Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 11, 2008

Obama wins over the ‘decent left’

Filed under: cruise missile left,imperialism/globalization,Obama — louisproyect @ 4:22 pm

When candidate Obama selected Samantha Power to be his foreign policy adviser, this was a clear signal that he endorsed the idea of liberal imperialist intervention that she embodied. In contrast to Bush’s “failed” interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Power stood for a more adroit application of imperial power. Like Obama, she thought that the invasion of Iraq was ill-advised but did little to offer resistance to it. Indeed, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy that she has long been associated with has collaborated with the Pentagon in figuring out how to deploy anthropologists and other academic experts into the battlefield in order to deal with restive native populations.

Among the first proponents of liberal imperialist intervention, best known as the ‘decent left’ in Great Britain, to get on the Obama bandwagon was Marc Cooper, an enemy of the Latin American revolution who has cheered on outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy bent on subverting genuine democracy in Venezuela and elsewhere.

(UPDATE: Just to avoid any confusion, I have replaced the words “labored mightily on behalf of” with “cheered on” in the sentence above. I have never accused Cooper of working for the NED, the CIA or any other such agency of the US government. I have only claimed that he shares their desire for regime change in Venezuela and Cuba.)

The British “decent left” has also shifted its allegiance from the Republican Party to Obama’s muscular liberalism. His more obnoxious supporters can be found at “Harry’s Place”, a blog infected with hatred for political Islam and the radical left. One of them, a Likudist who signs his posts David T., recently chided Alice Walker in an entry titled Nutters: “We’re Already Disappointed by Obama” for her temerity in stating:

Each time Mr Obama has said “we will kill” Osama bin Laden I have felt a testing of my confidence in his moral leadership. And I support him, and demonstrated that support, to the very limits of my finances and my strength. Could it be that, like millions of children around the globe, who are taught “Thou shalt not kill”, I am reacting with disappointment and shock to someone blatantly declaring their intention to kill a specific person?

One can understand why David T. would be upset by Alice Walker given his complaint on October 30th: “I’m sorry, but I have now completely lost faith in this Government’s ability to counter the Islamism in the United Kingdom.”

One of the earliest “Marxist” supporters of the invasion of Iraq was Norm Geras, who helped write the Euston Manifesto. He too is smitten with Obama and has also rebuffed Alice Walker in a November 6th entry. It appears that the “decent left” and the Republican right are both wedded to the methodology of “talking points”. Time after time, I have seen some salvo directed against Hugo Chavez repeated by Cooper, Geras, Harry’s Place and the like. Apparently, a dispatch from the Israeli press helped wean Geras away from Dubya into the “change” camp:

Here you can listen to some former generals of the IDF and Mossad officials getting behind Obama for the presidency. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, the video – made by the Jewish Council for Education and Research – is misleading, with some of those concerned now saying that their words have been taken out of context. But with the exception of the contribution of Uzi Dayan, quoted to that effect by the JP, it’s hard to see the context that would make what these men say anything but a warm endorsement of Obama’s candidacy.

Probably the highest-profile endorsement from the pro-war, pro-intervention “left” came from Christopher Hitchens. On October 13th, Hitchens advised his Slate readership to vote for Obama, stating:

I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience.

Perhaps the best way to understand Hitchens’s conversion is just as another sign of neoconservative disaffection from the McCain-Palin ticket. From that perspective, he might be grouped with David Brooks, Christopher Buckley and other Republican Party apostates who shared his view that Sarah Palin is “a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience.” Given Hitchens’s performance over the past 7 years, this only confirms once again that it takes a thief to catch a thief.

But there is probably no better example of the politics behind all this than George Packer’s long article in the current New Yorker magazine titled “The New Liberalism“.  Like some other supporters of the war in Iraq, Packer has had a change of heart no doubt inspired by the failure of the intervention to produce the desired results.

Packer frames his discussion in terms of two different perceptions of what an Obama administration might hold in store. The first comes from Cass Sunstein, the Harvard law professor and author who was Obama’s long-time colleague at the University of Chicago Law School. Looking into the Obama ink-blot, Sunstein sees a “visionary minimalist”:

Sunstein’s Obama is the post-partisan one. He calls Obama a “visionary minimalist,” meaning someone who wants to pursue large goals in a way that offends the deepest values of as few people as possible. Governing in this way would make him distinctly un-Rooseveltian. F.D.R. entered office with broad good will and a platform that offered almost all things to all people, but by the time he ran for reelection in 1936 his Presidency had become aggressively partisan: he attacked “economic royalists” and said of them, “They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred.” In 2007, Paul Krugman, the Times columnist who recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics, commended these remarks to Obama, advising him to sharpen his ideological edge, and warning that his search for common ground with Republicans would be his undoing. But Sunstein said of Obama, “I think he believes-and this is his big split from Krugman-that if you take on board people’s deepest commitments, or bracket them, show respect for them, then you make possible larger steps than would otherwise be imagined.” It would not be Obama’s way to trumpet the arrival of a new era of liberalism-a word, Sunstein said, that is too laden with baggage, and too much of a fighting word, for Obama’s taste.

Sunstein had a debate with Robert Kuttner at Harvard University in September. Probably more than any other Democrat, Kuttner is associated with the idea that Obama should carry out a new New Deal. Packer reports:

“Sunstein’s minimalism is exactly what’s not called for,” Kuttner told me, and he later added, “We’re on the verge of Great Depression Two. All bets are off. The people who talk about post-liberal, post-ideological, they have been completely overtaken by events. It’s the same abuses, the same scenario, that led to the crash of ’29. It’s the same dynamics of the financial economy dragging down the real economy-these are enduring lessons. Everybody who was talking about being in a kind of post-liberal world, they’re the ones who don’t have much purchase on what’s going on. The question is whether Obama will come to this.” The answer will depend in part on the advisers he chooses. In Kuttner’s mind, the deficit hawks and deregulators of the Clinton Administration-Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers-have been discredited by the financial crisis, and he thinks that it would be a big mistake for Obama to give them powerful roles in his Administration. (Summers is considered a likely candidate for Treasury Secretary, and his top economic advisers are connected with the Hamilton Project, a center-left affiliate of the Brookings Institution.) But, beyond macroeconomics, Kuttner, who plans to hold a conference in Washington called “Thinking Big,” shortly before Obama’s Inauguration, thinks that the Democrats have a clear political agenda: “the reclamation of an ideology.”

Oddly enough, Packer has little to say about the foreign policy imperatives that Obama is expected to obey. The words Iraq and Afghanistan are not mentioned once. Given his tarnished reputation about such matters, one supposes that the less said the better.

Leaving aside Obama’s “change” mantra, the foreign policy of the new administration will most certainly hew closely to that of the Clinton administration. If you keep in mind that much of the “decent left” emerged out of the pro-war fervor during the Clinton years among Western journalists and intellectuals who convinced themselves that Milosevic was the new Adolph Hitler, it is not that surprising that the same people are coming home like the Prodigal Son. After all, in the final analysis, it has been the blood-drenched Wilsonian idealism of the WWI era that has united hawk and dove alike in its determination to police the world in the interests of multinational corporations under the banner of human rights.

August 18, 2008

Animal Farm

Filed under: cruise missile left,Film,ussr — louisproyect @ 2:05 pm

The 1954 CIA-financed Halas and Batchelor animated production of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is now available on YouTube in eight parts, beginning here. I can’t remember if I saw this movie in the 1950s, but I surely remember reading this and “1984” in high school. I am also fairly sure that our social studies teachers were instructed to assign these cold war staples. For impressionable teenagers living under the threat of nuclear attack from the dirty Rooskies, Orwell’s books were designed to reinforce the belief that it was better to be dead than red.

We never were told that “1984” was written as an attack on all forms of monolithic societies, including the Cold War anticommunist west. It was strictly a warning about the dangers of Communism. “Big brother was watching you” was only about the GPU, not the FBI. To become an “unperson” was something that happened to Soviet dissidents, not the Hollywood 10, etc. When we got to the final chapter when Winston Smith is threatened with having hungry rats dine on his eyeballs, it was all we needed to wrap ourselves in the American flag. Who would want to say a good word about socialism when it led to rodent hell?

Animal Farm” was just as scary and even more directly focused on the evils of trying to run a society based on human (or barnyard animal) needs rather than private profit. This was an Aesopian fable about the USSR, with animals standing in for leaders of the Russian revolution. Snowball the pig was Leon Trotsky and Napoleon, another pig, was Joseph Stalin. Like “big brother is watching you”, Animal Farm’s “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” had the power of a mantra.

The one thing that never came up in classroom discussions of “Animal Farm” was the actual history of the Soviet Union. Unlike the Soviet Union, the animal-run farm of Orwell’s novel was never invaded by 21 countries, even if populated by penguins or ferrets. The real lesson was that human nature (or animal nature) was rotten. Once the farmers were gone from the scene, the pigs would turn out to be just as rotten. So the moral of the story was “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

In 2002, the tables were turned on George Orwell as the N.Y. Times reported:

What if Snowball had his chance? An American novelist has written a parody of ‘”Animal Farm,”‘ George Orwell’s 1945 allegory about the evils of communism, in which the exiled pig, Snowball, returns to the farm and sets up a capitalist state, leading to misery for all the animals. The book, “‘Snowball’s Chance”‘ by John Reed, is being published this month by Roof Books, a small independent press in New York. And the estate of George Orwell is not happy about it.

William Hamilton, the British literary executor of the Orwell estate, objected to the parody in an e-mail message to the James T. Sherry, the publisher of Roof Books, saying, ”The contemporary setting can only trivialize the tragedy of Orwell’s mid-20th-century vision of totalitarianism.”

“‘The clear references to 9/11 in the apocalyptic ending can only bring Orwell’s name into disrepute in the U.S.,”‘ Mr. Hamilton wrote. Reached by phone, he said he had nothing more to add to the message.

“Snowball’s Chance”‘ is being published at a time when Orwell’s reputation has been under attack because of revelations that in the late 1940’s he gave the British Foreign Office a list of people he suspected of being ”crypto-Communists and fellow travelers,” labeling some of them as Jews and homosexuals as well. One of those condemning Orwell has been the writer Alexander Cockburn, whose father, Claud, a British journalist and member of the Communist Party, was a bitter foe of Orwell’s.

“How quickly one learns to loathe the affectations of plain bluntishness,”‘ Mr. Cockburn writes in an introduction to Mr. Reed’s novella. ‘”The man of conscience turns out to be a whiner, and of course a snitch.”

Finally, I would recommend Alex Miller’s essay on Orwell’s 2 anti-Communist classics on Links, the online journal of the DSP in Australia, where he nails “Animal Farm” to the wall:

The flipside of Orwell’s elitist and patronising attitude towards working people is his highly distorted picture of the nature of British capitalism. In the first preface to Animal Farm, he writes of “the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilisation” and states that “tolerance and decency are deeply rooted in England [sic]”. That would be the “intellectual liberty” afforded – not so long before Orwell’s time – to the Tolpuddle Martyrs and other ordinary workers, imprisoned, banished or simply murdered by the British state for daring to organise trade unions, or the “tolerance and decency” that callously sent millions of young people to the slaughterhouse of World War I – not to mention the horrors of imperial rule within the British Isles and overseas.

