hosted by the latter in partnership with notorious Holocaust denier Laurent Louis. Regardless, the Syrian Solidarity Movement and the associated Hands Off Syria Coalition recommend Beeley’s work.

Along with members of the Syria Solidarity Movement, delegates who attended the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia’s “Multipolar World” conference sit on the Hands off Syria Coalition’s steering committee. Showing its commitments and affinities, in January 2016, the Hands Off Syria Coalition published a “Multipolar World Against War” statement signed by the leader of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, Alexander Ionov.

Similarly, the Hands Off Syria Coalition website publicizes self-described Marxist, Tim Anderson, who has an interesting record of attending far-right conferences. In 2015, Anderson attended the far-right Brandherd Syrien Congress, and the next year he was at Defend Our Heritage’s Leura Forum, chaired by a leader of far-right party Alternative for Germany. Following that, Anderson’s pet project, Center of Counter Hegemonic Studies, convened a conference that brought in Paul Antonopoulos, an editor for the Duginist website Fort Russ.

The Hands Off Syria Coalition advertises Anderson’s book, The Dirty War on Syria, which is published by syncretic conspiracist site Global Research. Multiple “Research Associates” of Global Research sit on the “scientific committee” of the Campo-linked Duginist journal Geopolitica, and the site lists as its “partner media group” the Voltaire Network. Publishing LaRouchite and Duginist articles, the Voltaire Network boasts the Syrian Social Nationalist Party’s Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs as its Vice President. One of the Voltaire Network’s leading contributors is Mikhail Leontyev, an associate of Dugin who has moved from prominent media personality to the role of spokesman for Russian state oil company, Rosneft. The Syria Solidarity Movement publishes Voltaire Network articles by founder Thierry Meyssan, a contributor to Campo-linked journal Eurasia who associates with Holocaust deniers and open fascists, among others.

Hands Off Syria Coalition steering committee member Issa Chaer joined Meyssan on a panel at the Second New Horizons conference in Iran in 2012. Conference speakers that year included World Workers Party member Caleb Maupin, Alt Right journalist Tim Pool, Holocaust denier Kevin Barrett, and Duginists like Voltaire Network associate Mateusz Piskorski, German editor Manuel Ochsenreiter, Leonid Savin, and Claudio Mutti the leading fascist infiltrator of the Campo Antimperialista. The banner image for last year’s New Horizon features Aleksandr Dugin.

Multipolar propaganda

According to the metrics search engine BuzzSumo, most of the leading articles with the terms “multipolar world” and “multi-polar world” in the title come from an interconnected network of sites, including Global Research, The Duran and Sign of the Times. With an estimated six million unique daily views per month, the biggest and most influential in this network is the Russian state-run media site Sputnik News.

Billing itself as pointing “the way to a multipolar world that respects every country’s national interests, culture, history and traditions,” Sputnik frequently publishes PiskorskiOchsenreiter, Mutti’s fellow Campo infiltrator Tiberio Graziani, commentator Andrew Korybkoand Fort Russ editor Joaquin Flores. Furthermore, Sputnik has joined RT in consistently using dubious sources affiliated with theSyria Solidarity Network to attack the White Helmets and throw doubt on the Assad regime’s war crimes, for instance its use of chemical weapons.

A syncretic hub on Sputnik, anti-imperialist John Wight’s podcast, “Hard Facts,” promotes the same figures associated with the pro-Assad network in the West, including Beeley, Anderson, and Nasr. Perhaps most interestingly, Wight also hosted trans-national far-right figure, Edward Lozansky during the 2016 election and again early the next year.

With more than 30 years of involvement in the U.S. and Russian far right, Lozansky is perhaps most known as the creator of the American University in Moscow. Boasting a number of Fellows involved in pro-Kremlin media outlets like The Duran, RT and Russia Insider, the American University in Moscow appears to be an ideological center in the concerted social media campaign associated with the Internet Research Agency to boost anti-Clinton, pro-Kremlin propaganda in the U.S. Lozansky also hosts conferences with known fascist ideologues and an annual “Russia Forum” featuring far-right politicians and left-wing media operators from Russia and the U.S.

During both of his pro-Putin, pro-Trump interviews with Lozansky on “Hard Facts,” Wight advocated “a multipolar alternative to the unipolar world,” insisting, “we’re talking about a struggle for a multipolar world to replace the unipolarity that has wreaked so much havoc since the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.”

The most important anti-imperialist hub on Sputnik, however, is hosted by Brian Becker, whose fellow party member and brother sits on the steering committee for the Syria Solidarity Movement. The leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Becker regularly hosts Fellows of the American University in Moscow on his Sputnik podcast, “Loud & Clear.”

“Loud & Clear”‘s Lozansky-affiliated guests include far-right PR man Jim Jatras, Mark Sleboda of the Dugin-founded Center for Conservative Studies, the Ron Paul Institute’s Daniel McAdams and Alexander Mercouris of the syncretic conspiracist site, The Duran. The program also provides a platform to a variety of explicitly far-right guests, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, antisemite Alberto Garcia Watson, alt-right figure Cassandra Fairbanks and militia movement leader Larry Pratt.

Aside from marginal guests, Loud & Clear can bring on some heavy hitters. During his two appearances on “Loud & Clear” in late 2017, bestselling author Max Blumenthal called the red-brown radio show “the finest public affairs programming” and declared, “I am increasingly turning to RT America for sanity.” No stranger to Sputnik, Blumenthal also went on “Hard Facts” that August, claiming that notorious ISIS militant Mohammed Emwazi was ushered into the Syria conflict by the CIA via a “rat line” from Saudi Arabia.


This Venn diagram suggests that certain syncretic groups exist as containers for the intersection of right and left wing groups, ideologies.

Highway to the Grayzone

Around the same time he went on “Loud & Clear,” Blumenthal appeared on Tucker Carlson‘s FOX News show to defend RT — his second time on the far-right show that year. Blumenthal’s RT appearances have been praised by white nationalists like Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., who murdered three people outside of a Jewish Community Center in 2014, so his courting of the right on FOX drew considerable backlash.

Two months later, Blumenthal offered up a staunch defense of “Russia’s position in the world” to author Robert Wright in an interview on bloggingheads. Admitting that Putin’s Russia remains far from left-wing, Blumenthal justified support for the country’s authoritarian conservative government as “part of the multipolar world.”

“If you believe in a multipolar world,” Blumenthal told Wright, “you believe in détente, you believe in diplomacy.” He specifically mentioned Becker’s Party for Socialism and Liberation and groups like it, arguing that they “tend to get all the major issues right regardless of their ideology or agenda.”

Blumenthal was not as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics before he appeared at the same RT gala as disgraced former National Security advisor Michael Flynn and the Green Party’s Jill Stein in December 2015. During that occasion, he joined a panel called “Infowar: Will there be a winner” alongside Alt Right anti-Semite Charles Bausman of Russia Insider. A month later, Blumenthal’s pro-Kremlin position crystalized with the founding of the Grayzone Project.

Grayzone is a collaborative project also featuring journalist Benjamin Norton, who cosigned the Hands Off Syria Coalition’s points of unity statement along with Beeley and others. After going on “Loud & Clear” with Duginist Mark Sleboda and Infowars regularRay McGovern, Norton plugged the Party for Socialism and Liberation on a podcast episode titled “Hands off Syria.” With other Grayzone contributors, Norton has been criticized for downplaying war crimesand helping publicize false theories about rebels contaminatingDamascus’s water supply.

When reached for comment by email, Norton retorted, “I know your goal is to outlandishly smear anyone who opposes US imperialism and is to the left of the Clintons as a ‘crypto-fascist,’ while NATO supports actual fascists whom you care little about.”

Grayzone is perhaps best known for Blumenthal’s controversial two-part article attacking the White Helmets, which brought accusations of plagiarism from Beeley. Grayzone contributor Rania Khalek had, Beeley insisted, “pumped me for information on the [White Helmets] and then Max wrote the article.”

While Blumenthal may have repeated some of Beeley’s theories, Beeley cannot be seen as a credible source. Regardless, Khalek has since used a questionable interview sourced from Beeley as evidence that the White Helmets “were deeply embedded in al Qaeda.”

Grayzone recently announced their move from independent news site AlterNet to The Real News Network, a left-wing site with a penchant for 9/11 truther inquiries. Neither Blumenthal nor Khalek responded to efforts to reach them for comment.

Right uses left

Through its amplification of an interlinked, multi-centered network organized around institutions like Lozansky’s American University in Moscow and the Voltaire Network and conferences like Moscow’s “Multi-Polar World” and Tehran’s “New Horizons,” syncretic networks associated with Dugin’s Eurasianist ideology have combined distortions and ambiguities into a geopolitical narrative meant to confuse audiences and promote authoritarian populist opposition to liberalism.