The intellectual liberty, tolerance and decency of British imperialism are the real Orwellian fantasy: insofar as those qualities have roots in Britain, they are the product of generations of struggle by the working people that Orwell snobbishly portrays as bovine dunces. It’s not hard to see why Orwell is the darling of the ruling-class newspapers mentioned above. He may genuinely have attempted to provide a critique of Stalin’s USSR “from the left”, but all that he actually produced – in Animal Farm at least – was a banal piece of ruling-class propaganda.

Animal Farm thus fails utterly as a critique of Stalinism “from the left”.


London Review of Books 5 July 2007
The story behind Animal Farm [Halas and Batchelor, 1954]
by J. Hoberman

In the annals of American intelligence, the mid-1950s were the golden years: the CIA overthrew elected governments in Iran and Guatemala, conducted experiments with ESP and LSD (using its own operatives as unwitting guinea pigs), ran literary journals and produced the first general-release, feature-length animation ever made in the UK.

It was Howard Hunt who broke the story that the CIA funded Animal Farm, John Halas and Joy Batchelor’s 1954 version of George Orwell’s political allegory of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, played out in a British farmyard. Cashing in on his Watergate notoriety, the rogue spook and sometime spy novelist took credit in Undercover: Memoirs of an American Secret Agent (1974) for initiating the project, shortly after Orwell’s death in 1950. The self-aggrandising Hunt may have exaggerated his own importance in the operation – possibly inventing the juicy detail that Orwell’s widow, Sonia, was wooed with the promise of meeting her favourite star, Clark Gable – but, as detailed by Daniel Leab in Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of ‘Animal Farm’ (Pennsylvania, $55), the operation was real.

Read in full


It’s been brought to my attention that “Animal Farm” does include an invasion by farmers who sought to destroy the animal-run farm. I checked chapter 4 and there is indeed a reference to this (the novel is not online but you can read summaries at http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/animalfarm):

One day in October, Jones, all his men, and half a dozen others from the neighbouring farms, attack Animal Farm. They walk up the laneway through the main gate. They are all armed with sticks except for Jones, who carries a gun. The animals, however, are well prepared. After an initial skirmish where the pigeons and geese attack the humans, Snowball attacks them, supported by Benjamin, Muriel and all the sheep. The men repulse this attack with their sticks, and Snowball sounds the retreat. They fall back to the farmyard, pursued by the men, who think that they have triumphed. However, they have walked into a trap.

Interesting that this might be as an attempt to map to historical events, Orwell makes no effort to connect the downfall of the animal experiment as a function of the invasion. Indeed, there seems to be no serious damage to the farm’s infrastructure or the lives of its animal-citizens, at least on the basis of the summary.

Furthermore, you can find evidence of the animal farm’s collapse before the invasion ever took place in chapter 3. Again, quoting from the summary:

Sunday is a rest day, when the animals assemble at a great Meeting. This is where the work for the coming week is to be planned, and various motions discussed. All of the resolutions are put forward by the pigs. The other animals are aware of this, but as they cannot think of any resolutions themselves, they allow the pigs to lead. As the weeks go by, it becomes clear that Napoleon and Snowball rarely agree about anything…

It is soon learned that the pigs took the milk that disappeared on the first day, and are now mixing it into their mash. The pigs now issue a decree stating that all windfall apples are to be gathered up and given over for the exclusive use of the pigs. Some of the animals are puzzled by this, and wonder why the apples are not to be shared out equally. Squealer goes before them to explain. He tells them that the pigs, as the leaders, must keep their brainpower up, and that science has proven that milk and apples are essential for this.

With Communist pigs acting in such selfish fashion, no wonder Orwell felt compelled to give the British Foreign Office a list of people he suspected of being ”crypto-Communists and fellow travelers.” Orwell went to great lengths to avoid being a pig apparently, even if it involved turning himself into a rat.

December 21, 2007

A Serbophobe outburst in the Nation Magazine

Filed under: cruise missile left,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 8:48 pm

The current issue of the Nation Magazine has an extraordinarily long article titled “Western Promises” that accuses the Western imperialists being soft on the late Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbs. It was written by Marc Perelman, the diplomatic correspondent of the Forward, a Jewish-American weekly in NY with historic ties to the social democratic leadership of the ILGWU.

Perelman uses nearly 6000 words to make the case that the U.S. and Britain “sabotaged” the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and allowed Serb criminals to go scot-free. It relies heavily on the word of one Florence Hartmann, a Serbophobe reporter for Le Monde in the early 1990s who became an assistant to Carla Le Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the ICTY. Hartmann is the author of one of those typically one-sided biographies of Slobodan Milosevic that makes him out to be Satan’s Spawn. Perelman’s article, however, relies heavily on her latest book titled “Paix et châtiment: Les guerres secrètes de la politique et de la justice internationales” (Peace and Punishment: The Secret Wars of Politics and International Justice) that is not yet available in English.

Hartmann is even too much for Marcus Tanner, who covered Yugoslavia for the Independent and hewed to their Serbophobe editorial position. In a review of a collection of articles on Yugoslavia co-edited by fellow Serbophobes Roy Gutman and David Rieff, Tanner dismissed Hartmann as an untrustworthy crank:

Some of the articles are sermons and rants. Florence Hartmann’s piece on Bosnia is just a series of accusations that have been bundled together. That “Milosevic made it his mission to set Yugoslavia’s ethnic and national groups against one another” is one of a great many “facts” that are baldly asserted without any supporting evidence.

–The Independent (London), August 3, 1999

Why the Nation Magazine would waste 9 pages circulating ideas that stemmed from Ms. Hartmann is somewhat beyond me, but then again they had the “wisdom” to publish the awful Joaquin Villalobos’s attack on Hugo Chavez.

The gist of Hartmann’s complaint is that a deal struck between the West and the Serb Republic to divide up Bosnia resulted in the slaughter at Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde since they fell within territory that was to be ceded to the Serbs. Hartmann’s argument is not new as Perelman reports:

The story of how the city was overrun and several thousand inhabitants were executed as UN peacekeepers watched helplessly has been recounted many times, most grippingly by David Rohde, an American reporter who first uncovered evidence of the massacre and whose Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica (1997) describes the event through the eyes of seven witnesses. Rohde concluded that the litany of mistakes that led to the massacre was a “passive conspiracy” rather than a cynical backroom deal.

Missing entirely from these accounts of the Srebrenica killings that most assuredly did take place (although to describe them as “genocide” is positively Orwellian) is the ratcheting up of tensions at the hands of Muslim militias. You never find the name Naser Oric in the reporting of a David Rohde or a Roy Gutman, but Bill Schiller (by no means pro-Serb) wrote in the July 16, 1995 Toronto Star:

On a cold and snowy night, I sat in his living room watching a shocking video version of what might have been called Nasir Oric’s Greatest Hits. There were burning houses, dead bodies, severed heads, and people fleeing. Oric grinned throughout, admiring his handiwork.

“We ambushed them,” he said when a number of dead Serbs appeared on the screen.

The next sequence of dead bodies had been done in by explosives: “We launched those guys to the moon,” he boasted.

When footage of a bullet-marked ghost town appeared without any visible bodies, Oric hastened to announce: “We killed 114 Serbs there.”

Later there were celebrations, with singers with wobbly voices chanting his praises. These video reminiscences, apparently, were from what Muslims regard as Oric’s glory days. That was before most of eastern Bosnia fell and Srebrenica became a “safe zone” with U.N. peacekeepers inside – and Serbs on the outside.

Despite Oric’s taste for Serb blood, his forces were inexplicably withdrawn from Srebrenica just before the Serb counter-attack. A small UN force proved incapable of withstanding the Serb militias and the net result was a bloodbath.

Where Hartmann sees UN and Western inaction as proof that they were willing to cast the Muslims to the wolves as part of a process of carving up Bosnia ethnically along the lines of the India-Pakistan division, Diana Johnstone views it as a necessary first step in drawing NATO into the fray. If the UN was incapable of stopping the Serb Stalinist-Fascist-Satanist onslaught, then more powerful forces had to be mobilized. Waving the “bloody shirt” in this fashion has become more and more instrumental to the war aims of imperialism. Only a few years after Srebrenica became a rallying cry of the cruise missile left, Racak would play the same role in precipitating NATO intervention in Kosovo. And then more recently the attack on the WTC served similar purposes. One imagines that if there is ever an all-out nuclear war, it will be some other incident of “genocide” that will necessitate B-52’s being sent on their way to teach the miscreants a radioactive lesson.

If the goal of Perelman’s article is to convince readers of Serb guilt that the ICTY overlooked, it does not do a very good job. For example, there is much ado about the “Kula Tapes” that link Milosevic with the “Red Berets,” a highly trained detachment of the Serb army that operated in Croatia and Bosnia. Supposedly the U.S. sent a copy of the tape to ICTY that concealed key information about Milosevic’s culpability.

Perhaps people like Florence Hartmann and Marc Perelman are still stung by the ICTY’s decision that Milosevic was not directly involved with what they called “genocide” in Bosnia, so somebody has to be blamed for that failure. You have to stop and ask yourself why the U.S. would withhold such evidence when there is nothing in the tapes that has anything to do with Western failure to come to the aid of the Bosnian Muslims.

Contrary to Perelman and Florence Hartmann, there is substantial evidence that Milosevic was absolutely innocent of the charges against him as this report by Chris Stephen in the habitually anti-Milosevic London Observer (October 10, 2004) would indicate:

FRESH controversy has hit the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic with a claim from a senior intelligence analyst that the Yugoslav leader is innocent of genocide.

Dr Cees Wiebes, a professor at Amsterdam University, now says there is no evidence linking Milosevic to the worst atrocity of the Bosnian war, the massacre of 7,000 Muslims at the town of Srebrenica.

Srebrenica, which was overrun by Serb forces in July 1995, forms the basis of the genocide charge against Milosevic, but Wiebes, a member of a Dutch government inquiry into the atrocity, said there is nothing to link Milosevic to the crime.

‘In our report, which is about 7,000 pages long, we come to the conclusion that Milosevic had no foreknowledge of the subsequent massacres,’ he says in a radio programme, The Real Slobodan Milosevic, to be broadcast by BBC Five Live tonight. ‘What we did find, however, was evidence to the contrary. Milosevic was very upset when he learnt about the massacres.’

The prospect of the former Balkan strongman being cleared of the most serious charge he faces is a fresh blow to an already troubled case, which begins hearing defence evidence this week after several months of delays.

Any failure to prove genocide will cast a shadow not only over this case but over the whole practicality of holding tyrants to account in war crimes trials, most obviously in the case against Saddam Hussein.

Wiebes headed a team of intelligence specialists commissioned by the Dutch government to look into the massacre because its own forces were present in the town under the UN flag.

He had access to secret files, key diplomats and hundreds of witnesses to a massacre in which Muslim men and boys as young as 12 were butchered by Bosnian Serb forces. But while clearly implicating senior Serb field commanders, including General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian army chief still on the run, Wiebes says Milosevic played no part.

He said it was understandable that Milosevic was upset ‘because in this phase of the war he was looking for a political settlement and this was not very good for him’.

Furthermore, if Western complicity with an alleged war criminal like Slobodan Milosevic would get in the way of a successful prosecution, then why in the world did the U.S. agree to allow Saddam Hussein to stand trial? Surely, he would have been able to “expose” American collaboration in his war with the Kurds as some leftist commentators predicted. Unfortunately, kangaroo courts like the ones that took place in the Hague and Baghdad are not set up for an evenhanded examination of all the facts. Neither Milosevic nor Saddam Hussein received adequate legal representation. And even if they had been able to bring to light American complicity, nothing of consequence would have come out of it since the propaganda machine of the West had already condemned such men to become “unpersons” in the Orwellian sense.

In keeping with the overall credulousness of the article, Perelman calls on a witness even more doubtful than Florence Hartmann:

In Srebrenica: Un génocide annoncé (Srebrenica: A Genocide Foretold), a book published in France on the tenth anniversary of the massacre, French writer Sylvie Matton offers some fresh acknowledgments by senior European political and military officials–mostly French–that the tragic fate of the enclave was no mystery. The most vivid acknowledgment is provided by Alain Juppé, who was prime minister of France at the time of the Srebrenica massacre. “It was widely known that the Serbs wanted to take the enclaves and annihilate the men,” Juppé told Matton, who then asked Juppé what he meant by “annihilate.” “Let’s say we knew they would take no prisoners,” he answered.

After reading this, I paused for a moment with my mouth agape. Who in their right mind would take Juppé’s word about anything? Alain Juppé was probably the most hated politician in recent French history, although Sarkozy seems poised to surpass him before long. The two of them came into office with a mandate from the French ruling class to break the powerful trade union movement and both ended up with bloody noses in the process. In 2004, he was found guilty of stealing money from his party, the Rally for the Republic, for which he got an 18-month suspended jail sentence and was banned from holding office for 10 years.

Fortunately, the Nation Magazine does occasionally allow the truth to filter through on the Balkans wars. In George Kenney’s review of Noam Chomsky’s “The New Military Humanism: Lessons From Kosovo” that appeared nearly 8 years ago to the day, the notion of a Serb master plan to subjugate its neighbors gets thoroughly debunked. Kenney writes:

On March 18, the day the Rambouillet talks broke down, David Scheffer, the State Department’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues, proclaimed that “we have upwards to about 100,000 men that we cannot account for” in Kosovo. Depending upon the sophistication of the press organ involved, this statement was variously construed as a warning or, as the New York Daily News put it in a headline the next day, 100,000 Kosovar Men Feared Dead. The specter of mass murder critically supported public acceptance of NATO airstrikes, which began less than a week later, on March 24. After two months of bombing, the Yugoslav regime was still, to the Administration’s deepening chagrin, in the fight. By this time there were increasing murmurs of discontent in the press regarding the effect of NATO airstrikes on unmistakably civilian targets. Ambassador Scheffer stepped to the plate again in mid-May, calling for “speedy investigations” of war crimes (by Serbs) while now noting that “as many as 225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59 remain unaccounted for.” Several wire services quoted him on different days as saying that “with the exception of Rwanda in 1994 and Cambodia in 1975, you would be hard-pressed to find a crime scene anywhere in the world since World War II where a defenseless civilian population has been assaulted with such ferocity and criminal intent, and suffered so many multiple violations of humanitarian law in such a short period of time as in Kosovo since mid-March 1999.” It was a profoundly ignorant remark, of course, but what’s important is that the Administration’s laserlike focus on allegations and innuendoes of genocidal acts securely established the legitimacy of continued bombing for an at-that-time unknown, perhaps lengthy period.

Helpfully sensing that Washington–Scheffer and a battalion of like-minded flacks–had gone too far out on a limb, in June and July the British started publicizing their reduced estimate that 10,000 Albanian Kosovars had been killed. For whatever reason that number stuck in establishment circles. In fact, however, it appears to be still too many. The actual number is probably somewhere in the low thousands.

In mid-July sources from the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, known as KFOR, were telling the press that of 2,150 bodies found by peacekeepers only 850 were victims of massacres. Nevertheless, still eager to bolster the Serb=devil argument, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations on July 26, poignantly mentioned “the village of Ljubenic, the largest mass-grave site discovered so far from this conflict, with as many as 350 bodies.” Berger may not have been aware that the Italian in charge of the site, Brig. Gen. Mauro Del Vecchio, had told the press several days earlier that the exhumation had been completed at the site and that seven bodies had been found. All press mention of Ljubenic ceases after that point.

That’s the kind of writing that the Nation needs, not the drivel offered up by Marc Perelman.

October 10, 2007

Kanan Makiya

Filed under: cruise missile left,Iraq,war — louisproyect @ 7:31 pm

Except for rascals like Christopher Hitchens and Oliver Kamm, most of the pro-war “left” has reversed itself (George Packer, Johann Hari)–without of course abrogating the right of the US to act as world’s cop when the cause is supposedly just (Afghanistan, Darfur, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, etc.) There is also a group that still supports the invasion but keeps a low profile. You will not find them on talk show circuits repeating George W. Bush’s talking points slathered over with references to Camus, Orwell and Koestler. Mostly they have retreated from the public scene and shake their heads at the catastrophe that resulted from “poor planning” and other blunders.

The New York Times Magazine gave a platform to one of them last Sunday: Iraqi intellectual and former Trotskyist Kanan Makiya, who is the author of a number of books with scholarly pretensions that provided fuel for the invasion in 2002 and 2003. In one of Judith Miller’s pro-war propaganda pieces written on January 12, 2003, she described Makiya’s touching faith in George Bush’s promises:

None of the Iraqi participants were willing to discuss precisely what Mr. Bush said. But Kanan Makiya, a professor at Brandeis University and a leading Iraqi intellectual, said he was “deeply reassured” by what he called “the president’s intense commitment to a genuinely democratic post-Saddam Iraq” and by Mr. Bush’s determination to press forward not only with “removing Saddam from office, but reconstructing Iraq after a military conflict.”

“Mr. Bush was clearly aware that Iraq was not Afghanistan, and that it has the human and financial resources needed to support democracy,” Mr. Makiya said.

Miller lost her job but Makiya’s career–at least in the US–did not suffer any consequences for such boneheaded statements. He is a professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. My advice to people trying to decide where to send their children to college is to take this place off their list.

Not only has Makiya’s political fortunes taken a turn for the worse, so has his health:

Makiya’s life is no longer what it was. In 2003, on returning to Iraq, he reunited with his sweetheart from high-school days, married and took her back to Cambridge. He also found out he has chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the same disease that killed Edward Said, the Palestinian-born Columbia University professor and Makiya’s intellectual nemesis.

While it would be impossible to prove this, one wonders if living in such a heavily polluted environment such as Iraq might have led to Mr. Makiya’s cancer. In Houston, Texas, there are 56 percent more incidents of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia for families living in close proximity to the petroleum refineries. Since George W. Bush and his cronies are responsible for the woeful state of both Texas and Iraq today, there is some irony in Makiya being so afflicted.

Said never rested a moment in the final years of his life when he was battling leukemia. He did everything in his power to expose the lies that people like Makiya were churning out on behalf of the Bush White House. In a article that appeared in the November 28, 2002 Al-Ahram titled “Misinformation about Iraq“, Said directed his fire against Makiya:

The most complete version of his plans for Iraq after an American invasion that derive from his current employment as a resident employee of the US Department of State, appears in the November 2002 issue of Prospect, a good liberal British monthly to which I subscribe. Makiya begins his “proposal” by enumerating the extraordinary assumptions behind his arguments, two of which almost by definition are unimaginable. The first is that “the unseating” of Saddam should not occur after a bombing campaign. Makiya must have been living on Mars to imagine that, in the event of a war, a massive bombing attack would not occur even though every single plan circulated for regime change in Iraq has stated explicitly that Iraq would be bombed mercilessly. The second assumption is equally imaginative, since Makiya seems to believe against all evidence that the US is committed to democracy and nation-building in Iraq. Why he thinks that Iraq is like Germany and Japan after World War II (both of which were rebuilt because of the Cold War) is beyond me; besides, he doesn’t once mention the fact that the US is determined to bring down the Iraqi regime because of the country’s oil reserves and because Iraq is an enemy of Israel. So, he starts out by making preposterous assumptions that simply fly in the face of all the evidence.

The New York Times Magazine article was written by Dexter Filkins who might be described as Judith Miller lite. Along with the equally detestable Michael R. Gordon, they have been writing article after article trying to prove that Iran is behind all the troubles in Iraq. Filkins also served as a conduit for Pentagon propaganda in earlier articles blaming al-Qaeda for the insurgency in Iraq. Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post reported that the military had made a “selective leak” about al-Qaeda leader Zarqawi to Dexter Filkins. The article, making much of a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the Times front page on Feb. 9, 2004. In other words, just the kind of reporter to rely on for an accounting of Makiya’s sins.

Filkins and Makiya alike can hardly avoid talking about the catastrophe that George W. Bush has wrought.

In the buildup to the Iraq war, Makiya, more than any single figure, made the case for invading because it was the right thing to do — to destroy an evil regime and rescue a people from their nightmare of terror and suffering. Not for oil, Makiya argued, and not for some superweapons hidden in the sand, but to satisfy an obligation to our fellow human beings.

If it sounded idealistic, Makiya went even further, arguing that an American invasion of Iraq could clear the ground for Western-style democracy. Years of war and murder had left Iraqis so thoroughly degraded, Makiya argued, that, once freed, they would throw off the tired orthodoxies of Arab politics and, in their despair, look to the West. “The removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein presents the U.S. with a historic opportunity,” Makiya told a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in October 2002, “that is as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.” Two months before the war started, in a meeting in the Oval Office, Makiya told President Bush that Iraqis would greet invading American soldiers with “sweets and flowers.”

Now, of course, those dreams are gone, carried away on a tide of blood. The catastrophe in Iraq has thoroughly undermined the idea of democratic change in the Middle East. It has undercut the notion, sustained by the successful interventions in the Balkans, that American military power can achieve humanitarian ends. And it has made Makiya and the others who justified the invasion look reckless and naïve.

Filkins alludes to Makiya’s early Trotskyist connections:

Makiya, who is 58, made the toppling of Saddam Hussein his life’s work, the focus of an idealistic vision that guided him through a life of exile. In the musty yearbooks of Baghdad College, the Jesuit high school where Makiya studied, the photo shows his eyes afire: dark, focused and looking upward. As a student at M.I.T., he strummed Woody Guthrie folk tunes on an old guitar. Makiya threw himself into the Palestinian cause, signed on as a Marxist and then beat a long path back to a philosophy of democracy and human rights.

There are more details about Makiya’s youthful indiscretions in Democratiya, an online magazine that describes itself as pushing for the “renewal of the politics of democratic radicalism.” If your idea of “democratic radicalism” is finding excuses for military interventions in the 3rd World, you are welcome to it. Makiya was interviewed by fellow scoundrel Alan Johnson, who at one time served on the editorial board of New Politics, a “third camp” magazine, before jumping with both feet into the New Labour pro-war camp. Johnson was recently heard from touting the reputation of Henry “Scoop” Jackson, better known as the Senator from Boeing. In answer to Johnson’s question about his background, Makiya includes this information:

I became very active in the anti-war movement, which was burgeoning in the United States. And I was very active in supporting the emerging Palestinian Resistance Movement. I passed through the Nationalist Palestinian groups and I ended up in the Marxist one. All of this happened very rapidly. Within a span of a year I became a Marxist and was attracted to Trotskyist politics. The great influence on me was Emmanuel Farjoun, a member of the Israeli Socialist Organisation, Matzpen. He was also a student at MIT, much older than I. He had enjoyed a socialist training from day dot having grown up in a left socialist kibbutz. It was a revelation for me to meet an Israeli who was critical of his own society. He explained a) basic socialist principles which, of course, were completely new to me, and b) the nature of Israeli society, which was also a revelation for me. We became very, very close friends, almost brothers, for the next twenty-five years. (We fell out over the Iraq war but that’s another story. That’s sad, very sad.)