The “gray measures” used to deny the Kremlin’s influence operations may seem dubious when delivered through channels like Sputnik that are, themselves, political technologies of far-right political influence. When cycled through “narrative laundering” of secondary and tertiary networks enhanced by trolls and coordinated influence operations, however, propaganda is “graywashed” of its dubious sources and presented as cutting-edge journalism.

As shown with Figure 3, think tanks like Katehon and connected Russian Institute for Strategic Studies develop strategies for media spin and online promotion through influence groups and botnets. These think tanks engage in feedback loops with Russian state media channels and linked syncretic news sites, amplified through social media with the help of botnets, and eventually reaching more legitimate sources often freed of their dubious sourcing. The results are explored by a recent study from Data and Society called Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online: “Online communities are increasingly turning to conspiracy-driven news sources, whose sensationalist claims are then covered by the mainstream media, which exposes more of the public to these ideas, and so on.”


A conceptual model made in Vensim intended to present the workings of “Graywashing.”

The problem with multipolarism, aside from assuming polarity as a useful prescription, may be that it supports not the emergence of Russia as a world power but the rise of the Kremlin’s authoritarian conservative political ideology. In this, multipolarists tend to support other authoritarian regimes and movements from Iran to Syria to Italy. Although anti-imperialists may believe that these measures land them on the right side of history, taking stock of the fascist movement suggests that the strategy of opposing a liberal order through red-brown populist collaboration makes the left a willing accomplice.

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February 18, 2018

The three degrees of separation between Lyndon LaRouche, the left, and the alt-right (part five)

Filed under: LaRouche — louisproyect @ 10:17 pm

(part onepart twopart three, part four)

This is the fifth and final installment in a series of articles about LaRouche’s movement that began on July 31, 2017 with the intention of demonstrating what a real fascist movement in the USA looked like as compared to the spectacles mounted by Richard Spencer and alt-right websites like the Daily Stormer. Unlike the fascists of today, LaRouche had built bridges to the CIA and important rightwing politicians, including Reagan administration officials. Even though objective conditions precluded him from ever achieving his dream of becoming the American Führer, his reach extended into the ruling class as well as into the corrupted trade union movement, especially the Teamsters.

In exploiting the fund-raising potentials of his cult members phone-banking elderly Republican Party voters to support the “Reagan revolution”, LaRouche diverted funds into his lavish life-style, including a 13-room mansion in Leesburg, Virginia.

The authorities finally caught up to him in 1988. After being found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud of more than $30 million in defaulted loans, eleven counts of actual mail fraud involving $294,000 in defaulted loans, and a single count of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, he was sentenced to 15 years but was released on January 26, 1994.

Keep in mind that LaRouche’s  basic program prior to his imprisonment mapped closely to the Reagan administration’s, including the ardent support of Star Wars and the expansion of NATO. A lot of his economic policies had much more in common with “statism”, including the support of vast infrastructure projects that sounded both like what FDR carried out as well as Hitler and Mussolini. In addition, his primary allies were outright fascists such as Roy Frankhouser Jr., a former Grand Dragon of the KKK.

Much of my analysis was based on Dennis King’s “Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism” that concludes with his arrest in 1986. I had not given much thought to LaRouche in the more recent period except to take the time to give his cult followers a hard time whenever they set up a table in front of my high-rise on the Upper East Side.

However, after my first installment appeared, I was startled to discover from a friend and comrade that his movement was deeply involved in the propaganda network defending Bashar al-Assad and the Russian intervention in the Ukraine.

So I’ve come across the Larouchies several times while covering the Syrian conflict. While the Larouche organization itself is persona non grata in mainstream political circles there are several Larouchie and ex Larouchie organizations and individuals who are very active on the “alt right” and the Assadist pro-Putin “alt left.” There is a lot of spillover with Russia Today as well. it’s notable that during the 2011 Tahrir Square protests Russia Today featured Lyndon Larouche himself as an expert on the events. Many Larouche affiliated organizations seem to enjoy very active relationships with authoritarian regimes, an alliance that has become more useful to these governments after the Arab Spring created the need for a fresh crop of conspiracy theories to justify remaining in power.

Syrian UN ambassador recently spoke at a Schiller Institute a few months ago and he appeared very familiar with the individuals and the organization. The Virginia State senator Richard Black, who has raised red flags with his repeated contacts with the Assad regime, including a visit during which he posed in the cockpit of a Syrian government fighter Jet, has been a go to commentator on Syria for the LarochePAC YouTube channel. In a shockingly bizarre incident earlier this year, The Schiller Institute Chorus sang the Russian National Anthem after somehow duping local law enforcement into holding a ceremony with Russian diplomats after the crash of a Tu-154 crash that killed the Red Army Choir. It’s very noteworthy that the ceremony treats the incident as a terrorist attack and tries to draw a parallel to the 9-11 attacks even though the official Russian position is that this incident was an accident.

The Larouche organization has been involved in sending solidarity delegations to Damascus as well as El Sisi’s Egypt for some time and they are somehow involved in a project called “the new silk road“. I’m not sure what relationship this has to the Chinese economic initiative that India snubbed a few days ago but as far as I can tell there is a connection. Larouchie protestors have showed up to events with signs that say things like “please join china and Mr. Xi on the new silk road.” Indeed Larouche delegations have been sent to Egypt and Syria with the explicit purpose of pushing this concept. This YouTube video from LarouchePAC from last week, hypes the Chinese conference. Apparently Larouche has been devoting a ridiculous amount of resources to promoting an obscure Chinese economic initiative for several years now. I think there is really something to this story because the Larouche organization has been pushing for a “New Silk Road” for at least 3 years. Here is a video from 3 years ago of Larouche talking about this where he mentions the Chinese leadership.

Trolls and Dupes

Navsteva

Scott Gaulke is a Wisconsin-based Larouche follower who has developed quite a reputation for trolling and stalking under his online personality “Navsteva.” At one point Gaulke claimed to have Visited Damascus but presented images that were taken by Ulf Sandmark, a Swedish Larouchie who had visited on a solidarity delegation, which incidentally was named “the new silk road.”

Workers World Party

I’m not sure what the connection between Larouche and the Workers World Party is but there is certainly some spillover. In this image, Caleb T. Maupin, the Russia Today journalist who was described by Trump as his “favorite journalist” can be seen with former Larouche candidate Webster Tarpley, who once notoriously claimed AIDS was an airborne disease and that AIDS patients should be locked up. Tarpley has also been a fixture of Assadist circles for a while, this 2015 video from a bizarre meet up of Assadists features Tarpley and is absolutely hilarious to watch when the crowd turns on the speakers.

I’m sure if you follow the money there is something going on with the “New Silk Road” talk.

I hope this is useful and let’s stay in touch

P.

The next report that corroborated P.’s account appeared in CounterPunch when David Barker covered LaRouche’s role in the emerging Red-Brown alliance. Titled A “New Dawn” for Fascism: the Rise of the Anti-Establishment Capitalists,  the article honed in on the role played by former LaRouchite F. William Engdahl. Like other ex-members such as Webster Tarpley and Andrew Spannaus, there is little to distinguish what they write now from what appears in Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), the house organ of LaRouche’s cult. Or for that matter, much of what appeared in the Nation Magazine written by Stephen F. Cohen.

It turns out that the first issue of EIR in 1995 calls for a revolution against conservatism and sounds like it might have been written by Paul Krugman or Robert Reich. Evidently, when LaRouche was in prison, he figured out that it no longer paid to be associated with the ultraright:

The people who are behind George Bush, who are behind the funding of the Conservative Revolution, have just looted a number of counties and local governments of the United States and California. What happened in Orange County, in the looting of pubic funds by financial speculators using a Chapter 9 bankruptcy procedure–a derivatives scandal looting–also represents the same problem which many other communities in the United States face. The tax rolls and securities and budgets of communities throughout the United States, are being looted by the financial bubble called the derivatives bubble.

The author? None other than Lyndon LaRouche.

Now there had always been leftist demagogic appeals in his various journals and propaganda outreach but something had begun to change after he got out of prison. Instead of being couched in apocalyptic terms, it was much more mainstream liberalism so much so that the reformulated economic analysis was sufficient to convince someone as prominent on the left as Nomi Prins, a former Goldman-Sachs employee and frequent contributor to The Nation, to grant interviews to the cult.

The other important turn was in foreign policy. Instead of attaching itself to anyone like Ronald Reagan or any other conservative anti-Communist, LaRouche became a passionate supporter of Vladimir Putin. A 2016 article in LaRouche/PAC titled “LaRouche—The Future of Mankind Will be Determined by Putin’s Creative Interventions Over the Coming Period” might have been written by Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek or Mike Whitney.

You get the same sort of “radical” journalism on Syria with this 2015 LaRouche/PAC article being typical:

Amid widespread reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin is about to intervene militarily in Syria to defend the sovereign government of President Bashar Assad, against the genocidal lunatics of the Islamic State (ISIS), Lyndon LaRouche has thrown his support behind Putin. A Russian military intervention at this time would be a “strategic game changer,” that would crucially frustrate President Barack Obama’s plans for a military confrontation with Moscow.

One of the few people who has noted the “left turn” is the anonymous blogger Ravings of a Radical Vagabond, whose 100-page article “An Investigation Into Red-Brown Alliances: Third Positionism, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, And The Western Left” is must-reading in order to understand the crisis in the left today. He or she writes:

At the same time as his rapprochement with the Russian establishment, LaRouche moved from biological to cultural racism, and started shifting towards more ostensibly left-wing positions in the 90s, organizing anti-war demonstrations and rallies and attempting to insert themselves in anti-war coalitions during the Gulf War, attempting to form coalitions with and control African-American civil rights groups since the 70s, opposing the death penalty, praising the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, supporting social programs against the Republican Party’s budget cuts, criticizing neoconservatives and organizing anti-war conferences in the prelude to the imperialist invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush.

In his section on LaRouche, the Radical Vagabond turns up some of the third degrees of separation between a one-time notorious fascist cult and other respected or at least nominal members of the left. For example, the shadowy Anti-Globalist Resistance that has annual conferences in Russia staged one in 2009 around the theme “Save Human Dignity For The Sake Of Mankind” that included such speakers as Samir Amin, the 86-year old dependency theorist, speaking from the same podium as Lyndon LaRouche, his wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche, and the anti-Semite and Wikileaks representative in Russia Israel Shamir. While a case may be made that LaRouche had abandoned his erstwhile fascist ideology, it is troubling that Amin would find himself in the same company as Tomislav Sunić, the leader of the American Freedom Party who has written that “Over the last fifty years, no effort has been spared by the Western system and its mediacracy to pathologize White Western peoples into endless atonement and perpetual guilt feelings about their White race.” Now, one might excuse the octogenarian Amin for not vetting an obscure figure like Sunić, he should have at least been uncomfortable with being part of a conference that also featured a representative of the openly fascist AfD party in Germany that sent Jürgen Elsässer to speak on their behalf. Surely his speaking as a representative of the AfD should have set off alarm bells for Amin. Or, maybe not.

Perhaps Amin believes that opposing “globalization” is so urgent a task that alliances can be built with someone like Tomislav Sunić or Jürgen Elsässer. When that term became popular in the 1990s as a replacement for the more class-oriented term imperialism, you saw the first blush of a Red-Brown alliance as the left abandoned “utopian” notions of worldwide socialist revolution in favor of an enlightened capitalist development that would flourish after free trade agreements like NAFTA had been abolished. This was around the time when speeches by Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan could not be distinguished, at least when it came to such treaties.

One of the most thorough investigative reports on the LaRouche/Putin connection appears on the website of Sean Guillory, whose article Where Foreign “Experts” and “Political Scientists” on Russian Television Come From is basically the translation of an article written by Alexey Kovalev. (One wonders if this is a pseudonym since this is the same name as Russia’s greatest hockey player.)

Kovalev mentions the appearance of F. William Engdahl on RT as well as Jeffrey Steinberg, a one-time top leader (arguably number two) in the LaRouche movement. Like Engdahl, Tarpley and Spannaus, there is little to distinguish what these guys are writing now from what you can read in EIR even though Kovalev finds some continuity:

Steinberg is an author for Executive Intelligence Review which is published by the so-called LaRouche Movement. This “movement,” to put it kindly, is actually just a bunch of LaRouchies—a quasi-fascist cult with fairly seedy rituals (read about “ego-stripping“, for example). Their views are also purely cultish and conspiratorial. LaRouchies, for example, are completely nuts about the British royal family, which, in their view, are to blame for all of mankind’s troubles, Queen Elizabeth II personally controls the drug cartels, and so on. Jeffrey Steinberg, for example, claimed in an interview that Princess Diana didn’t die in a car accident but was killed by British intelligence on the orders of Prince Philip (Conspiracy theories that Diana was murdered and didn’t die in an accident are popular).

Kovalev also refers to the presence of LaRouche’s Schiller Institute in Russia and a Russian-language version of EIR, which obviously requires a considerable staff to translate its drivel each month. In addition, LaRouche has made regular appearances on RT since 2008. All this constitutes one degree of separation, maybe zero.

These connections did not appear out of thin air. LaRouche came to Russia during the turmoil of the Yeltsin years and reached out to economists and bureaucrats who were upset with what people like Jeffrey Sachs (a recent convert to the Assadist cause) were doing to the former Soviet Union.

One of them is Sergei Glazyev, who is Putin’s adviser on regional economic integration. A former member of Rodina, a Russian party, Glazyev sounds pretty radical according to Wikipedia:

In 2015, Glazyev felt that the American capitalist model was entering an inevitable, very dangerous, phase of self-destruction. We are, he felt, “truly on the verge of a global war.” Although this coming war poses a great danger for Russia, Glazyev said that the USA will fail to achieve its hegemonic goals of controlling Russia and the entire world.

The Radical Vagabond reports that in January 2005 a group of State Duma members including from Rodina and the Communist Party claimed that the world was “under the monetary and political control of international Judaism” and signed a petition to the prosecutor-general demanding the ban of all Jewish organizations in Russia. In 2015, Rodina organized the “International Russian Conservative Forum” (IRCF) in order to launch a coalition of far-right parties. Among the invitees was Jared Taylor of the magazine American Renaissance. Taylor hailed Trump’s inauguration as “a sign of rising white consciousness” and is on record as stating “Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.”

Now, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t touch Rodina with a ten-foot pole but one well-known leftist—indeed Marxist—feels differently. He has associated with Konstantin Krylov, a one time member of Rodina. I am speaking of Boris Kagarlitsky, who organized a conference in 2014 titled “The World Crisis and the Confrontation in Ukraine” that included among its attendees:

Alan Freeman, a former member of Socialist Action, a British Trotskyist group, and co-director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group

Radhika Desai, who is co-director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group who once moderated a conference that included Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, a supporter of National Bolshevik ideologue Aleksandr Dugin

Richard Brenner of Workers’ Power

Roger Annis, the editor-in-chief of The New Cold War

Hermann Dworczak, of the Austrian section of the Fourth International

Jeff Sommers, from the University of Wisconsin

Now these are all highly reputable people but you have to wonder what they thought of another speaker that Kagarlitsky invited, namely Vasiliy Koltashov, who heads Kagarlitsky’s Institute for Global Research and Social Movements and supported Marine Le Pen recent election campaign for president of France. Or Vladimir Rogov, the leader of the Slavic Guards who spoke about the threat to Ukraine by Western-backed gay liberation activists. In In 2013 his Slavic Guards put up posters in the city of Zaporozhe depicting a military parade and a gay parade, and asking the question “Which Parade Will Your Son Take Part In?” Rogov is on record stating: “The struggle against the new Kiev authorities is really a struggle against the EU, only not just in the form of a rejection of the politics of the destruction of the family and heterosexual relationships but in the form of a rejection of the entire anti-social neo-liberal policies of the western elites.”

Three degrees of separation, indeed. I’d advise the left to maintain three thousand degrees.

July 26, 2017

The Forest Brothers and the holocaust

Filed under: Fascism,genocide,Stalinism,war — louisproyect @ 5:06 pm

For many on the left, the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—are the epitomes of Cold War villainy. Belonging to NATO, they are poised like daggers on the edge of Russia just as they were when it was the USSR. We are constantly being told that they were Adolf Hitler’s allies during WWII and that the CIA continued to back them during the Cold War as counter-revolutionary bastions. Like Ukraine and Poland, they have no redeeming qualities with some leftists probably considering the possibility that they are congenitally reactionary after the fashion of Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”.

Needless to say, those on the left who are either unreconstructed Stalinists or are rapidly moving in that direction like Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton view their role as fighting the good fight against jihadists, Baltic fascists and anybody else who would deter Vladimir Putin from his mission of saving the world from Western imperialism. In a nutshell, they are to journalism what Oliver Stone’s interviews with Putin are to film.

Since there will obviously be a smaller market for their Pamela Geller-style articles denouncing the Wahhabi/Salafi/ISIS/al Qaeda threats to Enlightenment values now that Trump has backed Russian goals to the hilt and cut off all support to Syrian rebels, they will likely swerve in the direction of finding new enemies of the Kremlin to denounce.

Evidence of that is an Alternet Grayzone article by Norton titled In Flashy New Film, NATO Celebrates Nazi Collaborators Who Murdered Jews in the Holocaust that reads as if it were written for Sputnik or RT.com. It is aimed at an 8-minute documentary about the Forest Brothers produced by NATO.