I started to soak up books and I became active in the Socialist Workers’ Party, the American section of the (Trotskyist) 4th International. I moved to Britain in 1974 and I became active in the International Marxist Group (IMG). I recall there was a Lebanese Trotskyist organisation, remnants of an Iraqi Trotskyist organisation, and some Egyptian and Tunisian Trotskyists. I spent a lot of time in those countries meeting those people, going backwards and forwards to Lebanon. I was a full time political activist.

I have no memory of Makiya but this explanation for his departure from the movement rings a bell:

The Iran-Iraq war broke out. Our former comrades were being imprisoned or killed in Iran. We both left organised Trotskyist politics around that time on the issue of the Iraq-Iran war. The left was saying it was a war with a good side and a bad side. We were saying a plague on both your houses because this is an ugly, nasty war that is not going to lead to progress for anyone, so victory for either side would be a step backward.

Alan Johnson asks him, “Did you find any support for that view among your comrades?”

Kanan Makiya replies:

There were individuals. Bob Langston, I remember, from the Socialist Workers’ Party. Jon Rothschild and others were very sympathetic. But their sympathy was not shared by the leadership. Afsaneh and I resigned over it. We wrote a huge document that explained the whole thing, in the usual fashion.

If I were more of an archivist than I am, I’d try to track down the document. Frankly, I can’t remember the debate or much of the SWP’s politics on Iran. This much I can remember. The Militant newspaper did tend to play up the “radical” side of the Iranian revolution and splashed news about it across the front page, including a big headline about why the students in Iran were justified when they seized the US embassy. One of our comrades, a rather outspoken and narcissistic individual, insisted on selling this newspaper rather aggressively to coal miners after being on the job less than a month. She was forced to leave the job after a rightwing miner hurled a cinder block at her from above.

I have much better memories of Jon Rothschild and Bob Langston. I first met Jon in 1969 when he came to New York from about a year in Paris working with the JCR, the youth group of the French section. Jon had adopted the style (black leather jacket and Gaulois cigarettes) and politics of the Europeans, both of which I found resistible. Langston was quite a bit older and really very intelligent. He was one of the party’s experts on economics and heir to an oil fortune. Every Militant article he ever wrote was stamped by his fecund and original mind, a trait that the party would assiduously avoid as the “turn” deepened in the 1970s.

In trying to explain to Johnson why he broke with the left, Makiya betrays a certain unfamiliarity with Trotsky’s core ideas:

I feel the left that I came from has almost become nationalist. This language of relativism has translated itself into, ‘Well, even if the regime of Saddam Hussein is so nasty, why should we go and liberate it?’ Now that is something you would have got from an American isolationist, back in the old days. You would never have got it from somebody on the left. The positive element which I carried from the Trotskyist movement, from the writings of Trotsky himself, was an internationalist spirit. It was more alive in me, I think, than in many of those who claimed Trotsky’s mantle, but did not practice that internationalism. It is a very sad state of affairs. The left has turned against its own internationalist traditions and thrown away its own universal values. The older left was able to cross boundaries and think across boundaries. That was its strength and its weakness.

If Makiya thought that Trotsky was an “internationalist” in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson, or Paul Wolfowitz for that matter, nothing can be further from the truth. The idea that an imperialist power can impose its will on a colonial country in the interests of social justice and democracy is utter nonsense. In the beginning of the war in Iraq, there was much talk about how the neoconservatives were latter-day Trotskyists, in the style alluded to by Makiya above–including an article by Jeet Heer that appeared in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. I answered this absurd claim as soon as I heard it:

Jeet Heer: As evidence of the continuing intellectual influence of Trotsky, consider the curious fact that some of the books about the Middle East crisis that are causing the greatest stir were written by thinkers deeply shaped by the tradition of the Fourth International.

In seeking advice about Iraqi society, members of the Bush administration (notably Paul D. Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defence, and Dick Cheney, the Vice-President) frequently consulted Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi-American intellectual whose book The Republic of Fear is considered to be the definitive analysis of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule.

As the journalist Christopher Hitchens notes, Makiya is “known to veterans of the Trotskyist movement as a one-time leading Arab member of the Fourth International.” When speaking about Trotskyism, Hitchens has a voice of authority. Like Makiya, Hitchens is a former Trotskyist who is influential in Washington circles as an advocate for a militantly interventionist policy in the Middle East. Despite his leftism, Hitchens has been invited into the White House as an ad hoc consultant.

My reply: If Makiya’s “Republic of Fear” has anything to do with Trotskyism, except the fact that the author spent some time in the movement as a youth, then one presumes that Saul Bellow’s racist screed “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” must also be linked with Leon Trotsky as well, since Bellow also spent a brief time in the Trotskyist movement. For that matter, one might link orthodox Judaism with Trotskyism since Isaac Deutscher and I were both bar mitzvahed and ate kosher through adolescence.

Other than the fact that Kanan Makiya spent five minutes or so in the Fourth International, there is absolutely nothing to link him to the intellectual and political traditions represented by Leon Trotsky. Consider the interview he gave to an Argentine journalist on September 23, 1938 in which he defended a “fascist” Brazil against a “democratic” Great Britain:

In order to understand correctly the nature of the coming events we must first of all reject … the false … theory that the coming war will be a war between fascism and “democracy.” … I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of that conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally — in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains in Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship.

Or the letter wrote to an English comrade on April 22, 1936 which not only defended feudal Ethiopia against capitalist Italy, but was full of praise for the Negus, ie. Haile Selassie, who made Saddam Hussein look like Martin Luther King Jr. by comparison, and contained the remarkable formulation that “A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history”.

Indeed, the Trotsky of history has much more in common with the reviled Ramsey Clark and WWP than he does with the Cruise Missile “leftists” Heer falsely linked him with.


October 5, 2007

The Death of Mark Daily

Filed under: antiwar,cruise missile left,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

Mark Daily

In the latest Vanity Fair magazine, there’s a particularly offensive article by Christopher Hitchens on Mark Daily, an American soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb in Mosul, Iraq. Hitchens had learned from an LA Times article forwarded by one of his few remaining friends that Daily was inspired to enlist after reading Hitchens.

The LA Times article states:

After the 9/11 attacks, Daily was not convinced that a military response was the best option. In his MySpace essay, he runs through the gamut of reasons he used at one time or another to argue against confronting the Taliban and Saddam Hussein: cultural tolerance, the sanctity of national sovereignty, a suspicion of America’s intentions. Weren’t we really after their oil? he wondered.

Too bad that Daily didn’t live long enough to read Alan Greenspan’s memoir. He might have saved his family a lot of grief and Hitchens the opportunity to grandstand in the pages of Vanity Fair.

After initial reservations about the “war on terror,” the LA Times reports that Daily decided to join the military after being exposed to Hitchens’s warmongering:

Somewhere along the way, he changed his mind. His family says there was no epiphany. Writings by author and columnist Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him. A 2003 phone conversation with a UCLA ROTC officer on the ideals of commitment and service impressed him.

The LA Times article tries to convey the impression that Mark Daily was an example of the kind of pro-intervention liberal that NY Times op-ed scribbler Roger Cohen hailed in yesterday’s edition:

Liberal interventionists, if you recall, were people like myself for whom the sight in the 1990s of hundreds of thousands of European Muslims processed through Serbian concentration camps, or killed in them, left little doubt of the merits, indeed the necessity, of U.S. military action in the name of the human dignity that only open societies afford.

Without such action in Bosnia and Kosovo, Europe would not be at peace today.

One reluctant liberal interventionist signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 that said: “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein.” His name was Bill Clinton. Baghdad is closer to Sarajevo than the left has allowed.

For this left, anyone who supported the Iraq invasion, or sees merits to it despite the catastrophic Bush-Rumsfeld bungling, is a neocon. That makes Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik and Kanan Makiya and Bernard Kouchner neocons, among others who don’t think like Norman Podhoretz but have more firsthand knowledge of totalitarian hell than countless slick purveyors of the neocon insult.

Cohen wrote this article to redeem the whole idea of military adventures in the name of democracy in the aftermath of nearly five years of neconservative horror in Iraq. It is basically a defense of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy against George W. Bush’s. One wonders why such a distinction is being made after watching the Democrats bowing and scraping before the President over the past few weeks. If Hillary Clinton gets elected, it will lead to a continuation of Bush’s policies. I should mention that this is not something that I read in Counterpunch, but that I heard straight from the horse’s mouth:

As Bush was describing his thinking about Iraq and the future, he indicated he wants to use his final 16 months to stabilize Iraq enough and redefine the U.S. mission there so that the next president, even a Democrat, would feel politically able to keep a smaller but long-term presence in the country. The broadcasters were not allowed to directly quote the president, but they were allowed to allude to his thinking and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News later cited the analogy of Dwight D. Eisenhower essentially adopting President Harry S. Truman’s foreign policy despite the Republican general’s 1952 campaign statements.

“He had kind of a striking analogy,” Stephanopoulos said of Bush on air a few hours after the lunch. “He believes that whoever replaces him, like General Eisenhower when he replaced Harry Truman, may criticize the president’s policy during the campaign, but will likely continue much of it in office.”

According to the LA Times, Mark Daily started off in life quite a few degrees to the left of Bill Clinton.

His family says he became a registered Democrat who read voraciously and delighted in fervent debate. He read liberal intellectual Noam Chomsky, conservative Sen. John McCain of Arizona and everything in between.

His first passions were animal rights and environmental protection, prompting him to become a vegetarian and Green Party member in high school for a few years. He defended American Indian rights so loudly in one backyard debate that Linda Daily imagined the neighbors would think it a family brawl. His heroes were immigrants because “they risk their lives to achieve better ones,” he wrote on his MySpace page.

Leaving aside the characterization of Noam Chomsky as a “liberal intellectual,” the rest of it seems fairly plausible. Daily obviously believed in human rights and all the rest, but sadly could not reconcile his beliefs with his conduct, especially in light of the fact that he decided to join the military in October 2006 and not in the aftermath of 9/11. One can understand somebody like Pat Tillman making such a mistake but there was far too much water under the bridge in late 2006 to assume that any good could have come out of fighting in Iraq.

On Myspace, Daily tries to explain why he joined:

Maybe the reality of politics makes all political action inherently crude and immoral. Or maybe it is these adventures in philosophical masturbation that prevent people from ever taking any kind of effective action against men like Saddam Hussein. One thing is for certain, as disagreeable or as confusing as my decision to enter the fray may be, consider what peace vigils against genocide have accomplished lately. Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics. Often times it is less about how clean your actions are and more about how pure your intentions are.