The Forest Brothers were a guerrilla army made up of volunteers from all three Baltic states that fought against the Red Army and even alongside Nazi troops at times. The brunt of Norton’s article is to categorize them as murderers of Jews even though this charge is not based so much on what the guerrillas did but on supposedly the past history of “many” of its members. Citing Dovid Katz, an American professor based in Lithuania endorsed by Norton, you might wonder whether there was anything they could have done to be found innocent of these charges except to join forces with the Red Army:

Many of the members of the Forest Brothers “were fascists, including some recycled killers from the 1941 genocide phase of the Latvian Holocaust,” Katz explained. The group “served to delay the Soviet advance (in alliance with the United States, Great Britain and the Allies) that would liberate the death camps further west.”

Based on Norton’s time-tunnel, it is absolutely impossible to figure out why Baltic men and women would want to deter the Red Army since it destroyed Nazism, something that people like Oliver Stone remind us of every chance they get. Did Baltic youth read Mein Kampf in grade school? What made them so evil? Since for people like Stone and Norton, history begins at the point when the Forest Brothers took up their fight, you really have no idea what made them tick.

As I pointed out in my review of “The Fencer”, a Finnish film that reviews some of this history, Estonia was a piece of real estate ceded to Stalin as part of the secret protocols in the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact as was Lithuania, Latvia and the eastern half of Poland. If you’ve learned from the history of Stalin’s rule—as Norton did before he prostituted himself—you’ll know that millions died in Ukraine and the USSR during the 1930s before a single Jew died in a Nazi concentration camp. Comparing Nazi Germany in the 1930s to Stalin’s Russia in the same period might have even led some people in the Baltic states to see Nazism as a lesser evil especially in light of Stalin’s brutal transformation of these nations into Soviet satellites in 1940. While not genocidal, it had the same character as his rape of the Ukraine. Indeed, in his “Why the Heavens did not Darken”, distinguished historian Arno Mayer described Nazi treatment of the Jews before the Wannsee conference as comparable to the treatment of Blacks in the Deep South.

Estonia lost 8,000 people in the year following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, victimized as “enemies of the people” in the Soviet occupation’s wide net. If this nation had the same population in 1940 as the USA today, that would have represented the loss of 2.4 million of its citizens.

What about Lithuania? On July 1, 1940 the country became a single-party state absorbed into the USSR. The 1,500 member Communist Party was the only one permitted to run in elections. Like Bashar al-Assad, they won a resounding victory. Prior to the election, 2,000 political activists were arrested. Another 12,000 individuals were imprisoned as “enemies of the people” soon afterwards. According to Wikipedia, “between June 14 and June 18, 1941, less than a week before the Nazi invasion, some 17,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia, where many perished due to inhumane living conditions”. Around this time, Lithuania had a population of 2.4 million. So once again using today’s population in the USA as a benchmark, this would have meant that the equivalent of 4.5 million people were victimized by Stalinist repression.

Not even Jews were spared. Eliyana Adler, an orthodox Jew who is Associate Professor in History and Jewish Studies at Penn State, wrote an article titled “Exile and Survival: Lithuanian Jewish Deportees in the Soviet Union” that began by describing Lithuania as having “established a unique and relatively tolerant relationship with what had been a fairly small Jewish community of about 150,000 people” in the intra-war period. Although Stalin was anti-Semitic, the main motivation for sending Lithuanian Jews to Siberia was their class origins. Adler writes:

On June 14, 1941, the Soviet security forces (Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, hereafter NKVD) arrested about 30,000 Lithuanians, including 7,000 Jews, as ‘enemies of the people’. The action was well-planned. Two to three agents arrived at each home simultaneously, leaving no time for friends, neighbors, or relatives to contact and warn one another. Each family was given twenty minutes to pack their luggage and loaded into waiting trucks that brought them to the train station. They were then crammed into cattle cars, unable to say goodbyes, and with no knowledge of what awaited them.

What awaited them was what awaited most people who were exiled to Siberia and it took these Lithuanian Jews living in exile sixteen years to finally get the right to leave the USSR.

Latvia got the same treatment. Nearly 2 percent of the population was sent to Soviet gulags, including thousands of Jews.

Norton has the distinctly odd idea that none of this had any connection to anti-Communist armed struggles. He is so feckless as to make a stink about the Lithuanian organizers of collective farms being killed by anti-Soviet partisans. Is this guy for real? One imagines that at this point in his sorry career, he would endorse the forced collectivization of agriculture in both Ukraine and in Lithuania as the same way as Grover Furr or Roland Boer. In both cases, they were a total disaster. Farmers who resisted collectivization in Lithuania were deported to the USSR. Furthermore, as was the case in the USSR, agriculture suffered setbacks that it never fully recovered from.

Turning now to the question of Lithuania and the holocaust that is the main focus of Norton’s article, it is important to get the facts straight. The murders were carried out by a combined force of the Nazi Einsatzgruppe and Lithuanian auxiliaries who volunteered to be part of the killing machine. You can read Dina Porat’s account of all this in a chapter titled “The Holocaust in Lithuania: some unique aspects” that is included in David Cesarani’s “The Final Solution: Origins and Implementation” and can be read on Dovid Katz’s website.

The Lithuanian killers were organized as the Labour National Guard that was so extreme that even the Nazis sought to differentiate themselves from it. The Labour National Guard consisted of 8,400 men who also worked with the Lithuanian cops to systematically exterminate Jews in areas they policed. Porat cites a Nazi memorandum referring to how “the local population” was appalled by their bloodlust.

She speculates that a lot of the animus directed against the Jews had to do with widespread sympathies for the USSR:

One issue that lies outside the scope of this chapter concerns the explanations for the Lithuanians extreme conduct. In short, it was a combination of a complex of factors such as national traditions and values, religion (Orthodox Catholic, in this case), severe economic problems and tragically opposed political orientations. Lithuanian Jews supported the Soviet regime in Lithuania during 1940-1, being partly of socialist inclination, and in the full knowledge that life imprisonment [Soviet regime] is better than life sentence [Nazi rule], as in the Yiddish saying. By contrast, the Lithuanians fostered hopes of regaining, with German support, the national independence that the Soviets extinguished, as a reward for anti-Jewish and anti-Bolshevik stances. During the Soviet rule of Lithuania these feelings heightened and burst out following the German invasion. One might say that the Germans provided the framework and. the legitimation for the killing of Lithuania’s Jews„ while the national aspirations and the hatred for communism provided the fuel. Still, this is not a full explanation for such brutality, especially as there was no tradition of pogroms in Lithuania. Not all Lithuanians took part in the killings, and one cannot depict all of them as murderers. At least one thousand Lithuanians sheltered Jews, thereby risking their own and their lives. A few tens of thousands took active part in the mass murders while the rest were either apathetic or aggravated the misery of the Jews in lesser ways than actual killing. [emphasis added]

In my view, the blame for such inhumanity was WWII. You might as well ask what motivated well-meaning American citizens in uniform who under ordinary circumstances would not kill a fly to become enthusiastic participants in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Dresden, and other atrocities. Total war is an incubator of atrocities.

Finally, the origins of the Forest Brothers has to be addressed. They had no connection to the Labour National Guard although you can assume that some of its members joined the Forest Brothers at some point. It is, of course, impossible to pin down how many.

But the Forest Brothers in Lithuania emerged from a totally different dynamic. Its members were formerly part of the Territorial Defense Force who had disbanded with their weapons and uniforms and the Lithuanian Freedom Army, established in 1941. (Wikipedia). More importantly, the Forest Brothers did not take up arms against the Red Army until 1944, long after 95 percent of the Lithuanian Jews had been exterminated.

The Territorial Defense Force was hardly the sort of militia the Nazis considered trustworthy. In an article titled “Lithuanian Resistance To German Mobilization Attempts 1941-1944” written for a Lithuanian scholarly journal, Mečislovas Mackevičius describes the clash between Nazi goals and legitimate Lithuanian national aspirations [emphasis added]:

Since the brutality of the Germans was unpredictable, a special Lithuanian conference was convoked May 5, 1943 to ease the tensions. The Germans did not oppose the conference, especially since it was in favor of mobilizing against the eminent communist threat. The Red Army was gaining on the German Eastern front while the Eastern region of Lithuania was routinely harassed by communist partisans, supported and supplied from the Soviet Union. The Germans disagreed only with the conference’s references to Lithuanian independence. November 24, 1943, the first councilor (Pirmasis Tarėjas) convened a meeting of 45 select prominent Lithuanian figures. At the meeting, it was stated that a Lithuanian SS legion or any SS unit would be unacceptable in Lithuania as such groups are contrary to the Lithuanian spirit. Lithuanians can only accept and support a national armed force, the purpose of which would be Lithuanian national defense. The use of the term “Lithuanian Armed Forces” was completely unacceptable to the Germans. After a lengthy discussion, it was agreed that an SS legion would not be formed in Lithuania. Instead, simple armed Lithuanian forces would be established with the name Litauische Streitkrafte (Lithuanian Troops), acceptable to the Germans.