With all due respect to the late Mr. Daily, this sounds more to me like adolescent turmoil than anything else. As I tried to point out in my review of Ken Burns’s “The War” the other day, many GI’s entered the service as a kind of rite of passage and Mark Daily does not sound that different from those who went off to kill Japs or Nazis. Indeed, the LA Times reports: “Daily had read historian Stephen Ambrose’s writings on World War II and the generation of soldiers who fought for freedom from the forces of fascism.” Meanwhile, he describes himself on MySpace thusly: If you really want to understand me, watch Schindler’s List followed by Saving Private Ryan.” Perhaps, the main person to blame for poor Mark Daily’s early demise is Stephen Spielberg rather than Christopher Hitchens.

The WWII enlistee did of course have the justification that the enemy did appear to be bent on conquering the world and imposing a regime of torture and exploitation. Any sensible person might have realized that in October 2006 it was the USA that had supplanted the Axis in that capacity.

Somewhere along the line, Daily began to sound more like a neocon than one of Roger Cohen’s liberal interventionists. His Myspace page reports that his occupation is “world police”. That is a striking admission. He also offers up “The Arab Mind” as one of his favorite books. This book was written by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at several US universities, including Columbia and Princeton. Here are a few quotes:

“Why are most Arabs, unless forced by dire necessity to earn their livelihood with ‘the sweat of their brow’, so loath to undertake any work that dirties the hands?”

“The all-encompassing preoccupation with sex in the Arab mind emerges clearly in two manifestations …”

“In the Arab view of human nature, no person is supposed to be able to maintain incessant, uninterrupted control over himself. Any event that is outside routine everyday occurrence can trigger such a loss of control … Once aroused, Arab hostility will vent itself indiscriminately on all outsiders.”

Patai’s book emerged out of obscurity when Seymour Hersh mentioned it in a May 24, 2007 New Yorker magazine article on torture at Abu Ghraib. Referring to the sexual nature of some of this abuse, he wrote:

The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

One book that was frequently cited was The Arab Mind … the book includes a 25-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression.”

The Patai book, an academic told me, was ‘the bible of the neocons on Arab behaviour’. In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged – ‘one, that Arabs only understand force, and two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation’.

Parenthetically, one wonders how anthropologists can lend themselves to such projects even taking into account the ongoing debasement of the university in imperialist nations. Just today, the NY Times reported that anthropologists are helping the US military in Afghanistan:

SHABAK VALLEY, Afghanistan — In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a soft-spoken civilian anthropologist named Tracy.

Tracy, who asked that her surname not be used for security reasons, is a member of the first Human Terrain Team, an experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her team’s ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations — in one case spotting a land dispute that allowed the Taliban to bully parts of a major tribe — has won the praise of officers who say they are seeing concrete results.

Extending the analogy of the US empire today to the WWII Axis powers, the answer ostensibly lies in the tendency of a particularly aggressive and increasingly irrational world power to drag everybody into the abyss with it, including many of its intellectuals–not the least of which includes Mark Daily, a young man who should have taken the opportunity to allow his ideas to ripen.

October 3, 2007

Peter Ackerman: billionaire sponsor of toxic NGO’s

Filed under: cruise missile left,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 8:07 pm

Peter Ackerman: Michael Milken’s right-hand man and George Soros wannabe

Over on Critical Montages there’s an interesting report on the doings of some NGO’s controlled by Peter Ackerman, a Wall Street investor who once worked closely with Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham in the 1980s. While Milken went to prison for insider trading, Ackerman walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars after the firm went bankrupt.

Modeling himself after George Soros, Ackerman assumed the guise of Deep Thinker after earning a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he now serves as President of the Board of Trustees. Like many other such schools, including Columbia University’s School of International Affairs, Fletcher is a breeding ground for spooks.

The Critical Montages report contains links to exchanges between Greenleft Weekly, an Australian radical newspaper, and some of Ackerman’s minions. It was kicked off by an interview with Eva Gollinger about American efforts to destabilize Venezuela in which she refers to NGO efforts to turn Venezuela students into shock troops against the government:

On top of that, some of the same groups or individuals have participated since 2004 in training sessions with other US entities such as the Albert Einstein Institute and the International Centre on Non-Violent Conflict. These are the entities that were responsible for helping to promote, fund and advise the “coloured” revolutions in Eastern Europe [in the] Ukraine, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Georgia. They failed in Belarus and they began working here in April 2003, first with traditional opposition leaders and then, as in those movements in Eastern Europe, they used young people — students.

Ackerman founded the International Centre on Non-Violent Conflict (ICNC) and is responsible for all its funding. It should be mentioned, of course, that the millions of dollars that is required to keep this operation afloat came out of the piracy that Milken and Ackerman conducted at Drexel Burnham. As masters of the junk bond trade, they were responsible for companies firing tens of thousands of workers as a result of “asset stripping” to cover corporate debt.

Jack DuVall: prime Ackerman operative

Next, Greenleft received a letter from Jack DuVall, the President of ICNC, stating that “the ICNC has never formed any groups in Venezuela or in any other country, nor has it trained groups of Venezuelans,” although he did admit that the ICNC did support the Albert Einstein Institute “for a workshop it conducted on nonviolent action for Venezuelans held in Boston”.

After taking note of DuVall’s complaint to Greenleft, Marxmail subscriber Jacob Levich recalled his own encounter with DuVall on his campus:

If anyone knows the real story behind Jack DuVall and his International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, I’d be extremely grateful to hear it.

This guy, who purports to be some kind of pacifist, travels around the world with a dog-and-pony show centering on movies he’s produced called “Bringing Down a Dictator” and “A Force More Powerful.” His current position on Iraq, which he is selling heavily to college and university crowds, is that the peace movement has no right to oppose the invasion unless it offers an alternative way of getting rid of Saddam. (His suggestion — don’t laugh — is that the Iraqi people should be encouraged to rise up in a Gandhi-style nonviolent mass movement.)

So far as I can tell, he intervenes whenever the US wants to bring down a government by military force, attempting to refocus any First World opposition away from opposing imperialism and toward “bringing down dictators by non violent means.”

I suspect Jack DuVall is a fraud and possibly some kind of spook (see weird career details below) whose aim is to divide the antiwar movement.

(Full post is here. )

Subsequently Michael Barker responded to Duvall’s complaint:

This admission is significant because although Duvall claims the ICNC “ha[s] not and will not accept any support from any government for any purpose”, it has always worked closely with the Albert Einstein Institute [AEI] — a group that does work closely with the US government and the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Duvall gives a false impression that his organisation is totally isolated from US foreign policy elites.

He also took note of Duvall’s shadowy connections, just as Jacob Levich did. For somebody so bent on bringing peace and social justice to the world, Duvall inexplicably agreed to serve on the board of the Arlington Institute alongside John L. Petersen:

According to the Arlington Institute’s website, Peterson’s “government and political experience include stints at the National War College, the Institute for National Security Studies, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council staff at the White House”. On top of this, the Arlington Institute also boasts among its co-founders former head of the CIA James Woolsey.

Stephen Zunes: useful idiot

Next to weigh in was Stephen Zunes, a high-profile leftwing professor who is Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project and a frequent contributor to Znet and Counterpunch, two publications with impeccable leftist credentials. He is also connected to ICNC. Zunes tried to absolve ICNC of all wrongdoing:

The ICNC spends far more time with nonviolent activists from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America than they do with anyone from the Washington establishment. The ICNC has supported workshops for progressive activists around the world challenging US-backed governments, including Palestinians struggling against the Israeli occupation, West Papuans struggling against the Indonesian control and Sahrawis struggling against the Moroccan occupation, as well as pro-democracy activists in Egypt, Azerbaijan, the Maldives, Guatemala and elsewhere.

Barker had the last word and underscored the role of “nonviolent” movements in accomplishing US foreign policy goals:

Returning to his GLW article, he [Zunes] is correct to note that the “U.S. government has historically promoted regime change through military invasions, coup d’etats and other kinds of violent seizures of power by an undemocratic minority”. However, he adds that: “Nonviolent ’people power’ movements of the kind supported by ICNC and other NGOs, by contrast, promote regime change through empowering pro-democratic majorities which the United States and other foreign governments cannot control.”

Crucially, this gross oversimplication neglects the vital role played by soft power in promoting the hegemony of transnational capitalism: “soft” strategies that were pioneered by liberal foundations like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, which worked hand-in-hand with the CIA to create civil society front groups and co-opt progressive activists all over the world (most prominently during the Cold War). Attempts to come to terms with such manipulative and cooptive tactics will be crucial to the sustainability of the left, and such strategies do not come from “some kind of Bush administration conspiracy” as Zunes implies. As I am sure he well knows, such manipulations of civil society have always had strong bipartisan support from political elites.

As somebody who has found Zunes’s articles useful in the past, I felt compelled to send him a note urging him to sever his ties from ICNC since they will destroy his credibility on the left. He has already been attacked in MRZine for his failure to understand why it is wrong to promote peaceful intervention of the sort that ICNC is involved with, even if not a single weapon is used. This is a common fault of left-liberals and even some socialists in the US who signed letters attacking the Cuban government’s arrest of “dissidents” taking money and marching orders from the US. If political and social change is to occur in Iran, Cuba, Venezuela or Ukraine, it has to be at the hands of the people who live in those countries and not at the behest of NGO’s funded by Peter Ackerman’s junk bonds or George Soros’s derivatives for that matter.

A few more words about Peter Ackerman might be in order since he is a truly sinister figure. In fact, compared to Peter Ackerman, George Soros comes across as somebody on the side of the angels.

A June 8, 1992 Businessweek article titled “The Drexel Debacle’s ‘Teflon Guy'” was less than impressed with Ackerman’s business acumen, reporting that his colleagues held him “responsible for a good share of the blundering that pushed Drexel into bankruptcy.” It also reported that even though Ackerman managed to avoid criminal charges, he did figure “prominently in much broader civil charges brought in 1991 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Resolution Trust Corp.” They sued Milken, Ackerman, and two dozen others on behalf of failed Savings and Loans that traded with Drexel. Drexel eventually settled, but at only a small percentage of the firm’s liability. Ackerman had to cough up $80 million, but there was lots left over to play with in Venezuela and other hot spots.

Unlike Michael Milken, Ackerman tried to avoid publicity. This much was known about him, according to Businessweek:

This scholar turned Wall Street dealman turned scholar was raised in a middle-class Jewish household and even attended yeshiva before graduating from Far Rockaway High School in Brooklyn. Yet during his college years at Colgate University and the Fletcher School he became a devout follower of Christian Science after meeting Joanne Leedom, whose mother was a Christian Science teacher. Leedom worked as a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor from 1969 to 1972. Ackerman and Leedom were married around 1971 and have two sons.

As Michael Milken’s right-hand man, Ackerman made a transition into the big swinging dick culture of Wall Street.

In terms of appearance, meanwhile, Ackerman was transformed from a ”frumpy, overweight, college-professor type to this sleek, blue-suited, Turnbull & Asser deal machine.”

In short, Ackerman was absorbed into Milkenism as thoroughly as he had embraced Christian Science. Indeed, he appears to have been simultaneously devoted to both.

After Drexel Burnham crashed and burned, Ackerman continued making a living as an investment banker while using his ill-gotten gains to help him launch ICNC. He is also Chairman of the Board of Freedom House, an outfit that was founded in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt as a wing of US foreign policy. As I have pointed out in the past, the war against fascism, with all its ostensibly progressive connotations, soon morphed into the war against communism and more recently into the war against terrorism (i.e., Islam).

As is the case with the ICNC, Freedom House tries to co-opt progressives onto its Board for the sake of appearances, but none as far left as Zunes. Currently the Board includes Henry Louis Gates Jr., the African-American scholar, and Jay Mazur, the trade union bureaucrat. But they cannot begin to compensate for the presence of a rogue’s gallery that includes libertarian wiseass P.J. O’Rourke, leveraged buy out specialist Theodore Forstmann, and Malcolm S. Forbes Jr.–the beady-eyed ultrarightist who ran for President in 2000.

One of the more thorough write-up’s on Peter Ackerman’s mission to bring democracy to the rest of the world appeared in the New Republic, a magazine I generally have no use for. It was written by Franklin Foer, the new editor who was brought in supposedly to shift the magazine a few degrees to the left. For the past 10 years or so, when the magazine cheered on the Bush administration, it began to lose subscribers by the boatload. Foer writes:

The Rose Revolution–and the nonviolent movements it inspired in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon–represented a vindication for Ackerman and his ideas. And, in Washington at least, they needed it. According to his friends, when Ackerman began hawking the principles of nonviolent struggle to government bureaucrats and think-tank wonks three years ago, much of officialdom considered him a dilettante. His friend and admirer Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, recalls, “I remember him talking to a group more politically seasoned. They were clearly thinking this guy is really off-base: ‘We’re talking about more serious stuff than you.'” But, suddenly, the zeitgeist has turned in Ackerman’s direction. Now some of the same officials who dismissed him have become his boosters. The State Department has distributed his videos to anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba (a fact Ackerman didn’t know until the regime arrested some of these dissidents two years ago and charged them with possessing his films). When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.

Foer is also quite good at capturing Ackerman’s self-importance:

A few months ago, I visited Ackerman in his spacious corner office at the top of a Pennsylvania Avenue building just up the street from the World Bank. Ackerman’s Prada parka and winter tan remind you that you’re not in tattered NGO-land anymore. You’re in the presence of wealth. (When he’s not thinking about regime change, Ackerman invests in start-ups like Fresh Direct, a service that delivers Umbrian olive oil and foie gras to New York City gourmands.) Ackerman, who looks uncannily like Jaws actor Roy Scheider, has a reputation for gabbing at considerable length. “I don’t know if you’ve had any success getting him to stop talking,” one of his acquaintances quipped. In our meeting, he maintained an implacable flow of theories, historical analogies, and business school jargon, swerving from the sixteenth-century French political theorist Etienne de la Boetie to obscure corners of Indonesian politics.

And like a number of other people who have thrown their lot in with the counter-revolution as their career and wealth have taken turns for the better, Ackerman spent a brief time going through the motions of radical politics:

It’s a fitting conversational style for a man whose biography similarly twists and turns. By the time he graduated from Colgate University in 1968, he had already strayed from his middle-class Jewish roots, storming an administration building in protest and chauffeuring Stokley Carmichael around campus. But his flirtation with radicalism was brief. He felt more comfortable hewing to a conventional political path and became head of the College Democrats’ New York state chapter. College shaped him in another profound way, too. Studying comparative religion, he developed an interest in Christian Science and converted.

He also has grand, if not wacky, visions about how the last remnants of the Evil Empire can be vanquished:

As with Ross Perot, his fellow entrepreneur-turned-politico, there are moments when Ackerman seems to drift into an alternate reality. Addressing a State Department group last year, he described a scheme for providing a communications infrastructure to North Korean dissidents: “Let’s say you drop 10,000 boxes or distributed [them] somehow in North Korea. The boxes contain the following: 100 feet of string, a balloon, a helium canister and microwave devices, radio devices that can communicate. Tie the string to the tree. Tie the other end of the string to the balloon. Attach the electronic device to the balloon, stick the helium canister in the balloon, break it. The balloon rises 100 feet in the air, and you have an unlimited number of transmission towers. Provide in addition the ability to transmit with devices, handheld devices–suddenly you have an interesting opportunity.”

If balloons won’t suffice, there are always computer games:

Of all Ackerman’s whiz-bang ideas, he’s most enamored with the development of a video game named after A Force More Powerful that allows players to practice their dictator-toppling skills virtually. On a winter morning, I went to a suburban Baltimore office park to play a beta version. Ackerman has spent $3 million outsourcing the project to a company called BreakAway Games, which helped produce the popular Civilization series. Its offices were creepily quiet. Rows of cubicles held programmers, many of whom worked with earphones. Not that there were many distractions to filter. All the shades were drawn. Glowing monitors and a few desk lamps provided the room with its only light. I crammed into one of the cubicles with the game’s two lead programmers.

Finally, there is evidence that Ackerman–along with George W. Bush and Columbia University president Lee Bollinger–views Iran as the grand prize:

More recently Ackerman has stepped up his involvement. He worked with Bob Helvey to train IranianAmericans, many of whom worked for Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed shah. Azar Nafisi has introduced him to the Iranian human rights community. And the ICNC has made some preliminary contacts with the referendum movement–the most broad-based and promising of the opposition coalitions, uniting monarchists, communists, and Islamists behind a simple demand for a vote on the regime’s future. According to his friends, Ackerman and his circle have begun to kick around creative ideas for challenging the mullahs. What if every Iranian withdrew money from the ATMs at once, overwhelming the country’s financial system? What if they boycotted state-run industries? Ultimately, he envisions events unfolding as they did in Serbia, with a small, well-trained, nonviolent vanguard introducing the idea of resistance to the masses. These ideas may not have gone very far yet, but they have caught the attention of the Iranian government. Last year, the Ministry of Guidance brashly called Ackerman’s office, requesting copies of his videos and writings. “I guess that’s one way to do intelligence,” Ackerman jokes.

I have a better idea on how Ackerman can bankrupt Iran. He can sell them junk bonds, something that he will have more success at than subversion.

August 6, 2007

Varieties of recantation

Filed under: cruise missile left,Iraq — louisproyect @ 4:41 pm

Yesterday the NY Times Magazine ran something of a mea culpa by Michael Ignatieff, a regular contributor to the magazine in whose pages he had stumped for the war in Iraq. Based on the title of the article–“Getting Iraq Wrong“–one might surmise that he has had a change of heart. However, the “wrong” is a reference to how the war was carried out, not whether it was wrong on principle. A recent documentary titled “No End in Sight” encapsulates this outlook.

Another NY Times Magazine regular also recanted a while back. David Rieff, son of Susan Sontag, seemed to have people like Ignatieff in mind in his 2006 Nation Magazine review of Larry Diamond’s “Squandered Victory” and David L. Phillips’s “Losing Iraq”, two books that tried to figure out what went wrong in Iraq. Needless to say, if the invasion of Iraq had proceeded as smoothly as the invasions of Panama or Grenada, such books would have never been written. In the final paragraph of his review, Rieff challenges the right of the US to act as the world’s policeman:

The contributions both Diamond and Phillips make to understanding what has taken place in Iraq are considerable. But there is a sense in which one of their most important contributions is inadvertent. For both their books illustrate and exemplify the extraordinary consensus about the duty to intervene that has arisen over the course of the post-cold war world. We have not yet begun to pay the price for this–not because we do it ineptly but rather because it rarely seems possible except on the far fringes of the political right and left, what with the “historic compromise” between the Bush Administration and the human rights movement over humanitarian intervention, if not over torture, rendition, the Patriot Act and myriad other issues, to have a serious conversation about whether the United States has any business trying to create democracies by force of arms. Instead, the consensus not just of these two writers and activists but of the great and the good from the Kennedy School of Government, to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to the thirty-eighth floor of the UN, to 10 Downing Street seems to be that we–whether the “we” in question proves to be the United States, the UN or that mythical entity, the international community–must learn to do this sort of thing better, more effectively, perhaps more humanely. It is not only L. Paul Bremer who suffers from hubris.

David Rieff

The other intellectual, loosely speaking, who decided that the war has gone wrong is Johann Hari, the baby-faced British journalist who has been involved in a major dust-up with fellow British journalist Nick Cohen, who like Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens, still insists that the war was a good thing.

Although Hari has more in common with Ignatieff than he does with Rieff, he is really good at puncturing the pretensions of the “decent left,” a function no doubt of his having gone through that experience. In his review of Nick Cohen’s “What’s Left,” an obnoxious defense of human rights imperialism, Hari hones in on Cohen’s posturing:

But the pro-war left also looked to a left-wing tradition that had fallen dormant: “they argued for a self-consciously 1930s Victor Lazlo left rather than a 1960s flower-power one. Quoting Orwell, they called for a left that is aware there are enemies that may need to be fought rather than hugged into submission.”

Somehow the notion of pampered journalists like Cohen or Hitchens risking their lives like the characters in “Casablanca,” or like Orwell who dodged fascist bullets in Spain, is enough to make one laugh out loud, which was Hari’s obvious intention. Cohen and Hitchens have far more in common with NY Times reporter Frank L. Kluckhohn, who served up encomiums to the fascist dictator in the 1930s than they do with Orwell.

Johann Hari

For Hari, any comparisons between Orwell and Cohen are meretricious:

Cohen, ostentatious claimer of George Orwell’s mantle, has forgotten the quality that made Orwell great – the power to face inconvenient truths. He simply averts his gaze from the burning vistas of Iraq that contradict his thesis, turning towards George Galloway to give him another well-deserved – but increasingly irrelevant – spit in the face.

Leaving aside the question of Orwell’s more dubious aspects, which included snitching on British reds, Hari’s contemptuous reference to Galloway betrays a hostility to the left that is found in the very book he is dismissing. His main complaint with Cohen is not so much that he opposes the radical movement, but that he does so ineffectively. This was the main complaint that cold war liberals like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. had against Senator Joe McCarthy. If you were going to fight the subversives, you had to do it intelligently.

Hari’s review contains a swipe at Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb, who occupies a place in the decent left’s world that is almost as notorious as Galloway’s. Hari writes:

One of the most popular left-wing blogs in Britain, Lenin’s Tomb, goes further, viciously scorning Muslims who fight back against Islamic fundamentalism. Even though it is written by an atheist writer who enjoys alcohol, female company and free speech, it has ridiculed Muslim women who attend freedom of speech rallies as “Uncle Toms”, and condemned Muslims who have “comfortable upper-middle class” lives because they aren’t “interested in subjecting [themselves] to the ascetic demands of religion.” Cohen’s thesis applies with laser-accuracy to these parts of the left, and it is here that his critique is most powerful: they have indeed become reflexive defenders of the far right.

Richard, who is probably the world’s leading expert on the “decent left” and who was considering writing a book for a top-notch radical publishing house (that unfortunately likes to rob its authors blind), responded to Hari thusly:

I don’t viciously scorn Muslims who fight back against “Islamic fundamentalism”, because that can be a very good thing to do. I do viciously scorn all those who misrepresent and vilify Islam in the service of imperialism, because that is a bad and wicked thing to do. I don’t condemn Muslims who live comfortable upper middle class lives and aren’t interested in the ascetic demands of religion. I mentioned in this post about the neocon American Islamic Congress that one member of it was probably of that ilk, but I did not and do not think that being in that position merits special criticism. What I did think at the time, and what I still think now, is that “being determines consciousness”, and that one’s class perspective is likely to regulate one’s political purview.