After long discussions and conferences, Gen. Povilas Plechavičius, Jackeln and SS Police Chief for Lithuania Maj. Gen. Harm signed a written agreement February 13,1944 for forming a local Lithuanian detachment (Lietuvos Vietinė Rinktinė).

The stipulations were as follows: Only Lithuanian officers would be in charge of the detachment, thereby preventing any German intervention. Such intervention was also specifically prohibited by the agreement. Lithuanian commands were to be formed all over the country, their work being limited to the territory of Lithuania proper. This ensured the detachment from assignment to foreign locations. Twenty battalions were planned with possible additions later. The soldiers would wear Lithuanian insignia on their uniforms. The detachment was to be formed only from volunteers. Additionally, the Germans agreed not to deport any more Lithuanians to forced labor as soon as the detachment was started.

February 16, 1944, Lithuanian Independence Day, Gen. Plechavičius, commander of the Lithuanian detachment, made a radio appeal to the nation for volunteers. It is noteworthy that all Lithuanian political underground organizations supported this solution. This was achieved through constant communication between Lithuanian commanders and resistance leaders. The February 16th appeal was enormously successful: More volunteers came forward than was expected. The Germans were very surprised and deeply shocked by the number of volunteers since their own appeals went unheeded, as described.

The Germans, worried by the success of the detachment, started to interfere, breaking the signed agreement. March 22, 1944, Jackein called for 70-80 thousand men for the German army as subsidiary assistants. Chief-of-Staff of the Northern Front Field Marshal Model pressed for 15 battalions of men to protect the German military airports. Plechavičius rejected the demand April 5, 1944. Renteln himself demanded workers for Germany proper. Other German officials also voiced their demands.

Finally, April 6, 1944, the Germans ordered Plechavičius to mobilize the country. Plechavičius responded that the mobilization could not take place until the formation of the detachment was complete. This greatly displeased the Germans since it was clear the detachment did not serve their immediate needs and interests.

The Germans decided to end the resistance of the Lithuanians and the formation of the detachment. Provocation seemed to be the best method to escalate the situation. Jackein demanded the detachment troops to take an oath to Hitler, the text of which was provided. Plechavičius rejected the demand. May 9, 1944, Jackein ordered the detachment units in Vilnius to revert to his direct authority. All other units of the detachment were to come under the command of the regional German commissars. Furthermore, the detachment was to don SS uniforms and use the “Heil Hitler” greeting.

The Lithuanian headquarters directed the detachment units in the field to obey only the orders of the Lithuanian detachment. It also ordered the Detachment Officer School in the city of Marijampolė to send the cadets home. May 15, Plechavičius, the commander of the detachment, and Col. Oskaras Urbonas, chief-of-staff of the detachment, were arrested together with the other staff members. They were deported to the Salaspils concentration camp in Latvia. Subsequently, 40 more officers of the detachment were arrested and deported.

The Germans acted ferociously in liquidating the detachment. For example, they publicly executed 12 randomly selected soldiers in a Vilnius line-up which consisted of some 800 men. En route to the city of Kaunas, while transporting some arrested members, one of the prisoners escaped. In retaliation, the Germans then selected non-commissioned officer Ruseckas for execution on the spot. Since the German regular army guards were stalling the execution, a German SS commissioned officer did the actual shooting.

The cities of Vilnius, Panevėžys, Marijampolė, and others were deeply affected by the dismantlement of the Lithuanian detachment. Any resistance resulted only in suffering and greater sacrifice: 3,500 were arrested. A part of those resisting were sent to forced labor camps in Germany. Some of the armed soldiers inevitably reached the forests and undoubtedly joined the newly formed armed Lithuanian underground to fight the second Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

These were kind of men who joined the Forest Brothers, not the cops and thugs who took part in the mass murder of Jews. In its attempt to turn the criminal into the victim and the victim into the criminal, the Russian state press is sweeping this history under the rug. Why someone who was educated in Marxist politics like Ben Norton would pick up a broom on their behalf is a mystery. That is, unless the pay is really, really good.

July 10, 2017

Risk

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:42 pm

On July 22nd, Showtime will be premiering Laurie Poitras’s “Risk”, a deeply flawed and controversial film about Julian Assange that he has described as a “severe threat” to his freedom. Despite Assange’s words, the best way to describe the film is as a study in ambivalence. As the director of a documentary on Edward Snowden (“Citizenfour”), Poitras and Glenn Greenwald made clear that their sympathies were with the whistle-blower. In making what amounted to a companion-piece to that film, Poitras adopted a cinéma vérité style that was punctuated by her own commentary in very small but highly critical doses. The problem is that her negative feelings toward Assange are not exactly supported by the footage, which cover familiar territory. Most importantly, you are left wondering whether she agreed with James Comey and the Hillary Clinton camp that Wikileaks acted as a “cutout” for the Russians who provided hacked emails from the candidate’s campaign that supposedly elected Donald J. Trump.

As highly useful background to the film, a June 29, 2017 Guardian article  hints at why this might have been the case:

While Poitras is no fan of Hillary Clinton, she does question the timing of the Podesta emails (John Podesta was chairman of Clinton’s election campaign), thought to have been hacked by the Russians and published by WikiLeaks in October/November 2016 just before the election.

But the major cause of her disaffection was the charges brought against Assange for sex crimes in Sweden. In one of the more disturbing scenes in the film where Assange was hung on his own petard, he is discussing a PR campaign to help his cause with a Labour Party politician named Helena Kennedy who warns him against referring to a “feminist conspiracy” for his own sake. He shrugs this off and alludes to a “tawdry, radical feminist” plot instigated by a woman who launched a lesbian nightclub. Like Bill Maher and Donald Trump, Assange seems to lack what Freud called the super-ego, a mechanism responsible for conscience. Or it could equally be the case that as Assange built up a cult around himself, he lost the capacity for self-criticism. Considering how the British SWP shot itself in the foot over a leading member’s Assange-like behavior, it appears to be a communicable disease.

Stupid enough to say these things on camera, Assange continued on his bumbling ways throughout. In one of the more grotesque scenes, we see Lady Gaga making a pilgrimage to the cult figure in the Ecuadorian Consulate where she seems a bit put off by his appearance in a suit and white shirt. Pointing to a closet with his piled up laundry, she says he should wear a “dirty, fucking T-shirt” so he’ll look like a rebel. She follows up with questions like “what’s your favorite kind of food”. It’s enough to inoculate you against Gaga, if her awful music wasn’t reason enough.

It seems that Assange has a preference for healthy food since another female sex symbol (erstwhile, admittedly) made another pilgrimage in December 2010 to bring him a vegan meal and words of support. That was Pamela Anderson, the 49-year old former star of “Baywatch” who condemned the “made up sexual allegations” against him.

Another sexual predator who has second billing to Assange in the film is one Jacob Appelbaum, a hacker who was a key lieutenant to Assange and a highly placed technician in the Tor Project that was designed to build a secure communications channel for activists. In June 2016, he was accused of sexual abuse by women working in the Tor Project. Like Assange, he has denied all the charges. Poitras mentions casually in passing that she had been “involved” with Appelbaum.

As might be expected, Assange still has his supporters, especially those who see him as a man on horseback in the geopolitical chess game that pits the West against Russia and its allies. Thomas S. Harrington, a professor of Iberian Studies in Trinity College in Connecticut, wrote a piece for CounterPunch titled “Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras that he described as “self-involved, reachingly [sic] melodramatic and filled with unfounded innuendo.” Harrington concludes that Gandhi was also a pretty awful guy in his own way but steers clear of assessing Assange politically. Since fools rush in where angels fear to tread, we might have expected WSWS.org to take up the fight against “Risk” on political grounds. They opine:

The various critics, wealthy and conservative, hardly make a secret of the fact they perceive Assange to be a disrupter of the social order and political system they hold dear. The most hostile of all are those remnants of the old protest generation, who still perhaps expressed opposition to the Iraq invasion in 2003. What they can never forgive Assange is that, for all his political limitations, he did not fold his tent, like they shamefully did in the mid-2000s, and join the pro-war, pro-imperialist camp.

Did I mention that they describe the sexual charges against Assange as “voiced by a noxious alliance of feminists, pseudo-leftists, establishment media figures, right-wing tabloid scum and various mouthpieces, acknowledged or unacknowledged, for the US State Department and CIA”? Well, at least they are consistent, having written profusely in defense of Roman Polanski when fled the USA to avoid arrest for having sex with a 13-year old girl.

Unlike Poitras, I have no problems with the Russians hacking Democratic Party emails and using Wikileaks as a cutout. If American politicians don’t want to be embarrassed by things they say privately, they’d better think about what they were saying in the first place.