Lenin’s Tomb also responds to Ignatieff’s recantation today:

In fact, Ignatieff shows no sign of understanding why he was wrong. He says that he “let emotion carry me past the hard questions, like: Can Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites hold together in peace what Saddam Hussein held together by terror?” Which is to claim that Iraqis have proven themselves to be incapable of self-government and should be ruled through terror – an appropriate conclusion from the Wilsonian airhead. Almost 90% of the essay isn’t about Iraq, of course: it is an extended, self-serving rumination on the nature of politics and the political career. He even hints that he may not be entirely sincere about anything he says: “Nothing is personal in politics, because politics is theater. It is part of the job to pretend to have emotions that you do not actually feel.” But nevertheless, he is “worthy of trust” because he has not had a “charmed life” like the American president, and is a man of sorrow “acquainted with grief, as the prophet Isaiah says”. Isaiah did indeed say this (53:3) – about the Messiah. What exactly is Ignatieff trying to tell us?

Now the longest in American history, the war in Iraq has long lost any support based on the original justification of “spreading democracy” except among the most hardened ideologues, including Bush, Cheney and Christopher Hitchens who at least has the excuse of being drunk most of the time.

The ground has shifted perceptibly among ruling class opinion. There is no longer a gung-ho attitude but a kind of “white man’s burden” that is often expressed in terms of “you break it, you fix it.” Immediate withdrawal is opposed because it will lead to greater chaos, etc. Not two years ago, you could hear this argument from the likes of Juan Cole who advocated high altitude bombing of the insurgents in Iraq to keep them at bay. Nowadays, you will find this sentiment expressed in the pages of the Washington Times rather than in any respectable liberal journal.

It is difficult to anticipate how this war will finally come to an end, with a whimper or a bang. Meanwhile, the economic contradictions of late capitalism in the US continue unabated with Wall Street openly worried about the consequences of the unfolding credit crunch. The Soviet Union went through major structural changes partially under the impact of its adventure in Afghanistan. Let’s hope that US imperialism will also be forced to go through some wrenching changes under the blows of the heroic Iraqi resistance, even when its political goals are often clouded in obscurity. What remains clear, however, is that US imperialism must be resisted whatever the character of the resistance. As Leon Trotsky once remarked:

Of course, we are for the defeat of Italy and the victory of Ethiopia… When war is involved, for us it is not a question of who is ‘better’, the Negus or Mussolini; rather, it is a question of the relationship of classes and the fight of an underdeveloped nation for independence against imperialism.

June 22, 2007

Whither The Nation Magazine?

Filed under: cruise missile left,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

Joaquin Villalobos

When The Nation published his attack on Hugo Chavez, did they know that the former FMLN commander turned neoconservative is an adviser to the bloodstained government of Colombia? We can assume that Marc Cooper, who convinced them to publish it, certainly knew.

If I hadn’t noticed Dennis Perrin’s favorable comments posted to Doug Henwood’s LBO-Talk mailing list about a World Socialist Website series of articles on The Nation Magazine prompted by Cindy Sheehan’s defection from the Democratic Party, I would have missed them completely: “This is what WSWS does best. Think the Nation might run a condensed version of this?” Since Dennis has a lot of experience writing comedy, you can be assured that the Nation would never even consider publishing even a single word of the WSWS critique at:




I was reminded of how rotten the Nation can be when I noticed an article by Joaquin Villalobos attacking Hugo Chavez in the latest issue. It prompted me to write the following web letter to the magazine:

Aren’t you people aware that Villalobos is a neoconservative? He supported the war in Iraq in 2003 and only opposes it now–tepidly–for the same reasons that George Packer does. In addition, he is a counterinsurgency adviser to the bloodstained government of Colombia. Did Marc Cooper urge you to publish this sordid item? I guess if you are going to publish Cockburn on global warming, you might as well publish this kind of nonsense.

Cooper translated the Villalobos article and convinced the Nation to run it. On his blog entry touting the article, Cooper wrote, “Completing his studies at Oxford, Villalobos is now one of the more sought-after consultants on security and development in Latin America.” Security, indeed. You might as well have hailed OSS veteran Edward Lansdale as a “sought-after consultant on security” in the 1960s. At least Lansdale didn’t use leftist rhetoric to justify his treachery the way that Villalobos does.

Here’s an excerpt from the WSWS series that sizes up Cooper and company quite well:

Cooper, Nichols, vanden Heuvel and the others are dishonest with themselves and their readers because their function as the journalistic representatives of the well-endowed think tanks, universities, media outlets, trade unions and consulting firms prevents them from dealing objectively and forthrightly with social relationships in America; they can’t call things by their proper names.

This better-off section of the middle class is unhappy with the current state of affairs, but long ago lost interest or hope, if it ever had any, in effecting a deep change in American society. These individuals apply pressure on the political process, in the end, to make life more comfortable for themselves and those around them.

In some cases, they have been transformed from radical youths into something quite different; their ‘old selves’ would be shocked by their ‘new selves.’ Whatever residual radicalism and opposition they may feel is trumped many times over by their social connections and obligations, which are much more deeply felt than anything else.

Having said all this, I must confess to being a subscriber to the Nation myself. After dropping my subscription in the 1990s, I wrote an open letter to Victor Navasky that began as follows:

Since this is being circulated on the Internet, where there are many non-USA participants, a word or two about the Nation would be helpful. The Nation was established in 1865 by a group of abolitionists and is the authoritative voice of left-liberalism in the US. During the 1930s and 40s, it was sympathetic to the views of the CPUSA and has often included Marxist contributors and editors. Doug Henwood, for example, is on the editorial board.

Long-time editor Victor Navasky was being interviewed on public television’s Open Mind a month or so ago and was explaining why long-term subscribers were important to the magazine. When you consider that a year’s subscription to the weekly costs $52, somebody who has been subscribing for five years, let’s say, has put up over $250 for the production costs of the magazine, which actually runs a deficit on a regular basis (no tobacco ads, etc.). Since I have been reading the magazine every week since early 1980 either on the newsstand or through subscription as is currently the case, this qualifies me as a long-term subscriber. In addition, I was responsible for first placing weekly ads in the Nation for my organization Tecnica over a 3 year stretch in the 1980s. Each ad cost $50 as I recall. At 50 issues or so a year, this represented $7500 in revenue, if my math is correct.

Around 5 years ago I began looking at the Nation again. The “war on terror” taking place under a rightwing Republican administration had put a bit of sizzle in the magazine. If it had grown flabby under Clinton, it was showing a bit of muscle with the “bad guys” running the government. I was also able to read the magazine for free since Columbia University made it available through Proquest. When the Nation terminated its connection to Proquest, I decided to take out a subscription once again. I generally skip the first 10 pages of the magazine, which is editorial twaddle about the latest misdeeds of the Republicans and go straight to the book review section, which is first-rate. Since I am a big-time crossword puzzle fan, I then attack the Nation’s puzzle which is modeled after the British stumpers that appear in the Times Literary Supplement.

Although I find the WSWS articles quite useful in filling in the historical background, I tend to disagree with their focus on the 1930s as constituting the “original sin” of the magazine. This was a period when the publishers were typical New Deal fans of the Kremlin. As ortho-Trotskyists, this is naturally what WSWS would fixate on.

In my own history of the Nation, I go back much further to the magazine’s origins. It was abolitionist but not radically so. During Reconstruction, it was one of the voices in the North that grew upset with the emancipatory logic of the struggle to eliminate the vestiges of slavery to the point of apologetics for the KKK. As bourgeois liberals, they were afraid that the struggle might spill over into the North and challenge private property. They might have been for freedom, but only as long as it included free enterprise.

These are the opening paragraphs of my article titled “The Nation Magazine’s Tainted Liberalism” that was posted to the Marxism list on March 1, 2003:

This article is an attempt to get to the roots of the yearlong attack on the antiwar movement by figures associated with the Nation Magazine, both within and outside its pages. While this campaign has chiefly been directed at Ramsey Clark and the ANSWER coalition, there is little doubt that what is driving it is animosity toward the radical movement in general.

There has been a tendency, especially at the website of our friends at Counterpunch, to understand this in terms of character flaws. Whether you are dealing with Christopher Hitchen’s alcoholism or Marc Cooper’s creepiness, it is understandable that one might assign a disproportionate weight to such factors. While these are certainly repugnant characters, we are obligated to get at the ideological roots of this 128-year-old liberal institution, which in many ways are far creepier than any individual journalist’s tics or vices.

Largely owing to the well-oiled public relations machinery of the Nation, nearly anybody who has heard of the magazine knows that abolitionists founded it in 1865. Naturally this would lead the average informant, including myself until this investigation began, to assume that the magazine was on the barricades fighting all sorts of injustice.

We get a hint of the real Nation from an article that was included in the 1990 anthology titled “The Nation 1865-1900: Selections from the Independent Magazine of Politics and Culture.” When my eyes first spotted editor and founder E.L. Godkin’s “The Execution of the Anarchists”, I assumed like any normal person that this piece was a 19th century version of “Free Mumia”. In the preface, however, we learn that “Godkin wrote several pieces calling for the hanging of the Chicago anarchists; the magazine, under his editorial control, also opposed trade unions and attacked socialists.” Why this was the case appeared to be of little interest to the anthologist who is content to reflect that certain pages of Godkin’s Nation make for “strange reading.”

In his characteristic take-no-prisoner prose, Godkin states, “The notion that we must tolerate speech the object of which is to induce people to break up the social organization and abolish property by force, is historically and politically absurd.”

Since editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel states that Godkin’s magazine was “claiming for itself the right of citizens in a democracy to carp, protest, condemn, revile, applaud, celebrate, prophesy and otherwise give themselves to the articulate of their circumstances,” one must wonder why she omitted the qualification “except for anarchists.”

Indeed, throughout the Nation Magazine’s first 35 years or so, you would be hard-put to find a challenge to the gathering dark clouds of reaction against black rights, the labor movement, woman’s suffrage or other causes. The magazine spoke out against women having the vote (the speeches of people like Victoria Woodhull were “shrill, incoherent, shallow and irrelevant”) and warned that the eight-hour day would “diminish production.”

I.F. Stone deftly sized up the editorial outlook, which can best be described as laissez faire 19th century liberalism, in an earlier anthology published in 1965 titled “One Hundred Years of the Nation.”

“But to advocate laissez faire consistently and honestly, as The Nation and Godkin did, was to adopt a lonely and ineffectual attitude— hostile to the capitalist trend toward monopoly, hostile to the agrarian cry for regulation of railroads and business, hostile to the workers’ attempts at collective action. In England the advocate of laissez faire marched in the triumphant ranks of the merchants and manufacturers; in America he fought a hopeless rear-guard action in the retreating forces of small business men, rentiers, and the Adams family. The Nation under Godkin attacked the Grangers, the Populists, the trade unions, the single-taxers, and the Socialists, as well as the trusts, the railroad barons, the tariff log-rollers, and the stockjobbing financiers. But the second group was to transform our economy and the first our politics until laissez faire liberalism, once a revolutionary and liberating force, became the slogan of reactionaries.”

Read the entire article here.