The USA does this sort of thing on a scale that dwarfs Putin. It unleashed the Stuxnet worm on the Iranian computers used in atomic energy research that led to infections of computers in other countries as collateral damage. After the NSA developed malware to be used against its “enemies”, hackers got a copy and used it for a ransomware attack that infected computers used in critical care applications in hospitals around the world. This is not to speak of how it interferes in elections around the world, including Nicaragua when it was governed by the Sandinistas. The NED pumped millions of dollars into their opponents’ election campaigns without even bothering to cover it up. This takes the kind of brass that not even Putin would display.

Poitras’s documentary is very much worth seeing but it doesn’t begin to penetrate into the inner contradictions of Wikileaks that would have been present even if Assange had not been such a flaming asshole and sexual predator. A documentary should be made but not in the cinéma vérité style that suited Poitras’s someone subjective needs.

That documentary should cover matters such as how Wikileaks promoted a dump of hacked emails from Turkey that supposedly exposed wrongdoing by the ruling AKP. It turned out that no such information was present in the emails. Instead, as former Marxism list subscriber Zeynep Tukfeci pointed out, it contained “spreadsheets of private, sensitive information of what appears to be every female voter in 79 out of 81 provinces in Turkey, including their home addresses and other private information, sometimes including their cellphone numbers.”

It would also address Assange’s questionable personnel decisions such as designating Israel Shamir as its spokesman in Russia. Shamir is a disgusting pig who fits neatly into the emerging Red-Brown alliance being consolidated across Europe with generous support from the Kremlin. You have to ask yourself why Wikileaks would want to be associated with someone like Shamir who wrote an article on immigration and race that is filled with nativist trash like this: “In order to defend their policy of destroying society by influx of strangers, they invented and propagated a new blood libel, that of ‘racism’. People who resist the imposition of mass immigration are deemed ‘racists’ and precluded from participation in the scripted television discourse.”

Shamir urges immigrants to defer to the sensibilities of those whose turf they have penetrated: “Admittedly, I never tried to annoy the native inhabitants by playing loud foreign music, practicing strange customs in public, or purposely behaving in offensive ways.” When Shamir wrote a CounterPunch article 5 years ago supporting the Kremlin for cracking down on Pussy Riot for its “offensive” behavior, I answered him in my very first article on CounterPunch. As someone who first discovered himself culturally by reading William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, reading Shamir makes me wonder how such people can ever think of themselves as rebels. For me, the attitudes of people like Shamir remind me nothing more than the ignorant and racist garbage I heard from people in my very backward village that was accurately described once by Karl Marx as “rural idiocy”.

If you really want to understand Assange in political terms, the best place to look is not in the batshit crazy WSWS.org but in his first attempt to participate directly in electoral politics in the name of the Wikileaks Party that ran him for Senate in Australia in 2013. The party had a six-member executive committee that included Assange.

Another member was John Shipton who gave an interview to Sputnik News that sounded very much in line with Israel Shamir. When asked about Russia’s role in Syria, Shipton replied:

The Russian diplomatic skills are a triumph, and with the Shanghai Cooperative Organization, the BRICs last year in Far East and this year Syria and the Ukraine. There is diplomatic triumph second to none, and in our view the Russian President and Foreign Ministry people wish to bring peace to allow development.

But for me the biggest problem with Wikileaks is how it has fostered the growth of conspiracist thinking on the left ever since its inception in 2010. In November, 2006 Alexander Cockburn wrote an article titled “The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left” that accurately sized up a malaise on the left attributable to the decline of Marxism:

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy”, or “inside job”, is the Summa of all this foolishness.

What Cockburn neglected to mention, and what has been unfortunately reflected in CounterPunch all too often both under his editorial direction and Jeff St. Clair who succeeded him, is a reliance on the “smoking gun”, which is more often than not a Wikileaks cable from a US policy analyst or diplomat that supposedly proves that the Syrian revolution was hatched in Washington. You don’t need to learn political economy from Marx if you can find a cable that says something to the effect that Assad “has to go” or some such formulation. Also, how much difference is there between the “inside job” analysis on 9/11 and the “false flag” explanations of the two major sarin gas attacks in Syria? Is there that much difference between the WTC controlled demolition nonsense and Seymour Hersh blaming a bomb dropped on fertilizer for the death of 80 people and the wounding of 600 in Khan Sheikhoun?

Even a publishing house that is virtually synonymous with Marxist political economy eroded its own credentials by publishing a book like “The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire” with an introduction by Assange himself. Verso sent me an advance copy of the book that I found totally useless for understanding the US Empire since I tend to prefer the sort of class analysis found in David Harvey or the late Peter Gowan, who was a veteran of a Trotskyist groupuscule when he joined the New Left Review editorial board just like Tariq Ali, who unfortunately has succumbed to conspiracy theory himself.

You can get a flavor of this book by reading professional liberal Robert Naiman’s chapter on Syria that was reproduced on Truth-out in 2015 as “WikiLeaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath”.

Showing much less interest in class relations in Syria than in US State Department cables, Naiman cites one dated December 13, 2006 that was written by William Roebuck, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Damascus. Roebuck alluded to “actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send” that will bolster the opposition to Assad, including the Saudis providing media openings to Abdul Halim Khaddam, leader of the opposition-in-exile National Salvation Front.

This and other such Wikileaks material leads Naiman to conclude:

We are told in the West that the current efforts to topple the Syrian government by force were a reaction to the Syrian government’s repression of dissent in 2011, but now we know that “regime change” was the policy of the US and its allies five years earlier.

What’s missing from Naiman’s chronology is the period immediately preceding 2011, when American policy had reversed itself from Bush’s much more aggressive policies. If you look at the two years just before the Arab Spring, there is every indication that Syria had come in from the cold.

On March 26, 2009, Robert Worth wrote an article for the NY Times titled “With Isolation Over, Syria Is Happy to Talk” that was about as far from the spirit of Roebuck’s cable as can be imagined.

Only a year ago, this country’s government was being vilified as a dangerous pariah. The United States and its Arab allies mounted a vigorous campaign to isolate Syria, which they accused of sowing chaos and violence throughout the region through its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Today, Syria seems to be coming in from the cold. A flurry of diplomatic openings with the West and Arab neighbors has raised hopes of a chastened and newly flexible Syrian leadership that could help stabilize the region. But Syria has its own priorities, and a series of upheavals here — including Israel’s recent war in Gaza — make it difficult to say where this new dialogue will lead.

It is not just a matter of the Obama administration’s new policy of engagement. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France led the way with a visit here last September. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was said to be furious at the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, welcomed him warmly in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, this month. Photographs of the two men smiling and shaking hands have been on the front pages of all the major Arab newspapers, along with frequent headlines about the “Arab reconciliation.”

At the root of these changes is Syria’s alliance with Iran. Saudi Arabia and the other major Sunni Arab nations once hoped to push Syria away from Iran through isolation, and now — like President Obama — they appear to be trying sweeter tactics. For the Syrians, the turnabout is proof that their ties with Iran are in fact useful, and accord them an indispensable role as a regional broker. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries “have great stakes in maintaining good relations between Syria and Iran, because at difficult times they will find Syria helping them,” said Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s vice minister of foreign affairs, during an interview here.

The picture accompanying the article speaks louder than a thousand words, including all of those that appeared in Naiman’s stupid article.

Finally, let me conclude with a nod to Chase Madar’s review of “Risk” that appeared in the London Times, which although behind a paywall can be read on Madar’s FB page. Madar is the author of the “The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower” and would never be confused politically with someone like me. Here is a telling excerpt:

Poitras has been filming Assange for more than six years, from his press conferences to his (elective) confinement in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, after Interpol put out a warrant to question him on sexual assault charges in Sweden. She has turned from in-house video­grapher to critical journalist who has fallen out with Assange (though as she tells it in her voiceover, he asks her not to say that they have fallen out). Poitras has now been attacked by Assange’s lawyers for not allowing their client to review the final cut and for putting him at additional risk by bringing the raw footage to the United States where it might be subpoenaed.

The main narrative arc is how Assange went from being an icon of the global Left to becoming – temporarily, and surreally – the saviour of the American Right. “I love WikiLeaks!”, candidate Donald J. Trump grinned at a campaign rally last October when reading from the emails that some hacker had stolen from the Democratic National Committee and passed on to the website. (Trump mentioned or quoted Wikileaks’s Clinton leaks some 160 times in the last month of his campaign.) Assange, once the scourge of the American nationalist Right for publishing classified logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars as well as a quarter of a million classified State Department cables, suddenly became, in eye-rubbingly oneiric scenes, the bosom ally of Fox News media figures such as Sean Hannity.

Assange’s flirtation with the American Right didn’t stop there. His Twitter feed passed on the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a paedophilia ring in the basement of a Washington, DC pizzeria and he oxygenated rumours that Seth Rich, a young Democratic National Committee intern who was murdered in an apparent botched robbery, had been the source of the DNC leaks – and paid for it with his life. This was eagerly taken up and, despite explicit entreaties to stop spreading the rumour from Rich’s grieving family who had to fend off the vigilante “help” of conspiracy loons, the “story” continued. The story of Julian Assange is in some ways a depressing study in how quickly Enlightenment heroes can turn into conspiracy-freak sideshow acts.