March 27, 2007

Michael Bérubé: amateur red-baiter

Filed under: Academia,antiwar,cruise missile left — louisproyect @ 3:45 pm

Amateur anti-Communist

As a long-time observer of the “cruise missile left,” I was happy to see Alexander Cockburn nail them in a recent Counterpunch:

The war party virtually monopolized television. AM radio poured out a filthy torrent of war bluster. The laptop bombardiers such as Salman Rushdie were in full war paint. Among the progressives the liberal interventionists thumped their tin drums, often by writing pompous pieces attacking the antiwar “hard left”. Mini-pundits Todd Gitlin and Michael Bérubé played this game eagerly. Bérubé lavished abuse on Noam Chomsky and other clear opponents of the war, mumbling about the therapeutic potential of great power interventionism, piously invoking the tradition of “left internationalism”. Others, like Ian Williams, played supportive roles in instilling the idea that the upcoming war was negotiable, instead of an irreversible intent of the Bush administration, no matter what Saddam Hussein did.

Bérubé, a publicity-hungry Penn State professor who is Alan Colmes to red-baiter David Horowitz’s Sean Hannity, defended himself on Crooked Timber, a group blog that he joined recently and that was made to order for him. This is a gang of underachieving liberal academics with socialist pretensions who spent most of the 90s demanding that the dastardly Serbs be brought to heel and then without skipping a beat cheered on the B-52’s as they rained bombs down on the Taliban. When George W. Bush took the next logical step and invaded Iraq, they responded that this was not what they had in mind. However, a jury would likely have found them guilty of being accessories after the fact. US imperialism certainly saw all these invasions as consistent with each other, even if liberals like Bérubé could not. This would require an understanding of class politics that is sadly missing in the postmodernist swamp he inhabits.

Whenever I think of Bérubé’s attack on antiwar organizers in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, I am reminded of Lillian Hellman’s contemptuous view of the “anti-antifascist left” during the 1930s. These were people who didn’t make a career of bashing Hitler, only bashing the people who had the guts to stand up to Hitler. It is like writing op-ed pieces in the NY Times in 1936 taking the Spanish Republic to task for not disassociating itself from the Kremlin sufficiently. It was bollocks then and bollocks now, as the British say.

It might be useful to review what Bérubé was actually saying 5 years ago, the period described by Cockburn as one of a “filthy torrent of war bluster”. The invasion of Afghanistan had created a powerful momentum to rally around the flag. Todd Gitlin, the Columbia journalism professor linked correctly to Bérubé by Cockburn, had written an atrocious book titled “Intellectuals and the Flag” that lectured the “hard left” for not genuflecting before the stars and stripes.

Bérubé felt inspired by the patriotic fever to write an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education on November 29, 2002 that was a classic red-baiting attack on unpatriotic elements in the antiwar movement. Written just 3 months before the invasion of Iraq, it was an all-out assault on the ANSWER coalition, which for all its faults did at least understand that imperialism had to be opposed in the streets.

Bérubé’s article is titled “Toward an Ideal Antiwar Movement: Mature, Legitimate, and Popular”. All in all, it has the familiar tone of Irving Howe lecturing 1960s radicals about the need to behave. Clearly it was written for the benefit of Bérubé’s peers in academia since anybody in the position to actually organize an ‘ideal’ antiwar movement would not be wasting their time reading a trade magazine for the professorate. He was far more interested in cultivating his own image as an anti-Communist liberal than actually building some kind of alternative to ANSWER. It is doubtful that Bérubé actually organized any kind of protest in his entire life so he wouldn’t know where to start.

In a rare moment of self-awareness, he actually admits to his rather inconsequential nature:

Perhaps I am just an armchair activist, sitting at home in my study, jawing over the fine points of texts, when I should be organizing teach-ins and rallies.

He begins with an anecdote that clearly establishes his national-security mindset. As a 21 year old, he was drawn to an anti-nuclear protest in Central Park in June 1982 but was at odds with most of the participants “in believing that nuclear weapons launched from submarines were a good deterrent.” He decided to grace the demonstration with his presence despite the widespread presence of signs stating that “One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Entire Day.” In perhaps a concession to youthful impetuousness, he decided not to “think too much about who was organizing the rally.” Bérubé had read in The New York Times that Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger had described the protest as “led by Soviet agents and sympathizers.” That did not worry Bérubé since his crowd “did not, in fact, contain a single Soviet agent or sympathizer.” In reading this nonsense, I am reminded of Joel Kovel’s diagnosis of anti-Communism as a psychiatric disorder.

Moving forward in time, Bérubé is far more tuned in to who is a Red or not:

Twenty years later, the left has begun organizing mass demonstrations against a war in Iraq. But who’s doing the organizing? For the October 6 rally in New York, a group called Not in Our Name, behind which one can find Refuse and Resist!, which in turn has ties to the Revolutionary Communist Party. For the October 26 rally in Washington, a group called Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER), run out of Ramsey Clark’s International Action Center, itself a front for the Workers World Party. The groups involved in the demonstrations thus carry some heavy far-left baggage.

Bérubé’s “mature, legitimate and popular” antiwar movement would be stripped of the “heavy far-left baggage” and have Todd Gitlin’s American flag draped across it. This movement would, in his words, pay Iraqi dissidents-in-exile the respect of taking seriously their longstanding desire for “regime change.” In other words, Ahmed Chalabi would be speaking from the podium rather than Ramsey Clark. This movement would also take seriously “the possibility that Saddam Hussein will not really cooperate with United Nations inspections and will seek to develop and deploy weapons of mass destruction.” So instead of demonstrating at the Pentagon, the antiwarriors assembled in the literature professor’s mind would be marching on the Iraqi Consulate demanding that Saddam Hussein liquidate a WMD program that most independent arms monitors described as having been liquidated years earlier.

Finally, Bérubé’s antiwar movement would have insisted that the best alternative to war was the “smart sanctions” that Colin Powell had championed in the early months of the Bush administration. It might be useful to review the motivation behind “smart sanctions” when they were proposed in 2001–before 9/11. As a result of the bad publicity that Clinton era sanctions had generated in the Arab world (remember Madeline Albright’s defense of the sanctions even though they had cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children), there was a powerful momentum to end them. In the face of such pressure, Powell was devising a new strategy that could continue the economic stranglehold on a long-suffering population. Phyllis Bennis explained what the Bush administration had in mind:

Even before September 11th public awareness regarding the impact of sanctions had continued to rise in the U.S., even more so in Europe and with growing outrage across the Middle East. In response, Colin Powell made the replacement of the existing sanctions with a new “smart sanctions” arrangement a cornerstone of his State Department’s approach to Iraq policy. Throughout the first months of the Bush administration in 2001, a new U.S.-proposed sanctions arrangement was under discussion in the Security Council. Officially the proposal was designed to loosen some restrictions on importing food and other goods, while tightening the semi-clandestine oil shipments out and consumer goods in over Iraq‘s long and porous borders. In fact, it was a spin-driven proposal, intended primarily as a public relations ploy to undercut growing regional concern about the dire conditions facing Iraqi civilians under sanctions. As originally endorsed by Powell, the new arrangement would have only tinkered with the sanctions’ impact, not reversed them.

In other words, Bérubé would have expected the antiwar movement to embrace a policy that served “primarily as a public relations ploy to undercut growing regional concern about the dire conditions facing Iraqi civilians under sanctions.”

It should be obvious at this point that Bérubé was never serious about building an alternative to ANSWER. He was only interested in red-baiting it out of existence. If you strip away his leftist pretensions, you are left with the same kind of fetid, flag-waving garbage that used to grace the editorial pages of American newspapers during the mass demonstrations of the 1960s and 70s.

When I was in the Socialist Workers Party at the time and busy raising money or passing out leaflets for the antiwar movement, I would periodically be reminded of the kind of witch-hunting mentality that had never been completely expunged with the repudiation of Joe McCarthy.

If you really want to discover where Bérubé got his ideas, the best place to look are the columns of Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, who red-baited the antiwar movement every chance they got. A November 12, 1969 column could have practically been written by our postmodernist professor. It begins:

The tens of thousands of well-meaning war protestors set to converge on Washington Saturday will be joining a demonstration planned since summer by advocates of violent revolution in the U.S. who openly support Communist forces in Vietnam.

Evans and Novak continue in a vein that reads exactly like an FBI dossier:

The link between Hanoi and elements of the New Mobe was again demonstrated Oct. 14 when Premier Pham Van Dong of North Vietnam sent greetings to American antiwar demonstrators. [Fred] Halstead, the Trotskyite leader, drafted a reply to Hanoi approved by a majority of the New Mobe’s steering committee.

Red-baiting such as this has been fully assimilated by people such as Bérubé, Marc Cooper and David Corn who all wrote “exposés” of the Iraq antiwar movement in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post and other corporate media. Unlike our latter-day “antiwar” liberals, Evans and Novak had the honesty to admit that they were professional anti-Communists, a calling that these rank amateurs can only aspire to.

February 17, 2007

A Critique of the Euston Manifesto

Filed under: cruise missile left — louisproyect @ 2:22 pm


This is a guest entry by Paul Flewers, the editor of New Interventions, a very fine print publication out of Great Britain that I have contributed to in the past. It appeared in Volume 12, Number 3 of New Interventions.

Paul Flewers
Accommodating to the Status Quo
A Critique of the Euston Manifesto

ONE of the more interesting political events of 2006 was the launching of the Euston Manifesto. Somewhat arbitrarily named after the London railway terminus near to the pub where it was drawn up, largely by the academic Norman Geras and journalist Nick Cohen, it is a combination of liberal statements that are uncontroversial and with which few people would disagree (in fact, the sections on equality are part of Western ruling-class official discourse these days), a few mild criticisms of the Western ruling classes, and a big rant against the far left. It has been endorsed by a broad range of individuals largely but not exclusively in what might be called the ‘soft left’. Some, like Francis Wheen and Cohen himself, have always been known as left-leaning radicals. On the other hand, Geras, along with Jane Ashworth, John Strawson, Quintin Hoare, Alan Johnson and John Lloyd, were at one point or another in far-left groups. Ashworth and Jon Pike are prominent in Engage, a pro-Israel website that spends much of its time attacking anti-Zionists. What unites them here, however, is a strong dislike of the far left, and it is this deep antipathy that runs clearly through this document, even though, as we shall, some of the ideas which the Eustonites put in our mouths are barely recognisable to this writer.

The Eustonites’ Friends

It is often said that one can tell a man by the company he keeps, and the Euston Manifesto is no exception here. It has been praised by a wide range of people who would normally have little to do with anyone calling himself a socialist. This is not a fortuitous crossing of paths. Here’s Bill Kristol, a veteran US right-winger, and fierce critic of socialism: ‘It articulates 15 principles reminiscent of the much-missed liberal anti-totalitarianism of the early Cold War period.’ Kristol should know; his father was a leading example of a previous generation of Eustonites, moving from left-wing politics in the 1940s to an early manifestation of neo-conservatism. He no doubt can see the parallels. And here’s Christopher Hitchens: ‘I have been flattered by an invitation to sign it, and I probably will, but if I agree it will be the most conservative document that I have ever initialled.’ Hitchens, as everyone knows, has moved a very long way from his socialist roots, and is to all intents and purposes a neo-con­servative in his current politics (even if his past has yet to catch up).

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