October 22, 2016

Before the Flood; The Ivory Game

Filed under: animal rights,Ecology,Film,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 8:39 pm

Leonardo DiCaprio

Two documentaries with the imprimatur of Leonardo DiCaprio can be seen in New York City and likely in theaters around the country given his clout as one of Hollywood’s superstars. Both of the documentaries are timely and excellent. They also raise questions about the role of tinseltown progressives. With DiCaprio, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Angela Jolie, John Cusack and others not so well known picking up where Jane Fonda left off years ago, it is a good time to consider their role in social change. Since there is a natural and even reasonable tendency on the left to regard such personalities as superficial phonies, a close look at DiCaprio’s trajectory would be useful.

“Before the Flood” opened yesterday at the Village East Cinema in New York and features DiCaprio in a kind of Michael Moore narrator/main character role. (The film will also be shown on the National Geographic channel on October 30th.) As the title implies, this is about climate change and certainly a follow-up to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” that helped to draw attention to arguably the most important environmental question we face today even as Gore’s film failed to provide adequate answers. Whether DiCaprio’s film succeeds in answering them is open to question although it is undeniable that the average audience member will come out the theater with a much better idea of the problems we face.

The film is a kind of odyssey with DiCaprio meeting with people all across the planet who are on the front lines of climate change. Mostly he is content to allow people to speak freely even when they come close to denouncing him as part of the problem. When he meets with Sunita Narain, the director of the Centre for Science and Environment in India, he allows her to excoriate the West for demanding sharp cutbacks in fossil fuel usage across the board when her country and others like it are mired in poverty. After we see an Indian peasant turning cow dung into a patty that is used almost universally in the countryside as a primitive stove fuel, Narain remonstrates with DiCaprio:

Coal is cheap, whether you or I like it or not. You have to think of it from this point of view. You created the problem in the past. We will create it in the future. We have 700m household using biomass to cook. If those households move to coal, there’ll be that much more use of fossil fuels. Then the entire world is fried. If anyone tells you that the world’s poor should move to solar and why do they have to make the mistakes we have made…I hear this from American NGOs all the time. I’m like, wow. I mean, if it was that easy, I would really have liked the US to move to solar. But you haven’t. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.

There was nothing like this in Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and as such makes this new film far more credible.

One of the things you will learn from “Before the Flood” is that Western Europe is making great strides in developing alternative energy sources. Not only that, so is China which is far Greener at least on climate change than the USA. To some extent, this is likely the result of China’s need to reduce air pollution from coal-burning plants even if it had nothing to do with the coastal flooding that can put cities under water everywhere, including China. Since protests against unclear air have roiled China, the Communist Party must have felt a need to defuse the situation. Furthermore, since lung cancer does not discriminate between rich and poor, the elite obviously would prefer to enjoy its wealth in good health.

If advances are being made in alternative energy sources, there continues to be profit-driven assaults on the world’s great rainforests that serve to absorb carbon dioxide and hence slow down climate change. One of the more shocking examples is the deliberately set forest fires in Borneo, a first step in clearing land for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is a key ingredient of junk food. When DiCaprio visits a shelter for orphaned orangutans, you really have to wonder what kind of mad world we are living in when a bag of Lays potato chips can fuel the extinction of such a gentle and intelligent beast.

There are three interviews that epitomize the shortcomings of a Green outlook that is not rooted in a critique of the capitalist system. DiCaprio gives Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw a platform to advocate for a carbon tax that he feels will reduce its use just as cigarette taxes reduce smoking. We assume that the inclusion of Mankiw, a life-long Republican who served in George W. Bush’s economic advisor, is meant to illustrate the possibility of uniting all sides of the political spectrum in a battle against extinction.

The carbon tax is based on the idea that markets can be the solution to climate change after the fashion of Obama’s cap-and-trade that provides incentives for reducing carbon emissions. But as long as the market system prevails, there will be enormous pressures to be cost-effective. This might entail allowing big corporations to offset the expense of a carbon tax by drilling in areas of the world where labor costs are minimal, like South Sudan for example. Indeed, even as China is converting to alternative energy sources within its borders, it is stepping up drilling in the South Sudan.

As it happens, Exxon Mobil is in favor of a carbon tax but this might have something to do with the fact that it would likely benefit more than its competitors from a carbon tax that favors cleaner-burning natural gas over coal. Guess what. ExxonMobil has the largest natural gas reserves of any U.S. company.

As another example of progress in the fight against climate change, DiCaprio talks to Elon Musk in his “gigafactory” in the Nevadan desert. Upon its completion in 2020, it will produce 500,000 electric vehicles per year and batteries/cells equal to 85 GWh/yr. Musk is also a proponent of the carbon tax as this exchange reveals:

Elon Musk: What would it take to transition the whole world to sustainable energy? What kind of throughput would you actually need? You need a hundred gigafactories.

Leonardo DiCaprio: A hundred of these?

Elon Musk: A hundred. Yes.

Leonardo DiCaprio: That would make the United States…

Elon Musk: No, the whole world.

Leonardo DiCaprio: The whole world?!

Elon Musk: The whole world.

Leonardo DiCaprio: That’s it?! That sounds manageable.

Elon Musk: If all the big companies do this then we can accelerate the transition and if governments can set the rules in favour of sustainable energy, then we can get there really quickly. But it’s really fundamental: unless they put a price on carbon…

Leonardo DiCaprio: …then we are never going to be able to make the transition in time, right?

Elon Musk: Only way to do that is through a carbon tax.

It is too bad that DiCaprio did not follow up with a question about lithium mining since this is the primary ingredient of the batteries he will be producing. I first became aware of its environmental impact in a film titled “Salero” that examined the life of a salt extractor in Bolivia whose way of life was threatened by the transformation of the salt flats into a huge lithium mine. Friends of the Earth details the possible outcome, which amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul:

Lithium is found in the brine of salt flats. Holes are drilled into the salt flats and the brine is pumped to the surface, leaving it to evaporate in ponds. This allows lithium carbonate to be extracted through a chemical process.

The extraction of lithium has significant environmental and social impacts, especially due to water pollution and depletion. In addition, toxic chemicals are needed to process lithium. The release of such chemicals through leaching, spills or air emissions can harm communities, ecosystems and food production. Moreover, lithium extraction inevitably harms the soil and also causes air contamination.

The salt flats where lithium is found are located in arid territories. In these places, access to water is key for the local communities and their livelihoods, as well as the local flora and fauna. In Chile’s Atacama salt flats, mining consumes, contaminates and diverts scarce water resources away from local communities. The extraction of lithium has caused water-related conflicts with different communities, such as the community of Toconao in the north of Chile. In Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto, local communities claim that lithium operations have contaminated streams used for humans, livestock and crop irrigation.

Finally, there is the interview with Barack Obama in which the chief executive worries about scarce resources becoming subject to competition between populations. This amounts to a national security issue according to the Pentagon. In a way, this has already taken place if you consider the possibility that the revolt in Syria was fueled to some extent by climate change. You can read about this in the December 17, 2015 Scientific American:

Kemal Ali ran a successful well-digging business for farmers in northern Syria for 30 years. He had everything he needed for the job: a heavy driver to pound pipe into the ground, a battered but reliable truck to carry his machinery, a willing crew of young men to do the grunt work. More than that, he had a sharp sense of where to dig, as well as trusted contacts in local government on whom he could count to look the other way if he bent the rules. Then things changed. In the winter of 2006–2007, the water table began sinking like never before.

Ali had a problem. “Before the drought I would have to dig 60 or 70 meters to find water,” he recalls. “Then I had to dig 100 to 200 meters. Then, when the drought hit very strongly, I had to dig 500 meters. The deepest I ever had to dig was 700 meters. The water kept dropping and dropping.” From that winter through 2010, Syria suffered its most devastating drought on record. Ali’s business disappeared. He tried to find work but could not. Social uprisings in the country began to escalate. He was almost killed by cross fire. Now Ali sits in a wheelchair at a camp for wounded and ill refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.

If there is anything that casts doubt on the ability or willingness of American imperialism to preempt “national security” issues stemming from climate change, it is the situation in Syria that has deteriorated to hellish levels. The USA had zero interest in reducing conflict in the entire Middle East and North Africa, which to one extent or another is suffering from extreme weather conditions. Its general strategy is to support the status quo with one or another dictatorship keeping men such as Kemal Ali from getting out of hand. Oil will be sent from Saudi Arabia while men like al-Sisi and Assad keep the rabble in line. This is the shape of things to come in the 21st century and nothing will stop it except the revolutionary action of working people and farmers who have nothing to lose but their chains. This is a showdown that will force men and women in Leonardo DiCaprio’s social position to choose sides. I’d like to think on the basis of the convictions displayed in “Before the Flood” that he can be won to our side.

In the early moments of “Before the Flood”, DiCaprio recollects how as a young boy he began thinking about environmental questions. He became preoccupied with animal extinctions and wondered how they happened and how they could be prevented. Since we are part of the animal kingdom ourselves, we have an obvious interest in eliminating any environmental threats to our own existence.

Moving from those early musings to the current day, we see him in conversation with Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of “The Revenant”, a very fine film about one man’s struggle to reach civilization after being mauled in the wilderness by a grizzly bear. In a way, this was nature’s revenge since the man was a hunter who like thousands of others in the early 1800s helped to bring many creatures to the edge of extinction. We see director and actor looking in horror at a photograph of one of these hunters before a small mountain of pelts. DiCaprio shakes his head at this gruesome spectacle and asks why such men could not see the impact that they would have on nature.

That kind of irrational, cruel and ultimately self-destructive behavior is the subject of the documentary “The Ivory Game” that opens in theaters everywhere on November 4th as well as on Netflix. DiCaprio served as executive producer for the film that is directed by Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson.

As the title implies, this is about the wholesale destruction of African elephants through poaching. The main market for their tusks is China, where the nouveau riche value artwork made of ivory. Like the rhinoceros tusks that end up in useless cures for a variety of ailments ranging from impotence to cancer, China is a primary cause of the enormous loss of living natural resources that cannot easily be replaced.

The film follows some of the men and women involved in eliminating the black market for ivory in both Africa and China. We meet the cops who are in pursuit of Shetani, a kingpin in the poaching business whose name is Swahili for Satan—appropriately enough. We also meet a young Chinese man who after being horrified as a boy by the slaughter of small animals in an outdoor market decided to take up their cause. He became an investigative journalist covering the ivory game as well as an undercover operative who secretly filmed the Chinese and Africans who take part in this sordid business.

As a further illustration of the insanity of the capitalist system, we learn that the men in the poaching trade and the shopkeepers in China who sell the handicrafts made of ivory want the elephant population to decline since that will drive up the price of their goods. Supply and demand, don’t you know? This becomes a vicious cycle that will eventually lead to their extinction.

As it happens, my earliest inklings into the conflict between capitalism and mother nature was a 1958 film titled “Roots of Heaven” directed by John Huston that I wrote about in July 2014:

My duty is to protect all the species, all the living roots that heaven planted into the earth. I’ve been fighting all my life for their preservation. Man is destroying the forest, poisoning the ocean, poisoning the very air we breathe with radiation. The oceans, the forests, the race of animals, mankind are the roots of heaven. Poison heaven’s roots and the tree will be done and die. The stars will go out and heaven will be destroyed.

That was the response of the character Peer Qvist to a colonial administrator charged with the responsibility of tracking down and persuading the small band protecting elephants to give up their struggle. When asked to justify his membership in a subversive group after pledging only to do scientific research in French Equatorial Africa, Qvist (played by Friedrich von Ledebur, who also played Queequeg in John Huston’s “Moby Dick”) gives the only possible answer for someone who values all life. It would be hard to exaggerate the impact those words had on my when I first heard them in 1959, long before terms like animal rights and ecology had entered our vocabulary.

“The Roots of Heaven” was very much in the spirit of Edward Abbey’s 1975 “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, a novel that for all I know was inspired by “The Roots of Heaven”. While Abbey’s work celebrated sabotage against machines that were destroying the West’s natural habitats, Romain Gary’s heroes were using a monkey wrench against a system that had very little machinery to speak of. That system provided ivory for billiard balls and other ostentatious items, leaving the Africans without industry or wildlife. Indeed, some of the African nationalists who initially hook up with them—mainly for the publicity–view the elephants as an obstacle to progress and would be more than happy to see them sacrificed.

So what do we make of Leonardo DiCaprio? To start with, it is good that he is involved with projects such as these. His name might help to fill seats in theaters that are outside the arthouse ghetto. It also helps that the two films have production values not ordinarily seen in documentaries.

Plus, the man puts his money on the line. He recently donated $1 million to an anti-poaching campaign. While he certainly can afford to make that kind of contribution, we can at least respect him for making it. I also invited you to visit his website where you can see other initiatives that he is funding. I am not sure if there is anybody doing more than him to protect wildlife and the ecosphere, at least in Hollywood.

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There were some autobiographical details in “Before the Flood” that I found interesting. It turns out that DiCaprio’s father was both a creator and marketer of underground comics and evidently part of the counter-culture. For some reason that only the father could explain, he put a poster of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” on his young child’s bedroom wall. DiCaprio became obsessed with the images, especially the one to the right that depicts hell. It is that image that evokes what our planet will look like unless the forces of destruction are not confronted and defeated.

Like most people in his milieu, DiCaprio is a Democrat as Wikipedia notes:

During the 2004 presidential election, DiCaprio campaigned and donated to John Kerry’s presidential bid. The FEC showed that DiCaprio gave $2,300 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in the 2008 election, the maximum contribution an individual could give in that election cycle, and $5,000 to Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Well, the $5000 shelled out to Obama might have been wasted but the million dollars to save the elephants was much better spent.

On balance, we are better off with DiCaprio as a spokesman for causes we believe in rather than him standing on the sidelines doing cocaine and navel-gazing. In the final analysis, it is the working class and its allies that will transform the economic system that hastens climate change and the extinction of African elephants but we should be looking for all the help we can get in a monumental struggle upon which everything rests, including the survival of life on earth.

This is the speech he gave to the UN on April 22nd, 2016. I’d like to think he wrote it himself:

Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, for the honor to address this body once more. And thanks to the distinguished climate leaders assembled here today who are ready to take action.

President Abraham Lincoln was also thinking of bold action 150 years ago when he said:

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.”

He was speaking before the US Congress to confront the defining issue of his time – slavery.

Everyone knew it had to end but no one had the political will to stop it. Remarkably, his words ring as true today when applied to the defining crisis of our time – Climate Change.

As a UN Messenger of Peace, I have been travelling all over the world for the last two years documenting how this crisis is changing the natural balance of our planet. I have seen cities like Beijing choked by industrial pollution. Ancient Boreal forests in Canada that have been clear cut and rainforests in Indonesia that have been incinerated. In India I met farmers whose crops have literally been washed away by historic flooding. In America I have witnessed unprecedented droughts in California and sea level rise flooding the streets of Miami. In Greenland and in the Arctic I was astonished to see that ancient glaciers are rapidly disappearing well ahead of scientific predictions. All that I have seen and learned on this journey has terrified me.

There is no doubt in the world’s scientific community that this a direct result of human activity and that the effects of climate change will become astronomically worse in the future.

I do not need to throw statistics at you. You know them better than I do, and more importantly, you know what will happen if this scourge is left unchecked. You know that climate change is happening faster than even the most pessimistic of scientists warned us decades ago. It has become a runaway freight train bringing with it an impending disaster for all living things.

Now think about the shame that each of us will carry when our children and grandchildren look back and realize that we had the means of stopping this devastation, but simply lacked the political will to do so.

Yes, we have achieved the Paris Agreement. More countries have come together to sign this agreement today than for any other cause in the history of humankind – and that is a reason for hope – but unfortunately the evidence shows us that it will not be enough.

Our planet cannot be saved unless we leave fossil fuels in the ground where they belong. An upheaval and massive change is required, now. One that leads to a new collective consciousness. A new collective evolution of the human race, inspired and enabled by a sense of urgency from all of you.

We all know that reversing the course of climate change will not be easy, but the tools are in our hands – if we apply them before it is too late.

Renewable energy, clean fuels, and putting a price on carbon pollution are beginning to turn the tide. This transition is not only the right thing for our world, but it also makes clear economic sense, and is possible within our lifetime.

But it is now upon you to do what great leaders have always done: to lead, inspire, and empower as President Lincoln did in his time.

We can congratulate each other today, but it will mean nothing if you return to your countries and fail to push beyond the promises of this historic agreement. Now is the time for bold unprecedented action.

My friends, look at the delegates around you. It is time to ask each other – which side of history will you be on?

As a citizen of our planet who has witnessed so much on this journey I thank you for all you have done to lay the foundation of a solution to this crisis, but after 21 years of debates and conferences it is time to declare no more talk. No more excuses. No more ten-year studies. No more allowing the fossil fuel companies to manipulate and dictate the science and policies that effect our future. This is the only body that can do what is needed. You, sitting in this very hall.

The world is now watching. You will either be lauded by future generations, or vilified by them.

Lincoln’s words still resonate to all of us here today:

“We will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the last generation… We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

That is our charge now – you are the last best hope of Earth. We ask you to protect it. Or we – and all living things we cherish – are history.

Thank you.

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